HL Deb 19 March 1940 vol 115 cc909-64

4.4 p.m.

LORD SNELL rose to ask His Majesty's Government if they had any statement to make on the international situation; and to move for Papers. The; noble Lord said: My Lords, I understand that His Majesty's Government, not finding it convenient to present to Parliament a statement on current international affairs, prefer to listen in silence, with all the patience that they can command, to the uninformed criticism of those who may speak, and then to bomb them with facts which they have secretly prepared for that service. The change in practice, whilst not helpful to the Oppositions, and perhaps not really convenient to the House, is not so disturbing as may at first be imagined; for these periodical statements are usually confined to incidents of the war, none of them of course unimportant, but frequently leaving us uninformed concerning the general situation and the general outlook. On such occasions we have to comment from that twilight of knowledge which His Majesty's Government impose so successfully on Parliament. But to-day we have to venture forth in a complete black-out of information, knowing all the time that those who sit on the Front Ministerial Bench and therefore dwell in the Land of Goshen, where there is no darkness, have us at a considerable disadvantage.

But I have put this Motion on the Order Paper because it seemed advisable that before Parliament rose for the Easter vacation we should endeavour to extract from the Government whatever information they might be willing to give to Parliament; also to enable noble Lords to make such criticisms as they might think expedient and necessary. This is rendered inevitable because of the disinclination of the Government to concede a Private Session, where much that we might wish to ask and which could be answered could have been put forth. But we now have to take the risk of either suppressing much that we wanted to say or of damaging the public morale, or even giving comfort to the King's enemies. The thing chiefly in our minds to-day, I suggest, is that for nearly seven months the war has now been going on, and we may be on the very eve of terrible events—events which must of necessity cause general anxiety. The nation has been, as I believe, most patient during the whole of that period. No people at war ever remained so imperturbable as our own people have been. Their calm resolve, their uncomplaining sacrifices, their rejection of crude racial hatred and passion have revealed our nation at its very best, and have given, to me at least, both comfort, strength and confidence. Now this superb morale of our people must be pre served at all costs, and though I believe that it is at present undisturbed, it is also not invulnerable. Sometimes the grim incidents of war themselves provide the motive for cohesion, but seven months of waiting make a greater demand upon a people's character.

The morale of a people is sustained by knowledge and by a proper interpretation of that knowledge. And the first criticism that I have to make upon the general conduct of the war by the Government is that that knowledge has not been forthcoming, except to those who may search diligently, nor has it been properly presented, and constantly presented, by the Government to the nation. Our propaganda, even propaganda to our own people, has been, as I believe, hopelessly inadequate to the demands of this time, whilst abroad it has been both smothered and outpaced. The German Government have succeeded in satiating and perverting the minds of the German people. They spend prodigious sums in making their point of view dominant both at home and throughout the world, and their propaganda appears to be conducted by people who know the job they have to do. It is true we have a Ministry of Information. It must be doing something, but we are not informed what it is doing. We do not know the nature of its activities. We are not allowed to see those verbal inspirations that fall so lightly in the shape of leaflets upon the German people; but we do know that it is being run by people of very small experience in the art of propaganda, and that they never consult those who have had a good deal of experience in that respect.

I call the attention of your Lordships to a fact illustrating that assertion. Whatever opinion you may have about the Labour Party—and I am not concerned with what that opinion may be—that Party has been built up in my lifetime by the art of propaganda. When the whole Press of the country and the whole of the social influences of the country were against it, we were, by propaganda, able to build up a great Party. We know something about the art of propaganda, and yet I have never heard of anybody connected with the Labour Party who has been consulted in regard to propaganda in this great national emergency. We do know that the Ministry of Information is stuffed full of gilt-edged inexperience, and that is about as far as we have acknowledge concerning it.

The second point of criticism is only about half a criticism and probably more than half a question. It relates to recent incidents at Scapa Flow, as illustrating what I have just said in regard to propaganda. Certain things happened in that area concerning which our nation has a sort of passing interest. In two hours the facts, or what are stated to be the facts, are known in Germany and published to the world. In three hours they are known all over the United States of America, but in nine hours the English people are informed, in a passing sort of way, that these things have happened. First of all I think our people are worthy of better treatment than that. This slothful method which compels us to accept our information from outside and, possibly, tainted sources is not helpful to the general conduct of the war. Another matter I would like to emphasize regarding these incidents is that as far as I understand them—and I speak with all the humility of a layman—the results of that encounter do not seem to have been thrilling in their success. We have to record that, for the first time, a civilian has lost his life in one of these raids. That constitutes a new factor, and I do not know whether the noble Lord, the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defence, has any information as to what happened at Scapa Flow that he could communicate usefully to your Lordships.

The nation as a whole is, I believe, greatly concerned about the general organisation of our war effort. It is getting into the way of believing that there is far too little co-ordination between Departments, that a great deal of our productive energy is impeded, that things are not going as well as they would wish to see them in regard to the building of ships, the production of certain types of aircraft, guns, and other weapons of offence and defence.


Merchant ships.


I am speaking chiefly of merchant ships. I want to speak with all the restraint I can on this issue because I know how very difficult a task the Government have got, how anxious each individual in the Government must be to make a success of the work which he has in his charge; but at the same time I have never known members of the Government to have much consideration for our difficulties when they occur, and I must not let my natural good feeling for them hide whatever I feel it right on this occasion to say. I believe that His Majesty's Government have shown little aptitude for the great business of carrying on this war and bringing it to a quick and satisfactory conclusion. Yet the Government have had everything in their favour. They have had a co-operative Parliament which has caused them no trouble at all. They have had a contented and consenting people, and yet the people are growing dissatisfied because, as I believe, sufficient information is not being given to them. That growing dissatisfaction must be dealt with, or one of these days the Government will be faced with unpleasant results.

From these general considerations I pass quickly to say a word or two about Finland. Again, I have to speak as a layman, without knowledge of the facts, but it does look to me as though we have suffered both a diplomatic and strategic setback, the importance of which we cannot at present measure. I say, very humbly, that I do not know personally what should have been done, but the Government apparently did know and, knowing what was necessary, did not do it, or at least did not do it in time. They were late in starting, and whatever they provided, so far as we know, in great part never arrived at its destination. I understand that the Government may give us some information on that matter later, but I speak in the absence of that knowledge, and I can foresee the easy victory that the Government will have over my ignorance on this matter. I find myself repeating the old adage respecting this, that you cannot saddle a horse to-day and ride it to-morrow. You have got to proceed with all speed directly you begin upon your job.

So far as Russia is concerned, I want to say that I personally am not suggesting, and never have suggested, that the Government should have gone to war with Russia. Abraham Lincoln's wise words in a similar difficulty have always been good enough for me—"One war at a time, gentlemen, is sufficient." But I think the situation has had ugly aspects, and I am not sure that it could not have been better handled. I am concerned on this point in asking the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he can help us with information in regard to the future. It still seems to me advisable that we should endeavour to build up friendly relationships with the Russian people, and, if there is some hesitation about that in the minds of noble Lords opposite, I draw their attention to the fact that they did not hesitate to urge co-operation with Spain, Japan and Italy, all of which provided some reason, at least, for question. I should like to know whether trade discussions are going on with Russia, and, if not, whether an attempt will be made to stimulate such discussions. I think that if Russia has oil to sell, she might be just as much attracted by our money as money that comes from the German Reich.

I do not know if the noble Viscount can tell us anything about the situation in the Balkans, but if he is able to do so, we shall be grateful for what information he can give us. I think it would be improper of me to ask to-day for any specific information about events that have been happening in the Brenner Pass during the last one or two days. His Majesty's Government may not have any information on that, and I can only say that if they have any information that they can give us we shall be grateful, but I hope that the Government are prepared to meet the issues both of peace and of war that may arise. Again, it is probably not proper for us to ask His Majesty's Government whether they have anything to state about the visit of Mr. Sumner Welles, a visit which was welcome to all of us. Here, again, we should be glad of any information that could be given.

The only other matter I will speak upon is that of our peace aims. I believe that we have said far too little about our peace aims, that there is need for constant reassertion of what we stand for and what we want. I am not complaining of what the Prime Minister has said. My complaint is that they are stated once and that is thought to be sufficient. I believe that the situation requires that they should be constantly reasserted. The German Government do their best to prevent our views reaching the German people. There is no home-grown truth in Germany, and it does not import any, but my information, for what it is worth, is that there has been a deterioration in regard to the German people so far as we are concerned during the past three months. Three months ago the German people were divided about the war. Since then they have been lied into unity. They honestly believe, because they are told so over and over again, that it is our purpose to destroy their country. There must be ways of reaching the German people to assure them that that is not in the least in our minds and that nobody in this country desires it. I do not know how that work can be done, but I believe that the Labour Party may have to take the job out of the hands of the Government and do it itself. After all, we have some associations with other lands, and we have craft unions in this country who have their fellow-workers in the same industries in Germany and elsewhere, and it may be that the miner speaking to the miner of Germany, the railwayman speaking to the railwayman of Germany and the engineer doing likewise and so on, assuring the German workmen that we do not want to interfere with the internal working of their Government or to destroy their position as a nation, might have some influence, might get behind the German propaganda that is going on.

Speaking for myself, I at least do not want to dictate to the German people what form of government they shall have, but we do want a Government in Germany to ensure that when a pledge is given it shall not be a mere time-serving pretence, and that when an engagement is made it shall not be just a temporary convenience for the Government. We do want that the wrongs of small nations shall be redressed, and we also want from Germany a recognition that she has no sovereignty above the moral law which should govern all nations. My own interpretation of these issues is that whenever Germany is willing to recognise these things she can have peace and, with peace, the renewed respect of mankind. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, a week ago the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, made to this House a brief statement on Finland, and there followed a short discussion, but the events in Finland have made too profound an impression on this country and everywhere for us to allow them to pass into history without some further examination as to the part played by His Majesty's Government. The events themselves are deplored on all hands in this country and in all impartial countries throughout the world. The nation which evoked all our sympathies has been defeated; the nation which is the ally of our enemies has been victorious; the State which the League of Nations declared to be the victim of aggression, and on whose behalf it invoked the support of the whole world, has been cast down; the State which was stigmatised as an aggressor and expelled from the League has been triumphant, though indeed at immense cost.

The consequences to the Finnish people in the future must necessarily be very grave, and the other Scandinavian States have now been brought within the European danger zone. Sweden, Norway and Denmark after a long period of peace and security have been able to achieve great things; in education, social progress, the arts and literature, in every form of culture they stand in the forefront of civilisation. That has been made possible because they have not been burdened by heavy debts from past wars and have not had to bear the weight of costly preparations against the dangers of future wars. Now these Scandinavian States, like ourselves and France, and Germany also, will be hampered and hindered through having been drawn into the turmoil of our times. The responsibility for all these events rests primarily, of course, on Russia. Russia, whose Soviet Government has for decades spoken always in the language of humanitarian-ism and preached international duty, has now been guilty of one of the greatest international crimes known to history. But let it be remembered also that Germany shares the moral responsibility for these events, for they would not have been possible if Germany by invading Poland had not precipitated a European war. And further it has become plain that Germany has thrown her protecting shield over the aggressor, for it has been declared on behalf of Sweden and Norway that it was through apprehension that they would be drawn into the whole European war by Germany that led them to refuse transit to an Allied Expeditionary Force. If, therefore, Russia is the chief criminal in these events Germany must be stigmatised as an active accessory.

