HC Deb 10 May 1939 vol 347 cc452-6
16. Miss Rathbone

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the recent strong manifestation of public opinion as tested by the Institute of Public Opinion in favour of a military alliance between Great Britain, France, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, he will reconsider the instructions given to the British Ambassador at Moscow?

Mr. Butler

The answer is in the negative, but I would ask the hon. Lady to await a reply which the Prime Minister is giving at the end of Questions.

Miss Rathbone

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in this important and scientific test 87 per cent. answered "Yes" to the question; 6 per cent. were against and 7 per cent. gave no answer at all? Has he any reason for doubting the value of this test?

Mr. Butler

No, Sir. I am always interested in any scientific test. When I have applied it in my constituency I have always been returned.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that whilst there is general unity on the subject of co-operation against aggression, any idea of a permanent commitment of our people in a military alliance other than that with France would be regarded with the greatest disquiet?

Mr. Boothby

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the observations just made are entirely without foundation?

Mr. Gallacher

Does not the hon. and gallant Member speak for the people of the Fifth Column?

Mr. Attlee

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the statement issued in Moscow regarding the proposals of the British Government and whether, in view of this, he will now state the nature of the proposals made by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and of the reply of His Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

I have seen the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman refers and which seems to be based upon some misunderstanding of the suggestions actually put forward by His Majesty's Government to the Soviet Government. Though conversations are still in progress and the House will not, therefore, expect me to discuss these matters in detail, I think it right, in view of this statement, to place the House in possession of the general line on which the conversations have been hitherto proceeding.

As the House is aware, His Majesty's Government recently accepted a definite obligation in respect of certain Eastern European States. They did this in pursuance of their declared policy of assisting those States to resist any attempt, if such were made, to threaten their independence. His Majesty's Government undertook these obligations without inviting the Soviet Government to participate directly in them, in view of certain difficulties to which, as the House is well aware, any such suggestion would inevitably give rise. His Majesty's Government accordingly suggested to the Soviet Government that they should make, on their own behalf, a declaration of similar effect to that already made by His Majesty's Government, in the sense that, in the event of Great Britain and France being involved in hostilities in discharge of their own obligations thus accepted, the Soviet Government, on their side, would express their readiness also to lend assistance, if desired. Such a declaration, if the Soviet Government feel able to make it, seems to His Majesty's Government to be in accord with the recent pronouncement of M. Stalin, that it is the policy of the Soviet Government to support countries which might be victims of aggression and which were prepared to defend their own independence.

Almost simultaneously the Soviet Government suggested a scheme at once more comprehensive and more rigid which, whatever other advantages it might present, must in the view of His Majesty's Government inevitably raise the very difficulties which their own proposals had been designed to avoid. His Majesty's Government accordingly pointed out to the Soviet Government the existence of these difficulties. At the same time they made certain modifications in their original proposals. In particular, they made it plain that it was no part of their intention that the Soviet Government should commit themselves to intervene, irrespective of whether Great Britain and France had already, in discharge of their obligations, done so. His Majesty's Government added that, if the Soviet Government wished to make their own intervention contingent on that of Great Britain and France, His Majesty's Government for their part would have no objection.

My Noble Friend yesterday saw the Soviet Ambassador, who explained to him that the Soviet Government were still not clear whether under the proposal of His Majesty's Government circumstances might not arise in which the Soviet Government would be committed to intervention unsupported by His Majesty's Government or France. My Noble Friend assured the Ambassador that this was definitely not the intention of the proposal, made by His Majesty's Government and that, if there were any room for doubt on this point, my Noble Friend anticipated that it could without difficulty be removed. He accordingly invited the Soviet Ambassador to place His Majesty's Government in possession of the precise grounds on which these doubts of his Government were based, if they still existed, and this the Soviet Ambassador readily agreed to do.

I should add that the British Ambassador in Moscow had an interview two days ago with M. Molotov, at the conclusion of which M. Molotov promised that the Soviet Government would give careful consideration to our proposals, and we are now awaiting their reply.

Mr. Dalton

Would it not be a good thing, in order to speed up these very slow negotiations, the slowness of which is causing grave apprehension in the country, that Lord Halifax should proceed to Moscow and have a straightforward discussion with M. Molotov?

The Prime Minister

I think we had better await the reply of the Soviet Government and then we shall see what further steps are required.

Mr. Mander

The Prime Minister has been good enough to explain to the House the policy put forward by His Majesty's Government to Russia, and will he be good enough at the same time to explain the so-called rigid proposals of the Russian Government which the British Government have been unable to accept?

The Prime Minister

I do not think it is necessary for me to add anything to the statement I have made.

Mr. Attlee

May I take it from the Prime Minister that in these negotiations we are keeping in the closest touch with the French Government, in order that the views of all three Governments may be clear before the making, as we hope, of a firm agreement against aggression?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, we are keeping in the closest touch with the French Government continuously.

Mr. Thurtle

Will the Prime Minister assure the House that the Government regard the conclusion of these negotiations as a matter of real urgency?

The Prime Minister

We regard it as of the greatest importance and of real urgency.

Mr. A. Henderson

Can the House take it that His Majesty's Government have not finally closed their minds to, if circumstances necessitate, the conclusion of a military alliance with Russia?

The Prime Minister

I cannot answer a hypothetical question. Discussions are going on on certain lines, and we are very hopeful that they will soon come to a satisfactory issue.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Could the Prime Minister tell us whether the terms set out would include, if Great Britain found herself attacked by an aggressor, assistance by Russia to this country?

The Prime Minister

I made a careful and full statement, and I think it is very much better that I should not add to it.

Sir Archibald Sinclair

Do the Government's proposals contemplate only the contingency of war? Do they not also contemplate the contingency of peaceful negotiations, and is there any assurance to Russia that, if peaceful negotiations are entered into, Russia will be a party to those negotiations?

The Prime Minister

What the negotiations are contemplating is an act of aggression.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Can the Prime Minister confirm the point that the guarantee given to Poland does not in any way preclude an alliance with Russia, and that Colonel Beck gave express assurances on that point?

The Prime Minister

Does the hon. Member mean an alliance between this country and Russia?

Mr. Noel-Baker


The Prime Minister

No, that is not excluded.

Mr. Noel-Baker

And did Colonel Beck raise no objection?

The Prime Minister

I did not say that at all. The question which the hon. Member asked me was whether the arrangement with Poland excluded the possibility of an alliance between this country and Russia, and to that I said "No."