§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Pickthorn (Cambridge University)
On a point of Order. I wish, if I may, to ask for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. There was a very important statement made last night, after HANSARD had gone to bed, very much affecting the subject of this Bill. I would ask you whether it is really convenient, or even tolerable, that we should discuss the Second Reading of this Bill without having before us the statement made last night by the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course, I think the Debate last night was on a different issue, or one aspect only of the Polish question. This Bill covers many other aspects, and I have no doubt that the statement made by the Minister would be seen in the Press this morning. I realise that there is a difficulty with HANSARD appearing rather late, and I would suggest that the Select Committee on Publications and Debates Reports be asked to look into this matter, to see if HANSARD could not include these Debates so that they could he published a little earlier.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is necessitated by the various phases through which our relations with successive Polish Governments have passed during the last seven years or so. Its primary purpose is to enable Departments to take over the functions which have been performed by the Interim Treasury Committee for Polish Questions, which was set up in the lifetime of the "Caretaker" Government when that Government withdrew its recognition of the London Polish Government on 5th July, 1945. It enables us to deal with that very large number of Polish citizens who served this country and the Allied cause in the field, including that very 374 gallant number of Poles who played so conspicuous a part in the winning of the Battle of Britain. The proportion of enemy planes brought down by the Polish squadrons in that battle is an eloquent and convincing testimony to the value of the work done by these men.
I think the House would probably like to know the extent of the problem with which we have to deal in this matter. I am bound to say that the figures I give, must be taken as approximate, because, as we come in touch with Polish nationals overseas, the number fluctuates from time to time. I would not like to say that the figures I give today are of necessity final, but I hope they are approximately final. We have knowledge that some—
§ Mr. Pickthorn
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I think he said "final" when I rather gathered he meant not final.
§ Mr. Ede
If I did leave out a negative, it was a slip, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to put it right. I think the figures are reasonably approximate, but I am sure that hon. Members will realise that there is great difficulty in saying that one has brought in every Polish national who may ask to be included. We have knowledge of some 213,000 Polish nationals. Of these, 127,000 are at the present moment in the United Kingdom; 25,000 are in oversea theatres, and 61,000 have been repatriated to Poland, or have emigrated to countries other than Poland and appear to have established roots elsewhere, which will relieve us of any further responsibility for them. Of the 116,000 in the United Kingdom—
§ Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, Eastern)
If I may correct the right hon. Gentleman, should not the figure be 127,000?
§ Mr. Ede
I am sorry; I am obliged to the hon. Member for pointing out the mistake. Of the 127,000 in the United Kingdom, 65,400 have opted for the Polish Resettlement Corps; 19,600 have opted for repatriation or emigration; 15,400 have not given a decision, but have had the various alternatives posed to them, and 26,600 have not yet been approached. Those who had the opportunity of hearing my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour last night will know that he described 375 something of this process, and that we have not yet been able to approach all these people. But, judging by our experience, I do not think that the proportions between the three groups mentioned are likely to vary much when we come to this final 26,600, except that I think it probable that the number at present undecided, will tend to drop. A curious thing is that recent changes in the British weather appear to have persuaded some Poles that the Polish climate is preferable to the British.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
Do these people include members of the civil administrative staff in this country?
§ Mrs. Manning
Before my right hon. Friend proceeds, may I ask him a question about camp followers? Is it quite right to describe some of those women, who may be English women, and who do not really know whether they are married to these Poles or not, as camp followers? Many Poles do not know where their own wives are, or even whether they are dead or alive. I think "camp followers" is the wrong term to use.
§ Mr. Ede
I did not introduce the word "followers" into this discussion. There is a number of people of both sexes who were so closely associated with the Polish Army that it was quite obvious that, in clearing up the problem, they would have to be brought into account. I have cast no aspersions on anybody. With regard to some of these people, I know the very great difficulty of ascertaining exactly what their position is, but I have tried, at this stage, to include as many people as possible. I am particularly anxious not to use any term that may be regarded as offensive in connection with any one of them.
I would ask my hon. Friends to allow me to make my speech in what, I hope, will be a reasonably short space of time. I think I ought to explain that no Clause of this Bill actually relates to my Department. Each Clause deals with a separate Government Department. I am, of course, generally responsible for the admission of aliens into this country, for their oversight when they are in this country, and for seeing that, as far as possible, when in this country, they accommodate themselves to the British way of life. When the Bill is in Committee, each Clause will, of course, be defended, where necessary, by the Minister of the particular Government Department responsible for the service with which the Clause deals. As far as Polish nationals are concerned, I hope that the Bill is as all-embracing as possible, and that it will enable us' to arrange for the orderly and appropriate demobilisation of this Polish Army.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) repeated in this House on Monday night 377 a statement of his own policy, which he had previously made at Question time. On Monday night, he said:I have no hesitation in saying to the House that, personally, had I been responsible, I had always intended that the 180,000 Poles and their dependants should go to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation, far from the Russian or Polish frontiers…" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, l0th February, 1946; Vol. 433, c. 115.]His Majesty's Government have not been able, at any stage, to accept that suggestion. I am quite sure that, difficult as the situation in Europe has been, and awkward as some of the questions with which we have had to deal with our Eastern Allies have been, they would have been infinitely more complicated and more difficult to handle, had that suggestion been carried out. We have to face the fact that the majority of these 213,000 people do not view with favour or trustfulness, the present Government of Poland, and their presence as an armed force any nearer to Poland than they are at present would, in fact, have complicated matters on the Continent. In establishing the Polish Resettlement Corps, we have, for convenience, brought them into a unit of the British Army for disciplinary purposes. They are unarmed, and are being steadily prepared for absorption into civilian life. I hope that the measures proposed in this Bill will enable that absorption to take place rather more rapidly than has been the case in the past.
The Interim Treasury Committee, consisting of civil servants responsible to the Government and to this House, has under it a body of Poles who have been working in this matter, and it started with as many as 1,500. The chief Polish representative is Count Raczynski, who was the Polish Ambassador in London at the time when the London Government ceased to receive recognition. We promptly reduced that number to about 600, and at present the number of staff employed is about 400. The Interim Treasury Committee will have incurred expenditure of about £10,750,000 and, in addition, there has been an expenditure on behalf of Polish refugees of somewhere over £3 million. Since August of last year, the financial responsibility for nearly 30,000 refugees in the Middle East, Africa and India has been assumed by U.N.R.R.A. We have given the pledge that he will not force any Pole to return to Poland against 378 his will. I have even had on occasion—I will admit sometimes with reluctance, with regard not merely to Poles but other foreign nationals—to say that I would not even deport them when they have been guilty of quite considerable breaches of the laws of this country, if the effect of deportation would be to send them to a country where they might incur either religious or political persecution. By that policy we still stand.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
Would the right hon. Gentleman also give an assurance that no Polish national will be retained in this country against his will? That is equally important.
§ Mr. Ede
Certainly. One of the objects of this Bill is to assist the process by which we can give a categorical assurance on that subject, and have the power of enforcing it in our own hands. I do not think I need elaborate the point that I have just made. I am quite sure that no one in this House would desire that anyone should be driven out of this country, or have to face political or religious persecution at all. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary from time to time in this House has given his assurances to that effect. At the same time, we desire that as many as possible of these people who feel that they can return with safety to Poland, should do so at the earliest possible moment. We regard as the first choice that should be made by a Pole, the choice of going back to Poland to carry on there, if possible, the democratic way of life which he has observed and practised in this country. The last thing I would like to say would be any word that indicated that that is not the first duty of a patriotic Pole.
§ Mr. Henry Strauss (Combined English Universities)
Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that it is now possible to go back to Poland and carry on a democratic way of life there? [Hon. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am putting it to the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Ede
Well, of course, I have not been to Poland, as some of my hon. Friends have. What I desire to see is that all the democratic influences that can be brought to bear anywhere in Europe in the re-establishment of governments shall be brought to bear, and I am not going to enter into a controversy with the hon. and learned Member for the Combined English 379 Universities (Mr. Henry Strauss) as to the extent to which that may be possible in any country. Sometimes, when I read the Tory Press in this country, I gather it is not possible to do it here.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I was not raising any question of controversy. I merely wished to know whether the Home Secretary was giving a different version of the position in Poland from that given on behalf of the Foreign Office about a week ago.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
Is not the question raised by the hon. and learned Member one for each individual Pole to decide for himself?
§ Mr. Ede
That is what I hoped I had said, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) for saying it so much more shortly. After these preliminaries, perhaps I may turn to the exact powers that we take in the Bill. Clause 1 brings within the scope of the Ministry of Pensions all those Poles who have served in the Forces, and brings them into the pensions scheme on the same terms as Britons who similarly, unfortunately, have to come within the purview of the Ministry of Pensions. For some time this has been the case, and a protocol which was signed in 1943 ensured to the Polish troops that they should have this right. We pay these pensions to the Poles while they are in this country, but these pensions are not paid to Poles who return to Poland. If they return to Poland, quite clearly they then become the responsibility of the Polish Government.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not think we are then called upon to continue to pay the pensions. One would have all the difficulty of ascertaining that they were really getting the same pension if they went to a country where the rate of exchange may be very much against them. The present number of Poles receiving pensions in this country is 1,022 and the annual cost is 84,000. There are many invalids and disabled men in the Polish Armed Forces 380 who, upon discharge, will be eligible for pensions. Members of the Polish Resettlement Corps will be within the terms of this Measure, and will benefit on discharge in the way that I have just indicated.
Clauses 2 and 3 deal with allowances from the assistance board. The Interim Treasury Committee is at the moment providing assistance in the case of unemployed Poles. Where a Pole was resident in this country before the war, his relief does not come from that source. The scale of relief provided by the Interim Treasury Committee has, up to the present, been rather higher than that which would be supplied by the assistance board to a British subject. The reason for that is that the majority of the people who have benefited from the Interim Treasury Committee's activities are people who came to this country as refugees with very little more than they stood up in, and, in consequence, it would not have been possible for them to maintain themselves and carry on an existence on the allowance received by a person who has, at any rate, some furniture and some household goods in this country. The number of persons receiving full or supplementary relief from the Interim Treasury Committee is about 2,500, and the monthly cost is round about £30,000.
When it was decided to bring the Second Corps from Italy to this country the question at once arose what was to be done with regard to the people who come within the category—and I hope this time I shall use a word that will give nobody any offence—that can be regarded as dependants. Clearly we could not leave them behind in Italy. I think we should have had a great difficulty in persuading a number of men to come, or at any rate to agree to any form of arrangement that appeared to cut them off permanently from wives and children and other people with whom they had been associated. At the moment most of these dependants—nearly all the wives and children—are in the Service camps along with their men-folk, and the other dependants are housed in a dozen or so camps specifically provided for dependants. All these people will, when they pass out into civilian life, become eligible for assistance if they require it. But it has been decided that while they are in the camps, they shall contribute out of their wages towards their keep, and arrangements have been made 381 for the collection of contributions in accordance with an appropriate sliding scale. There is no sanction at present against those who refuse to pay, because it would not be quite possible to throw them out of the camps. But with the passage of this Bill the Assistance Board will have the power to recover in a civil court.
Clause 4 deals with the question of health services. The London Polish Government had made fairly elaborate arangements for dealing with their nationals in this country. They had provided convalescent homes for Servicemen injured in the fighting, neuro-psychiatric homes and training centres for the disabled; and in addition there were medical dispensaries in London, Liverpool and Glasgow. In view of the heavy pressure on the British medical services, the Interim Treasury Committee took over these institutions and continued to administer them at an average annual cost of £223,000. With the exception of the training centres these services will now, broadly speaking, be the responsibility of the Ministry of Health; and in view of the increased number of Polish civilians in the country they may have to be extended. The question of the establishment of one or more general hospitals is now under consideration, together with that of a post-graduate medical school where doctors could receive short refresher courses, and might obtain their degrees. I hope it will be possible to carry on for the Poles these very excellent arrangements which had originally been made by the London Polish Government, but were taken over the Interim Treasury Committee, as long as sufficient groups of them remain in large enough numbers to justify the continuation of the services.
Clause 5 carries on the temporary recognition of doctors and pharmacists. The Defence Regulation dealing with this matter expires next December, and that is why this Clause also will expire next December Therefore, any provision it is necessary to make in this matter after December will be part of the general arrangements that will have to be considered when the expiry of the Defence Regulation comes up. I may say there is, apparently, no difficulty with regard to dentists, because the problems which have been presented to the country generally with regard to alien doctors have not arisen with regard to dentists.
382 Clause 6 deals with the education services. The Polish Forces in this country under the London Polish Government gave a very great amount of attention to the education of the men for whom they were responsible. They built up a very substantial education service in co-operation with many of the universities of this country. They also acquired a very substantial library, mainly by contributions of the men in the Forces. In fact, there were as many as 60,000 volumes in the Polish libraries just before the London Polish Government were deprived of recognition. Those libraries were, in fact, handed over to certain Polish organisations just before recognition was withdrawn. There were five faculties in Great Britain: medicine at Edinburgh; veterinary studies at Edinburgh; law at Oxford; architecture at Liverpool; and the Board of Technical Studies in London. The Board of Technical Studies in London had certain links with London University, and that university placed facilities generously at the disposal of the individual Polish students. The London Polish Government encouraged the members of their Forces to pursue courses of study, and in fact were exceedingly liberal in the granting of extended leave to men who desired to undertake studies in this country.
There were about 4,000 students receiving help in the kind of studies to which I have just alluded at the time the Interim Treasury Committee took over. This number has now been reduced to about 2,000, but it is not possible at the present time to find 2,000 places in British universities without inflicting considerable hardship on Britsh students. In this matter it is quite clear that British students must come first, but we are hoping to continue the Polish Board of Technical Studies, so that an increasing number of men who desire to equip themselves for the, more skilled branches of industrial life will be able to get the necessary training. The number of students at what we propose to call the Polish University College will be limited to 1,350. That, of course, is in addition to such people as we are able to get places in universities. The curriculum will have an essentially British emphasis. These people are being trained to partake in the British way of life, either here or in the Dominions or in the Colonies, and, therefore, it is desirable 383 that the whole of the curriculum should be framed with that in mind.
§ Mrs. Manning
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, but will he, say whether that means that any men who are trained at the Polish University College in London, will not be able to return to Poland if they want to? Surely, there is nothing binding on them to stay here?
§ Mr. Ede
No. We hope that all the people who are going back to Poland will do so at an early date, and every encouragement will be given to the people who want to go back to Poland, to do so quickly. People who ask for an extended educational course will, in the main, be people who intend to stay here, or to emigrate to one of our Dominions or Colonies.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Brentford and Chiswick)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the courses will, therefore, be in English?
§ Mr. Ede
I am really not the principal of this college. I have no doubt that most of the courses will be in English; but I should imagine that, if it were found that a number of these people, in the early stages of their courses, found it difficult to follow the lectures and practical instruction in English, there would be people capable of lecturing and instructing them in their mother tongue. That seems to me to be the only sensible arrangement, and I do not think that in a Second Reading speech one can be expected to do more than assume that the principal of this College, who is a Scotsman, will do other than see that proper educational courses are given, with proper opportunities for all students to profit from them.
There will be faculties within this University College of engineering, architecture, and economics. No Pole will be eligible for grant unless he is a member of the Polish Resettlement Corps and has had a year's service under British command, or is a civilian who has done a year's service in work of national importance. The present rate of maintenance paid by the Interim Treasury Committee to a Polish student is £200 a year. When this duty is transferred to the Ministry of Education, these people will come under the scheme of Further Education and Training Grants. These range 384 from a minimum of £180 to a maximum of £240 a year, exclusive of fees. There is also an arrangement made for the maintenance of impecunious students during vacation. Therefore, on this transfer I think that, as is right and proper, the majority of the Polish students will tend to benefit, and certainly not to lose, by the re-arrangement. In addition to the faculties, the London Polish Government set up a number of primary and secondary schools in England and Scotland. These were taken over by the Interim Treasury Committee, and are still being maintained. The most important of these are the Polish Merchant Navy College where 300 youths are given merchant navy training, and a girls' school at Pitlochry. These schools it is proposed to continue. Within the Resettlement Corps itself, education is the responsibility of the War Office. I know from the inquiries that I have made, that very considerable success is meeting the efforts of the War Office to provide education for these men, especially in English, so as to prepare, for contact with the outside world, those who are going into industry, and the others, getting them ready for education with English teachers.
Clause 7 deals with emigration. The Service Departments assist members of the Polish armed forces to emigrate. They are given demobilisation benefits, and the cost of their transport, and that of their wives and children, is paid. The Interim Treasury Committee does likewise in respect of civilians and dependants of members of the Polish armed forces not covered by the above arrangements, and is prepared to make grants of up to £25 to assist particularly needy emigrants. The War Office and the Air Ministry will provide similar facilities for members of the Polish Resettlement Corps, and it is for this reason that Clause 7 specifically excludes the Resettlement Corps. The responsibility of the Ministry of Labour; will, in fact, extend only to the class of emigrants now catered for by the Interim Treasury Committee.
Clause 8 deals with the provision as to service in the Forces. British people have, for centuries, objected very strongly to foreign nationals in any great number being in the British Armed Forces. They have not objected to foreign soldiers fighting for them on battlefields. The Army at Waterloo did not consist of 50 per cent. of British sub- 385 jects, and in the great battles with which the name of the ancestor of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford is associated, the number of British soldiers, I think, was very rarely half the forces under that distinguished general's command. That is a very different thing from having armed forces of foreign descent within this country. I need hardly remind the House, I hope, of the incident in 1809, when British troops at Ely were flogged by German troops, and the denunciation of that episode by William Cobbett, in language which I read only this morning, and which seems to me to be very mild compared with his capacity, and the outrage with which he had to deal. It secured for him a fine of £1000 and two years' imprisonment in Newgate, and, at the end of that time, he had to provide recognisances for seven years, himself in £2,000 and two sureties of £1,000 each.
Therefore, we have approached this part of the subject with a recognition of the difficulties that may arise. The present limitation is that there may not be more than one alien to every 50 soldiers, and no alien can hold an office higher than that of warrant officer. I should have thought that a regimental sergeant-major with a command of several languages would be an asset; I was limited, at the time I held the rank, by the fact that I had forgotten every foreign language except soldiers' French. Now we propose that this limit shall, for the purpose of this Corps, be raised, and Clause 8 is the Clause by which we give effect to that proposal. The restrictions were put in abeyance by Regulation 2 of the Defence (Armed Forces', Regulations, 1939. They will expire on 31st December of this year, the Regulations having been continued in force up to that date by the Emergency Laws (Transitional Provisions) Act, 1946.
An extension of the period of abeyance in relation to Poles is necessary to cover the period within which it may be expected that the Polish Resettlement Corps will have ceased to exist, and the majority of Poles who have enlisted in that Corps will either have been naturalised, or will have ceased to serve with the Colours. I understand that the arrangement will be five years with the Colours as in the old days, and therefore, the limitations we propose within this Clause will, I hope, enable us to deal 386 with the Resettlement Corps which, although unarmed, is a military unit, and has to be administered under the laws relating to the Army while the men are in the Corps. It will enable us also to deal with the number of men who may prefer to serve in one or other of the Armed Forces of the Crown.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
Have the Government made a calculation as to how many are likely to want to join the Forces, because if we take an army of a million, then one in 50 would give us 20,000? The figure the right hon. Gentleman mentioned before was 65,000 in all, in the Resettlement Corps; how many does he expect to want to join the Forces?
§ Mr. Ede
I do not know, and I do not think anyone has yet had an opportunity of finding out from the men themselves. What we are doing here, we are doing for the sake of caution. I am quite sure that the arrangement is one that is reasonable in all the circumstances of the case, and I hope that the men who join the Forces will, in the main, prove themselves good soldiers and, having regard to their previous period in the Forces, will be available at no distant date for naturalisation and thus become British citizens. I want to make it quite clear that we desire to see the people who remain in this country assimilated into the British people, to become acquainted with, and to follow, the British way of life. We do not regard any of the people who remain in this country as being available as military personnel, if at any time there should be any disputes or trouble in Poland. We are determined that, as far as we are concerned, they are not to be regarded as the nucleus of some anti-Warsaw Government army in this country. The whole of our emphasis is that these people have served us, and the cause for which we fought, well. They find it undesirable to return to the country from which they came. If they are not prepared to go to any other part of the world—and we will do what we can to help them if they are—we shall, if they remain in this country, do all we can to assimilate them into the British way of life, and we hope that they will accept the benefit.; which this Bill gives them in that spirit
387 After all, this country has benefited in the past from the intake of various populations who have not found it possible to live in harmony with the government of their own country. They have not always been very easy to assimilate in this country. Many of the Huguenots who fled from France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes when they arrived in this country, promptly declared themselves Unitarians, and thus lost the benefit of the Act of Toleration. We have, nevertheless, had great experience in this country of the benefits that come from the assimilation of virile, active and industrious people into our stock, and anyone who recalls the great wards of Daniel Defoe's "True-born Englishman" will be aware how much justification there is for thinking that a great part of our strength comes from the fact that we, more than any other of the ancient nations of the earth, have been able to assimilate these people and get them into the main stream of our civic life. I sincerely hope that these people will come to us to strengthen us, to help us in our manpower problem, to bring to us the skill and the virility that will enable this country to emerge from its present trials, aided by the assistance they can bring.