Now with regard to the part that His Majesty's Government have played. Professor Cajander, the former Finnish Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Finnish Government Relief Organisation, said yesterday in a statement, which is reported to-day in The Times, that until about six weeks after the outbreak of war the Swedish supplies were the only war materials that reached Finland from outside the country. The invasion of Finland by Russia began on November 30, and Professor Cajander said: The first request of Great Britain and France to be allowed to send material to Finland in transit through Sweden was received on the last day of December and granted on January 2, and towards the middle of January Allied supplies began to arrive. I trust that the Foreign Secretary will be able to give us some definite information as to the scale on which supplies were reaching Finland from here by the middle of January, and as to the supplies that were in transit at that time. I ventured to put an inquiry to the noble Viscount when the matter was under consideration last week and he was good enough to give an immediate reply, but his reply then dealt only with the question of manpower. He pointed out very cogently that man-power must necessarily take time to organise and to transport. It might also be said with regard to transport of military material that the means of communication were scanty and delay might have been to some extent inevitable. But none of these considerations apply with regard to aircraft.

Aircraft can transport themselves, at any rate across the sea. The noble Viscount shakes his head. If I am wrong perhaps he will correct me. In any case they ought not to have required a very long period of transport. If they could have been sent in considerable numbers from this country and from France it might have made a great difference to the campaign while the Russians were still being held up in front of the intact Mannerheim line. The weak point of the Russian campaign was in their communications, and most formidable attacks might have been made behind those communications if the Finns had been provided with an adequate Air Force. Of course we all know that aircraft are in almost unlimited numbers—there is no maximum to the number set—needed in this country and in France for possible eventualities in our own campaign. Nevertheless the numbers are now so great both here and in France, and aircraft are coming apparently from America in such considerable numbers, that it seems—at all events to the public who may not be quite fully informed—that a sufficiency of aircraft might have been sent to Finland which would have greatly encouraged Finland and might have had a definite tactical effect upon the course of the campaign.

The Government have accepted the principle that it was our duty as well as our interest to send assistance to Finland. That is not in dispute. It cannot be argued whether it would have been right or wrong to send assistance, because the Government themselves declared it to be our duty and our interest to do so. That being so, there seems ground for criticism that that help was not sent sufficiently soon and in sufficient quantity. The Government in this, as in so many other cases, were too slow off the mark. That indeed is the criticism which both the Opposition Parties have found themselves bound to address against the Government from the very beginning of this war. We do not attack this Government, as Governments in the past have been attacked or criticised by Oppositions, on the ground that they have plunged the country into unnecessary adventures from which we ought to extricate ourselves as soon as possible. That is the course of policy of the Fascists led by Sir Oswald Mosley and the Communists, who hold views remarkably similar to each other and to those maintained by their prototypes in Germany and in Russia. As to the opinion of the country on that issue, that is shown whenever an opportunity is given at a by-election by a candidate presenting himself on behalf either of the Fascist Party or of the Communists. Then, in constituencies of 40,000 or 60,000 electors, those candidates never receive more than a handful of a few hundred votes. That is the opinion of the country with regard to that campaign.

But there is unquestionably an immense volume of opinion throughout the nation which agrees with the views expressed by my noble friend, which have been expressed before from these Benches and similarly in the House of Commons: that the Government have been lacking, and are lacking, in the energy and the vigour which the gravity of the case demands. I will give a few illustrations. I will not go back to the pre-war period and discuss the question of the growth of our armaments, nor will I go back to a previous issue, the settlement of the American Debt, though now we see how lamentable the consequences of that great error of British policy have been. But take two or three cases which are within the memory of your Lordships. For years—at least certainly for many months and for more than a year—the creation of a Ministry of Supply was most earnestly pressed upon the Government in this House, in the other House and in the country. I remember two or three debates in this House when many Peers—some of them I see here this afternoon—men of long experience and great authority, begged the Government to set up a Ministry of Supply in order that our armaments and our warlike materials should come forward in adequate quantities. They gave every possible reason why it should not be done. We were told that it would mean more delay and not less delay, more confusion and not less confusion; that if the Ministry of Supply was not armed with compulsory powers it would be of no use, and that if it were so armed it would be bound to create objection. Then suddenly, after that policy had been pursued for several months, one night the Government turned completely round and, on the plea that the Territorial Army was going to be doubled, they revoked all their previous arguments and set up the Ministry of Supply. But think of the harm that was done by that prolonged delay!

Take again the question of our economic situation in general, which depends very largely on food supply and food storage. For a very long period the Government were urged, when the clouds were gathering over the international sky and the future seemed very ominous, to collect great quantities of food and other materials. Far too late they did take action, and on far too small a scale. It has been found that, while the stores collected shortly before the war were very useful, as of course they are, in many particulars there is reason to believe that they have not sufficed for the requirements of the country. The third instance is that we are now in danger of what is called a vicious spiral: a rise in prices followed by an increase in the cost of living, followed by a reasonable demand for higher wages, causing again an increase in cost of production, higher prices, and so on continuously. The main question is how this increased cost of living can be met without hardship to the workpeople. For years past, in this House and elsewhere, many of us have been advocating the introduction into our wage system of an element of family allowances, which would deal with hardships caused in large families of children by the increase in the cost of living. We have asked whether, even if the Government could not accept that policy, they would at least set up an inquiry in order that the objections that are entertained should be examined, and if possible a scheme devised that would meet them. The Government have repeatedly refused even to grant any inquiry. If we had a system of family allowances, this question of the relation of wages to cost of living would, not wholly but in some degree, be solved. It is not even considered in dealing with the demand for an all-round wage, when it might be solved with complete fairness and justice along the lines which I have suggested.

One other illustration: the question of our exports. There, from the very first hour of the war, it should have been obvious that the maintenance and the increase of our export trade was a vital economic factor. The sudden and heavy drop in British exports was a most grave symptom. The matter was brought before the Government repeatedly, and they said they were fully alive to its importance. Ministers in their speeches said that they were most eagerly desirous of maintaining and increasing our export trade. Until the other day nothing of any importance was done, and at last an Export Council, consisting of men admirably qualified for the task, drawn from our great industries, was set up to do the very thing six months later that might have been begun at the outbreak of war. Here again the right course has been taken, but too late—at least unduly late. The need of maintaining the value of the pound and of obtaining munitions of war from America and providing the necessary exchange—since we are precluded from borrowing money from America as in the last war—make this question one of absolutely first-rate importance. The Government have apparently for a long time past been actively engaged in recognising the importance of the problems surrounding them. The Departments have been conducting a jogtrot war, and you cannot conduct a war of this character on that basis.


A funeral march.


The last point in this connection is the formation of a smaller War Cabinet. In both Houses and throughout the country an overwhelming volume of opinion has been expressed that that must be done: that the present War Cabinet is too large, but that there ought to be a War Cabinet smaller in numbers, all of whose members, or almost all, should be exempt from any Departmental duties, and one of whose members at least should be charged with the special duty of co-ordinating the work of all the very many Departments dealing with the different aspects of the economic situation. The Government have again resolutely refused to act. Of course, sooner or later this will have to be done, as in the case of the Ministry of Supply, but meanwhile how much precious time has been lost!

To turn to another and final point: today the attention of the world has been turned to the meeting of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini at the Brenner Pass, and the possible connection of their conversations with the Mission of Mr. Sumner Welles; and everyone is asking whether this may be the prelude to some negotiations for peace. If peace were possible consistently with securing the aims which our Governments here and in France have so clearly and definitely declared, then everyone would indeed rejoice wholeheartedly. It is happily true that in this war so far there have been none of the long lists of casualties that were so tragic a feature of the last war; but I feel sure that no one would be so foolish or so callous as to say that it does not matter for that reason whether the war is prolonged or not. There have been tragic losses at sea and in the air. Tens of thousands of men are in hourly peril. If a single life could be saved by making an early peace, it would be the duty of states- manship to take action. In addition to that, of course, there is the expenditure on the war of £5,000,000 a day, in addition to the £1,500,000 a day of ordinary expenditure, the interruption of peaceful avocations and the stoppage of all social progress. For all these reasons, an early peace is most earnestly to be desired; but it must be consistent with the achievement of the aims that we have set before ourselves.

Of course, Germany is ready to negotiate now, starting from the basis of the status quo. Viewing the present position of Euope, we see that she holds all that she wants at this stage, and can defy the Allies to turn her out. It is natural, therefore, that she should feel that she has every reason to begin negotiations on that basis. It may be possible for Germany to propose some colourable peace terms, but they would be terms which, when examined, would be found to be in essence a triumph for the Nazi cause, involving the continued subordination of all the surrounding peoples. It would be the kind of peace which would give the Germans some years in which to dig themselves in in their new position and to make ready for an even more formidable advance at the next stage. I feel certain—and I am sure that your Lordships will agree—that the French nation would not consider for a moment a peace of that character, nor will the British peoples here or in the Dominions.

4.52 p.m.

LORD DAVIES had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will make a detailed statement regarding the assistance extended to Finland by this country; whether they will also assure the House that Article 16 of the League of Nations Covenant was invoked in the negotiations with the Governments of Norway and Sweden concerning the right of passage for Allied troops through their territories; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, when the statement about Finland was made in this House last week, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, suggested that a Secret Session should be held which would have enabled your Lordships to discuss this matter in private. I regret that the Government did not see fit to grant this request and thus emulate the example of our Ally, because, as your Lordships are aware, the policy pursued towards Finland has been the subject of a secret debate in the French Senate. I can assure your Lordships that only when I knew that this request had been refused, and that there might be no opportunity of discussing this matter at all, did I put down this Motion on the Paper. After the speech to which we have just listened from my noble friend, I need not dwell upon the importance of Finland. I imagine that there is no one in this House who does not realise the serious implications of the peace terms imposed by Russia last week, not only on the independence and the future of the Finnish people but also upon the destinies of Europe. It is now clear that Finland—and indeed the whole of Scandinavia—has been drawn into the sphere of influence, if not entirely into the maw, of the totalitarian States. By allowing this outpost of democracy and civilisation to be cut off and overwhelmed we have lost the opportunity of assuming the initiative not only in Scandinavia but in other parts of the world as well. In short, the capitulation of Finland has affected the whole conduct and strategy of the war and has weakened our influence in every neutral country.

