HL Deb 27 October 1966 vol 277 cc381-424

3.45 p.m.

LORD BARNBY rose to call attention to the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards our former Polish Allies in this country and their institutions; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am assuming, I hope rightly, that on all sides of the House there is still a lively recollection of the service which was given to the Allied cause in the last war. Not only did the Polish airmen make a great contribution to the Battle of Britain, but the land forces throughout the fighting in Europe right to the end of the war, contributed a great deal in gallantry and unstinted duty, and they really earned the admiration of their colleagues in arms. We owe them a great debt.

There is this about it. Unlike the forces of other countries who were in this country or elsewhere at the end of the war, the Poles have no free country to which to return. Therefore, they are put in a special category which merits, as has been represented consistently, special consideration. The forces which they put into the field were considerable. This cause has been pleaded already in this House. The last time on which it was raised was in 1962. The debate appears in Volume 242 of Hansard and took place on July 11 of that year. At that time the contention was put forward in defence of the Motion that the support which had been given to the Poles was inadequate and parsimonious.

I think it was at that time that my noble friend Lord Carrington, then First Lord of the Admiralty, from the Government Front Bench, trying to defend the Government, gave a recitation of what had been done for the Poles. In the main, this referred to the military side. As all noble Lords will know, Poland is a Catholic country. The Polish communities throughout Europe and the world are devout Catholics. I look across to the Government Front Bench and I see there the noble Earl the Leader of the House, himself a devout Catholic. He will be aware, as others are, that the Cardinal Archbishop of his Church is himself a strong believer that there is justification for more general support for the Poles. The appeal has been quite widespread, and I have not the least doubt that there is a strong belief in all those quarters where people read about and have had any contact with these things that it is just that something more should be done.

My plea would fall under two heads—namely, welfare and cultural purposes. In trying to present to your Lordships the justification for our appeal to the Government to be more generous, I am hoping that I may succeed in some small measure in convincing the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that even if he is not able to-day to give an encouraging reply, at least his sympathy should be such that he will investigate closely what is represented.

It is quite difficult to deal with a situation like this, because negotiations with the Government have been in train for some time, and I do not want to weary the House by going into a wealth of detailed information—other noble Lords who will follow me will be adding their weight to this subject—but I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to give careful consideration to this matter and if he desires to have any other information it will be forthcoming. He can be assured that the negotiations which have taken place and which are taking place with the various Government Departments are being carried on with good will, and this is much appreciated, but unfortunately we have not made progress.

On the welfare side, one must have regard to the military aspect which was dealt with when we last debated this subject. I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, will be speaking a little later, for he is much more competent than I am to deal with that side of the matter. He is a General in Her Majesty's Forces who has had Poles under his command and is familiar with their problems. I will perhaps make two points on which I am sure Lord Thurlow will elaborate. The first is that the Government recognise that something urgent needs to be done, and the body which deals with grants in aid for distressed ex-Service men has been of assistance, but unfortunately this effort is quite in sufficient. The other point relates to pensions, which have been denied to Polish ex-combatants because they are put into a different category from the British. If the length of service of the career officer in the Polish forces is taken into account and is added to the years of service with the Allied Forces in the war, and if that is then added to service in the Polish Resettlement Corps, which was continuing service, it might well reach an aggregate of years to qualify them to be treated on the same lines as our own British nationals who have served in the Forces.

On the civilian and cultural side, I am glad to know that the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, will follow me in this debate. He is familiar with this subject and is most qualified to speak in the debate. It is only right that I should explain that there is the Polish Institute and Museum and the Sikorski Historical Institute and Research Centre, the former being formed in 1945 and the latter as early as 1939. Then there is a body which preserves the archives of the Polish Government and Armed Forces dating from the war period. The museum contains colours and other insignia. Many noble Lords will have visited Les Invalides in Paris, and they will know with what strong feelings the French regard that repository of great military deeds and therefore will understand that the Poles have some claim to similar feelings with regard to their own cultural centre.

I should like straight away to dispose of the allegation that the Poles themselves have been backward in subscribing to these bodies within their acknowledged meagre means. They have not citizens of wealth in this country, but they have responded generously. I am informed that this Institute, which admittedly receives support from the British Government, in the main receives its subscriptions from Polish people, from national sources, from firms and individuals, and from the United States. I see the noble Lord, Lord Strang, in his seat and he is very familiar with the libraries which are connected with the Polish people in London, and I hope he may be able to say something about the subject. I am informed that some 70 per cent. of the total subscribed has come from Polish sources, and I am sure that that will effectively dispose of any allegation of the kind I mentioned. In the recent negotiations the British Government have indicated their readiness to give some supplementary grant provided that it is matched by subscriptions from Polish sources. Your Lordships will appreciate that this is a difficult matter.

The Polish Institute is a centre for the cultural life of the Poles, and holds about 200 meetings of various kinds each year. There are the Polish Society of Arts and Sciences; the Polish Historical Society in Britain; the Polish ex-Combatants and Regimental Associations; the Anglo Polish Society and so on. I give your Lordships that catalogue of activities to convince you of the widespread cultural efforts of this Institute. It is an Institute which is limited by guarantee, registered as a charity. It is governed by a council of 24, and I myself have the honour to be its chairman; in which office I succeeded Lord Elgin, who for so many years was connected with this subject and took such a great interest in the Institute. The Institute has its own freehold property in Prince's Gate which contains a vast store of treasures. The building itself is, of course, valuable, but it does not bring them in much income.

I shall not, as I have said, go in detail into the negotiations which have taken place with the Government. May I just quote a part of a report which was made by the Treasury Office in April, 1963, and which mentioned: …an imaginative solution which will result in a permanent record of this country's obligation in a cultural and specifically Polish form. The Institute has its own research centre and library. The Government have made a contribution to the Polish libraries, but it is mixed up with the general national library effort from all sources in this country. I should like to make one other quotation from the correspondence in this matter, and it is that the Polish community should cease to be treated as a separate entity and should be increasingly integrated in the wider British community. But they are treated separately. The Polish ex-combatants have been denied pensions, and also there have been many cases when employment was short and priority has been given to British nationals rather than to Polish nationals. I understand—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, could confirm this—that British subjects born of Polish parents in this country are proscribed from commissions in Her Majesty's Forces.


My Lords, I may as well correct the noble Lord right away by telling him that that is not true.


I thank the noble Lord. I am glad to have that démenti, but I am told that cases can be brought forward to disprove that. The Polish Library, which is part of the cultural side of this question, is certainly a difficult matter, because it has been impossible to carry out the Government's wishes that there should be integration of the institutes, the research centre and the libraries, due to legal difficulties in England. It appears that there will be a deficit of £2,500 on the Sikorski Institute, in addition to a deficit of some £6,000 on the libraries. There is also, of course, the combatant side. These are such small amounts that I suggest there are grounds for compassion in these days, when it is fashionable for there to be compassion in all things—compassion for juvenile delinquents, compassion for emergent countries. Incidentally, in the former case I suggest that pretty often a good spanking would be very much better than any other correction. It is put forward by the Government Front Bench that we are going to spend £205 million in emergent and other countries on grants in aid and assistance of that kind, but the appeal which I make is a very meagre one.

It is difficult when speaking on a matter like this, when one has considerable emotional feeling, not to use extravagant language, but the plea is simply this. Are we going to honour what seems a debt to our former allies, who merit this sup port, when so small an amount would appear to give so much assistance? I beg to move for Papers.

4.3 p.m.


My Lords, many of your Lordships were grateful to my noble friend Lord Barnby when he first set down this Motion, and we are still more indebted to him to-day. I hope that his initiative may bring its reward in a practical form when the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, gives his reply from the Government's Dispatch Box. The Motion has been given increased, unforeseen, poignancy in the last few weeks, by the death of General Bor-Komorowski and by the cruel official blunder which accompanied his death. There has always been poignancy and deep tragedy in this theme, even though unobserved by the great majority of the British public and, less excusably, by all too many of the men and women in public life.

Last Thursday, a week ago, it was different. Amends were made; honour was done. I should like to pay tribute to those Ministers who ensured that this should be so. The Requiem Mass in Westminster Cathedral was as moving as any such service in my experience. The details went beyond the demands of pure formality. It was moving to see the noble Earl, Lord Longford, Leader of this House, standing beside Mr. Harold Macmillan in the forefront of the congregation; to see my own Party represented by a former soldier, Mr. Enoch Powell; and to see each of the Armed Services represented by distinguished men. The presence of the trumpeters of the Queen's Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery was an especially gracious detail, in which I was ready to see the personal, sensitive suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, or of Mr. Denis Healey. I can attribute it to either of them, from what I know of them.