§ 4.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
Poland has a long and tragic history, and I hope that today, on this limited Measure, we shall not be drawn into controversies which arouse strong passions and divide not only parties, but wide sections of opinion throughout the country. The suggestion that anyone should go back to Poland has aroused strong passions in this House before, so I shall endeavour to avoid controversy and apply myself to the main question raised by this Bill, which is: Do we by this Bill fulfil the many pledges that have been given to the Poles who served so gallantly beside us throughout the war, and do we discharge this obligation satisfactorily? To that question I think the answer of some of my hon. Friends behind me may be that this Bill is, in some respects, a little cautious; that it appears, in some of its details, to be a little niggardly, and that it is brought forward rather late. Time has been wasted, and much good might have accrued, if these steps had been taken earlier. Broadly speaking, however, I am convinced that my hon. Friends on this 388 side of the House, at any rate, will welcome the Bill. I am sure it goes a long way to honour the obligations which were undertaken on behalf of this country, first by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and since then echoed on behalf of the present Government, by the present Foreign Secretary.
It is very difficult to assess the precise size of the problem with which this Bill attempts to deal. The right hon. Gentleman has given us some figures today, which I gather are quite up-to-date. On 28th January, which is less than a fortnight ago, the Minister of Labour informed the House that 52,000 Poles had enlisted in the Resettlement Corps, and last night, in the Debate which took place on the Adjournment, the same right hon. Gentleman gave a figure of 62,000. This morning, the right hon. Gentleman tells us that the number is 65,000. Things are evidently moving quickly, and it is very difficult to assess precisely the number of persons with whom we are dealing. I accept the right hon. Gentleman's figures that there are 127,000 Poles in the United Kingdom whose future may be affected by the provisions of this Bill.
§ Mr. Ede
I do not want any confusion about the figures, or that it should be thought that there is any dispute about them. Last night, my right hon. Friend gave the figures for those who have been registered in the Resettlement Corps, and I gave the number of those who have opted. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there may be a slight delay between opting for the Corps and being attested.
§ Mr. Peake
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but the fact still remains, that apparently 10,000 additional Poles have enrolled in the Corps during the last 12 or 13 days. Accepting the right hon. Gentleman's figures, there are now 127,000 Poles in the United Kingdom, and of these, according to the figures given by the Minister of Labour last night, only 2,300 have found employment in this country. The right hon. Gentleman told us that 15,000 Poles were uncertain what they wanted to do, and over 26,000 have not yet been asked what they want to do. It follows, therefore, that over 40,000 Poles are at present in a state of uncertainty. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the 389 Government will do everything in their power to get these people to decide at the earliest possible moment what they wish to do, because I am quite sure that of all the courses they can take, the most wasteful from the point of view of our economy, and the most destructive from the point of view of moral, is for the Poles to be sitting in idleness in camps, as many of them have been doing for 18 months or two years.
I am sorry to say that my speech will, to a large extent, be in an interrogatory form, but this Bill does raise a number of difficult questions. I wish to look at the financial aspect of this question, and before the Debate is closed, I think that we ought to have a certain amount of information upon this subject. When I left the Treasury in July, 1945, I remember there was a suns of over £80; million owing to us for advances made to Polish military and civil authorities during the war, and further sums accrued between then and the signing of the financial agreement of 24th June, 1946. If I am not mistaken. the Polish Provisional Government accepted responsibility for these sums, and the agreement, among other clauses, provided that payment should be made to this country of a very large sum of money in respect of the advances we had made out of our resources to the Polish Government in London during the war years. As I understand it, ratification of the financial agreement of 24th June, last year, is held up because the Foreign Secretary and his colleagues in the Government are not satisfied, as I do not think anyone in any quarter of the House is satisfied, with the conduct of the recent Polish Elections. But, there is such a thing as cutting off your nose to spite your face, and if it be the case that under this financial agreement, very large sums of money, perhaps running to £100 million or more, in respect of the great expense to which we have been put in maintaining Poles upon our soil are due to us and can, in fact, be paid, then it does seem to me to require information on why we should refuse to ratify an agreement, under which substantial—
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Is it not a fact that, on the other side of the scales, there is a certain amount of gold held in London which is claimed by the Polish Government?
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman disapproves of the withholding of ratification, on the grounds on which ratification was withheld?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I cannot quite follow the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that what the Government were doing was to say to Poland, "You have done, in Poland, something very wrong, and we are not going to ratify this agreement with you, because you have done something wrong." Is the right hon. Gentleman now saying that we ought to approve of a thing of which we have disapproved, if it could he shown that we can get a financial advantage?
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member will, no doubt, make his speech in his own way and in his own time. All I am asking the Government to explain is this: If there is a very large sum due to us under this agreement, if the agreement were ratified, what on earth is the use of refusing to ratify it, in order to protest against something which has already happened. and which nothing we can now do will alter?
§ Mr. Peake
Precisely. Let us look at the present cost of maintaining these Poles in idleness in this country. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that he will introduce a Supplementary Estimate for £5,250,000 as part of the cost which the Treasury Committee has borne since July, 1945. This, of course, is nothing like the full bill this country has to meet. There was a well-informed article in the "Manchester Guardian" on 4th February, which estimated the cost of maintaining 140,000 or 150,000 Poles in this country at the present time, at no less than £42 million a year, and, of course, much the greater part of that cost is borne on the Votes of the Service Departments. We ought to have fuller information on 391 the costs to which this country is at present being subjected.
We have some figures in the Financial Memorandum, but they cover only a limited aspect of the question. If hon. Members look at the Financial Memorandum they will see that £4½ million is expected to be spent during 1946–48. But this is by no means all, because I understand that the Resettlement Corps will remain under the administration of the Service Departments, and during 1947–48 it is clear that very large numbers of Poles, perhaps 60,000 or more, will be in the Resettlement Corps. I imagine that the period of service in the Resettlement Corps will be anything up to, say, two years. I, therefore, hope chat whoever replies to this Debate for the Government will try to give us the larger financial background to this question and will tell us how much money is due to us under the Financial Agreement of 24th June of last year; what is the present gross cost of maintaining this large number of persons in idleness in this country, and by how much we can expect that that cost to diminish, as a result of the absorption of these Poles into our ordinary economic life.
Now, I want to examine two or three points on the Clauses of the Bill. Clause I rightly provides that the British Royal Warrant of Service pensions should apply to the men who have been wounded and disabled, and the dependants of those who have died, while serving in the Polish Forces. If any tribute were needed to the gallantry of these men, the fact that no fewer than 5,000 lost their lives and 18,000 were, I think, wounded is surely sufficient testimony. But it strikes me as odd that the proviso to Subsection (r) should say:…payments under a scheme made under this section shall be limited to such as fall due for payment before the expiration of five years from the passing of this Act…There is a power to the Treasury to extend the scheme, but it appears to be the normal expectation that the pensions paid to Polish Service personnel will come to an end after five years. I am sure that no one in the House would regard that as satisfactory. I am also sure that the right hon. Gentleman was inaccurate in saying that these Service pensions would not he payable if a man migrated overseas. For British Service personnel there are, of course, arrangements whereby if a man 392 migrates to any part of the British Empire, he continues to draw his disability pension. I should have thought it very desirable to have similar arrangements made for the Poles who are covered by this Bill.
Clause 2 provides for grants from the Assistance Board, and Subsection (1) of that Clause lays down the conditions which have to be fulfilled before the grant can be paid. They are contained in paragraphs (a), (b), and (c)of the Subsection, and are:that he is in need of an allowance;that he has no work, or only such part-time or intermittent work as not to enable him to earn sufficient for his needs; andthat he is, if required by the Board so to be, registered for employment in the prescribed manner.The Schedule provides that these conditions shall apply in substitution for the provisions laid down in the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, which prescribes the conditions for the ordinary subject of this country. I can see no difference whatever between the two sets of conditions, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour who, I understand is to reply, and who is well versed in these matters of unemployment assistance, will be able to point out what difference there is between the conditions under which a Pole can receive a grant from the Assistance Board, and the ordinary conditions applicable to our own people
Clause 3 provides that the Assistance Board shall set up camps, in which mixed communities of men, women and children can he housed. I understand that these are not the same camps as the military camps, in which the Resettlement Corps will be housed; that there are to he separate camps for people who have passed out of the Resettlement Corps, and have been absorbed into civilian jobs in this country. Am I right?
§ Mr. Peake
I am much obliged. It may be that the actual camp will be the same place, but the point is that while in the Resettlement Corps, during the transition from soldier to civilian, the Pole will remain in a camp managed by the War 393 Office. After he gets a civilian job, he may be housed in a camp provided by the Assistance Board.
I want to revert to one other question connected with unemployment. Grants are to be given from the Assistance Board in certain conditions. Everybody knows that British Service personnel are credited with contributions to health and unemployment insurance while they are serving with the Colours, and that when they come out of the Armed Forces their contributions are credited to them so that they are put in a position to draw social insurance benefits. I should like to know whether any similar provision is made for members of the Polish Forces. If that is not so—and I think that probably it is not so—will they become qualified for social insurance benefits in the ordinary way, after a period, by paying a number of contributions to the scheme? I assume that after two years, or whatever the period may be, they will be covered for unemployment or national health insurance. I attach great importance to these men and women becoming entitled, as far as possible, to the full benefits of citizenship in this country.
I entirely agree that the administration of all these civilian camps should be taken out of the hands of the military authorities. In 1940, we had some trouble over camps run by the military authorities in which civilians were interned, and we achieved much more satisfactory results when one of the civil Departments took them over. I assume that the Assistance Board have some previous experience of managing, if not camps, at any rate hostels and I imagine that they are considered by the Government to be the Department best qualified to run these camps. I should have thought that either the Home Office or the Ministry of Labour might have been better qualified than the Assistance Board for this task. The Home Office built up a very sound organisation during the war for looking after 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000 or more interned people and the Ministry of Labour also have great experience of running hostels of all kinds for all sorts and conditions of people. Therefore, I am a little surprised that this job of running the camps is to be handed over to the Assistance Board, hut, no doubt, the hon. Gentleman will be able to explain that matter further.
Clause 5 deals with the temporary registration of Polish doctors and pharma 394 cists. It certainly surprised me, when I read the Bill, to see that the temporary registration granted to these most useful people—when we are short of both doctors and pharmacists in this country—was to expire on 31st December this year. I understand that that is only put into the Bill for some technical reason, and that there are other classes of alien doctors, registered under the Defence Regulations, whose registrations will similarly expire at the same date; that all these categories of alien doctors will have to be considered as a whole; and that something will have to be done, before the end of the year, to see that we are not deprived of the services of these alien doctors, many of whom have given the most valuable service in this country.
Clauses 4 and 6, providing for health and educational services, are clearly necessary. Clause 7, which enables certain limited grants to be given to assist emigration, is, in my view, quite unobjectionable, provided that no pressure is put on these people to go overseas. Clause 8 enables a dispensation to he granted from the limitation on the number of aliens who may serve in any unit of the British Army at one time. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) made, I think, a calculation which seemed to show that the present limitation of one in 50 would enable an enormous number of Poles to join our Fighting Forces; but the limitation imposed by the Army Act is not on the total global number but on the number in any individual unit, and it is obvious that, if we are to accept a number of Poles in the British Army, they should have a few comrades with them, rather than that there should be one in each company or in each battalion of the British Army. In my view, this is a very wise provision. Surely, what we require is that each of these Poles—and they are nearly all young men—should do the job for which he is best fitted. Many of them are first-class agriculturists. Many, I am sure, would make good coal-miners; but numbers of them are professional soldiers, who have done nothing but soldiering for many years, and it would seem to me to be the greatest folly to sacrifice the possible services of these men, because I feel certain that the future of many of them lies in the British Army.
I sum up with a general criticism and commentary on the Bill. It will be generally welcomed as going a long way 395 to discharging the pledges given to the Poles who served with us throughout the war. We want as many of these Poles as possible to be absorbed into our economic life, but we do not want them to remain in isolated communities. There is a strong feeling in Scotland that there are too many Poles in too few places. I am quite sure that if we are to absorb these people successfully, they have to be spread fairly thinly over the country as a whole. We must, however, realise that, in our present plight, able-bodied men and women are the greatest asset which this country can acquire. Will the Home Secretary, therefore, consider some relaxation of the provisions of the law which requires five years' residence preceding naturalisation?
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I think that both my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman will agree that for naturalisation purposes, service in the Armed Forces of the Crown has always been recognised as the equivalent of residence in this country, and had these men been in the British Forces, there would have been no doubt that they qualified under that rule.
§ Mr. Peake
That is exactly the point. These men have not been serving, for the most part, in British Forces but in Polish Forces under British command, which is a totally different thing. Therefore, the great majority of them have not acquired thereby, any entitlement by virtue of constructive residence, to acquire British nationality.
§ Mr. Austin (Stratford)
On that point, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that equal treatment ought to be given to those Poles who not only did not serve in the British Forces, but who gave service in the German Forces against us?
§ Mr. Peake
I have always been against all suggestions of what I call mass naturalisation. On more than one occa- 396 sion, suggestions have been made that whole blocks of people should, automatically, be naturalised. I am strongly opposed to that. Naturalisation is an individual thing. Each individual case should be carefully sifted by the officials of the Home Office and by the police. All I am suggesting is that in the case of those Poles, who fought beside us throughout the war, and who have been given hopes in the past that they would be naturalised, some alteration might be made in the law of constructive residence, which would enable them to make application for naturalisation—when their individual cases will have to be considered on their merits—at an earlier date than would normally be the case, since many of them only arrived in this country from Italy for the first time last year.
§ Mr. Ede
The object of mentioning five years is so that we shall have a fairly clear idea of the way these people live, and whether they accept the British way of life. These people, who have served in the Polish units overseas under Polish officers, have been living under a way of life which is not in every way the same as ours, and I should deprive myself of a considerable safeguard with regard to the admission of individuals if I were to say that I would dispense with the five years' requirement in these cases. I hope that what I have said indicates that I am anxious once the five years stipulation has been met, to deal favourably with as many of these people as I possibly can.
§ Mr. Peake
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will not close his mind completely on this point at this stage. Some of these men have been refugees all over Asia and Europe in order to fight beside us, and have fought gallantly for years throughout the campaigns under Alexander and Montgomery, and I think something might be considered towards shortening the period which would give them hope of acquiring British nationality earlier than five years.
My main criticism of the Government in regard to this Measure is that they have. proceeded too slowly with the absorption of these men into our national economy. There has been a great reluctance on behalf of organised labour to permit these men to be absorbed in our economic life. It is more than a year ago since the proposal to employ Poles was first put to the 397 National Union of Mineworkers by the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and it was not until r7th January of this year, that the National Union of Mineworkers announced that it was prepared to agree to the employment of Polish ex-Servicemen in the pits. Even then, they were to be subject to certain very stringent conditions, for example, that the approval of the local miners' branch or lodge must first be obtained, thereby giving the local branch a complete and absolute veto at the pits.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Is it not a fact that the medical profession did the same with the Polish doctors?
§ Mr. Peake
There are three spheres of employment for which they are admirably suited—agriculture, coalmining and military service. As regards both agriculture and coalmining, the Minister of Labour has laid tremendous stress upon the difficulties of accommodation. I, honestly, do not believe that the difficulties are as great as he makes them out to be. There are in the coal fields numbers of hostels put up during the war for the accommodation of trainees for the coal industry. Most of these hostels are disused, or only partly used now, and they are available for housing volunteers in the pits. Exactly the same thing applies to agriculture. Prisoners of war are being repatriated, and hutted camps, erected for prisoners of war are becoming available to house Poles who are employed in agriculture. Again, the Minister of Labour stressed last night in the Debate on the Adjournment the difficulties of language. Listening to him, one got the impression that none of these Poles could speak a single word of English, and had to be taught English before they could even be trained for a job. I have here an extract from an article which appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" of 10th February dealing with the 32,000 Poles in Scotland. Of the 32,000, 70 per cent., or something like 24,000, have applied to be enrolled in the Resettlement Corps.
§ Mr. Peake
All right then, 22,000. The article states:35 per cent. can speak fluent English, nearly 50 per cent. more can speak broken English, and only about 15 per cent. can speak no English.It that be a fact, then the Minister of Labour has greatly exaggerated the difficulties of language. There must be tens of thousands of Poles who know enough English already to be able to take up employment. After all, to take up employment in many of the simpler jobs, a man does not want to know a great many different words. The Home Secretary spoke of his experiences as a sergeant-major during the 1914–1918 war. He knows what a limited number of words a private soldier needs to get along.
We hope that the provisions made by the Bill, and the administrative action necessary to follow up the Bill, will be pressed on with all possible haste. It appears that 10,000 have enrolled in the Resettlement Corps in the last two or three weeks, and I hope that things will go forward very quickly. It is an appalling economic and financial waste that we have had these men in camps, in idleness, for over 18 months now. The cost to the country cannot be less than £30 million or £40 million, whereas these 100,000 or 120,000 men ought to be an enormous asset to our national life. Not only that, but our economy has suffered from these insufferable delays; and great moral damage has been done to the Poles themselves, because idleness is always a bad thing, but enforced idleness is worst of all. None of us in this House suffers from enforced idleness at the moment; we all have too much to do. I hope that the responsible Ministers will press on with action under this Bill, in order to get these Poles into employment at the earliest possible opportunity. With those words, I give my blessing to the Bill.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
With the exception of one Clause, namely Clause 8, I welcome this Bill. I feel that we owe it to these Poles, not all of whom are villains, The Opposition and particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) have said some things in regard to bringing these men from Italy. It was under the pressure of the Opposition that we invited General 399 Anders and his army to come here, and in view of that, I am surprised at the view expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. I do agree with him that, on the whole, it is a good thing for this race, which is a mongrel race, to be able to absorb into itself this great body of men, provided we put nothing in the way of these Poles at any time, either before they go into the Resettlement Corps, when they are in it or after they come out of it, returning to Poland. That is the first and last duty of a Pole—to return to his own country if possible. We hope that these men, in whom there is a great deal of patriotism—there is no one more patriotic than the Pole—will come to a sense of their duty towards their own country and towards the womenfolk whom they have left 'behind, and who are having a very hard time today working in that great land. In regard to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary about the men taking a course at the university, I hope that nothing we spend now upon preparing them for their future life, will be allowed to militate against their going back to Poland if they decide to go.
There are one or two points in connection with the Bill, on which I hope very much there will be modification during the Committee stage. This Bill has been presented at a rather delicate time—at a time when a new Government has just been elected in Poland. Whatever the Opposition may think about that Government, it is now a fait accompli, and I hope we shall do all we can to maintain friendly relations with it, and help it to take its place in the comity of European nations. We have much to gain from Poland, which is one of the great industrious countries of Europe. Now that the Bill has come forward, I hope nothing will be allowed to remain in it, which can give any conceivable offence to the new Polish Government. For that reason I want to call attention to one point with regard to Clause 1 (3) which has already been raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It concerns people to whom pensions are to be paid. I hope this provision will be explained to the House by whoever replies. I do not know what is the general method of paying pensions earned by foreign soldiers, in our Forces or in any other way, but there teems here to be discrimination 400 against a Polish soldier who has qualified for pension and who, having first resided in this country, later desires to return to Poland. As the Clause is drafted he may go just anywhere; he may stay here, he may go to Timbuctoo, to Germany or to any other place, but he will not receive his pension if he returns to Poland. I know that this is causing considerable anxiety and that the ordinary people of Poland think it is a hit against them. They say, "This man has earned a pension, but he has to lose it if he comes back to Poland. Surely this is to prevent his return." They may be quite wrong, but anybody reading the Clause cannot gainsay that, as worded, it is a discrimination against Poland and that no other country is mentioned. I feel, therefore, that we should have some explanation or that the Clause should be amended in Committee.
I also draw attention to another point which has already been raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. It is the question of why so much is being placed on the shoulders of the Assistance Board. I should have thought that the camps which are being set up and which, after all, are to house men who will be going out to work in mines, in agriculture and so on, might be administered by the Ministry of Labour, which has great experience in running such hostels. They are not charitable institutions, or institutions for men who are not earning their living and not supporting their families. There seems no reason why these men should be placed under public assistance unless nobody else is willing to receive them. I do not know whether the Ministry of Labour, the Home Office and other Ministries and Departments concerned with this Bill—of which there are many—are refusing to have the charge of these men, so that public assistance is the only administration left that can look after them. But I feel that it is the wrong authority and would give them the wrong standing in the eyes of the rest of the community. I would have said that for their sake we should try to place them under the Ministry of Labour, which has great knowledge of how to run camps from which men are going out to work.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
It seems to me that the hon. Lady, and possibly other hon. Members, are a little confused on this point. The Assistance Board is not coming under, or associated with, public 401 assistance. It will be under the Ministry of National Insurance. I interjected that at this point so that my hon. Friend might be put right.
