HL Deb 20 August 1940 vol 117 cc272-318

4.3 p.m.

LORD ADDISON had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they can make any statement on the progress of the war; and move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg formally to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Paper.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has been good enough to ask a question which will enable me to make a statement, I hope not too long, with regard to the course of the war. That is no doubt fitting, at a time which coincides with the end of the first year of the war and the adjournment of Parliament for a very short Recess, and also with the completion of three months of the Government of which my right honourable friend is the Prime Minister. It is quite certain that few if any of us a year ago could have forecast the actual course of the war. Many no doubt expected Italy to be mercenary and treacherous; some, well knowing and understanding the rapacity of Germany, foresaw in spite of every pledge the over-running of Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway; and a very few perhaps there may have been who diagnosed the weakness of France and even expected her collapse under strain. Yet there was one assurance that all of us would have been prepared to give at the beginning of this war, and that was an assurance of the solidarity of the free peoples of the British Empire. As we pass into a second year of war the union of hearts and wills grows closer and firmer. The disappointments and the reverses which we have suffered have not loosened the parts, but rather have they welded them into a core of solid resistance to the Nazi scheme. I cannot forbear from expressing once more the sense of strength that fills us all when we see the great Dominions and the Colonies appropriating and devoting their resources of men and materials for the prosecution of this war. The Prime Minister promised the people of Great Britain blood and toil, tears and sweat. My Lords, no less than Britain the British Commonwealth has counted the cost and already paid part of the price.

We have in the course of the past year faced—and survived—blows and buffets to which a less resolute and less united people might well have succumbed. The loss of France as an active and vigorous Ally was in itself a disaster, for with France and the Channel ports in the hands of the enemy we were confronted with a new peril, the danger of invasion. Standing again, as often in the past, alone but unafraid, we bent ourselves to our new responsibility, the fortification of our island, which is at once the centre of our offences as well as of our defences. The Armies from Dunkirk have been largely reorganised, and to an extent which few who knew the facts would have thought possible. Two million men, thanks in part to supplies which have been received from America as well as from our own arsenals, are now ready with rifles and bayonets. Three-quarters of them are in definite military formations, and it may be observed that, as our strength grows, so do the problems of the enemy, his operations become more difficult, and more open to detection.

Meanwhile the Navy watches at our gates, and guards the channels through which the invader must pass. Far stronger than a year ago the Navy waits, unsleeping and ready. Our naval yards are now beginning to send out the new ships of all types that will add material strength to our naval forces, and we hope that timely reinforcements, to fill the gap between the peace forces of 1939 and the forces that are needed for the war in 1941, will come across the Atlantic Ocean. The merchant ships under the British flag, for all the U-boats and the magnetic mines of the enemy, are more numerous than when we began the war, and in addition 4,000.000 tons of ship ping from the enslaved nations of Europe now serve our needs. Our food reserves have increased, so that to-day they are many times as great as in the days of peace.

I recount these facts in no boasting spirit, in no spirit of overweening pride; it is a sober statement of fact, that will keep alive the hopes of down-trodden millions of people in Europe, as well as strengthen our own will to victory. We are certain to meet blows, perhaps blow upon blow; we shall suffer reverses—such a one is reported to-day. That it is due in part to the defection of France is no more nor less than the truth. The strong force at Jibuti, the use of French bases in the Mediterranean and particularly in North Africa, as well as the strength of the French Navy, profoundly affected the position of our small forces in Somaliland. Now the few battalions and guns which were adequate in those circumstances, having maintained their positions with tenacity and courage and with considerable losses to the enemy, have been withdrawn virtually intact for action elsewhere. In itself the defence of Somaliland is not comparable with the larger operations which, no doubt, will be undertaken in the Middle East. Your Lordships are well aware—and so, I may say, are the enemy—that we hold complete command of the Eastern Mediterranean and of the Red Sea and the seas cast of Suez.

During the last few days attention has rightly been concentrated on the battle in the air. At one time not long ago I dare say Herr Hitler thought that his God was on the side of the big battalions. The almost superhuman gallantry of our pilots has triumphed gloriously over mere numbers. I find no words to match their exploits, and I attempt none. Since August 8 the tale of losses on either side is the best commentary upon the fact. We have lost in these contests 94 fighter pilots or, if the machines be reckoned, 153 fighters. Germany has lost 699 aircraft—bombers and fighters. Your Lordships have no doubt heard complaints of the tardiness of our reports in other countries. It is comparatively simple for the Germans to compose an account of an air battle before it has been physically possible for them to collate the results. The British figures are scrupulously, indeed elaborately, perhaps over-elaborately, checked, if that were possible. A considerable number of enemy losses, not in- cluded in the published figures, are in official circles included in a category "unconfirmed or probable"—figures which are not published. Our effort is not to be first with the news, but to be scrupulously accurate even at the risk of understating. That can be illustrated by the fact that for the month of July the Italians actually admitted to a larger number of Italian pilots killed or missing than we had claimed.

Your Lordships may ask whether my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as Minister of Defence, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air are satisfied with the results. The answer to that question is that this air offensive is no doubt intended to be the first important move in a larger campaign. The importance of breaking the enemy's attack at this point is for that reason all the greater, and it has been achieved up to this present moment. If the enemy seems to flinch, let us remember that he is naturally obstinate. He is likely to persist in the mass daylight raids for which his Air Force is primarily trained; but if the enemy comes again, as come he will, the Royal Air Force will still be ready for him. The anti-aircraft guns and the gunners have magnificently seconded their efforts, and their skill is likely to increase with success and experience.

Nor must the civilian be denied a part in this story. Material damage has been slight in comparison with the destruction in Germany worked by our bombers. The civilian has been, and must be, in the very front of the battle line and, to do him justice, he has not flinched or complained of the strain to which he is exposed. He has taken risks, and I believe he is proud of it. In the homes of our people the most steadfast valour is every day displayed. I have referred to our bombing raids in Germany. Let it be clear that these are not mere "terror bombings." They are directed against military objectives which have been carefully identified and accurately attacked, and pressure will be persistent and increasing. These are no mass attacks that cannot be persevered with. Their success has, up to the present time, been impressive. I may say, in passing, that our airmen in the Middle East have been no less gallant and successful. Against an enemy not always unworthy, in the air they have shown consistent daring and energy.

Day by day, as the battle for Britain develops in intensity, the United States of America follow our fortunes with solicitude and with lively hopes for our ultimate triumph. The war in the air as well as the dourness of our Army and the unchallenged supremacy of the Navy have received more and more notice across the Atlantic. While they build up their own forces, they have recognised the fact that we are in the meantime fighting in their first line of defence. For some time past, as I have already mentioned, America has been part of the great arsenal to which we have access. American aircraft in the hands of our own pilots are already, at this moment, giving effective service. They are but an earnest of the output of all sorts of equipment that is already flowing to us, and will flow to us in increasing volume.

The last development about which I may be allowed to say a few words has already received some attention in the Press. Some time ago it was evident that the United States of America and the British Empire must, in their common interests, have defences of the Western Hemisphere against a Germany that had already overwhelmed a large part of Europe and the resources of those countries. It was therefore decided by His Majesty's Government, of their own motion, without the asking or offering of any advantage in return, that certain facilities within our control on that side of the Atlantic should be proffered in the form of suitable sites for defence measures. This was not novel. Before the war various arrangements had been made between Great Britain and the United States with regard to certain small islands in the Pacific which had become already important as fuelling points. The principle upon which these agreements were based was the association of our several interests for a common purpose. When it became known, as it did, a short time ago that the President of the United States of America would like to discuss with us, and with Canada and Newfoundland, the development of American naval and air facilities in Newfoundland and the West Indies, His Majesty's Government were naturally ready to take part in such discussions. The wishes of the Colonies concerned—I must make this clear—will of course be considered. The Governments of Canada and Newfoundland have already been consulted. No question of the transfer of sovereignty arises. For our part, His Majesty's Government are ready to offer the desired facilities on a basis of long leaseholds, and we are assured that the interests of all will be served by these arrangements.

It is a melancholy reflection that while we thus recount our own growing strength and honour the memory of gallant Frenchmen who have died beside our own sons and daughters, their country has fallen out of the race. We are very conscious of the sufferings of old friends under the Nazi oppressor. His heel is cruel and heavy, but if France has hope to-day it lies in the victory of the cause for which she began with us to fight. The fires that our airmen are lighting in their raids of ever-increasing power are beacons along the road to the re-won freedom of France. In the hour of France's trial we hope that many of her people maintain their faith in the triumph of right. The plain fact is that the victory of the British Empire will be France's victory also. Meanwhile Frenchmen fight by our side. The Volunteer Force under General de Gaulle is a rallying point for all free Frenchmen. They and we may recall the assurance given by the Prime Minister in his letter of 7th August, that when victory-has been gained it is the determination of His Majesty's Government to secure the full restoration of the independence of France. Before I pass on, I may remind your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Halifax is still in communication with the Vichy Government concerning a British agency in France and the return of British Consular officials to unoccupied France and unoccupied North Africa.

