The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when replying to a Debate on 24th August on the conditions in Poland at that time, stated:
We are doing everything we physically can do at this time to restore normal life and usages in that country. we shall continue to assure all people interested of our intention to do what we can, and what we properly have the right to do, to restore democratic institutions and property in that country." — [Official Report, 24th August, 1945; Vol. 413, c. 1128.]
From information which I have received and which I believe to be absolutely reliable there can be no doubt that since that statement was made there has been very little improvement in the conditions existing in Poland. The goal of independence and freedom for the people of Poland is as far off as ever. The Provisional Government of Poland, composed as it is of the members of the Lublin Committee, with the addition of four other members not elected by the people of Poland, is entirely under the dictates and the control of Russia. That Government has not got the support of the vast majority of the people in Poland, who had no say in setting it up. In order that Poland may have a chance of obtaining her independence and freedom for self-expression for her people, in order that free elections may take the place in accordance with our democratic principles, we have given assurance after assurance to Poland that we stand for her independence, we stand for the freedom of elections in that country without interference from outside. Under the present conditions these things are impossible. In my humble opinion, in order that Poland may obtain her inde-
pendence and freedom for self-expression it is essential that the control of Poland by Russia should be brought to an end, and that freedom should be given to all the Polish political parties, including the National party, which was dissolved by order of the Provisional Government in Poland. It was one of the main political parties in the underground movement, whose only crime was to fight against the Germans from first to last. Further, freedom for the individual, freedom for the Press and freedom of speech and for the wireless should be an assured fact. The three leaders, the main leaders, of the political parties of Poland, and General Okiliki, who formed part of the 15 Polish members, who were asked to go to Russian headquarters, were given a safe conduct by Russia and were then arrested, tried and condemned and now are in prison in Russia, should be set free.
If these changes could be brought about in that unhappy country, I am sure that the vast majority of Poles who are at present living outside Poland, and under existing conditions will not voluntarily return to their country, much as they desire to do so, would return, and then that country would have a chance of securing its independence and its freedom for elections. To bring this about the Russian forces, except those which are required for the safeguarding of their lines of communication, should be withdrawn. I think the Under-Secretary of State will agree when I say that Russia agreed to this. It has not been done. The Russian secret police, the N.K.V.D., should also be withdrawn from Poland. I am informed, and I believe it to be correct, that the Russian forces have not, in fact, been withdrawn from Poland. There may, of course, have been changes, some forces leaving Poland and others coming in from Russia to relieve them, but Russian forces in Poland have not been withdrawn. The N.K.V.D. are all over Poland. The land of Poland belongs to the Poles, not to Russia. Under the N.K.V.D. are the secret police, set up by the Polish Provisional Government. They act under them and with them.
At the request of the Polish Provisional Government the. Russian forces were regrouped, where they had been concentrated in some places, and were sent off to garrison many of the main provincial and some of the smaller towns in Poland under a Russian general who was in charge of the province. It may be argued or stated that that was done in order that law and order might be maintained. From two points of view it is significant that these Russian forces were sent to these towns. If it was the Poles, in the main, who were creating disturbances, engaging in banditry and so on, could not the Polish Army and the Polish police have dealt with the situation? Why send Russian forces and put a Russian general in charge of the province? It is a well-known fact that there have been many desertions from the Russian Army, and I ask why the Polish Army and the Polish police cannot maintain law and order in their own country. The step of spreading Russian forces over Poland must still further strengthen Russia's control over that country. The Polish Army is largely officered by Russians, especially in the higher ranks. The whole of the Air Force is Russian, and I believe also the Signal Corps and the armoured units. There is no Polish Air Force, and the personnel in the Polish Navy includes Russian officers. The Russians are in complete control of the ports of Stettin and Swineműnde, Polish ports which belong to Poland. I know that they took over control of those ports at the invitation, so called, of the Polish Provisional Government, but that does not make the matter any better. To me it is a further proof of how completely the Polish Provisional Government is under the domination of Russia. Surely the Government of Poland would not acquiesce, if they could have prevented it, in their two main ports being turned over to the control of a foreign country.
I have stated that Poland is under the complete control of Russia and the facts which I have given arc indisputable. I see that the Under-Secretary of Stale smiles. I should be glad if he would state where I am wrong in the facts I have given. The facts undoubtedly prove the truth of my statement that Poland is under the control of Russia. Apart from that, Poland is being strangled economically by systematic spoliation, especially Eastern Poland, Pomerania, Silesia and East Prussia. In many cases factories have been stripped of their machinery, which has been exported to Russia. The coal produced in Silesia by the Poles has to be sold to Russia at far below the cost of its production, notwithstanding that Poland is terribly short of coal and that a few weeks ago no coal was to be had in Warsaw. Away it goes, exported in large quantities to Russia. Also, the great textile industry in Lodz is being exploited for the benefit of the Russian troops, and also exported to Russia notwithstanding that the people of Poland are in rags. It may be, and I believe it has been the case, that the price paid for the coal extracted from Poland was the subject of an agreement between the Polish Provisional Government and Russia. My only answer to that is that it shows the ineptitude of the Polish Provisional Government in looking after the national interests of their own people.
Large numbers of Polish cattle have been exported to Russia. It may be said that these cattle came from Germany, and many did, but many cattle have also been exported from Poland. Private houses, especially in the Western Provinces, have been looted on a considerable scale. Mass arrests and deportations to Russia or to special concentration camps in Poland are still going on. I am glad to know that those mass arrests are not so bad as they were, but they are still continuing, especially among members of the underground army, that gallant army of Poles whose only crime was that they fought the Germans from first to last. In addition to that—and I am sorry to say that it is undeniable— an enormous number of Polish women have been raped—a disgraceful state of affairs in any civilised country. I wish to draw the attention of the House to a description of these Russian concentration camps. They are small camps and exist by the dozen all over Poland. It is just a hole dug in the ground, six feet deep and 60 yards square, covered with barbed wire—nothing else. It is completely exposed to the weather. In those compounds are 50 men, with no sleeping accommodation, no sanitary arrangements, no medical attention, and food and water are taken to those wretched inmates twice daily. The only possible result is death and disease. Let any hon. Member imagine the conditions of the human beings in such compounds in the terrible weather conditions during the winter in Poland. They must freeze to death. Such camps should not be per- [Vice-Admiral Taylor.] mitted for one moment in any civilised country.
In Poland there is still no freedom of the Press, as was stated by the British Ambassador the other day, and no freedom of speech. There is no freedom of the individual; it just does not exist in Poland. I would say this, that Mr. Mikolajczyk was granted permission to edit a paper for the Polish Peasant Party and there were also allowed one or two Catholic papers. It sounds very well that Mr. Mikolajczyk should have the opportunity to express freely the opinions of the party which he represents, but, as a matter of fact, before, these papers can be published they are all censored by the Government. Therefore, it is obvious that it is impossible for those who edit the papers to express their real opinion if it is contrary to that of the Government. It is well known, of course, that the wireless is completely under the control of the Government. There is the usual technique, whereby loud speakers are arranged in the streets so that the people may listen to the Government sponsored broadcasts. I understand that wireless sets are allowed—a very good thing—but I am also informed that valves are unobtainable, so that they are not of much use. It is possible to obtain a wireless set on the black market, but those who do so find they have to explain how they got it, and it is not very pleasant for you when that inquiry takes place. There is a rule that public meetings can take place only when sponsored by the Government, and there is the usual technique whereby, a resolution is put up, there is no opposition and it is unanimously adopted.
Mr. Mikolajczyk was permitted to try to reconstitute the Polish Peasant Party, outside that party which was set up by the Provisional Government, but it is rather significant to know that about a month ago the Government wireless attacked Mr. Mikolaiczyk because he would not agree to remain in the Peasant Party set up by the regime, the line of attack being that he was breaking the unity of the Polish Peasant Party, and his followers were branded as Fascists and reactionaries. That is the usual technique when they want to get rid of anybody who does not agree with the Government. He has only quite lately been allowed to start reconstituting his own party under all the re- strictions imposed upon it. I am informed that some meetings of his party have taken place, but again, a significant fact is that some of his followers have subsequently been arrested. I ask the Minister, under conditions such as those in which one is arrested when one goes to a meeting, how is it possible for any party which is not in agreement with the existing Government in Poland ever to be constituted at all? Of course, it is quite impossible.
