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German Invasion Of Norway And Denmark

Volume 359: debated on Tuesday 9 April 1940

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Allies' Decision

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

3.46 p.m.

The House will be aware that Germany has to-day invaded Denmark and Norway. Ever since the beginning of the present War she has attempted to dominate Scandinavia and to control both the political and the economic policy of the Scandinavian States. Her pressure on those States has been steadily increasing and, as is now well known, she claimed and exercised the right to dictate their policy towards Finland during the Finnish-Soviet War. The House will recall that, in the statement which I made at the end of that war, on 19th March, I used the following words in speaking of the struggle:

"What is the result to Scandinavia? The security of Finland has gone, but has the security of Norway and Sweden been preserved? On the contrary, the danger has been brought closer than ever to those two countries, till to-day it stands upon their doorsteps."
After expressing sympathy with those States, to whom I said that the issue of war could not be a matter of indifference, I concluded:
"Nothing will or can save them but a determination to defend themselves and to join with others who are ready to aid them in their defence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th March, 1940; cols. 1842–3, Vol. 358.]
Some of my listeners then may have thought those words exaggerated, but now we see the fulfilment to the letter of the prophecy they contained. Since that date the situation has further developed. As was pointed out in the statement issued by His Majesty's Government yesterday, the German Government have claimed and exercised the right to destroy neutral, and particularly Scandinavian, ships on the seas around this country, by all the means in their power, but, at the same time, they have insisted upon the strictest observation of the rules of neutrality where this would provide some advantage to them, as it did in Norwegian waters. The Allies then decided that they could not acquiesce indefinitely in this state of affairs, and having given notice to the Norwegian Government that they reserved the right to take such measures as might be necessary to redress the balance thus weighted against them, they laid minefields in Norwegian waters so as to prevent the unhindered passsage of German traffic through them, while in no way interfering with normal Norwegian trade. At no time did the Allies contemplate any occupation of Scandinavian territory so long as it was not attacked by Germany. Any allegations by Germany to the contrary are pure invention and have no foundation in fact.

The German Government have now issued a statement to the effect that they have decided to take over the protection of Denmark and Norway. German motorised and armed forces crossed the Danish frontier at daybreak and a considerable area of Danish territory is in German occupation. Their troops are reported to have landed at Copenhagen this morning. His Majesty's Government have learned that the German Minister at Oslo, early to-day, made a formal demand for the surrender of Norway to Germany, stating that in the event of refusal all resistance would be crushed. This demand was, of course, immediately refused by the Norwegian Government, as they have officially declared. We have now heard that fighting has already started, and there are Press reports that Oslo and Christians and have been bombed. German troops have landed on Norwegian territory at various places.

It is asserted by the German Government that their invasion of Norway was a reprisal for the action of the Allies in Norwegian territorial waters. This statement will, of course, deceive no one. So elaborate an operation, involving simultaneous landings at a number of ports by troops accompanied by naval forces, requires planning long in advance; and the information which is now coming to hand clearly indicates that it was not only planned, but was already in operation, before the mines were laid in Norwegian waters. The facts of the German operation, which are becoming public property, suffice in themselves to prove what I have just said. It is reported that, among others, the Norwegian port of Trondheim has been invaded by German armed forces this morning. The distance from the nearest German port, Cuxhaven, to Trondheim is nearly 700 miles; and, assuming that the expedition started immediately after the announcement of the mining operations within Norwegian territorial waters, they could not yet have arrived. There is, therefore, no doubt that the German plans for the invasion of Norway and Denmark were made and put into operation long before the Allied mining of Norwegian territorial waters.

It remains to say that His Majesty's Government have at once assured the Norwegian Government that, in view of the German invasion of their country, His Majesty's Government have decided forthwith to extend their full aid to Norway; and have intimated that they will fight the war in full association with them. Powerful units of the Navy are at sea. Hon. Members will realise that it would not be in the public interest to give details at this stage as to any operations in which they are now engaged. Needless to say, we are facing this new menace to the independence of free peoples in the closest collaboration with the French Government, whose forces are operating together with our own. I have no doubt that this further rash and cruel act of aggression will redound to Germany's disadvantage, and contribute to her ultimate defeat.

