§ 5.15 p.m.
had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether they can give an assurance that no pressure will be exercised to induce Poles who have served with the Allied Forces to return to Poland, that they will be left free to exercise their own judgment; and that His Majesty's Government will not derogate from the assurance given to those who do not choose to return that "if everything else fails, here are open the portals of the British Empire"; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in case I forget it a little later on I beg to move the Motion standing on the Paper in my name. In addressing myself to this Motion, I will seek to disarm the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, by saying that references I may make to statements by the Foreign Secretary, in another place, will probably include also mention of published documents that he 522 issued. I think that that is always permissible.
I think, my Lords, that I had better recall to your memory the facts as I understand them, and I may mention that this matter has been the subject of correspondence between the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, and myself before these facts came fully to light. On the 20th of last month, the Foreign Secretary made a statement in another place. He informed Parliament that His Majesty's Government had reached an agreement with the Polish Provisional Government as to the conditions on which the members of the Polish Forces in the employ of His Majesty might now return to Poland. He added that no sooner had that agreement been reached than, as I may put it, the Polish Government threw a spanner into the works with a fresh announcement. But after some further discussion the Polish Provisional Government stated that their new statement did not affect the conditions provisionally agreed upon. He therefore addressed a letter to every member of the Polish forces in the service of His Majesty recommending to the members of those forces acceptance of the offer of the Polish Provisional Government, and a copy of the offer accompanied his letter. He stated in Parliament and to all those soldiers, sailors and airmen, that while His Majesty's Government would be willing to give every assistance in their power to those who did not want to accept the offer to start a new life outside Poland, yet he could give no guarantee to these men that they would find a place within the British Empire. He added that he had obtained an undertaking from Polish officers that they would put no pressure upon their men to influence them to return. He also stated that the fair and proper treatment of these men on their return to Poland would very largely determine the relationship between the two countries. Finally, in the course of the debate, he urged members of the other side not to encourage members of the Polish Forces to decline the offer which he had conveyed to them.
The offer of the Polish Provisional Government that accompanied his letter was contained in a document which had no 523 signature attached to it, and I understand—I have a copy of it here if the noble Lord would like to see it—that the Polish Government in a broadcast on the 23rd of last month denied the authenticity of that offer. Moreover, if a letter which appeared in The Times of March 25 is to be trusted, that offer contained grammatical errors and errors in syntax in Polish which would lead naturally to the belief that it was a translation into Polish from some other language than Polish. It was not a question of spelling mistakes but there were errors in translation. Moreover, there was a broadcast of an interview by the Polish Foreign Secretary Mr. Rzymowski, in which he said, among other things, that the British Foreign Secretary had no power or right to exercise protection over Polish subjects in Poland. Those are the facts, as I understand them, and I have tried to state them plainly and fairly to your Lordships. Most of them are contained in published documents.
One of the first things I really would like to ask His Majesty's Government is, can they give us some further information as to the origin of this document, this offer that was sent to members of the Polish Forces? The Polish Government has broadcast an explanation of this which I am bound to say leaves me more puzzled than I was before. Therefore I shall not give it to your Lordships, but this will be amongst the Papers I am moving for. My main observation refers to a question asked by Mr. Eden in Parliament—with great deference to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—to which, so far as I can see, no answer has yet been given. He asked for an assurance that no pressure would be put on the members of the Polish Forces one way or another, and that they would be left with an unfettered decision. Your Lordships will readily understand that if His Majesty's Government removes all pressure on one side, and then applies overwhelming pressure on the other side, even if the noble Lords take exception to my use of the word "compulsion," a strong measure of propulsion may very easily exist.
His Majesty's Government commenced by obtaining an assurance from Polish officers that they would not seek to influence their men to refuse the offer of the Polish Government which the Foreign Secretary conveyed. Now, my Lords, these men are in a foreign country. They 524 are amongst folk who speak a different language, who think different thoughts; and if they want to obtain advice on any matter from men of wider experience and clearer vision, the only people they can have recourse to are their officers. And to that extent, on the statement of the Foreign Secretary, without any further explanation, it looks as if the freedom of advice had been to some extent fettered. The Foreign Secretary said, and said quite clearly, that he could offer no guarantee to these men—and they are not very many—that there would be a place found for all of them in the British Empire. I have seen a document that was circulated by the Polish authorities to some of their men. One paragraph in it reads like this:You are again being urged to return to Poland and given a period of several weeks in which to make up your minds. As the British Foreign Secretary has emphasized, your future, if you do not accept this second option, is obscure.Now the authorities may have received their instructions, but it seems to me that the British Government, having tried to influence these men one way, cannot escape responsibility for that kind of language. Your Lordships will observe that it assumes that the recipient will not want to go back to Poland, and it goes even beyond what the Foreign Secretary said in Parliament: "your future" will be "obscure."