§ Mrs. Manning
Of course, I meant the Assistance Board and should have used that term at the time, but we all know that the confusion which led me to say "public assistance" on two occasions, is one which will continue to reside in the minds of a great many people, even when the Assistance Board takes the place of public assistance, as it will under the new Ministry. Because of that, and very much more because of the experience which the Ministry of Labour have acquired in their labour camps, I hope this point will be reconsidered.
I should like now to refer to the Clause which deals with education. I am delighted to learn of the excellent work which has already been done in the education of Poles, whether in the university standard, or in the elementary standard —for those who are perhaps almost illiterate—or in the secondary stage. Nevertheless, I am a little anxious with regard to what the Home Secretary said. He told the House that the education which is to be given at this Polish University College in London is to be entirely English and is to be run entirely on English lines.
§ Mr. Ede
I chose my words very carefully on that point. I said it would have a British emphasis. The hon. Lady and I, as teachers, know the objection to using the word "bias," and I therefore chose the wording, "it should have a British emphasis." But as one proceeds from the known to the unknown, I presume that it will start with the recognition of the Polish outlook of the student.
§ Mrs. Manning
It is, of course, bound to proceed from that point. My right hon. Friend and I, both being teachers, know that that is the only possible way to educate everyone—by proceeding from their own standpoint and from what they already know. However, if from that point onwards, we begin to move the emphasis—again, I will not use the word "bias" which is not favoured in educational circles and make it completely English, I feel that it is very likely that these men, with their original Polish outlook, will be in a difficult situation. If they stay in this country they will be 402 neither fish, flesh nor fowl. If they go back to Poland, they will be in an even more difficult situation because they will have been trained, as my right hon. Friend says, with a peculiarly British emphasis.
What I should like to ask is whether any kind of advice is being sought from those who know Polish life and who know the new Poland. To put it bluntly, is the Warsaw Government being considered at all, in the education arrangements that are being made for these men at the Polish University College? I think it is a matter of paramount importance, and one of prestige for the Polish Government that they should have some consideration in the kind of education which is being given to these men who will they hope—whatever we may think about it—go back to Poland eventually. I believe that they will go back there in very large numbers, as has been shown by the number who have already gone back, even at a time when there has been considerable propaganda against doing so, when everything is unsettled and difficult in their own country, and when, to some extent, they have not been having too bad a time here. This raises great expectations about their return in the future, and is one of the most pleasing features of the whole situation.
I know that other hon. Members will deal with Clause 8 very fully and I will only say that it fills me with a great deal of dismay, from two points of view. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman opposite that if there is one thing we ought to do for Poles if we are to take them from the Army, it is to disperse them as widely as possible. If these men are to stay here and learn about the British way of life, and forget some of the bad things they have learned during their tour in Italy, and under their officers during the time they were in the Second Army, it will be by mixing with honest-to-God British Tommies, miners and agriculturists, and not by being put into groups of their own. Although it is always nice for a man to have a pal, and one would not object to two or three of them being together, I hope that if they are taken into the Army they will be dispersed as widely as possible. Although there are many other objections to that Clause, that is the objection which I wanted to state, and it arose out of what my right hon. Friend said. I hope the 403 Bill will be given a Second Reading. It has come rather late. These men have been left in idleness for some time. I do not say they have not made good use of the time in more ways than one, some of them a little objectionable; but it is a good thing that the Bill should have a Second Reading, because it is time the matter was settled, and I believe this Bill will settle it. Although there are some things in the Bill that I do not like, I believe they can be amended in Committee.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I cannot agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) that the Warsaw Government ought to be consulted on the kind of education that should be given at the Polish University College. I think I am right in saying that the British Government are not consulted on the kind of education given in any university in this country, and I hope they never will be. Education ought to be free from any kind of Government interference. I do not think it is unreasonable to expect that, if these Polish subjects are to be educated in this country at British expense, what the Home Secretary has called an emphasis of the British way of life should be part of their education. I hope the hon. Lady was also wrong in suggesting that these Poles will be neither fish, fowl nor good red herring. I hope they will be accepted in this country as potential British citizens, with full and equal rights if they so desire, and that they will be treated accordingly, and that if that is their desire later to leave this country and return to Poland they will be able to carry with them recollections of fair, just and equal treatment, so as to maintain happy relations between their own country and this country.
I think we can all appreciate the fact that it is a very serious decision which these Poles are being called upon to make. I think none of us will underestimate the gravity or seriousness of the decision when a man has to decide whether he will, perhaps for ever, forsake the country in which he was born and proclaim a desire to become a citizen of another country. I think we shall fully sympathise with them in the difficult nature of the decision which they have 404 to take. It is a decision which every hon. Member can be thankful he has never been called upon, and is never likely to be called upon, to make. For that reason, while I agree that it is very important that this Polish Resettlement Corps should be set up as soon as possible, we ought to be very careful not to impose an unreasonable time limit on those Poles who have not yet made up their minds. We were told by the Home Secretary that, so far, there are some 40,000 Poles who are either undecided or have not yet been approached. My attention has been drawn to a War Office order, issued on 2nd February, which I consider to be very disturbing. It is to the effect, in paragraph 12, thatOfficers and men who have not signed on as members of the Resettlement Corps will be given seven days in which to do so. If after this period they have not signed, they will be taken to a camp near Hull, then by snip to Cuxhaven near Osnabrück there demobilised, given 400 marks, a civilian outfit, and left to fend for themselves.A similar order has been issued to naval and air force personnel by the Admiralty and Air Ministry. I think that is quite wrong, and I hope those orders will be withdrawn, because it is not right, in circumstances of this kind, to issue what is, in effect, a seven days ultimatum to the men to come to a decision in a matter of this kind. I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly. In my opinion, it is not only a just and wise Bill, but it is also an act of great statesmanship on the part of this country. I welcome it, and the reception it has been given, because I think it indicates a change of attitude to foreigners coming to this country which, to me, is very pleasing. At one time there was a great deal of xenophobia in this country. We were an insular people, and for that reason we were apt to regard every foreigner with suspicion and hostility. That is typified in the story of the British navvy who was reported to have said, "Here is a foreigner, heave a brick at him." But I believe there is another tradition in this country, the sort of tradition which received the Flemish weavers in this country, which received the Huguenots, which received the victims of the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe in the '80's and '90's; the tradition which has opened the gates of this country to victims of religious and political persecution, and as a result of which this country has reaped very great benefit. These men have been the means 405 of increasing the prosperity of the country and making very valuable contributions, through their descendants, to the life of the nation.
Today the addition to our population of people from outside is perhaps our greatest national need. The shortage of manpower is something which is not merely acute, but something which, unless it is overcome, threatens our position in the world as a great Power. Without an increase in our manpower, towards which this Bill can make a valuable contribution, it will be impossible to make that industrial recovery which is necessary if we are to achieve a better world and that better future for our people which every hon. Member desires to see realised. All of us are concerned today with the coal shortage, but we appreciate the fact that if we could get 100,000 more men into the mines, our anxieties with regard to coal would disappear in a way which could not be achieved by any other means. In that connection, therefore, I am disturbed to learn that it will be necessary to obtain the consent of every miners' lodge or branch before Poles are allowed to work in the mines in any district.
I hope that the T.U.C. will use their influence to try to get a more generous attitude towards the employment of Poles in the mines. It might have been all right for organised labour to take up that attitude in the past, but today we have in power a Government pledged to a policy of full employment. If the T.U.C., who support that Government, really believe in that policy, and in the pledges of the Government to carry it out, they ought to welcome the introduction of Polish miners into the mines in the largest possible numbers. Without that addition to our manpower in the mines, it will be increasingly difficult for the Government to realise their policy of full employment, as is witnessed in the country today by the fact that, owing to the shortage of coal, millions of men and women are temporarily unemployed.
We must remember also our great commitments overseas, which necessitate the maintenance of Armed Forces much larger than they were before the war. I understand that something like a million more men are now in the Armed Forces than were there before the war. For that reason, we welcome the Bill, which shows us one way in which the deficiency of our manpower can be made up. I believe that 406 the great majority of the Poles, if once they made a decision to stay in this country, would become so used to the British way of life, that their stay in this country would become permanent. The British way of life is something that grows upon one. As the Poles got to understand it more, and as their ties in this country were strengthened, it would be natural that they should wish to stay here.
In addition to the industries that have been mentioned in which the Poles would be of service to the community—mining and agriculture—I believe that the Poles are badly needed also in the textile industry. There was a flourishing textile industry in Poland before the war, and I am sure that many of these men who are, in the main, quite adaptable, would be able to make a valuable contribution to the relief of the manpower shortage in our textile industry. I am glad that the Bill is generous in its provision for these people. The provisions in regard to pensions, assistance if they fall by the wayside. medical attention and education are all on a generous scale. It is only applying to modern times a very humane regulation laid down in the Old Testament:One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.I am glad not only that the Poles are being accepted in this country as honoured guests and potential citizens, but that they are reaping the advantage of our social, educational and health services. It means that they feel in every way attracted to the British way of life and also they have a sense of equal citizenship with all the other members of our community. For that reason I hope that the Home Secretary will, at the earliest possible date, consider the naturalisation of these men. There is no special virtue in the five year period, in the sense that it must be observed in every particular case. The fact that these men have been fighting on our side during the war, ought to be taken, in some measure, into account. One hopes that this kind of occasion is not likely to recur, and I hope that it may be found possible to make some special provision to reduce the five-year statutory provision, without the fear that a dangerous precedent will be created.
I am glad that we are treating the Poles, who were our Allies in the war, in this generous way. Just as we remember 407 the services rendered by the Poles, I hope that we shall always remember—even when we are provoked by some of them, perhaps—the services which all our Allies in the war rendered to us, in the days of our greatest danger. I am very anxious that the Poles should receive just and generous treatment from the people of this country. I hope that the same kind of attitude will be adopted towards all our Allies. I have a regard and a grateful affection for what the Poles did for us, but that does not mean that I have any less regard for what Russia did for us in the war. Even when there has been difficulty in the relationships between Russia and ourselves, even when, like so many other people, I tended to become provoked by it, I have fortified myself always with the recollection of what Russia's heroism meant to us in the war and of the contribution she made to our efforts and to our victory. I therefore welcome wholeheartedly the proposals of the Bill as a wise and generous Measure, and I trust that it will be implemented in the near future, with great advantage to the Poles and to the people of this country.
§ 5.37 P.m.
§ Mr. M. F. Titterington (Bradford, South)
May I support the excellent observations which were made by the Minister in introducing the Bill? It is one of the finest expressions of internationalism that has been made on behalf of His Majesty's Government. For that reason, the Bill should commend itself to a large number of Members. I am also deeply thankful to him for his observations in regard to the policy behind the Bill, which he suggests is an "orderly and appropriate demobilisation." I am sure that that point of view will come home to us, and that it is one from which no hon. Member will dissent. May I agree also with the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), and the hon. Lady the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning), that there is a profound advantage to be derived from what one may call "the cross-fertilisation of culture" represented by the presence of the Polish people in this country. I am actuated in my support of the Second Reading also because my seniors spent a. considerable time in Warsaw as representatives of our textile trade, and I feel that it is incumbent upon one to recognise the terms and conditions which the representatives 408 of the industry, to which I have the honour to belong, enjoyed in the years gone by. The corporations and associations in the textile trade will feel, I am sure, that it would be, in a sense, a return to the Poles for the cordial reception which British industrialists have had in Poland in the past years.
Finally, the wool textile industry is making a great gesture, because it has actually offered work to the dependants of men and to our Polish friends, who may come here to work in an industry which requires further assistance. That is not merely an economic consideration. It is a logical and sincere outcome of the hospitality that Bradford extended to our Polish Allies. From that point of view, we are expressing internationalism—which is the exchange of one nation with another and the exchange of the people who represent those nations—in the form to which quite a large number of hon. Members give, at least, their nominal adherence. For those rather precise reasons I support and endorse the very interesting outline and explanation which the Minister has given of the Bill. One could make certain reservations in a controversial way, but that does not prevent one endorsing the Bill without reservations at this stage. As I say, for those relatively precise reasons and without any effort at oratorical embellishment, I support the Second Reading.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Astor (Surrey, Eastern)
With due deference, the Home Secretary's speech was very much better than the Bill itself. His broadminded and very human approach to the subject gave us hints of better things to come, better things than I can find in the Bill. I cannot take the slightly complacent point of view of my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). The sins of omission in this Bill are very considerable.
The Home Secretary made two points which I would like to take up. I should like to say incidentally that he emphasised the point that the vast majority of opinion in this country is, in no way interested in using the unfortunate circumstances of a small minority of people, as a whipping block for their own violent political beliefs. The Home Secretary made the point that he was not responsible for the Polish Resettlement Corps. That is a 409 very apt point. Whenever the Poles want to get anything done, they have to deal with six or seven Departments, and that is one point which should not go unnoticed. The Home Secretary also made the point that His Majesty's Government have decreed that these Poles will not be made to return to Poland against their will. That is very important, and will meet with the approval of the whole House; but, on the other hand, life can be so intolerable in certain circumstances that these men find themselves with very little or no alternative to returning to their country. What constitutes a tolerable life is not merely having enough to eat and having exercise; there is also the psychological aspect of having something to live for and having some prospects.
This Bill is a palliative. It is introduced because of the situation in which we find ourselves in relation to the Resettlement Corps. But I would like to look briefly at the background of the Resettlement Corps and see who these people are. The Resettlement Corps really consists of three elements. There are the Poles who escaped from Europe in 1940. We may call them the Dunkirk Poles. I would remind the two Communist hon. Members—the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) is just entering the House—that these Poles fought Fascism before the intervention of Russia in the war. Then there are those who escaped from Eastern Poland and joined General Anders' Army and fought with great distinction. The third element, a minority element, are those who were serving in the German Army and were captured by us. There is a great deal of misunderstanding over these particular men and I will refer to them later. Then there is a fourth element which strictly speaking does not come within the orbit of this Bill, although it indirectly affects the approach to the Polish question—the large number of Poles in the British zone of Germany, who were in the German labour battalions and who are now really displaced persons. They are living in ghastly conditions. They have refused to go back to Poland, but they have really practically no alternative to going back and meeting goodness knows what fate there. The only reason I mention this element in relation to this Bill, is that it is chiefly this element which has got the Poles a bad 410 name. The Poles generally have a very good name up and down the country, and it is that nucleus which has given them a bad name. The conditions under which they are living are conducive to bringing out any criminal instincts which may be in their midst and to creating conditions which foster the very worst side of them. That is happening, I believe, on a very large scale. Without being emphatic, my information is that there are 150,000 of these people in the British zone alone. The Bill does not deal with the Poles in India, the Middle East and Africa. They are a different matter.
That is the background. Today, according to the Home Secretary, we have some 65,000 Poles in the Resettlement Corps in this country, and we may take it that it will be a potential of 85,000 Poles. Taking into account the other figures the Home Secretary gave, that is a conservative estimate. In the war these men were very acceptable to us, they fought very gallantly and really were heroes and staunch allies. Today, we are being a bit complacent about them. These Poles are positivly rotting with boredom in many cases—absolute abject boredom. They have centred their hope-in this country. Their hopes in their own country have gone, for the time being, at any rate. They had various reasons to believe they might be allowed to acquire British citizenship. Now they are forcibly unemployed, and they have no hopes or prospects. The shortcoming of this Bill is that it does not provide what is needed—prospects.
This is going on concurrently with a major manpower crisis here. We have really committed a twofold crime. We have let down our Allies in their real hour of need, and we are letting down the country, in not mobilising all the resources we can to increase our man-power. Why is this? I believe there are two elements conducive to this in varying degree. One is the fear on the part of the Government of Russian reaction to our treatment of the Poles here, and the other is the fear of the trade union movement in this country.
There are those two factors. On the first, I think there are certain indications that we shall be a little less sensitive to Russian reaction and criticism. I sincerely hope so. Surely, any government has learned by now that appeasement does 411 not pay, particularly where it infringes a matter of principle? With regard to the trades unions, they have been influenced chiefly by the slanderous character given to a certain element in the Polish Resettlement Corps, and there has been a certain amount of propaganda from private persons through one or two newspapers and hon. Members of this House—a very few —giving these people a bad name.
Who are these people who were captured from the German Army? I have taken some considerable trouble to find out. Some of them fought in the First Polish Armoured Division. I came across them in Normandy at the outset of the battle, fighting with the Poles having only been captured three weeks previously. Mostly they were the simple minded peasant type with no education and no political convictions. They had a pistol put at their heads, a most ghastly ultimatum from the Germans. The T.U.C. could not think that the Germans would give them pleasant terms. They were given no alternative at all, and were driven to fighting in the German Army. When we captured them and made them fight on our side, they were accepted willingly by their colleagues. In General Anders' Army they were carefully vetted and a good many of them thrown out. This war has shown this regrettable fact, that you can take a fairly illiterate person from almost anywhere and, if you handle him intelligently, and with toughness, you can make him fight in any Army irrespective of the cause for which he is fighting. I would ask the Government and the T.U.C. to remember this. I would ask them to consider also that, much as the trade union movement is admired in this House, if it directs Government policy, it is really going right outside its own bounds. For it to fulfil the functions of government is quite incredible. Once again the Government, if they do not exercise foresight, will shortly have to react to a crisis or to a near crisis, and you react to a crisis because you have not taken any positive action to create the reaction in the country which you want. You have not set the tune in the matter. If, however, the Government will really get to the bottom of this problem, they will see there are two things that are important. One is that we should not have a festering mass of people becoming increasingly bitter and 412 disillusioned and bored. The other is the manpower problem. Now is a good moment to go to the country when the country is feeling the pinch. I am sure the Government can do it, and I sincerely hope they will. I have heard it said that some of these Poles are a menace to world peace, but to suggest that the Polish Resettlement Corps is a menace to world peace is the biggest rubbish that has ever been said. The only way one could possibly make them a menace to society—and that is their limit—is by making them so bored and frustrated and ingrown in their life that they become anti-social.
It may be said that one of the difficulties of producing a bigger charter, a more red-blooded Bill than this, is that there is a grave shortage of training personnel to fit these people for industry and civilian life. To that I would say that half the problem is psychological. The physical propensities will follow. The important thing is to raise their morale, to give them something to live for and some hope. Until that is done, I do not see how they can be expected to take a balanced decision as to what they want to do. I sincerely trust that we shall not hear that the Bill is adequate because of emigration on a large scale. There was a suggestion that Brazil and the Argentine would take large numbers of these Poles, but I have reason to believe that neither of those countries can carry out that idea, quite apart from their present addiction to importing Latins rather than Slays. In any case it avoids our manpower problem. Secondly, I hope we shall not be told that no plan is needed because of the attitude of a few unions towards employing Poles, because that is only a drop in the ocean and does not begin to tackle the problem. Members of the Labour Party are very hot on humanitarianism. I have heard Members of the Labour Party preaching about the evils of forcing people into unemployment in the most deplorable, dull, dreary and drab conditions. All I can say is, what will happen to these Poles if we let them go on much longer like this, if we do not do something much more drastic than we are doing now?
For my own part I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) who suggested that these Poles should go to occupied Germany. I see that there would be certain international complications, but I think the two difficulties which would arise 413 would be these: either you would have a mercenary Army lasting for some 20 years, which would really be a compulsory mercenary Army because it would have virtually no alternative, and that would be a deplorable state of affairs, or these Poles would occupy Germany so as to allow British soldiers to be demobilised. Later their turn would come to be demobilised, and we would suddenly have to raise the level of our conscription to fill that gap. Any Government which had to do that would be asked to do a very awkward thing. Most important of all, it would not really tackle the problem, which is to allow these people to be good and useful citizens. I describe the Bill as a rather milk-and-water affair. We accept it, because it is certainly better than nothing. But, to my mind, it is a palliative. It is like giving an aspirin to a man who has to have his leg amputated. I urge the Government to take the bull by the horns, and to devise a real charter for these people for two reasons. First, from the humane point of view and from the point of view of supporting our allies, and, secondly, from the point of view of our own national expediency, with this one object in view, of allowing the Polish Resettlement Corps to play its proper part in the resettlement of the world.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. H. Hynd (Hackney, Central)
This is a wonderful country At a time of national stringency, and when the Opposition have been studying Supplementary Estimates, watching every penny of expenditure, they are not only supporting. but encouraging the Government to spend £4,250.000. plus the cost of the Resettlement Corps for these 100.000 Poles. I am not against that: I welcome the fact that the Government, whether it is too late or not, are now trying to settle a burning problem, which is causing a tremendous amount of disquiet, especially in Scotland where these Poles are even more obvious than in London. In London, it is impossible to go into a tube train without seeing some Poles in uniform. In Scotland there is strong public criticism of the way in which they seem to be able to live better than the ordinary population, and to have unlimited transport to get about, and the generous way in which they seem to he treated
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) called this Bill a milk-and-water affair, and said we were letting down our 414 Allies. From what he said, I failed to find out what he had in mind, and in what respect the Bill was full of shortcomings. When I speak of criticism about generosity, I have in mind a recent case which I think worth citing in this Debate. It is the case of a man named Starszak who told the magistrate in a police court case that he was living on a pension of £6 a week. From correspondence with Government Departments concerned, I found that the man was getting a pension of £5 4s. 9d. a week from the Interim Treasury Committee for Polish Questions for himself, his wife and two children. No one would say that that was an excessive amount for a man to live on, unless it is compared with the situation of a British subject, who in the same circumstances, if he were relying on the public assistance committee, would get only 60s. 6d., or, under the Assistance Board, 65s. a week. The extraordinary thing was, that whereas the Treasury Committee were paying this man £5 4s. 9d. a week, on the ground that apparently he was unfit for work of any kind, he had previously been examined by the Ministry of Pensions who decided that he was suffering from an anxiety state, in no way connected with service, and that his disability amounted to what they call 6 to 14 per cent. assessment. A British subject would get nothing in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Astor
When I spoke of a charter, I was speaking broadly of a policy to absorb these men into industry and to give them a nationality. But when the hon. Gentleman refers to increased expenditure, and extravagance, I would point out that there is a very big dividend to be reaped, as all these men are potential workers.