3.53 p.m.

I should like, first of all, to express what I believe is the feeling of all of us, of our sympathy with the people of Denmark and of Norway, two of the most highly civilised nations in Europe, who are now attacked by the most barbarous. It is clear that adherence to a policy of strict neutrality does not save any State from being attacked by the German Government. It is abundantly clear that never have the German Government accepted the neutrality of these countries as entitling them to safety, because it is clear that the plans for their invasion must have been prepared a long time ahead, ready to be put into operation whenever the German Government so decided. It is another instance of utterly brutal aggression.

At the present time, operations by our Fleet are, I understand, continuing to take place. We have no full reports. I think this House will be desirous before very long of a full discussion, under whatever circumstances may be most con- venient, of the general bearing of these events on the conduct of the war. In the meanwhile, the Prime Minister has said that this country and France are offering their full aid to Norway. I hope that that aid will be given in full, and that it will be speedy, and that it will be effective. We must be in time, and we must do all we can to prevent the other free nations being brought under the Nazi yoke.

3.55 p.m.

I rise only to associate my hon. Friends and myself with the words, which have fallen from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, of sympathy with the victims of this gross and brutal act of aggression and of condemnation of this further German outrage. We certainly feel that the Government deserve our support and the support of the whole country in the decision which, the Prime Minister has told us, they have now taken to support Norway and Denmark, action which we hope will be prompt, swift and effective. In that action certainly, we, at any rate, shall support the Government.

3.56 p.m.

If there is any later news which can possibly be given before the House rises this evening, will an opportunity be taken to inform the House of that news?

I think we must be guided by circumstances. I am sure we shall be anxious to give the House all the news which we can possibly give at the earliest possible moment.

Do the Government contemplate coming to the aid of the people of Denmark, as well as those of Norway; and, if so, have they made any such offer to the people of Denmark?

Can the Prime Minister give us any information as to the fate of the Danish Government and Royal family?

3.57 p.m.

Has the Prime Minister any information with regard to the alleged occupation by Germany of Bergen and Narvik? It is obviously in the minds of Members as a whole that it is a remarkable thing that this expedition should have taken place while the British Fleet held the seas. No doubt, in due course some explanation of that will be given; but at the moment it is extremely puzzling. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] It is all very well to say that; but it is a very astonishing and startling thing, and it is just as well that it should be said. [Interruption.] I am asking whether it is true that they have gone to Narvik and Bergen.

The other point I want to put is this: When the Russian attack on Finland took place there was an immediate meeting of the Council of the League of Nations. The British Government took part in that meeting, and wholeheartedly supported the resolution that was passed against aggression. I am quite sure that the British Government would desire to treat all aggression alike, and the question I am putting to the Prime Minister on this point—[Interruption.]—after all, there is a very good precedent, and I wish to ask whether any proposal has been made from either Norwegian or other quarters that that precedent should be followed and similar action taken.

Has not the time gone past for passing any more resolutions?

4 p.m.

My information is that German forces have landed at Bergen. There have been some reports about a similar landing at Narvik, but I am very doubtful whether those are correct, and I am informed that there is another place with a very similar name in the South of Norway which it is very possible might have given rise to a misapprehension. As to the action of the Navy, I am sure the House will wish to reserve its judgment until it is in possession of further information and that it certainly would not wish to make criticisms upon the action of the Navy. With regard to the meeting of the League of Nations, no suggestion has yet been made to us about any meeting, and I would say generally that first things must come first. There are other things which I think would be more effective than summoning a meeting of the League of Nations.

4.2 p.m.

