HL Deb 14 December 1939 vol 115 cc270-91

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government if they have any statement to make on the international situation.


My Lords, a fortnight ago, on the day when the first attack was launched on Finland by Soviet forces, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place gave some account of the circumstances which had led up to this attack. Since then the Finns have been defending their country with the courage and determination which were to be expected of that gallant people, and it is clear that the Finnish Army has proved itself by far the better fighting force in everything but numbers. It is too soon to attempt any forecast of the outcome of this unequal struggle, but its political consequences have already been far-reaching. By their act of aggression the Soviet Government have outraged the conscience of the whole world. The German Government, however, have publicly ranged themselves on the side of the aggressor, whom they have even attempted to assist by an insolent and violent campaign against the other Scandinavian countries for their moral support of the Finnish cause.

It was generally agreed during the deliberations at Geneva in September of last year that each Member of the League should decide for itself, in the light of its own position and conscience, on the nature of the sanctions which it could apply under Article 16 of the Covenant against an aggressor State. His Majesty's Government for their part have always held the view that no Member State ought to remain indifferent to a clear case of aggression of the sort with which we are now faced. At the outset of the attack on Finland and, before the question had been raised at Geneva, they decided to permit the release and immediate delivery to Finland by the manufacturers concerned of a number of fighter aircraft of which the Finnish Government stood in urgent need; and they intend similarly to release other material which will be of assistance to the Finnish Government. Generous help for Finland has been forthcoming from several other countries, including the United States. It is known that several European countries have recently supplied war material to Finland, and would have supplied more but for the fact that the German Government made difficulties in regard to transit.

As a result of Finland's appeal to the League of Nations, the dispute is now under consideration at Geneva, and your Lordships will not expect a detailed statement on this aspect of the question while the deliberations of the Council and Assembly are still proceeding. The attitude of His Majesty's Government has already been made abundantly clear; while strongly condemning the Soviet aggression, they considered that every effort should be made to utilise the League machinery for its primary purpose—namely, the peaceful settlement of the dispute, and, if that should prove impossible, for affording practical assistance to the victim of aggression. The Council of the League of Nations was summoned to meet on December 9 to consider the appeal by the Finnish Government under Articles 11 and 15 of the Covenant against the attack upon Finland by the armed forces of the Soviet Union. The Finnish Representative, in accordance with his rights under Article 15, paragraph 9, of the Covenant, requested the Council to refer the dispute between his Government and the Soviet Union to the Assembly without delay. The Council acceded to this request.

The Assembly of the League of Nations had been summoned to meet on December 11. The Norwegian Delegate was elected President and, as soon as the necessary preliminaries had been completed, a special Committee was appointed to examine the Finnish appeal. After the Assembly had heard a most moving statement by the Finnish Delegate, this Committee held its first meeting, and decided to send an urgent appeal to the Soviet Government and the Finnish Government to cease hostilities and open immediate negotiations under the mediation of the Committee with a view to restoring peace. The Soviet Government were informed that Finland, which was present at the meeting, accepted this appeal. The Soviet Government replied on December 12 that they were unable to accept the invitation to take part in the discussion of the Finnish question at Geneva for reasons which they had already stated in a communication of December 4. The reasons then given were inter alia that the Soviet Union was not at war with Finland and did not threaten the Finnish nation with war; that the Soviet Union maintained peaceful relations with the Democratic Republic of Finland, whose Government on December 2 had signed with the Soviet Union a pact of assistance and friendship; and that the persons on whose behalf the Finnish Delegate, M. Holsti, had approached the League could not be regarded as mandatories of the Finnish people.

On December 13—that is yesterday—the Assembly held a further meeting to hear a statement by the Argentine Delegate to the effect that if in the circumstances the Soviet Union remained a Member of the League of Nations, the Argentine Government would be obliged to withdraw from it. In the meantime, the special Committee of the Assembly had been preparing a report setting out the facts and circumstances of the case. This Committee Las now made a report and presented a draft resolution to the Assembly, which is at this moment considering it. It would clearly be inappropriate to enlarge on the terms of a resolution which has not yet been adopted, but in general the draft expresses strong condemnation of the action of the Soviet Union and proposes the organisation of assistance to Finland with, if possible, the co-operation of States which are not members of the League. The second part of the resolution, after describing the refusal of the U.S.S.R. to attend the League and to observe one of its most essential covenants, goes on to say that the U.S.S.R. has thereby placed itself outside the Covenant and invites the Council to pronounce upon the question of expulsion. It will be appreciated that the League has handled the appeal of Finland with the utmost speed and despatch.

