HL Deb 03 June 1943 vol 127 cc876-81

LORD RANKEILLOUR had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask 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; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not propose to address your Lordships at any great length. The object of the words I have put upon the Paper is to obtain if possible some statement from the Government which may allay a number of suspicions that are very prevalent throughout the world and a detriment to our war effort. The most noted and the most ventilated are those which have arisen between at any rate some of the partisans of two distinguished French Generals. It is now some months since The Times correspondent in Algiers referred to the subject by saying that at the time the trouble was not so much between the Generals as between some of their adherents. Their idea was that whoever got possession of the resuscitated French Army might use it for a coup ďétat to place himself or a party agreeable to him in power. And some of your Lordships no doubt will have had a circular letter from a senior French officer actually making this charge against one distinguished General. We may hope that the controversies between the two Generals will soon be composed, but the kind of suspicion I have indicated is there and may arise again, whether with regard to them or to other Generals or parties in France. In French history there are precedents which point the way and which Frenchmen, with their long memories, retain in their minds.

All this of course is entirely contrary to the principles of the Atlantic Charter but the question is: Will that Charter be effective? I suggest that it is only by some concerted measure by the Allies that those suspicions can be allayed or the results feared conceivably may be prevented. And in this connexion I would say that if there should be a usurpation of government in any country a plebiscite undertaken by that Government would be completely futile, as has been shown in France, Germany and no doubt elsewhere. But this matter goes beyond France. There is an impression prevalent in the world that it is part of British policy to abet Left elements in other countries. It is quite untrue and it is very absurd. I will not dwell upon how it has arisen. No doubt there are many causes. I might just mention one—the fact that the unspeakable Marshal who now nominally rules in France strove to cover up his own poltroonery with a gloss of sanctity and conservatism. That is one cause but it would be idle now to go into the causes and, as I have said, it is all so very absurd. It is just as absurd as if a charge had been made against Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey of wishing to abet the cause of autocracy, of spreading autocratic principles throughout the world, because of their alliance for the purpose of the war with the Tsar's Government. But no doubt there are plenty of people in this country who wish it to be true and no doubt are working that it shall be true; but at any rate, whatever he the case, it is a most priceless asset to Goebbels.

Take the case of Italy for example. There are multitudes in Italy who hate Fascism, but they also remember the anarchy that prevailed before the Fascists came into power—factories seized, officers and officials murdered, communications broken down, unemployment and scarcity everywhere—and if they think and if they can be got to think by Goebbels that they have to choose between Fascism and their former anarchy they will cleave to Mussolini as the lesser evil. There are in Italy two particular circumstances which will aid Goebbels in his efforts. One is the tradition of British policy dating from Canning, Palmerston and Gladstone, all undoubtedly abetting what were then—I will not call them Left elements, but at any rate elements opposed to the Government in various countries. In those days of Canning and of Palmerston and Gladstone the terms Right and Left, if used at all, had very different meanings to what they have now. Nevertheless, there is that tradition and a suspicion among many on the Continent, not only in Italy but perhaps particularly in Italy, of that trend. And there is also the use of the word "democracy." Its use by us and in America connotes an orderly form of popular Parliamentary government quite compatible with monarchy but in many countries of the Continent what it means is simply the Jacobin tradition and red revolution, and you may see how easily that will influence what I may call stable elements in Italy.

Then take Hungary. Hungary had its nadir of suffering and humiliation in 1919. I came across one small example of that myself some years ago. I spent some weeks in a village in Hungary and there was a lady living just outside the village on a small property who was the widow of a leading civil servant in Budapest. Now this lady's husband, for no other reason that I could hear of except that he was a civil servant, was seized, had weights tied to his wrists and ankles and was thrown into the Danube. That lady is one witness among many of what took place then and if the Hungarians have to chose between Hitler and Bela Kun they will vote for Hitler every time.