One could speak for a very long time about these things. They form a very distressing picture and, in my opinion, they are undoubtedly made worse by the iron screen which Russia has imposed on the whole of Poland and over every other area where she is in control. Can anything more effective be thought of to create greater suspicion and arouse more intense curiosity on the part of other nations, than to have round the country an impenetrable screen of secrecy? If you want to arouse real curiosity on the part of anybody, just hang in a room in your house an empty frame and draw a curtain across it. Every individual who goes into that room will, out of pure curiosity and desire to know what is behind that curtain, draw it on one side. Those are the conditions which have been brought about by the secrecy of Russia, and in my opinion there is not a shadow of doubt about it. Why is there this secrecy? What is there to hide? Surely to goodness it would be of enormous advantage to the world in general if that screen were lifted so that the world might know the real conditions in Poland. It would be very much to the advantage of everybody. There has been very little change for the better since the Provisional Government was set up. How can there be any change for the better under conditions of that kind, with a Communist government carrying out Communist principles? One may agree or disagree with Communist principles—that is not the point—but the people of Poland had no say in this Government, and the majority of them are entirely opposed to it. The Polish people are getting more and more desperate and embittered against it. Every hon. Member of this House will agree that it is essential there should be friendly relations between Soviet Russia and Poland. The hon. Gentleman smiles. Does he not agree with that statement? Does he not agree that it is a necessity?
I am not helping? I consider that if all the facts of what is going on in Poland are known it will help enormously. The people of Poland realise that the Provisional Government is nothing more nor less than a camouflaged Soviet Government. I am certain that the Foreign Secretary is as anxious as anybody that the Poles should go back to their country and that Poland should have her independence and freedom. We have assured it to them. We went to war for Poland—the best and the most faithful Ally we have had in the war from start to finish. We owe a great debt of gratitude to them. The hon. Gentleman smiles. Does he disagree?
I am not surprised. That is not the common opinion of this country, nor of any other. It is well known what Poland has done, including the wonderful work of her underground army against Germany which thereby vastly assisted the destruction of the German forces by Russia. I am sure also that the Parliamentary Secretary is fully aware of the great danger to any Government which is set up as a Provisional Government, from remaining indefinitely as a Provisional Government. It is a very dangerous thing, especially, as in Poland, where the majority of the people are opposed to it. It only leads to trouble and increases bitterness. Therefore, the sooner Poland gets her independence and freedom for her people to take part in elections on democratic lines, which we have repeatedly affirmed is what we desire and shall ensure if we possibly can, the better. Under the present conditions, the vast majority of the Poles will not go back voluntarily to Poland. There is no chance of Polish independence, or for even those people who are in Poland to express their opinion as to the form of Government they require. There is no chance for Poland's independence, there is no chance for the free expression of the Polish people to choose their own Government—none. I am sure the Government are most desirous to bring about better conditions. I urge upon them to do everything they possibly can, to use all their influence with our ally, Russia and with the Polish Provisional Government to see that as soon as possible these necessary changes are brought about, without which there is no hope for Poland.
I ought to make it clear to the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken that I do not think any Member of this House does not deplore equally with him the conditions and happenings that he has been describing so vividly in his speech. All of us deplore those happenings in Europe. All of us must condemn concentration camps wherever they exist; but they do not exist only in Poland.
I apologise for intervening, because I was permitted to speak for a long time. I mentioned not only concentration camps in general, which we all deplore, but particular concentration camps, which are not fit for anyone.
The only difference I have with the hon. and gallant Member is that, not only are the particular concentration camps to which he referred not fit for anybody, but no concentration camp anywhere is fit for anybody. I deplore those conditions, but I would ask the hon. and gallant Member to try to put matters into their proper perspective. The problems being presented to the House are not specifically Polish. We find them in different parts of the world—camps, deportations and the horrible conditions with which we have become all too familiar, and which seem to me to indicate not particularly a Polish offence but a general lowering of the standards of political and social conduct throughout Europe, and indeed the whole of the civilised world. While deploring those conditions, we must try to understand why they have come about and in what context they must be considered. Unless we do so, we shall not arrive at any understanding of the processes by which they will eventually be cured.
It is of course true that all the reports indicate that there is no freedom in Poland at this moment, in the sense in which we find it in our own democratic country, here in Great Britain, but before we too hurriedly rush in to condemn everything from A to Z that exists in that unhappy country in Eastern Europe, let us remember that Poland is one of the devastated areas of the Continent, fought over by advancing and retreating armies on both sides. Since those armies have retreated, the country has seen not only a political revolution but an economic and social revolution. The hon. and gallant Member must be aware that history teaches us that, in conditions of that kind, to look for the freedoms that one normally asociates with settled conditions and long-established systems in countries like our own, is to look for something that is completely illusory and vain.
I am bound to say that, while I agree with' all the sentiments the hon. and gallant Member uttered about the undesirability of those conditions, I do not think that he was in the least helpful in the way in which he turned his own generous sentiments into what I can only describe as completely unhelpful criticism of our war Ally, the great Power associated with us now in the effective control of the world, the Soviet State and the Soviet people. I have no doubt that, if I chose, I could give the hon. and gallant Member a most effective brief for criticisms of Russia and Russian actions, because I myself am critical of many things that happen.
I have no doubt that the hon. Member will allow me to draw a distinction between what is going on in Russia which is Russian territory and is a matter for the Russians, and what is going on in that other country, which is a different matter altogether.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I ought no doubt to take up that point and proceed to examine it for a minute or two, in order to make clear what I meant when I said that I thought his speech this morning was distinctly unhelpful, probably even for the purposes that he has in mind. It is, of course, true that Russian influence is predominant in Poland, just as it is true that Russian influence is predominant along the whole of her Western frontiers, in all the States from the Baltic to the Black Sea and beyond. That predominant influence is something to which one may object and disagree, but it is something about which, in the very nature of things, neither the hon. and gallant Member nor any other hon. Member in this House can do anything whatever. We have to remember in this connection that the whole of the Chinese wall of buffer States that Russia has created now and helped to create, by taking advantage largely of the conditions resulting from the war, a system of which Poland is a central and pivotal part, is Russia's security system. So long as it is legitimate for countries to think in terms of security zones and of national and State preservation by the erection of these security zones around them, Russia is, by the commonly accepted standards of our contemporary civilisation, completely and finally justified in what she is doing now.
I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for his question. It leads me to something which I did not intend to say, but which perhaps had better be said. I would remind the House in this connection of a statement that was made by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in a recent foreign affairs Debate. The hon. and gallant Member has brought it to my mind. In reference to this security system of Russia the right hon. Gentleman said that it was erected against— I think I remember his words correctly— a resurgence of German Nazism and armed might. In fact, of course, that is merely one of the glosses which we are all so accustomed to use and which completely confuse understanding. What, in fact, the security zone is erected against is not any possible resurgence of German armed might. No one knows better than the Russians how completely and finally that has been destroyed. That security zone and barrier are a physical expression of the deep suspicion of the Russian State as to the bonâ fides of the Western Powers and their intentions towards Russia.
I do not like saying this to the hon. Member, but I think it my duty to point out that he has fallen into the trap laid for him by the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox). The hon. and gallant Member has drawn across the trail of this Debate a red herring. It will be better if the hon. Member confines himself to answer- ing the torrent of abuse from the hon. and gallant Member for South Padding-ton (Vice-Admiral Taylor).
I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his kindly intentions in telling me how to make my speech, but I prefer to make it in my own way. I was trying to put these matters into their proper context. The security zone of which Poland is a part arises from suspicion in Russia as to the intentions of the Western Powers. That is my reading of the situation. Can anyone who recollects, even in the most cursory fashion, the events of the last 25 years, dare to make the suggestion that the Soviet Union has not most ample grounds for that suspicion which now, in my view, is distorting her proper policies?
I am not going to give way again. Those suspicions have the most ample justification because of the recent history of Europe, It is in that setting therefore that we must examine the question of Poland. When the hon. and gallant Member makes such a very strong point of the existence of Russian troops in the territory of Poland, he forgets that all the criticisms that he levels at the Soviet Union in that respect are levelled by the Soviet Union in its turn against us, for our precisely similar actions in Greece. There, we are dealing with the British security zone in the Mediterranean, and while I do not want to make too much of the point nevertheless we have to try to get these matters into their proper relationship.
The same thing applies to the absence of coal in Warsaw. That is not due to any diversion of coal to Russia, but mainly to the fact that Poland is suffering in precisely the same way as Germany, France, and other countries in Europe are suffering, from dislocation of the normal means of transport and the complete deficiency of wagons and of all the normal ways by which goods are moved about within European communities. I do not want to go on for too long. When the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggests that the Provisional Government in Poland cannot possibly be an expression of the Polish people, he has given expression to an idea that has no relation whatever to the facts. I happen to know a great deal about the political system that existed in Poland before the war, and I think it is much more true to say that the Govern- ment of Colonel Beck, for instance, was much less representative of the Polish people than the present Provisional Government sitting in Warsaw.
