British Administration, Germany

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th November 1946.

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Photo of Mr Benn Levy Mr Benn Levy , Eton and Slough 12:00 am, 27th November 1946

I want to intervene in the Debate very briefly to raise just two points, both of which have been touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) in his very excellent speech. The first relates to the question of evicting Germans to make way for British personnel and their families. What the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said on that subject has already been quoted. The Chancellor gave an assurance to the House some time ago, when the question was first mooted, and the House, naturally and credibly, was disturbed at the prospects. My hon. Friend gave an assurance to the effect that there would be no evictions unless suitable alternative accommodation was found. I honestly do not see for the life of me how suitable alternative accommodation can be found in Germany as it is today.

I do not want to attempt any harrowing stories about housing conditions there which one could repeat ad nauseam, reported from travellers of all colour and opinion who have come back from Germany; but if I might just quote one town, Dusseldorf, that should establish the point. When Air Marshal Sholto Douglas visited Dusseldorf, a report appeared in "The Times," on 16th November, of what he found there. He found 13,000 people living in shelters and the cellars of ruined houses; 2,700 with no permanent shelter whatsoever; and 43,000 with no proper satisfactory housing conditions at all, a number which was equivalent to nearly one-quarter of the town's population at the end of the war. But that population has since been doubled because of returning evacuees, many of whom have been completely unable to find any homes. Dusseldorf has been made the capital of the new Rhine Westphalia region, and as a result, inevitably, there has had to be a heavy influx of British and German personnel for directive purposes. This has enormously added to the housing difficulties. But where is The "suitable alternative accommodation"?

One of the many tragedies of war is that it is not good for a nation to be conquered. But it is also not good for people to be conquerors. I must say, in all fairness, that we, with a long record of conquest, have a reputation for conducting ourselves as conquerors with tolerance and humanity. That is a reputation which I, for one, would hate to see diminished; but it is being diminished, undoubtedly, by this practice which leaves behind it a quite disproportionate degree of ill-feeling, the eviction of homeless people, thereby adding to the already vast number of homeless in order to increase the convenience and comfort of British personnel and their families in Germany. I am not unaware for a moment of the needs of our soldiers in Germany. Quite naturally they want to have their families with them, but so also do the British personnel and the British soldiers abroad, in Burma, Greece and elsewhere, who have not these advantages. They lack them because there are material difficulties. I would like the Chancellor of the Duchy to realise that there are not only material difficulties in this policy for Germany, but also very grave moral difficulties. I would ask him to reconsider altogether this policy. I know that that would be a bold and difficult and, in many quarters, an unpopular thing to do, but I ask him to reconsider it, and consider the alternative policy of enormously facilitating the opportunities of leave.

The only other point which I want to touch upon is a big one, with which I will try to deal as briefly as possible, and that is the whole question of a policy for industry in Germany. I confess that I do not know what our industrial policy is. I challenge any hon. Member of this House to be able to offer a definition of that policy. I have sought information, and I have gone to the fountain head, the Chancellor of the Duchy himself—and let me say in passing that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich in absolving the Chancellor from responsibility. It would be quite wrong for him to think that any of us—and I hope he will not think that any of us—are trying to saddle him with the sole responsibility for the chaos that exists in Germany. He is confronted with the impossible task of trying to erect a building for which no foundations have been laid. The result is that when he attempts the problem of defining what is our industrial policy in Germany he is reduced to saying that he disavows any intention of reducing "German productive capacity for peace-time purposes." That is fine. None of us will dissent from that. He goes on to say, however, that "The policy of dismantling industry is based on the necessity of the disarmament of Germany." Those two policies are flatly and mutually contradictory. Follow them to their logical conclusions and they flatly contradict each other. You cannot ride these two horses at once.

I will quote the Chancellor again. "Our policy," he says, "is to destroy that which has a war time potential and is therefore"—I mark the word "therefore"—"considered surplus to German peace-time production." Why in the world "therefore"? If an industry is a war potential it is not "therefore," surplus to peace-time production, but the exact contrary. It is almost impossible to find any industry or service which is not capable of rendering wartime service. It is an impossible distinction, and we have to make up our minds which of these horses we mean to ride, and then to ride it. In the meantime, Germany is dwindling from economic disaster to economic disaster. The question arose at Question time today that, even if we cannot make up our minds what should be the ultimate policy, at least let us say that, if we are to dismantle industry, we will set a limit on the industries we dismantle; and that we will decide here and now which industries we will dismantle, and announce it, because German economy is being paralysed by uncertainty.

I appeal to the Chancellor of the Duchy to urge his colleagues to make up their minds quite clearly as to exactly what we are after in Germany—make up their minds and lay down an economic plan. I know that it is impossible to follow out that plan wholly because of the quadripartite arrangements hanging over Germany. We cannot follow it out wholly, but we can partially. There is a great deal that can be done legitimately unilaterally. There is a great deal that can be done administratively. I would like us also to set a term to the period which we are prepared to wait for quadripartite sanction. We cannot go on dragging on indefinitely, with uncertainty and indecision as a major cause of the present and increasing crisis in Germany.