Nor is France the only country for whom we have thrown down our challenge to Germany. The Governments and armed Forces of some of those countries are now on our soil. From their people at home evidence reaches us of their stout though chiefly passive resistance to the German administration. Progress has been made with the task of reforming and equipping units of their Fighting Forces in this country. The agreement with the Polish Government that was signed a few days ago is an important stage in this development, and, His Majesty's Government hope, will be a model for agreements of the same nature in the near future. Your Lordships are aware no doubt that Polish, Dutch, Belgian and Czechoslovak airmen have already made splendid contribution to the triumphs of our Air Force and some day, we hope not far distant, they will go out with their comrades of the land Forces to drive the invader from their own lands.

While I have been paying an inadequate tribute to the gallantry of our airmen, it would be wrong not to rate as highly the contribution of the gallant seamen of the Merchant Navies, both our own Navy and the Navies of Norway and the Netherlands and other countries. Their task is not so spectacular perhaps as that of the airmen, but for sheer devotion and fortitude the seamen of the Mercantile Marine, our own as well as our Allies, have won fresh honours in this war. To them we owe the fact that we have in this island scarcely yet felt the pinch of diminished food supplies. It is otherwise with our chief enemy. And that brings me to make a statement with regard to the policy of His Majesty's Government concerning the blockade of Germany and occupied territories.

It is the intention of His Majesty's Government to maintain a strict blockade not only of Germany but of the territories under the enemy's control. We shall continue to deny to the enemy by all means in our power, the supplies which would help his war effort. To prolong the agony of Europe by feeding Germany would indeed be a strange war. There have been proposals founded on the highest motives that food should be allowed to pass the blockade for the relief of populations in the areas enslaved by Germany, but His Majesty's Government will refuse those requests. The Germans boast that they have created a new and unified economy in Europe. They proclaim their ample reserves of food for themselves and for their enslaved populations. Herr Hitler cannot complain, for he has himself declared a blockade of our island home. In a German broadcast on the 27th June it was said that while Mr. Hoover's plan for relieving France and other countries deserved commendation, the German forces had already taken the necessary steps. We know that in Norway, when the German troops went in, there were food supplies to last for a year. We know that Poland, though not a rich country, usually produces sufficient food for her people. Moreover, the other countries which Herr Hitler has invaded all held considerable stocks when the Germans entered and are themselves very substantial food producers. If all this food is not now available to Germany and the subjugated peoples, it must be because it has been removed and stored, or perhaps in part consumed, in Germany; no doubt in part also by way of the increased rations about which they have boasted during the last two months.

The Germans also tell us that they have still with them the stocks with which they entered the war. These, with the stocks of the rest of Europe, should amount to some 10,000,000 tons of bread grains. At this season of the year and for some months to come, there is the least chance of famine. The harvest has just been reached or is coming in, and the only things that can create famine in any part of Europe now or during the coming winter will be German looting or German failure to distribute the supplies which they command. There is another aspect which deserves attention. Many of the most valuable foods are essential to the manufacture of vital war materials. Fats are used to make explosives; potatoes make the alcohol for motor spirit; the plastic materials now so largely used in aeroplane construction are made from milk. If the Germans use these things to help them bomb our women and children rather than to feed the populations who produce them and for whom they are desirable, we must be quite clear that any imported food would go the same way or would be employed by the enemy for his own purposes.

The only sensible conclusion, and it is the one to which His Majesty's Government have come, is that Herr Hitler must bear his own responsibilities. Meanwhile, let there be no mistake about this, we can arrange in advance for the speedy entry of food into any part of the enslaved area when this part has been wholly cleared of German forces and has genuinely regained its freedom. We shall do our best to encourage and permit the building up of reserves of food all over the world, so that there will always be held out before the people of Europe the certainty that the shattering of the Nazi power would bring to them all food, freedom and peace.

My Lords, may I be allowed very briefly to make one or two references to our foreign relations? The more brief will these observations be because my noble friend Lord Halifax will be speaking at the end of this debate with regard to any questions which your Lordships may raise or desire to hear him discuss. An improvement in Anglo-Soviet relations has been a matter of concern to His Majesty's Government. The Soviet Government Union stretching across two hemispheres has interests in many parts of the world, and those interests touch the British Empire at many points. Order and prudence would dictate a better understanding. His Majesty's Government, as has often been said, are not concerned with the forms of government under which other nations live but they are concerned with the settlement of outstanding problems, and we believe there is a basis for a satisfactory trade agreement. Sir Stafford Cripps, His Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow, who is courageously and successfully facing a difficult task, has had interviews with the People's Commissar for Foreign Relations and with M. Molotov. The importance of negotiations on trade is fully appreciated by His Majesty's Ambassador and it is hoped that they may shortly result from the conversations which have been held. The last few days have seen an attempt by Italy to browbeat Greece. Italy flatters her partner by imitating her technique. The creation of artificial incidents and imaginary grievances proceeds on familiar lines. Italy aspires to intimidate Greece as Germany has intimidated Rumania. Meanwhile His Majesty's Government are confident that Greece will maintain the patriotic policy so far followed with success and will be able to resist the attempts of her envious neighbour to undermine her independence and neutrality and rob her of her freedom. That word "freedom" has been often on our lips during the last twelve months and I do not doubt is as constantly in our hearts. We may perhaps have valued it lightly while we thought we held it firmly. Now we know that it is worth all we possess and all we can give. Your Lordships can have no doubt that the British people, having counted the cost, will win the victory, and that victory will give freedom.

4.32 p.m.


My Lords, I think that we shall all appreciate the review which the noble Viscount has given to us and we shall all agree with him that this war, like most other wars, had in it one certainty—namely, that the unexpected would occur. That seems to have been the characteristic of all wars and this war has not differed a little bit from its predecessors in that respect. One remembers only too well the apprehension which we all had—which I believe even Ministers had—that we might have bombardment of our cities, perhaps of London, in the early days of the war. Hence our elaborate, necessary and wise precautions for evacuating children and for dispersing certain parts of the population that were not essential to the maintenance of ordinary industry. Those things so far have not materialised. In that respect the unexpected has occurred.

But I was glad to notice that the noble Viscount emphasized that one expected thing had occurred—namely, the splendid solidarity of the Empire, which seems to grow, or rather strengthen, in that strange way that is characteristic of our people at home in adversity. I should think that never at any time, certainty so far as I can remember, in the last war was there such manifest solidarity at home as there is now. I do not remember any period of the last war at which one could have said that with the same confidence as one can say it to-day. It is another instance of our national habit of being strengthened by adversity rather than being beaten down by it. It affects us all and is a source of strength behind every preparation in which we all have confidence. We should all, I am sure, like to associate ourselves, too, with what the noble Viscount said as to the services of the Navy and the Merchant Marine. I will not weary your Lordships by trying to put inadequately into words what we all feel on that. I think that most of us secretly hope that before long, whenever they are ready, the Navy will deal as vigorously as possible with the Italians still lurking in their ports. How they will induce them to come out, or what procedure they may adopt, it is not for me to suggest, but I sincerely hope that some means will be found of attacking them.

The achievement of our fighting aircraft is of course in everybody's mind and I think the lesson of it is one of the most significant that the war has provided so far—namely, the vital importance of training and careful selection of individuals. If one thing is more certain than another it is that the triumph of our air fighters is due to prolonged training, first-rate equipment and the most careful selection of men. One can hope that these principles, which have had so triumphant a vindication in our Air Force, will be patiently applied to the whole of our Services.

Some of us are perhaps rather inclined, because of the more dramatic character of the fights in the air, to overlook the wonderful achievements of our Bomber Command and the men in the bomber service. As we know, a bomber crew is made up of a number of experts, each one a proved careful expert, and the achievement of flying across Europe in the dark and spotting aeroplane works at Turin, or wherever it may be, or the junction of canals in Germany, is a triumph of navigation, daring and efficiency comparable to the achievement of their fellow airmen in the fighting craft. It would be wrong that the occasion should pass without our paying a tribute to what these bomber crews are doing. There, again, I would express the hope that as soon as possible their exploits will be extended. I hope, too, that it will be possible to obtain a base somewhere which will enable them to attack a number of vulnerable and vital points in Italy without having to fly such great distances to get there; because that is the Achilles' heel, not only from the point of view of geography but in the association of the Axis Powers. I do not need to point the moral. We are all hoping that these bombing attacks, which have begun so skilfully and efficiently, will be multiplied and continued.

I should not like to introduce an unduly critical note, but I must return again to one of the questions which I raised in another debate. Somehow or other, one does not feel altogether satisfied that our Intelligence Service is "married up" to our policy and to our military efforts as efficiently as it ought to be. Why this is so it is not possible for anyone outside to say; but I think that we have had a number of instances in which it is obvious either that the Intelligence Service—using the term in a comprehensive sense—was not as efficient as we believed it to be or that the intelligence which it furnished was not acted upon or as carefully considered as it ought to have been. One cannot help feeling that more than once that must have occurred. I am not quite sure whether General Lord Gort was as well informed about the state of affairs in France as he ought to have been, or as soon as he might have been.