Most moving of all was to see that score of Polish ex-Servicemen in their uniforms, men no longer young, who had served in battle under General Bor-Komorowski or General Anders. For nearly an hour they stood staunchly, holding aloft the banners which had meant so much to the man whom we were remembering, to his companions gathered there in the Cathedral, and to those who had preceded him, either in the hour of battle or during the long years of exile or vassaldom which followed. One of those banners was the personal pennant of General Bor-Komorowski himself, as Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, the symbol of defiance to the invaders during so many years. What few of those present may have realised was that those others in the Cathedral, wearing armbands over their ordinary suits, were in the uniform in which they had fought in the Rising. Those armbands distinguished them and endangered them, during those weeks of bloody resistance, as soldiers of the Home Army.

Two days before that Requiem Mass, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had announced to your Lordships the participation of the Armed Services. He did so in reply to a Parliamentary Question demanding to know why the Polish Funeral Service five weeks earlier had been deliberately shunned by the Ministry of Defence. The noble Lord spoke of the way in which the Government honoured the memory of General Bor-Komorowski's distinguished service to the Allies. Everyone in this House will be aware of the personal conviction which went into his words. There can have been nothing belated about his personal tribute when he first heard of the General's death. Unhappily, nothing of this kind was reflected in any official act, and I understand that he was away at the time, as was Mr. Denis Healey, who also has the most profound under standing of the plight of the satellite and exiled peoples of Eastern Europe. I know this from having stood on plat forms with him in the old days.

I think it is fair to ask, and I do ask, which Minister in the Defence Department was present in London on that particular day, and must be held answer able for the mistake that was made. It would be a relief, in the light of the generous words last week of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to have omitted to-day all reference to that first clumsy, deplorable reaction, or non-reaction, of the Ministry of Defence to the death of that fine man and illustrious comrade in-arms. It would be a relief, but it would also be an escapist form of relief, and therefore unworthy, I believe, of such a debate. This theme is above Party politics, as my noble friend has said, but this must not mean that all political Parties in Britain politely agree to ignore each other's shortcomings, and their own, for their mutual comfort, at the expense of the Poles who cannot intervene. I hope this may be the last occasion when we shall ever need to mention this ignoble slight on a valorous Ally, this blot upon our military and political annals. I hope its very happening will shame us out of any repetition. It can and doubtless will be forgiven. It cannot, I think, be comfortably, quietly forgotten in this particular debate, for when shall we ever have another one like it?

I know as well as anyone in the Chamber how sincere was the embellishment given to the statement by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, last week. But in one important respect he must have known himself how specious and inconsistent was the principal content of that reply. The only grounds of acquittal which he provided for the Minister of Defence were contained in the coldly bureaucratic words—uncharacteristic of the noble Lord himself— Official attendance at a privately arranged funeral is not customary".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 277 (No. 54), col. 2; 18/10/66.1 In considering those words before he delivered them—and they were the substantive reply to the substantive Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool—the noble Lord must himself have realised how totally at variance they were with the phrasing of the Ministry's original rejection—"after careful consideration", to quote the official words. A decision taken purely, as the noble Lord implied, on the basis of form or custom does not require careful consideration, and if careful consideration had been given it would have been enough in this instance, or so I should hope, to overrule a mere matter of form, of negative practice. This, in fact, seems to me a strange custom in itself. I know that there is an annual ceremony at a monument in Belgium near Bourg Leopold, which is attended every year by senior officers, to commemorate the death on Belgium soil of 150 Polish officers and men.

My Lords, the excuse is unconvincing enough, but the actual facts are still more distressing. The Ministry of Defence were not invited to the private funeral. They were invited to the public Memorial Ser vice at the Polish Church at Hammer smith. This service was attended officially by the United States and French Military Attachés,who in fact did not continue to the funeral which followed, some miles away, at Ealing Cemetery, near Alperton, where the General had lived. So there is double-dissembling here. The Ministry, it seems to me, are trying to conceal their guilty tracks twice, without success. A lesser politician than the noble Lord might be tempted to imply that the Department knew that a later Requiem Mass would be celebrated, but he is aware that no such extenuating factor is at his disposal. The Requiem Mass was prepared as a piece of indignant private enterprise arising from the very blunder of his Department, and was a purely British gesture.

I am in no position to take up a "holier than thou" attitude vis-á-vis the noble Lord, of all people. Blame falls upon successive Governments beset by a great range of pressing problems. There have been repeated sins of omission to wards the Poles ever since the war ended, leaving thousands of defeated comrades in-arms upon the soil of victorious though battered Britain—people unable to return to their own country by the very fact of having fought so gallantly beside us. The Government may remind us of the Polish Resettlement Corps, but I affirm that what we did in the immediate post war years was far below the maximum we were able to do. It was around the minimum; and, since then, as memories have faded, as friends from those martial years have grown older and withdrawn to hide their very poverty from us, what we have done has fallen below the mini mum which honour and human intellectual dignity should allow.

Peace, and life in Britain, had a bad beginning for the whole of the Polish community when the Polish Forces were forbidden to march in the Victory Parade through London to mark the triumph in which they had sacrificed, let us face the truth, far more than we. That devastating insult was inflicted by the Coalition Government, so that all Parties can divide the blame. In a sense, after that grievous wound nothing else which followed could hurt as much. The Poles had been bluntly anæsthetised for the ordeal to come. There have been later cases which should cause us shame. General Bor-Komorowski's Memorial Service was such a case, and I am pleased that many of our countrymen felt shame, and expressed it in letters to the Press. I am assured that there were many more letters than could be published on the subject. Would that this should have been an isolated example! It was not. Due to the fame of the man himself—one of the most unassuming men who ever lived—it obtained more publicity than others.

Sometimes, in moments of depression, it has seemed to me that since Yalta there has been a kind of official conspiracy to ignore the fact that Poland ever took part in the war among the defenders of freedom. The irony of this is striking, but signs exist, and the effect of its wider implications is a matter I shall touch on in a moment or two. First, I should like to refresh and perhaps even feed the memories of noble Lords regarding the military part that Poland played in the course of the war. It is out of step to-day to speak of the Second World War, yet certainly none of us would be able to dispute across the Floor as we do to-day, at either end of this building, unless that war had been won. Whatever Government might have been ruling us, it would not have been the Government of Mr. Harold Wilson or Mr. Edward Heath—or of Mr. Jo Grimond. The permitted political Parties would bear no resemblance to those of to-day; nor would the political scene; nor would the lives we lead. So it is salutary for us to remember with some gratitude those soldiers and patriots, other than our own, who helped to forge the victory and assure our freedom, if not their own.

My Lords, since entering politics I have known one particular inhibition. In no speech and in no remark have I ever referred back, temptingly, fashionably, to the time when Britain was fighting alone. We were never fighting alone. The part played by the Polish Air Force in the Battle of Britain is known to everyone connected with that epic campaign in our skies. Some of the bare figures may startle many of our countrymen who were given protection. Every eighth fighter pilot who entered combat in those critical weeks was a Pole. The number of German aircraft confidently claimed by Polish pilots was 203, and the losses they suffered in killed were just over 2,000, of which 90 per cent. were operational. There were fourteen operational Polish squadrons in every R.A.F. Com mand—Fighter, Bomber, Transport and the Fleet Air Arm. These squadrons served in nearly every theatre where British troops were engaged.

Much of this was visible to us. What was invisible was the even grimmer campaign being fought on the soil of Poland itself. The struggle began with the Occupation. It began with continuous acts of sabotage, developed into wider diversionary attacks and became organised partisan warfare in which 380,000 soldiers were mobilised on the Allied behalf. The most famous single action was in the Warsaw Rising, at a vital stage of the Allied advance, when this Home Army immobilised at no time less than 50,000 German troops, whose losses were 10,000 killed, 9,000 wounded and 7,000 missing, as well as 250 tanks and other armoured vehicles. The cost to the Home Army in the Warsaw Rising alone was 22,000 soldiers killed and a civilian death roll of 180,000.

There was other material damage inflicted on the German war effort: 8,105 railway locomotives damaged, derailed or set on fire, and nearly 20,000 railway carriages, 38 blown-up bridges, nearly 6,000 ambushes and 25,000 separate acts of sabotage. The enemy was well aware of the Home Army.