I tried to impress on this House at the time of Munich, and now that disaster is threatening to come on the whole of Europe I want to ask, whether it is possible to get this House, representing as it does the people of the country seriously to discuss a complete change of Government in order to get a Government that will seek to save the young manhood of this country and bring the war to a speedy end, instead of concerning itself with spreading the war. [Interruption.] I ask the Prime Minister whether it is not the case that he himself declared in this House that war brings no gain either to the victim or—[Interruption.]

On a point of Order. It has always been the custom that no matter how much Members may disagree with an isolated Member who is stating his point of view, he should reecive not only the courtesy of the House, but order from Members. I am asking that you should preserve that order in the manner that you usually do when speeches are being made.

I hope the hon. Member is not suggesting that I am not being fair. It is certainly true that an hon. Member is entitled to give his views, and I shall always preserve that right.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Is the Prime Minister not aware that he himself stated in this House very deliberately that war brought no gain either to the victim or to the vanquished?

Never mind Russia. I am dealing with the Prime Minister, and the important question that I am raising is the menace to millions of the youth of this country and of Europe. I say that this House should take the serious responsibility of considering the possibility of a new and entirely different Government that would seek to bring the catastrophe to an end instead of desiring to spread it to other nations.

4.4 p.m.

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he will make it clear to the House that while taking his position on what he said were first things first, he will realise that there are a good many people, not only in this House but in the country, who will take the view that those nations which belong to the League of Nations have as great a responsibility in relation to the German aggression against Denmark and Norway as have our own country and France. Therefore, will he assure the House that while first things must come first, it is the intention of the Government, as far as they can, to ensure that this new aggression is considered by the Council of the League, bearing in mind that the League is not quite so helpless as some people think, having regard to the fact that the Council of the League did agree that the nations at Geneva should give some assistance to Finland against Russian aggression, and that it is possible for the help that this country is to give Denmark and Norway to be assisted at any rate by the other nations at Geneva? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore make it clear to the House that it is the intention of the Government to base their action upon the Covenant of the League and in co-operation with the other member States of the League of Nations?

I certainly hope that all members of the League will fully recognise their obligations to victims of aggression, but I could not at this moment bind myself to take any particular action about the League of Nations. As I say, first things must come first.

4.7 p.m.

I rise to associate myself with the expressions of sympathy that have come from the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Liberal party with the people of Norway and of Denmark—probably the most pacific and the most civilised people in any part of the globe to-day. This war has developed in an extraordinary way. Up to date the sufferers—the Finns, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Poles—are people who had no primary responsibility for the outbreak whatever, and one can only think that if the present mood and temper of the world continue, world-wide chaos will be the consequence. While I do not associate myself with the proposal of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) that this is an appropriate moment for overthrowing the British Government, I do agree with him that there will have to be substantial changes in the general governmental system of this country and in the general outlook before the type of peace can be secured that I and my hon. Friends desire to see, but to-day I simply urge the Prime Minister not to be rushed into foolish courses or to allow temper and bellicosity to get the better of commonsense, which, after all, is the great characteristic of the British people, the characteristic which it can give to the world as something useful to the world in these terribly difficult times.

4.10 p.m.

There is one other consideration to which I think the House should give one moment before we part with this discussion. We cannot always prevent acts of aggression now, as we know, but I think it is important that this nation should take a consistent moral attitude to all acts of aggression. In the case of the German attack on Poland, we used our full resources, and in the case of the attack on Finland we passed a resolution at the League and did give a certain amount of material help, while we were ready to give more. In this case now, we are going to do all we can, but there is another act of aggression which is going on in the world to-day, and that is the Japanese aggression against China. [Interruption.] It is all very well for Members to jeer at that. While agreeing about first things first, I none the less feel that those hon. Members who jeer should hold it in mind that this country will not understand it if the Government—[Interruption.] The people of this country will not understand it if the Government try to take one line in the case of one set of aggressors and an entirely different line in the case of another aggressor at the other end of the world.

In view of the present temper of the House I think the best thing we can do is to adjourn now.

Motion, "That this House do now adjourn," by leave, withdrawn.