Now I will say a word about Germany. My argument is quite unaffected by the question of future security. It is a matter quite different and apart from that. I agree at one point, and one point perhaps only, with Lord Vansittart, that we have to take exactly the same precautions whatever kind of Government may be in power in the future in Germany. Democrats may be just as aggressive and just as unscrupulous as tyrants. Napoleon was no more to be feared in his aggression and unscrupulous methods when he was Emperor than the Jacobins were when Napoleon was their humble servant. Therefore I put that aside in my argument. What I am concerned with is not the future precautions but the present speeding up of a triumphant peace. Now there are many enemies of Nazism in Germany—the big industrialists, the landowners, including peasant landowners, the people who used to be called Majority Socialists, and in particular the sincere adherents of the two great Christian bodies. It will be hard in any case to reconcile these men and women to defeat or to enable them to accept defeat, but Goebbels has a special argument in this connexion. He twisted with some skill our declaration about unconditional surrender. We, of course, meant the unconditional surrender of the forces controlled by the Axis, but he endeavoured to persuade his country that it means the total annihilation of Germany and the reduction of the German people to the same system of helotry to which they have reduced others. If he can put it to them that unconditional surrender means this, and means surrender to foreign Communism, there will be a very much harder struggle that we shall have to face. It needs no imagination to see how resistance will be strengthened and the war prolonged if he is successful in this effort.

Like conditions apply to occupied countries and to neutrals. What I trust is that our Government will bear this in mind and make it clear that their policy is something that will mitigate these anxieties in all countries. Of course it may be argued that usurpation might come not from the Left but from the Right in some countries. I can imagine that being said about one or two countries. But the principle of the Atlantic Charter, if properly applied and made effective, would combat any usurpation from the Right or from the Left. Of course in the case of Germany it is obvious there would have to be perhaps a long purgatorial period, but none the less the principle of ultimate free choice should be kept alive, so that at any rate they may feel that everything is not over with them on the conclusion of peace. I say this in no spirit of tenderness for the enemy but in order, it may be, to make the struggle shorter and the peace more real. It may make all the difference whether we have to face a united and desperate or a defeated and disheartened enemy.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government are very glad to give the answer for which the noble Lord, Lord Rankeillour, asks; but, as you will understand, it is rather difficult to give a precise reply to him. As your Lordships are aware, the Atlantic Charter was a bilateral declaration of intentions to which a large number of other nations subsequently subscribed. It is therefore manifestly impossible for His Majesty's Government who are only one party to this agreed statement to put without consultation with the others any special interpretation upon any particular passage. Moreover, it seems to me most undesirable to do so. The Atlantic Charter does not seek to explain how the broad principles proclaimed by it are to be applied to each and every case which will have to be dealt with when the war comes to an end. At this moment, when it is impossible to say in what circumstances they will fall to be applied, it would be most unwise to enter into discussions as to exactly how this or that Article is to be interpreted. The Motion of the noble Lord is, I think, an apt illustration of this point. As drafted it applies to any country in Europe, that is to say enemy, Allied and neutral. I do not suggest for a moment that the noble Lord intended to apply it to neutral countries but—


No, I ought not to have brought in the word "neutral."


But even with regard to the other two categories it is barely conceivable that the policy of the Allies would be identical. In relation to enemy countries, for instance, I should have thought that the policy of the Allies had been made abundantly plain. It is to bring about their total defeat and the destruction of the Governments which have been responsible for provoking this war. It would clearly be impossible for His Majesty's Government unilaterally to define now the further steps which the Allies jointly may decide it is necessary to take in order to prevent in the general interest any repetition of aggression or threat to world peace. I am sure that the noble Lord would not suggest—I do not think he did in fact suggest—that full freedom should be accorded to enemy countries immediately after their defeat to choose Governments, of whatever kind, whose first act might be to plunge the world again into war. I hope, in saying this, I shall not be taken as accepting my noble friend's view that democracies may be as aggressive as tyrants. In my opinion, recent history does not bear that out.

Towards the Allied countries I think the policy of the Allies is equally plain. It is to see that their sovereign rights and self-government are restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. The method and manner of such restoration When it takes place it is impossible at present to foresee. In certain cases, when we have received the unconditional surrender of the Axis forces, it may be a comparatively simple and rapid process. Loyal elements will presumably take charge and a legitimate Government will be rapidly re-established. In other cases it may be a lengthy process. The defeat of the Axis may be followed by a period of unrest. The policy of the Allies in those circumstances will certainly be to restore order as rapidly as possible and facilitate the restoration of legal authorities. In the widely different circumstances of the countries in question and in total ignorance of the conditions that will prevail in them, it is not in the nature of things possible to lay down any general method of practice or procedure. But I can assure the noble Lord—and I think his 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.


My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount and I think I am satisfied with what he has said. I certainly meant that the wishes of the people should be really established and that no attempt to usurp a de facto Government should take place. I quite understand that no absolute assurance as to the method of this can be given now, but I am not sorry to have elicited so much as the noble Viscount said. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.