General De Gaulle (Withheld Broadcast)

– in the House of Commons on 25th November 1942.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I undertook during yesterday's Debate to give the House information at the earliest opportunity with regard to the postponement of General de Gaulle's proposed broadcast on 21st November, and I therefore take this first opportunity to inform the House. I must make it plain that I take full responsibility for this decision, which was taken in full agreement with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I do not want to exaggerate the character of this broadcast, still less to attribute to it any ill intention. I am convinced there was no such intention. But my right hon. Friend and I did not think its delivery at this particular time would be helpful to the extremely tense and serious operations now proceeding in Tunisia, in which not only British but United States Forces are engaged. We could not take the responsibility for allowing anything to happen, as far as we had the power to control it, which might hamper the responsible commanders or make the task of our own troops and those of our Allies more difficult. The 1st British Army, strongly supported by United States Forces, are making their way eastward over enormous distances with the utmost possible speed, and they are greatly helped in their advance by the favourable attitude of the population, and also by the vigorous resistance which the French troops in Tunisia are already offering to the German and Italian invaders.

It must be remembered that this expedition is under United States command. The 1st British Army is subordinated to the Allied Commander-in-Chief. So is the Allied Fleet, which is under Admiral Cunningham, who commands both British and United States warships. The harmony is complete. In a joint undertaking of this character one has to be particularly careful not to do or allow anything which might give an Ally ground for complaint that common difficulties have been aggravated. This applies also to the field of propaganda of all kinds. His Majesty's Government therefore thought it right to withhold the broadcast. This is not the time to discuss the arrangements which have been made in North Africa between General Eisenhower and the local French authorities. The battle is in an extremely critical phase, and there will be time to go into all these matters when it is won. Meanwhile, I have nothing to add to the President's statement of 17th November, with which His Majesty's Government are in the fullest agreement. I hope that the House will agree with His Majesty's Government that the greatest discretion should be observed in the utterances which may be made while the battle and the general operations are in their present extremely critical phase.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that that is not an answer to the Question which I put yesterday? May I ask whether we are to understand from what he has just said that neither he nor his Department approved the script of the proposed broadcast?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I can only ask my hon. Friend to understand what I said, which was absolutely clear. The decision was taken jointly by the Prime Minister and myself. There is obviously more than one aspect to this matter, which has both a foreign affairs aspect and a military aspect. The decision was taken by two Ministers.

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

That answer does not meet the point. I asked my right hon. Friend yesterday whether it was not a fact that either he or his Department at first approved the script of that broadcast. Subsequently he and the Prime Minister may have turned it down, but, at first, either he or his Department approved the script.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I have given a perfectly full answer in my statement, and I am certainly not going to add anything else to it.

Photo of Mr Robert Boothby Mr Robert Boothby , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Eastern

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that Admiral Darlan is now making frequent broadcasts all over the world and particularly to France? Will he bear in mind the desirability, from a wide and general point of view, of giving all possible facilities to General de Gaulle to broadcast to France as soon as practicable?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

The hon. Member may be absolutely sure that that point is in our minds, but we have also to bear in mind at this moment the critical phase of the military operations.

Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

Was General de Gaulle not as fully aware of the circumstances ruling in North Africa as anyone else? Are we to understand that, in the delicate operations in which his country was particularly concerned. General de Gaulle was not capable of handling the situation in an intelligent way?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

I was very careful to point out that, as far as I am concerned, no blame attaches to General de Gaulle. He wished to express, quite naturally and properly, his own particular point of view in this matter; but His Majesty's Government may conceivably have a slightly different angle and a slightly different point of view of this operation.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

While recognising the difficulty and the delicacy of the position, will the right hon. Gentleman remember our great obligation to General de Gaulle, who, through three years, gave support to our cause at a time when it was at a very low ebb?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

Not only do I accept that statement, but I add that His Majesty's Government entered into engagements with General de Gaulle and that those engagements stand.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

Are we to understand that the position has now been reached in which a general in the field is allowed to decide the Government's Allies in the war? The right hon. Gentleman has said that the decision in North Africa had been taken by the general in the field; the general in the field has accepted Admiral Darlan as a great ally of the United Nations, thereby temporarily disposing of another ally. Have we now reached the point where a general in the field, in the midst of his military preoccupations, is able to decide the Allies of the United Nations? Furthermore—[HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."]

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

There is no Question before the House, and there cannot be a Debate.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

This is an extremely difficult matter. The right hon. Gentleman has been given the leave of the House to make this statement, and we are very involved in it. Is it not a fact that there is great discontent among the Free French Forces in Britain and that they are not broadcasting at all now, anywhere?

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

If I may answer the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the arrangements which General Eisenhower made are made under his authority, and he himself is under the supreme command of the Commander-in-Chief in the United States, who is President Roosevelt. That is the position. If the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to read the statement made by President Roosevelt, he will find a reply to every question he has asked.

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

On a point of Order—

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

On a point of Order. You, Mr. Speaker, allowed, without any reason at all, the Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, to make a statement. There was no Private Notice Question; he simply rose and made a statement. Is it not a fact that the statement arises out of the King's Speech, and is there any reason why legitimate questionings of that statement should now be cut short, since the statement has no connection other than its connection with the King's Speech?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

It is a common practice in this House for Ministers to make statements after Questions, without a Private Notice Question having been put to them.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

There is no Question before the House. It is wrong to say that I have cut hon. Members short, as I have allowed many questions to be put.

Photo of Mr George Buchanan Mr George Buchanan , Glasgow Gorbals

On a point of Order. These points arise out of the speech made yesterday in the Debate on the King's Speech, and the questions arise out of the reply made by the Leader of the House to that speech. In view of that position, is it right either that the statement should have been made at all or that we are to be prevented from asking questions upon it?

Photo of Sir William Davison Sir William Davison , Kensington South

Is not the hon. Member incorrect, and is it not a fact that the Foreign Secretary said yesterday that he could not reply in Secret Session but that, in the public interest, he would make a statement?

Photo of Mr Edgar Granville Mr Edgar Granville , Eye

On the point of Order. Yesterday I asked the Leader of the House whether he would consider answering a Private Notice Question on this subject, and he was courteous enough to reply that he would give his consideration to my suggestion. In view of that, am I not entitled to ask one short question to-day?

Photo of Mr Richard Stokes Mr Richard Stokes , Ipswich

May I put a further point? The statement made by the Foreign Secretary arose out of yesterday's Debate. Following that Debate, I submitted to you, Mr. Speaker, a Private Notice Question to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman has given does not really deal with the points in my proposed Private Notice Question. Would it not have been better to have allowed the Private Notice Question to stand? Should we not have had a much more satisfactory answer from the right hon. Gentleman and not have got into this muddle?

Photo of Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy Lieut-General Edward Fitzroy , Daventry

The way in which the matter has been done is much the best way.