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House of Commons Hansard
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11 June 1940
Volume 361

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

4.3 p.m.

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I rise to make a statement on recent happenings, in the absence, for the reasons which I have stated, of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Because of the pressure of war on other fronts, Allied Forces have been withdrawn from Norway, and the Norwegian forces in North Norway have laid down their arms. In order to save Norwegian territory from further destruction by the Germans and to watch over Norwegian interests during the war, the Norwegian King and Government have left Norway and come to this country. It was with deep regret that His Majesty's Government were forced to take the decision to abandon their campaign in North Norway at the moment it had turned in our favour and Narvik had fallen into our hands. The campaign had been bravely fought by the combined Allied forces under arduous conditions and had succeeded during the past two months in retaining vastly superior German forces away from other theatres of war. The time, however, had come when it was clear that all the available resources at the Allies' disposal must be employed on the main front where the issue of the war and the fate of Norway and all other free and democratic countries will be decided.

It was also a hard decision for the Norwegian King and Government to leave their own country. They had held out for two months against the full weight of the German forces and were undefeated at the end. During this time the example of the King's courage, devotion and dignity in distress had been the mainstay of the Norwegian resistance. Norway has decided to continue the struggle against Germany on other fronts. The Norwegian Government have made this clear in the Royal Proclamation issued on 9th June. Whereas before the British, French and Polish Governments have been helping the Norwegians in a war of independence, the Norwegian Government will now use all their resources to help the Allies in their war against Germany. This decision, for which the Allied Governments are deeply grateful, is evidence of the conviction of the Norwegian people that the only hope for the future lies in an Allied victory and that the Allied cause, with which they are now more than ever identified, will surely prevail.

I regret to inform the House, as already announced in the Press, that the Aircraft Carrier "Glorious," the Destroyers "Ardent" and "Acasta," the oiler "Oil Pioneer," and the "Orama," an empty transport, are presumed to have been lost in an encounter with enemy forces following upon the withdrawal of our forces from Narvik. I regret that there are no further particulars available; as soon as they are available, they will be given to the House.

As the House knows, Italy declared war on Great Britain and France early this morning. Hardly ever before in history can the decision to embroil a great nation in war have been taken so wantonly and with so little excuse. There is no quarrel between the Italians and the British and French peoples. Since we became a nation we have never fought the Italians. On the other hand, when Italy, for so long divided and to a great extent enslaved by Germans, sought in the nineteenth century to become a united nation, it was British sympathy and help and French arms that enabled her to attain her desire. Great Britain and France have all along been prepared to consider any real grievances of Italy and to right them. We have sought repeatedly to come to an agreement with Italy. We have sought up to the last to prevent the war spreading to the Mediterranean peoples. The British and French Governments and the British and French peoples have been patient under constant abuse and provocation. Why, then, has Italy declared war? I say, for completely sordid and material motives, because Signor Mussolini thinks that he sees a chance of securing some spoils at the expense of the Western democracies now that they are at grips with the brute forces of Germany. Signor Mussolini uses the argument of the jackal which scents the possibility of getting some scraps from another beast's kill. He puts forward the argument of the petty sneak-thief to rob and rifle the pockets of the murderer's victim.

This is the ignoble role that Signor Mussolini has chosen for the great Italian people, which has made such a splendid contribution to European civilisation in the past. False to the finest traditions of that Roman Empire which laid the foundations of law and order in Europe, false to the Christian faith, false to the heritage and the culture of the Renaissance, betraying the men of the Risorgimento who struggled for freedom—Mazzini, Garibaldi, Victor Emanuel and Cavour—men who made Italy a free nation, Italians are now to aid the German barbarians in the attack upon civilisation. I cannot but believe that many Italians will feel ashamed of the role that has been thrust upon them. France, which freed the Italians from German domination, is now stabbed in the back by the descendants of the men she freed. Britain is to be attacked in the hope that by her destruction Mussolini may get some pickings for his new Roman Empire.

Signor Mussolini has made a profound mistake. The victims whose spoils he hopes to share are not dead. The French people, never greater than when in adversity, are fighting magnificently by sea, by air and on their own soil of France. Britain, with all its strength, in the air, by sea, and by land, is standing firmly by her side. The Italians, like the Germans, will find that they have to meet a resolute resistance. They will soon find—they are already finding—what is the might of sea-power. Already 14 ships have been seized, 10 others are in our ports, and three, on the best German model, have been scuttled. The imaginary restraints which our occupation of the Eastern and Western ends of the Mediterranean are supposed to impose upon Italy in time of peace become realities in time of war. Italy, like Germany, will feel the blockade. I say we have no ill-will to the Italian people. We are sorry that they should be brought to the slaughter on account of the overweening ambition and the lust for blood of the Duce, but we are prepared to meet the challenge. We shall give them blow for blow.