Finland's cause, after all, was our cause. This is what the Prime Minister said in his speech at the Mansion House: Finland to-day is fighting against the forces of unscrupulous violence just as we are ourselves. She is fighting for the same thing, for liberty and for justice. While her need calls for our sympathy and our aid, that valiant people can rest assured that our response to that resolution which was passed so recently at the meeting of the League in Geneva will be no mere formality. The cause of Czecho-Slovakia is our cause, and the cause of Poland is also our cause. They have contended for what the Prime Minister described as "the same thing." Their Armies were our Armies; our Armies were theirs. At Munich, however, we lost forty divisions of the best equipped troops of Europe before a blow had been struck. Last September the Polish Army was destroyed while we looked on, apparently unable to render the slightest assistance. To-day we have lost the co-operation of an Army of approximately 400,000 men whose heroism and valour under the leadership of Marshal Mannerheim has inscribed a new page in military history and will never be forgotten.

Sympathy and admiration are all very well, but they are sorry substitutes for guns and aeroplanes. I think most of us will agree that public opinion in this country realised this truth and was overwhelmingly in favour of sending all the assistance in our power to Finland. On the other hand, however, we realised that the Government were confronted with very serious practical difficulties. If in their opinion these difficulties were insurmountable, then I suggest they should have said so, or at least they should have made their position perfectly clear to Marshal Mannerheim. If, however, they believed that these obstacles could be overcome and that a plan was feasible, then I suggest that they should have pursued it with all the resolution and vigour at their command. I think your Lordships will agree that in any enterprise of this kind, half-measures, dilatory proceedings and divided counsels are fatal. If you decide to strike you must strike quickly and with all your available resources; otherwise it is better to refrain from intervening at all. The worst thing that you can do is to delay and to procrastinate and to act half-heartedly, thus conveying the impression to your friends as well as to your enemies that you do not really mean business. That, I fear, was the impression created in the minds of the Finns during the first two and a half months of this war.

In February I spent two weeks in Finland and I found that there were certain questions on everyone's lips: Could we not send more aeroplanes? Could we not spare more guns? When would the ammunition arrive to feed the guns on the hard-pressed Mannerheim line? How many volunteers had enlisted in the British contingent of the international force? When would the promised help arrive? I confess that the impression left on my mind was that either our Government did not realise how serious the situation really was or they had decided that any substantial help was impracticable. But, whatever their policy was up to that time, their performances can be summed up in four words: "Too little" and "Too late." In this connection, I want to call the attention of your Lordships to two statements which have appeared in the Press giving a list of the munitions supplied by us and by the French Government to Finland. The first list appeared in The Times on February 22; the second on March 9. I understand, from an answer given in another place, that "the Government do not take responsibility for these statements." But may I point out that they could not have been published at all without at least the authorisation and implied approval of the Government? And will the noble Viscount tell your Lordships whether those detailed inventories of munitions supplied to Finland are accurate? Can he say what requests were made by the Finnish Government? When were the releases granted, and what was the number of guns, mortars, fighters and bombers, and the amount of ammunition actually dispatched from this country to Finland?

Your Lordships will appreciate that there are two points concerning which I think we have a right to some information. The first is the quantity actually supplied; the second is the time factor. When were they dispatched? One can only assume that the publication of these figures was intended to convey to the public that our assistance to Finland has been substantial, and that we had made the most of the transport facilities which were available. I beg leave to doubt this, and in doing so I am not casting any aspersions upon my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I know he would be the last person in the world to lend himself to any exaggeration or camouflage which might mislead the public. I trust he may be able to assure your Lordships that my doubts are unfounded, and that the published figures accurately represent the amount of assistance we have been able to send to Finland. The second question I want to ask is whether the munitions supplied to Finland were in the nature of gifts, or whether most of the transactions were for cash down, or partly in cash and partly in deferred payments.

There is another aspect of this unfortunate business which has puzzled me, as I am sure it must have puzzled your Lordships. From the speeches of M. Daladier and the Prime Minister it now appears that almost at the last moment the Allies were ready to despatch a considerable force to the assistance of Finland. This being the case, I assume that an Inter-Allied Mission was despatched to Finland two or three months ago, to confer with Marshal Mannerheim and the Finnish Government as to the feasibility of preparing a plan for this operation. Could the noble Viscount the Foreign Secretary state whether such a Mission was despatched, and, if so, how it was composed? Your Lordships will remember that early in 1917 an Inter-Allied Mission headed by Lord Milner was sent to Petrograd on a similar errand. In a matter of such vital importance, affecting the whole strategy of the war, one would have imagined that a similar Mission would have been sent to Helsinki to study the problem on the spot. If the Government were really in earnest one would have assumed that such a Mission would have been headed by, let us say, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Chatfield, or some other member of the Government. If a Franco-British representative had flown to Finland in December, accompanied by a liaison staff, not only would they have been able to inform themselves at first hand of the Finnish requirements, but they would also have created that mutual confidence and personal contact which are so essential in any enterprise of this kind. I confess I am appalled by the light-hearted way in which we register promises—which, we were assured by the Prime Minister, "will be no mere formality"—and the apparent lack of preparation, foresight, and promptitude which seem to characterise our attempts to fulfil them.

The last question I want to ask the Foreign Secretary is concerned with our negotiations with Norway and Sweden. Did we assert the right of passage for Allied forces through Scandinavia? Your Lordships will recollect that at the meeting of the Assembly of the League held on December 14 Russia was branded unanimously as the aggressor. It is true that the representatives of Norway and Sweden at that meeting did not vote for the resolution, but, on the other hand, they did not oppose it. Under Article 16 Members of the League who are prepared to assist the victim of aggression possess the right to transport their forces across the territory of other Member States. Here is the precise wording. The Members of the League agree that they will take the necessary steps to afford passage through their territory to the forces of the Members of the League which are co-operating to protect the covenants of the League. Your Lordships will observe there are no qualifications or reservations of any kind. This Article has never been amended. It is still part of the public law, which cannot be repudiated at short notice by any Member of the League, or merely by a disclaimer on the part of its representative.

What I want to ask the Foreign Secretary is whether he invoked this provision in Article 16 and, if so, what reply he received. If the Governments of Norway and Sweden repudiated their obligation, then from a moral standpoint and under the rules of International Law we were entitled to enforce the rights which this provision confers upon all Members of the League. The sympathies of the Scandinavian peoples were undoubtedly on the side of Finland, and strong diplomatic pressure exerted upon their Governments, in the closest collaboration with the Finnish Government, and based upon our rights under Article 16, would, I believe, have had the desired effect. This pressure, however, should have been exerted not now, but three months, ago. If the Governments of Norway and Sweden still remained recalcitrant, were the Allies prepared to take stronger measures, or to achieve their object in some other way? If neither of these courses was intended, what was the use of collecting an Expeditionary Force, and of allowing volunteers to be enlisted for Finland? Obviously this was a matter which concerned both us and our French Ally. So vital were the strategic implications that it merited the almost daily attention of an Inter-Allied War Council and its General Staff, in order that, once the decision had been taken, everything possible should be done to ensure its successful execution. In any case, if our policy was to render effective assistance to Finland, we have suffered a most grievous diplomatic defeat, which is bound to have its repercussions upon the future of the war.

It is a delusion to imagine that we can win this war without fighting. We certainly cannot win it by letting down our friends. There is a limit, I suggest, even to muddling and drifting. The Government seem to be incapable of leading. As my right honourable friend Lord Samuel has just told us, they are always waiting to be pushed. Does anyone suggest, for instance, that the resources of this country have been properly and effectively mobilised for war when the Government still have about a million unemployed on their hands? I confess I sympathise with the noble Viscount and his colleagues. Of course they are overworked; they are pushed from pillar to post; they are so engrossed in the everyday problems of their own Departments that they have no time to think out the bigger problems, and they will not allow anyone else to do it for them. The real trouble is that there is lack of any effective leadership and direction in the conduct of this war. Finland is the most recent example. I hope it may be the last.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord opposite, Lord Snell, I regret two things about this debate. In the first place, I regret that the request I made to the Leader of the House last week for an opportunity to discuss these matters in private has not been acceded to, and I also regret that the debate has taken a course other than that which we anticipated. We all hoped that we should have had, at the beginning of the proceedings, a statement from the Government side. That might have saved us the necessity of asking questions which we would rather not have to put. The Government have taken their decision. I have to ask some questions, and I hope to avoid saying anything which will be damaging to the national interest. The Government no doubt thought that a Private Session had in it the seeds of damage to our interests, and that was why they refused it. They can only have concluded that the damage from a Public Session was less than that from a Private Session, and that decision one must accept.

In his statement a week ago the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, said: Throughout the Soviet-Finnish struggle, His Majesty's Government, in concert with the French Government, have furnished to the Finns large quantities of war material and supplies of all sorts, particulars of which have been made known as far as it was in the public interest to do so. I am a fairly industrious reader of the daily Press, and I may have missed some statement, but as far as I know there have been only the two statements already referred to by the noble Lord opposite. One of them was contained, as far as I have it, in a telegram from the Paris correspondent of The Times, and appeared in The Times of March 9. The other one was a statement, dated February 22, which bears, perhaps, more the marks of an official release. In the statement which appeared in The Times on March 9 the paragraph is headed: "What Allies have sent—405 aeroplanes and 960 guns." Below there are some more particulars from which we learn that out of 405 aeroplanes, of which 67 were bombers, France had supplied 175. That would mean that this country had supplied 230. Of guns, the total stated is 960, of which France is mentioned as having supplied 496, leaving 464 guns as having been supplied by this country. There is also a figure of between 50,000,000 and 60,000,000 rounds of small arm ammunition, of which the French share is 20,000,000 rounds, leaving, therefore, 30,000,000 to 40,000,000 rounds of small arm ammunition which The Times stated on March 9 had been furnished by Great Britain.

I should like the noble Viscount to tell us whether he can confirm these figures and the other figures contained in that paragraph, the details of which I shall not weary your Lordships by reading. Then I come to the other statement which, to my inexperienced eye, bears rather more the marks of an official release. The paragraph is headed—this time I have it from the Daily Telegraph—"Britain's Aid for Finns—144 'Planes: 4 Tanks." There is a list of minor details, but, taking the major ones, it is stated that Britain's aid to Finland includes 144 'planes, of which 24 were bombers, 24 anti-aircraft guns, 30 field guns, 12 six-inch guns and ammunition of an unstated extent, 150 anti-tank rifles, and 100 machine guns. There is a very big difference, as your Lordships will see, between these two statements. In the one case Great Britain is credited with having sent 230 aeroplanes, and in the other 144. In the one case Great Britain is credited with having sent 464 guns, and in the other a total of 66 guns of different kinds. Then the amount of ammunition is not stated. That is the first question I want to put to the noble Viscount—if he would give us the accurate figures.