The opportunity provided by this conflict has been eagerly seized upon by the German propaganda machine, and by many people acting consciously or unconsciously in its service, to deflect attention from the primary objective of the Allied war effort, which is the defeat of Nazi Germany. We must never lose sight of that objective. We must never forget that it was German aggression which paved the way for the Soviet attack on Poland and Finland, and that Germany, alone among the nations, is even now abetting by word and deed the Russian aggressor. We must all give what help and support we can spare to the latest victim of these destructive forces; but meanwhile it is only by concentrating on our task of resistance to German aggression, and thus attacking the evil at its root, that we can hope to save the nations of Europe from the fate which must otherwise overtake them.

Now let me turn to the chief events which have taken place in the various theatres of war since the last Government statement. We have all read with pleasure the accounts of the lengthy visit to the front line with which His Majesty the King honoured his troops. All ranks were stimulated by his presence among them and gave to the King the warmest of welcomes. His Majesty also visited certain parts of the French line. British troops have now taken their place in a sector of the Maginot Line, side by side with our French Allies. Certain British units are now facing the enemy in the outpost line of this sector, whence patrols maintain touch with the enemy. The British Commander in this sector is under the orders of a senior French Formation Commander, but has himself certain French troops under his command, thus giving fresh proof of the mutual confidence which the Armies of the Allied Powers have in each other.

At sea, the chief event has been the action which has taken place in South American waters. There is little to add at present to the reports which have already appeared. Shortly after six o'clock yesterday morning, Commodore Harwood, in the 6-inch gun cruiser "Ajax" reported that he was in contact with a German pocket-battleship. Thereupon, in company with the 8-inch gun cruiser "Exeter" and 6-inch gun "Achilles," he attacked the enemy, who made off in the direction of Montevideo. During the action, which was of a severe character, His Majesty's Ship "Exeter" received damage which reduced her speed, and forced her to drop out of the fight. The two 6-inch gun cruisers, however, continued the pursuit, and at about midnight the German ship, which turned out to be the "Admiral Graf Spee" carrying six 11-inch guns took refuge within territorial waters and is now anchored off Montevideo. A statement issued through the German Minister to Uruguay admitted that the "Admiral Graf Spee" has 36 dead and 60 wounded, and alleges that these losses were due to the use by the British cruisers of mustard gas. This characteristic statement is of course entirely without foundation. No gas shells or grenades have been made for or used by any ships of His Majesty's Navy.

Although full details are not yet available it is already apparent that a very gallant action has been fought by three comparatively small British ships against a much more heavily armed adversary, the result of which may well be to free the South Atlantic from the depredations of this raider. Your Lordships will also have welcomed the news that the same British submarine which reported that she had sighted the "Bremen" has sunk a U-boat and torpedoed an enemy cruiser.

Air operations have been hampered by bad weather and poor visibility, but your Lordships will have read with interest and pride of the engagement between our fighters and seven Heinkels over the coast of Scotland on Thursday last and of the continuous patrols which were carried out by our bomber aircraft on the night of December 12 over enemy bases in the Heligoland Bight. The House will also have read the full and encouraging statement which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air made on Tuesday last in another place.

The discussions with visiting Ministers from the Dominions and the representative of India have been completed. There has been a full and frank exchange of views, which have proved to be of the highest value, both on the general strategical and diplomatic aspects of the war and also on particular problems affecting individual members of the British Commonwealth. We have had, indeed, in recent weeks many practical demonstrations of the loyal co-operation of the Empire. Australia and New Zealand have announced their intention to despatch at an early date land forces trained in those Dominions for service overseas, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air has given particulars of the help our air defence is receiving from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Detailed plans have now been drawn up to carry out the Empire air training scheme which was so readily accepted in principle by the Governments concerned when it was first launched. Your Lordships will not overlook the valuable contribution which Newfoundland is making to the success of our cause, both in providing men for our Services and in assisting to reduce the measure of financial assistance from the United Kingdom Exchequer by means of increased taxation.