Let the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington think of this for a moment. The Provisional Government of Poland which, whatever its mistakes may be, is in friendly relations with our own country, has at least to its credit some great acts of economic and social policy which obviously must result in bringing behind it in its support the masses of the common people of Poland. I believe, in fact, that that far more truly represents the actuality of the position to-day than the statement made by the hon. and gallant Member opposite. In conclusion, I agree with him that we do not want to make the position worse by the wrong line of approach. We want our Government to make proper and correct approaches to the existing Polish Government, and to Russia also, with a view to trying to get these horrible problems of which we are all aware speedily solved and these conditions rectified. I am in agreement with the hon. and gallant Member on that, but I do ask that, in the course of this discussion, we should remember that when we are uttering criticisms of Russia or the Provisional Government of Poland we may very easily, unless we are extremely careful and responsible in our use of words, worsen an already bad situation.
During the last Parliament we had many Debates upon Poland, and when the Yalta Agreement came up for consideration, Major Petherick, whose absence from the House we all regret, moved an Amendment protesting, on behalf of Poland, against the Yalta Agreement. When I was attacked in my constituency for having supported that Amendment, my reply was it was the vote in the House of which I was most proud. Surely, today, we see circumstances in Poland that completely justify the vote that was taken in the House that day. When I hear the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton) talking about Poland as a security zone for Russia, I cannot help remembering that on 1st September, 1939, Poland nobly fulfilled her obligations to this country, whereas Russia had, behind the back of this country, made an agreement with Germany, and Molotov declared that Poland had been wiped from the map of Europe, and that Poland no longer existed.
What do we find today? With deep regret, I must say that the British Government recognised this glorified Lublin Committee and allowed it to be set up as the Provisional Government of Poland. I pointed out, in the Debate which took place before the Recess—and nobody has answered my argument yet— that of the 20 Members composing that Provisional Government, all but four can be fully and accurately described as Communists. This is the Government that His Majesty's Ministers have recognised, in spite of the Yalta Agreement, in spite of the Atlantic Charter, in spite of the most solemn promises and especially that secret protocol which Major Petherick discovered and revealed to the House of Commons, causing a sensation. What has been the reward that His Majesty's Government have received for recognising that Provisional Government? The hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) has shown that the Press is completely under the domination of Russia. They were trying to curry favour with Russia by recognising that Provisional Government. What is the gratitude they have received? What does the Soviet controlled Press of Warsaw say at the present moment? "Dziennik Ludowy,' the organ of the Peasant Party, stated plainly on 31st October:
Those who defend the Germans harm the Poles. Reactionary British circles prefer the Germans, and they would rather help them, than the Poles.
That is an organ sponsored and controlled by the Soviet régime at present in existence in Poland. On 19th November "Zycie Warszawy," another of these Soviet-owned organs, stated:
Under the singular workings of British justice, not the slayer, but the slain, is guilty.
There are then remarks about British soldiers carrying the shopping baskets of Fräuleins while Fräuleins handle their guns. This is all reported at full length in the Polish Press. A Warsaw broadcast on 8th October said:
The biggest and most paradoxical scandal of today, and one which carries lessons for the Slavs, is the position of Poles in the British Occupation zone, and the inscription which the Poles put over one camp near Hanover, 'The British Dachau' is surely significant.
That is the sort of propaganda which is being carried on against this country in Poland. This is the gratitude the Government are receiving for their untimely and disgraceful, recognition, contrary to all the Treaties, of this Polish Provisional Government Then, again, another Polish newspaper, the "Ilustrowany Kurier Polski," on 28th October, while describing at length the bad treatment of Poles in the British zone in Germany, points out the contribution made by the Poles in the Battle of Britain. Of course, the obvious deduction is the ingratitude that is shown to them. The Warsaw radio and the Warsaw Press describe frequently how the Poles who want to return home are ill-treated in Britain. There are constant false accusations in the Polish Press that the British authorities are preventing men of the Polish Forces from returning home. The "Kurier Polski," a journal published in London, in its issue of 28th November, accused Britain of detaining the Poles, and went on to suggest that they are kept as hostages by British merchants until the Warsaw Government agrees to pay Britain back the costs of maintaining the Poles during the war. These unfortunate Poles are continually being warned of the sinister aims for which the Western Powers intend to use them.
I do not think there is any complaint on that score but I should be grateful if the hon. Member would remember when he uses the pronoun "You," that he is addressing the Chair.
I am surely entitled to read the quotations. I have never read a speech in this House; the last speech I made in this House was made without a single note. I cannot be expected to carry all these names in my head. On 25th November, "Zycie
Warszawy," commenting on the French election, wrote:
the British Labour Party's foreign policy is causing anxiety and dissatisfaction amoňg progressive European democracies. The position of the French Socialists is weakened by their support of the Western idea which is known to conceal"—
I would like the Labour Party to make a note of this charge against them—
is known to conceal a plan for co-operation between Germany and the Western countries.
A very dangerous statement for world peace. The hon. and gallant Member for Paddington has given a very vivid and characteristic account of present conditions in Poland. He has described the existing Polish concentration camps in all parts of Poland where the Russians have placed those Poles whom they suspect of being likely to oppose them. I can confirm every word which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said, because I myself have interrogated a Pole, a very high officer of the Polish Army, who arrived recently in this country from Poland. I am certain he was speaking the truth. We continued our interrogation of him up to midnight and nobody could have spoken with greater sincerity. Whenever there were restrictions or modifications to be made, he made them, and I am convinced he was speaking the truth when he gave us the appalling description, which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has given to the House, of those concentration camps which exist at the present time in Poland, maintained by the Soviets for those Poles who are in opposition to them.
I read with very great pleasure the admirable speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Ĺ'yme (Mr. Mack), made during the Debate on foreign affairs, describing his journey to Poland. I think we are under a debt of gratitude to him for undertaking that journey, and I am perfectly certain that he made his report with the utmost sincerity and the utmost truthfulness. He described what he saw, and we were very glad to have heard a first-hand report from somebody who had actualy been in Poland. Perhaps I might also be allowed to refer to another report. The American Congress sent a deputation to Poland, and here is the statement of Congressman T. S. Gordon, which is an account he
gave in a speech at Detroit, Michigan, on 11th October, 1945, describing his visit to Poland:
The Russian occupation army there is behaving very badly. We saw their arrogance and unfairness in the way they took advantage of the poor people of that city. We saw in the nearby highways, jammed with hundreds of head of cattle, horses and farming implements being taken out of Poland by the Russians, and going further East. The pillaging of the shops on the streets was going on most freely. The snatching of purses from Polish women is a daily occurrence. There also exists a wholesale raping of Polish women. When resistance is shown, the Russian soldier uses his weapons of war and kills. There is no freedom of the Press in Poland and the few publications are strictly under Russian censorship.
When this gentleman spoke to various Poles, as he thought them—to various soldiers in Polish uniform—the answer was "Oh no, Sir, the Polish Army is still in Italy and England. They have not come home yet." These Russians in Polish uniform roam the streets with tommy-guns on their backs and pistols in their holsters. The officers in the Army commanded by Marshal Rola-Zymirski are mostly Russians, but the worst factor of the situation seems to be the fact that numerous elements of the Soviet Russian army are now being demobilised in Poland, and individuals are automatically made Polish citizens. That has been confirmed by Poles who have returned to this country. No Pole is allowed, apparently, to occupy any post in his own Army above the rank of captain; all the senior posts in the Army are held by Russians, who completely dominate it. I would appeal to the Members of this House on behalf of a great country, a country which at one time was our only Ally, a people which has so nobly sacrificed itself, a people whose history appeals to us British.
