HL Deb 22 July 1941 vol 119 cc906-12

LORD NEWTON asked His Majesty's Government whether it is their intention to continue diplomatic relations with Finland, and whether it is the case that an assurance has been received that the funds sent from this country last year to Finland will not be handed over to Germany. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have put this question on the Paper in consequence of the extremely malicious statements which have been circulated with regard to the present attitude of the Finns, who are more friendly to this country than any other nation I know. It has been stated, for instance, that money sent from this country has been diverted from its purpose and allowed to fall into the hands of the Germans, and it has also been said that British subjects in Finland have been subjected to harsh and unjustified treatment. I do not believe there is a single word of truth in these statements. There may be someone to corroborate what I have said, and I trust I shall get an acknowledgment from the Government that what I have said is correct.

It is perfectly obvious that the object of these statements is to persuade us that the Finns are in the same position as those former Allies who have betrayed us—in a word, that they are as bad as the Vichy politicians. Let me point out that there is no analogy between the two. In the case of France, we had a solemn Treaty in which it was enacted that neither side would make peace without the consent of the other. The Vichy politicians not only broke their word and made a separate peace, but they have shown constant malignity and hostility to this country, as if we had been their enemy for years. I firmly believe that if Admiral Darlan and M. Laval were to express their real opinions, they would have no hesitation in saying that they regard us as a greater enemy than Germany. With regard to the Finns, there is a great deal more to be said for them than would appear to be the case. In the autumn of 1939 they were suddenly subjected to an invasion without having committed any offence whatsoever or giving any provocation for an attack of any kind. We all know what happened, and we also know that the indignation felt in this country at this unprovoked attack was so great that assistance was sent in the form of money and munitions to Finland. It was actually proposed to dispatch a military expedition to Finland to assist them in the war. The Swedes then intervened and refused to allow passage to our troops, and by so doing rendered us valuable service which they probably were not aware of at the time. For if we had sent the expedition there can be no doubt it would have suffered a disaster as did similar expeditions sent elsewhere.

We all know what happened. The Finns made a most determined, courageous, and resolute defence, but they were eventually worn down, partly through the assistance of the Germans to the Russians, and were obliged to make peace. The peace was a disastrous one in every way. It was a kind of peace which has been described by the Germans as a Carthaginian peace. The Finns were deprived of a large portion of their territory, and they were obliged to submit to unjustifiable and extortionate terms. Next they were set upon by the Germans, who came to them and said: "Unless you give passage to our troops from Norway through Finland we will occupy your country." What were the Finns to do? What alternative had they? On the one hand they were subject to the grinding tyranny of the Russians and on the other hand to the threats of the Germans and the prospects of a German occupation of their country. They did what I maintain any other country would have done in similar circumstances. They went to war with the Russians, but they did so with extreme reluctance. In these circumstances I do not feel that we can be too hard upon them. I regard them myself as having been the most hardly used country at the present moment.

The position, of course, has altered in consequence of the Anglo-Russian Treaty, and with regard to that Treaty I have no hesitation in saying that it is fully approved of and applauded by every sensible person in this country, and all the more so because it is strictly confined to the operations of war. We now feel that the Russian cause is our cause. We have made them our Allies, and I feel perfectly certain that the Russians can feel assured we shall not behave to them in the way that the Vichy people have behaved to us. The intervention of the Finns in the war is obviously not the result of a pure desire for military adventure on their part. I do not like to criticise the conduct of an Ally too much, but the complicated position which has arisen has arisen from the fact that the Russian policy during the last two or three years was of a very foolish nature. It is quite evident that the Russians realised the German danger. That is apparent from the fact that they have shown themselves prepared to resist this absolutely unjustifiable onslaught upon them, to which they are making a gallant resistance, in which we wish them well.

We are much indebted to the Russians, but it is not to be expected that the Finns should entertain the same views. They see a prospect of getting back part of what was taken from them. They have not gone to war because they wanted to go to war, but for the purpose of recovering territory taken unjustly from them, and in point of fact they are actually fighting in that territory at the present moment. This is an extremely complicated position, and I think it is extremely hard on the Finns and very disagreeable to us. Is there no way out? I said that the Russian policy—I repeated it with fear and trembling in the presence of the champion of the Soviet Government, Lord Strabolgi—was foolish, and to maintain that policy was quite plainly an extremely foolish thing, but they obviously realised that they were going to be invaded and attacked some day by the Germans. In spite of that they agreed to make a Pact with Hitler. In the meanwhile the Russians unfortunately exasperated not only Finland but other countries as well. The result is that they have around them a belt of nations which is welcoming the German advance and assisting the German progress.

Is there any way out of the difficulty? It seems to me that there is. I observe that the Russians, conscious of the mistake they have made, are now approaching a nation which they formerly attacked. If I am not mistaken they are in process of negotiating with Yugoslavia, with Czecho-Slovakia and with Poland. Is there any reason why they should not approach the Finns themselves? I am of course aware that there are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, but there ought to be some possibility of getting the matter broached, and it might be taken up, not perhaps by ourselves but by somebody else. What I feel is that the Finns would be only too glad to retire altogether from the struggle if the Russians could give them some sort of assurance that the Treaty forced upon them a year ago would be reconsidered. If that were done, I imagine the Finns would be only too glad to retire from the war and take no further part in it. There is a great deal to be said on this subject, but I wilt spare the House any further remark, as there may be other noble Lords who wish to speak on this subject. I will, therefore, content myself by merely asking the question, and will say no more.


