HL Deb 24 March 1942 vol 122 cc377-87

LORD MOTTISTONE had given Notice that he would call attention to the status of civilians in the event of invasion in accordance with the law of the land and the provisions of The Hague Convention of 1907, especially Articles I and II of Convention 4, and to request His Majesty's Government to issue precise instructions, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I understand that a statement has been made in another place with regard to the matter which I raise to-day, but I do not make any apology to your Lordships for raising it in the form in which I have done, because I seek to establish the principle, which seems to me to be vital, that in the grim hour of invasion there must be not only equality under the law but, in order that our safety may be as great as we can make it, equality of sacrifice. Nobody must be allowed to contract out of his duty to do his utmost to overcome the invader. What I claim in the remarks I am going to make is, first of all, that it is the law of the land, and secondly, that the failure to make that plain has caused great confusion of mind which, for instance, mitigates against the success of the proposal which my noble friend the Duke of Sutherland is going to make, and would make it more difficult for the ideas of the noble Earl, Lord Cork, to be carried out because in effect it throws doubt upon the principle that there is equality of sacrifice in this matter.

Thirdly, I can show to your Lordships that in another country, France, the failure to observe the principle of equality of sacrifice was a major reason for the collapse of that country; whereas, conversely, in Russia the acceptance of the principle and its enforcement under the influence of the glowing words of M. Stalin, made the task of our enemies more difficult and has done a great deal to give us the hopeful outlook in this struggle which we now enjoy. Finally, I would beg you to insist, if your Lordships will, that these offending documents which have been issued shall be withdrawn in certain particulars which I am sure have escaped the attention of His Majesty's Government; and I shall show, in conclusion, that the words of the Prime Minister when he appealed to us in the most famous speech of our generation, or perhaps of the past century, to fight on the beaches and elsewhere—the famous words which your Lordships all remember—have been watered down by Government leaflets. In the words of a well-known man to whom I spoke on this subject, these things of course were not issued by Quislings or traitors, but if there wore Quislings or traitors, these would be the documents they would have issued. I think I can make this good.

First of all, the law. I have been very careful to base myself upon what has been said by nobody but Lord Chancellors. It is not necessary for me to call in aid my noble friend who presides over us, the present Lord Chancellor, for he has already made clear his view. But here is what the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said, based upon Lord Halsbury's Laws of England, volume 9, page 85: (1) It is undoubtedly the law in this country that it is the duty of every citizen to endeavour to bring criminals to justice. (2) That is the reason why a private person has the right to arrest when (a) a felony has been actually committed or attempted, or where there is immediate danger of a felony being committed or where a breach of the peace has been actually committed or is reasonably apprehended: (b) a breach of the peace includes not only an actual assault but all cases where public alarm and excitement are occasioned by a person's wrongful acts. (3) It follows that this Common Law right of arrest must include the right to use such violence as may be necessary to effect the arrest, including, if the delinquent is armed, the use of arms. (4) Again, it follows that if a private person has these rights as against a fellow-countryman, a fortiori, he has the same rights as against armed enemies who have dropped from the skies or managed to invade our shores. I do not think anybody will dispute the truth of those final words which I take from a very high legal authority. They are the deduction from what Lord Hals-bury said, and are what Lord Hailsham proclaims as the law.

Well, that is what the law of England is. If somebody says to me, "This matter is really of vital importance to our safety, but the Germans will not care what the law of England is, or what International Law is," to that my answer is that I am not concerned with what the. Germans are going to do, but I am concerned with what our own people are going to do as a consequence of these extraordinary documents which I hope are now about to be withdrawn. Believe me, the confusion in the public mind is extraordinary. I said to a noble Lord in this House the other day, just after our debate, when I saw him in a very nice uniform, "What would you do if you saw a couple of Germans trying to break into a post office, and a woman screaming inside?" He said, "Well, if they were Germans I could not interfere, because it would be against the law." I said, "That is most extraordinary; are you sure?" He replied, "Quite sure; it is against International Law, too." I went out and went along the street and met a man who is running a large business, wearing the same uniform, and I put to him the same question: "What would you do if you saw a couple of Germans trying to break into a post office and a woman screaming inside?" "Well," he said, "I would like to go for him, but we are a non-combatant force." I said, "Are you sure?" He said, "Yes." I walked along a little further and saw another man in the same uniform. I said, "Is it true that if a German was trying to kick a child to death or break into a post office you could not interfere?" He said, "Not if I was in uniform, Sir, because we are a non-combatant force."