I think of that most cruel partition of Poland in the eighteenth century, when Poland was completely absorbed by the neighbouring States, and the protests that were made over here in this country; I think of our poets, and specially Thomas Campbell, who appealed on behalf of Poland in such noble language. Thomas Campbell lies buried in Westminster Abbey, and. to his funeral the Poles brought earth from the grave of their great hero Kosciuszko in Krakow. Again in 1830 we protested. Tennyson wrote those most eloquent poems protesting against the brutality with which that most noble fight for independence was repressed. Again in 1863, if only Napoleon III had co-operated with Lord Palmerston, something might have been done to prevent once more that bloodstained repression of noble Poland. In the Treaty of Versailles, we recognised with gratitude, that that noble country was once more being brought to life. Of all the clauses in the Treaty of Versailles, the one which gave some of us the greatest pleasure was that which resuscitated noble and devoted Poland. If the war broke out because of Danzig, let us not forget that our then Prime Minister—I would not say anything ill about him, De mortuis nil nisi bonum—twice rejected the unanimous report of the Committee of Experts that Danzig should be given to Poland, that Danzig was essential to Poland, and that the mouth of the Vistula was for Poland a question of life or death. The Prime Minister twice rejected that report; he had it referred back to the Committee and the Committee unanimously adhered to it; and after the war broke out on the question of Danzig, this country and its Prime Minister had an overwhelming responsibility.
Gentlemen, I appeal to you. You may not be able to do much—Poland is already in the iron grip of Russia—but at least I ask you not to acquiesce in the infamies which are going on. You may be powerless—I admit it—to a large extent, but do not forfeit your honour by accepting a state of affairs, which is a stain on our whole European civilisation and a disgrace to the postwar conditions. Let us, at least, let our Foreign Secretary—and the Foreign Secretary knows how to stand up to Russia—supported by the Under-Secretary of State, who made an excellent speech on the last occasion when the subject of Poland was before the House, join in a definite protest against these conditions which are prevailing in Poland at the present moment. Let me repeat that we must take care that our honour is not being forfeited by acquiescing in conditions which are ignoble, which are disgraceful and injurious to the reputation of this country which has had a great responsibility in the past for the existing condition of Poland.
I am very proud to think that Members on this side of the House have listened with such patience, respect and courtesy to the two hon. Gentlemen who have addressed us from the opposite side. It is one of the finest traditions of this Parliament, and of British public life, that even most reprehensible views can be understood and listened to with appreciation, even if not with agreement. I hope and trust that that democratic principle will always be maintained.
I think that interruption is a little premature but if the hon. and gallant Member hopes that by doing that he will create a certain amount of heat, I would remind him that I will not pull my punch which will, if necessary, hit very hard above the belt. We appreciate that this is a very serious Debate. It is a Debate which involves not just a question of the relationship between Britain and Poland but the relationship between Britain and the U.S.S.R., the consequences of which might have the most tremendous effect upon the future of the world. Those Britons who love their country and want it to flourish, and to be a great country in every sense of the word, had better bear in mind that only a warm and enduring friendship with Russia on terms of equality, with sincere motives on both sides, can help to bring about that desired end. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I appreciate that support and I trust that it will be borne in mind. My hon. and gallant Friend, like a typical tough-knit sea dog, has spoken bluntly. Nobody minds that. I say this to him, not unkindly but firmly: I have never listened to a greater farrago of nonsense in one speech than that to which I have listened this afternoon. I am not denying for a moment that, equally with my hon. Friend the Member for Queen's University of Belfast (Professor Savory), he is speaking with sincerity. It is as well however in the circumstances that I happen to have been in Poland quite recently and can give my sincere impressions and a factual report of the observations I made without any inhibition. I did not undertake a conducted tour but I had an opportunity of travelling in those parts of Poland in which it was possible to travel. I travelled for 16 days in Poland and only claim to know the life of Poland to the extent the average observer could have done in such a comparatively short time. But I did not see any evidence—although I searched for it—of Russian brutality, of Russian iniquity or any desire by the Russian Army or civil authorities or any other Russian to break the spirit of Poland and commit the monstrous acts of tyranny which have been alleged by my hon. and gallant Friend.
That is the purport of my remarks. I, equally with my hon. and gallant Friend and most Members of the House, honour and respect all those Poles who have fought in the great world war of liberation. We know their prowess, and we honour and respect them for that, but it would be wrong to deduce therefrom that the prewar Government of Poland was, in any sense of the term, a democratic Government. It was imbued with Nazi ideologies. It was a Government which repressed its minorities and which, which equal intent, persecuted the Jews and other minorities and democratic elements inside the country.
I would remind my hon. and gallant Friend, for example, that there was a very strained position arising out of Lithuania, and there was a similar situation in regard to Czechoslovakia and Teschen in 1938. The present Prime Minister complained in the House of Commons, in the last Parliament, that he had been receiving Christmas cards on which a vast map of Poland was produced showing its boundaries extending to the Black Sea. In a cafe in, I think, Oxford Street or nearby there is an enormous map of prewar Poland, the Poland of 150 or 200 years ago, designed to indicate that these vast territories constituted the true boundaries of Poland. In that same cafe, and in many parts of London, one can see men of the Polish Army carrying out anti-Russian propaganda calculated to exacerbate relations with that country, and bring about a war of greater intensity and suspicion. It is time that someone in this House had the courage to speak out, and, if I generate some heat, I am not ashamed of it.
The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) is on his feet, and the hon. and gallant Member for Henley (Sir G. Fox) should not intervene unless the hon. Member gives way.
I am willing to give way but I was in the 'middle of replying to the hon. and gallant Member. If he will wait, I will give way again. If I may say so, not unkindly, he is helping me in disposing of his case. I was saying to my hon. and gallant Friend that in practice it was the Russian Forces which liberated Poland. Nobody disputes the good intentions of this country when we went to war. One of the reasons for it was the ultimate liberation of Poland.
Absolute drivel. It is a most absurd contention, and I often wonder whether hon. Members can seriously believe that. The fact was that the Germans invaded Poland, a piece of wanton aggression. They were almost at the gates of Warsaw, and the Russians, in order, not only to protect their own existence, but in order to protect the people of Poland, the Government of which had run away, were obliged 10 advance into Polish territory.
I cannot give way any more. I often wonder that we are not more thankful to Providence that the Russians advanced 200 miles into Poland to meet the Germans, because it: probably, made the difference between winning and losing the war, particularly when the Germans advanced to the gates of Stalingrad. We ought to be very grateful for that, and, in any case, there was then no Polish Government in existence. They had fled, true to type. The Government of prewar Poland was not a democratic Government. It was not a Government with which this country could have been prepared to have democratic relations. It was a Government which, all along, had oppressed the people. There were only two classes in Poland—the landed proprietors and landowners, and, roughly speaking, a vast peasantry, impoverished and living on a low standard of life, and there was very little in between those classes. This was Poland before the war.
The hon. Member said that I have spoken arrant nonsense, and I ask that he should substantiate that statement. I never mentioned the Government of prewar Poland; I was dealing with conditions at the present time.
It is true that the hon. and gallant Gentleman did not specifically mention the prewar Government of Poland. As a matter of fact, it was his colleague, the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast, who made that point. But what I am trying to say is that, in attempting to understand the mentality of the Polish Army and those people purporting to represent the Poles in this country, one must try to understand the political and economic background of these same people. They were never democratic in the true sense of the word, and their presence in this country today constitutes a menace to the good relations of Britain and Russia as well as the good relations of Britain and Poland. I am very glad that the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite shows no disposition to ally himself to such undemocratic elements.
The opportunities of travelling which I had while in Poland enabled me to visit Warsaw—and here I speak with reserve because everybody will appreciate that one does not want to make statements that are not strictly in accordance with the truth—but I had the kindliest assistance and warm co-operation of the British Ambassador, Mr. Cavendish-Bentinck, a man of vision and understand- ing and an admirable person to be responsible for the interests of this country. So far as I could make out from him, and he spoke as naturally and diplomatically as he could, there had been no evidence of Russian aggression to anything like the extent mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. There have been rumours that the Russians were about to attack the British Ambassador. That was arrant nonsense, and no one knew it better than the British Ambassador himself. Poland is a country of rumours, an amazing country, in which one sees ghostly and spectral figures wandering back to life through the streets, because they have no communications, no means of transport and very little food, in some parts of the country, and also because, economically, they are so backward.
Is not that understandable? Four to five million Poles are outside the country. at the present time, and perhaps nearly 2,000,000 of them are on the Russian side. West of the Curzon Line. Something- like another 2,000,000 are in the occupied zones of Germany, in Italy, in this country and elsewhere. The Polish Government are desperately anxious to bring back these Polish soldiers within their territories, and for many reasons. One is that they are males and are necessary in order to contribute to the future population, and they have technical skill and ability. Another is that they constitute the best age groups of the country and are the best physical specimens, and the Government are anxious about them, and about the labour they could bring to bear and which they are very anxious to obtain.
