HL Deb 04 August 1942 vol 124 cc181-92

LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the practice adopted by His Majesty's Government of broadcasts on war aims and policy being made by senior officers of the Services not responsible to Parliament; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to call attention to a matter of proportionately different importance. It will be within your Lordships' recollection that on July 29 I called attention to a broadcast statement that had been issued, and which was published widely in the Press, by Sir Arthur Harris, Chief of the Bomber Command. I asked whether this statement had received the prior approval of His Majesty's Government and, if so, whether the Government proposed to adopt the practice of having individual officers of the different Services broadcasting statements on war aims and strategic policy. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, replied that the broadcast had received the prior approval of His Majesty's Government, and he added that His Majesty's Government held itself free to select the personage most suitable for any particular broadcast.

I confess that, being somewhat of an old Parliamentary hand, I was not much impressed by the august nature of the latter part of the noble Earl's reply, and, not being satisfied, I immediately gave notice that I should call attention to this matter which, in my judgment, embodies a practice that should not be continued. It is solely on that ground that I now call attention to it. It places everyone—and I feel it very much myself—in a position of real embarrassment. My question was not put with any feeling whatever in connexion with this gallant officer who gave the broadcast. He is doing a distinguished duty with great distinction, and I hope nothing that is in my question will in any way be related to the efficiency and quality and worth of the public service of Sir Arthur Harris. The only point is this. I understand that Sir Arthur Harris was selected to make this broadcast. I use the word "selected" because I believe the broadcast was drafted for him. I have no doubt he may have made a few personal emendations, but I am told that it was thought better that a statement of this kind addressed to the German people—for that was the intention of the broadcast—should be addressed to them by somebody with a brass hat rather than with a tailcoat.

There may be something in that piece of psychology—I cannot say whether there is or is not—but the view I take of this subject is this. The person selected to make a broadcast may be a serving Admiral to-morrow or a General the day after, or anybody else, who is not subject to Parliamentary question, and cannot be held responsible to Parliament for what he says. It is not a statement that can, so far as he is concerned, be called in question in Parliament, and that is why I deliberately asked in my question whether the statement had received the prior approval of His Majesty's Government. The noble Earl said it had. Very well. If that was the case then it clearly is necessary, and most desirable, that when statements of high importance—because this is a statement of high importance—are made, we should be told that the statement is made with the approval of His Majesty's Government and that such and such a Minister has authorized the statement. Parliament can then address appropriate questions to the Minister, if it wishes to do so, on the statement itself.

It is altogether a mistake—I would not put it any higher—that authoritative statements should be made on matters of high international importance as this is—by anyone who is not subject to the usual Parliamentary questioning if thought right, and we should not expose any serving officer, as this gallant officer has been exposed, to questions about his broadcast: first, because he cannot answer himself, and secondly, because it is not fair that officers should be placed in that invidious position. It is altogether wrong. That is why I am making this protest, and I think it should be made.

There are one or two points in the statement itself which I am going to mention not because I am so much concerned about what was in it, but there are one or two statements of which I think I ought to remind your Lordships in order to get the matter in its right perspective. It was said: We are going to scourge the Third Reich from end to end"— and then, addressing the German people: You have no chance. Soon we shall be coming every night and every day, rain, blow or snow—we and the Americans. Well, as an interested onlooker I should question the accuracy of that statement. It is not long since we were told that even in June large-scale bombing raids were not possible because of the weather, and I dare say that is quite correct. I am not in the least questioning the accuracy of that statement. Only the other day I believe, the day of the second raid on Hamburg, the weather was so bad that some of the machines had to be called back. Quite right. If the weather was such that they could not do what they wanted to do, it was no use sending them. That is good sense, but it does make one wonder why Sir Arthur Harris, with his heavy responsibility, should have been asked, or induced, or made to say that they were going over with the Americans, "rain, blow or snow." I do not think anybody can expect, in view of all that we know, that weather will not sometimes prevent raids. It certainly will. Unfortunately, from many points of view, it has prevented them far too much. We wish it would not prevent them so much. But still, who put these words into the mouth of this gallant officer? I wonder what amateur drew up this broadcast.