One sees some suggestion of the same kind of thing in what has happened in Somaliland. From a military point of view it seems sensible not to hang on to this miserable place unnecessarily, but we knew about the position at least two months ago. One cannot help having some misgivings that the situation was not sufficiently studied and that the plan was not decided upon as soon as it might have been; because, however it may be represented in communiqués which are carefully framed, I am sure that the Foreign Secretary must know that what has happened will be a disadvantage to us with Arab communities, and will certainly be represented in a very gruesome form by the ingenious propagandists of Mussolini. We cannot do anything, I know, to prevent these gentlemen drawing the long bow, but I cannot but feel that it would have been desirable either to decide to defend this place and to do our best to retain a couple of Italian divisions there, in a most unfriendly region, with all kinds of drawbacks of supply and so on, or to decide to clear out, and to have cleared out frankly. To appear to do so under pressure from much greater force does, I think, indicate some lack of association between our military plans and the effects that our efforts are bound to have upon foreign policy. In the last war, I know—it was my business to know—that it was quite a long time before we achieved a good "marrying-up" between intelligence and action. I am not sure that we did achieve it altogether, even at the end; and at any rate there were very many serious mistakes made in the early months of the last war because what we learnt from our Intelligence Service and otherwise was not taken account of sufficiently and was not allowed to influence our military plans as it ought to have done.

While I am dealing with Army questions, there is another matter to which I should like to refer. I do hope that the Government are seeing to it that the planning department of the War Office is continually improved. We have been behindhand in our plans as to types of armament, as for example, tanks and artillery; and one cannot help feeling that to some extent the criticisms which some of us levelled here and elsewhere against the inadequacies of our supply were the result of the inadequate formulation of a programme; which, of course, is the business of the War Department. I do hope that in the planning of what lies ahead—in the planning of the equipment of our new Armies—the Government are giving a chance to men with vision, and not necessarily those who are working in traditional harness. I cannot but remember the struggle which occurred in the last war between certain parties about the formulation of the big gun programme. That will be very familiar to some of your Lordships. For a long time our efforts were crippled because the programme was limited by being conducted by men of very narrow vision. That was undoubtedly true in the last war. I am expressing no opinion of how the programme is being worked out now; but in planning for these vast new Armies which, if they are to be successful in Europe, will have to be as skilled, well-trained and well-equipped as are our fighters in the air—because we shall never be numerically equal to our enemies—I hope that the Government have made up their mind that for the equipment of those new Armies nothing less than the very best will do. I would like to have some assurance that these Staff and planning problems are being reviewed and the most suitable people put in charge of them.

One does not like in a debate of this kind, where we are dealing with the bigger things and the general things, to descend to particulars, but I think we were all glad to find that the Secretary of State for War had appointed a Committee to go into the management of Army affairs. I am not quite sure what the terms of reference of the Committee were, but it was a Committee that had to deal with the way that Army business was conducted and, if possible, with the cutting down of the innumerable mass of forms which accompany every action, however small. I came across an Ordnance officer the other day who had come back from France and who told me that he even had to fill up an indent for a split pin. I do not know what the value of a split pin is, but it is not more than a decimal point of a halfpenny, and yet he had to fill in an indent for it. That is, of course, only an egregious illustration, but it is an illustration of, so to say, a practice which is stupid, and I do hope that this Committee that the Secretary of State has appointed, apart from playing to the gallery and what they call cutting down red-tape—I have not the slightest sympathy with that expression, because you have to have procedure—will look into the efficiency both of the Ordnance Department and the Quartermaster-General's Department and see that the same standard of efficiency is looked for there as we rejoice to find in the doings of our air fighters. I am not going to mention other quite minor details, which may be appropriately discussed on another occasion. All I am doing now is to exhort the Government in my modest way to insist throughout the Army that it attains the same standard of efficiency and reward of brains and initiative as we look for in the Air Service and in the Navy.

I am sure every one of us was glad to see the announcement in the papers about the negotiations with the United States, to which the Leader of the House referred. All we can say on that is that we hope that they will have a successful issue in the very near future. I should like also to welcome what the noble Viscount said as to the purpose of the Government and the unaltered purpose of the nation to free Europe from the tyranny with which it is afflicted. That will be an encouragement for the nations at present under oppression. I should like to say how glad I was to hear what he said with regard to the blockade, but I think it is necessary that the Government should make up their mind as soon as possible—and I mean by that soon—to define more clearly the character of their post-war aims for the greater encouragement of those nations. I believe that that is a very important ingredient in our war effort. We have to get the hearty support as far as we can, and to mobilise it, of these oppressed millions in Europe. There must be countless millions of people in these different countries who are longing to know what it is that we want to do to help them eventually, and what sort of security they are going to have. Therefore the formulation, with sufficient definiteness—I am not of course pressing for details—of the Government's post-war aims is an essential part of our war effort, and it should be put across with organised skilful propaganda in Europe.

That is another section of our effort with which I confess I think so far most of us are disappointed. Some of your Lordships here present know a great deal more than I ever did or ever shall about the arts of propaganda, but it does seem to me that we have made lots of blunders; and whilst we would not imitate the methods or the morals of Dr. Goebbels, we might take a lesson from him and become more efficient in our propaganda department. I see here the noble Lord who was the subject of various questions in another place lately, and I am not going to make any reference to his exploits, because I do not know what they are, but we do seem to have a number of Departments or bits of Departments which are said to be engaged in propaganda; whether they are or are not, I do not know, but it is certain that it does not seem to be the business of anybody who is big enough to direct it. Whether it is the business of the Ministry of Information or the War Office or even the noble Viscount's Committee—well, he shakes his head; I am glad to see that—I do not know.

But there does not seem to be that large-minded direction and certainly not the organisation in our propaganda effort that we ought to have as an essential part of our war aims. I hope that some day before long we may have an assurance from the Government that this vital department of our war effort is being improved. I think it was not till the third year of the last war that we had a proper propaganda organisation. Well, we are likely to do better than that. But there was no Dr. Goebbels against us then; and whilst I think his falsehoods defeat their own purposes very often and very soon, still it is necessary that this part of our war effort should be brought into a much more efficient state than it is at the present time.

I hope in what I have said I have not shown an unduly critical spirit. My criticisms were meant to be helpful, dealing with things which I honestly believe are necessary for the improvement of our war effort. One thing finally, in which I think every one of us rejoices, and that is the spirit and courage of what we, in every day parlance, call the common people. Everywhere you go you find the same temper—a complete, almost too great an indifference to the dangers of the situation, but everyone, great and small, determined to do his bit to help. I beg to move for Papers.

5 p.m.


My Lords, when listening to the statements made by the noble Viscount opposite, I felt that while there was much that was grave in it, much to make us think, there was practically nothing to create any real discomfort. To touch for a moment on the defence of this island, subjected to the serious threat of invasion, all epithets can be exhausted in praise of the defence made by our Air Force. It is almost impossible to exaggerate in any terms our admiration for the valour of the pilots and other members of these crews. At the same time I should like to say a word of recognition of those older men who were responsible for the organisation of the Air Force, starting with my noble friend Lord Trenchard, for it is thanks to the skill and care with which that organisation was created that we find that these young men are inspired with the confidence that enables them to carry out their marvellous achievements. At the same time I must pay a tribute, as both the previous noble Lords have done, to the calmness, courage, and good humour of the civilian population who have suffered—and suffered to no inconsiderable extent—both in person and in property by these raids. The calmness which they have shown is one more thing to make us proud of our country.

The noble Lord who has just spoken touched for a moment on the question of information and propaganda. We all noticed in the newspapers the other day a bitter complaint which was made of the fact that the greatest victory which we had, up to that time, attained in the air was not announced in the United States—and no doubt in other parts of the world—until a day after a misleading and mendacious account of the same events issued by the German wireless had reached those countries, with the result that a difference was made in the news- papers in which they were announced. I have no doubt that that warning will be taken to heart and that such a thing is not likely to occur again. Still it is an indication of dislocation to which it was undoubtedly necessary to draw attention.

The withdrawal from Somaliland has been mentioned, and it was criticised in very moderate terms by the noble Lord who has just spoken. All withdrawals are deplorable in the course of a war such as this, but how far this particular departure from Somaliland can be regarded as a military misfortune is doubtful. It hardly seems as though attacks either on the Sudan or on Egypt could have been in any way hampered or prevented by the existence of a larger force in British Somaliland. To that extent, I take it, the temporary abandonment of that country need not be seriously regretted. In itself, Somaliland is not one of the most valued possessions of the British Crown. More than thirty years ago it was my lot, as Secretary of State for the Colonies, to have charge of that country as well as of the other overseas dominions of the Crown. We certainly thought then that, on the whole, British Somaliland was probably the least attractive of the countries over which the British flag could fly. At that time we should not have greatly regretted parting with it to some other country except for the fact that it was the only point on the east coast of Africa between Suez and Mombasa which was in British occupation, and being opposite Aden appeared to give it a kind of value. At that time there was much trouble created by a Mullah who was described, as Mullahs very often are, as being mad, although probably he was not madder than most other people. He was a rapacious and fanatical figure of the type of which Herr Hitler is the most outstanding example. I trust that those who might feel disheartened by our temporary abandonment of Somaliland, such as the Abyssinians and also our own friends in South Africa, will realise that the evacuation is of no serious military importance.

