HC Deb 05 August 1943 vol 391 cc2594-600
Professor Savory (Queen's University, Belfast)

After the very eloquent address we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman I am very sorry to be the cause of forcing him to make another speech, but I have to draw the attention of the House to the answer he gave me to a Question which I put on 28th July with regard to the speech of von Ribbentrop which was circulated throughout Eire and sent to a very large number of—possibly all—the civil servants in Eire and which made a very considerable impression. A gentleman who is a civil servant who is loyal to His Majesty—a Government of Eire civil servant—sent me a copy of the speech, which I have here and asked me, in view of the tremendous effect it had had in Eire, whether I would not bring it to the notice of His Majesty's Government in order that some reply might be made. I am still only a very humble new Member and if I put this Question it was with the object of being helpful to His Majesty's Government, of whom I am the most devoted supporter. Therefore, I am bound to say that I was a little surprised when the right hon. Gentleman in his answer held me up to ridicule.

I am not thin-skinned, I am not hypersensitive and I should have made no objection to the right hon. Gentleman's answer had it been based upon fact, but as the answer was inaccurate—it was no fault of his and I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman in any way—I felt I must write him a letter and call his attention to this fact. I am sorry to have to inflict upon the House the letter I wrote to the right hon. Gentleman, but I feel that in the circumstances I have no other alternative. This is what I wrote: Knowing you as I do I am perfectly certain you would not consciously give the House of Commons inaccurate information but I Write to you as a matter of courtesy to let you know that you have been misinformed by your advisers with regard to the speech of von Ribbentrop referred to in my question No. 27 in Col. 1561 of Hansard, 28th July. While I fully admit that I may be wrong in considering that the speech which I heard broadcast in German from Berlin was one of the cleverest, most subtle and most persuasive pieces of propaganda which has ever come to my ears, I am not writing to you on a question merely of opinion, but on a question of fact, because you unwittingly made a statement to the House which is absolutely incorrect. You said, in answer to my question: 'This fly-blown speech'"— I admire the right hon. Gentleman's epithet— 'of Ribbentrop's prophesies … the maintenance of American neutrality'? Then again in reply to my supplementary question you said: 'I consider that this von Ribbentrop's speech prophesying American neutrality in this war … to be such rubbish that it is very useful propaganda.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th July, 1943; col. 1561, Vol. 391.] The statement that the speech prophesied American neutrality is absolutely false; there is not a word in it, from beginning to end, which could possibly give this impression. In fact Herr von Ribbentrop said the exact opposite when he made the following remarks—

  1. (1) 'The responsibility of this war and all its consequences, falls exclusively to President Roosevelt.'
  2. (2) 'There arises the horrifying fact that President Roosevelt must be regarded as the last originator and thus the main culprit in this war.'
  3. (3) 'I believe that the American catastrophe of 1929 will be child's play in comparison with what will ensue at the end of this Roosevelt war.'
  4. (4) 'It is our conviction that President Roosevelt, through his Treaty with Soviet Russia, has laid the seed for one of the most devastating social catastrophies which will one day shock the American nation to its foundations and throw it back for decades.' I could quote many other similar passages.
You have unwittingly deceived the House of Commons by making a statement which is contrary to the truth. I felt, yesterday, that your reply put me in a very awkward and embarrassing position. It made it appear as if I had been very foolish to put this Question to you, whereas I only did so after the most careful consideration and after minutely studying this speech, which has been widely circulated in Eire and is well calculated to influence Irish mentality as I know it. I of course hold the whole speech at your disposal if you care to read it, but as the House will be rising on Thursday next, 5th August, for the Summer Recess I must ask you, in justice to myself, to make a statement correcting your answer to my Question, and if you would care to suggest any Question of which I could give the Speaker private notice, I am, of course, only too ready to assist you in any way that I can. I have the right hon. Gentleman's reply which I could read, but which I assume the right hon. Gentleman will wish to read to the House.

Mr. Bracken

No, I have not got it. Will the hon. Member read it?

Professor Savory

The letter says: Thank you for your letter of 29th July about my answer in the House last Wednesday. When I said that in his speech Ribbentrop prophesied 'the maintenance of American neutrality,' I had in mind a passage in which he announced his belief that the American people would call President Roosevelt and his Jewish advisers' to account for a policy which was trying to drag the American people into the war against their will. Ribbentrop's speech was so muddled that anyone may be forgiven for interpreting it in several ways. If I had said that Ribbentrop prophesied 'the resumption of American neutrality' it would have made very little difference to the answer I gave you. The phrase was not in any case intended as a summary of Ribbentrop's views about America and the war, and I find it hard to believe that it was taken as such. All his remarks about the United States are a welter of inconsistency; and this fantastic utterance about the President was only one of them. So that the right hon. Gentleman after making a careful search through the speech could find only one sentence to support his view and that sentence he has not quoted correctly. What exactly von Ribbentrop said was this, and this is the passage to which the right hon. Gentleman must be referring, as it is the only passage of this kind. I believe that the day will come when the American people will awaken and demand a reckoning from its President and his Jewish advisers. Does that imply for a moment that he was prophesying that America would maintain its neutrality? I call attention to the date of the speech. It was as I quoted in my Question on the 26th November, 1941, and it will be remembered that America came into the war, at the time of Pearl Harbour, on 7th December of the same year. Consequently there is no question but that von Ribbentrop was perfectly well-informed. There is no question whatever of his prophesying American neutrality. Had I discovered anything of the kind in the speech, I should not have troubled the right hon. Gentleman with the Question, because this speech would have condemned itself. But I know the effect it has produced in Eire. Remember, these citizens of Eire have a censorship. They have no opportunity of hearing the truth, as you and I have. If they censor broadcasts from a Prince of their Church like Cardinal Hinsley, if they prevent Lenten pastorals by Roman Catholic Bishops from being published because they contain sentences favourable to this country, you can quite understand that a speech such as this was likely to have an immense effect in Eire.