It has been said that the constitution of the Polish Government comprised 16 Communists out of 20. May I refute that? The Prime Minister, M. Osabku-Morawski, with whom I spent a considerable period of time, is not a Communist. He is what we would call a mild Labour man, who would probably make a very good Front Bench Minister. I went with him to Lodz on one occasion. One hon. Gentleman said that the 'President or Leader—presumably, he meant the President of the Republic, M. Bierut—was a Communist. He is the son of a Lublin peasant, who has never been in active political life before. A very mild man, he told a bunch of correspondents that he had no intention of carrying on politi- cal life after he had seen the country settled. I doubt if there are more than three or four Communists in the Government, and I do not believe that the Communists could win an election at the present time, because, probably, more people are anti-Communist in their politics than are pro-Communist. I am not one who says that everything the Russians do is perfect and that the things done by everybody else are not perfect, but, unless hon. Members are ready to give credit for good intentions to Russia, I am afraid we are in for a very difficult situation. I believe that, politically, scientifically and ideologically, the Russians are honest and sincerely desire to end war for all time, but I know they are apprehensive, and, on occasion, very suspicious.
I might mention one incident which happened to me. I met a Red Army soldier on the road one day, and not knowing as much as I ought to have known of the Russian mentality, I came along to him and said to him the Russian equivalent of "I am an Englishman, comrade," and extended my hand to him. He looked at me at first in a very stern and almost menacing manner; then caught hold of my hand, and when apparently satisfied that I was a normal man, embraced me and said something which cast a distinct reflection on my parentage. These words were the only English words he knew, but the friendly intention was quite obvious. They were friendly people and that was their way of showing it. I went into a cafe in Praga in which there were a large number of Russians and Polish soldiers. They had had one or two drinks, but not too many, and, very shortly, they were embracing each other in the most friendly way and trying to understand each other's language. This proves to me that the Little Slav and the Big Slav, when they get together, will find that the natural desire of both countries is to strive for peace.
The desire of the Polish Government is for peace, but it is recognised that this desire is linked up with friendship of Russia. Equally, it turns to the West and looks to Britain to give it inspiration, to give to the new Poland enlightenment, to trade with her and help her economically and in many other directions. When I went to Lodz and also when landing at Stettin a few hours after its occupation by the Polish authorities, I found President Zaremba, the Lord Mayor, in difficulties. What were his difficulties? He was a very frank man. He said to me "When I came here I found 60,000 Nazis in the town." The Polish opposition might have been round about 35,000. Stettin had a population of nearly 400,000 before the war. He found that there were difficulties with the Russian soldiers.
Let us be quite honest about it. There must be anything up to 100 nationalities in the Russian army. Nobody claims that they are all of equal standards, intellectual or otherwise, but let us be fair to these Russian soldiers. For four years they had endured the most terrible war in history. They had seen millions of their women and children destroyed. Thank Heaven we have never experienced that kind of thing in this country—
The majority of these were Jews, persecuted by some of the very Poles to whom the hon. and gallant Gentleman has alluded. I know the type only too well. These Russian soldiers had seen the murder and the torture of their people, the sadistic cruelties meted out to their children. Was it not natural, when they came to Poland, a country politically hostile, where elements of the population were unfriendly, that there should be incidents? Of course it was natural, but, to the everlasting glory of Russia and to the credit of her commanders, let it be said that as soon as the Polish authorities brought evidence of those incidents, the Russian commanders took action at once, and today I am glad to say—and it can be confirmed by any fair-minded person—that incidents in Poland are relatively very few and far between.
One cannot eradicate hatred. In this House, I am sorry to say, I can see manifestations of hatred against Russia in certain quarters. I am not suggesting that there is hatred on the part of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, though other people may not be as generous as I am. He has certainly laid himself open to the gravest suspicion because, if he had a little more imagination, he would understand that a great country of nearly 200,000,000 people—which is today possibly the greatest and most powerful country in the world from the point of view of natural resources, and certainly in 30 or 40 years would be able to dominate the world if so minded—does not want, and certainly the average Russian worker or peasant does not want, to dominate the world any more than the hon. and gallant Gentleman wants to do it. No Russian wants it; no Russian has ever said that at all. I agree that they feel apprehensive sometimes when they hear speeches—and after all, the hon. and gallant Gentleman may have the glory and satisfaction if he likes of hearing his speech reported much farther afield than the confines of this Chamber—
I hope so, for his subsequent enlightenment. But the fact remains that there are people in other parts of the world who regard these speeches as representative of the Members of this House, and I would be unworthy of myself, of my party, and of this House if I were to allow those remarks to go unchallenged. I want to warn the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because he probably does not appreciate the fact, that remarks of that kind will undo the very things that most hon. Members want to happen. We have been speaking about the freedom of the Press; we have been speaking about the lack of freedom on the radio in Poland. M. Mikolajczyk, the Leader of the Peasant Party, went voluntarily to Poland. It was a very big gesture. I do not agree with the politics of that particular Polish gentleman, but I would say that he went there wholeheartedly, for the purpose of co-operating with the present Government, and the present Government badly want to have an election. They were not elected by the people of Poland; they admit it. They were put there as being as broadly and widely representative of Government as it was possible under the then existing awkward and difficult circumstances, and I want to say that they have discharged their function with very great credit. How they have been able to make any form of Government with even a semblance of organisation is a modern political miracle.
The Russians have certainly helped Poland, not only to start a Government—which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition warmly supported at Yalta after he had been in con- ference with Mr. Roosevelt and Generalissimo Stalin and learned the facts, and if we say to Russia that her motives are dishonourable, if we treat her as an atavistic monster, as a cynical barbarian wielding her power against every decent conception of humanity as we understand it, then why are we not honest enough to stand up in this House and say, "Let us break every pact with Russia ''? People cannot come here and talk about being friendly with Russia on the one hand and, on the other, impute every low and despicable motive to her. Of course they cannot.
I really must object. I have not said what the hon. Gentleman accuses me of saying. I have merely stated conditions existing in Poland. What the Russians do in Russia is not my affair. That is their affair. What everybody is concerned with is what they do in countries outside their own country. They have said they will not bring pressure to bear on countries outside Russia. They have stated that.
That is precisely what I am saying. The hon. and gallant Gentleman charges the Russians with perpetuating and fomenting conditions in Poland which are despicable and opposed to every conception of freedom as we understand it. That is exactly what I am saying, and I charge the hon. and gallant Gentleman with making a most mischievous statement which is not backed up by the facts, and which is most harmful.
I could have gone on. I do not intend to do so because I want to leave time for the Under-Secretary to reply. May I say to my hon. Friend how pleased I am with the very fair manner in which he tries to deal with a most difficult problem? That applies also to the Foreign Secretary. I appreciate that it is his job to do it, and he will learn more as he goes on, but the fact is that I am perfectly satisfied that he wants to bring all his endeavours to bear upon this subject with a view to healing any wounds and trying to resolve these differences. I believe we should give him, as long as he pursues that end, every possible support. Hon. Members opposite, who are very sporting in many respects, will forgive me if I have been a little more impetuous than I might have been, but it is a subject on which I feel strongly, as, indeed, do my hon. Friends. I hope they will understand that, because nothing would hurt me more than to feel that they should not have every opportunity of putting forward their views as I put forward mine.
Having said that, I would add that I believe there is something very much akin to the British make-up in the Russian make-up, strange though that may appear. The Russians are new in the sense of being a very great world Power. They have met many Britons for the first time. I believe that, fundamentally, the Russian character loves all that is best in the British character. I have heard that on many occasions and from the lips of eminent Russians. To give one illustration of the Russian mind, Marshal Zukhov, who was largely responsible for fixing the boundaries of Poland, showed the most generous desire to be warm and sympathetic to the Poles in doing that, and met every reasonable demand they made on their Western frontiers. That is typical and indicative of the Russian mentality. Therefore I say, if we will try to overcome these difficulties by a warm and sincere approach, speaking frankly and fully if necessary, we will do very much good in the future as far as the relationship between this country and Russia is concerned. To that extent, I believe that a Debate of this kind ventilates differences and helps towards the consummation of that end.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree with me that this is not a subject about which we should get hot under the collar. If I may put forward some simple ideas on this matter which, I think, hon. Members on both sides of the House must agree are absolutely sound and straightforward, I shall be very grateful. First of all, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) said, I think, "We went to war to protect Poland from invasion." He was interrupted and I said "Invasion from whom?" Are we really being asked to believe that Russia did not attack Poland, because that bears no relation to the facts? How anyone can believe that is past my comprehension. You have only to ask any Pole just exactly what it was like when Russia invaded them from the East, and stabbed them in the back when they were being invaded by Germany, to get the true answer. Memories are not so short. It is no more true to say that Russia did not attack Poland than to say Russia did not attack Finland.