I should also like to support the point which has been put by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, that if possible we should like to have some rather detailed dates. When was the material asked for by the Finns and in what quantities? When was permission given for it to go? When, in fact, did it leave this country? In another place, in answer to a supplementary question, the Prime Minister said: The Finnish Government have made repeated requests for materials, and every one of these requests has been answered. In that context I suppose "answered" can only mean "responded to." It is incredible that the Prime Minister should say "every one of these requests has been answered," meaning some have been accepted and some have been refused. That seems to me incredible in the context in which the statement was made. Later, there was an answer to another supplementary question. In passing, may I say that perhaps it is a pity that we here are so well-mannered that we never interject supplementary questions when Ministers make statements? Sometimes one might extract useful information. I find myself under the necessity of quoting what was said in another place. I am not sure that I am in order in doing so. It would have been more satisfactory if I had had the information from the noble Viscount. Perhaps we should start the habit of supplementary questions. It might enliven our proceedings.

In answer to the other supplementary question, the Prime Minister said: No doubt some distinction must be made, as the right, honourable gentlemen made it, between what was sent and what actually arrived in Finland. There is another distinction to be made. We have got to make a distinction between what was sent in the sense of what was ordered to be sent, and what actually did leave the country, because I am not sure that in that question does not reside a good deal of the misunderstanding which has taken place. Therefore it becomes all the more important to know the dates of release, the dates of dispatch, and, of course, if the noble Viscount can also give the dates of arrival on the Finnish front, that would be more useful still. But perhaps I should not ask him that, as it is something over which he has no control. I had hoped to have had a statement by the noble Viscount about all these questions to which I should have been able to address myself in my remarks, but, like the noble Lord opposite, I find myself disarmed and awaiting the bomb which will, as the noble Lord said, shortly descend upon my head from the noble Viscount, and I have not even an Anderson shelter in which to conceal myself.

I am afraid that it is not only a question of this material. What we have to look at is the whole history of this very terrible affair. Let me remind your Lordships of the relevant dates. Russia attacked Finland on a sunny morning, I think it was November 30. On January 8—I hope I have this date right—our Under-Secretary said, in response to the appeal to the League, that we would help with all our available resources, and the Prime Minister, referring to that statement, said it was no mere formality. That was January 8. On February 3, so we now understand, the Allies made a plan to go to the assistance of Finland, and on February 25 that plan was communicated to the Finnish Government, as we now know, according to M. Ryti, too late. On March 13 the Finns were forced to sign a disastrous peace. I should not dream of attempting to judge whether the expedition which it was proposed to send to Finland was a good plan or a bad one. I know nothing about it. What I do regret is that this material, whether it be the greater amount or whether it be the lesser amount, was not made available at an earlier stage when it might have had a | decisive effect.

The criticism which I have to make of the Government is a two-fold one. It seems to me that they had a difficulty in making up their minds as to whether the Finnish front was a matter of importance to the Allied cause or not. Then, having come to a decision at some time of which we are ignorant, I think they showed hesitation and vacillation in pursuing the policy which they had decided upon. Surely what ought to have happened was this. The moment war broke out in Finland the Government should have addressed themselves to the question: "Is this an important front for our cause?" and, in order to find that out, they should have sent a properly equipped Military Mission to stand beside the Finnish General and see the course of the war and how things were shaping. The moment it appeared the Finns were putting up the resistance they did put up, and when it appeared that was of interest to the Allies, then the Military Mission would have learnt at first hand what was required. They could have communicated that information to the military authorities in this country, and there would have been some chance of material being sent and arriving in time to do good. If all the material, the amount of which we can only guess, and of which I hope the noble Viscount is going to tell us, had been made available, if a decision had been taken in December, as in those circumstances it might have been, to send that material, who can say, expedition or no expedition, the Mannerheim line might not to-day still have been intact.

I hope that what I am saying to your Lordships now will not be represented as dissension in this country by any enemy broadcast or anybody else. My position is that I am a passionate supporter of the Government if only they will give me leadership. I feel that the handling of the Finnish matter was half-hearted; that is the only adjective I can find to describe it. I think the Government were half-hearted in their handling of the whole Finnish matter. I have already told your Lordships, a few weeks ago, that I think they are half-hearted in arranging for the curtailment of civilian consumption. If I see the Government half-hearted in two matters, how do I know that they are not half-hearted in their economic warfare and in their blockade? There would be no object whatever in criticising the Government, particularly in criticising them in public, if the object were not achieved of securing some amelioration in the future, and it is in that spirit that I have very reluctantly ventured to say what I have done to-day in criticism of the Government.

It seems to me that whatever method we adopt, we want decision and we want drive. I do not think the country at the moment feels that it is getting either of those things. The noble Viscount opposite said, not for the first time, that we should have a smaller War Cabinet. That is a suggestion which I venture to support. We all admire the efforts which the noble Viscount (Viscount Halifax) is making, and the same can be said of the Prime Minister, but we do feel that we have not got a War Cabinet which is free enough to settle such questions as have arisen and will arise from time to time, and, having settled them, drive the policy through to a decision with determination and ruthlessness. You have to remember that we appear to be faced with an imminent peace offensive. The peace offensive will require a decision as firm and a policy as determined as the conduct of the war, and if only for that reason I venture to hope that the Government will give the country what they seek, which is determined leadership and a policy which they can feel is going to be pushed to a decision.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened very carefully to the speeches which have been made by noble Lords on the opposite side of the House and to the one speech made on this side of the House, criticising His Majesty's Government, and I am bound to say that I view the remarks that have been made with great apprehension and misgiving. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, has said that His Majesty's Government are not prosecuting the war with vigour, but he has given no constructive reason as to what could be done. I think His Majesty's Government are prosecuting the war very well indeed. He has also said, in the form of a joke, that it is not well to saddle a horse one day and ride the horse the next day. That may be so, but I suggest that it is always wiser to look before you leap, and I am glad His Majesty's Government have looked before they leapt. We have often heard that this war is a war of nerves, and I think the noble Lord opposite is falling into the trap that has been set by Hitler and is getting a little nervous.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the weaknesses of the Russian communications in Finland, but supposing that we had taken action in Finland, what sort of communications should we have had? I wonder if any of your Lordships have looked at a chart of the area around Petsamo and Murmansk. If you have done so you will have realised the difficulty of naval and military operations in that district. I feel that if your Lordships had done that you would hardly have suggested that we should send a force to those ports. Surely it is not suggested, in view of the neutrality of Norway and Sweden, that we should have sent a force against their wishes through those countries. Had we done so we should have been condemned in the same way as Germany was condemned when she went through Poland. Such a thing is impossible; it is not impracticable merely. It has been said also that it would have been to our advantage if the war in Finland had been continued. Even from that selfish point of view it would have been a disaster to us, because we should have lost all the Scandinavian trade which is of great help to us at the present time.


Who said that?


I am not saying that anyone said that. I am only suggesting what would have happened if the war had been continued, which is quite another matter. It has been made perfectly clear by Germany that if Sweden had allowed troops to go through her country she would have been attacked. What would have happened? Sweden would have become the cockpit of Europe. I feel very sorry for the Swedish people, and I cannot understand those who do not appreciate their point of view. I really think that His Majesty's Government have done all that could be done for Finland in the circumstances, and it is only members of the Government who are in full possession of the facts and who could really decide what could or could not have been done. From my point of view I am perfectly satisfied.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I propose to offer only a very few remarks, and those will be closely concerned with our relations to Russia and to Finland, but I would like to say first in response to the noble Lord who has just spoken that somewhere or other there is going to be a cockpit of Europe before this war ends. We are not going to escape that final trial. The Government were prepared, as they have told us, to send an Allied force to Finland to fight on behalf of the Finns. Against whom? Against Russia. Should we then have been at war with Russia? I presume so. If we had been at war with Russia it would have meant (would it not?) that the reasons which have hitherto influenced His Majesty's Government against coming to open warfare with Russia were in their opinion no longer sufficient. If we had been at war with Russia on November 30—and still more on November 20, when it became fairly certain that Finland was about to become the subject of Russian aggression—what difference in our attitude and in the help that we gave to the Finnish people would there have been? It would seem to me, speaking as no strategist but as an ordinary mortal who has read history, that we should have considered the Finnish forces as being the left flank of the Allied Army, whether or not the Finns had actually entered into agreement with ourselves. If that had been the case, we should at once have set about the ordering and the dispatch of all we could possibly afford in order that the left wing of our Army might not be overwhelmed before the centre and the right flank could come to its aid.

I feel tolerably convinced, and I think most other noble Lords present must feel convinced, that such thoughts were not then in our heads. I turned up the first announcement made by the Prime Minister after the Russian attack on Finland, made I think on December 1, or at any rate reported on December 1. I found no hint whatever of any aid being given by this country to the Finns. It does not follow, of course, that it was not in his mind, but it does follow that he was not preparing the nation for such aid. I venture to think that the vacillations and the half-heartedness which appear to me in some way characteristic of our recent handling of affairs—I hope it is only an appearance—may be largely traced to the contradictory position which we have taken up with regard to the Soviet Government. I would just like to interpolate here that I have no warlike feelings towards the people of Russia. I have every feeling of contempt and abhorrence for the Government that drives them forward to slaughter. The Russian people, I feel—as the Finns do—are poor sheep who cannot help themselves. So long as we blink the fact that we have two ruthless enemies in the shape of the two gangs that govern Germany and that govern Russia, closely linked to each other, determined with a set plan to carry out a set purpose, so long shall we deceive ourselves and hamstring our diplomacy.

Look at our blockade. I suppose never have we had such complete command of the seas as we have at the present moment. Never has our Navy shown, if I may venture to say so, such enterprise and valour as it shows to-day. Why then is the work of the Navy being ruined by the free importation into Russia of enormously increased supplies from the United States of America? How can a blockade be effective when quite deliberately one of the main portals to the the people we are trying to blockade is left open? Surely we have got to make up our minds—as apparently the Government were prepared to make up their minds—that this war cannot be fought in bits and pieces but must be looked at as a whole; and, above all things, we must know who are our enemies and fight them without compunction and without delay. How are the neutrals, who after all are going to feel the brunt of this war first and who have felt it, going to regard their prospects of resistance if they know that the very Power that is most likely to attack them is not being dealt with as an enemy should be dealt with by ourselves? It is quite obvious that neutral after neutral, faced with the choice of submission to either of the two gangs who are trying to enslave the world, will have to yield unless they know beforehand that the help without which they cannot make resistance will be forthcoming.

I would like to finish my speech by asking the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether the same guarantee of the restoration of their territory will now be made by His Majesty's Government to Finland as I understand has been made in the case of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. I would like to ask His Majesty's Government what they are prepared to do, by financial credit or loan—or better still by gift—to help the Finnish people to stand on their legs again and get the life of the nation going again before it collapses finally.