In India the political differences with which your Lordships are familiar have in no way diminished the universal abhorrence of Hitlerism and all it stands for. My noble friend the Secretary of State for India is making a statement here this afternoon, and I need only say now that nowhere in India is there any disposition to let these differences hamper the common effort to win the war. Money continues to flow into the Viceroy's War Purposes Fund. There is no lack of men ready to answer any call. The production of essential war materials is steadily growing. We greatly appreciate India's contribution to the war effort and we confidently look forward to its continuance in increasing measure. We also recognise with gratitude the readiness of the Government and people of Burma to take their part in the common task.

In this country we do not overlook the vital importance of employing to the full the vast material resources of the Empire. The great potentialities of the Dominions in this respect have been fully explored, important contracts have been placed for munitions, raw materials and foodstuffs, and discussions are being energetically pursued for the purchase of materials of all kinds essential for the successful prosecution of the war. Similar measures are being taken in the Colonies. Arrangements have been made for increased output of important raw materials such as copper, tin and rubber, and of essential foodstuffs for local consumption. Steps have also been taken to secure supplies for the use of other Empire countries and of our Allies of certain of the more important Colonial crops, such as sugar, cocoa and vegetable oils. The war has had a serious adverse effect on the Budgets of nearly all the Colonies; but the Colonial peoples have clearly shown their determination to contribute their full share to the final victory, and have loyally accepted new measures of taxation which are required partly for their own administrative and defence services, and partly to help the United Kingdom by direct financial contributions. There has been a great expansion of Colonial Defence Forces during the past two years, but much valuable man-power is still available. Discussions are proceeding between the Departments concerned and also the Colonial Governments as to the best manner of utilising this man-power for the common good.

On the Home Front the country has accepted with patriotic resolution the hardships, discomforts and inconveniences caused by the restrictions and regulations which have had to be imposed in the interest of national safety. These restric- tions and regulations are, however, being kept under constant review and it has already been possible to make modifications and adjustments to them. There is evidence that the black-out restrictions are found to be even more trying than other and more serious hardships and hazards of war, but we must not rashly relax them, since we may at any time be subjected to air raids. Nevertheless, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is announcing to-day modifications which it is thought can now be made with safety and which will mean a material improvement. His Majesty's Government are aware also of the difficulties and hardships imposed on so many families by the evacuation scheme, and it is possible that some parents will wish to bring their children back to London during the Christmas holidays. We earnestly trust that wiser counsels will prevail. We shall surely all agree that, whatever other risks it may be reasonable to take, we must take no unnecessary risk for children.

I have only a few more words to say to conclude a statement which, on this occasion, has necessarily been long. It is a statement made on the eve of the Christmas Recess. For the people of this country the coming Christmas must lack much of its usual atmosphere of cheerfulness and gaiety. It is a part of the tragedy of war that there will be in so many homes in all the belligerent countries the same longing for the peaceful enjoyment of the simple and happy things of life and that that longing will be denied. The responsibility of those who, for their own ambition, have imposed such a tragedy upon the world is terrible indeed. Yet for us in this country the message of Christmas is not, in truth, a tragic contrast, but a reminder that we are fighting to defend principles and ideals which for 2,000 years have inspired the minds of men and lifted up their hearts.

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg first of all to thank the noble Earl for the lengthy statement that he has made to the House. Its contents will not arouse any desire for discussion in your Lordships' House, I think, and yet there are one or two comments, and only one or two, that I think it right to make. First of all the whole House would like to associate itself with the statement that the noble Earl has made about the courageous defence which the Finnish people are making for their freedom and the integrity of their country. One of the most inspiring things of our time is that when these fundamental issues have to be faced, no matter what may be the size of the force against them, small nations are willing to risk everything for the fundamental principle of liberty and for the security of their own country. I do not know what the outcome of it all is to be, and the House will forgive me if I do not to-day comment upon the relationships of Finland and Soviet Russia, or if I do not criticise any step that we have taken or may take in regard to the issue. My own view is that for the moment our eyes must be set quite definitely upon meeting the attack which is nearer home, and if that comes through satisfactorily I think that all the rest will be given to us. The whole world will benefit and will secure a resultant liberty.