§ Mr. Hynd
I am obliged for the explanation I want to speak of the arrangements for the Polish Resettlement Corps which, despite numerous Questions in this House, still seems to be a little obscure in its organisation. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), for example, quoted a few months ago a War Office Order, dated 2nd February, which he said gave those people a time limit of seven days I am inclined to agree with him that that is an unreasonable time limit, but I think the House will agree that there ought to be some time limit. This afternoon we were told by the Home Secretary that 26,400 Poles have not yet 415 been asked to make a decision, but 15,400 have been asked, and have not yet made a decision. Are these people to be allowed to sit tight, and do nothing at all? It is essential that some time limit should be given for them to make up their minds whether they are going into the Corps or not. What will happen to those who do not enrol? According to the War Office Order which was quoted, they are more or less to be put into the category of displaced persons. If anyone has an alternative suggestion; I would be interested to hear it. Obviously, if they refuse to go into the Resettlement Corps, they cannot be expected to sit tight on Army pay and conditions for the rest of their natural lives. That would not be fair or reasonable for the people of this country.
Last night we were told that there was a certain amount of delay in enrolling these people, because they had to be screened to find out how many of them were Fascists. We were not told what happens to those who are screened, and found to be Fascists. What happens to them? I hope some answer will be given when the Minister replies. There is a separate resettlement scheme for the R.A.F. I would like to know why that is. I hope nothing I am saying will be regarded as implying that I am behindhand with any hon. Member in paying tribute to the Poles who fought in the Battle. of Britain, or anywhere else with the British Forces. Yet why should there be a separate scheme for the R.A.F.? What about other ancillary forces connected with the Poles? They have a Red Cross organisation, and, I believe, a White Cross organisation, and they have their own Y.M.C.A. Are these people to be taken into the Resettlement Corps, or demobilised straight away, as I think they ought to be, and treated on the same basis as all the others?
This afternoon the Home Secretary mentioned quite casually that these Poles were disarmed. I should like to be quite certain about that. Only the other evening I happened to be boarding a train at Euston, and noticed two Poles carrying tommyguns. Whether that was because I was on the train, I do not know. I do not think they were the only Poles I have recently seen carrying arms. I should like to be quite sure that these people are to be disarmed, as the Home Secretary told us in May last year.
416 Up to now, all hon. Members talking about the Corps have used the term "men," whereas of course it includes women. Many women are going about in the uniform of the Polish forces. Who are they? Are they administrative staff, all bona fide recruits, who were in the Forces during the war, or has there been any enlistment? Is there any possibility that women have been put into uniform since the war? I would like to be quite certain about that, and what their position is to be under this Bill.
Turning to the actual terms of the Bill, I should like to reinforce the remarks made about Clause 2 by several hon. Members who have already spoken, particularly that part about payment not being made unless the recipient is in the United Kingdom, and to repeat the question about what is to happen, for example, to a person who comes within the terms of the Bill and gets a pension, but who goes, not to a part of the British Empire—I think that will be covered—but to another country, perhaps another European country or a South American country. One point has not been raised in relation to Clause 1. That is, it provides for pensions for people who were disabled, or for the dependants of people who were disabled,in consequence of service during the 1939 world war.Several hon. Members have already drawn attention to the fact that many of the Poles in this country served in the German Army. Under the literal interpretation of this Clause, it would, I suggest, permit pensions to be paid to men who were disabled whilst serving in the Germany Army, or to the dependants of those killed while serving in the German Army.
§ Mr. Hynd
Whether it was against their will or not, was that interjection seriously meant to suggest that the Bill would provide pensions for men who served in the German Army, or for the dependants of men who were killed while serving in the German Army? I really cannot believe it, and I would ask the Minister to deal with that point when he replies.
I come to my main criticism of this Bill, which is that, in several Clauses, 417 there is provision for the setting up of special camps, special health services, special education services, and finally, under Clause 8, a relaxation of the rule about aliens serving in the British Forces. Yet, all through the Home Secretary's speech the emphasis was upon getting these people absorbed into the British way of life, as he repeatedly said. That being our aim, I suggest that the whole emphasis of the Bill is in the contrary direction, that is, into segregating the Poles into separate Polish organisations. We see here, in Clause after Clause, provision for the Government, either themselves or through agencies, to set up these separate camps, separate hospitals, separate schools, etc.
I imagine that, in practice, that is likely to mean that the officers of the Polish Forces, who are now in charge of these people, will be in charge of these schools, these camps and hospitals. I suggest that is wrong, if the object of the Bill is to absorb them into the British way of life, because it is doing the very opposite. Mention has been made, for example, of a Polish girls school at Pitlochry. I happen to know it. It is a very exclusive school, and provides a kind of education such as very few girls in this country are getting. That is an exclusive institution which should not be allowed to continue. Let us have it, provided it is open to other people. Let us get these girls mingled with the other girls in this country, if they are to settle down in this country. If they are not to settle down in this country, I suggest we should then give them every facility to go back to Poland at the earliest possible date.
Here I differ with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning). She rather suggested that the education should be along narrow, Polish nationalist lines, with the object that they should eventually go back to Poland. Frankly, I do not think that we should go to the expense of giving Poles the university education she had in mind, with the object of sending them back to Poland late. I am willing to support everything in this Bill that provides all necessary health, education and other facilities proposed, provided it is with the sole aim and object of absorbing them into the life of this country. We also find, in Clause 7 (1) which deals with emigra- 418 tion, a curious phrase to the effect that assistance will not be givento former members of any of those forces emigrating immediately on their discharge therefrom,…What does that mean? Does it mean that any Pole who is enterprising enough to make arrangements to emigrate will get no assistance, but that any one who says, "It is not my responsibility" will get assistance, and will be sent overseas by this Government? Perhaps we might have a word of explanation.
On the question of Clause 8, dealing with service in the Forces, I was glad to hear the hon. Member for East Surrey dissociate himself from the suggestion that anything like a Polish armed force ought to be sent to the occupied countries. I hope that the Minister will be able to go just one step further tonight, in his reply. I am afraid that if we are to allow an unlimited number of Poles to serve in any one unit—that is the implication of what has already been said—it will mean that we shall have complete, or almost complete, Polish units as part of the British Army. If that is so, can we have a pledge that any units of that kind will not be sent to any of the occupied countries, because that would be carrying out, on a smaller scale, the suggestion which has been condemned by the Government spokesman?
One hon. Member has also mentioned that he did not think the Bill went far enough, because there were certain other people involved. The Home Secretary told us that he intended to draw into the Bill as many people as possible. It is quite true that there are many people in more or less the same category as a lot of the Poles who are to be catered for by this Bill. For example, at Rimini, in Italy, there is a large camp of 10,000 Ukrainians who are in a similar position, perhaps a better position, than the Poles who fought in the German Army, and who will be catered for by this Bill. There are other categories which I need not list. If we are to extend the Bill we might possibly bear them in mind. But, quite frankly, I do not know where the limit could be drawn if we once started along that line. It seems a little strange that we should accept the view so complacently that this Bill, and all these special provisions, must be provided for Poles and nobody but Poles.
419 I thoroughly agree that the main object of the Government ought to be to get the Poles to return to Poland. I feel certain that there has been undue pressure upon them by their officers and others to remain in this country. That is my opinion. I had the advantage of being one of the Parliamentary Delegation which went to Poland last year. I saw there how bitterly the people in Poland resented what they regarded as our encouragement of these people to remain in this country. We, representing this House, Members of all parties, did our best to tell the Poles that we were not encouraging them to remain in this country. I think that we succeeded, to a large extent, in convincing the people to whom we spoke, but there are certain things in this Bill that lead to that suspicion. The number of newspapers and the amount of propaganda that have been allowed to circulate in this country have encouraged the suspicion that strong pressure has been brought to bear by these men's officers and others to induce them to stay here. I do not say that in every case the object has been the creation of a counter-revolutionary army. There may be a lesser incentive. Some of these officers have "cushy" jobs, looking after these people, and they are not in a hurry to have them dispersed.
I think that the ancillary organisations I have mentioned should be dispersed immediately. The Polish Resettlement Corps should be completely disarmed. I do not believe they are completely disarmed. Furthermore, they should be taken out of the control of their own officers and out of uniform. Unless we go to that extent there will be cause for this suspicion in Poland, and elsewhere, that we are in danger of setting up a State within a State. The Home Secretary claimed that the object is to absorb the Poles into the life of this country. That will be a good thing, I agree. I would support a Bill on those lines—
§ Mr. H. Hynd
I hope I have not given a wrong impression. My main object is that as many Poles as possible should go back to their own country. There is a job for them to do there. It is a big job which will mean harder work than they 420 will be asked to do here, under more severe conditions than those which exist in this country.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
Is the hon. Gentleman also in favour of the view that all alien refugees who came to this country during the war should be asked to go back to their own countries?
§ Mr. H. Hynd
Certainly, I am, but I am with the Government, and everybody else, in agreeing that none of them ought to be forced to go back. I say that they ought to be encouraged to go; I think the Poles have been unduly discouraged. I do not think that the real conditions have been properly put to them and—
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
The hon. Gentleman said first that they ought to be encouraged to go back to Poland. Then he said that he is entirely in favour of encouraging Poles to become part and parcel of the people of this country.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
They may seem to the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be antagonistic. I claim that they are not contradictory at all: they are complementary. My first object is to get the Poles back to their own country. It is their patriotic duty to go to help in the rebuilding of their country. On the political plane, I say that if they do not like the political set-up in their country, they should go back and fight against it. They should do their best to get a different regime. That is their business. Those who do not want to return after the situation has been properly explained to them, should not be forced to go back. Those who make up their minds to remain here, should be absorbed into the life of this country. The terms of the Bill as it stands, will not ensure that they will be absorbed into the life of the country. It will divert them into little groups here and there, which will be Polish communities within the British community. I think that is quite wrong. Therefore, I hope the Bill will be amended. If it is amended in that way, I shall have great pleasure in supporting it.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor (Paddington, South)
The hon. Member for Central 421 Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) said that the main object of the Government was to get the Poles to go back to Poland. If conditions in Poland were entirely different from what they are—I refer to the Communist set-up—and the administration were changed so that these people could go back, they would not require any pushing. They are all most anxious to return to their own country. There is no nation which is so patriotic; no nation which loves their country more than the Poles. They do not need any urging to go back; but how is it possible for the Poles, in the opinion of any hon. Member, to go back to Poland under the conditions which exist there today?
§ Mr. Benn Levy (Eton and Slough)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman. If it is as impossible to go back to Poland as he alleges, how is it that the Poles are going back already at the rate of 250 a week?
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
Some of them are going back to Poland, of course; that is a fact, but the vast majority of the Poles here will not return to their homeland under the conditions which exist there. The result of the recent elections, which were so fully and amply condemned in this House only a few days ago, is another obstacle. Any Pole who is opposed to the Communist regime which is existing in Poland today, will not return. The actual position of the Government is merely a continuation of the Lublin Committee set up by Russia. The Government is Communist, and anyone who is opposed to the Communist regime in Poland is looked upon as a Fascist, a reactionary and a traitor to his country, and he is dealt with accordingly if he goes to Poland. Under those conditions, how do hon. Members consider that the Poles should go back to Poland?
§ Mr. Austin
The hon. and gallant Gentleman maintains that Poles will not go back to Poland in any circumstances. How does he reconcile that statement with the fact that 61,000 have already returned and another 19,000 have opted to go back, and are probably on their way?
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
In answer to a previous question, I said that I was quite aware that a certain number of Poles have gone back. Of course, we do not know the reason why they have returned. They may have thought that they would be 422 able to see their relatives, from whom they have been separated so long, if they can find them.
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
It may be. There are immense obstacles which prevent the mass of the Polish people in this country, and those in Germany and other parts of Europe—displaced persons—from returning to Poland under existing conditions. I repeat that the elections as carried out by the National Provisional Government should be condemned. President Beirut, who was a member of the Comintern for 20 years, broke his pledge, and the elections were neither free nor unfettered. There is no democracy whatever in Poland, and it is that which prevents the Poles from going back, however much they love their country, as undoubtedly they do.
I welcome the Bill as a recognition of what we owe to the Poles who, in the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, rendered such invaluable service to the cause of the Allies. They were the first and the best Allies that we had in the war. I do not propose to take up any length of time in recounting their service. As everybody knows, they fought in many spheres—in France, Norway, Syria, North Africa, Italy and again in France, when we finally pushed back the Germans. A Polish paratroop brigade took part in that memorable exploit at Arnhem. It was the only foreign brigade which took part. At sea and in the air their forces rendered most valuable services. We are apt to forget the immense assistance given to the Russians by the Polish home underground army, and the immense advantage which that force proved to the Russian offensive. They worked under immense difficulties, and, while the Germans were still in complete occupation of Poland, they carried out their acts of sabotage against the communications of the Germany Army, thereby rendering immense assistance to the Russians.
It is also often forgotten that the army under General Anders, for which the Russians could only supply rations and equipment for 30,000, was 70,000 strong, and that General Anders was then told by Marshal Stalin that it had better go to the Middle East. That army went out there and we know what terrible priva- 423 tions they suffered. I only mention these facts in order to stress the immense enthusiasm and loyalty of the Poles in their desire to fight against our common enemy and to be able to go back to their own country to find an independent Poland, where they could have elections in which the free will of the people would prevail, and in which they would be only too glad to play their part.
I welcome very much the fact that the Poles are going to benefit by this Bill, but I ask the Minister to reconsider the question of the time which is given to the Poles in which to decide whether to become our nationals. Those who will not go- back to Poland will be absorbed into this community and they will be of immense advantage to us. Our manpower is short and we must find more. Surely, then, it is better to absorb these people as soon as possible, because they may get tired of waiting. They have been waiting a very long time, even years, in this country, while doing nothing at all, -and there is nothing so devastating for a human being as to be doing absolutely nothing. That is one reason, I am afraid, why many people in the United Kingdom think rather badly of the Poles. The great thing is to get these men employed in the industries of this country as quickly as possible. Very few have been employed up to the present time. Cannot the Minister speed up the absorption of these Poles into our industries? It would be of immense benefit to this country, and the sooner it is done the better. I hope the Minister will consider that matter and be able to place in employment these people, who are now hanging about doing nothing. Let him not dash their hopes, because they have been dashed often enough. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether the Ambassador and his staff—all those who were concerned in the administration in this country when they were recognised by this country—come under this Bill?
§ Vice-Admiral Taylor
I am very glad to have that reassurance on the point. I welcome the Bill as a recognition of what is due to the Poles, and I hope its provisions will be put into operation as quickly as possible, because, otherwise, the Poles will again lose heart and we shall lose the immense benefits which we can obtain if we can only absorb them quickly.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Piratin (Mile End)
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add "upon this day six months."
In moving the Amendment standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and myself, the House will understand that, by it, we propose to reject this Bill. I do not expect to carry the House with me in that, but I hope it will pay careful attention to the remarks I have to make. My proposal for the rejection of the Bill is not a categorical one. There is much in the Bill with which I entirely agree, but there is a certain basis of the Bill with which I cannot agree, and I hope the House will follow me on this point.
In Clause 1 (1) of the Bill, the Poles are divided into three sections—A, B, and C. No one will disagree with A and B; my concern is with C. That section concerns the Polish Resettlement Corps, and that is the section about which I am concerned. It might be asked why, if that is all I am concerned about, I did not wait until the Committee or Report stage and move an Amendment then to delete paragraph (c). The reason is that, though the Minister, in opening the Debate, did not give us the detailed information, by far the largest number affected are in category C. I think that is accepted by all here. But, if I had moved the rejection of only that part of the Bill, the result would have been the unbalancing of the whole Bill, which would be to render it meaningless. It is, therefore, necessary to oppose the Bill itself, and, further, for the reason that the points I have to make actually go somewhat wider than that particular Clause, or, indeed, any other.
I want to make my position clear with regard to the Poles in this country. A 425 number of Questions have been put down to different Ministers in the past year by myself and other hon. Members about the Poles in this country. Too often, I regret to say, this has appeared to be a matter of black or white. Let us, therefore, get a balanced view of this. I have had several replies from Ministers on this question, and I want to make some comments now. First, there is no black and white. Many of the Poles in this country have been in the Services and have fought on our side with the greatest gallantry. Let us accept that fact. Second, though I believe that most of the officers of the higher ranks are reactionary, I am not prepared to suggest that the majority of the Polish Forces in this country are reactionary. I think that the minds of these men, in most cases, have been deliberately confused. We must separate them in this way if we are to get at the facts.
Further, we have been told by the Minister that there are 53,600 who fought for the Germans, and on one occasion, in answer to a Question of mine, we were told that these men came over in May, 1945. That was the month in which the war in Europe ended; therefore, really, they were captured when the German Army surrendered. At no time did they come over to fight in the British or Allied Forces, but they were captured by us. The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) interrupted earlier in the Debate to suggest that they had been forced to fight with the German forces, but neither he nor I can know whether each one of those 53,000 was forced to do certain things We do not know, so I am prepared to believe that some of them could not stand up to the rigours of the occupation and that others were quite willing to fight in the Germany Army. I am being reasonable, and I think these facts must he faced. I do not like to see all these 53,000 being lumped together with our gallant Allies The Minister an other hon. Members who have debated this question from time to time, have spoken of our "gallant Allies" I agree with that phrase being used to describe those who have fought against the Nazis, but I think it is an insult to them to Limp them with this 53,000. I would like to see some sort of segregation. The hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd), with whom I was in poland Last year, too has asked what was going to 426 happen to those who were willing supporters of the Germans and who served in the German Army, after they have been screened.
In view of the fact that I am opposing the Bill, I think that I should make that explanation and that the House should be under no misapprehension. In future, if I or any other hon. Member sees fit to put down a Question which might be thought to cast a reflection on the Poles in this country, I would like to make it clear that no such reflection would be intended on my part in connection with Allies who fought with us during the war. But we are concerned with the lumping together of good and bad. The Government have not taken sufficiently stringent measures to separate the good from the bad.
In case there should be some dubiety on a further point, as perhaps the Home Secretary knows—I have consulted him on at least one occasion—I am all in favour of this country maintaining its tradition of providing sanctuary for those who come here. The Home Secretary knows, from the cases which I have taken up with him from time to time and from the discussion which we had together on the general problem, that I am in favour of extending that sanctuary to such Poles as may require it.
But why this particular favouring of the Poles? I remember Debates in this House —and, in particular, an Adjournment Debate raised by an hon. Member on this side—with regard to others who have fought in the Services, and who would like to remain in this country. There are, for example, the men who have married English girls, and who would like to stay in this country, but are not given that opportunity. The only alternative is for the English girls who have married such men to go to their respective countries. Why, therefore, this particular privilege for the Poles?
§ Mr. Piratin
Certainly, but I have not developed my point. I thank the Minister for his intervention, but my point is not 427 only that he should be allowed to come to this country, but that he should also be given the privileges embodied in this Bill. If we are in need of foreign labour, why not open the gate wide and give such people the same privileges as those proposed to be given to the Poles under this Bill? We were told by the Minister of Labour that he is now considering the question of bringing displaced persons to this country.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
Is not the hon. Member aware that when the people to whom he refers come in under a Ministry of Labour permit, they are given those advantages?
§ Mr. Piratin
I would like to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for that information. As I was saying, the Minister of Labour has said that he is considering the question of bringing in displaced persons. May I ask, therefore, why this matter should have taken so long? The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said, in opening this Debate for the Opposition, that one of the defects of this Bill is its dilatoriness. On the other hand, he implied that we have already been "looking after" the Poles in this country, but have only now brought in this Bill to make the whole thing legal. If, for all this time, we have been looking after the Poles, why could we not have taken a more active decision with regard to displaced persons in Europe who—and I say this with respect to any Poles in this country—have, in general, suffered far more than the Poles? The hon. Member for Central Hackney gave the example of the Pole who was receiving a pension of £5 4s. a week in respect of himself, his wife and two children. I would point out that the ordinary average worker in this country does not get more than £5 a week when employed. Therefore, that is not comparable to the plight of some of the displaced persons. I want sanctuary to be given, but I do not want it to appear that discrimination is made for a certain purpose. I will now come to that purpose.
