HC Deb 08 April 1941 vol 370 cc1523-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." [Major Dugdale.]

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

The point that I wish to raise is one to which I have called the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information, and it concerns a request that has been made to him to allow one of those people who claim that it would be to the advantage of this country to state our peace aims, to state over the wireless the case for stating peace aims. I want to make it quite clear that we are not urging him to allow any individual to state what that individual might think the right peace aims should be, but merely to state the case for stating them. This has become all the more the concern of some of us, in that not so long ago a Member of this House, the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), stated the case for not stating them. So far, neither I nor any of the people who feel as I do have been able to persuade the right hon. Gentleman to let one of us get to the microphone. I would like to assure the House that from my own experience, speaking up and down the country as I have done practically ever since the war started, there is a general demand that peace aims should be stated.

I want to emphasise that this is not a claim which is put forward by pacifists. There is a great number of pacifists who would support it certainly, but I know of an eminent pacifist who thinks that it would be disastrous if the Government stated peace aims, because he is sure that they would be the wrong ones. I want it to be clear that the general claim for a statement is made by people who, like myself, have had great experience of what fighting really means; and I say this with some certainty, because I recollect during the last war, fighting as a soldier, protesting violently that we were never told what we were fighting for. It was made clear what we were fighting against, and the only bit of dope which was held out to us was by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he said that we were going to have homes fit for heroes to live in. Of course, we all wept copiously and hoped for the best; and now we know what happened. It is to avoid a repetition of that kind of thing that we consider that there is a case for stating peace aims now.

Here perhaps I may digress to say that when one asks that the Government should state their peace aims, it must be quite clear that there is a great difference between peace aims and peace terms. Peace terms can be stated only at the time peace is made, but there seems no conceivable objection whatever to stating the broad principles on which peace should be founded when the time comes. These we call peace aims. If I may state them broadly, the foundations, as set out by Pius XII and endorsed by the archbishops and the leaders of Christian churches in this country, would form a sound basis, but, from a practical point of view, what the world wants to hear from us are what are our intentions with regard to armaments, trade, whether we are going back to that abominable system of tariffs, what we are going to do about gold, whether we are going to allow the international financial racket to go on or whether it is to be regarded as being as dead as the dodo and treated accordingly, and what we are going to do about raw materials so that there may be equitable distribution throughout the world. The objection sometimes put to me when I speak on this subject is that we must win the war first and talk about it afterwards. I regard that as a most profound error. I think it is most important that we should state now what our peace aims are, and I will give, quite briefly, what I think are the main reasons for doing so.

In the first place, most people, I think, would agree that ultimate victory in this war will come about as a result of disintegration within the enemy's territory, but our present method of setting about causing disintegration inside enemy countries will, I submit, only reinforce all the reasonable elements behind the dictator leaders. I cannot for the life of me see how, for instance, the broadcasts of Sir Robert Vansittart are going to do anything but harm to our cause, and while I have not had any satisfactory answer from the Prime Minister on the point, I suggest that it is a mistake to allow the Chief Diplomatic Adviser to broadcast such sentiments unless they are the views of the Government—which apparently they are not. Anyone who has taken the trouble to read "Black Record" will realise that the person who wrote it suffers from an inhibition acquired in his childhood, when he was chased round the room by the daughter of his headmaster in Germany, and has never really recovered from that indignity. That position must be cleared up, because the effect of those broadcasts is to make Germans feel that all we want from this war is another and worse Versailles.

The second reason why it is imperative that a statement should be made soon is that we have had our Ambassador in Washington stating what our peace aims are. Surely the right place for stating our peace aims is in this House, and I suggest that some of the statements made in that speech, with much of which I agree, are very deplorable. I will not waste the time of the House in quoting them to any great extent, but there is one particular paragraph which deals with the iniquity of youth and which, I submit, will tend only to make a satisfactory solution of our present problems more rather than less difficult when the time comes. We have a right to understand exactly what our peace aims are. In connection with that part of the subject I would refer right hon. and hon. Gentlemen to the message sent by the Students' Congress at Cambridge to the youth of the world, in which they make it quite clear that racial theories of the kind advanced by Sir Robert Vansittart arid others in this country, making no distinction between the German people and their Government, and characterising as barbaric all the people of Germany, whatever their religious or political beliefs, stood in the way of international co-operation and of a just and lasting peace. I entirely endorse that, and submit that it is imperative to state our peace aims in order that the reasonable German people should understand what we are driving it, and should also understand that we do not desire another and worse Versailles—they may then rally against Hitler.