I should like also to say with what satisfaction I personally feel that the machinery of the League is again being called into action. I hope we shall hear less in the future about where the League has failed and where it might have succeeded and so on. It is sufficient that in the time of this acute crisis, the League is called upon to render some service and we should accept that fact. Russia tells us that she is not at war with Finland, but she is certainly being very disagreeable. One wonders what her actions would be if she were really at war, but as she is not I can only say that it is a kind of friendship which I hope will not spread to other nations. I do not propose to comment upon what should be done because the League itself is now examining the question and it would be of little help and perhaps would not even be right for us to intrude upon its deliberations.

I have been glad to hear that the noble Marquess, the Secretary of State for India, is to make a statement to your Lordships this afternoon, and we shall listen with very great attention and some hopefulness to what he may have to say. I do not propose myself to comment upon the naval action which has taken place in the Atlantic, because my noble friend Lord Strabolgi, who has a greater right to speak on naval matters than I have, will address your Lordships in a few minutes on that point, but I think I must intrude to this extent: to express my own sense of appreciation of the very great gallantry of the sailors concerned and of the wonderful courage of these small ships which again took no heed of the risk but did their duty and did it well. I beg to move for Papers.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, I have very little to add to what has fallen from the noble Lord who leads the Opposition; in fact, in the old phrase, I can only say ditto to everything he has said, both in regard to Finland and in regard to the last naval operation, on which we have looked with so much admiration. I only wish to say one word recalling my former occupancy of the old Colonial Office, which included both the Dominions and the Colonies. We all foresaw that the Dominions, who were purely independent in this matter, would give us the support which they have given us, and there is no need to enlarge upon that, but I think we can look with special pleasure on what the non-self-governing Colonies are doing. It is one of the commonplaces of mendacious German propaganda that our imperialism, as they choose to call it, has, in general terms, been oppressive to India and also to the non-self-governing Colonies. Well, the attitude of India and of the Colonies shows that that is absolutely untrue, and it is a subject on which I think we can congratulate ourselves that those Colonies, without exception, at considerable sacrifice to themselves—because, after all, we know some of them are by no means prosperous in these days—are doing everything they can to help the common cause.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, we are rising for several weeks, I understand, and I therefore would be very glad if I might be allowed to take this opportunity of asking either the noble Earl or the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence if we could have some details of certain matters Which I will very briefly put before the House. There is a serious reason for putting this. The way we give out our news—this is no criticism of the Admiralty as such—is, I think, rather weak, and may be harmful. We had a very bad example of this in the last war in the first account of the Battle of Jutland. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, will remember very well what happened then. The Admiralty were too sparing with details and the account was ambiguous, and the effect on the other side of the Atlantic was most regrettable. I am afraid we have had some examples of that kind recently, and for that reason I make no excuse for asking Lord Chatfield or the noble Earl if they can give some details on the following points.

First of all with regard to the submarine action off the German coast, in which a U-boat was apparently attacked and sunk and a cruiser torpedoed. When could we have technical details about that, particularly the name of the cruiser and the damage done? I quite appreciate that it is necessary to keep the silence ban on wireless communications during operations, and we may have to wait until the submarine returns to port, but as soon as possible I hope we can have a full technical account, not giving away any secrets, but telling what damage was done to the Germans. Such information would not help the enemy, but it is very often kept a secret from the British public and from world opinion all over the globe. Communications are so rapid nowadays and the mendacious German propaganda, referred to by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, just now is so active and virulent that I really think this matter of giving fuller information needs looking into as soon as possible.

Then with regard to the non-torpedoing of the "Bremen," there again I think a fuller explanation should have been given quickly. Though there are international lawyers at the disposal of the Admiralty, some British papers and some foreign papers were able to come out with most curious statements and comments about the non-torpedoing of the "Bremen." Every naval officer knows, but unfortunately the public do not know, that the torpedoing of a merchant ship in those circumstances would have been a violation of International Law, and one of the main reasons why we are in this war at all is that we are fighting to uphold International Law. As an old naval officer, and I believe I am speaking for other noble Lords in this House, I felt very acutely the almost disparaging remarks that were made about the strict observance of the law by the captain of a British submarine taking his life in his hands. The "Bremen" is of no use to Germany in a German port. She is useless to her as a commerce destroyer, and too big for use as a transport. She will only be an embarrassment, and she might just as well have stayed at Murmansk.

