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Orders of the Day — War and International Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th September 1944.

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Photo of Mr Morgan Price Mr Morgan Price , Forest of Dean 12:00 am, 29th September 1944

I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) will forgive me if I do not follow the line of argument of his speech, but I think that most Members of this House are sufficiently engaged in their duties, whether high or low, in one way or another not to be desirous of making things difficult by asking S.H.A.E.F. for a kind of wandering commission to go all over the Continent. I intend to come back to what has been referred to in several speeches. I propose to follow the advice of the Prime Minister, and to weigh my words very carefully for I wish to say a word or two about the thorny subject of Anglo-Polish relations.

The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) made a notable contribution yesterday to this Debate by reminding the House that our forefathers accepted only those foreign obligations which they knew they could effectively carry out. I agree that, as far as Eastern Europe is concerned, we cannot accept obligations without close collaboration with our great Russian Ally. Russia is the only Power in that region that can enable us to implement those obligations. The principles of our foreign policy enunciated by the hon. Member for Oxford were, after all, the policy of Pitt, of Castlereagh and of Canning, and I think it is the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary.

It is well in this respect to remember that when the wicked partition of Poland took place, at the end of the eighteenth century, which outraged public opinion in this country, both Whig and Tory, our statesmen nevertheless, without condoning this act of the Holy Alliance, knew that they could not by direct action do anything to help the Poles, and they merely registered their displeasure.

That does not mean that we must renounce all influence in that area. The Moscow Conference did not set up spheres of influence and leave Russia to be the sole controller of Eastern Europe, and we and the United States of Western Europe. It did not set up zones of influence of that kind. On the contrary, as I take it, the whole object of the Conference and its results were to recreate a kind of Concert of the great Powers, out of which a Concert of Europe could later be formed. In that Concert we should have a say in the East, and Russia should have a say in the West. Russia has had a say in the West, in Italian affairs, and we, I think, have also a right to a say in the East. Our duty, therefore, to refuse to bind ourselves to military obligations in the East does not run counter to our rights to use our moral influence in the settlement of disputes, and particularly of Russo-Polish disputes. We can be the honest broker. But we can only play that rôle if we have the confidence of both sides.

Some speeches I have listened to in this House have not been of the kind to create that confidence—or, if the Government acted on their advice, they would not obtain that confidence. But others have been of the kind that would create that confidence, and I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary is doing his utmost to create it. I was glad that the Noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) sounded a note of realism yesterday. I understood him to warn the Poles that they cannot expect us to champion the idea of their Eastern frontier, on which they have for so long set their hearts. Actually, I think the Poles are becoming more reasonable and realistic on this frontier question now, and I believe also that Russia is prepared to give and take, provided there is one thing, namely, that she is assured of the existence in Poland of a Government friendly to her.

I have the pleasure of the acquaintance of several Poles in prominent positions here, and I am satisfied that many of them are very genuine in their desire for friendly co-operation with Russia. They realise the tragic futility of this age-long quarrel between what are, after all, two sister-Slav nations, which quarrel, originally, of course, was based upon religion but has since become largely traditional and quite out of keeping with the modern world. After all, this Russo-Polish frontier dispute, as has been pointed out by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan), and the frontier question are of far less importance than other questions, in view of the development of military science. It is the creation of a friendly atmosphere between these two countries that is far more important than the actual drawing of the frontier.

For my part, I have confidence that the present Polish Prime Minister, who is himself a peasant and a democrat, is really sincere in his desire for a friendly solution of this question. Unfortunately, and here is the difficult point, there are other prominent Poles who are in high positions here who have made no secret of their strong antipathy to Russia. As long as they hold influential positions here, it is understandable that the attitude of Russia on these matters is bound to be difficult. Russians, of course, have replied by the setting up of this Union of Polish Patriots, and, since then, a new Polish Committee of National Liberation, since Russia has gone beyond the Curzon Line. While those two bodies undoubtedly represent a body of opinion in Poland which is Russophile, I am not satisfied myself that it is fully representative of all shades of public opinion in Poland. I can believe Marshal Stalin when he says he wants to see an independent Poland, because he knows that, otherwise, Poland will be a source of continual trouble and disturbance on Russia's Western frontier, but I think it is equally true that no Government based solely upon these two bodies, or whichever is the most important now, in Eastern Europe, will ever be a stable Government unless it contains also the democratic elements of Poland beyond the seas. That, to my mind, is the great task, to try to do all we can to bring about a coalition between these Russophile elements in the occupied part of Poland and the democratic elements of Poland abroad.

