HL Deb 05 August 1943 vol 128 cc1104-18

LORD WINSTER had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask what machinery exists to ensure that Allied political policy shall be co-ordinated and pre-arranged as regards any country into which Allied military penetration is effected; whether it is intended that Amgot shall function with sole regard to military considerations in countries in which it is called upon to function; and whether the decision to grant Italy a six days' lull was dictated by political considerations, overriding the declared military policy of unconditional surrender.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel that I should apologize for venturing to address your Lordships twice in the same day. It so happens that since my question was put on the Order Paper a debate relevant to this matter has taken place in another place. I have studied that debate and I find that a great many of the points which were in my mind at the time when I put my question on the Paper were answered in the course of it. Therefore, it will only be necessary for me to speak very briefly indeed today. The first part of my question refers to machinery which exists to ensure that Allied political policy shall be co-ordinated and shall function smoothly and well in any enemy countries or enemy-occupied countries which we may in the future go into. My feeling is—and I think that in view of what has happened it is very natural—that when we went into North Africa, as we have now gone into Sicily, and when confronted by certain events in Italy, we have been rather taken by surprise by the events themselves and by the rapidity with which they have moved. No man can foresee the future entirely, but we do not appear to have foreseen the course which events were likely to take. I feel that the Allies have been rather out of step amongst themselves, politically speaking, as regards the actions which have been taken after we have gone into enemy territory.

This process, I take it, is going to continue. We shall certainly enter into more and more enemy territory and enemy-occupied territory. I feel it is very necessary that what I have described" as the Allied political machinery should in these matters be better co-ordinated, and that the course which events are likely to take should be more thought out and thought about, so that we may not be taken too much by surprise and so that Allied action may function more harmoniously and smoothly than it appears to have done in North Africa and in Sicily. I will simply leave it at that. While I feel that militarily the Allies keep well in step—we could not have got where we are had they not done so—politically I do not feel that we are quite so well in step. I hope that we may hear something in reply which will indicate that attention is being given to that.

The second part of my question refers to Amgot. I have seen a great many criticisms of Amgot, and one of the main criticisms has been concerned with the fact that two of the officers holding important positions in Amgot in Sicily happen to be bankers or to have some banking interests. I do not think that being a banker should either qualify any one for or disqualify him from a position in Amgot. If he is the right man to hold a position in Amgot, it does not matter to me whether he is a banker or not. Moreover, wherever Amgot may be called upon to function in future it is almost essential that there should be someone in it who understands financial and industrial questions. I regard that as very important indeed. But I think that it is also very important, especially remembering the war aims to which we are committed, that there should be somebody in Amgot who is well acquainted with the problems of the workers and the peasants of any country into which we go. Financial and industrial problems are most important, but so are these questions of the workers and the peasants. If we can put a banker into uniform and make him a satisfactory member of Amgot, I do not see why we should not select someone who understands this particular range of problems, put him into uniform, and let him function in Amgot also. I think that that is an important point, and I hope we may hear that that is the intention in future.

The third part of my question relates to what I call the six days' lull. My anxiety on that score is raised in this way. After Casablanca we heard very satisfactory news indeed; we heard that our terms to the Axis could be summed up in two words: unconditional surrender. Then there was a broadcast to Italy in which "unconditional surrender" had become "honourable capitulation," which sounds something rather milder. Then the Prime Minister made a speech in which he said that our immediate policy was to leave the Italians to "stew in their own juice" and to hot up the fire to assist in the process—a very satisfactory statement indeed. He also spoke about an "avalanche of fire and steel" which would descend upon Italy. That is the sort of thing which I like to hear, and which I expect most of us like to hear. Last Saturday night, however, I heard on the wireless that we had been granting Italy a "six days' lull." That was the phrase used in the broadcast, and I find a six days' lull a little incompatible with these statements about stoking up the fire and about an avalanche of fire and steel descending upon Italy.