I find myself in full agreement with what fell from the noble Viscount on the subject of blockade, as I think Lord Addison did also. It was well to mention that in the event of one of the conquered countries being entirely cleared of the invaders the situation would be completely altered, and that then there is no reason why food should not be sent to those people in it. It is well to mention it but it cannot be supposed that any withdrawal of the kind is probable or indeed even possible. I do not attempt to touch on the matters of foreign politics that were raised in the course of the noble Viscount's speech. We are all, I am sure, glad that the best possible relations should be obtained with the Soviet Government, and it is pleasant to know that Sir Stafford Cripps is, as we hope, making some advance in that direction; but it is to no purpose for anyone like myself, speaking from outside, to attempt any observations on the extremely complicated Balkan question on which even those who, like the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Halifax) are well informed, are bound to speak with the greatest possible discretion.

To attempt for a moment to look at the whole picture as it now is, I should say that in the panoply of the Commonwealth and of the Empire the Air Force is the sharp spear which is being aimed at and is piercing the vitals of Germany, and it will continue to do this more and more as time goes, on and as we obtain, as I trust we shall, superiority in the air. Next in the panoply is the great Army which, as Lord Addison reminded us, is being prepared and equipped, and which will act as the avenging sword. The Navy meanwhile cannot do much more than act as the shield. During the last few weeks and months the Navy has been less in the limelight. It has been so because, since the famous fight off Montevideo, there has been no fleet action such as that of the Falkland Islands which we remember in the last war. But I was glad to see that both the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, Lord Addison, spoke feelingly of the great work which the Navy is all the time doing, carrying out all those often most tedious and often most dangerous duties the details of which we only hear when some catastrophe has occurred. I was glad also that the Mercantile Marine was specially mentioned, because it surely is not possible to overstate the devotion which the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine give to the service of the country. They undertake a task which it would be altogether impossible to carry on without them.

And it is pleasant to think that the supreme importance of our Navy is so thoroughly recognised across the Atlantic. They may have their differences there about the domestic policy of the United States, but they all agree in saying that it is the British Fleet which helps in the defence of America by keeping command of the Atlantic, and I wish that our French friends would remember that the future existence of the French overseas Empire depends entirely upon that command of the seas by the British Navy. If we had not that command such portions of the French Colonies as were left under nominal French government or adminis-tradition would be mere appanages either of Germany or of Italy, and a considerable part of the present French Empire would be altogether taken away and annexed by the one country or the other. I think, therefore, we have a right to ask our French friends, who naturally feel deeply and keenly the severe measures which we had to take against some of the items of their Fleet, to recall the fact that but for the British Fleet there would be practically nothing left of the French overseas Empire. My Lords, we none of us know what the next few weeks may bring. They may bring trials and possibly losses more severe than any that we have yet had to encounter, but whatever may happen, we shall go on with as firm a faith and with a confidence as unabated as it is to-day.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, we have listened with appreciation to the full statement made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and I feel that in the hearts of everyone there is not the slightest doubt as to our ultimate victory over the Axis Powers of tyranny and brute force. The noble Viscount assured us that speedy provision of every essential equipment for our Fighting Forces was being pressed on with all rapidity, and it is in this connection that I venture to offer a few remarks in the hope that anything which stands in the way of our desire for the speediest possible output will be removed. As we know a short time ago men with a knowledge of engineering were asked to take on work in aeroplane factories, but when they were engaged and went down to the factories they found that for several days there was no work for them to do. Yet they were paid full wages although they were doing no work. There is also a system by which, if they finish work under a specified time, they are given a bonus. Men finish off their work in quick time if they are skilled men and they get the bonus, but the regrettable part is that when they have finished that work there is no other work ready for them to go on with.

I feel that that shows a lack of planning and organisation, and although it may seem a minor point it is one which I think should be looked into. We have the personnel in our Fighting Forces ready and eager to come to grips at any time with the enemy no matter what may be the odds, and all they ask of the Government is to see that they are adequately and sufficiently equipped to carry out their tasks. To my mind, the sooner we take the initiative the better, for many countries rather feel, or are prone to believe, that the audacity of the enemy has mesmerised us. I want them to see that instead of being mesmerised we are galvanised into action by their atrocities here.

The Royal Air Force are leading the way and their initiative and enterprise have given a striking illustration to the world of what can be achieved against tremendous odds. I would like to-day to pay tribute to that great Force and to their magnificent valour and heroism, for which indeed no praise is adequate. And I am sure the very great work of the ground services attached to that Force will not be overlooked, for without it the Force's equipment would not be kept up to the standard it is, allowing our airmen to go out day after day to overcome odds of terrific extent. For that reason I hope that the ground staff will receive the meed of praise to which they are entitled from the Government. The work of the Royal Air Force has terrified the Germans and the "strafing" they have been given in the Ruhr has reduced the workers there to a state of nervous exhaustion. The more we can go on with that kind of work the quicker we shall make the Germans realise that they are going to crack under the strain. I would like to see bombing operations over the big forests of Germany, where munitions dumps are hidden away, where factories are hidden and where there are a great number of stores and equipment of all descriptions. Apart from the damage to morale, to the machinery and to the supplies the Germans have there, it would take tens of thousands of their soldiers to deal with the conflagrations, and transport would be upset to a tremendous extent. For that reason I ask that the provision of supplies should be pushed forward and that no delay should stand in the way of equipping our Forces to a full 100 per cent.

Another matter I would like to mention is in connection with the point raised by the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition when he spoke regarding delays in news of our exploits reaching America and other countries across the seas. It is deplorable to think that all those countries should be flooded with mendacious propaganda from Goebbels and his minions, telling of deeds which possibly never happened for very often the propaganda itself is sent long before an action takes place. We must be ready to counteract these activities so that people abroad will know that England is not down and out as she has been described by Germany but fighting resolutely. They must be made to know that we are fighting for democracy and freedom, that we are gaining all the time, and that victory will assuredly be ours. If that is done it will hearten people all over the world, so that they will not be wondering whether they should support Great Britain in her hour of trial, or ask whether she is going to win, but will have the same feeling as we have in our hearts, that we are bound to win. Right will give us victory over those brutalities that are assailing us to-day. It is on that account that I ask that news should be given to the world as quickly as possible.

If it is impossible for our Censorship to deal with things more quickly, I would ask the Government to give fuller latitude and licence to the Press to disseminate the news throughout the world. The Press have never let this country down and if we put the responsibility on them of putting things fairly and clearly, of not overstating our case but rather of understating it if there is doubt at any time, I feel sure that we shall be better served. For this reason I hope that the Government will give a hearing to the plea that I am putting forward to-day on these two points. I feel sure it will be very helpful to us and helpful to the neutral countries in withstanding the pressure which Germany is putting on them daily, when they believe that we shall win the battles which lie before us.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, since the war began I have not intervened in your Lordships' House in any debate upon policy or upon the technical questions that arise out of the war, and if I intervene to-day it is because I consider that this is a very grave moment, in which, we should take full stock of the situation. I was struck at the time of the declaration of war by the fact that the Government of that day declared that they were fighting against aggression and for the overthrowing of what is described as "Hitlerism." I should like to say emphatically, so as to make my position perfectly clear and to free myself from any suspicion of being what is usually referred to as a "Fifth Columnist," that no one could have detested the Nazi régime more than I did, with its cruel oppression of Jews, Catholics, Lutherans, Socialists and many other sections of German opinion.


And pacifists, too.


And pacifists, too; all those have suffered under this abominable régime. But I believed then—and I do not think wrongly—that there was only one method of getting rid of a Government of that kind, and that was the method that alone could be adopted by the German people themselves. It might take time, but they would do it definitely and finally, as other countries have done it to dictators in the past. Instead of that, the Government took the one course which I foresaw at the time would strengthen Hitler: they declared war on Germany. That gave him the opportunity to rally his fellow-countrymen, to exercise that almost uncanny influence that he has over the minds of the German people, and which was ebbing at the time, and to make them come to the defence of their Fatherland. I did not at the time, however, expect that it would strengthen him so enormously and so quickly.

We are now confronted with a situation which I think requires very careful consideration. Ater the declaration of war came a series of disastrous events. There was what my noble friend Lord Addison has referred to, the failure of the intelligence department, or the failure of our leaders at that time to listen to the intelligence department—we do not know which it was, but that there was a very bad, and indeed crucial, failure is undoubted. There was ignorance of the enemy's strength. There was lack of preparation, and misplaced confidence in forces that those on the spot knew could not be relied upon. There were a great many people on the spot who, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said in making his statement, had suspicions that France might collapse under the strain. The present Prime Minister, however, was not one of them, for on May 10 last he told the country in a broadcast "For myself, I have invincible confidence in the French Army and its leaders" That seems a strangely emphatic statement to make, considering the sequel. Then came the almost miraculous withdrawal from Dunkirk, but for that it was the military who were responsible.