If any further evidence is required on that point I would remind the House of the statement made by the present Prime Minister in 1925, when he pointed out to the world that Germany is a far stronger entity than France and cannot be kept in permanent subjugation. Of course, all reasonable people agree with that, and it is, therefore, essential that a statement of peace aims should be made in order to bring home to the German people the cooperation required of them in the future economic structure of the world, as far as we can see it. That was left out of the speech made by our Ambassador in Washington a short time ago. Another thing which, to those who think like me, seems important is this: Such a statement as I suggest would give great encouragement and hope to the indigenous inhabitants of the territories now occupied by the Germans. All they get at present is a series of night bombings, which cannot give them very much joy. I think that if a statement were made, it would carry encouragement and hope to all these people, who would be brought to realise what we are setting out to do, in order to help them to economic security when the war is over.

Thirdly, I suggest that that will make quite clear to all our own people that they are not going to be done out of it when the war is over, as they were last time. It is no use saying that the morale of this country is very good. Nobody has any doubt whatever of that. But what we want, in order to keep unity in the days to come—which are bound to be more severe than the days that are gone—is to have something around which we can all rally and keep that unity and struggle on for the ultimate achievement of those principles—though I am not for a moment suggesting that military victory is necessary or desirable.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present

Mr. Stokes

After that interruption— which will benefit me enormously, because I have now a better House—perhaps I may be allowed to say what would probably have been my concluding words had that interruption not taken place. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend suggests that I should start again, but not even I am so vindictive as that. My fourth point is that, in the view of those of us who think this way, the moral leadership of the world cannot be maintained on a negative policy. It is essential, therefore, that there should be a statement of aims. Fifthly, if the aims when stated are just, the moral forces of the world will rally to support them, and will tend to eliminate the despotic, unchristian elements in their own countries. When the Government show a disinclination to state these broad principles, I and my friends outside the House are driven to the conclusion that they are afraid either that those aims might be accepted by the enemy or that they will be so bad that they will not go down well at home. There is another point. The supporters of the party to which I have the honour to belong have more than once been promised by our leaders that there would be a statement of peace aims in the near future. I need do no more than quote the Lord Privy Seal, who said on 28th November, 1939: It is important that to-day we should consider this matter of our peace aims, because people are asking a very vital question. Men are asking ' Will my children 25 years hence have to face this ordeal which I am facing, and which my father faced 25 years ago? ' The morale of our people requires a clear answer to that question." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1939; col. 20, Vol. 355.] I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has really changed his view since he went into the Government, and I can assure him that there is more support in this country for the statement which I have just quoted now than there was at the time when he joined the Government. All that we are asking, when making our request to the Ministry of Information, is that one of us should be allowed to go to the microphone in order to state the case for stating the peace aims, such statement naturally to be submitted to the Minister, so that anything which might in any way interfere with the national effort might be eliminated We want the same opportunity as has been afforded to people expressing the contrary views, and I cannot for the life of me see why that permission should not be granted.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

What is the proposition of the hon. Member? Is he asking the right hon. Gentleman the Minister to make a statement over the radio on behalf of the Government, or does he wish that private people like himself should be allowed to do so?

Mr. Stokes

I think the hon. Member could not have been here when I opened the discussion.

Sir P. Hannon

Yes, I was here.

Mr. Stokes

I thought that I made it clear then that we were not suggesting that any individual Member of this House, whatever his views might be, should be given access to the microphone to state what he personally might consider what the Government peace aims should be, but that we ought to have the opportunity of stating the case for stating peace aims. I am not asking that the Minister should state the peace aims, but that we should have an opportunity to say why it is important that peace aims should be stated without doing anything which would be detrimental to the national effort. We think that it would have a very inspiring and inspiriting effect on the national effort and would do a vast amount of good. We ought to say what we want, and keep on saying it in every way possible, saying it again and again by every possible means, for all the world to hear. We believe that in that way, if that were done, it might even stop the war, and I am quite sure it would have a most substantial effect upon its duration.

The Minister of Information (Mr. Duff Cooper)

There are really two points raised by the hon. Gentleman in this Debate—first, the general question of peace aims and the desirability of stating them, and then the immediate question of the right to state the case for stating peace aims. He has just stated the case for stating the case for stating peace aims. That has really been the object of his rising in his place. I can assure him that I have no reason to prevent the case from being stated. It has been stated on the radio, and an answer has been given.

Mr. Stokes

Not by a Member of this House.

Mr. Cooper

I know, but it has been stated by Mr. Priestley, and there was an answer given by a Member of this House. I have not complete control, and I do not wish to have complete control, of the B.B.C., but I am always willing to assist my colleagues in getting the good will of the Governors of the B.B.C. to be allowed to broadcast on any subject they might think fit, and I certainly would be far from imposing, even if 1 had the power to impose, any veto upon somebody talking once again on this subject over the air. It is for the Governors to decide whether they think that this is a subject which requires airing or whether they think it can be left in repose and quiet, as a certain amount has been said on both sides. I myself feel that there is a great deal to be said for ventilating the stating of peace aims and for expressing different views and perhaps even for arranging discussion at the B.B.C. So far from being opposed to any scheme of that sort, I should be prepared to give it support. In fact, I have considered such a scheme, even to the drafting of a programme, and have imagined the different people whose voices should be heard.