The two dictators have united to destroy democracy. Democracy will answer the challenge. From across the Atlantic has come the answer of a great democracy. It was as if day followed the night when, only a few hours after the dictator of Italy had made his dastardly announcement to the serried ranks of Blackshirts, the President of the United States delivered to the youth of his country a message worthy of that great and free Republic, and in extending the whole of America's sympathy to those nations that are giving their lifeblood in the combat against force and hate, Mr. Roosevelt has vitally inspired the free people of Europe. His assurance that the material resources of his great industrial nation will be placed at the disposal of the Allies makes it inevitable that, however hard the road, the cause of civilisation will in the end prevail.

Let me say to the House and to the country that this new attack does not cause us dismay. It makes no difference to our stern resolution to defeat all our enemies or to our confidence in our ability to withstand all attacks and achieve victory. Rather it should increase our determination to strain every nerve to meet all the dangers and difficulties of this critical time in the sure knowledge that we fight, not for ourselves alone, but for the freedom of the human spirit.

4.12 p.m.

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The most important part of the statement of the Lord Privy Seal—

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On a point of Order. Arising out of the statement of the Lord Privy Seal, may a Member put a question to him on that statement?

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Certainly, an hon. Member may put a question.

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As I was saying, the most important part of the statement of the Lord Privy Seal was that which dealt with the declaration of war by the Fascist dictator, and at this moment I think only one thing needs to be said. I will put it in one sentence. Both the dictators have now thrown off their masks and have become avowed accomplices, and it is therefore now clear to all men everywhere that on this country and on France depend the hopes of free men in every nation of the world.

4.13 p.m.

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May I ask the Deputy-Leader of the House whether the broadcast made by the Minister of Information last night received the approval of the Government?

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I am afraid the hon. and gallant Member has put that question without notice. I did not hear the broadcast, and I have no special information with regard to it.

4.14 p.m.

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This is not the occasion for discussion or debate; the statement made by the Deputy-Leader of the House is far too grave and the situation is too serious. I assume that, either in secret Session or in public, the whole situation will be reviewed by the Prime Minister, and on that understanding I think we shall be able to pass to the next business.

4.15 p.m.

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May I ask the Lord Privy Seal whether he is able to answer this Question? Is it now the resolve of His Majesty's Government to redress the wrongs done in Ethiopia and Spain?

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Is the Lord Privy Seal aware of the fulsome eulogy of Italian Fascism in this statement that I have in my hands by Lord Lloyd and Viscount Halifax, and will he have this statement withdrawn from publication and have action taken against the authors of it?

4.16 p.m.

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Will the Government draw a distinction between Italians and Italians, and remember that the Pope has stood for peace, and that His Holiness is a figure we must reverence and look up to? Will it also be remembered that we have, in the King of Italy, a man who stood for peace, and that we ought to distinguish between King Victor Emmanuel, the real Monarch of the Italian people, and Signor Mussolini, the "castor-oil king"?

4.17 p.m.

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I wish to say a word or two on the speech which has just been made by the Lord Privy Seal. It seems to me that we are having too much in the way of bombastic talk. I listened, last night, to the Minister of Information, and I was really horrified at his bombastic tone. I believe the people of this country want less talk and more action. There was a phrase in connec- tion with the South African war about "Stop killing Kruger with your mouth." It seems to me that there has been far too much killing of both Hitler and Mussolini with our mouths. I would suggest that there is a certain strength in silence, and that until we are ready to act strongly we had better talk less loudly.

4.18 p.m.

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With regard to the naval action off the coast of Norway, I entirely appreciate that at the present time it is not possible for the Lord Privy Seal to give a detailed account of what has occurred. But, in view of the German reports which have appeared in the Press, can he say whether these reports are substantially correct or not, because there is, in the German accounts, ground for serious concern for people in this country? Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether he will be able to make a detailed statement at an early date in regard to this naval action which has ended disastrously for us?

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Has the Lord Privy Seal any information concerning the statement made, this morning, in the "Times," that the Italian Royal family vigorously opposed the war, and that Signor Mussolini threatened to depose the King?

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I am afraid we cannot expect an answer on that point.

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I really do not expect the Lord Privy Seal to give me a reply, but I would ask him to give this matter consideration and to bear it in mind. The Emperor of Ethiopia is in this country. Will the Government be good enough to consider the possibility of facilitating His Majesty's return to his dominions?

4.19 p.m.

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In view of the observations which have come from some other parts of the House, may I ask for an assurance that the Government are not going to be on the defensive in regard to Italy, but that they are going to attack Italy? If we adopt the policy of being on the defensive, as seems to be suggested in some parts of the House, we shall find that Spain will, in a very short time, come in. I ask for an assurance that we are going to attack Italy, and not be on the defensive.

4.20 p.m.

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I think that the House will agree with me that most of these questions do not really require on answer to-day. The House will not expect me to make a statement as to what our plans are. I would say, in answer to the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson), that I thought that in my statement I made a clear distinction between the Italian people and Signor Mussolini. I am not aware that I was bombastic. I stated our determination. In regard to the other questions, obviously, I have not had notice of them, but the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. South by) will realise that I said I had given all the information I had at my disposal. Therefore, there is nothing I can add, but I am sure that the First Lord of the Admiralty will give any additional information as soon as possible.

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I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.