It is the most extraordinary thing—it was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster—that very large numbers of people in this country have been induced to believe that they must not interfere with a man who drops from the skies or appears nobody knows how, because they are non-combatants; that, being civilians, they cannot interfere. That is not the law. Since we last discussed the matter, owing to the kindness of one of your Lordships, Lord Camrose, I got hold of a most interesting man whom he knew, who had been war correspondent in several countries which had collapsed before the German onslaught, ending up with France and only just escaping with his life. In the case of France, what he told me was extraordinary. He saw with his own eyes the effect of this propaganda. The people had all been told that they were non-combatants, and in the case of one town, a small town, two Germans held up the place by threatening reprisals if the people acted against the law, occupied the mairie, issued instructions all round, and, without doubt, in the opinion of this gentleman—I have no doubt that what he said was true—enabled a tiny force of Germans, not even a Division, to overawe the whole province by means of these pockets.

I note that it is sometimes said that our soldiers do not want civilians to take part in the fighting. What sort of soldiers are they, I wonder. They are very short-sighted ones. Modern war as conducted by the Germans means early infiltration, thus spreading alarm and despondency, so that, as in the case of France, the great clash of Armies may never take place. That is the danger, and that is the danger we can easily guard against—highly combatant people as we are—if the Government grasp the nettle firmly and say to us that the Common Law of England stands. I wrote down the exact words which I believe represent the most modern statement of the law: "The right and duty of every citizen to seek to overcome the enemy by every means in his power." If the Government would issue some such order, one of our great dangers would be removed, and incidentally, by establishing the principle of equality of sacrifice, all other methods would be made much easier.

I see on the tape to-day that in another place the Lord President of the Council said the Government were making proposals to arm such citizens as were ready to be organized and were themselves agreeable to fight. What does that mean? We have all got to fight. I hope it will be made plain in this House that that is the view of the Government. I have referred to The Hague Convention because, as your Lordships will remember, these people said they belonged to the non-combatant forces and that it was against the law of nations for them to fight. That is why they would not intervene. That is not in the least bit true. The Hague Convention says the exact opposite. It says that the population of a territory not under occupation who, on the enemy's approach, spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading troops without having had time to organize themselves in accordance with Article I, shall be regarded as belligerents, and if they carry arms openly, and if they respect the laws and customs of war, shall be so treated. That is perfectly clear. I do beg the Government to make it clear to the people of this country that their natural desire to fight the enemy is justified by the law of nations and by the law of this land. It is most extraordinary that any other view should prevail.

I have here a remarkable statement, made by the Coroner to the jury in connexion with the murder of Sir Henry Wilson. He said: This pursuit seems to me to be a very fine and inspiring thing in this terrible tragedy. Law-abiding Englishman saw murderers firing revolvers in the street, but they promptly took their lives in their hands and gave chase. There was no sneaking down side streets for these men. Murderers were at large and they must be arrested. There was something very fine about the persistent way in which these casual men in the street stuck to these armed ruffians. Every German who lands here is an armed ruffian. The conduct of the police was beyond all praise, for they were unarmed. The only thing they had were truncheons, and these were very poor weapons for dealing with men firing Webley revolvers. No praise could be too high and no admiration too great for the way which the brave police officers have maintained the noble traditions of their Force.

Will the Government please say that again, and withdraw the leaflets? Let us have a look at what this astonishing document, If the Invader Comes, says. What are we to do if we see one of these malefactors who are equally as bad as the men who murdered Sir Henry Wilson? This is the gospel. I am going to ask your Lordships whether you do not think this document might not be burned by the common hangman. What are we to do? If the Germans come, by parachute, aero plane or ship, you must remain where you are. The order is 'Stay put.' This document was issued in co-operation with the War Office. There is nothing resembling war in that. It was issued by the Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security. All I can say is it is more like a Peace Office than a War Office, and it is more like a Ministry of Home Disaster than of Home Security. The whole document is shocking. It says, whatever you do, there must be, what I should call, a frigid politeness to these gentry. Remember that if parachutists come down near your home, they will not be feeling at all brave. What are we to do? Do not give any German anything. Do not tell him anything. Hide your food and your bicycles. Hide your maps. Of course the real thing you must do at once is to apprehend him, and the people must be told so. A certain number of parachutists have already dropped. I saw one drop. The particular man who caught up with him had a pitchfork, and very properly told him to surrender, which he did, and that was the end of that story. But in other places they have failed to apprehend them because they have been told by this fantastic document that it is not their duty.