To-day the feeling of confidence which exists throughout this country—and it is very strong everywhere—arises from the wonderful achievement of our Air Force—not only the fighters but the bombers, but the fighters we have close to us and we can watch their expolits. Tributes have been paid to them by previous speakers, and I wish to emphasize still more our admiration. They have shown not only conspicuous courage but masterly skill in tactics, in manœuvring, in daring attack, in unremitting vigilance, and all with an heroic disregard of danger and death. They have been well supported by our antiaircraft defence. There is also the full and traditional reliance upon our Navy, and also upon our Army, now assembled in such large numbers on our shores, ready for all emergencies. But do we throughout the country find the same assured confidence in our political leaders? The answer to that is in the negative. Even in the midst of the storm which we are now in—last night the enemy were bombing, and they will bomb again to-night—when the crew, with very wonderful efficiency, do all that is necessary for the safety of the ship, it is right to make some inquiry whether the Captain knows exactly what port he is making for, and whether the helmsman has proper instructions to take the right course. In the absolutely unprecedented situation in which we find ourselves—that term is used rather frequently nowadays, but the situation is unprecedented—it would be wrong to blame this Government or any other for mistakes, for bungling or for failure in this, that, or the other direction. There have been administrative blunders, and there have been what I will call inanities. Things of that sort are really more properly discussed in what I believe is officially called a "Davies Question," but I think that I may refer to one or two of them, to show that I am not exaggerating.

I think that the two leading figures—I was almost going to say comedians—are the Minister of Home Security and the Minister of Information. I will give one instance only in regard to each. Almost the high-water mark of imbecility was reached when the Minister of Home Security went out and cut off the tops of all the signposts in the country. Does not he know that it is laid down on the first page of the regulations of Military Attachés that their first duty is to get all the maps that they can of the country that they are in? We have very good maps; the enemy have copies of them all. We have maps with all the aerodromes marked on them, and very good maps; they have them all. I remember when I was a boy, and was learning German, I was shown the maps that were used in the war of 1870—little maps a foot square, with every road and footpath marked on them, which were in the possession of every German non-commissioned officer. And yet we think that by taking down our signposts we are going to prevent Germans from going about in this country! That has really caused a very great deal of laughter and a very great deal of inconvenience to those of us who can occasionally go in a car for a few miles.

I must also refer to the Ministry of Information. Last week I heard a voice coming through the hedges where my house is in the country, and I could not make it out. It was like the voice of the men who call out the names of the stations in our various London termini—so loud that you could not hear what was said. I thought it was the prank of some boy and dismissed it from my mind. I found out afterwards that it was the voice of an emissary of the Minister of Information who was sent round in a car and was calling a meeting in the village hall. He did not get his meeting; people were very suspicious about him, and directly he declared he came from the Ministry of Information they thought he was one of those people who belong to what I think is called "the Snooper Department." The result was that everybody shut his door, including the inn, and he had to sleep in his car. I will put down a "Davies Question" about it later—I want to know what he is paid and how many of his kind there are. That sort of thing, which is comedy, multiplied a great deal, does make people feel that there is a sort of carelessness, ignorance, and want of real application to the importance of the policy of the moment that makes them very chary and suspicious as to whether an equal incompetence does not also exist in the higher forms of government.

We never really get to grips with our larger policy. Our aims as they were originally have had to be changed. Aggression is no longer mentioned because of Russia and her exploits in Finland, and because of Japan; we do not want to offend Japan too much—although we may hear more of Japan in the case of Indo-China. Now a rigid return to the status quo before the rise of Hitler cannot be wisely laid down as a war aim, nor can the demands in Eastern Europe which, it must be remembered, were originally pressed forward by the French Government before the war. The series of events, when we look back upon them, does not give us any confidence in this or the former Government. We sighed over Austria, we cried over Czecho-Slovakia, and we lied over Poland by telling the Poles that we would help them, when the latest-joined subaltern knew we could do nothing of the kind. Then it came to Russian agression in Finland: we applauded the Finns, but we could do nothing for them.

I need not go on through the list—for example, the terrible catastrophe in Norway, for which the Fighting Forces were not responsible. The time must come when concessions as well as demands are more likely to lead to a settlement which shall be lasting. If there are to be no concessions but only demands, because the crushing defeat of Germany is solely contemplated in order to safeguard democracy, let us consider for a moment what this must involve. I apologise for taking this critical line and not joining in the general chorus, which is always a little vague, but your Lordships will grant me the indulgence, I know, of allowing me to say what I think is helpful in the long run, rather than concentrating on the successes of the moment, which cannot be attributed to the Government, but can fully be attributed to our Fighting Forces.

I think I am right in saying that air warfare, with all its features of alarm and destruction, cannot by itself achieve a decisive military culmination. The invasion and occupation of our island by a German Army is proving to be an utterly impracticable military objective. If we are going to work for the attrition of Germany through lack of material, through starvation and famine in Europe, by continuing for two or three or more years, it must bring a heavy toll of casualties and suffering and death to many who are by no means our enemies. A war of attrition this time will not be like what it was in 1918, when Germany was isolated; it will be much more difficult of achievement and take very much longer. I do not believe that any high purpose in the long run can be gained by a continuation of the war for that time; and by the end of it shall we have any democracy to defend? We had experience of the knock-out blow in the last war and public opinion still further inflamed will inevitably demand vengeance, vindictive punishment, harsh penal terms, which no Government will be able to resist; and then you will have another war in another few years.

May I submit the proposal I desire to make? Herr Hitler should be asked to declare what his precise objects are. The "appeal to reason" in his last speech which he talks about, accompanied as it was by the usual recriminations and abuse, lacked any sort of precision. Our complete disregard of it has helped him, because he is able to tell his people that he offered terms of peace—which he did not. Now simultaneously we should make a clear, explicit declaration of what our own objects are—not to dominate any peoples, but to free peoples at present dominated, and to help all, including Ger- many, to receive satisfaction for their legitimate national needs by peaceful means, and more especially to relieve all nations from the hideous menace of modern armaments whenever disagreement arises between them.

The first question I am always asked when I plead for this is, What guarantee is there that Hitler's word can be relied on in any agreement which may ever be reached? My reply to that is that, first of all, the alternative—the dictated terms to a defeated Hitler after victory—will most certainly be cast aside as soon as opportunity offers with, not the possibility, but the certainty of future war. His original object, if we interpret it fairly, was the restoration of Germany from the subjection to which the Treaty of Versailles had reduced her. He pursued this ruthlessly with an utter disregard of his own pledges, with methods of unprecedented violence, and with reliance on long-prepared military strength. He found Western Europe ready to thwart him, notably the British Empire. We declared war on him, and his object then became exclusively to defeat us. We have interpreted this as an ambition to achieve the complete hegemony of Germany over Europe. This was natural as the war gained momentum. Herr Hitler may be a powerful and ruthless brigand, but he is not a fool. He is not, as he was once called, "a cornered maniac." That object, if ever entertained by him, would certainly not form part of any declaration he might make. But, more generally speaking, if we mistrust the word of those with whom we wish to deal fairly—indeed whose word, even that of the framers of the Treaty of Versailles, can ever be implicitly trusted?—then we must look forward to a long era of ever-increasing armaments based on suspicion and mistrust, with the certainty of constantly recurring and devastating conflicts not only in Europe but in the world.

I plead that before Turkey is brought into the war and the Balkans are in a blaze, before pressure is brought on Spain to go in with Germany, before the war is extended further in Africa, before further advances of aggression are made by Japan, before famine and starvation spread over the face of Europe, careful stock of the situation ought to be made, not by speeches; and to avoid mutual recriminations, which are always certainly in the German speeches, I would respectfully suggest that these two declarations of aims should be addressed to the President of the United States. I know it is much easier to preach a continuance of war without saying what victory means, what it will cost, and how it will be used. Undefeated as we are, would it not be wiser and higher statesmanship to deal with an enemy also undefeated, and disregarding future prospects which both sides are claiming will be to their eventual advantage, arrange for declarations to the world of the rival claims which, as it is, must be constantly obscured by the widening circle of combat which a continuance of war must bring? I conceive it to be a higher form of patriotism to count the cost, to look into the future, to safeguard our country from a possible ruin it will take generations to repair, rather than urge our people to continue for years this barbarous and yet utterly futile method of attempting to reconstruct an already shattered Europe by means of increased violence. I respectfully submit this to His Majesty's Government and I humbly suggest that it should not be lightly set aside.

5.54 p.m.


My Lords, I hope I shall be quite short in what I have to say as the hour is getting somewhat late, but I am bound to say that if I was not a complete optimist in regard to the result of this war—and perhaps much sooner than a great many people think—having listened to the speech of the noble Lord opposite, I should have left this Chamber weeping bitterly. With regard to confidence in the Government, I have complete confidence in the Government. Of course, they are criticised. A good many of the criticisms are like the criticisms one used to hear in the Army in the last war. I remember, as one rose in military rank from the humble second lieutenant, that the second lieutenant criticised the company commander, the company commander criticised the orderly room, the battalion criticised the brigade, the brigade criticised the division, and so on right on to G.H.Q., because of something we really did not understand and because we had not the knowledge to judge the situation. It was generally because the enemy had done some particular thing about which we in a humble walk of life did not know sufficient. With regard to map-reading, to which the noble Lord referred, I am wondering whether it does not make it very difficult for these Germans who are dropped from aeroplanes into a completely strange new country, to go where they are told, when they arrive at one of our crossroads—and country crossroads look very much like one another—and see no name on it. Inconvenient as it is to some of us in getting about the country a little, as we do, I feel it was wise to remove these landmarks.