It seems to me that what we want at present is to get Italy out of the war and to secure her unconditional surrender. That should surely be our objective. Our prime and urgent military objective is to get Italy out of the war and to secure her unconditional surrender. I do not believe that we shall secure that by granting a six days' lull to Italy. We have bombed Rome once, and the next thing we heard was that Mussolini had gone. Since then Italy has had a six days' lull, and we have bombed Ploesti. I do not know whether it has been possible to bomb Rome again, but possibly another bombing of Rome might have brought about that unconditional surrender which is our declared objective. I do think that there is a certain inconsistency between these statements, and that is why I have put that point in my question. I have a feeling, in reading all the news which is coming through about Italy at present, that perhaps we are doing a little too much thinking on behalf of Italy. In my view Italy had better think out her own political problems for herself at the present time; I do not sec why we should be doing so for her. It seems to me that the Allied objective at present is to knock Italy out of the war and then see what happens.

I hope that the noble Viscount may be able to throw some light upon these matters, but I certainly do not wish to press for any information which it is inconvenient to give; indeed my question is not put with any wish either to embarrass or to criticize. On the contrary, I think that this is a time for warm congratulations to the Government on the successes which are at present rewarding their tremendous efforts in the past. There is a particular pleasure in thinking of the Prime Minister at this moment. He has somehow managed to put this war to us in a way which makes us feel that he is the personal antagonist of these dictators, and, when one hears that Mussolini has been knocked out, one has a feeling that it is our man who has knocked him out. One rejoices on that account for him and for ourselves. I do not know that the news entirely surprises me. I have seen both these dictators; in fact, I saw them meet in Rome, and the conclusion to which I came was that the Axis was rather short of ball-bearings. At any rate we leave for the Recess this year in very much better spirits than we did last year, and I think in the sure and certain knowledge that if Parliament is recalled during the Recess it will be to hear good news and not bad news.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships have no complaint to make against my noble friend Lord Winster for bringing up this very important matter, in view of the fact that we are about to part for some weeks, and that this is the last opportunity of seeking further information from the Government. I do not intend to follow exactly the same line as my noble friend, but, if I may, I would like to ask some further questions in addition to those which he has put. My noble friend complained, I think with great justice, that there are no people with a special knowledge of labour and trade union problems on Amgot, and I gather that he would make Sir Walter Citrine, or some other trade union leader, a Colonel and send him out there. I would like to support that plea myself.

We had a very important statement from the Leader of the House on July 27 when the news came of the dismissal of Signor Mussolini, but in the course of that very lucid statement there was, I thought, one hiatus, when he spoke of the consultations taking place with the United States of America and the information given to Russia. Sitting here I thought the noble Viscount had made a slip, and out of my own generosity I tried to give him a chance to correct it. Had not he meant that we were engaged in consultations with both Governments? But to my amazement the noble Viscount, I thought, made matters worse. He said, "Oh no, Britain and the United States were the two Governments engaged in these operations in the Mediterranean," and therefore by implication Russia was not and consultations were not necessary with Russia. I think one of the major reasons for the fall of Mussolini, as far as we can judge from the reports that are now beginning to come out, was his failure to obtain additional German soldiers from Hitler. And the reason why Hitler could not send the German soldiers was that he had two hundred odd divisions hotly engaged on the Eastern front against Russia. I am sure the noble Viscount did not literally mean that the great Russian battles on the Eastern front were not having a very close effect on the events he described in Italy.