There is one other thing that I wish the Government to put an end to, and that is the suggestion that combatant duties are not the part of citizens as a whole. Here is another document which was issued only the other day by another Department of State. It is an Order in Council, and the particular case in point arises when the Minister of Labour is going to do something in co-operation with the military. We who live in invasion areas have always assumed that the military can call upon the civilian population to do any kind of work such as making a road block, removing a road block, digging a trench, filling in a trench, or any of the other things which may be so vitally necessary. We have always thought that, when so called upon, if the Germans shot down a soldier whom Smith was helping to make a road block, Smith would at once snatch his rifle and shoot back. This document says: For the purpose of securing the doing of any work appearing to a competent military authority to be needed…any person for the time being in an operational area, other than a member of the Armed Forces of the Crown or a person excepted from this paragraph by paragraph (8) of this Regulation, may be put under obligation, by a direction issued or given by or on behalf of the Minister of Labour and National Service, to perform any such services (other than combatant duties). … I inquired what that meant, and why, and I was told: "Suppose you have these people making a road block, and the Germans come round the corner, they have got to go away." I said: "That is unthinkable; of course they cannot go away and leave the others there." "Oh, yes" I was told. I asked why, and was informed "That is the law."

But, my Lords, it is not the law. May I beg of you to insist that the law should be made plain, that all citizens are bound to do their utmost to repel the invader? Let us see what happens in Russia. It is not as though this was a matter of surmise. We do know what happened in France. The Germans had an easy ride. They overcame a place by terrorism without firing a shot. Whole départements were overrun without a shot being fired because they had similar documents to those from which I have quoted. This is what happened in Russia. All citizens of the Soviet Union are told they must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for their towns and villages. They must display the daring, initiative and intelligence that are inherent in the people. I asked the Soviet Ambassador if he would see me in order that I might get this document, and some others which he was good enough to give me. I asked him if he knew what the effect would be in Russia of this order of Mr. Stalin. He said, "Without a doubt it had the effect of a miracle." The Germans, instead of finding the population surrendering, found themselves obstructed at every turn by every man, every worker, every farmer, and every peasant. Of course, one might guess that that would be so, but I feel bound to tell your Lordships that the Ambassador was good enough to describe to me what he knew to be the effect. And the Russians go on doing this.

Only the other day—I think it was a week ago—they issued a further order which says that all civilians, and all factory workers must learn how to direct fire, how to repair a track, and how to throw a bottle filled with petrol at the most vulnerable part of an enemy tank. The instruction goes on to say that it is the duty of every Soviet citizen to do all he can with whatever weapon he has. Every Soviet citizen is, I am sure, only too glad to do what he can, and he would be very glad, I am sure, of the pikes about which I think perhaps my noble friend opposite has been rather unjustly attacked because his remarks were misunderstood. But every man in Russia is told that he must attack the enemy if he has the remotest chance of overcoming him. It is interesting to observe that if the enemy offers to surrender he should be captured and treated well, but if he refuses to surrender he has to be overcome. I suppose that many tens of thousands have been so overcome. That is what has happened in Russia, and that is why, I take it, we stand where we do to-day. These valiant people have not been told that they are to be non-combatants, and with good fortune they may perhaps completely overwhelm those who attack them. I would ask the Government to issue written instructions, and to base those instructions perhaps on the wonderful words of our Prime Minister. I would quote them again if I were permitted to do so, but I will go on to repeat the words of our Lord Chancellors in the past, that it is the bounden duty of every man to use every means in his power to overcome the enemy. But he must be told that the best way of doing that is by falling in with a general plan, by doing what the military man or the Home Guard asks him to do.

Finally, on this point, I would like to bring to your Lordships' notice that a very interesting thing has happened in Scotland in regard to which I gave the papers to my noble friend Lord Croft. I had a letter from Lord Glasgow in which he said that the county councils of Scotland have taken certain action. He sends me a resolution which all the county councils of Scotland passed the day before yesterday, and says: By this you will note that the Association of County Councils in Scotland are entirely in favour, and unanimously, of the whole of the male population being trained in the use of arms so that when 1he moment comes, as it will come if we are invaded, men of fighting age will understand the use of rifles, hand grenades and machine guns, and will not be, as they are at present, a flock of sheep waiting to be slaughtered. I think that perhaps Scotland always shows the way in these things, but I hope they will not confine this to men of fighting age. I say every able-bodied person up to 90 must take part in this battle. There is no retiring to prepared positions when an invasion comes. You cannot go anywhere else. You have got to stand and fight, and perhaps the Government might take occasion to say that death is better than surrender. In that spirit let us defend our native land. I beg to move.

