Orders of the Day — Peace Aims.

– in the House of Commons on 12th February 1941.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Grimston.]

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

I desire to bring to the notice of the House the question of peace aims, as set out in particular in a Motion which I put on the Order Paper the other day. I raise this matter in the friendliest possible spirit towards the Government, and with a view to stimulating thought and discussion on the subject, and in view of the very widespread interest which I know exists in the country. The Prime Minister, in reply to a Question which I put to him yesterday on the subject, gave me the impression that he thought the Motion I had put down was not so very far off the mark. Indeed, if one examines the terms of that Motion, it will be seen that it involves something very like an unconditional surrender by the present regime. I fully believe that the Government realise the importance of this matter and that they intend at the moment they consider appropriate to make a declaration of some kind. We have heard all sorts of rumours for some time past about Cabinet subcommittees, and documents and pronouncements to be made, but nothing has happened. A good many weeks ago, statements were made by Ministers, high and low in the Government hierarchy, to the effect that statements would be made, and I think there was a general feeling, that probably during the month of January, something would come out. All I ask the Government to do is to realise the importance which is generally attached in the country to this question—1 appreciate that you can only make a pronouncement in the most general terms—and to make a statement to the world as soon as they feel that they can do it.

In the absence of a Government statement I am going to elaborate the various points in the Motion that I have put down. The first is that in the opinion of this House the effective propagation of the Allied peace aims throughout the world would be a powerful weapon in assisting to win the war. It is true that what we want to do is to win the war, and the only point in bringing forward a Motion of this kind to my mind is that it will be a powerful weapon in doing that, otherwise there would be no great point perhaps in elaborating it. The war can only be won by a combination of three weapons, the pressure of the blockade, the superiority of air power when it comes in due course and the breaking down of morale inside the enemy countries by the exercise of the propaganda weapon. That will be the time when it will be possible for the British Army to play its part on the Continent, and to go there under comparatively easy conditions in view of the state of mind of the enemy, and to go without undue difficulty through present occupied countries, and I hope this time right on to Berlin. I hope the Allied Armies will be seen in the principal towns of Germany so that never again will they be able to say they were not really defeated. Let them see for themselves. I hope also that any peace terms ultimately signed will be signed by all the elements in Germany—Right, Left and Centre. Some of the signatures would be of very little value but I suggest that course because it would for ever prevent one particular section in Germany saying that it was the other people who made the peace and they had no responsibility. Let them all be made to accept responsibility for the terms when the time comes. We want to convey to the German people that it really is quite useless for them to go on, that they have nothing to fear, we are not going to make slaves of them as they would make slaves of us. They can carry on inside their own country leading a free life of their own. The only thing they will not be allowed to do is to start another war. Let me take the second point that these terms should include the restoration of the freedom of all peoples overrun by Nazi or Fascist aggression during recent years. It will be noted that I use the words freedom of the "peoples." I think those terms have already been declared by the late and the present Government and are generally accepted, but let us be quite clear about this. That does not necessarily mean that we should accept the old frontiers. We may or may not, but we are not committed to accepting the boundaries that existed at the outbreak of war. It means that Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France must have their freedom restored, that Abyssinia and Albania must have their freedom restored, and, above all, that the freedom and safety of Great Britain and the British Empire shall be preserved from threat in future. Some people have written to me since my Motion was put down asking why I said nothing about Russia. The answer is that I am dealing with the present war and the enemies in the field against us, and that I am not proposing to initiate or to suggest that we should start another war.

The third point is the provision of food to continental nations immediately enemy arms are laid down and occupied territory evacuated. It is generally agreed that to people who are not having enough food the prospect of food would be a considerable attraction. The Government have already declared that they have something of the kind in mind. The terms are clear; the food would only be allowed when arms are laid down and the territories evacuated. One cannot imagine Hitler surviving such conditions. The next point is that there should be no negotiations with the present regimes in Germany and Italy. We have surely learnt the lesson of the past and realise that there is no use making an agreement with the gangsters, bullies and liars who are in power in Germany and Italy. Any negotiated peace with the present regimes does not interest me in the least. It would only be a short pause before the start of another war in which we should find ourselves in greater difficulties than ever. Another point is that there should be opportunities for the German and Italian people to choose for themselves whatever form of self-government they think fit. I am speaking of internal self-government and what is to happen inside those countries. I do not suggest that Germany and Italy—one thinks of Germany in particular—are to be free externally. It is obvious that for a long time to come there would have to be a measure of control externally. Steps would have to be taken to prevent any further act of aggression and there would have to be a long process of re-education. People of the mentality of the Nazis in Germany cannot be trusted for a long time to come until something has been done to alter their point of view.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that after the war Germany will be allowed, if she desires, again to choose a Nazi Government and that Italy will be allowed to choose a Fascist régime?

