HC Deb 22 May 1941 vol 371 cc1592-5
Mr. Lees-Smith

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make about our relations with the Vichy Government in the light of recent developments?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

Yes, Sir. It was announced in Vichy on 14th May that Admiral Darlan's report on his visit to Hitler had been unanimously approved by the Vichy Government and that the effect of these deliberations would shortly be felt. On the following day Marshal Pétain broadcast a short statement to the French people appealing for their unquestioning acceptance of whatever results might issue from the negotiations between Admiral Darlan and the German Government. These negotiations have been described in Vichy, as opening up a new phase in Franco-German collaboration, of which, no doubt, the action of the Vichy Government in allowing Syrian aerodromes to be used by German aircraft is an example.

President Roosevelt has stated clearly his view of this new and sinister development in Vichy policy, and the United States Government have already taken certain preventive action in regard to French shipping in United States ports.

In the confused and uneasy explanations which have been put out in Vichy, it has been suggested that the policy of collaboration between the Vichy Government and Germany is to be political and economic only, and it has been stated that the Vichy Government have no intention of attacking Great Britain and still less the United States. These explanations cannot conceal that the Vichy Government have embarked upon a course which must place the resources and territories of France and her Empire increasingly at the disposal of a Power which is the enemy, not only of France's former Ally, but of France herself. The French people will, His Majesty's Government are sure, regard this policy as incompatible with the honour of France. Nor will they believe that the future of France and her Empire will be better served by surrendering them to Hitler's so-called New Order than by resolutely maintaining and defending their independnce until such time as the victorious Allies shall complete their liberation.

His Majesty's Government must, however, take account of the acts of the Vichy Government. If the Vichy Government, in pursuance of their declared policy of collaboration with the enemy, take action or permit action detrimental to our conduct of the war, or designed to assist the enemy's war effort, we shall naturally hold ourselves free to attack the enemy wherever he may be found, and in so doing we shall no longer feel bound to draw any distinction between occupied and unoccupied territories in the execution of our military plans. On 7th August last, His Majesty's Government assured General de Gaulle that it was their determination, when victory was won, to secure the full restoration of the independence and greatness of France. It rests with the French people to determine whether they will play their part in assisting those who have continued to fight for the liberation of France, or whether France will henceforward serve in the ranks of Germany's satellites.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Will the Foreign Secretary make it plain to the French people that we understand that the Vichy Government does not represent French people, but came into power by treason and is maintained by the German Army, and will he ask the Minister of Information to give the fullest possible opportunity to General de Gaulle and his colleagues to explain to Frenchmen in the colonies and in France the effects of this flagrant breach of the armistice, and the great part which the French colonies might still play in bringing about the rapid downfall of the Nazis?

Mr. Eden

The answer to both those questions is "Yes, Sir" The object of my statement was to make quite plain to the French people the views of His Majesty's Government, and an understanding of the position in which the Vichy Government has placed them.

Mr. Mander

Can my right hon. Friend say whether, in the new circumstances, it is proposed to continue the system by which food ships were permitted to cross the Atlantic from the United States and pass through the blockade for the benefit of Vichy France?

Mr. Eden

I have laid down the principles which will govern our action. My hon. Friend will not expect me to describe the details of that action.

Mr. Thorne

Has the right hon. Gentleman any information in connection with the reduction of expenditure in relation to the military occupation of France?

Mr. Eden

Perhaps my hon. Friend would not mind putting that question down.

Sir W. Davison

Will the British Government see that they are not anticipated by action on the part of the Vichy Government in handing over to the German authorities French colonial or other places which would be of advantage to the Germans in connection with the waging of the war?

Mr. Eden

That is a question of military action to which clearly I cannot give an answer. I think the principles are quite plain, and that action must be left to the military.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the world on behalf of the British Government that when victory is attained the men of Vichy will be held accountable for their treachery?

Mr. Granville

In view of the fact that we are at total war, if the Vichy Government take the action referred to by my right hon. Friend, will His Majesty's Government hold themselves prepared and ready to bomb the town of Vichy?

Mr. Eden

I really do not think I should go beyond my statement.