With regard to the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, to planning for after the war, I feel we have got to be very careful about this. I do not believe that the ordinary men and women in Europe to-day who are suffering from privation and terrible distress are worried about what form of government they are going to have or what frontiers are going to be like after the war. I feel all that must be put aside for the time being. Let us get on with winning the war and trying to relieve the sufferings of Europe.

Now I come to the Motion that perhaps your Lordships have noticed I placed on the Paper in regard to the probability of famine in Europe in the coming months. I was very glad to hear the very able speech made by my noble friend the Leader of the House. I was particularly glad to hear how strongly he emphasized that on no account whatever should we assist in importing foodstuffs into the countries dominated by Germany until Germany had evacuated these countries and all German control had gone from them. I was anxious in my Motion that our answer should not be an entirely negative one to the appeal that one saw boiling up all over the world and in this country. I wanted us to say "Yes, we will assist, we are anxious to assist and help these poor people, but we can only do it when there is no chance of benefiting the enemy and thereby prolonging the war." In view of what has been said, I am completely reassured as to the future in this respect. I feel that the Government could not have done more in the direction I was so anxious about. We know perfectly well the dishonesty of the present rulers of Germany. We had an instance in 1915, your Lordships will remember, when von Bissing tried to interfere with the supplies in Belgium, and it was only when Sir Edward Grey refused to continue the importation of food that the Germans behaved themselves in this respect.

I want to say this in conclusion, that I hope everything will be done at all times to impress Europe in every possible way, and particularly those people who are under the heel of Germany now, with the fact that we did not go into this war except really to help them. To go back to what the noble Lord who spoke last said with regard to Finland, Poland and other countries, for some time before war began it became an absolute certainty that sooner or later someone had got to stop Hitler in his headlong career to ruin the whole world. I do hope that we shall say that we had to stop that and intend to stop it, and also that our one desire is to relieve the sufferings of those who are under the heel of Hitler to-day. I trust that we shall go forward united behind the Government and behind Ministers in whom we have complete confidence to that victory which I am sure in my heart must come sooner than some think, because right in the end always comes to the top.

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I want to say a brief word in support of the plea for a fuller definition of our war aims. My noble friend Lord Addison has alluded to it to-day, and he was voicing an opinion which is widespread. You find it expressed daily in the correspondence columns of The Times and by other papers, and it is growing. Therefore I trust that we may hear from the Foreign Secretary something to encourage the hope that we are soon to see some further definition. The demand is often combined with a plea for co-operation with the Dominions and also with America in elaborating proposals. The public has been told again and again that we are determined to resist Hitlerism. As my noble friend said just now, there is a certain nebulousness about that phrase which hardly appeals adequately to the neutral mind. When we are reminded of the obvious fact that we are fighting for freedom, while that is good rhetoric it is hardly definition. Can we not expose the hollowness of Hitler's claim to have made a peace proposal by countering it with some clear proposals of our own?

Hitler has succeeded with the aid of Goebbels in creating the impression that he has a plan for Europe which will mean greater prosperity. We surely ought to seize the initiative and strike the imagination of neutral countries by stating democracy's answer to that claim. Otherwise the destitution that we have just heard alluded to, the destitution and famine which must come upon large parts of Europe, will damage our prestige and serve the purpose of Hitler. Hitler speaks as unconquered, but it is we who can make the claim provided that our aims are understood. We are undefeated, our power has not been tested, our resources are growing, the aid of America is increasing, and a statement from us would not savour in the smallest degree of a concession to Hitler or a response called for by his recent claims. A statement could come from us with complete dignity. One obstacle to such a statement has been removed. We began the war by an attempt to state our aims, to urge the German people to throw Hitler over because of the nature of those claims; but French policy was not quite in line with ours, and we did not push the plan, which began with the dropping of leaflets on Germany, with vigour. But now we are free to act and we ought to renew that attempt.

After all, if Hitlerism is to be defeated it must be in the minds of the German people that we have a victory to win. The German can hardly be impressed by reiteration of the righteousness of our cause or by vague allusions to a free Europe. Something harder and more solid is required. Hitler said the other day that war to the bitter end must lead to the annihilation of one side or the other. It is up to us surely to repudiate the statement that victory on our side would be annihilation of Germany. The programme of the Labour Party is particularly explicit on that point. But in order to make a durable peace it is not enough to win the war, we must plan the kind of world that we hope will follow, otherwise, as someone unkindly said, we shall get another Versailles and be betrayed by the politicians. As my noble friend Lord Addison said, the Government are not asked to declare in detail the post-war world whose form we cannot foresee, but to state the principles on which the war could end and a durable peace be founded. We might by that means encourage the resistance of potential Allies. We should make clear that nobody is asked to fight to preserve the old order exactly as it was. The present world is rather left to assume that our aim is the restoration of the old order as it was before Hitler. Something more constructive ought to be proclaimed as our objective. To define our conception of a settlement and a post-war reconstruction might even encourage revolt in the conquered countries and in Germany itself.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I do not rise with any intention of detaining the House for more than a few minutes, and I do not propose to enter into the wide considerations that have just been adverted to by my noble friend who has just spoken and by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, but only to refer to two specific points. The first relates to the declaration made by the Government to-day—an important declaration—with regard to the blockade of the occupied territories in Europe, to which my noble friend Lord Teviot addressed himself a few moments ago. The statement that has been made on behalf of His Majesty's Government today is one which deserves, and no doubt will receive everywhere, full attention. The noble Viscount stated that His Majesty's Government were perfectly prepared at any moment to allow ample supplies of foodstuffs to enter any territory from which the Germans would withdraw their troops and to which they would grant full liberty of action. Whether such a withdrawal is probable is another matter, but the important point is that the decision rests with Herr Hitler. At some later stage indeed the decision whether the German troops shall withdraw from these territories may rest with us, but at present it is with the Germans. Clearly the responsibility for the decision to be taken must be with those who have invaded those territories. It is not we who crossed their frontiers, who attacked their lands and overran their countries. It is not we who have carried off their butter and other supplies of foodstuffs. If the German troops remain and the conse- quence is shortage and even privation for these populations, the onus and responsibility rest fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of the invaders.

The other matter to which I would address myself is the relation between the British Commonwealth and the United States with regard to which there have been most important developments within the last few days. Indeed those developments to my mind are far the most momentous of any happenings recently in the political sphere with regard to the war. Looking to the future it is clear that the friendships, the good will, the co-operation between the British Commonwealth and the United States are the most momentous matters of all. Now we have been told that Canada and the United States of America are forming a Joint Defence Board. That surely is an historical event of the greatest importance. Although one is a belligerent and the other is a neutral, in the defence of America they are both at one and both are willing and are able closely to co-operate. The second event of which we have been informed by the Government statement to-day is that negotiations are proceeding for the conferment upon the United States of rights to naval and air bases in British territories in the Western Hemisphere. Those territories came to us as possessions through the course of history long before the Monroe doctrine was formulated. We recognise the value of that doctrine, we cordially accept it, and we should be very ready to grant these bases to the United States if only because to do so will enable her to enforce more efficiently the provisions of that doctrine.

If the whole of the Western Hemisphere is now at peace while all other Continents are engaged in war, if from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn the whole Western Hemisphere north and south still enjoys the blessings of peace, undoubtedly that fact is mainly due to the strong protective hand of the United States. Therefore I for one, and I am sure your Lordships generally, rejoice at the action that is now being taken by His Majesty's Government to grant voluntarily and readily, without any pressure from others, these naval and air bases. I trust that it will be done without niggling or haggling and that when it is done it will be most cordially approved by the public opinion of this country.

6.16 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only to ask a single question which I hope the noble Viscount when he replies may feel it possible to answer. Throughout the course of our military history, it has been the habit that, from time to time, whilst the campaign is in progress and still more when the campaign is concluded, the Commander-in-Chief shall write Despatches and make reports to the Government of the day and for the Government of the day to issue those Despatches for the information of the public. In the last war, beginning as it did on August 4, by September 19, Sir John French, as he then was, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, had made his first Despatch and it was shortly afterwards issued. Viscount Gort was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in the present war on September 4, the day after the war opened. The battle of France was concluded in the middle of June, two months ago. From the beginning of the war to this day, as far as I am aware, no Despatch has been made by Viscount Gort, certainly none has been issued to the public. For the information of the troops who took part in that campaign and for the information of the public at large, it is manifestly desirable, as I would submit to your Lordships, that there should be a clear, detailed, authoritative statement made as regards the campaign from its first day to its last by the man who, beyond all men, and perhaps alone of all men, is in a position to make that report. It is a report to which the British public is entitled.