It seems a pity that some of Poland's Allies were less aware. The contributions during this time to Allied intelligence were equally impressive. London was kept informed of every German unit being transferred from the East to the West to meet our invasion. The component parts of the V.2 were stolen and flown to England on July 25, 1944, ten weeks before the first rocket was released against London. How many British lives this saved can hardly be calculated. It may cause us a pang of conscience to day to reflect that General Bor-Komorowski, in his lifetime, received no British decoration whatever.

The noble Lord and I can speak as ex-Servicemen. I served, with no distinction whatever, but to the best of my ability, in a number of theatres. On sober analysis, I believe that the average Polish soldier did more for my country during this time than I did myself. I am not sufficiently modest to suppose that I am in a minority in this respect. My noble friend Lord Ashbourne reminded me a minute or two ago that not only did the Polish Army and Air Force take part in the war effort: their Navy also came in to help our hard-pressed ships.

My Lords, at the end of all this effort and sacrifice 120,000 Poles found themselves here. Strangers in a strange land, homeless in someone else's homeland they had fought to protect, they did not ask for much. They received less than they asked for; but they did retain a small, essential, intellectual anchorage, in the shape of the three Cultural Institutes in London. For the past few years that anchorage has been threatened with demolition.

My noble friend Lord Barnby described in opening this debate the need and the value of these three Cultural Institutes, which represent something at present unique in the world; which brings scholars and historians to London from all parts of the world. He has mentioned the efforts the organisers have made to comply with the provisions set by successive British Governments. To all this I can bear witness from working personally, under his chairmanship, with the leaders of the Polish community in Britain, many distinguished men among them, with whom it is a privilege to be associated.

My noble friend, in laying down the main lines of the appeal, gave some detail, and it may be, I hope, that other noble Lords will add to what he has said. I will simply reinforce what he has said regarding the organisers' wholehearted response to the Government's demand that the three institutes be amalgamated. They have carried out that provision to the fullest extent possible within their means, but have been frustrated since last February by a curt and lethal cancellation even of the financial support they had been promised.

It might be thought this was the worst that a host Government could do. Alas!, it was not. I have seen a copy of the letter, to which my noble friend referred, from the Ministry of Education and Science—it is dated October 12, fifteen days ago—passing immediate sentence on the Polish Library; sentence to be carried out on March 31. On that date, five months from now, this unique Library will cease to exist by a Whitehall ukase. It will be scattered, literally, to the four winds. I trust that after I have sat down more will be said by noble Lords informed on the significance of this. As things stand to-day, an irreplaceable repository of learning will suddenly be denied, as from March 31, not only to the Polish community in Britain but to those from all parts of the world who have come to depend on it during these twenty years. In this time it has grown in size and value and fame. Especially ironic is the fact that lately the Committee have been receiving inquiries as to when the future of the Library would be assured, from people wishing to leave their own libraries, or book collections, or even houses, to it in their wills. An extra, sadistic twist contained in the letter dismantling the Library is the intention to "foreclose" on large numbers of books allegedly bought with Treasury grants over the past several years. These grants have always been understood to be un conditional and non-returnable, in common with other grants made to responsible institutions.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I did not quite understand what he was saying about foreclosing on the books. Does he mean that the Government are going to take them back into their own possession?


This is the case, according to the letter. Perhaps the noble Lord has not had the benefit of seeing the letter.


I have indeed.


He has. Well, if the noble Lord places any other construction on it I shall be very happy, because, with his knowledge of the workings of the Government at present, his construction is more likely to be correct than mine. But this is certainly the construction that all those I have spoken to have placed upon it.

My Lords, for anything so savagely unreasonable as this policy a reason had to be offered. My noble friend, Lord Barnby, quoted the Prime Minister's letter on October 4 last, expressing a requirement that the Polish community should cease to be treated as a separate entity and should be increasingly integrated into the wider British community. I make no apology for repeating this, and I ask, what price integration? A high price, as your Lordships have seen. So what does this boon of integration consist of? It does not give Polish ex-officers and N.C.O.s the pension, the livelihood they would receive if they were British. If it did, there would not be former Generals serving as lift-boys and former Colonels working in the sculleries of Park Lane hotels. I believe that my noble friend, Lord Thurlow, will refer to that subject, with his knowledge of the Poles he worked and fought with in the course of campaigning. But this is a strange interpretation of integration.

It refuses them the minimum cultural opportunities which any minority in a country must preserve to maintain its self-respect. Some years ago I re member taking part in this Chamber in a fairly passionate debate on the Welsh language and culture. Every speech but one proclaimed the right of the Welsh people to have their cherished culture preserved at State expense. The mood of the House was unmistakable, and neither Front Bench demurred. That mood was abundantly justified. Yet we are refusing a paltry £11,000 a year to sustain this heritage, one of the greatest and oldest in Europe, placed for the time being under our protection. It is a privilege which we are offered, and we are preparing to reject it like barbarians from a darker age. It would be an almost comical paradox were it not so insufferably mean and tragic. It is a pretty cynical attitude which demands integration by word, and in deed denies it. It is the kind of sophistry we have seen before. It is the "Heads we win—tails you lose" formula of the Treasury, with collusion in this case by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Education and Science. I think we must put to the Government directly—to-day we have a Minister who does not duck instinctively—to what extent it is proper, or even possible, to require people with such a history as the Poles to integrate, if it means surrendering their whole identity? What should we say if such a demand were made of us in conceivably similar circumstances? That question is not to be taken as being rhetorical. I should like an answer from the noble Lord.

Before ending, I will return for a moment to the Requiem Mass which some of us attended last Thursday, in order to draw a prophecy from it. At the end of the service we heard, most of us without understanding the words, that stirring and saddening national hymn, almost a national anthem of the Poles, Boze cos Polské. It is tragically individual to Poland in that the key line has changed, from era to era, according to the tide of history. Roughly interpreted, it is either God protect free Poland! or God restore free Poland! as it is, unhappily, at this time.

Nothing can keep these people in subjugation for ever. Nothing ever has. Freedom is an instinct and a force within them, stronger and more durable than any outside pressure. They are the hard core of the soul of Europe. Polish children, born in the past sad twenty years, who have not known freedom, have grown up with this urge to freedom as part of their character, and they will win it back. The Poles have been valued allies in the past; they can be valued allies in the future. By stingy, myopic attitudes to-day, we are forfeiting for our successors the friendship they will be able to offer.

My Lords, I hope it does not seem that I have leaned upon sentiment in my argument to-day. My words have not been governed or impelled by sentiment. I have tried to illustrate that by neglecting those who fought with Britain in a cause which was equally vital to both nations we are offending and quenching the spirit in some of the most faithful and unflinching friends we shall ever know. We must remember, I believe, that our quality of loyalty is judged by our loyalty to the Poles, on whose immediate behalf we entered the war and who fought so valiantly by our side throughout its course. This is one of the stages of our history when Britain needs friends, a time almost without peace-time precedent in this respect.

Those to whom we turn for friendship will consider our approach on grounds of fairly cold logic and past performance. What is our name for loyalty? Before they extend this friendship and accept ours they will weigh up what that friend ship has meant in the past to other friends. What is its staying power when their immediate usefulness has diminished? They will assess the benefits of British friendship to those who have earned and trusted in it. Among such trusting friends the Poles must be paramount in the eyes of the world.

Such insignificant moneys as are required to prove that loyalty to-day are, in any case, part of a debt; but in repaying that debt we make an investment our selves in the good faith and confidence of other nations. We cannot lose by it; we can only gain. Yet it is not purely, or even principally, on grounds of our material advantage among nations that I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, to-day. He and I speak the same language on most matters. I like to think that there are more fundamental convictions to unite us than to separate us. Through him, I beg the Government to act with honour, in the name of our own honourable nation, towards those of an equal stamp and stature.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I will be very brief, because I do not propose to deploy many arguments or many facts but quite unashamedly to appeal to the sentiments of noble Lords in all parts of the House. I do this because not only have I been honoured by the friendship of many Poles, but I have actually seen the Polish Forces in or near the battle fields and followed their record as fighting men in the air and on the ground when I was a Minister, and I think I have gained some knowledge of the national characteristics of the Polish people. First is perhaps the sense of honour which they have, which is almost of a knightly kind; second is there loyalty to one another and to their Allies, and, third is their ever-enduring courage in face of adversity. After all, the pages of Polish history are soaked with blood and tears for many generations.