Then it went on to say, appealing to the German people: You can overthrow the Nazis and can make peace. … It is not true that we plan a peace of revenge. That is true, of course, but a statement as to the character of the peace we want I and so forth should, I contend, be made by a responsible Minister. Ministers can explain more what is in their minds and can be asked to say what they mean. But the real point is the manner in which the broadcast was made and who was selected to make it. The statement really contained a lot of stuff so bombastic that you might have thought that Mussolini made it. If you read some of the statement it seems much more like Mussolini than an Englishman. It is not a British habit to brag in advance of all you are going to do. That can be left to our enemies. I am sorry to find that somebody—in the Ministry of Information I suppose—has been trying to imitate them. If we succeed in bombing them into a disposition to throw over the Nazis, then we can say to them: "This is what we are doing. Throw over the pernicious fellows you have accepted as leaders and we will stop it and give you a chance of making peace." But to brag in advance of what you are going to do, "rain, blow or snow," sounds like Goebbels's statement that no bombs shall fall on the Reich. It is just about as sensible.

I do hope that this deplorable bombast is not going to form a part of British propaganda. We have a magnificent case. It has not been the British habit to brag or boast in advance. Let us do a good job of work beating the Germans and then we can have some right and justice in saying what we are going to do about it. This sort of thing seems to me to bring our name rather into contempt. At all events, whether it is well timed or not, so far as the content of this particular broadcast is concerned I would urge upon your Lordships—and I hope the Minister will not be too truculent about it in his reply—that broadcasts of this sort should not be imposed on serving officers who cannot answer for themselves but should be made by a responsible Minister or his representative who can be answerable to Parliament. I beg to move.


My Lords, we cannot be surprised that the noble Lord who leads the Opposition has thought it right to bring forward this Motion to-day. As he has clearly explained, he has done so entirely, or almost entirely, on the question of principle and not in regard to the subject matter of this particular broadcast. It has been said, as the noble Lord told us, in reply to his earlier question, that His Majesty's Government reserve the right to entrust a broadcast to any person they consider most fit. No doubt that is quite true. That person might be a member of one of the Fighting Forces, he might be a member of the Civil Service, he might be a diplomatist and considered by the Government as the most suitable person. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Addison, pointed out, he could not be a Government mouthpiece. If he is a self-respecting man, he would not be content to be a mere gramophone repeating something set down by a capable private secretary attached to His Majesty's Government. He would want to say what his own opinions are, subject, of course, to the limitations of censorship which are imposed upon anybody who makes a broadcast. But His Majesty's Government cannot possibly in common sense undertake responsibility for such a broadcast.

The possible explanation, as the noble Lord suggested, is that in addressing civilians in a country like Germany, where particularly in Prussia the worship of the military uniform has for generations reached almost the point of insanity, if you are to persuade or frighten the German people into something like a rebellion against their present Government, teat can only be done by some person who also wears uniform. That I believe to be a complete error. If the rule is applied to one branch of the Forces, it would, I suppose, have to be applied to the others. I do not feel quite sure where the distinguished Admiral would come in, but it is very easy to suppose that His Majesty's Government might desire that the voice of some very distinguished soldier should be addressed to the German people. As we all know, the belief of many people, indeed I think most people, is that it would be impossible to conclude hostilities in this war without the military occupation of Germany. It might be thought wise to impress on the German population that, although it certainly would riot be conducted with any of the shameful brutalities which have disgraced the occupation, of other countries by German forces, yet no advance of that kind could be made without great destruction of property and probably also loss of civilian life, and calling upon them to draw the same moral which is to be drawn from the broadcast of Sir Arthur Harris.