I can well understand that there may be difficulties of a strategic or a tactical, or a political order for withholding publication of a report in the course of a campaign. For that reason I do not suggest on this occasion that a request should be made for the publication of any Despatches from Sir Archibald Wavell, since the campaign in the Middle East is in full swing; but there can be no strategic or tactical reasons for withholding a detailed Despatch from the late Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force relating to a campaign which for two months has been completely ended. There is, I venture to think, a certain element of anxiety in the public mind to be informed as to the details of that campaign from the time the British Expeditionary Force was ordered to France to the moment of the completion of the evacuation. I hope that the noble Viscount, in his statement at the close of this debate, will find it possible to say something on this point. After all, it would be in line with the tradition and military history of this country to ensure that there should be Despatches readily available to the public at the earliest moment compatible with the political and strategic position.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Viscount winds up I should like to put a question to him with reference to the most important matter which the noble Viscount the Leader of the House mentioned to your Lordships—namely, the offer to the United States in certain circumstances of the use of certain bases. I think that that, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has said, is a very momentous event, and I think that certain further details might be given to us, if that is at all possible. I do not know what form the negotiations are taking, and, if it is not convenient for the noble Viscount to reply, we shall quite understand. I want to ask first of all whether this arrangement refers only to bases in the Atlantic. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House referred to "bases in the West." Does that leave out our naval bases, which are very valuable and important—particularly Singapore—in the Pacific? Secondly, what is the form of the lease? I understand that the sovereignty is not to be affected; but, for example, would the leasing Power have the right to extend a base and to increase the fortifications? On behalf of my noble friends—and I have had the opportunity of discussing this with my noble friend Lord Addison—I should like to say that we welcome the proposals whole-heartedly, and we hope that they will be entered into without undue delay, if that is the desire of the two Governments concerned. I hope that I may be forgiven for appearing to press this point, but this is the last opportunity which we shall have for about a fortnight of questioning the Government, and events are moving very fast.

I should like to conclude these brief remarks by this observation. In the last week we have had two tremendous events, and I do not think that all of us have yet appreciated their great significance and importance. The first is the series of widespread air engagements over the soil and neighbouring waters of this country. I believe that it is not too early to say that these have already had a vital effect upon the future course of the campaign, and I know for a fact that they have had a far greater effect in foreign countries than all the propaganda of Dr. Goebbels for the last two or three years. I agree with what my noble friends Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and Lord Addison have said about our propaganda; I have said the same thing many times—perhaps much too often—in your Lordships' House. The propaganda which counts, however, in the end is facts and victories; and the victories that have been won over our soil and over our coastal waters are of the utmost importance. Incidentally, I do hope that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby was not speaking literally when he talked about watching the fighter aeroplane battles. I hope that he is not going to do that; it is a most dangerous thing to do, and I should not like anything untoward to happen to him. I hope, therefore, that he will set us a better example than that.

The other great event—and I must say this, because this is also a question of facts and propaganda—is the evacuation of Somaliland, which has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Addison. I have some small knowledge of that part of the world, and I do assure your Lordships that for my noble friend Lord Crewe to belittle the importance of the territory is a mistake, because that is not the main feature of the disaster—and our having to leave Somaliland is a disaster. There are 350,000 people there who were under our protection and who are now at the mercy of the tribes who are supporting the Italians, with all that that means. Our forced withdrawal—I do not propose now to criticise the strategy of it, although I could do so—from British Somaliland in the face of only two Italian divisions, with all the wealth of Indian man-power a few days steaming-distance away, will most adversely affect our propaganda in the whole of Africa. Make no mistake about it: the tale of these things travels through the villages and the market places at an incredible rate, and loses nothing in the telling. It is a terrible thing from the point of view of our prestige there. The loss of Berbera, which is a good harbour, is bad enough; but this withdrawal will have a bad effect among our friends and among those who look to us for protection throughout Africa.

I say that not only to deplore the matter but to ask for a reversal of policy. We must take the offensive elsewhere in Africa. Do let us take this African campaign with the greatest seriousness. This is not the time to go into the strategy of the Eastern war; but, just as we have been so successful in the last week over our own country, so we have had a beginning in the recent Fleet action of Admiral Cunningham in bombarding the Italian port in Libya. That is what all those who know Admiral Cunningham would expect; he is a brilliant commander, and the operation has been well conducted. That kind of thing must be repeated and repeated quickly, to repair the effect of this unfortunate evacuation of British Somaliland.

6.26 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps before turning to the general issues raised by the debate I may answer one or two specific questions that were put towards the close of it. First of all there was a question by the noble Lord opposite, who raised the matter of the publication of the full Despatches of the Commander-in-Chief of the late Expeditionary Force, Lord Gort. I understand that Lord Gort has been preparing those Despatches. Whether they are completed or not I do not know, but I have no doubt that it would be the wish of those responsible that they should be published at the earliest possible moment, and I shall, of course, convey the noble Lord's request to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War.

Then the noble Lord who spoke last asked me a specific question arising out of what had been said—and what I was glad to notice had been received with general approval, as His Majesty's Government expected—in the matter of the arrangements made with the Government of the United States of America in regard to the lease of several potential naval and air bases. The noble Lord is right in thinking that the arrangements made are confined to the Atlantic—to various points in the West Indies and also in Newfoundland. The leases are for ninety-nine years. All the details that will arise are to be settled in the course of discussions between the two Governments, which have not yet, in regard to details, begun. We have agreed in principle, and I am satisfied that no great difficulty will arise in the discussion of details as soon as that can be undertaken.

The noble Lord who opened the debate made a speech in which, as was quite proper, he was at certain points critical; but he was, if he will allow me to say so, uniformly helpful and constructive throughout. He was at pains to remind us that in this, as in all human affairs, things are nearly always capable of improvement, and he preached on that text in a form that appealed not only to me but to all my noble friends who were then beside me on this Bench. I shall see that his counsel—and on many of the matters on which he spoke no one can speak with greater authority—is conveyed to the Departments concerned. The particular points that he mentioned, and on which perhaps I shall have to say another word in a moment or two, were intelligence and also the planning department, so far as it Concerns military planning and also—I think that lie had this in mind—supply. In that he was supported by my noble friend behind me, Lord Marchwood. Lastly he had much to say about propaganda.

Well, I do not think, with all respect to those who have criticised the Intelligence Service, or the Government for their use of the Intelligence Service, that any Intelligence Service in the world could have foreseen with certainty the collapse of France, due to a quite unexpected military development and disaster. Indeed, I would certainly say, as partly responsible for one side of the Intelligence Service, that if any criticism is to be made it should not be made of the Intelligence Service but of His Majesty's Government for their use of it. But I do not honestly believe that either the Intelligence Service, or in this matter the Government, are open to reproach, It is never possible to be sure that you have the best intelligence, for the reason that out of a series of sharply contradictory reports that are coming in, with equal authority from equally reliable resources, it is never possible to be one hundred per cent. Certain that one or other is to be the sole basis of plans you make. But I can assure the noble Lord that we are constantly trying to improve our administration and our machine, in that as in all other respects.

He made a reference in connection with propaganda—of which of course he is abundantly right to emphasize the importance in a war that is so largely being fought on propaganda—to the complaint that was made by representatives of the Press a night or two ago in regard to the release—or rather, as they complain, the non-release—of news concerning the air fighting. I understand that on that occasion there was some misunderstanding that is not likely to occur again, and that in consequence of action taken, the news of the raids on Sunday went through with great rapidity and I think great smoothness. I can only assure the noble Lord that those responsible are fully alive to the importance of that side of our work, and I hope that I shall not be belied if I give him an assurance, so far as I can, that that will not occur again.

It is quite natural, and quite right, that when we try, as we are doing to-night, to take stock of the war after twelve months of it, there should be considerable interest in all our minds as to what is likely to be its future on the military side, and a desire to know how far the Government are planning wisely to take advantage of any military development that may be possible. I can assure the noble Lord who spoke last that no one feels more keenly than I do how entirely diplomacy depends upon actual facts in the military field. Of course, no one in this House would expect, or think it right to expect, the Government to lay before it their military plans. Obviously the main lines of them must be sufficiently plain to all. We must do our utmost on the defensive side to defend all strategic points and centres that are vital to our effort, and on the offensive side we must do our best to attack whenever and wherever it can cause the maximum of damage to our enemies; and I note in that regard the general approval that greeted the noble Lord's expression of view as to the desirability of giving all the blows that can be given to the latest entrant into the war, Italy. That comes down, I think, to the importance of making our position as strong as possible in the Mediterranean, and of making our position and keeping our position as strong as possible on the trade routes on which our trade and the trade of our Dominions depend. With that must go at the present stage the fullest possible employment of our air power against Germany and against Italy. And all that must be associated with that steady pressure in the economic field that has secured, I think, general approbation from those of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate this afternoon.

It is perhaps worth mentioning in this connexion that in regard to the new blockade of our coast that Herr Hitler has declared, I am not aware that that adds anything startlingly new to the shipping situation. Our ships will still enter and will still leave our ports under the protection of His Majesty's Navy and of the Air Force, just as they have entered and left in their thousands since the beginning of the war. And it is not uninteresting to observe that the amount of shipping arriving in and leaving this country with cargoes is still to-day at the level at which it was in the months immediately preceding the recent intensification of attacks upon it. Of course, it is quite obviously true that since the collapse of France the enemy has been in a very much more favourable strategic position for attacking us—he has aerodromes and harbours on the flank of the shipping routes. And yet the fact remains that during the week ending August 11, when the full fierce aerial attack was going on, our losses in ships were less than the average weekly loss of the period before the French defection.