5.39 pm

My Lords, I did not intend to intervene in this debate and I will occupy your attention for a few minutes only. I have been much struck this afternoon by hearing so much about the past. The Finnish campaign is ended. We are always talking of the past, and apparently we are not allowed to discuss the future. There is a general feeling that we have been too late. If we cannot discuss the future we may be too late again. I am sorry that I missed part of the speech of the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition, and I hope I am not therefore misinterpreting him, but I think he referred to the raid on Scapa and spoke of delay. Those raids will take place if we are all going to be satisfied with always sitting defending. They have our ships to aim at, and all the neutrals and non-combatants at sea, and we have nothing at which we can hit back. As long as we sit defensively, that sort of incident will occur. I have no wish to say anything that would be of use to the enemy, but I do beg of your Lordships to remember that the Air Force is an offensive and not a defensive weapon.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, with regard to what the noble and gallant Viscount has just said in his kind reference to my noble friend's speech, the delay my noble friend referred to was not a delay in counter-action, or anything of that sort, but the delay in giving out the facts. The noble Viscount said he had not heard the whole of my noble friend's speech, and I am sure he will be glad of that correction. If I might, I would respectfully support the noble Viscount's remarks about the offensive. A virtue of younger and possibly less responsible members of your Lordships' House intervening in this debate, like the noble Lords. Lord Teynham and Lord Phillimore, is that at least they do venture to answer the speeches which have gone before—which, after all, is the essence of debate, I shall endeavour to do the same. My noble friend who initiated the debate had not that advantage.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, suggested that we should have sent aeroplanes to Finland. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, has left the Chamber for the moment. We could, of course, have sent bombers there, I gather—I am not in the Government's secrets and I therefore have no secrets to give away—but nowadays, as events on the Western Front have proved, I think I am right in saying—and the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will correct me if I am wrong—that it is not good policy to send bombers to fight without an escort of pursuit aeroplanes; and unfortunately the pursuit aeroplanes have not at present the range to enable them to get there by sea. Furthermore—I speak with great diffidence in reply to Lord Samuel, who has held very great Cabinet posts; this is a fact which I am sure he must have overlooked—it is not only a question of sending aeroplanes; you must have a large and efficient ground staff to succour and keep them efficient. That is one of the answers that I should have made to Lord Phillimore if he had been able to remain in the Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Teynham, if he will allow me to say so, astonished me as a naval officer. I entirely disagree with the proposal that we should have gone into a great campaign against Russia. I have always taken that standpoint, and I do not retreat from it at all. That does not mean that I excuse the Government for getting the worst of both worlds. But when Lord Teynham contends that we could not have sent great help into the Baltic, he seems not to have looked at the chart which he spoke of.


I did not mention the Baltic, but Petsamo and Murmansk.


The noble Lord mentioned them, but he also mentioned the threat of the Germans to invade Sweden. He knows perfectly well that no German Admiral would have agreed to a great fleet of German transports leaving a German port without the Great Belt being secured; otherwise a large British force could enter the Baltic and shoot up his transports within a few hours. The necessary prelude must have been the overrunning of Denmark; command of the land was there just as necessary as command of the sea. The whole threat was merely a bluff, and if the Swedes had not been free from war for a century and a quarter, or if they had been given sufficiently strong assurances by His Majesty's Government, they would not have been taken in by it. But I do not want to go into that now. Sweden would not have been the cockpit of that war, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham; the Baltic Sea would have been the cockpit, and a very well-chosen cockpit for the Royal Navy.

My noble friend Lord Snell, in opening this debate, complained of the lethargy of the Government in many directions; and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the delay in setting up a Ministry of Supply. I want, if I may, to tell your Lordships of a very grave state of affairs. I am not going to give details, for obvious reasons, but I will particularise enough to show the seriousness of the situation that has arisen in the supply of essential raw materials for armaments. One of the most-needed materials for our armament programme to-day has been held up, for two reasons, both disgraceful. The first is vested interests which are entrenched in the Ministry of Supply and are frightened of over-production of this particular material and a fall in the price after the war. That is the first, and I will particularise, as I have indeed particularised, to the Government on this matter. I and my friends intend to carry this matter through and, if necessary, to expose it. The second reason is a sordid squabble between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Supply. I discussed this matter with a most important member of His Majesty's Government, whose colleague had the papers and who undertook to send for them. I then asked him, "Now, in a case of this kind, whose duty is it in the Government to resolve a situation like that; to knock the heads of the quarrelling Ministers together, to clear out or put in their places these selfish representatives of cartels and vested interests?" He said, "I am sorry to say there is no one." That, I venture to say, reinforces what the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said about the need for a real War Cabinet, and what other noble Lords, including Lord Balfour of Burleigh, have said. There is an actual case, and I can give chapter and verse for it. It is scandalous and is hampering our war efforts.

The noble Viscount who is going to reply—and I will not stand long between your Lordships and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs—has my sympathy. I am very sorry for him. With the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, he apparently has not a supporter in your Lordships' House—apart, of course, from the noble Lords on the Government Bench; they must officially support the Government as long as they sit there. They have my sympathies, too. May I ask Lord Halifax—and this is a matter which has much worried my noble friends, and my right honourable and honourable friends in another place—is the Prime Minister again managing our diplomacy as he did at the time of Munich? I ask that because of the recent events in connection with Finland, which no man can defend. The noble Lord Lord Teynham, told us of the strategic dangers of sending large-scale help to the Finns because of the difficulty of communications, but the Government that he sits behind were committed to sending such help; the only thing is that, as my noble friend Lord Snell says what they were committed to do they did too late and in too small a measure.

There were two policies which might have been pursued with regard to Finland. Both are defensible and both are, if I may say so, respectable policies. The first was to say, "Here is a small nation which is the victim of aggression; we must give her all the help that we possibly can and prevent her from being overrun." I thought that that was the policy of the Government. The other policy was to attempt to make peace, to attempt to intervene. That policy I ventured to recommend through every channel that I could. I believed it would have been possible to prevent the Russian onslaught on Finland by more active diplomacy, or at any rate to bring about an earlier peace. But what happened when these great events were occurring last week and the week before in Moscow? Where was the British Ambassador? On leave, recalled! Why has not he been sent back?

In yesterday's issue of The Times newspaper there was a statement from the Oslo correspondent of that paper, quoting Professor Koht, the Norwegian Foreign Minister. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, has quoted an authoritative Finnish statesman, an ex-Prime Minister of Finland. According to Professor Koht, Norway heard nothing of full military aid to Finland by Great Britain and France until March 2, when the British and French Ministers called with a preliminary inquiry as to whether Allied forces would be allowed to pass through. That was on March 2. No wonder the Norwegians and the Swedes were a little doubtful of how serious we were! The invasion of Finland began on November 30; it was three months afterwards that we approached the Norwegian Government with a "preliminary inquiry." This is according to Professor Koht; the Foreign Secretary may have a different light to throw on the matter. That is the Government's policy, which failed. I should like now to refer to what I venture to say is or was my policy and that of my friends, a policy of conciliation, of appeasement—a word which I know will appeal to the noble Viscount.




I speak of appeasement as between Russia and Finland. The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, says "Shame," but it is a question of whom you are attempting to appease; if you cannot help people you should at least appease them.


It depends upon how you do it.


On February 22, the Russian Government made approaches to our Government in connection with negotiations or preliminaries or pourparlers for peace, and apparently we refused to have anything to do with them. If that is so and if there is no explanation, I cannot find words to excuse it. There was an approach from what from the point of view of this war is the greatest of the European reutrals, the one able to succour and help Germany, as the noble Lord. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, said. We were approached to act as intermediaries to bring about peace with Finland, whom we were not able to help, according to the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, and, apparently, other strategical advisers of the Government. But no, we could not act as intermediaries. Why? Because they were the wicked aggressors? Was that the reason? Are we never to intervene between an aggressor and his victim? I am afraid that in matters of this kind, the political complexion of the aggressor has a great deal to do with it. If we are made to suffer very much in future years, it will be because our policies have been too often actuated by prejudices and passions, and in the ordinary affairs of a great Empire we must use our brains and not allow ourselves to be actuated by passions and prejudices.

The complaints about the War Cabinet not being small enough and not being composed of people who are relieved of departmental duties really, I am afraid, miss their mark. I must say what I am now going to say; the times are too grave to consider hurting anyone's feelings. It is not the set-up of the War Cabinet to which I believe history will refer, but its personnel. That is not their fault; I am not attaching any blame to them. But, to put it as briefly as possible, with one or two exceptions there is no-one in the War Cabinet with what I may call the warrior mind. The warrior mind does not mean rashness or recklessness at all; it means in war the use of long vision, the capacity to look ahead, to plan in advance, to take no avoidable risks, to prepare your plan of campaign and to follow it through as long as you can. That is the warrior mind, and I find it missing in the Government's conduct of affairs. I know that I am speaking not only for members of my Party but for a very large body of patriotic opinion in the country when I say that there is great uneasiness, and that we expect either a change of Government or a change in their methods.

And yet there is no real reason for disquiet. Basically our position is immensely strong. My noble friend has referred to our great strength in various directions. Our moral case still remains overwhelmingly strong, and that is perhaps the most important of our assets. We have the great wealth of two immense Empires, the British and the French, to draw upon. We have our own growing military strength. We have command of the seas; we have an unchallengeable naval power in this war. And, as my noble friend Lord Snell has reminded your Lordships, if that was necessary, we have the united spirit of two peoples, and I believe the two greatest peoples in the world, the British and the French peoples. These assets are immense. We can afford, therefore, to criticise, as I and my noble friend Lord Snell and other noble Lords have ventured to criticise this afternoon. We need not be afraid of criticism. We try to make our criticism helpful, and we think that it is necessary to give these warnings.

My noble friend and the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to the attack on Scapa Flow. I have already said that the complaint there is against the delay in giving information. I do not know what has passed in another place, and perhaps something has been said on that matter to the House of Commons and therefore to the world. There is, however, this aspect of the attack on Scapa Flow which I would ven- ture to draw to the attention of the Government. I think I am right in saying that this is the first time that British civilians have been killed and wounded on land, as my noble friend Lord Snell has mentioned. I do not know from the accounts that we have had whether the bombing was deliberate or whether it was a case of bad shooting or of some hard-pressed aeroplane escaping and unloading its bombs anywhere. I do not know, and I think we ought to be told; this is important. In any case, however, the first British civilians have been killed in an attack on a British naval base, and that at any rate removes one handicap to attacking German naval bases. There are the fitting yards where these, dastardly and piratical submarines return for repairs and revictualment. I have always understood that you could not bomb these victualling bases and supply bases for the German submarines because you might be unfortunate and destroy civilians in the process. We have now had the precedent set. I believe I am right in saying that the British public will look for instant and successful reprisals, and they will expect also, after this period of war and knowing the quality of our fighting pilots, that we have the resources to make them.

6.2 p.m.


My Lords, the debate, as was natural, has ranged over a wide field and, as I have been listening to it, I have from time to time reflected that if I were to do my duty adequately by way of reply I ought to be equipped with the knowledge of all three Defence Services, the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Information, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and, last but not least, the general power of direction and supervision of all offices that resides in the Prime Minister. That being, therefore, the position, it was not without deep emotion that I heard the noble Lord who spoke last assure me of his warm sympathy. I would only tell him, as regards the opening observations that he made, which did of course directly affect supply and, I think, the Air Ministry, that he raised a subject on which I happen to have no knowledge, but I am quite sure that his remarks will not pass unnoticed by the quarters con- cerned, and, if they are well founded, as he says they are, they will of course claim attention.