This is an occasion when we should not be governed by Treasury minutes. All Ministers are aware of the awful moments when Treasury minutes appear, but I suggest that this is an occasion when anything that the Treasury say might well be ignored, because the sums of money are very small. I should like to think that Great Britain is never too poor to help a friend, at least with the nugatory sums which are involved. I have a vision of some noble Lord appearing on the Day of Judgment and saying, "I con fess my sins; I acknowledge my mistakes; I am a miserable sinner; but I claim mercy because I never in my life knowingly did anything which was mean and shabby." I ask this country which, after all, has been the saviour of liberty twice in this century, with its acknowledged place in history, not to leave a blur upon our record by behaving in a mean and shabby fashion to our noble Allies. That is all I have to say, except that the money, which I hope will be a generous sum, should be distributed to a Committee, which then could portion it out among the various objects which the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, has mentioned. If there is a freeze—and I am afraid that there is—do not let us freeze our hearts or freeze the sources of our generosity.

4.33 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to support, in a few words, the appeal which has been made to the Government by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and by other noble Lords who followed him, for those Poles who have, in effect, been exiled from their country through their loyalty to the Allied cause and who have been in Britain ever since the last world war, over twenty years ago. Theirs has indeed been a melancholy fate, which must arouse, I am sure, feelings of compassion and of gratitude in us, to whatever Party we may belong.

These Poles, as has been said so well already, were our faithful and, I would agree with my noble friend Lord Chandos, our most valorous Allies twenty years ago. As the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, has reminded us so movingly, we fought side by side with them in the same cause. Our deeds were their deeds, too. We have indeed in one respect—and we should do well not to forget—been enormously more fortunate than they, but it was only by the accident of the existence of the English Channel that we were spared the martyrdom that Poland has suffered. Do not let us, because we were spared, for that reason forget that the Polish people, and these particular Poles in Britain, have had the most terrible experience which I suppose that could be suffered by anyone, the experience of seeing their country and their wives and families fall into the hands of wicked, cruel and ruthless men without being able to do anything to help them.

Yet, my Lords, in spite of all that, their spirit was quite unbroken and undaunted; and throughout the Battle of Britain, and later in other theatres of war, as we know, they continued their fight in this spirit. I wonder whether we in this country knowing all this, have quite measured up to those standards which have been our pride and boast in the past. I wonder whether we have done all that we possibly could to alleviate the distress of those to whom we owe so much. I do not say for a moment that we have done nothing, for sums have been made available by successive Governments, of all Parties, since the war to keep their institutions alive and to help the necessitous cases of Poles.

But what I, and I am sure others, find increasingly disturbing is that as these Poles who fought at our side become older and less capable of facing the problems of life, the assistance that is being given to them is being steadily more and more reduced, until now, I understand, from what the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, said, it has been made clear to them by the Prime Minister that all the assistance which we have given to their national institutions, to the Sikorski Institute, to the Polish National Library and circulated library, is to cease on April 1 next year. That decision, at least, I hope will be rescinded. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, will report what is felt in this House to the Prime Minister about that.

I do not, of course, know what is to be the position concerning those individual members of the Polish community whose situation is especially tragic, and I should like, if I may, to ask for a little further information about this. I understand that the then Government gave a grant of £50,000 for this purpose in 1963 and that this sum has recently been stepped up to £70,000. I hope very much that it is the intention of the Government to continue this grant. Indeed, I hope that they will see their way to increase it, to take into account the increasing age and infirmity of the recipients.

Though there is, I understand, the view in some quarters—and this point has already been made—that the Polish refugees are by now integrated (to use a word with which we are all becoming too familiar) in the British community, I would point out that in this particular case this is not nearly so easy as it may appear to some people. A good many of these Poles were already approaching middle age when they came over here, twenty years ago, and we all know how difficult it is even for elderly Englishmen to find jobs in their own country. How much worse it must be to have to learn types of work to which they have not been accustomed in their past lives, and when, in addition, as has been true in a number of these cases, they have had to learn the English tongue from the start before beginning to do a full and effective day's work. They have certainly tried. I heard of a case, not long ago, where a Polish General was acting as a liftman in a West End Hotel, and the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, in the speech he has just made to your Lord ships, has given other examples of the same kind. That, I feel, is not something to make us very proud.

We are not always so niggardly over our money. We find it quite possible to pay out large sums to emergent countries which have not shown themselves particularly friendly to us. This is obviously not the occasion to argue the rights and wrongs of that, and I realise that powerful arguments can be adduced on both sides. But if we can afford that, surely we can afford to provide the in finitely smaller sums needed for those, like these Poles, to whom we owe so much. It is for that reason that I would plead with the Government to listen to what the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and others have said to-day, and to show themselves more forthcoming in discharging what must seem to many of us as nothing less than a debt of honour to those who have suffered so much in a common cause. They did well by us; do not let us fail them now.

4.42 p.m.


My Lords, may I say one thing, and say it quite briefly? It has been said, or at least implied, before, but I have no scruples about saying it again. I feel very strongly about Poland. I believe that Poland is the only country in Europe about which we in Britain must have a bad conscience and before whose people we cannot hold our heads high. Your Lord ships will recall that in April, 1939, we guaranteed Poland's independence, unequivocally and without reservation. That guarantee remains unfulfilled. Poland is not free. It may be said that we did our best; that when Mr. Mikolajczyk went back to Poland in 1945 we sincerely believed that he and his supporters would be allowed to participate in the Polish Government. We may have believed this; but our belief was misplaced. As your Lordships know, they were quickly squeezed out.

Since then, we have done nothing. It may be said that we could do nothing; and this is probably true. The only practical intervention would have been a military intervention, and that could have meant war with Russia, which was, to say the least, inexpedient. All the same, we broke our promise. Let us never forget that. The Poles that I know personally are very nice about it. They make allowances, and say: "What else could you have done?" And they are right. All the same, I do not feel very comfortable in the presence of my Polish friends, and I feel that the least we can do is to pay high honour to our Polish Allies and to give them practical assistance wherever we can. We broke faith with Poland. Let us do our very best to make amends.

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to say just a few words for very much the same reason as my noble friend Lord Arran has spoken. I feel that the Poles owe us nothing, and that we owe them much. That is the real difference. When all is said and done, as the noble Earl has just said, we did give them an unconditional guarantee in April, 1939. But in September, when their hour of agony came, we never lifted a finger or an aeroplane to help them. I dare say we could not help it, but the fact remains that that is what happened. Nevertheless, those of them who managed to get away—and a great many did manage to get away—fought magnificently by our side throughout the war on land, in the air in the R.A.F., and on the seas, with almost unparalleled courage, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, has just remarked.

As soon as the war was over we let them down again. I am not saying that in the circumstances we could have helped it. But, again, the fact remains. About 100,000 Polish servicemen settled in the United Kingdom, of an average age, as the noble Marquess has just pointed out, higher than most. Many are now approaching the age of old-age pensioners. They have not had an easy life. The request of the Polish regular officers and N.C.Os, who fought under British command for four years, for military pensions on reaching the age of 65 has been turned down by successive Governments, although the amount of money involved to pay pensions to these officers and N.C.Os is derisory; it is trivial. That is why we have Generals working lifts and officers in the sculleries of hotels.

I am not going to deal with the question of the Sikorski Institute and the Polish Research Centre, as this has al ready been covered. The Government are clearly determined to "do them in"—although it is only fair to add that this process was started by the previous Conservative Administration. I want to conclude with the Libraries. They are asking for an annual grant of £11,000 to keep them going; and the Poles themselves are making a substantial contribution, although there are practically no rich Poles in this country to-day. The Libraries give a most beneficial service to the Polish population throughout this country, and are of great use both to British and foreign scholars and students.

The Government now (I am sorry to have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton; I hope that he will be able to prove that I am wrong, but it seems to me that this is the Government's attitude) propose to withdraw all support and to dismantle the Libraries, and, on top of that, to claim the refund of a share of prior Treasury grants in the form of books purchased from these grants. It is absolutely incredible, but I think it is true. I have here a copy of a letter, which has already been referred to, from the Department of Education and Science to Count Zamoyski, which says: The large majority of the books in the Polish Library have been purchased from United Kingdom funds, and we have already indicated to the Polish Education and Library Committee that the Government has an interest in the disposal of such books. That is pretty plain English, I should have thought. The letter goes on to say: Since it may well prove impossible to arrange for the removal of the books promptly on 1st April, 1967, we hope that the Polish Social and Cultural Association will agree to the books, other than those which we are offering them as a gift"— how good of the Treasury!— remaining at 9 Princes Gardens until arrangements can be completed for their removal. How does the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, get out of that one? And how does he get out of the last one?—because the letter goes on: We are sorry to have to convey a decision with regard to the future of the Polish Libraries which will be disappointing to the Polish Social and Cultural Association as well as to the Polish Education and Library Committee. This decision stems, however, from the fact that the Government is not prepared to contribute the high proportion of the cost of running the Libraries which is implied in the proposals made by your Council and the Polish Social and Cultural Association. The noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, referred to Treasury Minutes, and how, quite understandably, he came "all over a tremble" whenever he received one. This is a typical Treasury Minute—it stands out a thousand miles—on a point of trivial importance. My belief is that all Treasury Minutes, on points of great importance or trivial importance, should be put straight into the wastepaper basket and ignored. If this had been done over the last 25 years we should have been much better off to-day, and probably could have avoided the Second World War.