The conclusion therefore that I think we may legitimately draw is that if the enemy has improved his strategical situation the British Admiralty and others concerned with our defence have not been idle in improving our counter-defences. Our strength in protecting craft and in protecting aircraft is growing day by day and, what is perhaps in some ways of even greater importance, or as great, our scientists and our factories are every day developing and producing new weapons to meet new menaces, and there I think one may find some solid ground for reassurance.

Much has been said, quite rightly said, about the air, and I was glad to hear the noble Marquess and others pay their tribute to bombers as well as to fighters, and also, as always, to His Majesty's Navy. We must do our utmost to concentrate our strength at vital points. Whilst saying that, I do not quarrel for a moment with what the noble Lord who spoke last said as to the great political misfortune of the withdrawal from Somaliland. I do not think it is of any serious military importance, but it is of serious political importance, of course, for the reasons he gave. But, there again, I do not think the noble Lord who began must pray that in aid of his charge of lack of intelligence, because it really is the case, as stated in the announcement made on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the Press this morning, that there were three alternatives between which they had to choose. They deliberately chose this one, with their eyes open, being determined that if the Italian attack developed in greater force than we could hold, we were not prepared, for obvious reasons of military strategy, to dissipate our energy by sending reinforcements to meet it, and therefore evacuation, with all its disadvantages, would be the only course. As my noble friend who opened the debate made plain, that situation has been a direct consequence of the collapse of French resistance

It is of great symbolic significance that in this general struggle that is going on, and of which we are nearing the end of the first year, in this general struggle of free peoples in various elements, in various spheres, all the peoples who are fighting alongside with us are taking their part with great valour. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians, and French—they are all co-operating, and all bringing new honour to their names. All the time there is also a steady flow of men and material coming across the seas from the Dominions, and last, but by no means least, that assistance from the United States, to which reference has been made, and which is warmly appreciated in every part of the House and outside. One is entitled to say, after this year of war, that while this country is certainly in no danger of under-estimating the task that lies in front of it, it is entitled to regard it with sober confidence—and that based largely on the splendid spirit to which the noble Lord opposite referred, firm, united, resolute, of our people and of those concerned with them.

If anyone had told us, twelve months ago, of what were going to be the events of the first twelve months of the war, it is not difficult to imagine with what feelings we should have heard the full story unfolded in advance. We have watched this long procession of victims of German violence and domination, and if we had been able to see all that in panorama twelve months ago, I do not find it difficult to picture what would have been the feelings of us all. It is a curious contrast between what we suppose should have been our feelings in those circumstances and what, in fact, are our feelings. As I interpret it, the British people have been through a most strange reversal of feeling in the last few weeks. When the French collapsed there was, first of all, as was to be expected, a realisation of the tremendous strain of having to take the full burden of German attack. Since then, that seems to me to have been followed by a queer sense of buoyancy, almost a sense of exultation, born perhaps of an odd mixture of pride and humility that we had been mace responsible for this great task in the world.

The country owes a great deal to my noble friend the Minister for Aircraft Production and to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Air and his technical advisers for the production and administration of this great fighting machine in the air. We also owe much, let us not forget, to those of your Lordships' House who have had distinguished parts to play in the past in building up this great machine. But however great be our debt on that side of it, those to whom we owe it would be the first, I know, to feel how wholly their efforts have depended on those who have fought this machine in battle. I do not think there ever has been a more arresting reflection in the whole course of history than the thought that, humanly speaking, as far as one can judge, the fate of our civilisation and of everything that goes with it depends on some thousands of young air pilots, their average age, perhaps, twenty-three—I do not know—whose courage and skill are saving the world and earning the world's admiration.

It is an amazing reflection, and the feeling that we are on our own has brought to our people a great sense of solidarity, of comradeship, of neighbourliness—call it what you will. If we can only keep that, it is going to affect very profoundly our treatment of many of our domestic problems, as and when they arise. It is not only abroad that this war is going to make a new world, and it will be the duty, I hope, and the opportunity of Great Britain to show, as she has often shown before, that reform can be accomplished without revolution. Of one thing especially this war will have reminded us all, and that is the absolute correlation of rights and duties. Neither from the obligations nor from the advantages of that relation ought any citizen, of whatever class, to be exempt. One day it will be the work of those who will guide the destinies of this country to translate that into the practical terms of daily life.

That leads me just to say a few words about what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Buxton—and the noble Lord, Lord Addison, also referred to it in his speech—namely, the desire, as they see it, of many people that we should endeavour to give more precise and early definition of our picture of the new world in contradistinction to the picture that Hitler has drawn or, may be, will draw of it. This is not the time, nor am I the person, to do that now; but I will say this. I suppose that it will more and more clearly be recognised in many nations how great is the necessity of closer unity of policy and action between the nations who share the same ideals, and who appreciate that the only way in which these ideals can be realised is by preserving the peace of Europe and the peace of the world. Many of us, no doubt, even think—and with reason—that it is just there that the British Empire may have a good deal to teach. The British Empire has shown that independence is not incompatible with unity of purpose and unity of policy. It has shown that freedom can be enjoyed in close co-operation with other political units like-minded with our own, and it has also shown that independent units can combine for common defence and make common contribution to com- mon defence. Now how has all that been done? Some people would say that it has been done because we were, broadly, of the same race, or had the same history or traditions. All that is true, but it never seems to be the whole of the truth, and I believe that as important as any of those things may come to be the holding together of common values. It has always to be remembered that the British Empire has been built up largely in defiance of geography, and it may well be with geography as your ally you may be able to reproduce something of the same community of action in another sphere, and what we have been able to do it may not be beyond the power of others to do also.

But, my Lords, I do venture to repeat what has been said before, and that is that the first immediate business is to win the war, and that this war, as was most truly said by the noble Lord opposite, is not only being fought with armed forces but also with every subtle engine of suggestion and mendacity and propaganda, truly so-called, and with every device that the ingenuity of man can find. And in that connection I think it is legitimate to find considerable encouragement in the wholly disproportionate speed at which German mendacity grows. During the last few weeks those who have followed these things carefully tell me that the progress in this direction has been quite phenomenal. You read, if you follow it, of towns in England being wiped out, of a general picture of the population of London crouching in cellars and starving for crusts of bread, to say nothing of the figures which we read day by day. And of course, the German Navy has sunk far more ships than the British Navy ever possessed! That I find most encouraging.


Is this for internal or external use?


I think for both, because the German people will find out sooner or later that it is not true, and the outside public are finding it out already. Although our news may be slow—some-times is, I believe—it is always true, and I find a growing feeling coming back to me in the Foreign Office from neutral countries that, although they find plenty of fault with our propaganda, they do think on the whole we tell them the truth, and the truth is making them at least come to believe that Germany is not invincible. That is a great truth to get into the world's head, and if that can be established we shall have got somewhere.

That leads me to end with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who made a most typical speech with his usual courage and disregard of everybody's opinion but his own, in which of course he is perfectly right. He would perhaps allow me to say that his reading of the history of the last few years and of the action of this or of any other Government in regard to it, was not such as to encourage me to take with complete confidence his predictions as to the future. It is of course perfectly true—and we are all at one in this—that no one wants a day of unnecessary war. It is also quite true, as we have said over and over again, that there is no one in this country who wishes to destroy Germany or to deprive Germany of her legitimate place in Europe. But there is equally no one here—and I think the noble Lord himself would be with me in this matter—who is not determined that Germany shall not destroy our freedom or the freedom of Europe, and she must be ready to admit the full right of other nations to live in peace and be free to live in peace. Then the noble Lord condemned us, condemned the country, for strengthening Hitler by going to war and by making him, as it were, the rallying point of great national sentiment. Does it not present itself to the noble Lord how much more profoundly it would strengthen Hitler if he were to follow a course of action that enabled him to go back to his people and say: "At comparatively little cost I have established something like a domination over Europe"? Then, indeed, you would be riveting the yoke of a man and a system, as I see it, indefinitely upon Europe, with a very great chance of riveting it on this country as well.

The truth, I think, is that when the noble Lord contrasts the horrors of war with the blessings of peace he is making a wholly unreal contrast, the elements of which simply do not exist to-day. I have seen not the smallest shadow of evidence as yet that the rulers of Germany are ready for such a settlement as I should wish to see, and as I believe the noble Lord opposite would wish to see. I do not believe, it is not human nature to suppose, that at the present time they are ready for anything, flushed as they are with victories, that would not be peace on their own terms, unless it were an uneasy armistice in which to prepare to resume the struggle against the only forces that have stood in their way to complete world domination. I cannot doubt that whatever the cost it is the duty, as it is also the desire, of this country to continue the war until the rulers of Germany are ready for such a settlement as can alone give peace to Europe, and we have no doubt of our ability to convince them of it.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at one minute before seven o'clock.