We could have torpedoed her of course, but to throw away the whole of our case for the upholding of International Law by torpedoing her out of hand would, I suggest, have been most inadvisable. The public should have been told that immediately and a full explanation given. There are Press officers in the Admiralty. I do not know whether it is the fault of Lord Macmillan and his Department again, but I do suggest that this matter is also worth while looking into. I am sure the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, will not mind my saying this. This is no sort of reflection on the Navy, but one of the forces in this war is the effect of the imponderables—the opinion of people all over the world and also the effect on our own people's spirits and mentality. It is all the more satisfactory, therefore, to know that real targets are presenting themselves—they have been all too scarce in this war—to our magnificent submarine flotilla.

The same sort of thing applies with regard to the action against the "Graf Spec." It is necessary that the public should be told how magnificent that was. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, and others of your Lordships will know that it was really a ballistic miracle for a ship with the armament of the "Graf Spee"—11-inch guns—to be tackled by light cruisers and tackled successfully, apparently plastered, from the accounts in the newspapers, and well plastered. It was really magnificent, and in a part of the world, too, where the visibility is very great and favourable, therefore, to very long range action. It was a most magnificent piece of work. I suggest that this encounter is going down to history as an epic. The technical facts should be put before the world, not only for our own people but for the whole world—a comparison of the power of the two forces, the hitting power of the 11-inch gun against the 8-inch gun, the heavy armour of a ship of the "Graf Spee" class—apparently not heavy enough, I am glad to say—as compared with the light unarmoured cruisers.

The public do not know these things. How can they? Unless that is done they will not appreciate the importance of this action from the technical and professional point of view. It is due to the Navy that the public should be told that. I suppose there will also be an authoritative statement about the position under International Law. I understand that this ship will be permitted to repair, but as soon as her minimum repairs are completed she will have to leave within a certain time. This should be made known also, I suggest. These are the things which people are entitled to know, and they are very important. I ask these questions for the reason I gave at the beginning of my brief remarks. Without giving away secrets, tell us all you know about the enemy and the damage done to him, and let the public judge. I am sorry to have to make what appears to be a complaint regarding a not unimportant section of the Admiralty—that is, the news section. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, and the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, who have been so closely associated with the Admiralty will allow me to reinforce my noble friend's remarks in extending general congratulation to the Navy on its work in recent weeks.

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord who has just spoken and the other noble Lords who have so kindly congratulated the Navy on the successful and, in my opinion, brilliant fight in the South Atlantic. As an Admiral on the Active List as well as a member of His Majesty's Government, I have a double satisfaction in being able to stand here and thank your Lordships for what has been said. We have been hunting for the "Graf Spee" for some time. You may be sure that any ship that got into touch with her was not going to lose touch even if she went to the bottom. That is the spirit which animates the Navy of to-day as it has animated the Navy of past days. When we get further reports from the gallant Commodore who led his ships so gallantly into action, with all the responsibility that was involved in his decision to engage, I have no doubt the Admiralty will be only too anxious, for the sake of the Navy and in the public interest, to give to the House and to the public all the information that they can.

We naturally assume that the Navy itself is the last to wish to advertise its victories unduly. Following many previous examples, reports of British victories have generally had the merit or demerit of terseness on many occasions. But, as the noble Lord says, in these days there is a duty on the Navy itself to make its exploits known for the credit of the country. With regard to what the noble Lord has said about the giving out of news, I shall certainly convey that to the proper quarter. There is, of course, no reason why one should not give out at the proper moment what we know about the damage done to the enemy. We did that in the case of the German submarine. She was sunk, and that was the damage done to her; but, as regards the cruiser which was torpedoed yesterday, I am not in a position to give your Lordships any further information at the moment.

As regards the "Bremen," I thank the noble Lord opposite for his statement. I am very glad that he, as an old sailor, so strongly supports the action of the submarine commander, acting under the standing instructions of the Navy to carry out his duties in accordance with International Law and the laws of humanity. As he says, the "Bremen," like many other ships of that size, are more impressive for their size than for their value in war. The news was given out in this country before it was published on the German wireless. That was natural, because we knew the information first and were able to ensure that the British public knew that the ship had been intentionally allowed to proceed. It may be that more news might have been given out at that moment, but I think I am right in saying that that error, if it was one, was rectified as rapidly as possible.