This is not just petty, shabby meanness. It amounts almost to persecution. When you think of the hundreds of millions of pounds that we are now spending on over seas defence and on some of the emergent countries, much of which it is not easy to justify; when you think of these Polish ex-Servicemen, and what they did for us—how they died for us when we were fighting for our very existence; and when you think of the dismantling of their libraries for the sake of £11,000 a year, it makes one wonder what has come over us.

4.50 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships for more than the very few minutes that it will take me to express my support for the Motion of my noble friend Lord Barnby, and for those other noble Lords who have sup ported him. When I reflect upon the events that led to the last war, upon the events that took place in the latter stages of the war, and upon what has happened since, I cannot help feeling that we owed to our Polish Allies a debt greater and different in kind from that which we owed to any other of our Allies.

It is true—and I think the noble Earl, Lord Arran, was a little at fault in this—that we gave a guarantee to Poland before the war. But it was not, according to our recollection, a guarantee of Polish in dependence; it was directed primarily, I think, as a warning to Germany rather than as a defence of Poland. What we undertook to do in April, 1939, was to go to the defence of Poland if her integrity was threatened by Germany—and that undertaking in the end we fulfilled. But when we gave that undertaking I cannot conceive that anybody would have dreamed that, at the end of the war, Poland would no longer be an in dependent country, and that after our victory she would be in effect under foreign occupation.

I do not want to go back to Yalta. I defended the Yalta Agreement at the time, and looking back now I cannot see that we had much alternative. We made the best of a bad job, but it was a very bad job indeed, and it seems to me, in the light of that, in the light of our pledge before the war, in the light of the behaviour of our Allies during the war, and in the light of our failure to save their country after the war, that we owe them a debt which we have not even attempted to discharge. I can hardly believe that the degree of meanness which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, attributes to Her Majesty's Government can be true. If it is true, and if it is indeed the case that these instructions have been issued, I hope that Her Majesty's Government will see that they are rescinded at once. If not, I do not see how they or we can hold up our heads again.

As my noble friend Lord Salisbury pointed out, as the years pass the needs of our Polish Allies in this country be come even greater. But as the years pass the cost becomes less because, unhappily, there are fewer people to be looked after. I would implore the Government not to rest upon the fact that their predecessors have sometimes rejected appeals on this subject. They do not always accept the policies of their predecessors. I would implore the Government to do a little better than any Government since the war have done up to now.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, most of what I had intended to say has been already said very much better, particularly by the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos. But I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, for raising this matter in your Lordships' House to-day, because I am quite sure that the Government ought to take another look at the financial position of these Poles, mainly the officers, N.C.O.s and men who fought on the sea, on the land and in the air with us and for us in the war. I was myself fortunate in being able to see a good deal of them. I was one of the first to greet the Polish Carpathian Brigade when they arrived in Palestine, having come from Syria determined to fight on after the collapse of France, and I fought alongside them in the Western Desert when Colonel Kopanski was commanding the Brigade. Just before D-Day, I was chief staff officer to our mission to their troops, and I helped with their training in Scotland. Then in Normandy, when I was commanding a Highland battalion, I fought alongside them and with them in the savage battles in Normandy.

I have the greatest admiration for their qualities, and I feel that after what they did they deserve to be treated rather better and more like our own fighting troops. I think that most of the younger ones have settled down well, and have become integrated into the community with good jobs. I should have liked to see more of them serving still in the Regular Forces. I was delighted to see that one friend of mine was promoted Rear Admiral in the British Navy a short time ago, and now holds a responsible position in Whitehall. There are others still with the Army and the R.A.F., and there are sons of former officers serving now in the Army. Indeed, one has just been commissioned into my own regiment. His father was a Polish officer, and his mother a daughter of a brother officer of mine, General Anders, who commanded the Second Army. Therefore, I am not so worried about the younger ones.

However, among the 100,000 Poles who settled in this country there were a great many older officers. One of our problems in the liaison mission was that there were many middle-aged officers, far more than could be given jobs with the fighting troops. Many of them are those with whom we are particularly concerned to day. Also, there were those who came from Italy and other countries after the war, who did not have the opportunity to learn English during the war, and then found themselves in this country without a trade and without knowledge of the language.

I should like to congratulate the Government for raising the grant of money available for relief of distress from £50,000 to £70,000. But that is not enough. I have studied these figures, and I am quite sure that with a little more money a great deal more could be done. I should like to pay tribute to General Sir Roy Bucher and his Committee of the British Legion for their very hard work and for the way in which they are bringing as much attention as possible to the plight of those who are in the greatest need.

As has been said, no pensions are payable to Polish ex-Regulars, despite repeated efforts by Members of both Houses to obtain them. Obviously you cannot consider giving a full pension to these officers who served for a short time in our Forces—at least, that is the Treasury attitude, and always has been. But I still believe that it is possible to grant some form of pension so that these appalling cases quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and others need not occur. After all, this problem is not with us for ever and, as we have heard, the annual sum involved is not great compared with the sums expended in aid of developing countries.

I will conclude by quoting the words inscribed on the Polish Memorial at Cassino: We Polish soldiers, For our freedom and yours, Have given our souls to God, Our bodies to the soil of Italy, And our hearts to Poland. They did not get the freedom of their homeland, but they helped to preserve the freedom of ours. Cannot we treat them a little more generously and at least make sure that they are not in want, cold and hungry as I believe many of them are to-day?

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a few words to the appeals that have been made, though I had no intention of taking part in this short debate? Twenty-one years have passed since I myself resigned Government office be cause I could not doubt that elements of the Yalta Agreement were unprincipled and wrong. I did not doubt, of course, the honesty and integrity of those who took a different view or thought that what we then did was necessary. I feared that it would mean the end of Polish freedom, and I was less astonished, per haps, than those who took a different view, at what followed. But, my Lords, everything that I thought then I still think. I believe that the Yalta Agreement was one of the great blunders of history. I quite agree that this is not the time to discuss that in any way. I only say that, whatever view was taken at the time about the Yalta Agreement, everybody hoped that the freedom of Poland would be preserved; and the freedom that they hoped would he preserved was the freedom described by Winston Churchill in his speech at the time—were the Poles to be free, as we in this country are free? I will not quote the exact words. We know that they were not; that they lost their freedom; and the survivors of those who fought with us are now a small community in this country.

My Lords, it is not the reputation of Poland that will be affected by whether our Government are generous or not; it is the reputation of this country, and its honour. I do not doubt for one moment, and never have doubted, that the heart of the noble Lord who is to reply to this debate is, in this and indeed in most matters, in the right place. I am certain he has the same care and solicitude for the good name of this country that we all have. But I beg him to realise that our name and reputation are at risk in this matter.

Polish civilisation is one of the great civilisations of Europe, and surely we should wish to spend money in order that their cultural institutions that still survive should continue to survive. I thought my noble friend Lord Chandos used exactly the right word when he talked about "meanness". This is not a matter in which, without immense damage to our reputation, now and in the future, we can afford to be mean; and some of the actions which appear to be threatened are, quite simply, mean. It is a time for generosity.

My Lords, perhaps I ought to disclose an interest. I have, all these years, been a member of the Sikorski Institute. That is not because I have ever derived any benefit from it myself, or even used any of its facilities. I was honoured, as were so many of us, by the invitation to join it and support it, and I have done so ever since. I remember once being invited to speak to a Polish society at one of their annual National Days. It was at a time when many people still hoped for Polish restoration to their own country and their enjoyment of freedom there. I confess I saw no tangible grounds for that immediate hope, and such comfort as I could give was derived from the praise of heroic people in Pericles's funeral oration, with which I shall not trouble the House. The com fort of the Poles is the memory of their heroism, the knowledge of the skill with which they fought and their belief, based on their faith—yes, and their religious faith—that heroism ultimately is not without its reward and that to have fought gallantly is not only to have secured a claim to survive; it is to do something to secure that survival. I repeat, it is not the reputation of Poland that is in any way now at stake; it is the reputation and honour of this country.

