HC Deb 13 March 1940 vol 358 cc1161-5
4. Mr. Leslie Boyce

asked the Prime Minister whether he is in a position to make a statement on the progress of the war in Finland, and can supply any further information with regard to assistance being rendered to the Finns by Great Britain?

7. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Prime Minister whether he can make any further statement about the negotiations between Finland and the Soviet Union?

9. Mr. Arthur Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he has any statement to make on the Russian-Finnish peace negotiations?

Mr. Butler

Perhaps the hon. Members will be good enough to await a statement which the Prime Minister will make after Questions.


The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

His Majesty's Minister in Helsingfors was informed this morning by the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs that Soviet-Finnish peace terms were signed in Moscow last night and that an armistice had been arranged at 11 a.m. to-day Finnish time between the two armies.

Throughout the Soviet-Finnish struggle, His Majesty's Government, in concert with the French Government, have furnished to the Finns large quantities of war material and supplies of all sorts, particulars of which have been made known as far as it was in the public interest to do so. His Majesty's Government have in fact made plain their readiness to give all possible help to the Finns in their gallant struggle against aggression, and, as I informed the House on Monday, we had made preparations to throw the full weight of all our available resources into the scales on hearing that this would be in accordance with the desires of the Finnish Government. It has always been understood that it was for the Finnish Government to decide upon the course of action which they considered best suited to their interests, in the light of all available knowledge. In their decision they may be assured that the people of this country are united in sympathy for the situation in which they find themselves and in admiration for the courage with which they have mantained for so long the struggle against overwhelming odds. This epic story will ever be recounted in the chronicles of their own history and will remain alive in the memory of all peoples.

Mr. Attlee

May I say that on this side we all agree in our admiration for the Finns in their struggle, and that while we are, all of us, relieved that slaughter should have been stopped, we deeply regret the success of aggression. May I ask the Prime Minister whether he does not agree that, just as this country has been willing to assist the Finns in defending themselves against aggression, so we shall render them all the assistance we can in order to repair the damages of this unprovoked attack upon a free people?

Mr. Hore-Belisha

While associating myself with the expressions of sympathy for the Finns, is it not the fact that repeated appeals have been made by that country for assistance, not only in material, but in men, and is it not a pity, in relation to the magnitude of these events and of their far-reaching character, to plead as an excuse for inaction a pure technicality; and will the right hon. Gentleman say when an opportunity will be afforded to the House to discuss, in the light of these events, the whole conduct of the wax?

Mr. Ellis Smith

And to discuss you too. Are we to fight the world?

The Prime Minister

It is not correct that repeated requests for men have been made by the Finnish Government. The Finnish Government have made repeated requests for materials, and every one of these requests has been answered. They have been informed, as long ago as 25th February, that, if they were to make an appeal to us, we would be prepared, and were making preparations, to send them men as well as materials. In the situation in which they find themselves, they have decided not to make such an appeal.

Mr. Hannah

When we have won the war, shall we allow these terms to stand?

Sir Archibald Sinclair

I associate my hon. Friends with the condemnation that has been uttered by the Leader of the Opposition of this successful aggression, and with the tribute that has been paid, both by him and by the Prime Minister, to the gallant Finnish Army and nation. May I also ask the Prime Minister this question? When he referred to the particulars which had been made public of the assistance which had been given to the Finns, may I ask him whether the Government accept responsibility for the statements which were made last Saturday in the newspapers of the quantity of material assistance which had been given to the Finns? May I ask him whether these statements were not greatly exaggerated, whether they were intended to be an estimate of the amount of help which did reach the Finns, or even was on its way to reach the Finns at that time from this country; and may we have an official statement now of the actual amount of assistance—guns, shells, ammunition and so forth—which has been sent from this country?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; the Government do not take responsibility for the statements to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. We have never made any official complete statement of the amount of assistance which has been given to Finland. No doubt some distinction must be made, as the right hon. Gentleman made it, between what was sent and what had actually arrived in Finland, because it has taken some considerable time for material sent to Finland to reach that country. As to whether we shall issue any official statement of the actual material which has been sent to Finland, I would like to have notice and to consider that question.

Mr. A. Henderson

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity of neutralising German propaganda by making it quite clear that His Majesty's Government at no time threatened to violate the neutrality of Sweden and Norway?

The Prime Minister

There was never any threat to violate that neutrality.

Mr. Hore-Belisha

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he confirms the statement which was made in the French Chamber by M. Daladier yesterday, that an expeditionary force consisting of 50,000 French soldiers, and still more British troops, was actually ready; whether this force was promised to the Finns for their assistance, or were any restrictions placed upon its use in the defence of Finnish territory—restrictions which had the effect of causing the Finns to believe that it was inadequate to repel Russian aggression? May I also ask whether I can have an answer to my earlier question as to whether the House will have an opportunity of debating this question?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the last question, I have had no official request for a Debate on the subject. If I received a request, I should have to consider it when it was made. With regard to the statement to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, I have endeavoured to obtain an accurate account of what was said by M. Daladier, but I have not yet received it, and until I do, I prefer not to comment upon it.

Mr. Harold Macmillan

Arising out of my right hon. Friend's reply, there are, of course, a number of Supplementary Questions which could be asked, and I do not wish to ask any question which could in any possible way be contrary to the public interest, this matter being at the moment closed. But would my right hon. Friend take seriously into consideration the desire of the House that this matter should be debated, and if it is to be debated, that it should be debated under conditions upon which speeches can be delivered which will not be contrary to the public interest? Would he, in other words, allow on this matter a Debate to be held in private, because in a Debate held in public any Member who had regard to his duty would find it very difficult to discuss the conduct of this matter during the last few months?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that that is a matter which I can discuss across the Floor of the House.

Mr. McGovern

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, while a considerable number of people are glad that the slaughter of the Finns is over, we believe that the overwhelming mass of the people of this country are of opinion that Stalin and his Nazi bureaucracy have brought down upon them the loathing and contempt of every decent-minded citizen?

Commander Sir Archibald Southby

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions? Is he satisfied that in these harsh peace terms which have been accepted by Finland there is a guarantee that they will be really observed in the spirit by Russia, and secondly, can he say whether the help which we and the French offered to Finland has been rendered impossible to be given owing to the action of the Norwegian and Swedish Governments?

The Prime Minister

It is obvious that I could not give any such guarantee as that for which my hon. and gallant Friend asked. With regard to the second question, the point was that the request for this help was not made by the Finnish Government.

Mr. Gallacher

Has it not become clear from recent events that there would have been a settlement of the Finnish question in November without any bloodshed at all if it had not been for outside pressure?

Commander Locker-Lampson

A great blow to freedom.

5. Mr. Thorne

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make inquiries as to the proposed action of the League of Nations in sending a commission to investigate the Russian bombardment of unfortified towns and the civil population of Finland, and whether he will inform the House of the result?

Mr. Butler

No such commission has been or is about to be sent by the League, and reports to this effect are evidently based on some misunderstanding.