Since then an honourable friend of mine in another place asked to-day a question of the Prime Minister which received, I suggest, a very good answer. Mr. Driberg asked the Prime Minister if the political aspects of the Italian situation are discussed in close consultation with the Soviet Government. The answer was given in writing by Mr. Law, the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs. The question was not reached on the Order Paper, but I have the answer through the courtesy of my honourable friend, and it is in two words—"Yes, Sir." So that there are close consultations with the Soviet Government on the political aspects of the Italian situation. If I had still been a member of another place, and if that question had been reached, I should have been tempted to put a supplementary, which I now put—Is there agreement with the Soviet Government on the political aspects of the Italian situation? And if my noble friend the Leader of the House found it convenient to answer, I think he might repair some of the misunderstanding which his previous statement, and indeed that of the Prime Minister, in the same terms, caused.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I take tills opportunity provided by the foresight of my noble friend to mention one or two other aspects of this matter. I prefer to withhold my judgment a little before I lavish too many compliments on His Majesty's Government. I find it necessary to hold in my admiration for them a little more than my noble friend until I see how things shape. What I fear is that we are making the mistake of certain people in Palestine many years ago, of expecting that Beelzebub would cast out devils. It is true that the head of the Fascist Party has disappeared into oblivion, and most of his fellow gangsters with him, but no one, and least of all my noble friend the Leader of the House, would pretend that the Government that has taken the place of the Fascist tyranny has any popular roots in Italy. It is certainly not a democratic Government. I do not want to quarrel on the question of names and terms, but I do fear that we sometimes forget the real objects for which this war is being waged. It is a political war. We may say we are fighting to uphold the rule of law against the rule of might—I agree; or that we are fighting for freedom against tyranny—I agree; but I prefer to put it this way: that we are fighting Fascism, and all who are Fascists are our enemies, and all who are Anti-Fascists should be our allies and collaborators.

Let us apply that test to Italy. I do not pretend to have the deep knowledge of Italy that my noble friend Lord Winster has. I was not present at the famous Rome meeting. But I was very much impressed, as I am sure your Lordships were, by a statement made on the 29th July by a very eminent Italian statesman, Count Sforza, I suppose the most distinguished of the Italian political emigrants. He is a member of one of the great aristocratic families of Italy; he has held the portfolio of Foreign Minister and has been Ambassador in France. He resigned and went abroad when Mussolini began to crush out all popular liberties in Italy. This is what Count Sforza said: Even with the best of will Badoglio cannot create a situation which can save Italy and help victory over Nazism. His Cabinet is at the most a modest administrative body, not a Government able to inspire or guide. The only hopeful Italian symptom is the bold awakening of the public. Allied public opinion could make no worse mistake than to show itself afraid of the so-called danger of revolution. This slogan was the best invention and the best ally of Hitler and Mussolini during the many years of Chamberlain blindness. It might be fatal to repeat it now. It is true that order and tranquillity in Italy are essentially linked with a quicker Allied victory. Both aims are interdependent, but the only way to achieve them is to pursue in Italy an immediate campaign"— I would particularly draw the attention of the Leader of the House to this— for joining Britain and the United States in the final battle against Nazism. It is not true that Italian armies are tired of fighting; they are only tired of fighting against the permanent interests of Italy. When I hear of the Germans being attacked in the cities of Northern Italy, when I hear of the uprisings of the people there on the news of Mussolini's fall, I have a vision of divisions of Italian volunteers fighting—as they can fight—on our side, with their banners ranged with ours in overthrowing this vile barbarism which has oppressed and injured Italy as much as it has any other country.

Let us see how the Government reacted to this admittedly surprising and, as my noble friend said, sudden collapse of the Fascist régime. Italy has the lowest standards of living, of wages for its workpeople, of any State in Europe—lower than any of the Balkan countries. There must be great social changes in Italy. Everyone knows that who knows that country and the conditions there. Surely our policy, seeing the Badoglio Government was shilly-shallying, was not only to heat up the fires, to continue attacking military objectives, and strike away the weapons from the hands of the Badoglio Government, but to appeal directly to the Italian people. I have not seen any appeal of that kind made. "Stewing in their own juice" is not exactly an inflaming slogan for the spirits of the Italian people.

I am very sorry I have to express some disagreement here with the generally accepted policy and statements of the Government. The Casablanca policy of unconditional surrender was, I presume, meant for the Government of Mussolini and the Government of Hitler: that if they remained in the saddle we should force them to surrender unconditionally. I agree with that. If the Mussolini Government is to be replaced, not by the Badoglio Government, but by a popular, democratic Government in Italy ready to help in the common struggle, then I think the terms might be less onerous. I should have thought it would be good policy to make that fact known by every means we can. I see reports in the newspapers, repeated reports, for example, that Count Grandi is moving about behind the scenes, and that he is playing some part. I thought all the leading Fascists had been placed under lock and key, but apparently Count Grandi is in a privileged position. He is a double-dyed Fascist who double-crossed his master, and he will double-cross us if he can. My fear is that during the Recess, when Parliament is up—although I know the Government are not particularly actuated by the absence of criticism in Parliament; it does not seem to make much difference to them most of the time—we shall have no opportunity of protesting against some arrangement being made with a Government in Italy which cannot last, which is bound to be overthrown in time by the Italian people; and that whereas they are attempting, quite properly, to shorten the war, the Government by a mistaken policy may extend the war and, what is equally serious, extend the period of unrest and possibly anarchy in Italy.