As regards the subject matter of that broadcast, perhaps some of your Lordships may have seen that it has been distorted by the German announcers into an assertion that it is proposed mercilessly to bomb the civilian population of Germany. Of course that is completely untrue. What Sir Arthur Harris did say—and it cannot be contradicted—was that in making attacks on purely military objectives such as dockyards or factories by bombing, it is not possible to avoid a certain loss of civilian life and destruction of the houses in which people who are not actually engaged in the Army live. That we all recognize in considering the attacks that have been made on this country. We draw a clear line of distinction between the casualties which have been inflicted on civilians in the immediate neighbourhood of military objects of attack, and the loss of life which has occurred in such places as Bath or Exeter. Undoubtedly that warning or caution was what was contained in the broadcast of Sir Arthur Harris. I can only say that I am in full agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Addison, in his expression of regret that His Majesty's Government have taken this course instead of confining the delivery of broadcasts or warnings of this kind to responsible members of the Government, many of whom are most fully capable of undertaking them. With these few remarks I offer my full support to the views which Lord Addison has expressed.


My Lords, may I say in a very few words that it does not appear to me to matter so very greatly who does these broadcasts to our enemies, but what does matter to a very great extent is—as has already been stated—the substance of the broadcasts? It is arguable whether senior officers of any of the Fighting Services form the right channel through which Government policy should be disseminated. I am very much inclined to agree that they do not constitute the right channel. But, as I say, it is arguable. It is also arguable whether it is wise or sound strategy to inform your enemies about your intentions in advance. But surely one thing admits of no argument whatever, and that is the question of broadcasting your policy before you are in a position to implement that policy. To broadcast your strategy, as I see it, without being able, forthwith, tactically to pursue it seems to me to be the supreme height of folly, and it has been all too apparent all through these summer months that, in fact, we have been unable to do all we had hoped to do.

An American acquaintance of mine who has just landed on this side received a cable from those on the other side who are directing his mission over here. I would just like to read that cable to your Lordships. It runs: Press reports British Air Marshal appeals German public overthrow Nazis and make peace, otherwise Allied Forces will bomb Reich end to end. This appeal is sanguinary nonsense. Would British or American public respond to similar request? Definitely no. When calling Air Ministry tell them do it, not talk about it, and make it as near as possible every hour, twenty-four hours every day, seven days per week, four weeks per month, and no fooling. Is it unreasonable to conjecture that similar opinions, if, perhaps, less forcibly and less picturesquely expressed, may be held in other quarters of the globe? I think that we are not very fully endowed with the finesse and discrimination that are so necessary in dealing with this very difficult sphere of propaganda. I would ask of the Government to let us be sure that we do not use this weapon in such a way that it recoils on our own heads like a boomerang, that we do not imitate Goebbels in being, as a noble Lord put it, bombastic and un-British, and, above all, that we ensure that, whatever we do put out, we do nothing that will in any way disappoint, discourage or dishearten our friends or our Allies.


My Lords, I think that my noble friend and possibly other speakers have raised this matter under a certain misapprehension. If I understand the noble Lord, Lord Addison, correctly, his principal objection to Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris's broadcast was that it was delivered by an officer who was not a responsible Minister of the Crown, and who, therefore, was in the position of expounding the policy of His Majesty's Government while not in a position to defend that policy himself in either House of Parliament. I think that that states the principal criticism of my noble friend correctly. I see he gives his assent.


May I supplement that? I also suggest that this is bringing officers into a sphere into which it is not fair to bring them.