Here, of course, we are up against a very delicate situation, because a proud people like the Poles naturally do not want it to appear that their Government is being reconstructed under pressure from any foreign Power. It is a psychological difficulty we are up against. We, in this House, can do no more than wish the Foreign Secretary well in any steps he may take to try to solve this difficult psychological question.

There is the further difficulty that Russian diplomatic methods are indirect, and not always easy to understand. I suppose that is due to the old inheritance from former times. It has gone down in Russian history that their diplomacy is often of that kind, and one of the Tsar's Imperial Chancellors, Prince Gorchakoff, once said: "La Russie ne bond pas, elle se recueille"—"Russia does not sulk; she retires and waits." That was said after Russia's defeat in the Crimean war. No doubt, that was a sound method in those days, but I think that Russia to-day, after her resounding feats of arms and the tremendous prestige she carries now throughout the world, can well afford to be more direct in her diplomatic methods and a little less secretive. As an inveterate Russophile myself, I can say that I hope Russian statesmen will put beyond doubt whatever that they have no intention of imposing upon Poland, either directly or indirectly, a form of government which is not of the Poles' own choosing. That is all I have to say on that matter.

If I may pass briefly to one other point, hon. Members have had something to say in this Debate on what to do with Germany after the war. I am one of those who believe that there are in Germany a certain number of decent civilised people who are ashamed of the terrible disgrace which has fallen on their country. How many there are it is impossible for us to say. There were quite a number after the last war; weak, it is true, but they were there. What is happening now we do not know; it all depends on how far the Gestapo has been rooting them out. I am not going to suggest that they are without blame, but there are degrees of blameworthiness, and theirs are sins of omission rather than commission. I do not believe that we can treat Germany like any other country. The historical and traditional fact is that Germany has never been a democracy in our Parliamentary sense of the word. There are old historical factors which come in, and, in my opinion, the Thirty Years' War had a colossal effect on the building up of modern Germany and had its effect in somewhat bestialising public morals. The fact remains that there are German Liberals, who were strong in 1848, but who failed in the revolution to upset Bismarck and the King of Prussia, and most of them fled abroad. They did admirable work assisting Abraham Lincoln in the civil war, but they were lost to Germany, and should have gone back to help their own country. That is what I am afraid of now; they should be going back, not staying in America.

The trouble has really been that the civilised and decent Germans have never had, on their side, sufficient guts to fight against reaction. In other words, all the toughs and thugs have been on the other side. I have had occasion to note that because I was in Germany in the days of the so-called Weimar Republic, and I saw as many cruelties committed by Germans on Germans as have since been committed by Germans on non-Germans. They are quite capable of committing the most terrible atrocities among themselves. The real trouble is that these decent Germans will not be able to defend themselves. They did not defend themselves in the Weimar Republic. Units of the old Imperial Army went about forming themselves into murder gangs. They murdered first one prominent republican and then another and not one of the murderers was ever brought to justice. If we, after the war is over, act like we did after the last war and leave the Germans alone to arrange their own affairs entirely themselves, exactly the same sort of thing Will happen again. Of that I am absolutely convinced, because I saw it then, and it is even worse now because the Liberal elements are weaker.

The hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) referred to the fact that some hon. Members on these Benches believed in fighting this war in order to spread the democratic system about Europe. I do not know if there are such Members but certainly I do not believe in that. But I do believe that we must intervene to insist upon certain standards of morality and decency and civilised conditions of the kind to which the Prime Minister referred in his very fine speech to the Italian people the other day. These are the bases not of democracy but of human rights based upon Roman law and Christian morality which were built up throughout the centuries and went right down through the Middle Ages and which we thought were pretty secure but which this war and the development of Fascism have shown is not so.

I hope that I may carry with me the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford when I say that if we do not go about crusading for our particular form of political democracy, which is naturally of slow growth and can only come by gradual development, we can, at least, insist in Germany that these standards of human law and morality are observed. The only way we can do this is by direct intervention. I justify direct intervention of that kind in the affairs of Germany, and that is what I mean when I say that the military occupation of Germany is necessary in some form or another. Unless we stand beside those decent Germans who, after all, alone can re-educate Germany—we cannot do it ourselves—we have to find some Germans to try to teach these ideas and we must protect them from murder and assassination, which will inevitably happen as it happened the last time unless we try to protect them. The Prime Minister, in his speech, forecast a drive against guerrilla bands when the war against the German State is over. I think he is right, but it must be regarded as part of a policy of ridding German public life of that political gangsterdom which made Hitler possible. The internal state of Germany is an international problem and of deep concern to all the nations of the world. It will require a concentrated effort of firmness and patience, and I believe it will ultimately be successful.