The argument I hear put forward in certain quarters by friends of mine in another place—not members of my Party —is that it would be advantageous that a Government, not necessarily a Government of the Right, but a dictatorial Government such as Badoglio's, should be made to sign the armistice terms of unconditional surrender. It is argued that this would be a distinct advantage in the future because there would not be a repetition of what happened in Germany when the Democrats were supposed to have been injured through having signed the Armistice terms in 1918. That argument, I suggest, does not hold water for a moment because the urge for peace among large sections of the Italian people is so great that such a Government could establish itself by making even a temporary peace through signing an armistice with us. I hesitate to keep your Lordships another moment, but I do hope that the Leader of the House can give us, as my noble friend Lord Winster has asked, more information on our political plans. Military plans, of course, must be kept secret, but there is every reason to make political plans public and open. Political warfare is of no value at all unless it reaches across frontiers. I would also suggest that our political warfare should be understood and approved by the broad masses of the people of this country.


My Lords, when it fell to me last week to address your Lordships on the war situation I said that in the present delicate position in the Mediterranean everybody should weigh his words with the greatest possible care. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Winster, for the restraint, moderation, and wisdom which he has shown in the remarks he made this afternoon. As he knows, and as the House knows, the present situation is fluid, complex, and to some extent unpredictable. To press His Majesty's Government for precise details as to future action in circumstances as yet unknown would be both undesirable and irresponsible. As to the general policy of His Majesty's Government and the United States of America towards Italy, there is no doubt at all. It has been proclaimed with force and clarity both by the Prime Minister last week and by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary since. Our aim, in two words, is "unconditional surrender." The noble Lord, Lord Winster, referred to "honourable capitulation." He seemed to think that that was an alternative policy. It is not. It is the same thing, put in another way. The noble Lord can choose which of them he likes. They mean exactly the same. That has been our policy, and it will continue to be our policy. There has been no change, and I anticipate no change.

The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, spoke with not quite the same restraint as Lord Winster snowed. He could not resist indulging for a moment in his favourite sport of fishing in troubling waters. He suggested, as I understood, that if a Government which he personally favoured, and which he called—somewhat presumptuously I thought, if I may say so— a "popular Government," came into power in Italy, it would be right for the Allies to offer them better terms than "unconditional surrender." I cannot believe that that would be right myself. After all, why do we want "unconditional surrender"? We want it, in order that we may be in a position to enjoy every possible facility to prosecute the war against our greater enemy, Germany, and to hasten the liberation of Europe. That situation would exist whatever Government were in power; and, if we held up the war while we haggled over terms with some Government whose bona fides we did not yet know, that would help Germany and it would help nobody else. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has already made it abundantly clear in another place that we will treat with any Government, whatever its political colour, on the basis of"unconditional surrender."Honestly, I cannot see how we can treat with them on any other basis. At all events, that question is at present hypothetical, and I prefer to say no more about it to-day.

Lord Winster asked why, if our policy was one of"unconditional surrender,"there was a lull in military operations for six days. I am very glad he has given me the opportunity of clearing up what I believe to be a. baseless suspicion. I, like Lord Winster, read this story in the newspapers, and made inquiries. I am advised by those in a position to know, that there has been no lull in the sense suggested by the noble Lord. I quite realize he made that suggestion in perfect good faith, and I am net complaining. I understand that there has been no deliberate lull dictated by feelings of tenderness to the new Italian Government, because that was the suggestion. Quite the contrary. So far as land operations in Sicily are concerned, the temporary diminution of offensive action which did take place about that time was entirely due to the fact that we were moving up reinforcements before making a further assault on the Axis position. There was no relaxation of our preparations throughout the whole of that period, and the calm, if it can be called a calm, was the calm before the storm. It was the essential precursor to the great battle which has been raging in the last few days, and which has already culminated, as your Lordships are aware, in the fall of Catania.