I feel that some of your Lordships may think that a word of apology is needed for the order of debate, which was, I am well aware, largely so arranged to meet my convenience, and I at once give expression to my gratitude to the noble Lords who were concerned. I think that it is one of the occasions, of which there are always a great many, on which, whatever decision the Government take or ask other people to take, they are almost sure to be wrong. Had we done the other thing, and I had made such statement as I have to make, at the beginning, there would not have been wanting many of your Lordships who might well have said, "What is the good of our making powerful speeches in this House if, at the end, we only have an insufficient reply, and the Government have said everything that they have to say at the beginning?" Therefore I can only, as I say, offer my word of apology, and assure your Lordships that, if you think it a good plan, it would perhaps be wise to vary our procedure from time to time in order that the complaint may not be all on one side.

The noble Lord who began the discussion made some general observations by way of criticism, of which the first count was that he found fault with the Government for not supplying the country with adequate knowledge of what was going forward in this form of war that, as he truly said, imposes so great a strain on the nerves and waiting power of our people. I need not say that I am wholly at one with him in feeling that the Home Front is as important as any other, and that no Government that neglected it would be other than highly culpable. But when he says that the assistance of the Labour Party has never been invoked in the business of propaganda, I ask myself whether the Labour Party themselves were able to say from the beginning of this war that they on their side had been wholly willing at all times to co-operate with the Ministry of Information. I do not know whether they were or not. If they were, they have a clean sheet, but if they have not at all times been so willing, then I think that complaint comes less well from the noble Lord than it might.

As regards the question of propaganda, on which the noble Lord passed some criticism, I do not know on what ground he criticised those who are concerned with it, and said that they had little information about their subject. Without knowing the grounds on which he makes that statement, I find it a difficult one to answer in detail, but in general I am able to say that I have paid perhaps as great attention to that subject as to any other, and I can honestly assure him that in their attempt to conduct, to advise, and to order the making of propaganda, both at home and abroad, no effort is spared to secure the best information that is available. If the noble Lord opposite feels that an insufficient call has been made upon the particular contacts and knowledge of his Party, I can only assure him that I shall at once convey that feeling to those concerned, and I am quite sure they will welcome any assistance that he is able to give. But the noble Lord omitted one very fundamental consideration when he spoke about propaganda when he made no mention of the influence of the Gestapo and the concentration camps in Germany which, as he will be the first to recognise, constitute one of the major difficulties in getting effective propaganda into that country.

He spoke also, and others of your Lordships also referred to it to-day, of the raid recently made upon Scapa Flow, and the noble Lord made the comment that it was surely remarkable that what were alleged as facts were published from German sources in two hours, whereas the facts were published in Great Britain only after nine hours. I am not prepared to answer here and now as to the reasons for the delay in the publication of the accurate news in this country, beyond saying that I imagine it was necessary to check exactly the events in order to make sure that the facts that were then given were true. Obviously Germany lay under no such handicap or difficulty, and it is open to any noble Lord to construct an equation in his mind whether it is better to have the truth after nine hours or an untruth in one hour. Obviously from a propaganda point of view the latter has a great advantage. But perhaps—as it has not, I think, been made public in your Lordships' House—I might say a word or two about the raid to which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, referred.

It was a remarkable thing that in the German broadcast purporting to give an account of this raid the announcer concluded with the remark, that rings strangely on our ears, "The communiqués of the German high Command are unimpeachable." The wide discrepancies between the wholly unjustified claims of the enemy and the real facts no doubt required this reassuring, though quite unfounded, claim to veracity. The German announcer stated that at least three battleships, one cruiser, and two other warships were damaged, that as a result of this so-called success against the well-known naval base the British Admiralty have virtually to write it off, and that the British can no longer send their ships for a rest to Scapa Flow. That was what was available, I believe, after two hours. The fact is that only one warship sustained any damage at all, and that of a minor nature. That was not a capital ship, and no capital ship was touched in any way. If this attack was intended, as must be assumed, to have been an attack in force on Scapa Flow, it is very significant that only a small number of the enemy forces cared to come into action. It is not an unreasonable deduction that several machines must have either missed their way or else decided that discretion was the better part of valour. So far as can be ascertained, 121 high explosive bombs and a large number of incendiary bombs have been identified as having been dropped during the attack over an area covering some 100 square miles of mainland, and those bombers which came to attack the British Fleet were content to drop, and deliberately dropped, bombs on land five or six miles away from the harbour, killing or injuring civilian non-combatants. It is true, as the noble Lords opposite have said, that this is the first occasion on which a civilian on land has been killed.


Was that deliberate?


No, I should think not.


This is so important that perhaps I may be forgiven the interruption. The noble Viscount said they deliberately dropped their bombs on land. There is a great difference between deliberately dropping their bombs on land under difficulties and aiming at buildings. If we could have some enlightenment on that point it would be useful. I imagine it was not a deliberate attack on buildings, because they were over Kirkwall, which is a fairly large town. People are very interested in this, and perhaps we could have details.


As far as I am informed, there was a deliberate attack upon landing grounds and on a locality with which I am not familiar but which is termed the Bridge of Waith. There are cottages adjacent to one or other or both of these objectives, and it was at one of these that the civilian casualties occurred. I do not think, on my information, it would be true to say—indeed, I have every reason for believing the opposite—that there was a deliberate attack on civilians as such. It has, of course, always been recognised, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, that our eastern and northern bases are subject to air attack, and that, where necessary, we are quite confident of our ability to give a good account of ourselves. I certainly do not disagree with him or the noble Lord who spoke last as to the legitimate conclusions which may be drawn from this attack by way of action that our own Air Force may take at a proper time. The excuse, of course, given for what passed at Scapa was that it was military objectives that were being bombed, but, whatever the intention, the House will, as it has done, take note of the facts and will agree that the responsibility for the consequences of that will rest upon the authors of that Scapa Flow raid.

There has been a series of more or less connected criticisms from the noble Lord, Lord Snell, and the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in regard to there being, as they say, too small a measure of co-ordination between Departments, and to the general effect that the Government as a whole have been too slow off the mark. It was, I think, Lord Samuel who said that it is impossible to conduct a jog-trot war. General criticism in that form is one which it is extremely difficult for me to answer in a way that would carry conviction to those who perhaps would not easily be convinced. It is quite simple for me to deny the allegation, but that would obviously bring no conviction to their Lordships' minds, and without a much fuller examination than it is possible for us to have in a debate devoted to other affairs, I do not think it is possible to carry that point to a useful conclusion.

The noble Lord, Lord Snell, spoke about the effect this sort of thing, as he thought, was having on such things as merchant shipping, delivery of war material, and the like. If there is a feeling of that sort, that in various vital directions production is hampered and the wheels of the chariot are moving slowly, I would suggest to noble Lords that they should arrange to have the matter examined on a separate Motion in a particular day's debate, in which all these things can be probed, and those who speak for the Government can make an informed and fairly complete reply. But, in general reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I would say that we have always realised—and I think every one in the country has realised—that it was bound to take time to mobilise the resources of this country, which was not on a war basis like the totalitarian States. All I can say—and I say it in no controversial spirit—is that in this war I am quite sure we have moved far more quickly than it was possible to do in 1914, in the Government of which the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was so distinguished a member. We have been able to profit by the lessons that that Government learned of the difficulties of moving over from peace to war production. I should certainly not say we have not made mistakes, or that there are not many things to be remedied and improved. I have no doubt there are. But I do believe that the whole machinery of transfer has been much more smooth and rapid, thanks to preliminary preparation over every part of the field, than many of your Lordships probably appreciate.

Then I come to the part that can only rightly be answered by the Prime Minister, which was the case made by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, and with great force by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, supported by the advocate of the warrior mind, on behalf of a smaller War Cabinet. It is not for me to express opinions about that problem. I only permit myself one observation beyond saying that I shall, of course, convey to the Prime Minister what your Lordships have said. The one observation I would wish to make is this. I have never been intellectually convinced that it was a possible plan to have a small War Cabinet in which all, or practically all, the members were devoid of Portfolios. I have always supposed that it would be very difficult to leave certain obvious Departments out of the War Cabinet, and that, therefore, the object which a great many of your Lordships wish to see achieved—namely, to see Ministers free of departmental responsibility to apply their whole minds to long-term thought and so on—is one that is not really in practice easy to achieve as completely as many people either wish it to be achieved or think it can be achieved.

Then I have been asked whether I had anything to say in regard to the visit that we have recently received from Mr. Sumner Welles and matters connected therewith. It has been a very troubled and perplexed period in which that visit took place, and we all remember what was the definition that the President of the United States gave to that visit before Mr. Sumner Welles came. As your Lordships are aware, he spent three or four days in England, where His Majesty's Government were most happy to welcome him and to inform him, with, I think, complete frankness, of their views. They were very happy to find in him a man of outstanding ability and of very quick and very powerful understanding. I understand that Mr. Welles also saw the leaders of other Parties, and I am quite sure from what I saw of him that during his visit he was able to obtain a pretty complete and accurate account of the views of all sections of opinion in this country and that he was not unimpressed by the unity of Parties which he found. As your Lordships know, he departed for Italy, where a new event occurred for him to add to his European chronicle. We do not yet know, and I cannot therefore, I am afraid, tell the House, what may have passed at the Conference at the Brenner Pass. The two leaders may have addressed their minds to peace or they may not, and we here at any rate are quite ready to face whatever the future may hold, whether it be good or bad, with the same spirit of calm determination which has both inspired our conduct and which was the inspiration of the speech addressed to an audience only a day or two ago by the President of the United States as to the nature of the peace which the world requires and the basis on which alone it can be secured.

The other subject I wanted to say a word about, before I came to Finland, was Russia. Several of your Lordships have referred to Russia and have asked me a number of questions about it, the last of which was a question addressed to me—or perhaps a reproach rather thrown at me gently—by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, complaining that we had refused to play the part of appeasers between Russia and Finland when Russia invited us to transmit her terms of peace to Finland. I hope I should not be behind the noble Lord in trying to make peace wherever I could on terms that I thought honourable to myself and to those concerned, but I am bound to say on that particular question I took a radically different view from that expressed by the noble Lord. When I saw the terms it seemed to me quite evident that the purpose of our mediation being sought was that somehow the British imprimatur should be put upon terms that it was perfectly open and possible for Russia to submit to Finland herself direct, and I said so. I could see no purpose whatever in the name of this country being attached to terms that were evidently onerous, severe and hard when they could be well conveyed to Finland in other form. We told the Finns at once that the Russians had made an approach to us, but that we had not passed it on, and if they had asked us what these terms were we should obviously at once have told them. They did not, because the Russians as a matter of fact told the Finns direct twenty-four hours later. That is the history of that, and that is the reason for the action that His Majesty's Government took. I am bound to say that I noticed in that approach to us something not very dissimilar from the approaches made to us in the course of our negotiations during the summer which, as the noble Lord will remember, had encountered difficulties of a not wholly dissimilar kind with regard to the relations between this country and the other small Powers with which Russia was concerned.