5.8 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I take this opportunity to pay a further tribute to the quality of the men who came over here? I was particularly concerned in this regard during the Battle of Britain. These men had seen their country destroyed. They came over here, they had to learn a new language, adapt themselves to a new system of training in the Royal Air Force, and fly new aeroplanes. Their contribution was made from a central airport right behind London. They were absolutely at the heart of the battle. No one, I think, accuses the Royal Air Force of being anything but resolute and determined in the way the Battle of Britain was conducted, and it was—shall we say?—a fairly close run thing; but of all the squadrons which took part the Polish were outstanding, both in their achievement and in the utter fearless resolution with which they conducted themselves. I have said this because I feel always on these occasions that this is worth remembering.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I also, on behalf of the Allied Airborne Forces, corroborate what was said by the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow? As one who had experience of fighting with a Polish Parachute Brigade that joined us after D-Day in France and then fought alongside us as an independent Parachute Brigade, I can say that I have never seen better fighters in my life.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened to one of the most moving debates it has been my fortune to hear in your Lordships' House, and in rising to reply I am very conscious of the depth of feeling among your Lordships, one that I should hope is generally shared by the country in our attitude towards our Polish friends and Allies. It would almost be an act of supererogation if I were to pay yet a further tribute or put again on record Her Majesty's Government's appreciation of the services that have been rendered. But I do feel inclined once again—because some of your Lordships may not recall it—to quote the tribute paid in another place in 1945 by Sir Winston Churchill, when he said: So far as we are concerned, we should think it an honour to have such faithful and valiant associates dwelling among us as if they were men of our own blood. I agree very much with the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk. No one who has been in any of the Armed Forces, and least of all the Royal Air Force, can be other than very conscious of the quite remarkable courage and determination of the Polish Squadrons, who served, as the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, pointed out, in every Command of the Royal Air Force. I am reminded of this, indeed, as often as I journey to and from Northolt airfield, which is still an R.A.F. airfield, by the very dignified war memorial that is standing there.

In replying to this debate I realise that I have a very difficult task. I would not for one moment suggest that we should not allow our emotions to influence us and to feel very strongly, and I have no quarrel at all with any of the speeches, with the one exception, if I may say so, of that of the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, and I will deal with that when I come to that part of the speech. I appreciate very much what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said and the probably unjustified tributes that he paid to myself and my right honourable friend.

I should like to deal first, very briefly, with the question of the funeral of General Bor-Komorowski. The R.A.F. alone were in a position to attempt to render succour to the Polish Home Army, and of course the number of aircraft we lost ran into considerably more than just three figures; I have not the exact figures, but if my recollection serves me right it was something around 300 aircraft. So General Bor-Komorowski is of special significance for the Royal Air Force. I would really sincerely now ask the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, not to press this further. I must accept responsibility, as he knows, as a Minister, for the decision that was taken not to send a representative to the earlier funeral arrangements. It is consistent—and the answer I gave I must also stand by, and do stand by—with practice that on such occasions an official representative goes to the memorial service.

The noble Lord has paid tribute to the way in which that service was arranged. I would think that the Polish community will accept what I said, and what my right honourable friend said in another place, that we honour the memory of a very great man and that it was certainly the wish of Her Majesty's Government that that honour should be satisfactorily shown. I think we could go on arguing the details, but I do not think we shall add either to understanding or sympathy, and I hope that we shall now leave that matter there.

A number of particular questions have been asked with which I should like to deal, and I fear that so much has been said that I shall take some time in an attempt to give as full a reply as possible. I would deal first with one point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, and which was effectively answered by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, about the possibility of someone of Polish parents, whether he remains Polish or becomes British, being commissioned in Her Majesty's Forces. The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, indeed, referred to an officer of Polish extraction in his own regiment. I should like to explain the position on this subject to noble Lords. It is a complicated one, but I think it is important that we should understand how this is operated.

Restricted nationality rules apply to potential entrants to the Armed Forces except those enlisting as other ranks in the Army; and those rules, which are comparable to those applying to anyone joining the Civil Service, are, broadly, that both the applicant himself and his or her parents should first be British subjects or citizens of the Irish Republic, and secondly have been born in a Commonwealth country or in the Irish Republic. These arrangements, as I say, are not special to the Armed Forces. I will go on to explain the basis for them, because I do not think that a full statement has been made in Parliament, and I have been anxious to see that the position is understood. I may say that the rules were applied to a considerable extent in the past under other Administrations, without ever being published. These arrangements in no way detract from our appreciation of the gallant services which many people of foreign birth—not just Poles—have contributed in the Armed Forces.

The reason—and I shall go on to deal with exceptions—for insisting on British birth and parentage, in the first instance, is that special pressure could be brought to bear on people of foreign origin who may still have relatives living behind the Iron Curtain. The events of recent years compel us to face this as a real threat. Once a man has been accepted, and particularly the potential officers and N.C.Os, unless we are able to satisfy ourselves that such pressure cannot be brought they could not expect a full career lest at some time or other they do work—and this is particularly true of the R.A.F.—which brings them in touch with highly classified information. And at this point they will in any case be subject to security inquiries to establish their reliability; and so we try to ensure, in the interests of those concerned, that those considerations are taken into account at the time of entry.

The rules are not inflexible. The requirements can be waived on the authority of the appropriate Minister of Defence, and all requests for this dispensation are fully and sympathetically considered. I have myself waived such rules on a number of occasions. We have, of course, a number of people of foreign extraction—indeed, Poles—serving, as I hope, successful and happy careers in the R.A.F. I would emphasise that these rules have operated for a long time in Departments in the Civil Service including the Ministry of Defence, and the principle is not new. In fact, I doubt whether I could defend the maintenance of the old system under which different rules applied to Servicemen and civilians working side by side, and, furthermore, they were not published. That is a fairly lengthy answer, but I hope it makes the position clear in regard to commissions. As we know. there are a number of commissioned officers of Polish origin.

he question that your Lordships want answered, and upon which your Lord ships want to satisfy yourselves, is whether we, the British people, the British Government, successive Governments whoever they may have been, have redeemed our pledges to these gallant men who made such a tremendous contribution—indeed, it may well have been the vital difference—in preventing this country from going down to disaster. I should like to set out my answer precisely, because your Lord ships will have to judge from the story I tell whether we have in fact discharged this obligation. This is not just a question of pointing to a particular individual tragedy, to the frequently mentioned misfortune of, perhaps, a distinguished officer who is now employed on a menial task. There are many examples of misery and hardship in the world with which we could wring the hearts of your Lordships. This is a question of whether we have discharged our pledges, and whether we have done enough.

There may, of course, be those of us, regardless of whether we throw all Treasury Minutes away, who maintain that Governments have never done enough. This may be a measure of the state of civilisation we have so far reached. But I should like to set out exactly what we have done. War gratuities were granted to the Poles in the same way as they were paid to our own Servicemen. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, was a little imprecise, I thought, when he was talking about pensions. He was referring specifically to Regular Service pensions, and not the other kinds of pension.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I was trying to avoid too much detail because in a debate such as this the aim was to emphasise the main need we were seeking to show exists—namely, increased aid. As I said, the question of pensions was involved, and I was urging that consideration should be given to the length of service which the Polish men had had in the Forces. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to deal with that.


My Lords, I am not grumbling. I am merely saying that it is necessary that, if your Lordships are to judge this, we should be precise, and it is necessary for me to answer this point with precision. The Polish Resettlement Act enabled provision to be made for the payment of pensions and allowances to those who were disabled—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, and many other noble Lords are aware of this, but not all of your Lordships may be—as a result of service under British Command; and to the widows and de pendants of those who died as a result of such service, under broadly, indeed with no significant difference, the same conditions as applied to British Servicemen.

There are at present approximately 4,300 disablement pensions and 450 widows' or dependants' pensions in issue at a cost of about £1 million per year. I am not suggesting that it is possible ever to put a price on the services that have been rendered, but none the less these are figures that I think it right to give. The total expenditure so far has been about £11½ million. I should add that I was interested to see that, of the 4,000 or more disablement pensions, some thing over 1,000 are paid to Poles who have now gone overseas. Indeed, there are something like 700 who are no longer living in this country, who have settled in Canada, and are still receiving, I believe rightly, British war pensions. Of the 450 widows' pensions something like 170 are again paid to people who arc overseas. Arrangements for paying these benefits were, as I have said, made to those even when they emigrated from this country.