I am opposing this Bill, in particular, because it is proposed to recognise the standing of the Polish Resettlement Corps. At no time have we had a Motion before the House on which to Debate that question. It has been raised in foreign affairs 428 Debates, but there has been no Motion. This is the only opportunity which has been provided, when a Motion is actually before the House, for discussing the matter. The establishment of the Polish Resettlement Corps is not only an affront to the Polish Government and a hindering of its progress; it is also a dangerous move for this country to maintain a body of men under a reactionary leadership. Perhaps the House will allow me to quote from a statement made by General Anders in July in regard to the Polish Resettlement Corps. He said:The Polish Resettlement Corps will be organised on a military pattern within the framework of the British Armed Forces. It will be commanded by a Polish command and a Polish 'cadre,' and will retain its interior and exterior Polish character. As far as the organisition of the Polish Resettlement Corps is concerned, as a principle, the divisional, brigade, regimental, etc., units will be maintained. The soldiers will also retain their Polish distinctions of their military rank. A 'wing' of the Navy and a 'wing' of the Air Force will also form a part of the Resettlement Corps. The chief authority of the Polish Resettlement Corps will be the Commander of the Polish Resettlement Corps.On more than one occasion, we have been told by the Minister—
§ Mr. Piratin
Yes, it may only have been temporary. The Minister may also argue that that may be the view of General Anders and not the view of this Government, but can the Minister dispute the fact that General Anders and his officers will have no little say in the conduct of the Resettlement Corps? If the Corps is intended to be a body for transferring men from a military to a civilian life, we can well imagine what that civilian life is going to be like if it is under the leadership of such people. But why have the Corps at all?
The Minister has never given a satisfactory reason for establishing the Corps. It would have been possible, and, in fact, is still possible, to transfer these men from a military sphere to a civilian form of life without the necessity of such a military or near military organisation. I should like to know whether, at any time, the present Polish Government have been consulted on the question, and whether they have asked to be consulted about it. Have they not expressed their opposition to the Resettlement Corps, and have they 429 on the other hand, suggested alternative methods of helping the Poles in this country? Is it not a fact that the Polish Government have accepted, as was stated earlier by the hon. Member for Central Hackney, that there would be some Poles who would prefer to remain in this country, and have they not offered their assistance and co-operation, their consular protection and emigration facilities, provided that these men could remain Polish citizens although living in this country?
The Polish Government could not possibly acknowledge—and nor could we in similar circumstances—such an organisation as the Resettlement Corps. On no occasion were they consulted about it. The decision was made here, it was put before the Polish Government, and there it was. If the Minister can deny this and can make a statement to the contrary, I am prepared to look into the matter further. This Bill was likewise drafted without any consultation with the Polish Government, and yet these men are still Poles and will be Poles for some time. After all, it is not a question of an individual but, as we have been told, it involves something approaching 150,000 people. The Polish Government have not been consulted, neither have they been allowed to express an opinion on a matter which concerns this large body of their people.
This lack of co-operation is a reflection on our Government's foreign policy. I believe it is something which could be overcome even at this stage. Co-operation is needed, and I think that if there had been as much consultation with President Bierut or with ex-Prime Minister Osabka-Morawski as there was with General Anders, there might have been a happier conclusion for the whole of the Polish people in this country. There has been too much consultation with General Anders and too little with President Bierut.
We are asked to agree to the Second Reading of a Bill which will involve spending £4,500,000 in the coming year for certain limited purposes. As other hon. Members have pointed out, there will be an addition of some. £30 million and, therefore, nearly £40 million a year are to be spent. We are entitled to have far more information regarding the purpose for which this money is proposed to be 430 spent, to ensure that none of it goes to outside organisations or for political propaganda purposes of a subversive kind. We are entitled to know these things, and I think that other hon. Members also would like that information.
These, therefore, are the basic reasons why I cannot agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. It does not treat the Polish citizens in this country as individuals, but it treats the bulk of them on the basis of membership of the Resettlement Corps which, in my opinion, is a reactionary organisation, and this is a great mistake on the part of the Government. There are a few remarks I would like to make concerning the Bill itself. Reference has been made to the question of pensions. If the Government wish to be reasonable in this matter, they should grant pensions to Poles even if they decide to leave the country. When the Home Secretary was interrupted on that point, he said, rather flippantly, I thought, that the reason it is not proposed to give pensions to Poles leaving the country was due to difficulties of exchange, and that they might not get the same value in another country as they would get here. I think that was rather a flippant answer which does not cover the question, and I would like more information on that point.
I now come to Clause 8 concerning the question of the Armed Forces. The question I asked the Home Secretary when moving the Second Reading was pertinent. It was to this effect: If, according to the present rules, we are allowed one alien for each 50 British soldiers, that would give 20,000 in an Army of a million. As only 60,000 have so far opted to join the Resettlement Corps, are we contemplating that one third will join the Forces? Hon. Members have been under the impression that, in addition to helping the Poles find their feet again, we shall also have a valuable source of manpower. The Government, however, are providing accommodation for more than one third of them to enter the Armed Forces. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds was not effective. He said the present rule providing for one in fifty applies to particular units, that there may be some who would like to be with their comrades and, therefore, with a company of 150 it would allow only for three, and three would not provide suffi- 431 cient company. I would like to make this observation—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Central Hackney. The moment a foreigner determines to join the British Army, even before he is a naturalised British subject, he has already determined to conform with the British way of life—an expression which has been used in this House, though I have a different interpretation for it than hon. Members opposite. In that case the hon. Member for Central Hackney was quite right, providing the foreigner in question could speak the language, and, of course, he would not be of much use in the Army as a sergeant-major unless he had some elementary knowledge of the language. Why should he not be allowed to join English, Welsh or Scotch units? Why allow this flexibility, and why only for Poles? I support the contention of the hon. Member for Central Hackney that this is a loophole which will create what will amount to a mercenary force of Poles supported by the Government and from British funds. Therefore, if the Government cannot withdraw the Bill, this Clause ought to be deleted.
I observe that the Polish President, when opening the Polish Parliament last week, paid particular attention to the question of encouraging Poles, both in Poland and outside, who have not yet played their part in the reconstruction of the country, to do so. He said that a new Bill would be brought before the Polish Parliament, by which a political amnesty would be granted. In particular, he emphasised the application of that Measure to all those Poles who were abroad. It is rather upsetting that this Bill should be introduced within a week of the newly elected President of Poland emphasising the fact that he wished to encourage everyone to return to Poland and that there would be a political amnesty. Poland needs manpower, and if hon. Members raise the question of manpower, we all know there are other ways of solving the problem— [HON. MEMBERS: "Really?"] Oh, yes, but I am not entering into a controversy on that subject now. Poland has lost six million men. That is well known. Poland has suffered from the war far more than we have. However, that is as it may be; we are not discussing history, but the fact 432 remains that Poland has lost six million men, and no one can deny that they need manpower. We should also remember that when we speak of our gallant Allies, in addition to the 100,000 in this country, we are speaking of hundreds of thousands in Poland, and we are speaking of the Polish nation.
We have not done enough to encourage the Poles to return to Poland. I submit, we can still make amends for that. Let us help them to return. If we have to look after the Poles still in this country, let us look after them as ordinary individual citizens, with their full rights in this country and with the consular protection of their own country. Those are the grounds on which I have moved this Amendment.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I wish to say that my colleague, the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin), has, from the beginning of this Parliament, tried to shape himself in such a way as to make himself a very serviceable Member of this House. I am sure he has demonstrated by his speech tonight the anxiety which he himself has to fit in with the natural course of events in the House. Perhaps I, being an older and more experienced Member, will be excused if I am not as careful and amenable as was my colleague.
The question of the Polish Forces in this country is a disgrace to a Labour Government and to members of the Labour Party. Just consider the feeling that has been expressed by hon. Members opposite about the Poles. The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) said there was a lot of feeling against the Poles in Scotland. He said the trouble in Scotland arose because there were too many Poles in too few places, and that they ought to be scattered. Utter nonsense. The trouble in Scotland arises because the Scottish working class understand what the Polish Corps means, just as the Tories understand what the Polish Corps means. The workers in Scotland are against the Polish Corps for the reasons that the Tories are for the Polish Corps. An hon. Member has said we must not forget that the Poles were in the war before the Russians. Do we give them special credit for that?
§ Mr. Gallacher
We do give them special credit. All right. The Russians were in the war before the Americans were in the war. Do we give them special credit for that? I stand for a free and independent Poland, and always have done. Fifty years ago the Poles came to this country. Where did they go? Did they go to Ulster, which is represented by a very noisy defender of the present Polish Forces? Did they go to places round about England? Very large numbers of Poles came to this country and went to Scotland. There were large bodies of them centred in two places: Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, and they were made welcome, and shown every hospitality. They built their homes there, lived their lives there and reared their families there, and the working class of Lanarkshire and Ayrshire could not have wanted better associates. But most of them were refugees, Poles who were glad to get out of a Poland which was being hagridden by Kaiserism, Tsarism and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Was there one Tory anywhere in this country, or in this House, at that time supporting the Poles and fighting with the Poles for an independent Poland? Tell me the name of one. At that time, 40 odd years ago, I was on platform after platform with Polish speakers, joining with them in fighting for freedom and independence for Poland. Where were the Tories?
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
The hon Member says he fought. How did he fight? Did he go and fight in Poland?
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is a term which we use in this House. There is such a thing as political fighting. The hon. Member should not make himself look like a ninny by making such an interjection as that. I was on platform after platform, and in demonstration after demonstration; and all the time the Tories in this country were supporting Tsarism. What was the fight we had in 1905 and 1906? Who was it who stood up in this House to oppose the moving of a Loyal Address? Keir Hardie, because there was to he a visit to the Tsar of Russia, but no concern was shown for the Poles at that time by the other side.
Hon. Members must understand that it is very easy to make propaganda among the Poles in this country. It has only to be said, as the Tories and, unfortun- 434 ately, some Labour Members have said, that the Russians are in control in Poland. Saying that provides all the argument wanted to keep these Poles here. Many of them are very fine working-class lads, but that sort of propaganda provides all the argument wanted for keeping them here and preventing them from going back to their own country. That is because of the terrible hatred of the Russians bred in generation after generation of the Polish people. Just consider the generations who lived under Tsarism. Most of the Poles in this country, or from 90 to 95 per cent. of them, are Catholics, and very devout Catholics. Under Tsarism they not only had political persecution, but they had the most terrible religious persecution. In Scotland, when I was at school, during history lessons we use I to have a couplet about a mother nursing her baby. It ran like this:Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,The Black Douglas shall not get thee.In the poorer homes of Scotland there was this great fear of the Black Douglas. But it was as nothing to the fear of Tsarist Russia that existed in the breasts of the Polish people. The children of Poland were nursed into this hatred of Tsarism, and of this political and religious persecution. Therefore, by saying that Poland is being run by Russia, it is easy to arouse prejudice among the Polish Forces. It is a criminal thing to do, but it is being done.
It has been said that we cannot ask these Poles to go back because of the existing conditions in Poland What conditions do exist in Poland? There is a Socialist and Communist Government in Poland; and. of course, the Tories do not like that. The Government in Poland have taken over the land and divided it up among the peasants. Of course, General Anders does not like that, and the noble Lord the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) and his hon. Friends opposite do not like that. When General Anders came back from Italy he gave a Press interview at which he said: "I am not a politician. I am a simple soldier." There are some funny fellows among these simple soldiers. He said: "I am a simple soldier. All I want is to get my stables back." He is very fond of horses, and he wants to get his stables back. But his stables were part of an estate. and the estate was necessary to maintain the stables. All this non-poli- 435 tician wants is to get his estate back, but he cannot get it because the peasants have got it. There is a Socialist and Communist Government there, but it is condemned. The right hon. and learned Attorney-General and the right hon. and learned Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) were in Nuremberg at the trial of the worst criminals amongst the Nazis. The trial lasted month after month, and we are told it was a demonstration of British justice, and the method of applying British justice. Why does not the Minister of State, or the Foreign Secretary and the Front Bench, apply the same method of justice to Poland? Why is it they take information from one side, and one side only? Have they got any evidence from the metal workers' trade union? [Laughter.] Hear them laughing. To these Tories the metal workers are inferior beings. Have they any evidence from the miners' union, from the railwaymen's union, from the dockers' union? No. They have not an iota of evidence from there.
§ Mr. Gallacher
All their evidence comes from the representatives of the old ruling class in Poland—or from the Press of this country; and the Press go to Poland with instructions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No"] Oh, yes, they do. I ask the Minister of State what were the instructions which were given to him in this country, the instructions from the "Daily Express," at an Ayrshire by-election? They were to report only Conservative meetings and to interview only the Conservative candidate, and not to mention the Labour Party or the Labour Party's meetings.
The Minister of State (Mr. McNeil)
I do not see that this has much to do with the Bill, but since I have been mentioned, may I say that I have never had such instructions in my life, and that if I had had such instructions I should have taken them to my trade union?
§ Mr. Speaker
I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I have been wondering for some time what this has to do with the Bill.
§ Mr. Gallacher
But an hon. Member on the other side said we could not ask the Poles to go back to Poland because of the 436 conditions in Poland. But the only evidence they have of conditions in Poland is from one side. I was saying that information is got from the Press, but that the Press have instructions what to report. In Ayrshire, for instance, there were instructions given to reporters. Instructions are given to the representatives sent out of the country. I have any amount of evidence to show that the reporters are instructed. There is no reason whatever—whatever the Tories may think about it—for Members of the Labour Party to take any other attitude than this, that these men should return to their own country.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Would my hon. Friend tell me what the instructions were in February, 1941, in Dumbartonshire, when I was kicked around somewhat—the instructions to the Communist Party?
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is an entirely different matter. The Communist Party may make a decision to support or oppose at any particular moment. If they take that decision it is done openly. But that is an entirely different thing. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes?"] Any political party can do that. In Caithness, the Tory Party have been discussing for a considerable time whether to run themselves or give a free run to somebody else. We have that sort of thing going on. We have had occasions in the past when the Labour Party has considered whether to support or oppose candidates. But that is something entirely different from the Press sending out representatives with instructions to report only one side, and I maintain that the Press representatives in Poland—
§ Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)
On a point of Order. The hon. Member has made an allegation against the Minister of State, who was a colleague of mine in Glasgow. I know the Press never give such instructions to any of their staffs and I think the hon. Member might in decency withdraw that statement.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member made a statement that the Minister sent out instructions to the Press to report only one side. That is going beyond what ought to be said in Parliament.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of Order. I want to be sure whether I understood your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. If a Member of this House believes something, and takes the responsibility—I do not know whether it is right or not, and I do not care for the purpose of this point—that he has to take in making the statement, that instructions were given to the Press to do this, that or the other. why is that out of Order?
§ Mr. McAllister
Further to that point of Order. The statement was not that the Press in general gave instructions to reporters. The statement was that the Minister of State, employed by a news paper, was given specific instructions, and since the Minister of State denies that those instructions were given, the hon. Member might in decency withdraw.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is the point. The Minister did get up, and he denied this accusation, and I then said that I thought it was very improper for the hon Member to carry on with this allegation. I realise perfectly well that any hon. Member has responsibility for any statement he makes, but if the Minister denies an accusation made against him, then I do not think it ought to be repeated.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
I respectfully agree with that. But I venture to think that it may be that, inadvertently, in giving your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, your words may have gone further than you intended them to go. I rose for that reason because, as many of us thought, what you were saying was not that that statement about the Minister of State, which he denied, ought to be withdrawn—we would all recognise that at once. Of course, it ought to be withdrawn, if it is denied. But, Mr. Speaker, I think you will find that the words used by you went much further than that; and that what you seemed to be saying was, that it was wrong for a Member of this House to say to the House that general instructions were given by the Press to their representatives in Poland to report only one side. That has nothing to do with the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
I shall look at the OFFICIAL REPORT very carefully, and if I see I was in error I shall be much obliged to the hon. Gentleman
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am quite prepared, it the Minister insists in his denial, to go 438 with him to Ayrshire and take in evidence the "Scottish Daily Express" during that by-election.
I leave it there. It the Minister wants to take it further, I shall be happy to take it up. But the important thing is that the conditions in Poland are of such a characer as to necessitate the return of these men at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. Nicholson
May I ask the hon. Member a question? It is a serious question. I am not meaning to score off him in any way. But has he any first-hand experience, or is he proposing to get any, of conditions in Poland?
§ Mr. Gallacher
One does not always have to have first-hand information or first-hand experience. One can get information from various sources. Hon. Members opposite get information from one source; I get mine from another source. I have also discussed this with those who have gone to Poland. I have a general idea of the situation. I know every man is wanted for the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Poland. As the hon. Member for Mile End said, when one talks here about how we must be loyal to our allies, the impression is given that the Poles in this country were our allies and that the Poles in Poland were our enemies. That is the sort of impression one gets. The Poles in Poland fought battles a hundred times more difficult than the Poles out of Poland.
The first people to get out of Poland were the Government, but the people of Poland continued the fight, and if anyone talks about degrees of loyalty, those degrees should be favourable to the people of Poland and to the Polish nation. Let us consider that, and help by every possible means to build up the Polish nation and its economy. It is very important for the resettlement of Europe that Polish economy should be built up. There is a greater opportunity now than ever existed before. Does anybody want to restore the Polish Corridor? Surely, nobody would be mad enough for that; here is Poland with a great seaboard that makes her the neighbour of every country in the world, and her people should be building up her economy, her 439 agriculture, heavy industries and shipbuilding that will bring her into contact with every country. That is what the Poles should be doing. The hon. Member who spoke from the Front Bench said that these Poles were very valuable for agriculture and industry. That is what they are wanted for in Poland more than anywhere else, and if you can build up agriculture, heavy industry and shipbuilding in Poland, you have a chance of balancing the economy of Europe, and putting an end to the situation in which all the heavy industry was in Germany and all the countries about were satellites.
It is very important not to keep the Polish people here but to get them back to Poland as quickly as possible. The days of Tsardom have gone and the days of political and religious persecution have gone.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—Yes, they have gone, and these Polish men and women, if they are true to themselves and to their fellow Poles, if they are true to their country, will not accept this Bill, any more than we should accept it. They will be desirous of getting back at the earliest moment to their own country, to help to build it up and make it a new and prosperous country. For these reasons I am absolutely against the Bill.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I do not fully understand the purpose of the regrettable speech to which the House has just had the misfortune to listen. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) stated—which is perfectly true—that it would be a good thing for as many Poles as possible to go back to Poland, but the question he did not face was this: Is he prepared to compel arose Poles who do not wish to go back, to go back against their will? All his oratorical flourishes and appearances of self-excitement are quite useless, unless he is prepared to answer that question, and unless he is prepared to compel these men to go back against their will, he should support the Bill. If he opposes the Bill, he should have the courage to get up, as I hope he will now, and say he is prepared to force these men to go back compulsorily.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If I had the power and authority, I should be prepared to use that power and authority to put these men back into their own country. If a special case were brought to my notice, I would 440 give consideration to it, but my power and authority, if I had it, would be directed to getting them back at the earliest possible moment to their country.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I see. It is now perfectly clear that it is the declared policy of the Communist Party, or at any rate of 50 per cent. of it, to use compulsion in respect of these men who have served this country and our Allies in time of need. I have not the slightest doubt that there will be no support whatever for that view in this country. I think others would prefer to remember the fact that these men, not only in the Battle of Britain to which the Home Secretary referred, but in the shambles of Cassino, fought as magnificently for the cause of liberty and democracy as any people in the world, and it is a shameful thing that an hon. Member of this House should be found who is prepared to get up in this House and say he is ready to compel such men to go back when they do not wish to do so. Does the hon. Member for West Fife think that men would willingly leave the country in which they have been brought up, in many cases leaving their homes and families, to start a new life in a strange land, unless some tremendous force were working on their minds? Is it not obvious, even to the hon. Member for West Fife, that men would have a natural longing to go back to the country in which they were brought up; and is it not obvious that there must be some tremendous consideration in their minds to make them unwilling to go back? In face of that manifest fact, it is a shameful thing that the hon. Member should be prepared to treat these men in this way.