As for the case for stating, peace aims, which was the second part of my hon. Friend's speech to-day, there, the moment you go into it, you are faced with a tremendous difficulty. Nearly a year ago I felt very much as my hon. Friend feels to-day—that a case should be stated. I made some research into the subject, but the further I went the greater the difficulties appeared. I think that the speech he has made to-day illustrates some of those difficulties in a very striking way. He quoted two people who have mentioned peace aims. They are two distinguished politicians, both of whom at different periods might be said to represent a very large volume of opinion in the country, who have a very large following and speak with authority, although from different points of view. They are the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and His Majesty's present Ambassador in the United States.

With what one of these gentlemen said 25 years ago, my hon. Friend found himself in profound disagreement, but surely the hopes which the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs stirred in people during the anxious days of 1917–18 are themselves a warning of the danger of making promises. The right hon."Gentleman talked about homes for heroes, and although it is true he did not produce homes for heroes when the time came, I do not think anyone doubted his sincerity at the time he made that speech. He hoped to build a happier and more prosperous England, in which everybody should have a greater share of the goods of the world, and homes which would be worthy of the people who came back. He was not able to carry out his promises. Although it might be easy for us to say that he did not try there were many distinguished members of the present Government, including the present Prime Minister, who were then inspired with the best will in the world to do the best for their fellow countrymen, yet found they could not do it. What right have we to make promises to the people engaged in our present batttle and to say that as a result of the war we shall be in a position to make their lives easier, happier and more prosperous than before?

Mr. Stokes

I did not suggest that promises should be made. I said that principles should be stated.

Mr. Cooper

One of the principles which, I think, was in the mind of my hon. Friend was that something should be said about post-war conditions at home. But if you were to say that you would certainly be obliged to hold out hope sand not to depress people with gloomy forebodings. We can say in a general way, that there will be greater opportunities for all and a more equal distribution of wealth. These are the kind of vague promises which can be made, but I am not sure that they are very much good to anyone. The Noble Lord who is now our Ambassador in the United States, and who was until a few months ago the Foreign Secretary of this country, made a speech in Washington recently which I thought was admirable. The only criticism I can make of it is that it was necessarily vague. It seems to me that in that speech he did meet the main desiderata which the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) put forward. So far as he could enumerate propositions on peace aims, one was greater cooperation between the nations of the world. He was not going to lay down the terms of the federation, or draw up the draft of a new league of nations. And how right he was. Who is he, or who are His Majesty's Government alone, to say how and in what form the nations shall come together? If that combination is to be a success, it can only be if each one of the nations who forms it is allowed to have something to say as to its constitution.

Therefore, it would be folly, and worse than folly, for one Power to seek to lay down the terms of such a federation in the middle of the war. He also talked of the exchange of goods and services, obviously having in mind what the hon. Member for Ispwich has expressed—the desirability of breaking down tariffs and interferences with trade between different countries. He spoke of plans to remedy the impoverishment which must follow in the train of the war —not so definite, so eloquent, or so memorable a phrase, as "Homes for Heroes," but emphasising the same good will and the same hope and desire that things shall be better for all in the end and shall, at any rate, be more evenly shared. He concluded by saying—the last point, as far as I could analyse the points in a speech that was not meant to lay down definite aims—that we had no selfish aims in this war; we were not out to oppress any people or to obtain any territory.

Even that vague adumbration of peace aims has aroused wrath. The hon. Member for Ipswich says that we should get greater unity if we were to lay down more definitely what our peace aims are to be. I am sure that almost any definite proposition which he or I were to make as to an exact peace aim would provoke a great deal more disunity than union among our friends. The hon. Member said that we should define our policy with regard to armaments. How can we know whether, at the end of this war, it may seem necessary for us to keep in existence powerful armaments in order to make sure that what has happened will not happen again, or whether we shall feel that the security of the world is so safely assured that we shall be able immediately to reduce armaments in combination with other nations?

As to economic matters, I have never listened yet to a Debate on economics, in the House or anywhere else, that has not aroused the most violent controversies, controversies which led into the realm of the specialists and economic experts, where differences are far more bitter than they are between ordinary politicians. As to raw materials and trade, I suggest that subject has already been dealt with to some extent in the speech by the Ambassador to the United States. The time may come, as the Lord Privy Seal has suggested, when we shall be able to define more definitely what our war aims are than we can at the present time. Meanwhile, I agree that there is no harm in everybody making his views known and saying what he thinks the war aims should be; but the Government, who speak with responsibility, must be very careful before they commit themselves, and must be quite certain as to what will be left to build a new world with before they come to build it.

It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.