Of course, the noble Lord may say that that was not the lull he meant—he meant the bombing lull. I have made inquiries into this too and I am advised that there is a far simpler reason than that advanced by the noble Lord. As the noble Lord knows, we have frequently had lulls in our air offensive against Germany lasting, I am sorry to say, often far more than six days. These have been due, and are known to have been due, to weather conditions. I have never heard it suggested that they were due to any tenderness on the part of His Majesty's Government for the German Government. And equally I do not think it is necessary, if I may say so, to assume that there is any sinister reason for the lull in the air offensive against Italy.

The noble Lord also raised the question of the nature and functions of Amgot. Perhaps he will allow me to answer him shortly and briefly in this way. Amgot is not, as I think he assumed, a sort of political body. It is a purely military body. It functions in areas where military operations are in fact taking place. The chief officer, as was said this afternoon by Lord Winster, is Lord Rennell. He is Civil Staff Officer in charge of the civil side of the administration of the island and is responsible to the military Governor, General Alexander, who, in turn, is responsible to the Commander-in-Chief, General Eisenhower, who in his turn, and finally, is responsible to the two Governments, the United States Government and His Majesty's Government in this country. That is the complete pyramid of responsibility, and I believe it to be simple and coherent. The question has also been asked—it was asked in rather a veiled form by the noble Lord this afternoon—why Lord Rennell has been chosen for this particular post? The noble Lord pointed out that he was a banker and he asked if I thought that to be a banker was an essential qualification. Of course it is not an essential qualification for this job to be a banker; on the other hand it is not a bar. The Chief of Staff of Lord Haig in the last war, as the noble Lord knows, was Sir Herbert Lawrence, who was a partner in Glyn Mills and Company —a banker.


Will the noble Viscount allow me to interrupt him for one moment? He is making precisely the point which I made. I specifically said I had no criticism to make on the score that a member of Amgot was a banker. On the contrary, I said that I did not think that being a banker should either qualify or disqualify anyone.


I am very glad we are in full agreement, but as this point has been made in certain quarters I thought it best that I should deal with it. As the noble Lord and the House know, Lord Rennell has very special qualifications for this job. I should like to make that quite clear. He was for some years a member of the Foreign Service, he knows Italy very well and he speaks Italian fluently. In addition, he happens to have had special experience of civil and military administration in this war, rather of the type of that which he is called upon to exercise now. That is, of course, the reason why the British and United States Governments thought he was especially fitted for his present job, and I think we may all anticipate that he will perform it admirably.

The noble Lord, arising out of that point, asked me a question about the future. He asked, or so I understood him, what arrangements were to be made in other areas liberated from the enemy. This is not a matter into which he will expect me to go in any detail to-day. Indeed, it would be impossible for me to do so; it would be quite premature to make such a statement. But I would assure him that all aspects of this problem are being examined very urgently by the two Governments concerned with every desire to perfect machinery which, as the noble Lord suggested, is new machinery. I understood the noble Lord to say that there was something to be said for i appointing to Amgot some man with personal experience of labour and trade union conditions. I can assure him that consideration is not by any means ruled out. The same considerations apply as to the appointment of any other member of this organization. The whole object of the two Governments concerned must be to get the right man for a particular job, and wherever they can find such a man they will no doubt choose him. But that must be left to the two Governments concerned at the proper time.

