HC Deb 14 June 1944 vol 400 cc1950-7
7 Mr. Boothby

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (1) whether it is proposed to recognise the National Committee as the provisional Government of France;

(2) whether he can make any statement about the negotiations with General de Gaulle; and whether any agreement has been reached with regard to the administration of occupied territory in France;

(3) whether any issue of French currency has been made to the Allied troops now fighting in France; and, if so, by whom it is backed.

11. Mr. Martin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether conversations on the relations of the French Committee of National Liberation with the British Government, especially on matters concerning civil administration in France before elections can be held there, have yet taken place; and whether he can, make a statement on the matter.

13. Mr. G. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he can make any statement about the large issue of French banknotes printed in the United States for the use of Allied soldiers in France; whether this was done in agreement with the French authorities; and whether any arrangement has been made as to the responsibility for redeeming these notes.

14. Mr. Martin

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the printing of French franc notes in the U.S.A. for use of troops serving in France was done in agreement with His Majesty's Government; whether these notes or similar ones will be used by British troops; and whether he will make a statement on the matter.

45. Captain Plugge

asked the Prime Minister whether he can make any statement on the present relations of General de Gaulle with the United Nations.

Mr. Eden

I would ask my hon. Friends to be good enough to await the statement which the Prime Minister proposes to make at the end of Questions.

Mr. Cocks

Will the Government send a firm request to America to appoint a political representative over here to discuss with the right hon. Gentleman and General de Gaulle this question of civil administration?

Mr. Eden

I hope the hon. Member will await what the Prime Minister has to say.

Mr. A. Bevan

On a point of Order. As there are so many Questions on the Order Paper, which fall to be replied to by the Prime Minister, is it proposed that he will make a statement in a manner which will give the usual facilities to the House?

Mr. Speaker

The statement will be made at the end of Questions, and supplementary questions can then be asked in the usual manner.

Mr. Bevan

The practice of making very important statements of this sort, which we cannot adequately discuss, is surely being greatly abused.

Mr. Eden

I want to make it plain, Mr. Speaker, subject to your Ruling, that questions can be put as if my right hon. Friend's answer had been given now.


The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

There are seven Questions on the Order Paper on this subject, to which I can make only one answer. I do not consider that this matter can be dealt with satisfactorily by a number of separate answers at Question Time. On the other hand, I must advise the House most seriously that a Debate on this matter would have very great dangers. One tale is good till another is told. His Majesty's Government take great trouble over their conduct of business, and on the whole it may be said that it has been conducted with success. When you look at the advance in Italy and the extraordinary achievements of the cross-Channel landing in France, a fair-minded man would consider that the Administration had a right to the confidence of the House when they said they did not wish a particular subject discussed. This is not because we are not prepared to discuss it in all detail, and if need be in all severity; but the result of such a discussion might well be to emphasise any differences which exist with the French Committee of National Liberation, headed by General de Gaulle. I should be sorry to see these issues prematurely forced to a decision, and, therefore, I ask from the House a measure of leniency and forbearance in their treatment of this matter.

If, however, there is a desire on the part of a large number of Members to bring these matters to a head, then the rights of the House must clearly be met, and a suitable occasion for a Debate will be found. I should advise strongly against this now. In addition to our relations with the French Committee of National Liberation, headed by General de Gaulle, we have also to consider our very close relations with the United States and their relations with the body I have just mentioned. I think it would be better to allow the relationships prevailing between General de Gaulle and the United States to proceed further before we have a formidable Debate on these questions, which might well be of comfort to the enemy. I, therefore, appeal to the House not to disregard my counsel.

Mr. Boothby

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend two questions. The first is, whether his attention has been called to the statement of the President of the United States yesterday, that the issue of franc notes is backed by the British and United States Treasuries, and if that is the fact or not; because I think the House is entitled to know. The second question is, whether it is a fact that the French Provisional Government have appointed a regional commissioner for the Rouen district, without prior consultation with the Allies.

The Prime Minister

I said that I did not think it would be advisable to answer a number of questions. I remain of that opinion.

Sir Percy Harris

While recognising the right of the Government to our confidence in the special circumstances, might I ask the Prime Minister whether he will give an undertaking that this matter will not be indefinitely postponed? Will he, as early as possible, make a full statement, because of the natural sympathy of the people of this country for the French people, both in this country and in their own country, now that their land is partly free from the invader?

The Prime Minister

We are going into the very thing I said I would like to avoid, namely, a Debate. I have no reason to fear a Debate on the subject, except that I think it would be necessary to put a case which would cause widespread pain.

Mr. Shinweil

While I appreciate the desire of the Prime Minister not to have a Debate at this stage, could he reassure me on this point? Are the financial arrangements in France and the recognition of the French Committee of National Liberation, and cognate matters, now being discussed with General de Gaulle and the French Committee?

The Prime Minister

In this last week of great success, I should think as large a proportion of our time was given to the discussions about General de Gaulle and his affairs and his Committee as to any other subject. I can assure the House that it is not that these matters are not engaging the attention of His Majesty's Government. They are very much indeed. But I am reluctant to bring them to a head at present, and I hope that a better solution will be achieved than would be the case, if there had to be a quite definite threshing out of the matter in the House of Commons. With regard to the financial point, it is rather technical. The President made a statement last night, which is published, I believe, in this morning's papers, but I have not had a chance of reading that statement. I could not commit myself to anything about finance—a statement about which might well be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer—until we know what it is that the President has said on the subject. It seems to me, however, quite clear that if notes are given out to the French population, in return for livestock and other services, the responsibility for meeting them, in the first instance at any rate, would lie with the Governments issuing them.