I certainly would if the lire brigade knocked me on the head in addition to putting out the fire. We were told also by the hon. Gentleman that Russian action in Eastern Europe, and particularly in Poland, is aimed at achieving her own security; I would ask hon. Members opposite—we know the answer—"Security against whom?" Is anyone going to ask me to believe that the United States or ourselves, who are the only two countries with any force of arms, have aggressive aims against the Soviet? I do not believe that any one is going to be quite so dumb as to suggest that. I see the hon. Gentleman opposite nodding his head. I take it that he is agreeing with me. Then why all this talk about Russian security? Security against whom? What do they want to be secure against? I hope that he may be able to give me an answer to that and, if he cannot, that he will stop talking quite such rot. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme also said, "They fled, true to type." I think that he was referring to the Polish Government at the beginning of the war. He nods assent. I think that is a disgusting remark to make about the Government of a country which- has been one of our most gallant Allies during this war.
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman not agree that if Germany had not attacked Poland, the Government of the old regime would have brought Poland into the war with Germany against us? That is to say, that Poland would have fought with Germany against us.
I am sure the House will agree that that is purely a hypothetical case, in support of which no one in this House can bring any evidence whatever. If it is true, I know nothing about it. I hold no particular brief for the regime in Poland before the war. The fact remains, however, that we went to war to save Poland from invasion, and they have been a very gallant Ally to whom we should all be extremely grateful. Neither of the hon. Members opposite who spoke challenged one single word of the speech made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Paddington, South (Vice-Admiral Taylor) ox the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast (Professor Savory). We have had a lot of hot air, particularly when the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme got on his feet. I challenge any hon. Gentleman opposite to deny the truth of one single sentence spoken by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington or by the hon. Member for Queen's University. Every word they have said today is absolutely true. I challenge any hon. Member to deny the truth of any statement they have made. I will give way with pleasure.
That is very easy and I am sure the House will be interested to hear the reasons which the hon. Gentleman may have. There is plenty of time, and doubtless he will be able to put his case.
That may well be, but it is perfectly true. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Piratin) can of course put his view. He has made the statement, "Then I deny it." We shall be very interested to hear the factual reasons why he denies it. It is most important that we should have a full reply from the Minister. There is plenty of time, and I trust that he will put forward a few more facts.
In a Debate about three weeks ago we were told by the Foreign Secretary that there was going to be no compulsion put on any of the Polish Forces overseas to return to their own country. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, I am sure I am right in saying, welcomed that statement. During the course of the Debate —and there has been a further hint of it to-day—there were suggestions that there are certain political undercurrents at work in this country, Italy, and Germany that many officers and N.C.Os. of these Polish forces, who fought magnificently on our side, are Fascists and reactionaries— wholly unsubstantiated statements. I ask the Minister when he replies to make it clear that within his knowledge, at any rate, there is no compulsion on these men not to return to Poland. That, I think, is clearly important. I suggest that these stories about these officers and N.C.Os. being Fascists and reactionaries are tendentious and dangerous and are wholly groundless. If they are true, I hope that hon. Members opposite will bring forward facts to prove that they are true. If they are not true, I hope that we shall cease hearing this rubbish. I look upon it as narrow-minded and prejudiced to put forward such views without being able to substantiate them.
It is not anti-Russian to accept the fact that the Soviet interpretation of democracy and freedom is 100 per cent, different from our own. It is certainly not anti-Russian, but it is anti-British to accept the opposite view and pretend that their interpretation of democracy and freedom is the same as ours. I wish hon. Members opposite would remember that. We have got to search out the common ground. It is of vital importance for the future security of the world that we should do all we can to work with the Soviet, but that is no reason why we should not criticise each other. The Soviet never hesitates to criticise us, but if an hon. Member on this side of the House dares to get up and say one word of criticism about the Soviet, he is immediately branded as a reactionary, or as almost a "Fascist beast" by many hon. Members opposite.
I do not suppose that anyone would object to any constructive form of criticism against the Soviet Government. What we want to do is to draw a distinction between normal and right criticism and Fascist denunciation and imputation of the lowest motives to the Soviet Government such as we have heard this afternoon.
No, Sir. I think that imputations of any motives are perfectly fair provided that the facts actually bear out the statements. I would ask hon. Members opposite, if they are so ignorant as some of them appear to be, to get hold of any single officer or N.C.O. liberated from prisoner of war camps in Poland or Eastern Germany by the Russian Forces, and ask them how they were treated, what they saw and what they think of the Soviet. I suggest to the hon. Member for Mile End that he tells us of a certain talk given in Mile End by a certain friend of his who saw a good deal in Russia. I think he knows very well what I am talking about. I hold no particular brief for the form of government in Poland before the war, but one form of tyranny has been substituted for another, and the one they have now is a worse form of tyranny. I find no cause for congratulation in that. Their present regime may be no better and no worse than General Franco's regime in Spain. That is a fact. We are not discussing Spain, but the suggestion is often made—
I said that it may be no better and no worse. If the hon. Member cannot understand that I cannot help him. It seems to me a very simple statement.
This is a very important point, and I hope that hon. Members opposite will listen to it. There are, at the present moment, under Allied Command, 236,000 Polish men and women in their Armed Forces. Out of these up to 28th November, only 37,300, or roughly 15 per cent., had agreed to go back to Poland. That is a most significant fact. These men are longing to go home. They have not seen their families, their friends, and their relations for six years. They are longing to return home, just as much as are our men who are out in Burma and have been abroad for six years. It is useless to pretend that they are Fascist and reactionary. A very small proportion of them, I know full well, actually fought on the German side. So, for that matter, did large numbers of Russians. When I was in Italy, my Division was opposed by a German Division, over half of which consisted of Russians and Poles, a very anomalous situation. I have seen a number of statements taken down by our intelligence officers as to why many of those Poles fought on the German side. I have seen first-hand evidence in writing which proves conclusively that some of them got shot in the back of the neck by their German officers if they refused to fight.
Is it not clear that the point that has to be made is that although these men are not Fascists, and are not branded as Fascists merely because they are not going back now, their officers are Fascists and are branded as Fascists, and that they are the ones who are effectively preventing the men from going back?
There is time for others to state their views.
I am answering the very point the hon. Member has put. I know these Poles well. I had the honour to fight alongside their Third Carpathian Division and their Fifth Division in Italy, and I had something to do with the training of some of them. I know how much they were looking forward to going home. In fact, it was as early as the days of Tobruk, one of the classic sieges of history, that a whole Polish company fought on the British side under the command of my own battalion. These people had endured hell to get there, many of them from Russian concentration camps, through Russia, Persia and down to the Middle East. One had only to ask them about that to find that what I am saying is perfectly true. Thousands of their relatives may well be still in those camps; who knows? They have had no news for many years, which shows exactly what the feelings of some of these Poles must be.
I have been talking during the last two months to a number of Poles in England, The most graphic description was given by a man who spoke very little English. He said, "Hitler kaput, Mussolini kaput, Stalin no kaput." That is a typical view of thousands of these Poles, and it is in the context of that view that we should see the situation. We should see it in the context of the Katyn massacres. That has done a great deal to turn the Poles against the Russians.
Yes, I definitely do. I have the pleasure of knowing a large number of Poles. I lived for a month with a Polish division, and I have every belief that large numbers of their friends and relations did lose their lives in one way or another. I would not necessarily say that 10,000 is an accurate figure, but there was a massacre of some sort at Katyn, and I am not sure whether we are looking in the right quarter for the culprits.
The hon. and learned Member had better try to listen to what I am saying. I gave no figure of 10,000. I said I was not giving any figure. I am not necessarily accusing the Soviet or Germany. I am simply saying that Poles whom I know, who speak excellent English, and with whom I have lived, have told me they have had letters and information from some of their friends concerning these murders, while from other friends they have had no information for four years.
I accuse nobody. I simply ask the House whether we are looking in the right quarter for the culprits. That at any rate is what the Poles want to know. I am not making a direct accusation against anyone. In fact, I am only putting this forward be- cause we must know what the Poles themselves feel about it, if we are to understand this situation. One has only to speak to 99 out of 100 Poles in this country to know that their point of view is what I am saying. I am not necessarily putting it forward as my own view. As I say, I am making no accusation against the Soviet or Germany.
I have given the figures —236,000 under Allied command, only 37,300 of whom are willing to go back to their own country, in spite of not having seen their own families, friends and relations for six years.