There was one other question that was raised I think by both Lord Winster and Lord Strabolgi. They asked what machinery exists to ensure that Allied political policy is properly co-ordinated. That is of course a very natural question and the Government do not complain of it. But I do not think the House need be too anxious about this. There is, in fact, already the very fullest con- saltation and collaboration at every stage. There is an immense network of machinery for that purpose so far as His Majesty's Gov- ernment here and the Government of the United States are concerned. There are first of all the normal official communications through His Majesty's Ambassador in Washington and the American Ambassador here. Then there are the constant personal messages passing between the Prime Minister here and the President of the United States, with whom, fortunately for us, he is in daily and most intimate contact. Finally, there are the day-to-day discussions on the military aspects of the situation by the combined Chiefs of Staff Committee at Washington. Every development is, therefore, under constant examination so that the policy of the two Governments can be harmonized in every possible way at every stage.

That, my Lords, is the machinery of consultation between the two Governments actually engaged in the Mediterranean operations. The noble Lord said he thought that they could be improved. I dare say they could. We live in a very imperfect world. We are all very imperfect and there is nothing that cannot be improved. What is more, we are treading on new and unexplored ground. We are building-up new machinery. There has never been a situation entirely like this before and obviously there is room for improvement. But I can assure noble Lords that every effort the two Governments can make towards that end will be made. In any case I do not think, in spite of the noble Lord's fears, that we have done too badly in that respect. Indeed, considering the distances that have to be covered, the co-ordination between the Governments has been really remarkable and the result is to be seen in the very successful events in Sicily. Moreover, all my information is that the administration behind the line there is working admirably.

There was one other question which was raised in particular by Lord Strabolgi. He asked what' is the position of the Soviet Government. That is a question he asked me when I made my statement last week and he repeated it again to-day. The position is this. Marshal Stalin has been kept fully informed throughout of the nature and character of these operations. He knew about the plan of the Sicilian invasion from its very inception. He was told soon after Casablanca what was intended. The actual operational details must, of course, be a matter for the military authorities immediately concerned. We should certainly not, for instance, ask Marshal Stalin—it would be a great' impertinence if we did so—to tell us his exact plans for the capture of Orel. Nor would he expect that sort of information from us. But on all matters which raise questions of high policy the Soviet Government have been kept in full touch. After the answer which was given in another place to-day, and to which reference has been made here, I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, should still have these anxieties. I would, however, repeal: once more that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is in constant communication with the Soviet Chargé d'Affaires and he informs him of developments as they occur, and— the noble Lord will be glad to know this— the Soviet Government has, I understand, expressed full agreement with the policy of requiring unconditional surrender in dealing with Italy. I think indeed that the noble Lord was this afternoon plus royaliste que le roi if I can appropriately use that expression in this particular connexion.

I hope I have now made the position clear, so far as it is possible to give full information in a situation so shifting and changing as that which exists in the Mediterranean to-day. The aim of His Majesty's Government, I repeat, is to work in the fullest collaboration with our Allies in achieving as rapidly as possible the complete victory which is the object of us all. We cannot expose all our plans. That is inevitable. Full exposure is impossible in a situation like the present. Therefore we must just ask Parliament and the British people to trust us; and 1 sincerely believe that that confidence, in the future as in the past, will not be misplaced.


My Lords, I should not like your Lordships' House to break up for the Recess feeling that the Labour Party is any less resolute than any other Party in the State to accept nothing less than unconditional surrender from the Italian Government. We realize that only such terms will enable us to. prosecute the war against Germany with the maximum efficiency and the maximum speed, and we stand in exactly the same position on that matter as all the other Parties in the State. I am perfectly convinced that whether the Italian Government is a Royalist Government or a Military Government, or whether it has Liberal or Labour elements in it, we could accept nothing less as the measure of our victory. In fact I should like to suggest that probably the most important feature about any Italian Government with which we may be able to come to terms is not that it should have a particular political complexion, but that it should have the authority to carry out the terms which we are obliged to demand, and the authority to issue orders, to be obeyed by the Italian Armed Forces, which we shall ask it to issue in order to enable us to prosecute our campaign against Germany.


My Lords, may I be allowed in one word to thank the noble Viscount for the courtesy of his reply? The noble Viscount gave me the alternative of "unconditional surrender" or honourable capitulation." I have heard "honourable capitulation" described as "unconditional surrender with a flower in your button-hole." I think I will stick to the good two words "unconditional surrender."