As regards the position of the "Graf Spee" under International Law, that at the present time is a matter which is under active examination between His Majesty's Government and the Government of Uruguay. The International Law is laid down in The Hague Convention No. 13. There are three Articles which cover the matter. It may interest your Lordships if I gave a summary of them. Article 12 says: In default of special provisions to the contrary in the legislation of a neutral Power— which I think does not apply in this case— belligerent warships are not permitted to remain in the ports, roadsteads, or territorial waters of the said Power for more than twenty-four hours, except in cases covered by the present Convention. Article 14 says: A belligerent warship may not prolong its stay in a neutral port beyond the time permitted except on account of damage or stress of weather. It must depart as soon as the cause of the delay is at an end. The regulations as to the length of time which such vessels may remain in neutral ports, roadsteads, or waters, do not apply to warships devoted exclusively to religious, scientific, or philanthropic purposes. That does not apply. Article 17 says: In neutral ports and roadsteads belligerent warships may only carry out such repairs as are absolutely necessary to render them seaworthy, and may not add in any manner whatever to their fighting force "Leur force militaire" is the French interpretation of that. The local authorities of the neutral Power shall decide what repairs are necessary, and these must be carried out with the least possible delay. I have no doubt that the "Graf Spee" will soon be at sea again for a short time.

3.22 p.m.


My Lords, in accordance with an undertaking which I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Snell, when we were discussing the India and Burma (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill earlier in the week, I am happy to give your Lordships such information as I can with regard to the developments in India since I last had an opportunity of addressing your Lordships on that matter. First of all let me say that, in spite of the efforts of German propaganda carried out by means of broadcasts and by such other means as are open to the German Department for Propaganda, the Princes and peoples of India continue to express in no uncertain terms their detestation of the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany against all the laws of God and man.

The Viceroy's War Purposes Fund, to which my noble friend made reference—a fund for which, so far as I know, no appeal has yet been made either by the Viceroy himself or by any of the Governors, and which therefore consists of voluntary contributions spontaneously made—has already reached a figure of some £475,000. Among the contributions which have been earmarked by their donors for special purposes, your Lordships may be interested to know of a gift of £7,500 by the Maharaja of Gondal for the dependants of those who lost their lives with the sinking of the "Royal Oak." Then again your Lordships may perhaps have already heard of the munificent gift of His Exalted Highness the Nizam of Hyderabad of £100,000 to the Air Ministry for the provision of a Hyderabad squadron to take part in the air war against Nazi Germany. Another special donation of an interesting character is one of one lakh of rupees by His Highness the Nawab of Rampur for motor ambulances, one of several gifts of a similar nature.

These are only examples, which could be easily multiplied, but, for the benefit of the German propagandists who spend so much time in trying to explain to the world the miserable plight of the Indian people under the rapacious tyranny of Great Britain. I feel moved to give a single example of what the feelings of the Indian peasantry themselves are with regard to this matter. In one district of the Punjab quite recently—a district with few men of wealth amongst its residents—the Governor, vas handed a gift of Rs.17,000, all in currency notes and no single contribution of which I believe amounted to more than Rs.500, as a contribution by the people of that district towards the overthrow of Nazi Germany. I very willingly make a free gift of that item of information to the German gentleman who, I believe, is known as "Lord Haw-Haw," for early inclusion in one of his German broadcasts.

Again, a number of Princes have not been content to offer merely lump sums of money. They have promised continual contributions, percentages of their income, towards our main purposes for the duration of the war; and some of them with great fighting traditions behind them, who have offered their troops to His Majesty, have also expressed keen anxiety themselves to take part upon the field of battle—a gesture which His Majesty's Government greatly appreciate, even if in present circumstances it may not be possible to take advantage of their desires in that regard. Offers of additional battalions over and above the earmarked State units have been made by Their Highnesses of Bikaner and Kashmir, and similarly, amongst the martial races, particularly perhaps in the Punjab, there has been a spontaneous and an eager desire to enlist in the armed forces of the Crown.

