HC Deb 07 December 1943 vol 395 cc773-5
49. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that General Smuts is an acting member of the War Cabinet, the speech reported in the Press in which reference is made to the disappearance of France as a great Power and Britain being a poor nation after the war represents the views of the Government?

Mr. Attlee

The speech referred to was delivered at a private meeting of members of the United Kingdom Branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association on 25th November. Field Marshal Smuts himself described it as an informal talk as he declared at the outset that he simply wanted to suggest certain lines of thought and that he must not be held responsible for them hereafter. The speech was a valuable contribution to the examination of post-war problems, and will, of course, receive the close study which it merits, but, as Field Marshal Smuts himself made clear, it does not, and never was, intended to constitute a statement of Government policy. The policy of His Majesty's Government as regards France remains as stated in the King's Speech of 23rd November.

Mr. Shinwell

If General Smuts' speech was not an official announcement, although he is an active member of the War Cabinet, will my right hon. Friend make it quite clear that, while we disapprove of those French leaders who have brought France to its present position, we entertain the most friendly feelings to the people of France, and that it is the desire of all of us to see France restored after the war once more as a great nation? Will my right hon. Friend also make it clear that General Smuts' pronouncement on the possible position of Great Britain after the war will find no responsive echo in this House or the country and that we intend to be a wealthy nation after the war?

Mr. Attlee

In reply to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, the actual words that were used in the Speech on the Prorogation were: We look forward to the liberation of France and her restoration to the ranks of the Great Powers.

Sir A. Southby

Does not my right hon. Friend appreciate that this was a great speech by a great statesman, and will he see that the wisdom and views of this great man are given proper recognition in all consultations?

Mr. Shinwell

Will my right hon. Friend understand that it is the prerogative of hon. Members to criticise what he now describes as an unofficial pronouncement by a Member of the War Cabinet?

Mr. Lewis

Would my right hon. Friend tell the House who is responsible for the publication of this speech, which was made to a private meeting and which from its form was evidently not originally intended for publication?

Mr. Attlee

I have no information as to that.

Sir Alfred Beit

In view of the fact that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) incorporated a good many of General Smuts' proposals in his speech last week entirely without acknowledgement, is he not rather ungracious?

Mr. Shinwell

Since the hon. Member has implied that I was aware of this statement made by General Smuts, may I be allowed to say I was not present at the meeting and knew nothing about the statement until I saw it?

Mr. Attlee

May I add to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) that I understand the speech was printed at the desire of Field Marshal Smuts himself.

Sir H. Williams

As this was a private meeting of Members of Parliament convened by an organisation of which you, Sir, are one of the Joint Presidents, surely a speech delivered on a private occasion, which it was understood was confidential, should not have been published without the sanction of the body that convened the meeting? I address that to you, Sir, as a point of Order as you are a Joint President.

Mr. Speaker

I assume that if the author of the speech asked that it might be published the body concerned naturally gave their consent.

Sir W. Davison

Is it not the usual practice for addresses to the Empire Parliamentary Association to be published?

Hon. Members