I said nothing of the sort. Let us accept the fact that 85 per cent, of these Poles do not wish to return to their own country as indicative of the fact that the present Government in Poland is undemocratic, is intolerant and is wholly under the Soviet thumb. Let us look forward to the day when Poles of all political shades will be free to live out their own lives in Poland without the terror of the N.K.V.D., without the terror of their own secret police, and without the terror of all that secret police stand for.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) has thrown several challenges in my direction, and he actually asks me to tell the House on his behalf what an unnamed speaker in an unmentioned place, said on an unmentioned date. I do not know how he expects me to know. All I can say is—
I have to look in Hansard tomorrow to see what a certain person said in Mile End. I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, will be interested in that. The hon. and gallant Member has said that I should provide him with facts. Why I should do that when the Debate was opened by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), I really do not know. I have listened here throughout the whole of the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington, waiting to hear one fact, and indeed I did the same throughout the speech of the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast (Professor Savory). I waited to hear one fact from him, and all he did was to read out a series of quotations from sources, partly unknown and some partly undesirable.
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes in his last remarks referred to the Katyn massacres, and, after being challenged by several Members on these benches, he retreated from his position. I am pleased to see that the hon. and gallant Member, who has such a good record of service, knows when to retreat. He knew then that he had to retreat because he found he had got into a very difficult position. He was prepared to say which people did not commit the massacre, but he was not prepared to say who did. I suggest that if he knew which people did not commit the massacre, it is a matter of deduction as to who did it. The trouble is he was afraid to express what was in his mind when he was challenged on that point, and it is to that point I want to come. I was very interested in this Debate because I was curious to know whether the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington was sincere, as we are expected to believe he is, or whether he was insincere. I wondered what was the purpose behind his speech. Was the hon. and gallant Member out to help Poland—this Poland and not the Poland of Colonel Beck—or was he out to destroy Poland, this Poland?
It seems to me that some hon. Members will never learn, and will never change. I believe that in so far as this Debate is concerned, the motive behind it was not a concern for Poland past or present. It has been raised to launch an attack on the Soviet Union. If I had had a stopwatch in my hand, and had noted the times the Soviet Union had been condemned, as against the time devoted to a true examination of the position of Poland, then I think I would have been able to prove quite easily that the hon. Members opposite were not concerned with the conditions in Poland, or with what could properly be done to help in the circumstances arising from that examination. Instead, what we have had is a distorted mass of statements regarding the Soviet Union, its attitude to Poland, and its intentions. We have had some descriptions of alleged conditions in Poland by the hon. and gallant Member for Paddington, but he has only given half the picture.
This House will recall a few weeks ago that the Foreign Secretary pointed out in one of his speeches what the state of affairs was now, not only in Poland but in Europe in general, and he asked the House whether, had we been in the unfortunate position of having gone through the six years of terror as these European countries have done, we could have provided a Government stable and able enough within a few months. I believe that hon. Members should have taken a little more care in studying the problems that have faced the Provisional Government of Poland. However, there is the fact that early in the New Year elections are to take place there. On this question of elections I might say that hon. Members on the opposite benches and throughout the House heaved a sigh of relief when they heard the announcement of the result of the Austrian elections the other day. Those elections were held to be, in the most Conservative circles, reliable and free elections in view of the fact that the majority elected was not a Socialist one. Had the majority gone the other way, then we should have heard speeches from the other benches regarding Austria, on exactly the same lines as we have heard today regarding Poland.
As regards the speech of the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast, I was interested to note his concern about the splitting of Poland. I would like to have heard the hon. Member's opinions about the splitting of Ireland. I believe I am right in saying that he is in favour of that, and if he is in favour of the splitting of Ireland—and no one can doubt that that country is an entity—then there is all the more reason why we should be interested to hear further from him about the splitting of Poland.
I would remind the hon. Member opposite and the House that I have always insisted on a United Kingdom, a united British Isles. I have opposed the partition of the British Isles.
I am sure the House is extremely interested to hear the hon. Member's opinion, but I have not heard him display the same vociferousness about Ireland as he has done about Poland.
The question has been raised of the Russian attack in September, 1939, on Poland. No one here denies that it was the Russian army that marched into Poland on 17th September, 1939. I think that, in considering what happened then, hon. Members opposite should use a little bit of that disciplinary thought about which there was so much criticism in yesterday afternoon's Debate. I would remind hon. Members opposite that in 1939 it was the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), then a Minister in the Chamberlain Government, who said:
What the Russians have now done will serve us in very good stead,
and welcomed very much indeed the fact that the Red Armies had marched in and occupied part of Poland. Do they refute that? If so, they had better have another meeting upstairs to decide it.
I must say I do not entirely agree with the earlier remarks of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Paton), who spoke immediately after the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington. In some respects he seemed to agree with the premises suggested, though he attempted to explain and excuse them. I cannot agree with those premises. I do not think they are valid. I do not think that the position in Poland arises from the Soviet Union's security or the question of buffer States. The Soviet Union have an agreement with France and I would remind the House that two weeks ago a certain most eminent person in France suggested that the strongest politi- cal party in France, the Communist Party, could not hold office in the Foreign Department because they are getting instructions from, and are dominated by, the Soviet Union. France is a long way from the Soviet Union. No one can say that it is on the wrong side of the iron curtain to which reference has been made. To us it appears to be on the right side of the iron curtain, yet in France when certain elements wanted to find an argument against the Communist Party they were able to use that one. We have heard that in Poland, at a certain time, of a Cabinet of 20, only four were not Communists.
That may be true, or it may not be true. But, I remember that, to our everlasting regret, in 1939 and the years before, the whole of the Cabinet in this country were members of the Conservative Party or their associates the Liberal-Nationals. It would have been very interesting in those days to make an examination to find how many Members of the Government of the Chamberlain era—a very unfortunate one—were capitalists, and what was their proportion to the people of the nation. Then let us hear whether Members opposite are going to raise an objection to the constitution of that kind of Government. But, here, when it is a matter of pin-pricking a foreign Government, which is doing its utmost to make up the leeway of six years of occupation, and a previous 20 years of near-Fascist rule, we find these Gentlemen most deeply affected by such matters.
I cannot deal with the point by the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes with regard to the number of Polish soldiers stationed in this country, and what is to be done about them. I have confidence in the ability of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs to handle that. But I repeat that the purpose of the Debate opened by the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington was not to air conditions of Poland and get something done about them but to give himself and his colleagues, the hon. Members for Queen's University and Lewes, an opportunity to air their anti-Soviet views.
I am very grateful for the confidence expressed in me on both sides of the House but I am a little apprehensive lest that means that both sides expect me to up- hold their arguments. It would be nearer the case, if I might say so without impertinence, to say that they expect me to uphold their affirmations, because very little fact has been demonstrated in this Debate and I need hardly apologise for saying that I cannot add much in the way of facts, on the subject which has been raised.
I will attempt to address myself to various points that have been made. For example, both the hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast (Professor Savory) and the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice Admiral Taylor) made much of the presence of Soviet troops in Poland. I cannot, with out certainty, offer figures, and I am a little puzzled by the certainty with which they offered figures. The hon. and gallant Gentleman for Paddington, South, worked himself into a rage talking about the iron curtain dropped across Poland. He cannot have it both ways. If there is an iron curtain, then he cannot have those facts he claims he has, and which he has offered to the House. It was announced in October that Soviet troops were to be stationed in the various provincial centres in Poland, but I have to make it plain that these troops did come, apparently, at the invitation of the Polish Provincial Government, part of their duty being to round up Red Army deserters.
The hon. Member for Queen's University, Belfast, made great play with this, but I am quite certain that these people in the, provincial centres are not at all concerned with who is responsible for the disorder. I am quite sure that if they cannot rest safely in their beds at night, they arc not concerned with what particular political colour the marauder is; what they arc concerned with is to try to secure order and some kind of safety and it is beyond argument that these Red Army troops, used for that purpose, did come in at the invitation of the Polish Provisional Government. Moreover, M. Molotov recently informed our Ambassador at Moscow that, in accordance with Stalin's assurance at Potsdam, all Russian troops have now been withdrawn from Poland, except those needed to maintain the security of the lines of communication of the Soviet occupation forces in Germany.
I am not quite sure what the hon. and gallant Gentleman means to infer. If he is asking me whether we accept that statement, and make no further survey, the answer is "No." If he is asking me if we view every statement by the Soviet Government with suspicion, the answer is still "No."