Will the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt him for one moment? He spoke of what is honourable and dishonourable, and therefore he will not mind me asking him this. Would it not have been possible to have examined those terms and tried to get some modification of them? There are many examples in history where that has been successfully done.


That would no doubt have been quite possible, but as a matter of fact when the terms were proposed we did express our view that they were hard terms, and that we were not prepared to pass them on in that form to the Finns. It would, therefore, have been quite possible for the Russian Government, had they been so minded, to return to the charge with a variation of their terms. I have been asked, either directly or indirectly, why it is that we remain in friendly relations with the friends of our enemies, and the noble Lord opposite has suggested that that must be due, not certainly to any activity of brains on our part but to prejudice and passion. He is quite entitled to that view, but my own view is this. I think that there is on the one hand a great deal of force in the statement of Lord Snell regarding one war at a time, but I would say that with this addendum. Noble Lords can rest quite well assured that we shall not be deflected from our main objective, which is to defeat Germany, by the fear that any particular action on our part at any time might damage our relations with the Soviet Union. I do not think that I could define British policy more concisely at this stage than by emphasizing that it is not our desire to add to our enemies, but it is our desire to defeat Germany and not to allow ourselves to be deflected from that main purpose.

I now come, if I may, to say something about Finland, and I am afraid I may have to say it at rather greater length than I feel many of your Lordships will have patience for, but the matter is important and a great many questions have been addressed to me. There is no difference of opinion in any quarter of the House as to judgment upon the conduct which unloosed the aggression or upon the spirit in which disparity of numbers, resources and military equipment was for so long countered by the gallantry of the Finnish people. They have, as has been repeatedly said in all quarters of the House, won for themselves quite imperishable honour and glory. They have given the world an example of what a people can do when it fights as one man under inspired and courageous leadership. It is quite idle to pretend that the terms that the Finns have been obliged to accept are not such as gravely to threaten the integrity—and it may be the security—of their country and of other Scandinavian countries as well. They are, I think, plainly terms that no country could or would have accepted except under the bidding of dire compulsion. As I take it, one of the purposes of this debate is to examine dispassionately and thoroughly the chain of cause and effect, measured by events that have been responsible for this situation. But before I do that there are one or two things which I would like to ask your Lordships to note.

Hard as are the terms of this settlement, and cruel as have been the losses of Finland measured both in the lives of men and women and in the loss of much that went to make up the life of Finland itself, let us not forget that it is with the freely elected Government of Finland that the aggressor has found himself obliged to make peace, and the puppet government of which we heard so much can no longer support the claims that were made on its behalf. The Army remains intact and knows that those who had the best cause to learn its quality are not likely soon to forget their lesson. Lastly, although towns and villages of Finland have been destroyed by indiscriminate bombardment, the Finnish people have preserved their Scandinavian way of life from the drab desolation of the Soviet system. The work of reconstruction is bound to be heavy, and I trust that means will be found—this point was raised by one of your Lordships in the course of the debate—by which His Majesty's Government may take their share with others in rendering practical assistance in this task to the nation that has thus made its place in history.

I think the principal criticism of His Majesty's Government, or at least the principal point to which inquiry should be directed, is the feeling of anxiety existing—it has been expressed in various quarters of the House—that both as regards material and men we gave help grudgingly and we gave it late. I would like to address myself as closely as I can to both these points of criticism. If I say something first about material it would be with regard to what your Lordships have repeatedly observed to be the twin factors of which account has to be taken—namely, quantity and the time factor. I have with me a list of what we sent at different dates in response to various Finnish requests, and perhaps in passing I might say to Lord Davies that I believe the war material we sent was largely supplied on credit. It was done on the basis of credit arrangements which were not, I think, the subject of very close examination by either Government. As regards his question whether or not these matters were investigated by a Military Mission, they were not so investigated, if I am right in understanding the noble Lord to mean Military Mission in the sense which I have in mind. The matter was handled first of all by the Military Attaches, and we had military officers of high rank travelling backwards and forwards, but there was no Military Mission in the sense of the one which went to St. Petersburg because we did not think that that would be the most expeditious or effective method.

These requests were made through numerous official channels—and may I say in passing that I think no Minister could have better served the interests of his country than did the Finnish Minister, M. Gripenberg?—beginning early in December when hostilities started, and varying from time to time as was natural in accordance with varying necessities of the Finnish Army imposed by the character of the fighting, and with the different emphasis that at different times was laid on the provision of different arms. For example, at the outset of the war the Finns asked particularly for fighter aircraft. A little later emphasis was more particularly placed on bomber aircraft and small arms ammunition, and later again upon the need for guns. While these changes of emphasis were quite natural it obviously made it a good deal more difficult to plan the provision of the material asked for than if those changes could have been avoided. Nevertheless, as I say, as the successive requests were received they were promptly considered and to the fullest extent of our capabilities they were met.

I had intended to say a word in reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, as to his point about aircraft flying over to Finland, but the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, has relieved me of that necessity. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi said, it is not only the aircraft of which we have to take account but the spares and the ammunition, the crews and the ground staff and all the rest of it. Therefore, although it seems that aircraft ought to be very rapid, they are almost one of the slowest things to move. They have to be packed.


May I be allowed to interrupt to say that it was not found so at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, when the Italians were able to send large numbers of aircraft very quickly. I do not know whether ground accommodation was available.


I could not say what types were sent, or whether ground accommodation had been prepared in advance, or whether they were reinforcements of aircraft for which there was ground accommodation, but I do not think anyone would challenge the general truth of what Lord Strabolgi said, which I now repeat. We were not able, of course, to send, and I do not think any claim has ever been made that we did send, by any means everything for which requests were made. We ourselves are at war. We never knew then, any more than from day to day we know now, at what moment our Army in France or our people at home might be the object of savage and sustained attack. There were and are also many claims of other Powers with whom we stand in special relation and towards whom we have obligations of which we had to take account. But in spite of these considerations we were able to promise to the Finns very substantial aid.

We promised to them—perhaps I may give the House a few items—152 aeroplanes, 200 guns, 253,000 shells, 100 Vickers guns, 500 marine mines, 50,000 hand-grenades, 30,000 aircraft bombs, 1,300 sets of signal equipment, 200 antitank rifles and a great many other items of less importance. Perhaps I might give your Lordships a few examples of the manner in which various requests were actually met. During the first half of December the chief request of the Finns was for fighter aircraft. We agreed to send them thirty Gladiators and twenty-eight Gauntlets. The thirty Gladiators had all been shipped well before the end of January. The Finns also made large demands for small- arms ammunition, demands which continued throughout the war. Before the end of December 1,000,000 rounds were sent, but in the first half of December approval was also given to the supply of 10,000 anti-tank mines, 100 machine-guns, 150 anti-tank rifles, 10,000 hand-grenades, and twenty-five 4.5 howitzers with ammunition. In the second half of December the need for bombers was especially stressed; the dispatch of twelve long-nosed Blenheims was approved, and they reached Finland—flying out, I think—during the first week in January. Other material of which the supply was approved during that period was a large quantity of sea mines, twelve six-inch naval guns, and a further 2,500,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition. Nearly all that material was despatched in January and February.

In the first part of January a very comprehensive list of requirements was submitted to us by the Finnish Government, including a further large demand for small-arms ammunition. To meet that demand—and the ammunition was different, unhappily, from our own—special arrangements were made for the manufacture in this country of something like 20,000,000 rounds and a further 18,500,000 cases. That ammunition was not ready for dispatch before the war ended; but during January and February there were approved and shipped—I give the principal items—24 three-inch antiaircraft guns and ammunition, 18 two-pounder guns, 1,500 120–1b. bombs, 500 100–lb. bombs, 2,000,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition, 17 Lysander aircraft, 12 Blenheims and 12 Hurricanes. These were approved and shipped during January and February; and it was also agreed to send 33 Rocs, but it had not been possible to deliver those before the war ended. Approval was given in February to the supply of 30 field guns and ammunition, 6,000 4–lb. incendiary bombs, and a large quantity of other ammunition and anti-tank rifles. That material was shipped continuously through February and March.

I apologise for inflicting figures on your Lordships, and I think it is almost impossible, across the floor of the House, to make sure we are all talking about the same thing. I have, however, tried to respond to what was asked of me and to [...]the actual amounts at actual times. Your Lordships will no doubt be able to refer to the OFFICIAL REPORT. I do not mention in detail many other items that should be brought into the balance-sheet, but I think it can be said, and I can fairly say, that we have not hesitated to meet, to the fullest possible extent that we could, the need of the Finns for war materials, and that everything possible was done to dispatch it and to get it to Finland with the minimum of delay. Another factor of great importance entered into the problem of provisioning Finland with war material, and that was the very limited means of communication—the factor to which Lord Samuel drew attention. It took at the best something like three weeks to get stuff from England to the Finnish frontier, on the north of the Gulf of Bothnia. How long it took further down to the Isthmus I do not know, but the means of communication were very limited. These restricted railway facilities speedily became very congested, owing largely to the Swedish needs and claims; and we did our best to overcome that difficulty by sending officers from here to follow the stuff through, to push it through the railway and get it into Finland as quickly as possible, and I do not see that we could have done more.

I said last week that I thought the Finnish Government and military authorities were by no means disposed to underrate the value of the help we made available. Since that discussion I have looked up the papers to refresh my memory, and I find that my memory was correct. Over and over again during these last weeks we have received messages, as also I have no doubt did the French Government, conveying in the warmest terms the appreciation of the Finnish Government of what we were trying to do. If, as I have said, we were not able to do everything the Finns asked—and of course we were not—I am certain that the Finnish authorities were satisfied that we were honestly doing everything we could within the limits of our capacity to send them aid.

I turn for a moment to a question of perhaps even greater importance—the question of man-power. About the middle of January we learnt from Field-Marshal Mannerheim that men were not then required, as the Finns would be reasonably well off in man-power till the thaw came. The Field-Marshal expressed the hope that reinforcements of about 30,000 men might be sent to him in May, but he stipulated that they should be trained soldiers. At the same time it was made clear that both Finland and Sweden were nervous of German intervention, and hoped on that account that no forces would be sent officially. The Field-Marshal's views were immediately considered by the War Cabinet. At that time an unofficial bureau for the organisation of volunteers was already in process of being set up, but the Cabinet were immediately convinced that an effective force could not be raised on a voluntary basis and that such reinforcements as Field-Marshal Mannerheim hoped to receive in May could be made available only if they were raised on an official basis and as a properly-organised expedition. Accordingly, the whole question of an expedition was immediately and thoroughly explored. Plans were prepared and discussed at a meeting of the Supreme War Council held early in February. The proposals were approved by the Supreme War Council, preparations were immediately begun, and the expedition was ready to move at the beginning of March. I frankly do not understand how anyone with a knowledge of the facts as I have narrated them can say that the Allies were either dilatory or half-hearted or vacillating about the measures which they took to meet Field-Marshal Mannerheim's request.