To assist those who remained in the country—again this is familiar to Lord St. Oswald and to Lord Barnby—the Polish Resettlement Corps was formed in 1946. The total cost of the Corps was £28 million. Some 82,000 members of the Corps and their dependants benefited from the really massive assistance mounted by the Ministry of Labour to help them find employment and to arrange vocational training. Something like 14,000 were assisted to emigrate, of whom nearly 13,000 were given direct financial aid at a cost of £1 million. Many of these Poles have settled in our communities, and we have been enriched by them as the history of our country has always shown us to be when people have come to us, whether they be refugees or in the special circumstances of the Poles.

From January 1, 1963, a special grant-in-aid, beginning at £50,000 but amounting to £70,000 in the current financial year, has been made available from Defence Votes to assist Polish ex-Servicemen or women who might be in particular need. Assistance from the grant, which can take the form of regular allowances or of lump sum grants, is administered by two committees which include representatives of various Polish associations. One of the committees is chaired by a senior Polish ex-officer. This grant-in-aid to assist Polish ex-Servicemen in cases of hardship is an additional form of assistance for which British nationals, even if they are ex-Servicemen, do not qualify. In fact, the standard grant is 15s., whereas the British Legion which helps people in need can manage only 10s. a week. It is given by the British Government, partly because it is not pos sible—I shall go on to give my reasons for this—to introduce a pension scheme for Polish ex-Regulars.

So that there shall be no misunderstanding—and I shall give my reasons—I think it is right for us to decide that we should not give Polish ex-Regulars military service pensions. There are several reasons for this. Successive Ad ministrations have taken the view that it would be inequitable. As I speak your Lordships may spot certain points which you may think are weaknesses in my argument, but if you will listen to the end I hope to give a full account. First of all, the length of their service under British command during the war would not qualify them for a Service pension under the conditions which apply to British ex-Servicemen.

I would ask your Lordships to recall that a British Serviceman, retiring in 1946, would have had to serve 22 years before qualifying for a pension, or 20 years if he were an officer. On this analogy, taking 1946, or in the case of officers 1948, Polish ex-Regulars would have had to join the pre-war Polish Army either in 1924 or in 1926 in order to qualify for similar treatment. I gather that the burden is to suggest that it should be similar treatment, and not extra favourable treatment, to that which we would provide for our own officers and retired soldiers.

The most recent estimate is that there were about 4,300 Polish ex-Regulars in this country out of a total of about 80,000 Polish ex-Servicemen here formerly, and the number who would have sufficient ser vice to qualify on the British analogy—though we have not got the figures and this is a difficulty—must surely be only a small proportion indeed. And even if your Lordships considered it right that the British taxpayer should be expected to meet the Bill for services given before the war to the Polish Government—services which, I should be the first to acknowledge, were in fact in preparation for the great service they gave to this country—I do not believe, in all the circumstances, it would be right to discriminate against other Servicemen who served only for the duration of the war. Would it also be equitable that credit should be given for pre-war service to a group of soldiers and not to civil servants, for example a civil servant whose career was equally shattered and who served the Polish Government and then served in the Polish forces?

In all the circumstances I believe that if we were to provide pensions for only a tiny minority it would produce anomalies. I agree with your Lordships who say that there is not a great deal of money at stake; the figures have been variously estimated at £5 million over 5 years; but, as I say, it would produce anomalies, and I believe it would be wrong to tackle it this way.

What in fact we have done, and what successive Governments have done, is to tackle it on a wider basis, against an assessment of need and on rather more generous terms than have been available to the British citizen. The arrangements made by Her Majesty's Government compare favourably with what has been done by other countries. I do not know of any country which gives a military pension on the lines which have been suggested for Polish ex-Regulars in this country, although in some cases Polish ex-Service men can qualify for pensions provided for war veterans who are in need. It is difficult to draw valid comparisons against the background of different social security systems, but I see no evidence to suggest that the practice of other countries provides any ground on which to base a claim—and indeed it has not been pressed to-day though it has on previous occasions—for more generous treatment; indeed, the reverse. I believe that the financial provision for Polish ex-Service men made by successive Administrations formally discharges what has rightly been called our debt of honour to the Polish ex-Service men whose gallantry contributed so much to the success of the Allied cause. I use the word "formally" deliberately, for I doubt whether we shall ever be able to discharge this debt; but, within the circumstances, I believe the Government have treated the Poles as if they were of our own blood, and we have treated them in regard to pensions and help of this kind as well as our own ex-Service men.

I should like now to turn to the issue of the Polish cultural institutions. I have listened most carefully to everythink that has been said. I must confess that I cannot claim the expert knowledge of the noble Lords, Lord St. Oswald and Lord Barnby, on the subject. I have noted very carefully what has been said and will see that it is conveyed to my colleagues in the Government. I should like to set out the picture as I understand it. Here again this is not a simple problem. I think it might be helpful if I start by giving a short statement of the facts about successive Governments' dealings with the Poles about their cultural institutions. I hope that anything I say, which will I hope be candid and direct, will not be taken in any way to be offensive. We are trying to face this problem calmly and sensibly, and I can well understand the strength of emotion on this matter. I can only assure the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, that anything I say is not in any way intended to be hurtful or disparaging.

These institutions fall into two groups. On the one hand, there is the Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, which is the recent amalgamation of the war-time Government in exile's creations, the Polish Research Centre and the Sikorski Historical Institute. The amalgamated institutions include libraries, research facilities, social and cultural activities and a museum with over 1 million documents and over 20,000 exhibits relating to Poland in the Second World War and the life of General Sikorski.

The other Polish cultural institutions are the Polish Library and the Central Circulating Library. The Polish Library came into existence in 1953 when Her Majesty's Government made it possible for the Polish University College Library to continue and indeed to grow. Funds for this purpose were made available and have been administered by a Polish Education and Library Committee chaired by an Englishman and including Polish and British members. The same Committee took responsibility for the Central Circulating Library which had been started in 1948 as a contribution to the adult education service for the Poles who had settled in this country. Her Majesty's Government were glad for the Poles to feel that the Libraries and their administration were directly the concern of the community and as a matter of convenience the administering committee has functioned from the Polish Research Centre. From early days, however, the Ministry of Education, as it then was, indicated that the aim must be to reduce the scale of assistance to these Libraries and to assimilate the service to the Public Library Service or to other cultural institutions as appropriate. I will not take up your Lordships' time, but I have in my hand quotations from previous Prime Ministers, from Mr. Macmillan and from Sir Alec Douglas-Home, which has made this crystal clear.

Leaders of the Polish community have, however, repeatedly sought grants from the Exchequer for the Sikorski Museum in addition to the maintenance grants that were being made to the Polish Library. Her Majesty's Government's response was to put to representatives of the Poles the suggestion that their independent cultural institutions and the Polish Library should amalgamate and concentrate their activities, thereby effecting economies and achieving greater efficiency. This was in 1963. Her Majesty's Government said that if this was done, and if evidence of an equal contribution annually from Polish sources was forthcoming, Her Majesty's Government would be ready to make a grant of £7,000 per annum on a permanent basis. I realise that there is room for discussion and judgment on whether what the Polish community was asked to contribute was reasonable, but I will continue to give the facts as they have appeared to Her Majesty's Government.

It was contemplated that the Polish Central Circulating Library would be assimilated to the Public Library Service, and this was not disputed by the representatives of the Polish community. Unfortunately, our Polish friends did not see their way, or were not in a position, to meet Her Majesty's Government's conditions with regard to evidence of Polish support, nor to effect the amalgamation of all three institutions. Her Majesty's Government raised the grant offer in the short term to cover the continuing costs of the Polish Library, before economies were effected in its running costs. Repeated offers were made to consider proposals for the amalgamation of all three institutions and evidence of the Polish community's financial contribution but without success.

I have here a letter from Sir Alec Douglas-Home to the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, in which he said: You will remember that Mr. Macmillan went on to say that if no amalgamation scheme had emerged by November, 1963, at the latest there could be no question of existing separate institutions receiving further financial support from official sources. Later in the letter he said: We remain prepared to consider proposals which the Poles might put to us for the amalgamation of this Library with the Research Centre, and the Sikorski Institute, with a view to forming the economical and viable continuing association towards which the Government would be prepared to contribute. But in the absence of such proposals… —this was in March, 1964— …I am bound to say that we should expect the amount of the Exchequer grant to the Polish Library to be progressively reduced. In the summer of 1965 the Polish leaders were still standing out for £20,000 a year from the Exchequer for the various institutions, and when this was refused the reaction was that the Polish Research Centre could take no further responsibility for the Polish Library.