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

That is exactly the point to which I was coming. It has been put to me "Supposing under self-government Germany and Italy were to choose again their present régimes." There are two replies to that. First, it seems to me incredible that under normal conditions, in a calm and peaceful atmosphere, when people were free to think for themselves, they would deliberately choose—

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Grilmston.]

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

—to inflict upon themselves the dictatorship régime which they have at the present time.

Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

Allow me to finish the argument. If they did, then I would say that they would be going back upon the very condition I have laid down, which is that they should be free to choose whatever form of self-government they want, and if they chose a form of dictatorship and rejected self-government, well then indeed they would have to be subjected to some form of control, internal as well as external. I hope I have made that point clear now.

It has been said by Sir Robert Vansittart in that famous "Black Record" of his that there have never been enough good Germans present at the right moment. That is perfectly true, and perhaps we have not always done all we could to encourage good Germans when democracy was functioning in Germany. But, quite apart from that, I would suggest that the best chance of increasing the numbers of good Germans there is to allow democratic institutions to flourish. That is the reason why that particular clause was put in. The next point is: The setting up of a world organisation possessing such military force as will prevent further acts of aggression, with suitable machinery for the peaceful settlement of international disputes through conciliation or third-party judgment, and for the promotion of the economic unity of the world and the development of its resources for the benefit of all. Here I put it that we must in future see that we have some reliable force operating behind the law. There are two lessons which I hope we have learned from the events of the last 20 years. One is that we in this country cannot isolate ourselves from events, from wars that go on in any other part of the world. We get involved, and very heavily involved in the long run. The other lesson is that we cannot depend on loose obligations, on mere verbiage, on words in treaties. One of the difficulties of the League of Nations was that the obligations were not sufficiently binding. In future there must be an arrangement between certain nations of the most binding and definite character, so that sanctions, whatever they may be, will be predictable and will be perfectly well known to any aggresor who is thinking of taking action.

The way of carrying out this organisation is purposely left vague, because there are many ideas on the subject. I do not think they are necessarily exclusive. I will make reference to two or three without coming to any conclusion about them. I really wanted to have a general debate on the subject. The first is that many people think that co-operation between the British Commonwealth of Nations and the United States, if that could be secured, would very effectively secure peace in the world. Then there is the, to me, attractive idea that you should take the British Commonwealth of Nations—which really, on its limited scale, embodies the sort of ideals for which we are fighting—and that you should add to the British Empire, by specific agreement between us and other nations, particularly the Allies fighting with us in this war, as many reliable and friendly people in different parts of the world as we can find. If the United States would be associated with that, I should think it would be a very powerful combination.

I know that the League of Nations is out of fashion at the moment—not that I think that there was anything wrong with it if it had been worked with a will—but there are many who think that you can have a reconstituted League, with the arrangement that the provision of force, so essential in securing the peace of the world, should be delegated to a certain limited number of great Powers, who would undertake, on behalf of the world, to perform the functions of policemen, the other Powers, no doubt, playing their part and making their contributions, financially, in economic matters, and in other ways. Then there are the various methods of federalism, obviously desirable if any of them could be brought about, but very difficult to bring about. In this connection, one should take note of, and welcome, the steps taken by the Polish and Czecho-Slovak Governments, here and now, during the war, to bring about a federation between their two countries, which will come into operation in the future, and around which it is hoped there will be associated as many as possible of the other countries in that part of the world. My last point is: the removal of unemployment, undernourishment, bad housing and the lack of educational opportunities so that all races and creeds may live together in peace, liberty and security, enjoying the good things of life, both spiritual and physical, and rendering service in return. That, of course, embodies the idea of a better world which all of us wish to see after the war. But in order to get that better world, it is essential to have order and security. Only in such conditions can the free democratic nations work out for themselves, in their own institutions, the social reforms that they want to see put into effect. That is why it is so vital, above everything else, to establish peace.