Mr. A. Bevan

Is not the House peculiarly entitled to an explanation, in answer to the first question put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby)? If the credit of this country is being committed to any currency whatsoever, this House is the first place to be consulted on such a matter. It is not consistent with the authority or the dignity of the House of Commons, that financial transactions of this sort should be entered into, without consulting the House of Commons. May I, further, ask whether the Prime Minister appreciates the very grave anxiety which exists in very many parts of this country, that American and British lives may be endangered in France as a consequence of the political handling of this question by the Government, and that, although we are all delighted with the military successes on the Continent, His Majesty's Government do not, in fact, receive the full confidence of all the peoples in their political handling of the war? [Interruption.] They do not, and, in point of fact—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Hon. Members must allow a suggestion to be made in other quarters on these occasions. On a point of Order. I asked you, Sir, during Question Time whether full facilities were to be given to the House to discuss such a statement as this, and I, therefore, insist that I should be allowed to complete my question. Does the Prime Minister realise that certain observations by him on the political conduct of the war have been deeply resented by millions of people, in this country and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman's question was so long that I have forgotten what was the point of it. I am quite certain that there has been no breach of the financial regulations and rules and practices of the House. In regard to any issue of chits or notes, in foreign countries, that is all covered by the general conditions of the expenditure on the war, and all has to be accounted for to the House in the proper method and at the proper time. As for the general question of whether there is entire agreement throughout the country and in the House, on all the ways in which the different foreign policies, as affecting all the various countries, have been handled, I can assure the House that I have never aimed at so high an ideal, and, when I think of some of the persons who would have to be converted, I am very glad that I never set my aim so high.

Mr. Martin

May I ask the Prime Minister, in regard to the question addressed to him by the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), whether we are in this position: that this matter is now barred for an indefinite period from the consideration of the House, because, after the reply which the right hon. Gentleman has given, it is going to be very difficult for hon. Members to raise questions on this point? Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter, in view of the fact that, not only the interest but the duty of hon. Members is involved in this matter, and it is not fair that the right hon. Gentleman should make an appeal to them to maintain silence for an indefinite time, an a matter which involves such profound principles, whatever we may think of the conduct of the war by His Majesty's Government? Will the right hon. Gentleman not give some further encouragement to us to believe that this matter will be dealt with at an early date?

The Prime Minister

I never intended it to be indefinite postponement, but I do not think it would be a good thing to have a Debate in the House now. I am certain it would do more harm that good, and might lead to things being said which afterwards were found to have very serious repercussions, because, if attacks are made, answers will be given, whenever required. Therefore, I still adhere to my request to the House, and my advice to the House—it can only be advice; I am entirely in their hands—that they will not raise this matter at this time. But I assure the House it is my earnest desire to give them the fullest account of all these matters, when that can be done without prejudice to such hopes as remain, in respect of such matters in the future.

Mr. Boothby

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that there is great anxiety in this House and in the country and the Press, not so much about what may be said, but about what actually is now being done; and will he give the House an assurance that, as soon as he can possibly manage it, we shall have a Debate, either in public or in Secret Session, at the will of the Government, in order that we can discuss this matter, because it ought to be discussed?

The Prime Minister

I do not at all agree that there is great and widespread anxiety. It certainly deserves careful and unremitting attention, but I think that, if there is great and widespread anxiety in this matter, it will be, and should be, properly directed to our gallant soldiers who are striking down the enemy in France and advancing continually, and to the great operations which are in progress, and which give hope as well as anxiety. It seems to me very lacking in proportion for hon. Members—Would the hon. Member like to say something more? If he does not wish to do so, perhaps he will allow me to finish what I have to say. I say, I think it shows a marked sense of disproportion and I am earnestly hoping that we shall not be pressed at this time. If I had no hopes of a better solution than I could announce at the present time, I would not0 ask for the delay.

Mr. Edgar Granville

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, in recent Debates, the House of Commons has expressed a very strong view on this question, which did reflect a fairly general opinion in this country; and will he also bear in mind that, while there may be complete silence in the House, the Press of the United States and of this country is openly debating this matter? Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that many of us are being pressed by our constituents—[Interruption]—many of us are being asked if the right hon. Gentleman cannot give an assurance that there is nothing to prevent General de Gaulle from landing in France if he so wishes?

Mr. Churchill

That last question is one which I hope may be found capable of solution.

Earl Winterton

May I ask the Prime Minister if he will have regard to the fact that some of us who are not pressing for a Debate, are yet disturbed by the most searching and painful anxiety about the position of General de Gaulle; and will he have regard to that situation, and not indulge in the slightest degree in any painful observations. We only want to be assured that, some time, these terrible complications which have arisen, and which may jeopardise the peace of Europe after the war, may be resolved?

Mr. Churchill

As to the question of peace in Europe after the war, we have a long way to go before we can be sure what is going to jeopardise peace. We have also some way to go before we can say what is going to be done to stop peace being jeopardised.

Sir William Davison


Mr. Speaker

I really think we cannot pursue the matter now.