Early in 1966, a new Polish Library Council came forward, in association with a recently registered Polish charitable organisation, the Polish Social and Cultural Association, Ltd., offering to take responsibility for both the Polish Library and the Polish Central Circulating Library. But this offer was dependent upon a continuing Exchequer grant of £11,000 per annum, with no indication of increasing contributions, from Polish sources in future years. The offer was carefully considered, but the Government concluded that they could not agree to continue Exchequer aid to the Polish Library and Circulating Library on this basis. Accordingly, the notice of termination of grant to the Library, which had been given early in 1965 and confirmed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science in September, 1965, becomes operative, save that the Government have indicated readiness to make a strictly limited grant to cover the winding-up costs that will be incurred after March 31 next.

Her Majesty's Government genuinely regret that it has not proved possible to come to an agreement with the Polish community whereby three cultural institutions would have been consolidated into one. In the circumstances, Her Majesty's Government will make every endeavour to ensure that the books in the Polish Library, which have very largely been purchased with Exchequer grants, will continue to serve its public if assimilated to a local authority public library service from which local authority libraries throughout the country, also Polish hostels and hospital libraries serving Polish patients, will be able to borrow books.

I must say that I think it is a travesty of the situation, and one that does not help in this controversy, to say that Her Majesty's Government are seeking repayment, or, in effect, to receive back into their own possession books for which they have provided the funds. The noble Lord, Lord Boothby, quoted only part of the letter. The noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, and I may disagree on what it means but to me it is crystal-clear that, if this Library is to be dispersed, it is important that the books should go into the right places so that they will be available to those who need them. This letter, following the paragraph which the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, read, says: You will wish to know what we have in mind with regard to the future of the Polish libraries, apart from those books returnable to Polish sources. Some do, in fact, belong directly to certain Polish sources who may not wish them to be used in this way. They are divided into groups of scholarly works and émigré publications, and on this the letter says: …we are approaching the British Universities Association of Slavists, who have expressed their interest in the availability of the contents of the Polish Library to scholars and specialists on Polish subjects in Great Britain and throughout the world. We hope to receive suggestions as to which universities or other educational institutions could best accommodate the stock or sections of the stock of scholarly books. We propose to discuss with the British Universities Association of Slavists possible solutions for the émigré publications and the bibliography. The popular lending section…will be offered as a gift to the Polish Social and Cultural Association. —and so on. I have already dealt with the Central Circulating Library.


My Lords, will my noble friend excuse me for a moment? He has made a wild attack on me, and I hope he does not feel as grim as he looks. He has asked for precision. I can only say this. I do not know whether he has seen the reply of Count Zamoyski to the letter which he received from the Ministry of Education and Science, be cause there is precision there and it is quite clear. If the noble Lord will be good enough to read it I do not think he will find that it differs in any way from the interpretation which I put upon that letter. The Library is going to be dismantled.


My Lords, the fact that the noble Lord has been as misled as Count Zamoyski, does not, I think, justify him, because the noble Lord at least is a master of the English language. I have read out to the House enough to suggest that the statement in Count Zamoyski's letter that the letter from which I quoted includes a claim to the refund of a share of prior Treasury grants in the form of books purchased through those grants, is a travesty. I say this, not because I wish to pour fuel on this fire but because I hope that we shall approach this matter in a serious way, conscious that there is here an important and valuable heritage which must be used in the best way.


My Lords, I must count myself among the band of the mystified on this point, and I cannot really say that the noble Lord's explanation has un-mystified me. Is he saying that, in fact, these books are not going to be reclaimed from the Polish Library? He has not said that they are not going to be reclaimed. Will he say that?


My Lords, I do not want to take too long, but if the Polish Library should go out of existence there is a large number of books of great value which have been paid for from funds provided by the British Government, and which are of great importance to scholars and others. The Government are not seeking to reclaim them. They are merely seeking to ensure that they are disposed of in the way that will be of the greatest benefit, both to the Polish community and to others. It seems to me that there is a great difference between that and the statement which I read out, and which unfortunately has misled not only the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, but the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, who is also, I may say, a master of the English language. I hope your Lordships' House will not think that this is a piece of pettiness. If the Library is to be dismantled, then clearly it is vital that the books should be made available, and I hope your Lordships will accept that.

Over the years since the end of World War II, successive Governments have made many millions of pounds available to serve the educational needs of Polish immigrants and to enable the Polish Libraries to continue in all these years. But, my Lords, a generation of Anglo Polish citizens has now grown up; the special university facilities are no longer necessary, for their young men and women go to our British universities like any young Britisher; and in the absence of an ability to make more substantial contributions to the maintenance of distinctive Polish institutions than has yet been forthcoming, the Government feel hound to make the best arrangements they can for the books which have been provided for the Polish libraries.

I realise, as indeed do my ministerial colleagues, that the decision not to re new the Exchequer grant to enable the Polish and Social Cultural Association to maintain the Polish Libraries must be a great disappointment to many members of the Polish community. Your Lord ships can be sure—and I gave this assurance at the beginning—that all that has been said in this debate will be studied by those of my colleagues concerned, and their Departments, and I shall personally undertake to convey not only the arguments, where the arguments are precise and related to the point, but also the strength of feeling. But I should not wish to ride out of this situation by encouraging your Lordships in the hope that the Government might be prepared to modify the recent decision to terminate the grant.

I would urge noble Lords, and the leaders of the Polish community, whatever comes out of this, to accept that some of what is proposed, anyway, is going to take place, and that the realistic thing to do would be to concentrate on working out the help and the advice they could offer to ensure that the best possible arrangements are made for the books, so that they may continue to serve the needs of the Polish community in Britain and the needs of students of Polish subjects, both British students and foreign students visiting Britain.

My Lords, I am afraid that I have spoken at very great length, and there were a number of other interesting and important contributions with which I have not dealt. I was particularly conscious of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and it means no reflection on those other noble Lords who sit below him, and those others who have expressed a feeling of guilt with regard to Poland, that we know that he carried his beliefs into resignation from the Government of the day.

It is not enough for us just to feel guilty. It is up to us, when confronted here with the Poles, or with any such situation, to do our utmost to alleviate suffering and to fulfil our obligations. I am very conscious of what the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald, said in quoting the letter from the Prime Minister. To those Poles who perhaps still carry the dream of returning to their homeland, for which they so valiantly fought, the thought of becoming part of or incorporated or integrated into the British community must in fact be repugnant. But the fact remains that a large number of Poles have been so integrated, and are proudly British citizens, even though they may still seek to maintain their particular traditional institutions in the same way as those parts of this country with more of what the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, called tribal associations seek to preserve theirs.


My Lords, I wonder if I might interrupt the noble Lord. I do not want to argue with the noble Lord on this, but I must pick him up on one word. He said that certain Poles might find it repugnant to become British. I do not know any Pole who would ever consider it repugnant. Many of them consider it, quite honestly, impossible, as I believe we should if we were in their place. It is not simply the Poles who have a dream of returning to Poland in their lifetimes; it is the Poles who wish in some way to assist in carrying forward the identity of their country for others who may one day return.


I fully accept the noble Lord's correction—I am, after all, speaking without preparation—but, my Lords, I am sure that this is the answer in the long run. We do not press people as much as some other countries do, perhaps, to integrate quickly into our society. Indeed, we have a long tradition of allowing, and indeed encouraging, the institutions of those who come to live among us. But the answer in the long run, the broad answer, must surely be that we hope that these Polish citizens, whom we are so proud to have living with us as British citizens, will in fact gradually become as British, as are many of their former countrymen and many of their children, as those of English parentage.

My Lords, I assume the noble Lord is not going to press his Motion to a Vote. I think this debate has been a notable occasion, and I fear I may not worthily have met the challenge that has been posed or the deep feelings that have been expressed. But I hope your Lord ships will accept—and I hope that the Polish community will accept—that, even if it is felt that the British have not done enough for them, our gratitude to them will always remain undiminished.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I think this debate has been significant for the number of important contributions that have been made. The aim has been to emphasise the need for some action. I appreciate very much the helpful manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has dealt with the situation. He rather chided me for insufficient detail. I would remind him that my purpose at the commencement was to avoid detail, and I hoped that he would be able to deal more with the simple question of whether or not higher contributions from the Government were justified on the cultural side. Assistance on the military side is a separate point.

Other than that, I appreciate the noble Lord's assurance that he will convey to all the Government Departments concerned the fact that there have been weighty contributions in support of the general principle of assistance to the cultural aspect, for which the sums suggested are small. I tried to keep off the other aspect. I would conclude by expressing my thanks to all those who have taken part in this debate and the earnest hope that it will produce some compassionate feeling from the Government so that assistance on a more generous scale may be forthcoming. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.