I believe that the proposals which I have put forward embody the ideas of the great majority of people in this country—with certain reservations—because they are drawn in pretty wide terms. The Prime Minister told us the other day that he hoped that there would be some extension of national unity for a period, at any rate, after the war. I hope very much that, whatever happens in general, there will be a continuation of unity in regard to foreign policy. I hope that that will not merely be the case for the few years, but that we shall find it possible to agree on a permanent national foreign policy, which every party in this House will be able to Support, a policy fo which each party of the Right and Left can make its contribution. The Right Can make their contribution through their known greater interest in armaments and matters of that kind; the Left can make their contribution by their greater interest in universality, and if we can combine those two, and promote a permanent national foreign policy, I think we shall have taken the most effective step that is open to us to ensure that what is now occurring in our midst and throughout the world shall never happen again.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

The speech of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has shown at least one thing. The lack of an authoritative statement of war aims by the Government does not prevent people talking about war aims or producing their own ideas as to what war aims should be, and I think the Government might very well ask themselves whether it would not be wiser to make their own statement of war aims so as not to encourage statements which might be represented as the views of the country when, in fact, we do not know what they are. Also, when a request is made—and I believe a request is made with considerable public support—for a statement of war aims, it is open to misinterpretation if no answer is given to that request. We can be quite sure that our enemies will be making the most of the fact that so far the British Government have refused to make a statement of war aims. I think we are all very anxious that our enemies should not be able to use that propaganda against us. I hope the Government will not underestimate the strength of public opinion in this country, in our Dominions and also in the United States of America, which believes that the time is approaching when the Government should make a statement as to its war aims, and believes that such a statement would really add very considerably to our war effort.

We have all rejoiced at the victories which have been won against the Italian armies, and we are hoping that that will lead to the overthrow by the Italian people of the Fascist régime, but I think that that overthrow is much more likely to be hastened if they can have some conception as to what is likely to be in store for them if they do take steps of that kind. So far as Italy is concerned, therefore, I would suggest that the question of a statement of our war aims with regard to her is a matter of very great relevance, and we all hope, too, that the time will not be very long postponed when we shall be able to achieve a victory over the German forces which will also make the oppressed people of Germany feel that there is some chance of getting rid of the Nazi régime. This is a war of liberation. This is a war to liberate the peoples of the countries whom Hitler has enslaved, and also a war of liberation for the German people. I think, therefore, that we ought to be able to offer to the people of Germany, and the peoples of other countries, too, some kind of hope that if they do take their courage into their hands at the proper moment they have some kind of reasonable future. I would remind the House that the overthrow of Napoleon was brought about by the uprising of the people whom he had conquered, and I believe that in this connection history may very well repeat itself. I believe that this is a favourable time for the Government to give consideration to these matters, because there is in this country a greater national unity than there has been at any other period in recent times. We have an all-party Government, and I believe therefore that there is a better chance of arriving at a statement of war aims which would meet with general acceptance than if we were to await a time when, perhaps, national unity would not be so strong as it is at the moment.

Those who plead for a statement of war aims do ask that what they ask for shall not be misunderstood or misinterpreted. We are not asking for a definite statement about boundaries or anything of that kind. What we do ask is that the Government should be in a position to tell the people of this country, and indeed the peoples of the world, what ideas they have about the maintenance of a durable peace after this war is over. We want our people to feel that the Government are giving serious attention to this problem, which, I hope everybody will agree, is a vital problem, so that generation after generation the world shall not have to go through what some of us have had to go through twice in our lives.

I believe that it would inspire our people to continue to make whatever sacrifices are necessary and encourage our friends all over the world if the Government could give some indication as to what is in their minds in connection with this problem, that they were prepared to deal with those economic problems which, in the past, have been the contributing factors of war, and, lastly, what they have in mind with regard to the future of the people of this country. We have all been proud of the way in which the people of this country have withstood the assaults of the enemy, and I think the least we can do is to see that those who survive after the war are given a reasonable standard of life worthy of the sacrilies they have made. For these reasons, I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this request for a statement of war aims. I am not asking that they should make a declaration here and now, but rather that they should announce that it is their intention to give immediate consideration to this matter and promise a statement in the near future.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Tufton Beamish Rear-Admiral Tufton Beamish , Lewes

In the absence of a reply from the Front Bench, which I personally should welcome, I would like to say a few words. We have had from the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the hon. Member for Cheltenharn (Mr. Lipson) two very facile and perhaps, in some respects, moving speeches. But they are very facile, because I know of nothing easier than to talk in the way which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton has done, and lead up the path—up the garden path—emotionally unbalanced people who are always longing for some solution of the world's difficulties which, in 10,000 years, nobody has ever yet even nearly approached. Therefore, I profoundly deprecate what has been nut forward by the two previous speakers on this subject.

