HL Deb 22 July 1943 vol 128 cc743-9

LORD RANKEILLOUR had the following Notice on the Paper: To call attention to a prevailing impression among Allies, neutrals, and enemies that, contrary to the Atlantic Charter, it is an object of British policy to secure the dominance of Left Wing principles in any country which the Allies may control; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on June 3 last I asked His Majesty's Government whether, in pursuance of the principles of the Atlantic Charter, it is a part of the policy of the Allies to prevent the seizure of arbitrary power by any person or party in any country of Europe pending the adoption by free choice within such country of the form of government which its inhabitants desire. The noble Leader of the House, answering me on that occasion, said that he was unable to deal fully with the substance of my question owing to the necessity of our Allies being taken into consultation, and also owing to the great differences which must exist in various countries of Europe after the war. He was unable to do more than to give me, at the end of his speech, an assurance in the following words: But I can assure the noble Lord—and I think that is really the assurance he wants—that the aim of the United Nations will certainly be the re-establishment of Governments representative of the wishes of the peoples concerned. I replied to that that I was well satisfied with what he said, and that I realized fully that he could not go further. But he had enunciated and reaffirmed the principle contained in the Atlantic Charter, and I will say the same to him to-day. I do not expect him, on this point, to say more than he did before, and having affirmed this principle of impartiality on the part of our Government towards future Governments in other countries which they might control, I think we must leave it at that, under assurance, at the same time, that measures will be taken to ensure—if I may so express it—that the pitch is not queered in any country that may be affected. In this connexion may I just direct the attention of those of your Lordships who have not seen it to an extremely interesting contributed article by an anonymous correspondent which appeared recently in the Sunday Times, with regard to the likelihood of the necessity arising for some such action particularly in the countries of south-eastern Europe?

There was one point which I made in the last debate upon which the noble Leader of the House did not dwell. I said, in the course of my speech, that there is an impression prevalent in the world that it is part of the British policy to abet Left elements in other countries. Now I have, since June 3, had good reason to believe that the view that there is such a prevalent impression is not generally accepted. The information I have on the point is quite explicit and comes from persons who are at once unbiased and responsible. That information is that there is such an impression. But, of course, I am in this difficulty: I cannot bring legal proof of the fact that this impression generally exists. I fully believe from all that I have heard that it does. I think—for reasons which I need not now go into—that, although it is completely erroneous, it is not unnatural that it should be held.

But I cannot go further than that. I cannot, for example, with regard to neutral countries, subpoena, shall I say, the Chancellors of the Universities of Upsala, Salamanca, Coimbra and Zurich to come and bear testimony as to what their professors and students think on these matters. Nor can I do that in the case, shall I say, of the Mayors of Kansas City, Denver or Memphis. I could not subpoena them. Yet I fully believe, from all I have heard, that this impression is at least as prevalent in America as elsewhere. I want the Government to set their intelligence to work and go into this matter and see what the position is. Let them do it in the Allied countries, in neutral countries and, by no means least, among the refugees from the occupied countries whom they may be able to take into their confidence. If I am right in my impression, the position is really serious; to a greater or lesser extent we may lose at any rate the enthusiasm and perhaps the friendship of many elements in different countries. Obviously if you seem to lean to one side you will lose something of the ardour of those who are on the other. That would be equally true if it were thought that we wished to impose the principle of autocracy.

I referred on the last occasion to Hungary, but Hungary is only one instance. If it were thought that this was a real tendency of our policy, it would affect many sections of opinion in different countries; it would affect the stubborn, Calvinistic conservatives of Holland equally with the Catholics of Belgium, and almost all Parties in Hungary, who remember their experience under Bela Kun. This impression, of course, also plays into the hands of Goebbels in Germany. Goebbels has made it his trump card that there is no other choice except between Nazism and Communism, and I have no doubt that he has persuaded great multitudes of his own people that that is so. He has, as it were, compounded a sort of inflammatory drug, a kind of bhang, and made people fight under its influence, holding before them the spectacle of Communism all the time. I suggest, therefore, that something must be done in Allied, neutral and enemy countries to counteract this tendency. An occasional Ministerial utterance is not enough. What my noble friend said the other day was good, and the Prime Minister has made excellent pronouncements with reference to France and to Italy; but something more sustained and emphatic is necessary.

I look on this as a war measure. I do not look upon it from the point of view of tenderness to enemy countries in particular, but I do want to ensure that resistance is weakened even there by the assurance that we are not going to swing round in favour of any one Party in our future dealings with these countries. Let me repeat what I said the other day: this is absolutely apart from any question of security in the future. So far as Germany is concerned, I believe that we must take exactly the same precautions whatever Government is set up there. It is no use supposing that if democracy is planted in Germany it will bear nothing but lilia pacifica. It will not; partly because, as we have seen in Germany, a democracy may easily turn into an autocracy, and partly because it is not possible to be sure that even a democracy will always be pacific. I was gently chided by my noble friend the other day when he told me that it was not the fact that democracy was as likely to be aggressive as autocracy. I did not say that it was as likely to be aggressive, but I do think that it might be, and I would cite again the example of the Jacobins and, if I may go back some way, I would cite the old Assembly at Athens, which was quite as willing to make war or to order a general massacre of rebels as any tyrant.