I will not waste the time of the House in dealing any further with that outrageous speech, but, in contrast to the hon. Member for West Fife, I will address my observations to the subject-matter of this Bill. I join with the criticisms which were levelled so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) against this Bill, on the ground that it is somewhat inadequate and that, well intentioned as it undoubtedly is— and no one could doubt the Home Secretary's good intentions—it does not in point of fact go sufficiently far to discharge the very great obligations which all decent-minded people in this country feel towards these men. Clause 1 has the important limitation that the benefits, equivalent to the benefits given 441 by the Royal Warrant, are only to be paid while these men are in this country. I should have thought it desirable that certain of them should be encouraged to emigrate to our Dominions, where the demand for manpower is as urgent as it is here, and perhaps will be longer-lived. It must be a great discouragement to men who obtain payments under the Royal Warrant to know that if they go forth to Canada or Australia, or such other of our Dominions as will welcome them, they will lose the payments under the Royal Warrant. I hope that before the Bill goes into Committee. the Govern. ment—the Minister of State, perhaps, who from the fact that he is making such assiduous notes appears as if he is to reply—will indicate that in Committee they are prepared to consider going a little further and extending the benefits under the Royal Warrant, at any rate in respect of men who go to other parts of our Empire.
Then there is the limitation in Clause 5 in respect of doctors and dentists I am perfectly certain that all hon Members appreciate that in the case of professional men it is necessary to plan one's career and one's practice just a little further ahead, perhaps than in the case of salaried workers The uncertainty of the limitation of the effect of this Clause to 31st December must have an adverse effect upon that quite limited number of doctors and dentists who are concerned. I hope we may have some indication that a longer term policy in respect of these men may be put forward by the Government in the course of the further discussions on this Bill
There is another point. concerning the limitation upon the use of these men in the Armed Forces It is quite unnecessary to remind the House of the grave difficulties of the recruiting campaign which the Secretary of State for War has initiated I do not favour keeping these Polish soldiers fine soldiers though they are in Polish units, but I wish the Government would consider the suggestion which has already been made several times in this House. notably by the hon and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G Jeffreys) that such men should he allowed to join a British Foreign Legion These men could join. with other people of foreign origin, a unit, officered by British officers. on the same 442 which was maintained so successfully by the French Republic for many years. I hope that the use of some of this trained military manpower in a British foreign legion will be considered. I am sure that no Member who has seen these men in action will dispute their military qualities. It is obvious that the international aspect has to be considered, but I would remind the House that what the French Republic have done so successfully for 50 years, should not be beyond the capacity of this Government to carry out.
There is one other consideration to which I should like to draw attention It arises, not so much from the precise terms of the Bill, as from its administration. The Home Secretary said that the purpose behind the Bill was to assimilate these men into our system, and I am sure that that is the most satisfactory solution. but it appears, only too clearly, that remarkably little has been done in that direction so far. The Minister of Labour told the House, at a late hour last night. that only 3,200 out of these scores of thousands have, so tar, been placed in employment. I hoped we might have some encouragement that the miserable rate of placings would he accelerated These men have been here for a very considerable time. Almost all of them are of a very high standard of physical fitness. and many have had wide and valuable experience in different forms of industry and in agriculture. In view of our manpower position, this is surely a somewhat pitiful result from the labours of the Government
There has been a suggestion that some of the great trade unions are opposed to the policy of employing these men I hope we may have a denial of this, because were it true, it would be a very grave reflection upon the statesmanlike qualities of the men who have the great responsibility of conducting the affairs of these most important trade unions I hope we may have a direct denial that trade-union opposition is preventing the employment of these men, and an assurance that they are to be used I hope, before this Debate ends, we shall have an assurance that no obstacle will be allowed to stand in the way of employing willing, able and efficient labour and still more important, that in the matters of administrative action there will be a 443 real change of heart on the part of the Ministry of Labour, so that suitable work, and plenty of it, will be found for these men. I have not criticised too harshly the terms of this Bill, and I hope I may be allowed to say that I welcome its introduction, if it can be treated as an instalment of what is undoubtedly the payment of a debt of honour.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
This Bill presents a considerable problem for the people of this country, but in dealing with this difficult situation, the Government have acted wisely, moderately and tolerantly towards the Poles already in our midst. It is recognised that the esablishment of aliens in the life of any country presents tremendous difficulties, and arouses passions, whether it be, as in the past, people coming from Ireland to be designated "Irish aliens in Glasgow," or whether it be the Poles. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) made a great error; the majority of the foreign people in Lanarkshire are Lithuanians and not Poles. When it is sought to establish a large number of aliens, the thought naturally springs to the minds of many people, especially in Scotland where there are 60,000 unemployed, "What justification can there be for bringing them into the country when we seem unable to absorb the manpower attending the labour exchanges at the present time?" The hon. Member for West Fife and the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) should not he too insistent on this demand to send the Poles back to Poland, because one of the most popular demands you could have, especially in London, is for the sending back to their respective countries, of all the refugees who came here during the war.
§ Mr. Piratin
The hon. Member has referred to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for West Fife. The House heard our statements, and I wish to remind the hon. Member that I did not say these people should be sent back. I made my statement. The hon. Member was here at the time, and he should not misinterpret me in this way.
§ Mr. McGovern
There was that differentiation between what was said by the hon. Member for Mile End and what was said by his hon. Friend. The hon.
444 Member for West Fife, with his usual Communist thoroughness, was prepared even to use brute force to put the Poles back into Poland, but the hon. Member for Mile End, no doubt recognising the delicacy of the situation, would induce them by other means to go back, and would favour the absorption into civilian life of all those refusing to return. I would remind the House that this country has in the past been a home for refugees who refused to accept governments in their own countries. There were Lenin, Litvinov and Karl Marx who refused to accept the dictatorial authority of a Government which used its powers to persecute individuals. When the hon. Member for West Fife and the hon. Member for Mile End are so insistent on the development of the national life of Poland, let them remember that they are Members of the British House of Commons, and their work is to try to develop the national economy and the national life of Great Britain. Instead of paying heed to instructions which come from abroad, they should pay heed to the desires of the people in this country.
It cannot be denied that, the Polish Army fought heroically. I remember, when the war was upon us, the insistent demand which induced the Poles to get into the difficulties they are now in. It was the Government of Great Britain, the Government of Neville Chamberlain, with the support of every section of the House, which said to Poland "Stand fast against Hitler ", arid from that moment they put up a desperately heroic struggle. But there were large numbers of Socialists and Communists in Germany who fought in the German Army. [An HON. MEMBER: "And some were interned."] Yes, but large numbers were not interned and went into munition factories, and served in lines of communication, and the Forces.
§ Mr. McGovern
They are running that country, taking over the Government, and speaking in anti-Hitler terms, though their voices were never heard at all during the war. I was opposed to the war right through, and it seems that the world is now beginning to think that it might have been better off if it had hesitated in 1939 instead of being engulfed in its present difficulties. In passing, let me say this. As against my position, these Poles 445 fought. They deemed it to be their duty. They stood up to the aggressor, and lost their country. Many of them are here now. Whether it is right or wrong, a large number of them refuse to go back to Poland. I think we can go so far as to say that there has been a stimulation from some of the Polish officer class for them not to go back. I want to be fair. But there are some Members of this House who do not seem to profit by developments. They think in terms of the old Poland, its old nobility, its old ruling class, its old landlord class. I have as great a hatred for that class as any man in this House. But when I find that 150,000 Poles want a redemption of the pledges that were made to them at the outset of the war, in return for the services they have rendered, then I give them my support.
On the other hand, while there has been pressure from the officer class, members of the Communist Party who have found themselves in positions in trade unions have used the utmost pressure on these men to prevent them being absorbed into the industrial life of this country. In the mines, some time ago, there was an insistent demand to prevent these Poles being absorbed into that industry. I say, quite frankly, that the political pressure is coming not from the working class, but from the Polish Lublin Government that is dominating Poland. Many men would not have cared to go back into Hitler Europe; can we blame the men who refuse to go back to Poland? We must back the Government in this logical, decent attempt to meet this situation and deal with those people who are left on our hands. There is talk of the cost. When we were paying out £15 million or £16 million each day during the war nobody thought then of the cost. That is a part of the cost of war—financing those who stood up for their country. If they paid a price for their State, it is not for us to refuse to pay a price in hard currency, but to try to support these men, and give them habitation in this country.
I have one or two minor criticisms of of the Bill, which I will not put forward, because I support the Government completely in their attempt to place the Poles in Britain in civilian life. I am completely against any attempt to militarise them, to put them into a uniform as a temporary measure while they are being 446 placed in industry. I am also against putting any alien force into our British Forces, because I think that that would be antagonistic to the views of most of our people. But it is niggardly and pettifogging for people who claim to be internationalists—but who are more nationalistic than any of the "jingos" of the old days—to believe that, in this matter only the Fatherland is right; that everything it does can be right, and that everything any other section of the community does is wrong. I loathe every form of military domination. I hate all dictatorships, whether of Hitler, of Sikorski, of Stalin, or of Franco. Every one of them I abhor. But do not let us have an outpouring of the antagonism that springs from the Government of Warsaw. If Warsaw wants these men—and I would like to see them go back to their own country—let them make conditions tolerable in Poland. Let them give these men freedom of thought, and see that there is fair play for all. Let them create a Poland where a man is free to express his will, not, as it is today, a country where darkness prevails, where every person who opposes the Communist régime is condemned as a Fascist. If the Warsaw Government, holding the key to a solution of this problem, extends the hand of fellowship, and creates the foundation of a real freedom for the Poles, we can be freed from our obligations, because these men will be taken up by their own Government and country. There is decency in this Bill, broad, generous treatment in it, and I hope it will have the general support of most of the Members of this House.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Wyatt (Birmingham, Aston)
While welcoming the generous provisions in this Bill, and the intention of the Government to do something, at last, about the Polish Forces in this country, I must say that I have grave doubts whether it will deal satisfactorily with the present position. In the first place, the whole question of the legality of Polish Forces at present here has not been settled. Yesterday, in reply to a Question, asking what statutory authority entitled the Polish Forces to try and detain members of those Forces, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War said that the authority was the Allied Forces Act, 1940. That is not the case. That Act was applied to the Polish Forces by 447 an agreement with the Polish Government in London, on 6th August, 1940. By that agreement, it was arranged that Statutory Order No. 1818 of the Allied Forces Act, 1940, should be introduced. That covered foreign armies, including members of the French and Belgian Armies. It applied to Polish Forces in Britain. under British control by virtue of the Visiting Forces Act, 1933, which in terms applies only to the Armies of Allied Powers. As from 6th July, 1945, Statutory Order 1818 of the Allied Forces Act, 1940, ceased to apply to the Polish Forces in England, because recognition had been withdrawn from the Polish Government in England. Therefore, the Polish Forces in England were no longer the Forces of an Allied Power, as the Polish Government in Warsaw, to whom the agreement had been transferred on that date, declared that they did not recognise them as being a part of the Polish Army.
In view of that, the Polish Forces in England have been an illegal army for the past 18 months. This view that they are illegal was upheld yesterday in the High Court when a Pole named Zytomirski, who had obtained a writ of habeas corpus against the authorities of a military hospital at Iscoyd Park, was brought before the High Court, and received costs in his action against the authorities of that military hospital. He claimed that he had been wrongfully arrested by members of the Polish Forces for refusing to join the Polish Resettlement Corps. The defence, through the Attorney-General, pleaded that he had only been detained because he was suspected of being a lunatic, and that he had been released, but the Lord Chief Justice held that the Polish Forces had no right to detain even lunatics. Consequently that ruling of the High Court, makes it quite clear that the Polish Forces in this country have been an illegal private army, probably the largest illegal private army ever known in this country since July, 1945.
The Bill regularises the position of those who join the Resettlement Corps, but does not regularise the position of those who do not join it. There are some 15,000 Poles, according to what we have been told by the Home Secretary, who have refused to join the Resettlement Corps or to go back to Poland. There is no mention made of that in the Bill. Consequently, there is 448 no disciplinary code by which they can be controlled. I presume that the Government will take some action in this matter, but it is not included in the Bill, and I hope that they may find it as well to put an Amendment in the Bill at a later stage. During the interim period until this Bill becomes law, the whole position of the Polish Forces in England is one of illegality, and one which gives them no statutory authority to maintain their disciplinary code, which can always be broken down by any member of them who wishes to bring an application for a writ of habeas corpus before the High Court.
I think that we should consider the background of the Poles who are in England at the moment. It is clear, as pointed out by the Home Secretary, that the first duty of all Poles is to return to their country, whether they like what is going on in their own country or not. It must always be the duty of anyone to be in his own country, and if he does not like what is going on there, to try to put it right. The British Government, however, have been allowing the most extensive propaganda to be put out by General Anders and his friends to prevent Poles going back to Poland, despite the fact that the Financial Secretary to the War Office on 4th November in this House said:It is made quite clear to Poles who join the Resettlement Corps as Officers and other tanks that they are subject to British Military law and are, therefore, debarred from political activity while serving in the Corps."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1946: Vol. 428. c 188]That is quite untrue. The Poles in England have been running one daily paper and two weekly papers, carrying on ceaseless propaganda against Russia and urging Poles not to return to Poland, and no check of any kind has been put on this propaganda. Do the Government propose to say in future that within the Polish Resettlement Corps there will he no such propaganda in any newspaper that may be provided for the Poles, particularly in view of the statement of the Financial Secretary to the War Office?
On this subject of propaganda against returning to Poland, it is interesting to see in an article published in the "New York Herald Tribune" on 7th February, an interview with a number of Polish officers who have returned to Poland. One officer, who was previously a wing- 449 commander of a Mosquito squadron in the R.A.F. for six years, said that the propaganda printed in the Polish newspapers in London was enough to frighten anyone, and he also said that he only went back to Poland because his mother and mother-in-law remained there. Since he had been back, he had been given an equivalent position to that which he held in England in Warsaw, and the same was true of a number of officers who had returned at the invitation of the Polish Government. That interview was given to an American journalist, and published in a paper which is not particularly Communistic or biased in favour of the Polish Government.
The Polish Government, to do it justice, has been making repeated efforts to get these men to return to Poland, and has offered amnesties to them, even though they may have taken part in political activities against the Polish Government. They have honoured their word when these soldiers have returned. But we have been allowing ceaseless propaganda to be put out in this country amongst the Poles to prevent them returning, even though it only adds to our own expenditure. Everyone in the House agrees, except perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), that there are Poles who refuse to return, and that something must be done for them. We can do with them in British industry—that is quite clear with the present shortage of manpower; but we are not getting our money's worth. The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), this afternoon, pointed out that they are costing us about by million a year.
It is implicit in the Bill that that expenditure will go on for about another five years. [Interruption.] It may go on for another five years, and it will certainly go on for another two or three years. At any rate, in my view, that expenditure has already gone on far too long. If we had taken more energetic steps at first, the expenditure could have been very greatly cut. If we are to put them into industry, there seems to be no need to put them into the military formations envisaged in the Bill Surely, they need not be grouped together into the XI5th Regiment or the Z24th Brigade. They could be grouped according to their trades, industries and professions, which would appear to be the rational way in which to group a number of men whom 450 you propose to train for civilian life. In that way they could be maintained in their camps and not grouped as military units. That part of the Bill must give rise to the suspicion that a great deal of spade work has been put in by General Anders and his friends to maintain, as long as possible, the military set-up which was in existence during the war, and has been in existence since the war. It is not designed to help these Poles to get into the way of British life or to get into industry more quickly, but it is designed to help General Anders and his friends to maintain their control over them, because they are grouped together in their old units.
I find Clause 8 extremely disturbing. This is the Clause which allows the Secretary of State for War to absorb whole units of these men into the British Army as a whole—whole groups of them as units. Why? What is the idea of this? Surely the alternative to be put to the men should be that they either join British industry as individuals or join the British Army as individuals. They have ceased to be an army of an Allied Power: they have ceased to be anybody's army, and they must realise the position now is that they are either individuals who are in British industry—naturally one does not want to stop them having friends—or they are individuals in the British Army and are not still marching about the place, as the 24th Brigade or the 15th Regiment.
Clause 8 virtually makes it possible for the Secretary of State for War to create a Foreign Legion for the first time in British history. As the Home Secretary pointed out tonight, we have often fought with foreigners but we have never absorbed them as units into the British Army. I think that is a most objectionable Clause, and it really obscures the whole intention of the Polish Resettlement Corps. Is it intended to put these men into the Polish Resettlement Corps, and if they cannot get jobs in industry after training is it intended that they will then be absorbed in blocks into the British Army, or what? If that is not so, then Clause 8 obviously is wrong and quite unnecessary. I suggest that a far more likely reason for Clause 8 is that it is hoped by these ex-Polish officers that they will be able to slip into the British Army along with large elements of the Polish Resettlement Corps without themselves joining the Polish Resettlement Corps, and that they will be 451 able to maintain their previous rank. I think it is quite obvious from their previous propaganda that they hope to keep this Army in being as a spearhead to use against the Polish Government.
Further, the British Government have made a very misleading statement to the people who have joined the Resettlement Corps. They have told them that even when they join the Resettlement Corps if they wish to return at any time subsequently they shall be free to do so. That is quite untrue, because the Polish Government have told the British Government that under an Act of 1920 the moment a Pole joins the Resettlement Corps he is regarded as having joined the Army of a foreign power, and, therefore, he loses Polish nationality. So, once a Pole joins this Resettlement Corps he has made his decision completely and finally for he has lost his Polish nationality. The British Government have not made that clear to the Poles who join or are proposing to join the Polish Resettlement Corps.
Surely the whole tenor of the Bill is the wrong way to set about it. There, is sufficient military awareness already amongst the Poles without perpetuating the military idea. Those Poles who opt for staying in this country have to have a certain amount of training in order that they may get used to the British way of life. But they ought to be put in the control of the Ministry of Labour, and taken away entirely from the War Office. That is the democratic way. How can they learn to be democratic under the auspices and ægis of the War Office and when subject to British military law? That is not how anyone learns to live the life conducted in this country. They will only learn it if they are put into groups according to their trades and professions, and such a scheme must be under the control of a civilian Department, when the only discipline for these Poles which will be required, if they are not formed into military formations, is the sort of discipline envisaged in Clause 3, by which the Assistance Board may prosecute and obtain a penalty of either three months' imprisonment or a £15 fine from any Pole who breaks the regulations of the camp in which he is.
I feel that there is no need for the cumbrous machinery of the relationship with the War Office—a most peculiar and autocratic arrangement, which may result 452 in the forming of a British Foreign Legion. Even this House of Commons will not be required to be consulted again, because if the Secretary of State for War wants to form a Foreign Legion of the British Army he can do it with a stroke of the pen. The need for these men in industry is so great that we are making arrangements that are far too elaborate and suggest more the perpetuation of a military corps. We are going along the road in a leisurely fashion. I agree with the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that 3,200 Poles out of the 150,000 for whom employment has been found in industry are far too few. If we are going to have to train a man for at least two years, particularly in this backward sort of way, we are going to waste more and more time and more and more money when we need these people in industry, particularly in the coal mines, at this very moment.
Another objection to the treatment of the Polish Resettlement Corps is that there is a tendency to give it preferential treatment over the British equivalent. The Polish ex-Serviceman is going to have a much more detailed and adequate training than the British ex-Serviceman, and while I agree that we have an obligation to the Poles we have not as great an obligation as that. It was only yesterday that it was pointed out at Question Time that the rations given to the Polish Resettlement Corps were considerably in excess of the rations given to the British civilian. If a Pole wishes to stay here in this country he must be prepared to chance his arm like any other British civilian, and in particular, he must be made not to think that he is part of a private Army banded together for some political purpose not yet totally revealed. He must be a Pole in Poland or an Englishman in England. I think the Government have got into a muddle over the arrangements made, and I do not think that this Bill is going to take them all the way out of the muddle. I feel they should really be prepared to introduce quite a number of Amendments in the Committee stage, and particularly they should regularise this most unconstitutional position of a disciplinary code being in existence which has no relation to the laws of this country.
§ 8.8. p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
It is the most extraordinary of all principles that it is, 453 under all circumstances, the duty of a man to return to the country in which he was born. It is an extraordinary principle for anyone to maintain, but it is doubly extraordinary in an international Socialist. We are not here tonight to discuss or to take sides in the matter of Polish politics, but let us briefly consider the situation from which this problem has arisen, because it is very much obscured in some of the speches of hon. Members opposite.
The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) asked why we were taking these special measures towards Poles and not doing similar things for displaced persons generally. I hope we shall always he generous to refugees, but we are taking these special steps on behalf of the Poles because we have special obligations to them. This country took upon itself special obligations to all Poles and all Poland at the beginning of this war. Certain events have taken place since as a result of which, there is a division of opinion between the Poles. There are some who are unfavourable to the present Government, and there are others who favour it and they have gone back to live under it. Other Members opposite today have talked about it being the patriotic duty of all Poles to return to Poland, but we must remember that by the confession of the very Government of this country which those hon. Members support, the elections in Poland recently were fraudulent elections, and that that Government in power in Warsaw is at this moment acting in violation of the very conditions by which it was given provisional recognition by the Great Powers.
§ Mr. Hollis
I am not taking sides; I am simply stating that that is the point of view of the British Government.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us where there is evidence that elections were, fraudulent or where such evidence originates?