In the political field I regret to say that the difficulties with which your Lordships are familiar still persist. The position at the moment is this: in the Punjab, in Bengal and in Sind, popular Governments responsible to the Legislatures are functioning normally and with success. In Assam, where the Ministry under a Congress Prime Minister resigned, an alternative Government has been formed under the leadership of Sir Syed Muhammad Saadulla, a former Prime Minister of that Province. But in the remaining seven Provinces from which the Congress Ministries have recently resigned, the Administration has been taken over by the Governors with the result that, entirely contrary to our desires, the hands of the clock have been set back for more than thirty years to the days before the Minto-Morley Constitution. I should perhaps add for the information of your Lordships that the transition has been effected smoothly; that there has been no reversal of policy in any important respect, and that, broadly speaking, the measures which were promoted by the Ministries and assented to by the Legislatures before they resigned are being given effect to by the Governors.

Since I last addressed your Lordships on this matter there has been a further meeting of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress and they have issued a further statement upon their position. There is one sentence contained in their statement which I warmly welcome. It runs as follows: It is inherent in every form of satyagrapha"— that is to say, passive resistance, exemplified by the calling out of the Ministries— that no effort is spared to achieve an honourable settlement with an opponent. That, I need hardly say, is what we ourselves most earnestly desire. What then, you may ask, stands in the way? Not the least of the obstacles is a difference of opinion between the Congress on the one hand and the All-India Moslem League on the other hand, as to the relations of Congress and what, for want of a better term, are described compendiously as the minorities. The nature of this difference of opinion is well illustrated by another sentence in the most recent statement issued by the Working Committee of the Congress, which runs as follows: The Committee wish to declare…that no communal considerations arise in meeting the demands of the Congress. I am sure that those who made that statement are perfectly sincere in their belief, but it is a belief which His Majesty's Government are unable to share, for in their view no Constitution in India could be expected to function successfully which did not meet with the general assent of the minorities who have to live under it.

I am not, of course, in any way intending to minimise the importance of such sections of the Indian people as the Scheduled Castes, or indeed of any other minority, when I say that by far the most important of the so-called minority communities is the Moslem community. I know well, of course, that there are Moslems who are members of the Congress and who support, generally speaking, the policy of the Congress; yet the fact remains that of the 482 Moslems elected to the lower Chambers of the Provincial Legislatures at the last General Election, twenty-six only stood as Congressmen and Mr. Gandhi has himself stated that the All-India Moslem League is undoubtedly the largest organisation representing the Moslems, though he also speaks of some Moslem bodies which deny its claim to represent them. There is a further consideration which has to be borne in mind. We speak of the Moslems as a minority because, on a purely arithmetical basis, they are less in number than the Hindus; yet we have to remember that they are after all a community of some 80,000,000 to 90,000,000, a community, moreover, with race memories of the clays, after all not so very far distant in time as the history of nations goes, when a great Moslem dynasty, the Moghul dynasty, reigned for some 200 years, exercising dominion over the greater part of the Indian sub-continent. They are a community, moreover, which has a great military tradition behind them, a tradition which exists to this day, and is exemplified by the high proportion of the Indian Army which that community fills.

I have recalled these facts very briefly because they are sufficient to show that the case of the minorities, with which we are familiar in Europe, presents no full analogy with the similar case with which we are presented in India, and God knows the minorities in Europe have been a source of sufficient trouble in the world of to-day. Now I observe that Mr. Gandhi himself, in his paper Harijan, in its issue of November 25, speaks of the summoning of a constituent assembly—here I quote his words: subject to safeguards to the satisfaction of minorities, and he goes on to say—here again I quote his own words: The expression 'satisfaction of minorities' may be regarded as vague. It can be defined beforehand by agreement. Well, my Lords, that is our own position. We too regard it as essential for constitutional advance, by whatever means advance is to be obtained, that the assent of the minorities should be secured, so far as possible, by agreement. But it is not within our power to impose agreement upon them. Agreement must come from Indians themselves.

It was with a view of promoting discussion to that end that the Viceroy invited the leaders of the two great political Parties, the Congress and the All-India Moslem League, to meet one another not so long ago. I would appeal to the leaders of the Congress, as the largest and most powerful political Party in India, to endeavour to understand the difficulties which are responsible for the attitude of the All-India Moslem League. How great is the need of such understanding is shown by the instruction issued only a few days ago by the President of the All-India Moslem League, addressed to Moslems throughout India, to observe the 22nd of this month as "a day of deliverance and thanksgiving that Congress Governments have ceased to function." I would equally appeal to the President of the All-India Moslem League to consider carefully the effect of such action upon the relations between the two great communities in general and also between the Congress and the All-India Moslem League. Will they not call a truce that there may be free and friendly discussion between them with a view to reaching that agreement of which Mr. Gandhi himself has spoken?