I have put at the end of my Motion a request for Papers. That is a usual suffix to any Motion of this kind, but I have one small suggestion to make. Would not it be possible to bring out a small popular edition of the Atlantic Charter, explaining its meaning and with a commentary on it? I suggest that that might be translated and circulated in all the countries where it might have an effect. Again, I am not sure that our broadcasting is sufficient to make it clear that we shall preserve an unbiased impartiality towards settlements in the future. However, that is not my business; the Government themselves, if they recognize the seriousness of this matter, will have their own means of dealing with it. All I want to be sure of is that, having in the Atlantic Charter committed themselves to the right of peoples to choose their own Government in the future, and to our impartiality in helping them to do so, that assurance will be made effective. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, I should like heartily to support the proposal made at the end of Lord Rankeillour's very interesting speech, when he suggested that the Government might consider the issue of a popular edition of the Atlantic Charter with annotations and explanations. I think we should all like that very much indeed, especially so far as that part of it which deals with the right of self-determination is concerned. I hope that if the Govern- ment adopt that suggestion, which I strongly advocate, they will deal particularly with how the Atlantic Charter applies to Eastern countries. Before the noble Viscount replies, I should like to make an observation or two on what has fallen from the noble Lord. I think that the Foreign Office are in a happy position in answering this question, because on the one hand the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, suggests that they favour what he describes as Left Wing movements—


May I correct the noble Lord? I did not say that they favoured them; far from it. I said that there was a prevalent impression that they did.


Yes, that there was a prevalent impression that they did, whereas there are very loud complaints in this country of an exactly opposite nature. There have been strong criticisms in this country to the effect that the Foreign Office and the Government generally favour movements of the other kind, and the Government are therefore in the happy position of being able to say, "We must be right, because we are taking the middle course." Lord Rankeillour mentioned the United States. Far be it from me to say anything about the policy of the State Department, but Americans themselves, and especially those usually described in that country as liberals ("liberals" with a small "1"), heavily assail and criticize their State Department for, as they say, appearing to support reactionary elements, and even in some cases Quisling Governments, in Europe. I myself would not bring that charge against the State Department, but responsible Americans in large numbers do so. Lord Rankeillour's speech, which will certainly be taken notice of in Washington, will therefore give the harrassed State Department some comfort.

If I may respectfully make the suggestion to the noble Lord, I think that the terms "Left Wing" and "Right Wing" are both obsolete in Europe, especially in countries which have been under German occupation. Hungary is in a different category, but certainly in Belgium, Holland, Norway and France the division is quite different. I heard my-self quite recently M. André Philip, a very distinguished French statesman who holds an important post in the Committee of National Liberation; he was newly come from France, where he had suffered with his compatriots the agonies and humiliations of the occupation of these barbarians, and he told us that there was no longer any talk of Right Wing or Left Wing in France; the old Party boundaries had been obliterated. The division in France and in the other countries of Western Europe which have been occupied by the enemy is between those who have collaborated with the invaders and those who have resisted—that is the division.

I presume that His Majesty's Government are in no doubt as to what their attitude will be, and that they can on no account have any dealings whatsoever with those who have collaborated with and assisted these enemies of civilization. The noble Lord did not mention Poland. In Poland, I gather, there is not even that division. The Germans have been unable, to the great credit of the Poles, to find a single Quisling of any account whatever; and in other countries I believe they are not finding Quislings of any substance. But in France there has been the most important collaborationist movement of all. I am bound to say this also —I think it is right it should be said: the Darlan episode, as it has been called, did a great deal of harm in France. I am assured of that by Frenchmen whose patriotism and value in the common cause is beyond question. It was there greatly misunderstood. I do not want to go into it now, because the situation in North Africa is rectifying itself, and all reports seem to show that North Africa is settling down. But I do hope that His Majesty's Government have learnt a very sharp lesson from that episode, and that there will be no more welcoming or embracing of Darlans in Italy or in any other country. I am delighted to see that in Libya the British occupying Army has appointed suitable officers who are rooting out and destroying all traces of Fascism there, and I gather that the same thing is being done as far as possible in Sicily. That at any rate shows that the Army are well aware of the intentions of His Majesty's Government.

My noble friend Lord Rankeillour was very interesting in his reference to Hungary. I do not know why we should have any tenderness for the susceptibili- ties of the present ruling clique in Hungary. I understand they have been putting out peace feelers lately, which have had the proper reply that they must surrender unconditionally. We tried to help the Hungarians. They also for years expressed tremendous friendship for us, and if the present reactionary régime is overthrown by a popular movement I think it will be a very good thing for that country and tor our whole cause. We should have no tenderness for these people it is a curious thing that in Europe the Quislings, where they have been found—in Hungary, Holland, Belgium and France—have come from those who before this great division have been described as belonging to the Right Wing or Conservative Party. It has been the propertied classes in Europe, where the Party divisions are unfortunately horizontal, instead of being, as they are in this country, more or less vertical, among whom the Quislings, fortunately few in number, have been found. They have not come from the working classes, they have not come from the Left Wingers, and if there is any doubt in the mind of those who have the great settlement to make afterwards they will be quite safe with the Left Wing and those who have done their best to hamper and hinder this great tyranny in their country.


My Lords, there is to be a Royal Commission, and I think it would be better if we adjourned this debate now until after the Commission. I do not intend to keep your Lordships for long, but I think perhaps my speech will lake rather more than the five minutes which are still available.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.