That is really another way of putting the same point. In regard to that I do not think that in principle there is any difference of opinion between His Majesty's Government and the noble Lord as to the correct manner in which to announce a new Government decision of policy. That clearly should be announced by a member of the Government, preferably in one or the other House of Parliament where it can be challenged and debated at once if necessary. This, however, was not a statement of that nature; it was a statement made on behalf of the Government to the people of Germany. The Minister of Information takes full responsibility for the statements contained in this broadcast, which was also circulated as a leaflet to Germany. For the statements made in this leaflet and broadcast the Government take full responsibility, and therefore my noble friend's point in that respect is satisfied. He can challenge this statement, as he is challenging it now, and, if he were in another place, he would be answered by the Minister of Information. As there is no representative of the Ministry of Information in your Lordships' House, it falls to my unworthy self to defend the policy of the Ministry. The noble Lord's main point, therefore, is completely met; the Government take full responsibility, and are prepared to defend the broadcast and the leaflet in either House of Parliament.

Then the noble Lord asked why this statement was not made by a politician and why it was made by a serving officer. My Lords, it is a mistake to regard this as a new announcement of policy. The purpose of this leaflet and broadcast was to explain to the German people what was already the policy of His Majesty's Government. That policy had already been announced. The policy of bombing Germany, city by city, was announced by the Prime Minister himself many weeks ago, and it is a policy which is thoroughly well understood in this country. It is the function of political warfare and of propaganda, however, to explain to the German people the fate that awaits them as long as they continue to follow the Nazi Government in the prosecution of this war. My noble friend Lord Ailwyn said he thought it would be much better to bomb them first and talk to them afterwards. That is a matter of opinion, but personally I believe that a great deal can be done over the radio to make the German people understand the true position of affairs.

I think that it is a great error to minimize the value of propaganda. Herr Hitler himself has borne testimony to the efficacy of British propaganda in the last war, and I believe that when the history of this war comes to be written it will be found that British propaganda has been equally effective, and for the same reason—namely, that in this war, as in the last, we have done nothing but tell the German people the truth. What is contained in this broadcast and leaflet is the truth. The truth is that we have begun a policy of systematically bombing the cities of Germany where munitions of war are produced; and, as the broadcast itself pointed out, it is a mistake to think that all this lies in the future. It is going on at the present moment—Lubeck, Rostock, Cologne, Emden, Bremen, Wilhelmshaven, Duisburg, Hamburg, Saarbruecken, and now Düsseldorf. That is a formidable list of accomplishments. The purpose of this message to the German people was to explain to them that this was only the beginning of a policy which had been deliberately undertaken, and that, whereas they could see for themselves that Great Britain already had the means to carry out that policy to a very considerable extent, they should realize how very much better we shall be able to carry it out when we have the great help of America, which is now fast coming to assist us in the task. I think it is perfectly right, therefore, to send a message of this kind to the German people, and the sooner they realize the truth of it the better.

Then the noble Lord asked why an Air Marshal—the gallant Air Marshal commanding Bomber Command—should be asked to send this message. It was judged by my right honourable friend, and I think rightly, that a message coming from Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris would carry great conviction with the people of Germany. As the noble Marquess said, the German people are military minded; they are accustomed to respect the utterances of serving officers, and possibly to attach to them even greater importance than they would attach to the utterances of a politician. I think that that view is right. The object of asking the Air Marshal commanding Bomber Command to deliver this message was to convince the German people that we were really in earnest in this matter. Is not it worth while doing everything we can to convince the German people that we and the Americans are in earnest in this matter? Is not it worth while doing so, even though it may involve doing something which perhaps was not done in the nineteenth century, and for which there are not many Parliamentary precedents?

If my noble friend will allow me to do so, I would remind him that he is continually urging His Majesty's Government to adopt new and up-to-date methods for the prosecution of the war. I think, therefore, that, profiting from the good advice which he has given us in the past, we should be entitled to create precedents, if they will serve to shorten the war. We have not, however, even created a precedent in this case, because this is not the first time that a serving officer has broadcast. Several other broadcasts have been given by serving officers in the past; but this is the first time, so far as I am aware, that the fact has been noticed in either House of Parliament. Therefore, while His Majesty's Government entirely agree with my noble friend that new utterances on policy should be made by Ministers of the Crown, and preferably in Parliament, we do retain the right to ask any individual, whatever his position, to write a leaflet to be dropped in Germany, or to broadcast a message to the German people, if we think that some purpose, useful for the prosecution of the war, will be served thereby; and I submit that we can do that without infringing any constitutional principle.