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND had the following Notice on the Paper: To move to resolve, That in the opinion of this House it is desirable that His Majesty's Government should give instructions that anti-invasion rehearsals should take place in every vulnerable area comprising all members of the public, in co-operation with members of all the different Services; and that all members of the public should be informed of and instructed in their specific duties beforehand, and without further delay, thus ensuring that no confusion would arise at the actual moment of invasion.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, early in February speaking in your Lordships' House in a debate on Home Guard matters, I first raised this question of the importance of civilian co-operation in the event of invasion. The noble Lord who has just spoken took part in that debate, and at that time and since, has been most helpful and splendid in his co-operation. We have listened to the extraordinarily interesting speech he has made and I am now going to touch rather on the other side of the question which he has not gone into fully. I, therefore, put my Notice in a rather more categorical form in order that we may know definitely what will be the duty, in the event of invasion, of every member of the public who is not in any of the Services. As Lord Mottistone so rightly said, we all know what is in the Paper which we have received and which was issued by the Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security. This Paper, although an excellent one in its way, is largely negative in its advice. It asks you to "stay put" and it is very vague about what you should do if you are attacked, or if you arc in a position to attack the enemy. It says that if you see an enemy tank or a few enemy soldiers you are not to assume that the enemy are in control of the area, and so on. It does not definitely tell you what to do from the fighting point of view.

On reading it through I could not help thinking that it was entirely inadequate as a means of getting the best out of the man-power and the woman-power of the country that is being invaded. Undoubtedly we want further guidance and a definite lead from His Majesty's Government to instruct the public through the local authorities where and how they can really help if this great emergency arises. I shall not attempt to go into detail as to how things should be organized—that is a matter for His Majesty's Government—but it seems to me that unless full dress rehearsals are organized in all the vulnerable areas or possibly vulnerable areas, you cannot be sure that confusion will not arise when the blow falls. Every civilian should be told, and have already practised, the duty assigned to him when the day comes. Then everything will work automatically and without the possibility of a hitch, in co-operation with all the combined Services that will be in action or on duty.

I think this rule should apply to one and all—private citizens, factory workers, farm labourers, farmers, urban dwellers. One and all should know their jobs beforehand, as they would know them in a fire drill that has been frequently practised. The whole nation would then be ready to work and fight unitedly and whole-heartedly to stamp out the fires of invasion wherever they might break out. The people of this country themselves are keen enough to be given the chance, but they want to be given a lead and told how they are to do it. I would like to ask His Majesty's Government also to tell us a little about the village committees, which I understand are to be formed in each village, consisting, I understand, of one Home Guard, one policeman, one A.R.P. warden and other voluntary or compulsory workers. The matter was mentioned to-day in another place, but I have not had time to read the statement in detail, and I have no doubt His Majesty's Government will tell us something about these village committees.

Another question I should like to ask is whether the Regional Commissioners have powers to form these committees compulsorily or whether they are voluntary committees. They ought to be compulsory committees and the Regional Commissioners should be empowered to form them. I should like some assurance on that point. It would be a very good thing if we in this country could have a little more of the spirit of an American General in Australia, who, when he arrived at his new headquarters in an Australian city, found there was no telephone there. He was told that he could apply for one to be installed. Looking across the street he noticed that there was a public call box on the other side, so he turned to his chief engineer officer and said "Bring that thing across here." In a very short time it was brought over and installed with new wires. "Now," said the American General, "let the public authorities apply for a new telephone for their call box." That is the sort of spirit one would like to see in this country. It is the sort of spirit that would mean the death of red tape.

Now may I quote a small part of an article by Mr. H. G. Wells which appeared in the Daily Mail headed "The Frustrators," because it struck me that it hit the nail on the head. Mr. H. G. Wells said: Here is something for every Briton who does not want this war to end in definite defeat for our country to get excited about… Here are the plain facts, exactly as they are reported in my newspaper, heading and all.

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