Mr. Bracken

Will the hon. Member tell me again the date of the speech?

Professor Savory

I gave the date in the Question, and again in my letter. Here it is. It was the 26th November, 1941. The right hon. Gentleman may think it is out of date, but that speech is not out of date, because it traces the origin and history of the war from the German point of view. When I heard that speech in von Ribbentrop's own words—and one must admit that he speaks beautiful German. [Laughter.] I am referring to his pronunciation. If you compare him with Herr Hitler, his pronunciation is beautiful. Having heard this speech broadcast by him from Berlin, I confess I found it so eloquent that I had to keep calling the facts to my mind to force myself to answer it, and I said, "Mark my words, that speech will be distributed in Eire because of its abuse of Great Britain, which will be very acceptable in Southern Ireland." Sure enough, the speech has been sent through the post, according to my informant, in I do not know how many thousand copies but to a very large number of civil servants in Fire. The gentleman who sent it to me asked me to bring it to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman, and to ask him to make a reply.

I am going to be quite fair, and to allow the right hon. Gentleman more than half the available time for his reply. I remember a previous occasion when he was not given enough time, that he was very angry about it, so I will give him more than half. While I must frankly acquit the right hon. Gentleman of any intention of wishing to deceive the House, I must say that he made a misstatement of fact, and I asked him, in the most friendly way, in the most courteous letter I could write, to correct the inaccuracy from the Government bench. It is a most serious thing for a Minister of the Crown to make a mis-statement from the Government bench arid to refuse to correct it when asked to do so. Therefore, I felt that I was in honour bound, being a devoted servant of His Majesty's Government, to bring this matter to the attention of the House.

Mr. Bracken

First of all, I want to say that I hope the hon. Member is not a devoted servant of the Government. If a Member of this House is going to be a devoted servant of the Government—

Earl Winterton

The right hon. Gentleman must ask leave of the House to speak again.

Mr. Bracken

Oh yes, I am obliged to my noble Friend. If a Member of this House is a devoted servant of the Government, he is not doing his duty to Parliament. No Member of this House should be a servant of the Government; he should be an independent critic of the Government, except for taking some notice of the Whips With regard to this speech, the B.B.C. gave me their monitoring of the broadcast, and there seems to be some theological difference about the use of words uttered by Herr von Ribbentrop. I am not prepared to say that the hon. Member is not a better German scholar than the B.B.C. monitor. But, as a very learned professor in Northern Ireland, what good does he think he does by calling attention to Ribbentrop's speech? Does he want to advertise the speech? It is a long narration, typical of Ribbentrop, that scaly creature, one of the worst types of person, a hanger-on of the Nazis, a man utterly untrustworthy, and a man whom even the Germans thought in the end was not a good Ambassador in London.

I remember that creature corning here with a great deal of money and opening up his Embassy here. He has smarmy manners. He is a master of duplicity. He led his master Hitler up the garden completely and said that England would not fight. If any persons in this House will believe anything that Herr von Ribbentrop says, honestly they should not be sent to mental specialists; they should be sent to veterinary surgeons. I object strongly to the advertisement given by my hon. Friend to Herr von Ribbentrop It may be that in the cloistered atmosphere of Belfast University, which is a very much better atmosphere than the one at the Ministry of Information, he feels that he must take notice of this speech. I have spent a large part of my life in the newspaper business and I can tell the hon and learned Gentleman—because he is truly learned—that Ribbentrop's speech will interest nobody. If I spent a farthing of British money in answering this stuff, all this abuse of the Jews and that Germany was tricked by England in this war—if I were to deal with those crusted lies and sent some pamphleteers over to Eire, I think the House of Commons would be right in saying that I would not be doing my duty as Minister of Information and the Public Accounts Committee would not approve of any expenditure of that kind.

It would be a matter of the most complete indifference to me if Ribbentrop were to write an encyclopaedia containing the rot which this sort of speech contains. It would do us good and not harm. We are prepared, as we discovered from the Debate to-day, to let him go on publishing speeches. This sort of stuff is typically Ribbentrop; and to say that is one of the worst insults that could be directed against anybody. I am not prepared to answer it. It is absolutely futile.

It would be lunacy to answer him. My hon. Friend's interpretation of certain passages may be more accurate than that of the B.B.C. but if he has any spare time for reading in this war I ask him not to bruise his beautiful brain by reading the utterances of Ribbentrop, which are synthetic utterances, anyhow, written for him by someone in Berlin. To give us more of these Ribbentrop speeches and Goebbels broadcasts would be the greatest possible help to the British people here, and abroad, it would be much better than some of the stuff we issue ourselves. In case my words were to reach these muddle-headed but depressed individuals, I would advise that they can send any amount of stuff they like into Eire and into England. The Ministry of Supply would be glad to get any amount of their pamphlets so that they could be pulped and used for more useful purposes. My hon. Friend said that I held him up to ridicule at Question time. I did not do any such thing. I have the highest admiration for my hon. Friend but I am surprised that he should have wasted his beautiful style on a creature so unworthy as Ribbentrop. Whether the B.B.C.'s report on Ribbentrop's rubbish is right or not, I am willing to accept the view of my hon. Friend that his interpretation is the more accurate. It does not matter to me in any way what Ribbentrop says or does. I hope that he goes on wasting German public money in pushing that sort of propaganda into Eire because it will do nothing but good.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn, put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly till the first Sitting Day after 19th September, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 4th August.