My Lords, in the absence of the President of the Finland Fund, Lord Plymouth, I venture, as Chairman of that; Fund, to deal in a few words with the second part of Lord Newton's question. The Finland Fund was formed on a strictly non-party basis with the specific objects of succouring the sick and wounded and affording relief to civilians who suffered owing to the invasion of their country. The response of the British public both at home and overseas manifested the admiration which was virtually unanimously felt for the gallant resistance of the Finnish people, a resistance which I think was described by the present Prime Minister as "sublime." In the result the sympathy of the public was manifested to the tune of £301,000 and this large sum was applied as follows. I give these figures because there have been loose insinuations in the Press that the money has found its way into undesirable hands.

In the first place, to the purchases of supplies through the British Red Cross and payment of equipment and expenses of relief expeditions, the sum of £86,500 was devoted. Then there were purchases of clothing and other supplies for the needs of the refugees, £44,000; purchases of ambulance aeroplane, field kitchens, fire engine and fire' fighting equipment and expenses of the fire volunteer crew, £16,500; paid to the London representative of the Finnish Red Cross, £7,000. These items amount to £154,000, and may be said to be the amount spent during the short period of the Finnish War, and chiefly through the Finnish Red Cross. Meanwhile, on the Finnish side, a body known as Suomen Huolto or Finnish Relief was set up by the Finnish Government under ex-President Cajander to administer relief, and in particular relief for the 475,000 refugees from the provinces ceded to Russia. Noble Lords will remember that only something under 10 per cent. of the population of the ceded provinces elected to remain behind under Russian rule.

The unspent balance of the Fund was therefore devoted to various charitable objects after consultation between ex-President Cajander and the Finland Fund's representative, Mr. Henry M. Bell. These moneys were paid to the Bank of England by the Finland Fund, and the sterling so acquired was in fact used very largely for purchases from this country, whilst corresponding credits in Finnish marks were opened in Finland. In the result, the Salvation Army in Finland, which had suffered severe losses through bombing of its buildings and other enemy action, and which has all along given most devoted service under the leadership of Mr. and Mrs. Sladen, received £5,000. The maintenance of hospitals for evacuee children accounted for £15,000; the fund for war wounded £40,000. This has all been spent. The fund for the education of the children from the ceded provinces received £40,000. This has been largely spent in replacing technical schools lost by the partition of the territory. The erection of two homes for orphans and homeless children accounted for £12,000, and I am assured that this money has actually been handed over to the institutions concerned. A sum of £15,000 was paid over to the Finnish Red Cross and nearly all expended in America to pay for purchases in that country. And finally there was a grant of £1,000 to the children's home in Rovaniemi and the home for aged women in Viborg.

The total thus accounted for is £128,000, which, added to the £154,000 spent during the war, brings us to a total of £282,000. Various small miscellaneous purchases accounted for another £3,000, and the balance to make the total of £301,000 is accounted for by the overhead expenses of the Fund, which amounted to only £6,400, the remainder being retained as a reserve, partly for the repatriation of the volunteer fire crew. I would only add that I have the highest assurance that all funds sent for relief purposes to Finland had been allotted under the supervision of the Fund's representatives to the objects which I have stated by December, 1940. I have thought it right to make this somewhat detailed statement, for which I apologise to your Lordships, in order that our subscribers may rest assured that of the large sum of money so generously sub-cribed by them none has passed into German hands.


My Lords, in reply to the first part of the question on the Paper in the name of my noble friend, I may say that the relations between this country and Finland have been under constant review since Finland engaged in hostilities against our Ally, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, side by side with German troops, large bodies of whom are stationed in Finland. After very careful consideration His Majesty's Government have decided at present to maintain diplomatic relations with Finland. But they have left the Finnish Government in no doubt that this decision to continue relations may at any time be reversed in the light of events. They have, of course, ceased the issue of Navicerts for goods destined for Finland, and no facilities are being given for ships to proceed to that country.

As regards the second part of the question it is not quite clear what funds the noble Lord has in mind, but presumably it was the so-called "Finland Fund," concerning which my noble friend Lord Phillimore has informed the House. This fund was collected in this country on private initiative at the time of the war between Finland and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics for the purpose of supplying comforts, medicines and drugs to Finland and which amounted as has been stated to £301,000. More than one half of this amount was expended on purchases in the United Kingdom. This fund was a purely private enterprise, and His Majesty's Government neither contributed to it nor were responsible for the allocation of the money collected. When the war ended in 1940, there was a considerable balance of this fund left over, and this was applied to various charitable purposes arising from the war, such as the care of orphans, and the like. The bulk of the fund, which is administered under the Chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, has now been expended, with the exception of a reserve of about £10,000 which has been kept in this country in anticipation of expenditure connected with the repatriation of a number of persons sent out to Finland at the expense of the fund at the time.

While, therefore, it cannot be said that specific assurances were received, either then, or subsequently, that the fund would not be handed over to the Germans, there does not appear to be the slightest reason for assuming that this would happen, even if most of the fund had not already been expended as appears to be the case. In addition to the Finland Fund, smaller sums of money were sent to Finland by the Finnish Aid Bureau in this country for the maintenance of the volunteers who proceeded to Finland from this country at the time and most of whom are now in Sweden. These amounts were expended practically as soon as they reached Finland, so that there can be no question of handing these over to the Germans.