My Lords, I must apologize for speaking after the noble Earl, but unfortunately the noble Earl seemed to think that all his foes were in front of him, and that there was no danger to be apprehended from behind, and therefore he rose to reply before I could speak. I must congratulate the noble Earl on his reply, because of the masterly way in which he has side-stepped the main impetus of the attack. Because, if I understand correctly the intention of the noble Lord, one of the objects, if not the chief object, of his speech was to show how undesirable it was that matters concerning high policy should be adumbrated by serving officers. On that point I am in complete agreement with him. It is not a question so much of the contents of the broadcast, but it seems to me that we have here a departure from our old and salubrious habit that serving officers should not take part in discussions of high policy. The mere fact that a great many serving officers of all the Services have given military commentaries on subjects on which they are authorities and are entitled to speak does not in my estimation justify this new and, to some of us at least, regrettable innovation. Surely, it would have been better for the Secretary of State for Air to make the political part of the speech, and then to have announced that the Chief of Bomber Command, either immediately following him, or on the following hight, or in a subsequent week, would elaborate, as far as was considered prudent—if the the whole thing was prudent—the methods by which those political intentions were to be carried into practical effect.

Then, as regards the actual contents of the broadcast, I must say that I, too, did not Very much appreciate the definitely bombastic tone. I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ailwyn, and with our Allies on the other side of the Atlantic, that it is far better to do things first and talk about them afterwards. Furthermore, I think the country as a whole is rather disappointed that we have not been able to implement to the full earlier promises given by the Secretary of State for Air and others in regard to the heavy attacks said to be impending on Germany. And if an appeal is to be made to the people of Germany to overthrow their rulers, I think it is very questionable indeed whether it should be done in a broadcast of this description. There is a considerable divergence of opinion in this country as to whether a mere rising by the German people and the overthrow of their present régime is going in any way to absolve the rest of the German people from the consequences of having installed and suffered that régime. And to make a promise that all will be forgiven provided they rise and hand over a certain limited number of their leaders to justice is hardly, for many of us, a satisfactory way of bringing the war to a conclusion. While we do not want to treat the German people with the brutal severity that they use to other nations whom they have victimized, to suggest that the present situation is merely the result of the activities of a small clique is, I think, straining both verisimilitude and politics very far indeed. It is to be hoped that after the ventilation of this subject this afternoon the Ministry of Information will reconsider their policy, and will ensure that in future questions of high politics will be discussed only by Ministers of the Crown, leaving it to the serving officers to put before the public the details of the way which the policy is to be carried into effect, but not the Policy itself.


My Lords, in asking leave to withdraw the Motion, I would express the hope that the House will appreciate the importance of the matter which has been brought forward, and that the noble Lord will represent to his colleague, the Minister of Information, that the speeches from noble Lords of all Parties and from all parts of the House, in their general tenor, have been unanimous in criticism of this broadcast. Whilst no doubt the Minister will continue, as the noble Earl has said, to exercise his right, which he is entitled to do, I hope that we can say that in future he will exercise his right with rather more discretion and forethought than appears to have characterised the effort on the present occasion. I was well aware that there were precedents for serving officers making broadcasts, and I think if the noble Earl will cast his mind back, he will find that they are not very fortunate precedents. I have a lively recollection of a very gallant officer who broadcast to the Germans that they were being led by people who were non-commissioned officers, suggesting that they were bereft of commissioned officers, and I can recall one or two other broadcasts which have been rather unfortunate as prophecies, and the less we say about them the better. Anyhow, so far as the main principle is concerned, I am sure the noble Earl will willingly represent to his colleagues the general sense of this discussion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.