§ Mr. Hollis
If the hon. Gentleman will excuse me, he had 40 minutes of the time of the House and I have only a short while. I am not talking about the merits of the position but saying that that is the point of view of the British Government. There is no question about that, 454 and it is pertinent that we should hold it in mind. It follows that we have very strong obligations to those Poles in this country who do not sec their way to go back to Poland. I was very puzzled by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mile End and anxious to follow his argument, but I could not see why it was that he moved the rejection of this Bill. His reasons seemed wholly inadequate, first, because of the point with which I have already dealt, and then because he was greatly concerned with his contention that certain of the Poles had, he alleged, not really rendered any service to this country, and were in the Polish Resettlement Forces under false pretences. Even if that is so the House has been told by the Minister of Labour that these men are at present being screened, and, therefore, those who are not entitled will not receive benefit under this Bill.
The hon. Member for Mile End was also anxious to take this opportunity to deliver certain observations about his dissatisfaction with the Polish Resettlement Forces generally. That he should take the opportunity to make these observations is intelligible, but I cannot see that they constitute a reason why he should reject this Bill. He claimed, rightly or wrongly, that the Resettlement Forces were under reactionary leadership, but this is not a Bill which aims at keeping those forces permanently in being. On the contrary, it is a method—I will not argue whether it is satisfactory or not—for carrying the Poles through the intermediate stage and bringing them in some cases into the military, but generally into the civil life of the country, as far as possible with the mentality of ordinary Englishmen. From the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) one might have thought that Clause 8 of this Bill had been drafted by General Anders himself. The hon. Member spoke of all the things that could be done under Clause 8 as if some subtle and wicked plan had been drawn up by General Anders, but the simple fact is that here is a Bill not to enable the recruitment of a mercenary force of Poles to disturb British Socialism or Russian Socialism or what you will; but one which will be administered by the Secretary of State for War. Can any one seriously imagine that the Secretary of State is pro- 455 posing to use his powers for that purpose?
One could defend this Bill on the ground that we badly need the labour and that would be a very valid line of defence. One could also defend it on the ground that we have strong obligations to the Poles, and that too would be a very valid line of defence. But I prefer to defend it on what seems to me to be the even stronger line that it is one of the noblest and greatest of the traditions of this country to provide a refuge for people who are driven out from less happy lands, for whatever cause. It has been our tradition to give refuge to men because they are men—not because they are Catholics or Protestants, Jews or Gentiles, Conservatives or Socialists. The tradition of this country is that we gave harbour to conservative refugees from French revolutionary Governments and to revolutionary refugees from Italian conservative Governments. That is a great English tradition and one of the greatest in the world, and it is for that more than for any other reason that I most heartily support this Bill. Hon. Members have asked why we are helping only the Poles.
§ Mr. Gallacher
They are men who came over in particular circumstances. They have never been in the new Poland and they are not refugees from the new Poland and the new Polish Government.
§ Mr. Hollis
That is a very odd use of the word "refugees" by the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think we need bother to argue with him about it. A refugee is a man who is in refuge from the existing regime in his country. My whole argument was that I did not base my case on whether people's politics were right or wrong, but on the fact that these Poles were men and women. Of all the evils of this excess of ideologies which has come upon the world today there is none more disgusting than that which causes people no longer to look at men and women as such but simply to ask if they are on their side of the fence or the other; if they are on their side they will do everything for them, but if they are on 456 the other side they will treat them as no decent man would treat animals. Because this Bill is a protest against that spirit which the hon. Member for West Fife exemplified this afternoon in the most disgraceful speech I have ever listened to in this House, I support it wholeheartedly.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I feel that the last few remarks of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) did not constitute a very helpful contribution to British-Polish relations. I rise mainly for the purpose of making a few observations on the contents of the Bill, but in view of the very wide field which has been covered by hon. Members who have spoken latterly, there are two points which I think should be made from these Benches. I think that many of my hon. Friends will agree with a number of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I do not think, however, that any of them will agree with the conclusions of the hon. Gentlemen, or that they will consider them to have given cogent reasons for the rejection of the Bill. In so far, however, as they expressed the point of view that we do not exhaust our duty to Poland by what we are doing in this Bill I think there will be general agreement.
We have a duty not only to the Poles for whom provision is made in this Bill because they happen to be in this country at the present time; we also have a duty to all Poles in general by virtue of their status as Allies with us in the recent war. The reasons put forward by the hon. Members for the rejection of the Bill was that it was an affront to the Polish Government. It is nothing of the kind. It was stated that it was our duty to consult the Polish Government before the Bill was prepared, but there was no such duty. By this Bill we are redeeming a pledge and performing a duty which does not require any consultation with the Polish Government. I am sure that the Minister of State, who has listened to most of this Debate, will agree that over and above all that we are doing in this Measure in making provision for these 200,000 Poles, we also have a duty to ensure friendly relations with the Polish nation as far as we can, irrespective of whatever Government they happen to have. However much hon 457 Members on either side of the House may criticise the recent elections which stook place in Poland, the fact remains that there is now no longer a provisional Polish Government but a de facto one.
§ Professor Savory (Queen's University of Belfast)
Surely, it is purely provisional until it is recognised by the Allies?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I do not want to be led away into an argument on the distinction between de jure and de facto recognition. We must realise that there is a de facto Polish Government, and I am sure the Foreign Secretary and the Minister of State will agree with me that, however much we may criticise the elections that were held, it is now our duty, as far as we can, to ensure friendly and cordial relations with the Polish people. I hope that nothing that has been said during this Debate, at any rate on these Benches, by those who are supporting the Bill, will be interpreted in Poland as being in any way derogatory to the Polish Government or as suggesting that there is any lack of goodwill on the part of this House with the Polish people in Poland. I hope we shall not fall into the error which the Tory Party made in 1918 and 1919 of thinking that the Soviet régime in Russia was merely a temporary affair. We have to accept the Polish régime as we find it.
I want now to turn to matters of more immediate importance in connection with this Debate, namely, the provisions of the Bill, and the spirit which I hope will animate those Government Departments that are charged with the responsibility of administering the Measure. I listened to the Home Secretary's speech in moving the Second Reading, but I am bound to say that there is still a great deal that is obscure about the way in which we are making provision for the Polish soldiers, their dependants and others towards whom we are now attempting to fulfil our duty. I want, first, to ask the Minister who is to reply to clear up certain points concerning the administration of these matters. I understand that a large number of these Poles, no doubt as a result of the inducements and persuasion which it is our policy to make, have decided to return to Poland and have been accepted. They have been screened, and they are awaiting shipment by the British Government to Poland. I do not know the number of these people, but I understand that it runs into several thousands.
458 I want, first, to ask why they are not being sent back as rapidly as possible, and secondly, in what conditions they are living at the present time. With regard to the second question, some hon. Members may have seen a report that appeared in the Press on Monday dealing with conditions at one of these camps where, I understand, these people have been awaiting repatriation to Poland for the last four or five months. In that camp at Fairfield, near Prestwick, in Scotland, there is—or there was until yesterday—a hunger strike in progress. There are in that camp 380 Polish Servicemen and their wives, some of whom are British, who have been awaiting repatriation to Poland, and they have been on hunger strike for the last five or six days People do not start a hunger strike lightly, particularly in the arctic conditions we are at. present experiencing. They have been driven to this expedient. Some of the women are pregnant, and at the present time there are 70 of them desperately ill, but they are maintaining their hunger strike out of a sense of loyalty to the others. This hunger strike is a protest against the conditions of life in that camp. It may be the worst camp of the series, but if there are any other camps where such conditions exist, it is a matter which requires the immediate attention of whatever Government Department is responsible. It may well be the War Office, although it may be it ought not to be the War Office. If it is the War Office, I want to ask the following questions, because I do not think the Home Secretary dealt with the matter very fully in his speech.
Who is to be responsible for the administration of the camps provided for under this Bill during the period, which I am afraid will be quite a long interval—when these people in the Polish Resettlement Corps are being assimilated into civilian life? Am I right in thinking that the 2,000 or so members of that Corps for whom civilian jobs have been found at the present time are still, for the most part, living in these military camps under the aegis of the War Office? Is it intended that, as more and more people are found civilian jobs, they will continue to live in these camps under the direction of the War Office? What is the intention of the Government concerning the transfer of those camps from the War 459 Office either to the Ministry of Labour or to the Home Office, or to some organisation which will, no doubt, provide more humane treatment than that given at the Fairfield camp, where this hunger strike is taking place?
I want next to ask the Minister who is to reply to clear up certain misunderstandings that exist in the minds of a great many of the Polish people to whom this Bill applies. Is it or is it not required of a Polish ex-serviceman that he should join the Polish Resettlement Corps unless he wants either to go back to Poland or to emigrate? There are certain Poles who, having left the Polish Forces, have of their own account found civilian employment where they are quite happy and are doing honest, useful work. Those people ought to be allowed to remain in the work they are doing without any interference.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I understand the Minister to indicate that that is the position. In order that there may be no possible cause for misunderstanding, may I quote a letter from one of my constituents and which I have no doubt is typical of what exists in the minds of many other people. This British lady, who is married to a Pole who was formerly a sailor, writes:My husband is Polish, and was in the Polish Navy. and three months ago the Polish Navy gave him extended leave with a view to finding civilian employment and making good lie has a very good post on a railway, and we are at present very happy. On Saturday he received a letter containing a railway warrant to go to Plymouth to sign for the Polish Resettlement Corps, which means that if he signs he will be sent away from home and possibly lose a very good job, which we found difficulty in securing. He definitely does not want to join the Corps or have anything to do with the Polish Government.I hope that, for the benefit of any others who are in that category, some announcement will he made that will ensure that neither for reasons of administrative tidiness or anything else will any pressure be brought to bear on Poles who are now in civilian employment to join the Polish Resettlement Corps. Further, may I ask the Minister what is the attitude of the Government with regard to those members of the Polish Resettlement Corps who were formerly officers? Am I correct in saying that they are still being paid at a rate 460 appropriate to officers, and therefore at rates which must presumably be better than the wages they can earn in civilian employment? If employment is found for them in civilian life, are we not faced with the possibility that several of them will prefer to remain drawing the officer wage rather than take up civilian employment?
Finally, I ask for enlightenment with regard to the provisions of Clause 6, which deals with the establishment of the Polish University College. I thought that the Home Secretary was just a little ambiguous in the answer he gave on that question. One must assume, from our knowledge of the extent to which of these Poles have now learnt English, that the majority of those who will go into this college will speak and understand English. Is the University College to be run by an English administration or a Polish administration, and are the staff to be English or Polish? Further, what is the intended duration of the college? I should hope it will be reasonably short and that eventually all Poles will be absorbed and assimilated into the ordinary university and educational system of the country. It is undesirable that it should even be thought that the Polish University College may become the nucleus of an enclave of Polish-taught anti-Warsaw propaganda in this country. I am not suggesting that it would be, but it should not even have the appearance of being so.
For these reasons, and for other reasons of detail that I will not now go into, I hope the Government will attend to the administrative requirements of this problem, and that the House, in the exercise of its customary vigilance, will ensure that they do so, but I think that we all agree that the Bill deserves the support of this House on this Second Reading stage.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Kensington, South)
Enough has been said from this side of the House by my right hon. and hon. Friends behind me to show that we welcome the Bill and support it. We know that we incurred a debt in 1939. That debt was acknowledged by the Coalition Government, and it has been confirmed by this Government. The Bill is an effort, a sincere effort, to discharge that debt. It is easier for the House to discharge that debt when, as the Home 461 Secretary stated earlier this evening, the Poles, in their medical and educational services and so on, have done so very much to help themselves. What we do by the Bill is not just to hand out charity to those who are in danger; we help people who have made every effort to help themselves.
We are conscious of this debt. And as was stated by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and the hon. Member for South Bradford (Mr. Tittering-ton), it is much to our own advantage that the debt should be discharged. We stand to gain very greatly if we are able to absorb the Poles into our British way of life and, in particular, into our British industry. That may perhaps give the hon. Member for Central Hackney (Mr. Hynd) an answer to one question he asked, which was why we on these Benches support a Measure at this very critical time which imposes a further charge on public funds. We support it because we consider ourselves to be bound in honour to support it, and because we believe that the provisions of this Bill will be in the long-term interests of this country.
The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) said that there were some omissions from the Bill. I agree that the Bill does not cover the whole of the ground of Polish resettlement, and I will refer to that later. My hon. Friend accused my right hon. Friend the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) of being complacent in his reception of the Bill. I do not think my right hon. Friend was in any way complacent about it, but we have to recognise that in this Bill we are doing something, strained as we are in our economic situation, that no other country, even those far better situated than we are, has attempted to do.
What is the precise meaning of the final paragraph of Clause 1 (1)? It reads:Provided that payments under a scheme made under this section shall be limited touch as fall due for payment before the expiration of five years from the passing of this Act…I am not clear—it may be my own stupidity—whether that means that no fresh schemes can be entertained after five years or whether it means that any pensions which are paid under this Act will come to an end in five years. If it means that, it seems monstrously unfair, for if one of the individuals covered by this Clause has, say, a 100 per cent. Dis- 462 ability which will be with him throughout his life, I cannot see the reason for cutting his pension at the end of five years. I should like some enlightenment on that. I would also like to ask the Government about this question of the Resettlement Corps and the attitude of those Poles—the Home Secretary said something more than 15,000—who have been approached but who are still undecided. I believe it to be the case that a number of Poles would like to join the Resettlement Corps but are quite literally afraid to do so because they fear reprisals on their relatives in Warsaw— [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think it is the case that the Warsaw Government has made it quite clear that it does not like the idea of the Resettlement Corps and it has threatened those who join it with loss of their nationality, though I do not think that has yet been carried out—
§ Mr. Law
That means that Poles here who have wives, children or near relations in Warsaw may be very nervous about joining the Resettlement Corps. I have heard that those who are given the opportunity to join the Resettlement Corps but do not join it and do not go back to Poland, are to be deported to displaced persons' camps in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. I hope that is not the case. It may be that there are those who will not join the Resettlement Corps simply because they do not like the idea of working. That is a different matter, but with regard to people who will not join the Resettlement Corps because they are afraid to do so for the reasons I have given, I hope very much that this threat, if it exists, will be withdrawn.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
What would the right hon. Gentleman suggest should be done about those people who refuse to join the Resettlement Corps?
§ Mr. Law
I am not at the moment making any suggestion as to what should be done, because I do not happen to be responsible; I am only drawing the attention of the Government to what I believe is a real difficulty and I hope that, however they meet this difficulty, they will not meet it by injustice.
With regard to the Amendment, it is not my business to defend the Government from their allies and comrades, but 463 I must say that the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) seemed this afternoon to be in a little less than his usual fighting form. He produced some extremely curious arguments for opposing this Bill. As far as I could make out, his first argument was that he opposed the Bill because the Government had not brought it in soon enough. That seemed to me to be very odd. His other main argument was that he was opposing the Bill because the Resettlement Corps was an insult to the Warsaw Government and that this Bill, by magnifying the Resettle-Corps, magnified the insult. As far as I can understand the Bill, so far from magnifying the Resettlement Corps, the purpose of the Bill is to give members of the Corps an exit from it and an entry into British life. Therefore, I found it very difficult to follow the argument of the hon. Member for Mile End.
Then there was the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). We often see in this House scenes that touch our emotions deeply, and I doubt whether I have ever seen a more touching one than we witnessed this afternoon, when the Leader of the Communist Party solemnly congratulated the deputy Leader of the Communist Party on being singled out, at so youthful an age, and with so little Parliamentary experience, for the honour of moving the Amendment on behalf of his party. I thought that was a very moving scene indeed. I find myself very much in agreement with Mr. Speaker—I could not find much that was relevant to the Bill in the speech of the hon. Member for West Fife. In so far as it was relevant, I rather gathered that he, like his deputy, was worried about the Resettlement Corps, and on that point it seems to me that the hon. Member for West Fife, the leader of the Communist Party, was leaving the expression of his anxieties rather late. He had a much earlier opportunity of expressing them on 22nd May last year when the Foreign Secretary announced the formation of the Resettlement Corps. However, he did not express them. It was not that the hon. Member was silent. He said on that occasion:I want to ask whether, when these men are being placed in any area,that is, the Poles in the Resettlement Corps— 464there will be consultation with the local authority in order to ensure that the. best possible conditions are provided for them?" —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1946; Vol. 423, C. 305.]His anxiety on 22nd May to see that the best possible conditions were provided for the Poles in order, suppose, that they might be encouraged to join the Resettlement Corps, hardly squares with his attitude today. I suppose that discrepancy only means that he has received fresh instructions since then. I do not think it is necessary for me to say anything more about the speech of the hon. Member for West Fife, because my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) seems to have torpedoed it when he asked whether the hon. Member for West Fife wanted to compel Poles to go back to Poland. When the hon. Member for West Fife was asked that question, he was quite unable to answer it. As I say, it torpedoed the whole of the hon. Member's argument such as it was, and so much of it as was relevant to the Bill.
I would like to refer again to the well-informed and extremely thoughtful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey. He said that this Bill was only a palliative. I think the House will probably agree that my hon. Friend was quite right, because this Bill, without other actions on the part of His Majesty's Government, does not touch the core of the problem of Polish resettlement at all, unless it is followed by other action on the part of the Government, action far more vigorous than any they have yet taken. All the Bill means, unless other action is taken, is that we shall be creating in this island an enormous, well-run and humane displaced persons camp. The real problem of Polish resettlement is, as the Home Secretary said, how these men and women are to be absorbed into the British way of life, and, in particular, into British industry. We ought to consider what has been the record of the Government in this matter. I do not think it has been very good.
I am sorry to introduce this controversial note, because I understand that now it is the attitude of hon. Members opposite in these difficult times that if anyone on this side criticises the policy of the Government, and the administrative record of the Government, they are to be considered unpatriotic. I do not think 465 we are being unpatriotic. It is our duty to call attention to weaknesses in Government administration. It is sometimes said that it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose. I will not go into that tonight, but I conceive that at this juncture it is most certainly the duty of the Opposition to expose the maladministration and incompetence of His Majesty's Government. Until that is exposed, and until the people of this country understand it, there is no way of getting rid of this Government. And until we do get rid of this Government, there is no way of the country getting out of its present very terrible difficulties.
What is the record of the Government in this matter? The Home Secretary told us this afternoon that there were in this country 127,000 Poles. The Minister of Labour told us last night, and seemed to take great credit for it, that of these 127,000 Poles, 2,300 had been absorbed into industry. The Minister of Labour told us that arrangements had now been made for the training of Poles to enter the coalmines and that the entry—I presume after the training has been completed—was to be at the rate of 300 a week. Why did the Minister tell us that last night? Why did he not tell us that six months ago? On 22nd May, which is the critical date in regard to this Bill, because that was the day on which the Foreign Secretary made his statement about the Resettlement Corps, he was asked by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) whether training facilities would be provided for industries such as coal mining and agriculture. The Foreign Secretary replied, without a moment's hesitation, "Certainly" He did not say that they were to be provided nearly a year later. He implied that they were to be provided at once.
I would like to give the House an example of what I consider to be the extraordinary dilatoriness of the Government's attack upon this problem of absorbing the Poles into industry in general, and into the coalmines in particular; or rather, I would like to ask the Minister who is to reply a few questions about it. I ask him if it is the fact, as I have been informed, that early last year, the Ministry of Labour, or some Department of the Government, was told by the Polish Resettlement Corps Headquarters that there were 900 experienced Polish miners 466 in this country, able to go at once into the coalmines? I would ask him further whether it is the fact that nothing was done about this for many weeks, and that it was then decided to interview these potential miners? By that time the figure of 900, I am told, had dwindled to 500. The balance had either been repatriated or had emigrated to work in the French coalmines, or in some way or other had drifted into other occupations here. These men were interviewed. I understand that 200 of them were accepted, and that nothing more was done. Is that so? I understand that of these 500 men who were interviewed, only 81 are now available, and that only one single solitary man has actually gone into the coalmining industry. I, therefore, ask the Minister if it is the case that a few months ago the Government were told that there were 900 experienced miners available immediately, and that today only one of those 900 has actually gone down the mine.
Then, there is the question of training. We all realise that the training of these men is a real difficulty. But is it not the case that there are, in this country already, a number of Polish training centres which could easily be used for vocational training, and which the Ministry of Labour has not yet even so much as inspected, with a view to taking them over? We all know that this is a most unsatisfactory story. I think the Government will admit that themselves, but they put up a defence, of which they think a great deal, but of which I must confess I do not think a great deal. They say, first, there is the housing difficulty, and there is the language difficulty. I think my right hon. Friend disposed of that this afternoon.
§ Mrs. Manning
Does the right hon. Gentleman really mean that the problem of finding homes for the Poles is easy of solution?
§ Mr. Law
I think that my right hon. Friend showed that the difficulty was much exaggerated, and that if the Government had really made an effort to accommodate Polish workers in hostels, etc., some solution could have been found.