I derive some little encouragement from a report which has reached me that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. Jinnah, the President of the All-India Moslem League, have arranged to meet one another for further discussion. That is all to the good, and I venture to hope that they may cover a wide field in the course of their discussion, for I am convinced that so long as the Legislatures are divided on communal instead of upon political lines so long will serious difficulty be experienced in working democratic institutions with success. What we have to aim at is a state of affairs under which a legislator will think of himself as an Indian first and only as a Moslem or a Hindu or as a member of any of the other minorities afterwards. If we are successful in bringing about that state of affairs, then one of the greatest obstacles in the way of Indian constitutional progress will have been removed. There are, of course, other matters which have to be taken into account. There is the defence of India, there are our obligations to the Princes, and there is the position in India which our own people have built up during generations past, to mention only some of them. But the supreme problem of the moment is that of the minorities, and it is for that reason that I have confined my observations this afternoon to that problem.

Let me, however, end as I began, with an assurance to your Lordships that while there are these internal difficulties which have to be faced, they do not in any way lessen the abhorrence with which men of all creeds and all communities in India view the Nazi system against which we have taken up arms. I have noticed an attempt on the part of the German Propaganda Department to propagate in India the idea that Indians should look to Nazi Germany for their freedom. The conception of "Hitler the Liberator" is one which is so grotesque as to raise a smile on the face of anyone, except, possibly, of a German. If Herr Hitler and his associates imagine for one moment that they are going to receive any assistance from India, well then they may take it from me that they are heading for one of the greatest disillusionments of their lives.

3.47 p.m.


My Lords, it was not intended, I think, that there should be any general debate on the question of India to-day, but I think someone should rise to voice the thanks which I am sure your Lordships' House would wish to express to the noble Marquess the Secretary of State for the full statement lie has just delivered to us. It fell into two parts. First, there was an expression of appreciation of the valuable gifts and other forms of assistance that have been tendered to this country by the Princes and people of India, and I feel sure that the British nation and the British Parliament are most grateful indeed for this most efficient help given to the Government in the great struggle in which they are engaged. Secondly, the noble Marquess dwelt upon the unhappy deadlock which still persists in India on the political side. It is good news, I think, that the temporary Governments that have been installed in the seven Provinces have taken the course of not in any way endeavouring to reverse or to impede the operation of the legislation that had previously been passed under the auspices of the elected representative Governments. I feel sure that that is a wise course and will facilitate the restoration of normal conditions.

As the noble Marquess has said, the difficulties arising out of the minority situation which are inherent in the Indian political position are very grave and hard to overcome. I myself hold the view, and have expressed it in this House, that while the Congress case is a very strong one, they would have taken a wiser course if they had endeavoured to secure a settlement by friendly negotiation rather than by forcing the issue and calling out the Congress Ministers in the Provinces where they had political control. I can only to-day endorse the appeal made by the noble Marquess the Secretary of State that the two Parties should call a truce and should endeavour to arrive at a friendly settlement of these grave difficulties. It is often said in India that it is the secret policy of Great Britain to foment these religious differences in pursuance of the maxim "Divide and rule." That, I am certain, is not true, and the opinion expressed by the Secretary of State to-day that he would welcome nothing with greater satisfaction than a settlement of those differences by friendly effort between the parties, is a view which I am sure is held generally in this country. As he has said, it is an unhealthy state of things that political division should follow religious lines. The combination of the two does imperil the working of democracy and if only it were possible for a truce to be called, as he has pleaded should be the case, I feel sure that such a step ending the present deadlock would be most welcome to every political Party in this country.

3.50 p.m.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships leave to withdraw the Motion that stands in my name, I would like to be allowed to associate myself with what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said. In thanking the noble Marquess for the statement that he has just made, I am sure that it was advisable that before Parliament rose for the Recess anything that he could say should be said on this last day. I do not propose for a moment to discuss what he has said, but merely to repeat what I have so often stated: that I believe that patience, sympathy and understanding, both here and in India, will enable this crisis to be overcome. My noble friend and myself desire to see India take her place as a satisfied member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, having equal position and place with all the rest. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to