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The War: Situation In Belgium

Volume 116: debated on Tuesday 28 May 1940

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4.3 P.m.

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government if they have any statement to make on the war situation.

My Lords, you will be aware that the King of the Belgians yesterday sent a plenipotentiary to the German Command asking for a suspension of arms on the Belgian Front. The British and French Governments instructed their Generals immediately to dissociate themselves from this proceeding, and to persevere in the operations upon which they are now engaged. However, the German Command has agreed to the Belgian proposals, and the Belgian Army ceased to resist the enemy's will at four o'clock this morning. I have no intention of suggesting to the House that we should attempt at this moment to pass judgment upon the action of the King of the Belgians in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian Army. This Army has fought very bravely and has both suffered and inflicted heavy losses. The Belgian Government, which remains the sole constitutional representative of the Belgian nation, has disavowed the action of the King, and, declaring itself to be the only legal Government of Belgium, has formally announced its resolve to continue the war at the side of the Allies, who have come to the aid of Belgium at her urgent appeal. Whatever our feelings may be upon the facts so far as they are known to us, we must remember that the sense of brotherhood between the many people who have fallen into the power of the aggressor and those who still confront him will play its part in better days than these through which we are now passing.

The situation of the British and French Armies, now engaged in a most severe battle and beset on three sides and from the air, is evidently extremely grave. The surrender of the Belgian Army in this manner adds appreciably to their grievous peril. But the troops are in good heart and are righting with the utmost discipline and tenacity. I shall of course abstain from giving any particulars of what, with the powerful assistance of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, they are doing or hope to do. His Majesty's Government expect to make a statement to Parliament on the general position when the result of the intense struggle now going on can be known and measured. This will not perhaps be until the beginning of next week. Meanwhile your Lordships should prepare yourselves for hard and heavy tidings.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister asks me to add that nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nor should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and grief to the ultimate defeat of our enemies.

4.7 p.m.

My Lords, I should like first of all to thank the noble Viscount for the statement which he has made, a statement which causes us all concern; but we receive it without dismay. We cannot pretend, of course, that what it tells us is not serious, and that the situation with which we are now faced is not of an extremely serious character. It is probable that only trained military minds can accurately estimate all that it means and can measure the additional burden that the Allies have now to bear. In these circumstances, perhaps the less said about the situation the better, until it can be examined. One thing, however, it is surely our duty to say and to do: to try to give comfort to our men who are defending a soil that is not their own by assuring them that in this new embarrassment they have our gratitude and our complete admiration.

More than ever they represent a living wall which is defending the liberties of the world, and to them we send our affection and our trust.

4.9 p.m.

My Lords, I merely desire to associate my noble friends here with everything that has just been said by the noble Lord. Nothing that has happened can in any way weaken our confidence in our own Fighting Forces and those of France, or in any way diminish our belief in the certainty that the ultimate result will be victory for the right and for the Allied cause.

4.10 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Viscount, the Leader of this House, asked us to-day to withhold judgment, and he is right in doing so; but I feel that the position is so grave that history alone will say that the action of the King of the Belgians is that of a base, cowardly traitor at the present time.