But the real defence of the Government, which has been repeated time and time again by Ministers, is that the introduction of Poles or other foreigners into industry would cause so much industrial 467 unrest that the net result would be that production would fall rather than rise. I do not consider that to be any defence at all from this Government. It is the business of the Government to lead, not to be led. If it is the case, as the Minister seemed to claim, that trade union leadership is narrow, selfish and short-sighted then it is the duty of the Government to enlighten and influence that leadership. I should have thought that no Government could have been better situated to do that than this Government. I do not think I have ever expected, speaking for myself, any high degree of competence from the Government. I have not expected it, and I have not found it. But I thought at one time that, at least, the Government, with their special confidential relationships with the trade unions would be able so to influence them that they would not persist, at this time, in the restrictive practices which have, all too sadly, marked the recent history of trade unionism.
I suggest to the Government that they must show in this matter greater vigour than they have shown up to now. I think it is fair to say that the trade unions if they have been convinced—and I hope they have—have not been convinced by the logic of the Government but by the much harsher logic of facts. The Government knew the facts behind the present crisis. They must have known them. But the people of this country only learned those facts last Friday afternoon. I think we may fairly say that, in this matter of building up the manpower of industry by the employment of Polish or other foreign labour, the Government have not given a lead to the country. They have not convinced the country. They have just waited until the country has been convinced by the facts. As I said before, we welcome this Bill. By itself, it will not touch the core of the problem. Whether this Bill is really effective and really fulfils the purpose that we have in mind. depends almost entirely upon the energy which the Government show in this matter of the absorption of Poles into industry.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Ness Edwards)
I can only say in reply to the last remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the 468 Member for South Kensington (Mr. Law), that if we do not show any more energy in dealing with this problem than some of his colleagues opposite showed to the poor South Wales miners in the twenties, we shall deserve all that comes to us. This is not an issue upon which we ought to have any political knockabout. This is a great human issue which ought to be dealt with in this House on the highest level. In my view, it is not a political problem. It is a human problem which ought to be dealt with from a humanitarian and not from an ideological point of view. I think it is well to remind the House of the debt we owe to these men who come within the scope of the Bill.
In 1940 and 1941, the highest praise was paid from all parts of the House to the gallant Polish fighter pilots, who helped to defend even this House of Commons from the attacks from the German planes. I think the House should be reminded of the great contribution made in the North African desert at El Alamein and Tobruk and then of the great and gallant stand at Monte Cassino, in Italy. The foundations of victory were being laid at that time by these men for whom we want to make provision in this Bill. It is in the sense of redeeming our obligations to these men, and maintaining the honour and prestige of this nation and of this House in relation to the pledges given, that we ought to approach this problem.
The Bill has been gone over in considerable detail by some hon. Members, while other hon. Members seemed capable of talking without the Bill at all, so wide did the Debate appear to range. I shall try to cover, as briefly as I can, the points raised in the Debate and provide the necessary answers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), in opening for the Opposition, referred in particular, as did the last right hon. Gentleman who spoke, to the dilatoriness of the Government in bringing forward this Bill. They know something of negotiations with people other than our own, and, although there have 'been complaints about the negotiations or consultations which took place with representatives of the Poles, there was no one else with whom we could have any consultations. Those were the people to whom the pledges had been given. The negotiations dragged on, but I want to 469 assure the House that the Government were most anxious to get the earliest possible settlement of this problem in this country, and to get that settlement without causing any offence in Poland itself. There was no desire to cause affront to the Provisional Government in Poland; neither was there any desire to do any injustice to members of the Polish Forces in this country. It is because of our concern, not only for doing the right thing but for appearing to do the right thing, that so much time has been taken in bringing this Measure before the House, and I hope this will be accepted, especially by the right hon. Gentleman for South Kensington, whose experience in this sphere is not a limited one.
The next point was the question of Polish liability to this Government for the outstanding debts that have accrued. It is true that a satisfactory financial adjustment has been made, and has been embodied in the provisional agreement. I regret that I am unable to say what the terms of that agreement are, because, as will be appreciated, I am here representing the Ministry of Labour, but have also had the job of answering for other Departments thrust upon my shoulders. Naturally, I am not acquainted with the work of other Departments, but I am told that, whilst the agreement has been arrived at, we are withholding ratification of the agreement pending the fulfilment of certain pledges made at Potsdam to representatives of this Government. Indeed, I was very surprised by the right hon. Gentleman who suggested that we might be cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Did he mean that we should sell our principles for the debts that are outstanding? I rather appreciated the point made by the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Astor) that appeasement in these matters does not pay. I think the Government ought to he complimented on showing such great patience, at great cost to this country, in trying to get the redemption of these pledges before ratification of the agreement takes place.
I was also asked what is the cost of maintaining these Forces in this country in idleness. I should think that that is hardly a matter that comes within the scope of this Bill. I should think that it would come up on the Estimates, and that, as it comes within the War Office Vote, it might properly be raised on that Vote. On the point of idleness, I do not 470 accept the position that these men have been idle all this time. Anyone travelling up and down this country will know that Polish Forces, working in gangs, have been rendering a very great amount of assistance. I should have thought that the contribution which they have made to agriculture in Scotland, and the help which they are now giving on the railways in an endeavour to get traffic moving, would have received a higher measure of appreciation from both sides of the House than, apparently, has been the case.
I was also asked by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the pensions, and why they were limited to five years. The short point is that the pensions have been established. They have been established on very inadequate documentation, and there is some doubt as to whether or not, if British medical boards and British methods were applied, these pensions would be as large, or as small, as they are now. In order to review this position, and, in the hope that we can get a greater degree of co-operation from the Provisional Government in Poland as well, we decided on a five-year period. We are not without hope that, some day, the Polish Government may take over these liabilities and have these men back in Poland. We hope that such negotiations will proceed, but it was thought that, if a five-year period were laid down, at the end of that period we might be able to review the position. The Minister will have the right to extend the scheme without coming to this House.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I know that I am a Welshman, but I thought that I was using the English language correctly. I had no intention of conveying that impression to the right hon. Gentleman. What I said was that we did not want to tie ourselves for ever to this liability if there was a chance, through negotiations, of getting the Polish Government to accept the liability. I want to assure the House and the right hon. Gentleman that there is no intention, if circumstances remain as they are, of depriving these men of their pensions at the end of five 471 years. I hope that that assurance will satisfy the hon. Members in various parts of the House who raised that question. Then I was asked why it was that the Assistance Board re-enacted—
§ Mrs. Manning
Before my hon. Friend leaves the matter of pensions, would he answer the question raised by one or two hon. Members whether there is any discrimination against men going back to Poland and whether they can go anywhere else and still receive their pensions?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I will come back to that point presently. I am trying to deal with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite with regard to the Assistance Board re-enacting the various conditions for qualifying for unemployment assistance. The short point is that the condition which we apply to British people is that they must be available for and able to work. In this case, it has been widened so as to take into account and to enable the Assistance Board to pay unemployment assistance to Poles who are too old to work, or who are sick and have not acquired National Health Insurance rights. It is for that purpose that this Clause has been inserted. With regard to unemployment benefit and health and medical practice, the short answer there is that anybody passing through the Resettlement Corps will have exactly the same rights as British soldiers on discharge from the Services. I hope that that will meet with the general approval of the House.
With regard to the Assistance Board being the responsible body for running the camps, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds was wrong when he said that the Ministry of Labour runs camps and hostels. What happens is that the Ministry of Labour uses the Hostels Corporation as an agency, and it is proposed that the Assistance Board will do the same thing. By this means, the Assistance Board will have the right to use the Y.M.C.A., the Y.W.C.A. in some cases, or the Hostels Corporation to run these hostels and camps when they are on a civilian basis. They will be the accounting body for these purposes.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
Is it intended to use as hostels or camps any of those camps which are being temporarily evacuated, by 472 the Royal Air Force in particular, prior to rebuilding?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
It is the intention to try to use as many camps as are conveniently sited for housing the Poles. Our great difficulty is that most of the camps in this country are in areas where there is no potential employment. That is the great difficulty that we have in dealing with camp accommodation. They have usually been sited far away from aggregations of population and from industries where labour is required. Then there is a further difficulty. The standard of accommodation to be provided for the Poles—and I am sure the House will agree on this point—is to be better than that which was provided for prisoners of war, and this involves some reconditioning of those camps which are convenient for the purpose of housing the Poles.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) and, I think, other hon. Members raised a question in connection with the seven days' notice which was given to Poles who had refused to enlist in the Resettlement Corps or to volunteer to go back to Poland. I think the same point was raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Kensington. This is the position. Seven months ago, these men were asked to exercise their option. They said they would not enter the Resettlement Corps, neither would they emigrate nor return to Poland. That is an extremely serious position, and if the Government were to be blackmailed into allowing these men to remain in an armed force at military rates of pay and making no contribution to the country, we would be heading for a disaster. On the other hand, there is no desire on the part of the Government to use any unjust methods to compel these men to exercise their option immediately it is put to them. But in this particular case, the first request was made to the man about whom we had the information seven months ago. It has been repeated since on a number of occasions, and if he were to get away with it we would never get anybody into the Resettlement Corps.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Please let me finish. It was felt that we must take some action in this matter. There are three alternatives—to emigrate, join the Resettlement Corps and take up civilian employment 473 in this country, or go back to Poland. If they decide to emigrate we will pay their fares and give them allowances. if they go back to Poland we will ship them there and give them certain allowances when they land there. If they join the Resettlement Corps and enter civilian employment, again they will get certain allowances. But if they say "We will do nothing," in order to remain a charge upon the economy of this country, then the Government must take some action in order to get a decision.
§ Mr. Hollis
I appreciate the candour of the hon. Gentleman in dealing with this point, but does not he appreciate that it is very difficult for these men to come to a decision until it is made clear to them what are the circumstances in which they will or will not be allowed to enter this country?
§ Mr. Lipson
Can my hon. Friend say how many men are affected by this order, that they must make up their minds in seven days?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I do not want to advertise this too much. I do not want encouragement to be given to other Poles to follow suit, and I am sure the House would not expect me to encourage them. There are some hundreds who are in this position, and this final warning has been given to 200 men. I am told that the least period which any of them has had to consider the matter is five months. I am sure it will be agreed on all sides of the House that the Government are being extremely lenient in this matter. We do not want our leniency to be regarded as weakness, and we do not want too many people here who obviously are not prepared to do anything to maintain themselves.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stone)
We must press the hon. Member on this point, because it is an important one. There are 26,000 Poles who have not yet been interviewed about this order, which is couched in terms of the seven days' notice. Will those men be given only seven days in which to decide whether they are to be sent to almost certain death in Germany, or to come here and stay here in the Resettlement Corps, or to go home?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I should have thought, the example of what has been 474 done is an indication of what it is our intention to do. We have been very decent with the Poles in allowing them time to make up their minds. As far as I can see, there is no reason to think that we shall not continue to be decent. On the other hand, we do not want the decency of the Government in relation to this problem to be exploited. That is all I can say on the point. I can give the assurance that from the day a man says he is not going to make an election he is given seven days' notice. That will not mean he will be interviewed a number of times before he is given a final warning. I am sorry to have taken so much time dealing with these points, but they are matters which concern hon. Members very seriously.
I have been asked what is to happen to the disabled who are in receipt of pensions. They will be treated in exactly the same way as British soldiers. If they emigrate, they will take with them the same rates as disabled British soldiers. In that sense, I think that is completely satisfactory. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Hackney (Mr. H. Hynd) made a point in what I thought was a rather peculiar way. He asked whether the Bill provided a pension for a man who was wounded in the German Army. The answer is: No. If my hon. Friend reads Clause 1 (1, b)he will see that it is not intended to give pensions to men who were wounded otherwise than under British command.
§ Mr. Hynd
Could I ask my hon. Friend to clarify that point? Clause 1(1 c)applies to the Polish resettlement forces. That includes men who served in the German Army. The Clause goes on to say that those people will get pensions, including pensions for the dependants of those who have been killed in consequence of service during the 1939 world war. It does not say on which side.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I think Clause 1 (1, b)is the overriding consideration. My hon. Friend can take it for granted that we are not going to give pensions to men who were wounded fighting against us. My hon. Friend the Mem- 475 ber for Central Hackney, I thought, looked with a considerable amount of suspicion upon this Bill. He seemed to regard it as a means whereby the Polish forces in this country would be concentrated under another guise. Surely, he cannot have read the Bill, because it provides for facilitating the dispersal of the Poles into the civilian life of this country; and there is no intention at all of the Poles in this country forming a sort of shadow army ready to pounce upon Russia or some other country in case of emergency. That is a complete misreading of the intention of the Government and of the purpose of the Bill He says it might he possible to have complete Polish Army units under Clause 8. I can assure him that is not the intention. Clause 8 provides that we shall organise the Polish resettlement forces as a unit of the British Army. That is all it does. Without Clause 8 we cannot get all these Poles togther in the Resettlement Corps. They will be under British military discipline while they are under resettlement. As soon as they can get into civilian life, they cease to have any connection at all with the Resettlement Corps or Army discipline. He made another point about the existence of Polish discipline, and its being applied to the Polish forces in this country. My information is that that terminated in July, 1945, and that since that date there has been no application at all of Polish military law in this country.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
So far as the legal position is concerned, it is not legal at all. I must come now to the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin). In the interests of sanctuary he has moved this Amendment, and wants the House to reject the Bill—as he very well put it—first, because it was coming late; secondly, because it might be an affront to the Polish Government; and thirdly, because the wrong people had been consulted.
§ Mr. Piratin
I am sure the Minister does not wish to misinterpret me. I never raised the question of the Bill coming late. The right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr Peake) did that With regard to the 476 take them out of their context, and that he will deal with them adequately. Surely, he feels he has a strong enough case to deal with them adequately.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Yes, but one has not time. As I understand the Amendment, this Bill ought to be rejected, first, because it might cause an affront to the Polish Government—to the Provisional Government in Poland. Apparently, throughout the whole of his remarks, the hon. Member had the fear that this was a political organisation to be used for possibly ulterior purposes at some distant date. That was the impression I had from the speech he made in moving the Amendment. But I should have thought that he would have agreed to the necessity of this Bill, if only to deal with those Poles who are being refused permission to go to Poland by the Provisional Polish Government. What are we to do with those men? After all, the Provisional Polish Government are screening these men in London, and are refusing to allow some of these Poles to go back to Poland. Are not we to have this Bill to give those men all the things they ought to have—especially if the hon. Member believes that we must give sanctuary to those men?
§ Mr. Piratin
Surely, the Minister is now deliberately making a debating point of something I did not say. There are three paragraphs, (a) (b) and (c) of Subsection (I) of Clause 1, and (c) refers to the resettlement forces. What I said was, that the Government have already presented to the country, and to the Polish Government, a fait accompli in the form of the Resettlement Corps, which is now to be given certain privileges. It was the Resettlement Corps to which I was opposed, not individual Poles who might require sanctuary.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
the Resettlement Corps will be necessary to organise and provide for those men who will he rejected by the Provisional Government in Poland
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Because these men cannot be left uncared for. If they are left uncared for they will still he part of a military body. and the hon. Gentleman does not believe in a State within a State, and, therefore, we must disperse this 477 potential State within a State by putting the men in the Resettlement Corps which will disperse them throughout the general life of this country. That, surely, is the argument.
Many arguments have been used as to undue pressure from both sides. I regret that those arguments are used in connection with this problem. There has been no undue pressure on the part of the Government to get men to stay in this country, nor to emigrate, but I should like to make the position clear. So far, I think, 25,000 men have elected to return to Poland. The rate at which they have gone was 4,000 in November last and 4,000 in December. The Government's machinery in connection with the Resettlement Corps and the Polish Forces generally is prepared to carry and pay for 10,000 men every month, but the rate of repatriation is determined by the rate at which the Provisional Government in Poland will accept them. That is the position. There is no desire at all to create the impression in the mind of the Provisional Government of Poland that we want to keep them here. We do not, and I think the facts indicate that we are attempting—
On a point of Order. Is the Parliamentary Secretary in Order in referring to the properly-constituted de facto Government of Poland as a Provisional Government?
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I understand that, as the Treaty has not been ratified, that is the correct description. However, I intend no discourtesy at all to that Government, whether it is the provisional or actual Government in Poland, and 1 hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that statement.
A number of other points were put to me and perhaps I had better deal with them very quickly. With regard to those Poles who are genuinely afraid of reprisals, I think I have indicated that the Government will be particularly careful not to use situations like that to the detriment of the men if they are taking some time over making their declarations. I have already dealt with the point about the five years, and with the 15,000 who are vet undecided. We will proceed to get them to decide. In general, I think I have 478 now covered most of the points that have been raised, except one or two. With regard to the hunger strike that took place at Fairfield Camp, I want to say that the camp is under the control of the War Office and the hunger strike was a protest against the delay in repatriating these people. I am told that the earliest dates at which they can now be repatriated is in March, and as soon as we can get them off they will go. The hunger strike is over; there were some deficiencies in the camp, so the War Office has informed us, and I understand that steps have been taken to remedy them. I presume that it it is not very comfortable in Scotland with as much snow about as there has been during the last week.
With regard to the case of the railwayman who was mentioned by my hon. Friend, we must be clear that there is no intention of recalling to the Resettlement Corps this person who was released to take up civilian employment. All that takes place in cases of this sort is that the man is summoned to attend the centre which deals with resettlement affairs, and half a day is taken in order to register him, discharge him, and give him all the perquisites he is entitled to on discharge from the Forces. It ought to be made quite clear to all Poles who have taken up employment that they will not be taken away and put into the Resettlement Corps. With regard to the rates of pay for officers, I understand that these rates are the same as in the British Army, so long as they are employed on military duties. I think that I have covered most of the points which have been raised.
§ Mr. Peake
I was hoping that the Parliamentary Secretary was going to say a word or two upon what has been the main criticism of the Government throughout this Debate, and that is, that out of 150,000 men who have been here for a long time, only about 2,000 have so far found their way into permanent employment. This is a matter for which his Department has some personal responsibility.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
That is true, but the Ministry of Labour only has a special responsibility after the men have been enlisted in the Resettlement Corps. There is also the question of language, which has been rather brushed aside in this Debate. I can assure the House that this is a matter of great difficulty. I am told 479 that very few of those who are coming from Africa and Italy can speak English. They all have to be registered, enrolled in the Resettlement Corps, sorted out and so on. Gangs of these men have been used for a very long time to do important work in this country. Gang labour has been the form in which the Poles have been used almost wholly in Scotland. Scotland will not take them individually, although they have been used in other parts of the country.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I cannot say. Most of the miners are Silesians. Most speak German, and most of them have elected to go back to work in the pits in Silesia. I am afraid that we shall get very few skilled miners out of the Resettlement Corps. I think I have covered most of the points which have been raised, but if any are outstanding, I will try to get in touch with hon. Members to let them have an answer. This is the machine which wilt enable us to do the job, and until we get this Bill through, I cannot see how we can do the job of dispersing the Poles who would like to remain with us and finally acquire British status. I hope, therefore. that the House will reject the Amendment and give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 9.34 P.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
This has been rather an interesting Debate, and I am grateful for having a few moments left to make a few remarks. The Parliamentary Secretary has answered most of the points which were outstanding, but I would ask him to bear two other matters in mind when this Bill becomes an Act. One has to try and appreciate how this is going to re-act on the Poles. The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) pointed out to the two Communist Members that their first duty was that of British Members of Parliament. While endorsing fully what was said, I have had in mind what the Poles would be thinking about the Debate today. There is one thing we have failed to appreciate. and that is that the Poles in England are 480 divided roughly into two sections. There is one half which believes that the life they knew before the war was not altogether satisfactory, was always an uneasy life, one which they certainly never intend to start again, and which they believe they would have to start again if they went back, no matter what Government there was in Poland in five or 10 years' time. The other half are looking to the day when there is a regime in Poland which they believe will allow them a free and democratic life.
We have to appreciate that it is of vital importance to cater for both types. This Bill caters only for the second type I have mentioned. We must realise that those who have to wait five years before becoming naturalised British subjects will probably become disgruntled if they have made up their minds that they will never go back to Poland. Those Poles should be given earlier naturalisation than the others. The Home Secretary said that he could not produce a Bill to enable only Poles to be naturalised, but I think he is intending to bring in a Bill to cover all those who wish to be naturalised. I would ask him to consider carefully whether or not he can devise some form of legislation to enable those Poles who never want to go back to Poland to become British subjects before the five years is up.
One of the things that British people pride themselves upon, no matter how badly they are fed or heated, is their right to be given information. Some of the information that we have been given today could, I think, have been given to us a great deal sooner. There is a national interest in these Poles, and I believe that it is only right we should try to accommodate them in a somewhat better manner than German prisoners of war. We want information as to how these people are living. In the past, information has been difficult to obtain. We must realise that the Polish Resettlement Corps is a temporary body, and we should be careful not to lavish accommodation on them if, at the end of five years, the whole thing will vanish and these men become British subjects. This is a good Bill, but it could be a good deal better, and I hope it will be followed by legislation which will bring about the early naturalisation of those Poles who never intend to go back to Poland.
§ Question,"That 'now," stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Michael Stewart.]