The answer is that His Majesty's Government accept that statement from the Soviet Government, but that, of course, we will continue to conduct our normal observations in relation to the disposition of these troops. If the troops are necessary, if their numbers are designed to meet that need, of course we cannot and will not make any objection. If they are excessive, as the hon. and gallant Member affirmed, though without offering any evidence, we will make our remonstrations on the subject, but we will not unless we have evidence, and no evidence has been offered in this Debate which His Majesty's Government should be asked to examine.
Three speakers referred to the elections. As I think the House knows, no date has yet been fixed for these elections and His Majesty's Government have no wish unduly to hasten this matter, particularly because, as the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes pointed out, there still are large numbers of Poles abroad. I will deal with his figures in a minute. In addition, there are, as we have admitted, Red Army forces in Poland. Further, there are areas, particularly in Western Poland, where conditions are still very unstable, and where it would not be possible anywhere in the near future to hold regular and free elections. But we have assurances on that subject and the attitude of His Majesty's Government has been that whenever conditions necessary in order to hold free elections are obtained those elections should forthwith be held. Moreover, that is the pledge which the Polish Provisional Government have given.
They have pledged themselves to hold the elections on the basis of the democratic procedure laid down in the 1921 Constitution and the electoral law of 1922, and a recent resolution of the Praesidium of the National Council recognises six political parties as entitled to participate in the elections.
Once more we have had an appeal from the hon. and gallant Member on behalf of the National Party. I do not want to be too hard pressed on this subject, but it is beyond doubt that some sections at least of that party have not too good a reputation in their relations with the German occupying forces. We are satisfied that reasonable facilities are being extended to the major democratic parties, who are clearly anti-Fascist in character. Two of the most important parties are in opposition, Mr. Mikolajczyk's Peasant Party and Mr. Popiel's Centre Party. When we last debated this subject I said that we understood that Mr. Mikolajczyk was to be given facilities for printing a paper. They have been granted, the paper circulates, and he seems to have a fair degree of freedom of expression; at any rate he is permitted to criticise the existing Government. The freedom to organise which we were also promised appears, too, to be substantially implemented.
It would be convenient here if I talked a little about the Polish Press. It is quite untrue to say, and it is harmful to pretend, that there is an iron curtain at all, to try to convey the impression that normal reporting facilities are unobtainable. That is not so. I do not want to be drawn into making any exaggerated statement. There is some kind of general control, but we have no evidence of direct censorship, much less have we evidence that, as the hon. and gallant Member asserted, there is direct censorship by the Russians. It is verging on the irresponsible to make statements of that kind here without offering any evidence. Correspondents from several British papers have been there, and we have had no specific complaints from them about interference of that kind.
I have to add that they have had considerable technical difficulties. I do not mean anything mysterious by that, I mean, literally, technical difficulties; for example, great difficulty in getting about freely, not because they were hedged in or controlled in any way but because the means of transport are so very difficult, the roads and railways, of course, being in a gross state of disrepair; but generally they had reasonable facilities for reporting and they certainly had no direct hindrance from any Russian authorities there. I ask the House to believe that unless we are offered specific complaints on that subject we ought to be finished with that kind of allegation in connection with Poland once and for all.
The hon. and gallant Member raised the subject of the coal contribution made by Poland. I have not the advantage he had, I cannot speak with any certainty about the prices offered there, but I will say what I know about it. There is, I understand, an agreement which provided for the delivery of some 5,000,000 metric tons of coal and coke during the six months from July, 1945, to December, 1945. It is true that this constitutes, as far as we can calculate, about one-third of the total Polish production during that period. It is also true, I think, that the coal is paid for in Polish currency a: prices which certainly are considerably below the free market prices in Poland, and they may even be insufficient to meet the costs of production. That is as far as I can go. I cannot believe for a second, and at any rate no one offered any evidence here, that that agreement was forced upon the Polish Provisional Government. In addition, let us admit that Poland has received considerable help from the Soviet Union in her reconstruction. On the other side it is true that she has been economically hindered by Soviet troops living off the country, but there is this balancing factor- of what I call considerable help in reconstruction. I think, therefore, that in dealing with this coal contract we have to try to weigh these two things against each other. in addition, of course, to what Russia has supplied, large quantities of materials have been supplied, mainly by U.N.R.R.A., for rehabilitation; and I should say that if it were not for the transport situation, which is still the main bottleneck, there would be, as the result of these two main sources of contribution, a considerable improvement in the Polish position.
I think I ought to say this before I conclude. The hon. Member for Queen's University of Belfast re- ferred to concentration camps. My information is that there are concentration camps but, that the prisoners are there mainly for political reasons. The hon. Gentleman also referred to misbehaviour by the Red Army. I am quite certain that there has been misbehaviour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack) has said, but, while I accept that and I say that it is so, I cannot commit myself to the accepted certainty which the hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite have brought to this case. Let me say this to the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lewes, who quoted figures relating to Poles who have opted to go home. My figures are not quite coincidental with his.
Yes, certainly. My figures are those which were given to the House by my right hon. Friend in the last Debate. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite gave a total of, I think, 236,000. I have not that figure at all. My figure is 177,000, but I imagine that the hon. and gallant Gentleman got his figure probably by adding to the actual Armed Forces under our control nurses, women and other types of personnel.
Really, I have taken no offence whatever. I appeal to hon. Members to agree with me. I raised the matter calmly, and I gave the figures that I had. If the Under-Secretary cares to say that I took offence, he is at liberty to say so.
It is exceedingly kind of the hon. and gallant Gentleman to allow me to speak at all. My figures are that out of 67,000 in the Armed Forces in this country, 23,000 have opted to return, and that out of 110,000 in the Middle East and in Italy, 14,000 have opted to return.
I also want to add some figures, which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend did not overlook—he just did not know about them, although they had been given to the House already— that out of 500,000 displaced people in camps in Germany, 350,000 have opted to go back to Poland. If we are going to draw any inference from these figures, let us total them. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will discover—although I am doing a mental calculation—that the proportion is considerably in excess of 50 per cent., and is nearer 60 per cent.
May I ask the Undersecretary what is the alternative for these 350,000 displaced persons in Germany returning to Poland? Can that be compared with the alternative for those who are now, for instance, in Scotland?
I can tell the House that there is a temporary alternative, at least, namely, that they can remain in Scotland, which cannot be compared with the case of those who are in camps in Germany.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has confined himself to the Armed Forces, and I insist that we must try to look at the total picture. I must make another point. It is not necessarily to foe assumed that those troops who have not yet opted have, therefore and in consequence, decided to remain in this country. That is an unfair implication for which there is no warrant at all. These figures to which we refer —
If the hon. and gallant Gentlemen both get up and say. "This is the yardstick by which we must decide," and then quote the people who have opted, I hope I am wrong in assuming that their inference was that these other people do not want to return to Poland, but if that was not their inference I cannot understand what their argument was about. I was very glad of the opportunity to refer to these figures, because, as my right hon. Friend has previously said in the House, there is an urgent need for us to encourage under reasonable conditions the return of these people. I have pointed out that there are excesses; of course, there are. I have already pointed out that His Majesty's Government will continue to direct their attention to any irregularity, but His Majesty's Government will not do so in the frame of mind that everything wrong in Poland must necessarily be the fault of Russia and that it is done deliberately. My right hon. Friend has shown already that when there are reasons for criticising or arguing with Russia, he is prepared to do so, but he will not bring to this general problem a poisoned mind in relation to Russia, and this House will not advance the condition of this poor country, Poland, by bringing similar arguments.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Queen's University, Belfast, at the height of his speech, said, "What reward have His Majesty's Government received for recognising the Polish Provisional Government?" That is an unfortunate frame of mind to bring to a Debate of this kind. This Government made that recognition, not looking for reward, not hoping to be paid off, but because they know, as every responsible Member of this House knows, that if we are going to help back to some kind of stability and security and bring food and order to these poor people of Poland, we must have a government which could co-operate with us and with their neighbours. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. The choice is: less food, more disorder and continued insecurity for Poland, or a government that will do some of these things, that will prepare for the elections and will move, not as speedily as every one of us would like, but still quite steadily towards reconstruction. That was the only reward for which the Government have looked, and the only reward in which they are still interested.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman before he sits down whether it is not equally essential that the Provisional Government should have the co-operation of the Polish nation, which it has not got?
I did not say anything of the sort. I said that the three main leaders of the political parties, and General Okiliki, who were imprisoned, should be set free. That is what I said.
The hon. and gallant Member, at any rate, assumes, at every stage where he can raise this subject, that the Polish Provisional Government is not acceptable by the people of Poland. All I can say is that it is operating, that it is building an administration, that it is contributing towards reconstruction, that there has been no other Government of Poland which has done that job and that there is no other available Government at the moment.