Can the noble Viscount say exactly how many troops were ready to embark in the month of March, and at what date, and whether the French were ready to embark troops at the same time, and if so in what numbers?


I have not overlooked that point; I have it in mind and perhaps I may come to it in my own time. It is a very important point; the matter does turn largely on dates. I think—at least, I hope—that the facts that I have given to the House do show that no time was lost. They also show what seems to me to be an important point—namely, that the expedition was ready to sail to Scandinavia well in advance of the date on which Field-Marshal Mannerheim had asked for reinforcements.

I come now to the question of the size of the expedition. I have seen it suggested that it was a negligible—some have even described it, I think, as a legendary —force. We had in laying our plans to have regard to two overriding factors. In the first place, it was quite clear that no expedition could get to Finland except through Norway and Sweden. The possibility of Petsamo had been carefully examined and found to be impracticable. Accordingly, the assent of Norway and Sweden to the passage of troops had to be secured, and we recognised that, if that assent were given, Norway and Sweden were liable to be attacked in the rear by Germany, who was not hesitating to threaten that action. Our plans, therefore, had to include the provision of a force to assist in defending Southern Scandinavia against the German attack. In the second place, the geography and the railway facilities of Sweden and Norway are such as to place a very definite limit indeed upon the size of the forces which could be despatched from this country to Scandinavia. The plan which we decided to adopt was that of sending to Scandinavia the largest possible force which the physical conditions permitted. It was quite obvious that the whole of that force could not reach Finland, because, as I have said, a large number of troops would be required to assist Sweden against German aggression, and further troops would be needed to guard the lines of communication.

The maximum force which we were advised could be despatched to Scandinavia in the circumstances I have described was an army of approximately 100,000 men, of which about one half was to be British and one half was planned to be French. Obviously they were not all to go at once, but they were to start at the earliest possible date after we had secured the permission of Norway and Sweden, and were then to go as fast as the ports and railways could carry them. Preparations, as I say, were completed under which such a force, heavily armed and fully equipped, could reach Scandinavia by the end of April. Thereafter we should have been able to judge by experience to what extent additional reinforcements would have been either necessary or possible—possible from the point of view of being supported when they arrived. It was quite clear, as I have said, that all that depended to a very considerable extent upon the assent of Norway and Sweden. We therefore proposed to inform the Finnish Government of our intentions and invite them to make an appeal to the world for assistance. We hoped and believed that when that appeal was publicly made before the world and our willingness to respond immediately to it was made known—we were in a position to say "Here is our force, ready to come"—the effect on the public opinion of Norway and Sweden would have been very great. Accordingly, we communicated these plans in detail to the Finns in the second half of February. They at once informed the Swedes of what we had in mind and the reply of the Swedish Government was that they would continue to permit the passage of volunteers in small numbers and of munitions, but that they were not prepared to allow the passage of armed regular forces, for reasons which are very familiar to us all.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, has asked me whether we in fact invoked Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations in our negotiations with those countries. As perhaps will be seen from what I have said, there were no formal negotiations in that sense with the Scandinavian States, although an appeal was made by the Finnish Government and ourselves to them to permit the passage of our troops. Incidentally, although I have not looked up the date, I think that what Professor Koht said was probably correct, that the appeal that we made on March 2 was the first formal appeal which we had made, but it followed everything that had been going on between the Finns and the Swedes and ourselves, and we had made informal appeals before that. There was no reference in the appeal to Article 16, because, of course, we knew very well what the views of the Governments of Norway and Sweden were with regard to Article 16. It is quite legitimate to hold that the full application of Article 16 against the Soviet Union was not excluded under the resolution of December 14, but the noble Lord will not forget that the Swedish delegate at that meeting at Geneva to which he refers made a specific statement on behalf of his own country and of the Scandinavian States, saying that they made every reservation in so far as the resolution involved any measure coming within the scope of the system of sanctions. I need not perhaps, develop the point at length, but I have no doubt whatever in my mind that no useful purpose would have been served by asking the two Scandinavian Governments to assent to a position which they had been at every pains two months earlier to make plain that they would not in fact accept. We greatly regret their decision, of course, and His Majesty's Government must reserve their position as regards the interpretation which these countries have placed upon their obligations as Members of the League.

Let me now come back to my main story. In the hope that the Finns would still make a public appeal on the lines contemplated, and that the objections of the Swedes would ultimately be overcome, all our preparations for the dispatch of the expedition continued. The points which I hope and think emerge from this short history that I have ventured to give seem to me to be these. First, that apart from Field-Marshal Mannerheim's intimation in January that he would need reinforcements of some 30,000 men in May, we have never had any request from Finland for land forces. Secondly, that despite this we did make preparations on a large scale for the dispatch of forces through Scandinavia. Thirdly, that no time was lost in making these preparations and that our expedition would in fact have arrived in Scandinavia long before the date by which the Field-Marshal had asked for those reinforcements. Fourthly, that the expedition was planned on the maximum scale which the physical conditions of the country and the transportation available made possible. The plans were quickly made and the preparations which they involved were as expeditiously carried out. I do not think that you will find there any evidence of hesitation or uncertainty or of anything but determination to help.

All this was dependent not only on the decisions of the Allied Governments but also upon the attitude of the Finnish Government and still more, indeed, on the attitude of the Scandinavian Governments, which principally in the end, of course, influenced the Finnish decision. That decision was rendered more certain when those Governments refused a formal appeal to send Finland reinforcements from their own forces. It is not at all difficult to appreciate the position of Sweden and Norway, and the Foreign Ministers of those two countries have made quite clear with whom the final responsibility for their attitude must rest. From their point of view there was, I think, strong ground for fearing that if they had allowed the Allies to send help to Finland they would have run the risk of German invasion from the south. We may very well regret that the Scandinavian Governments, with the sure knowledge that the Allied assistance would have been forthcoming, should not have decided to ignore the German threat. But however that may be, there can be no doubt in our minds that it is Germany, as the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, said, who was ultimately responsible, by throwing her shield over the aggressor, for preventing help being brought to Finland. We all remember that since 1918, when German troops played some small part in the liberation of Finland from a previous Bolshevist invasion, innumerable speeches have been made in Germany of which the unchanging burden has been that Germany, who had already once proved herself the saviour of Finland, would not hesitate to save her again, should she be threatened, as Finland was for Germany, as for us, one of the bastions of European civilisation. And yet in this crisis we find Germany not only not lifting a finger to save her, but using a threat to prevent her from being saved by her friends.

There is nothing, I can see to guarantee that events which we have seen in Finland may not be sought to be repeated in Norway or Sweden or other States, unless those States are prepared to defend themselves and to co-operate with others who are prepared to defend them. It is an essential part of the cause of freedom, for which we are fighting, that all countries should be free, within the limits of obligations freely accepted, to decide their policy without threat or pressure from any belligerent. His Majesty's Government fully appreciate the position of countries that are now exposed to the threat of force. We understand their wish to remain neutral, and we understand their feelings at the inconvenience which war not infrequently causes for non-belligerents. But, none the less, I think that we have a right to ask that all peoples who are free, or who wish to be free, should consider carefully where they stand to-day. Europe is faced by a situation in which it would be folly to suppose that successful aggression can be localised and written off as of no further consequence.

My Lords, I have done my best, I am afraid at inordinate length, to tell your Lordships the facts, but I hope it cannot fairly be said that those to whom appeals were made failed to do their best to meet them. I do not deny, and I would not for a moment seek to deny, that, both as regards material and as regards men, we were confronted with difficulties to which we were bound to have regard: first, the necessity of balancing the desire to help in one quarter against the evident risk of leaving those fields for which we had direct responsibility unduly, or perhaps dangerously, weakened; and, secondly, the impossibility of moving in by way of organised military expeditions, except by the consent of the two Governments concerned, and that permission was not forthcoming. And, if anyone had any doubt he would perhaps have it removed by the words used by Field-Marshal Mannerheim in his last Order of the Day to the Finnish forces, when he said that the "valuable offers and promise of assistance which the Western Powers gave" could not be realised because Sweden and Norway refused transit because of their concern for their own safety. As I have said, I understand the reasoning of those States well enough, fraught with danger as I believe it to be for their own liberties in the future, and I understand very well, too, the limitations that are imposed on the Allies by the fact that we do not make war according to the methods of our enemies. But there are other and perhaps weightier considerations which we do well not to overlook.

Two criticisms have been made: first, that we have lost an opportunity and forfeited an initiative; and, secondly, that time is working against us. May I say one word, before I sit down, on those two points? As to the first, it is, I think, of great importance to define our meaning, and not be misled by general statements that do not represent accurately the facts. What was this opportunity and this initiative? I have tried to show that it was an opportunity and an initiative that was always conditional upon something else, that we did our best not only to equip ourselves to seize the opportunity, but to establish the condition on which alone the opportunity could have been seized effectively. I do not think—having detailed the reasons—that any useful purpose is now to be served by recrimina- tion or fault-finding with other nations, and I only add these words, that those who champion the rights of small nations in one direction cannot afford to be wholly careless of how they treat them in another. It is quite easy in such a case as this to see some only of the facts, and on these selected premises build a conclusion which is found to be very insecurely founded if all the facts are brought into the reckoning.

Then, as to the second criticism, that time is not on our side, I think he would be a very bold man who made such an assertion. We have always said that it would take time, to marshal the forces of this country, of this Empire, and make their weight felt. I think he would be a still bolder man who drew the conclusion from that that at any price it is essential to take action for the sake of action, without full appreciation of all that may be involved. It is true that Finland has been the victim of yet another unprovoked attack, but both the strength and the quality of her resistance have shown the positive results that determination and resolution can achieve, and have given new encouragement to our people to relax no effort in the task of proving the failure of aggressive force, without which we certainly cannot realise the hope of a world in which all nations can live peacefully together.

I have nothing to add to what the noble Lord opposite said as to the broad peace aims of the British people, of whom we here are in some sense representative. It is no part of our purpose to destroy Germany, to seek a vindictive peace, or anything of the kind; but it is our purpose to see that liberty, so far as we can achieve it, is restored to peoples who have been deprived of it, and, above all, we seek security for the world. And I cannot, I think, sum up our aim better than it was put by the noble Lord opposite—to convince Germany that she is not entitled to exercise sovereignty above the moral law.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that I have the assent of all those who have criticised this afternoon to thank the noble Viscount on their behalf for the statement that he has made. There is no need for him to apologise, either for the time he took or for the fact that he postponed his reply until the last. There is one explanation I would like to make. He rather suggested that Labour had been invited to take a part in the Ministry of Information. I believe that part was limited to an invitation to three of our members to sit upon an advisory committee, which I also believe never met, but which we are certain was disbanded very quickly. Another point was that the noble Viscount invited us to put down a Motion on the Paper to detail our criticisms as to supply. We have many times wished to do that, but in every case we have decided that it would be rather too risky to state many of the things that are in our minds, and in other ways we have conveyed our impressions to the Ministers responsible. With your Lordships' permission I will withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I do not proceed with my Motion, as the subject has already been considered.