One or two points astonish me beyond measure One is this everlasting cry for a declaration of war aims. They have been declared over and over again in perfectly clear terms. The ultimatum presented to Germany gave the reasons why we entered the war. We were running a great deal of risk ourselves, and we set out to do what we could for other countries that had been overrun. That position stands at the present moment. All this talk about the marvels of perpetual peace are a waste of energy, and I very strongly suggest that people should be careful how they talk in that way. I should suppose that this is pretty nearly the first European war which has ever been waged, according to hon. Friends who have already spoken, with the idea of freeing the enemy from their own internal arrangements; but for years the enemy have decided what they wanted to do. They have accepted their own Nazi regime, as it is called, and they have decided to go to war and to forget everything that came out of war. Wherever you look, in the Balkans and everywhere else, you see a solid and united enemy, determined on the prosecution of the war to the utmost limit and on the downfall of the British Empire. It astonishes me how people can suppose that the enemy have any other idea but that.

One other point remains. One is often told that the Versailles Treaty was a dreadfully harsh arrangement, but there are those of us who can remember 1914 and, as I can, 20 years before that, and who realise that the German nation was steadily building itself up into the position or an aggressive nation, determined upon getting all it could out of war. If one thinks for a moment of what the German nation was like in 1914, one remembers that it was wealthy beyond dreams, had a prestige of the very highest order and world-wide overseas possessions. Notwithstanding those facts, it prepared a tremendous war and forced upon a totally unprepared Europe that carefully prepared war. When I am asked to remember that the Versailles Treaty was not fair, I say: "Let us talk about 1914 and the years before that." I protest against this everlasting cry for a declaration of war aims, which has been made plain over and over again with absolute precision by His Majesty's Government. I would remind those who have just spoken that the Prime Minister said the other day that we must leave it to other agencies to provide a better heart in the human breast. Until a better human heart has been produced, all the talk and the idealism of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham are sheer waste of breath, and, I suggest, a waste of the time of this House.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has raised a very interesting subject and has put down a very interesting Motion. I think, though, his speech indicated that the setting out of peace aims is not quite so easy as some people think. I should say that the hon. Member was not altogether clear between peace aims, conditions of peace, terms of peace and terms of armistice. When you try to write down peace aims, as I have tried to do, you find that you have to think a good deal. I do not think it is a thing that can be done in a moment. Remember, too, that it is one thing for private individuals to do so and another thing for a Government. A Government cannot be producing peace aims every fortnight or so. When you make a statement of peace aims it is on record, and therefore, it requires great consideration. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that a knowledge of the cause for which we are fighting is a vital weapon in this war, but that is not quite the same thing as a detailed picture of a post-war world. It is comparatively easy to lay down your peace aims in almost a sentence. Then you come to an intermediate stage when perhaps you can put down general principles. If you stop there the complaint will be that you are very vague. If you go beyond that you will find you are getting into details which you cannot have at this time, because you are trying to jug your hare before you have caught it.

The Government have stated that there will be a declaration at the right time. The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said quite rightly that it is a weapon of war. He thinks that it is the right time now.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

I think that the people who are taking the responsibility have to judge when the time is opportune. If I were to give the parallel of the Libyan campaign, a lot of people came to me and asked why did we not attack. Of course, I could not tell them anything about it. I dare say that they thought that that was the right time. We did strike at what I think was the right time. I want to see that whatever we do in this direction is done at the right time. I am sure that there is a very wide and a growing agreement in this country as to the cause for which we stand. There is a growing understanding that we are fighting for a new world, not only for ourselves but for Europe and the civilised world. I think there is a growing realisation of the close link between our political aims and our economic aims. There is a growing appreciation, as expressed in a number of documents that I have seen, of the importance of bringing together our peace aims for the world outside this country and our peace aims for this country. It is one of the most encouraging things to find how this national unity in this war stress is expressing itself more and more in unity as to our peace aims and the realisation of the kind of life for which we stand—the kind of life which is being threatened by Hitler. Therefore, I do not at all dislike this matter being raised, in fact I like it, but remember, we want a statement made, when it is made, that will make for unity in this country, unity with the Dominions and with the United States Government, and unity with all the civilised people who are in the struggle with us. Therefore, it is a matter in which the right time must be chosen and the words must be chosen if we are to use them in the way they should be used, in order to bring about the end of the war and the establishment of peace.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.