I do not want to give your Lordships a lot of instances, but I will cite the case of one Polish gentleman of my acquaintance. He lived in the part of Poland which is now Russia. He fought the Germans in Warsaw, and was through all that fighting; with great difficulty, and bearing an important mission, he managed to get to this country. He served through the whole of the war until nearly the end, when his health broke down, and he obtained a position with a firm, a British firm, for which he had been working before the war. When the Russians broke into his country they carried off the whole of his family to a camp in Southern Mongolia, and after the Russians became our Allies, these people were ascertained to have died—they are definitely dead—in the camp, which contained 18,000 Poles.
This gentleman received an order to proceed to a camp in the North of Scotland. You will observe that that meant 525 abandoning his business, and giving up his lodging. There is one thing I would like to say on that. The camp where he was ordered to go is, on the whole, a fairly comfortable camp, but I understand that the camp at Elie needs very careful investigation, and I would be glad if His Majesty's Government would give some attention to that. This man is suffering from three different complaints. They are very serious complaints, and it is quite impossible for him to travel. He is only able to work occasionally. I have here copies of the medical certificates that were sent to the authorities to explain why he could not travel, and anybody must realize he could not possibly travel. He sent that certificate and stayed where he was. The most recent development in that case is that a new form of pressure appears to be exercised, because he has not received his ration card in the normal course, and now he is without a ration card. I know there are other Poles in the same position. In addition to all this, His Majesty's Government have appealed to Members of Parliament not to encourage Poles not to return. I would like to say here that I have scrupulously observed my loyalty to the Foreign Secretary in that matter, and have not given any advice at all, one way or another.
Finally, His Majesty's Government said in the letter they sent to the men that the fair and proper treatment of these men on their return to Poland would to a large extent determine the future relations between Britain and Poland. To this the Polish Foreign Minister replies that His Majesty's Government have no standing to protect Polish subjects in Poland, and I am going to say that His Majesty's Government here entirely agree with the Polish Foreign Minister on that point. On the 19th of last month my noble friend the Earl of Craven asked His Majesty's Government if they could give any information as to the fate of four men, refugees, who landed at Leith and were sent back to Poland. He asked what had happened to them since. I was in the House when the noble Lord, Lord Ammon, replied. Although I was not sitting in front of him, I observed him very closely, and nothing but his own express assurance will convince me that he did not loathe from the bottom of his soul the answer which, he was compelled to give to that question, because 526 he said His Majesty's Government had made no inquiry, and would make no inquiry, as that was a matter for the Polish Government themselves.
Those people had come to our shores and asked for refuge. It is the first time to my knowledge that refuge has been denied in our country to any refugee, yet once they were sent back and had gone to Poland, I am perfectly convinced that the answer given by His Majesty's Government was perfectly correct. If that is so on March 19, then it is equally so on March 20. You cannot change overnight the principle on which foreign affairs are conducted. I am perfectly certain that His Majesty's Government would not assume such an avuncular role towards ignorant men in a matter of this kind, and proceed to persuade them that something is the case which is not. I am sure there must be some explanation. That would apply even although they owed them no debt. But on every occasion when the Polish Forces are mentioned, whatever member of His Majesty's Government is speaking, he pays a very well deserved tribute to their services to us in the war, and I am sure every member of His Majesty's Government and every noble Lord in this House would agree it would be a very wrong thing to persuade people to whom we were so deeply indebted that we could exercise on their behalf powers which we did not possess. I am mentioning that point in the hope of receiving an answer, because I am sure every noble Lord opposite will agree that the position looks rather awkward. I am perfectly certain that it was not intended the way it appears to me, and I should like an explanation.
However that may be, I think I have said enough to establish that in a great variety of ways His Majesty's Government are putting very severe pressure upon the members of the Polish Forces to make in this matter the decision which they desire, and that they have taken some trouble to remove counsel on the other side. It may be said, as I quite recognize, that a recommendation is not a guarantee, and that, whatever happens to these men, if they accept this recommendation, and if they yield to this pressure that is being put upon them, it may be said that after all that closes the matter. But turn the pages of history 527 fifty years forward and look back to the difference between the pressure now being exercised and the recommendation made by His Majesty's Government and a guarantee for the security of these men when they return. It is very largely the same as with the colours green and red. The contrast between them disappears in the distance. I would like to remind His Majesty's Government that if they take the course which they appear to be adopting at this moment the considerations which have moved them to that course will also have faded very much, and seem very much less vital.
The repudiation by the Polish Government of the document which was circulated (the broadcast, I take it, was true), and the various other factors which seem to cast doubt upon it, make me feel quite certain that one of two things must have happened. Either His Majesty's Government have been deceived—I do not say intentionally deceived; I am careful about that—or else, in their anxiety to rid themselves of a great embarrassment, they may have believed that they had received assurances which perhaps in fact they had not completely received. But, in any case, it is perfectly clear, as far as I can see, that His Majesty's Government are in a false position. I suggest that the facts I have mentioned, and the undoubted inferences from them, do give them a chance to re-orientate themselves with regard to this question.
My own view has always been—as I have already said I took up this question with the noble Viscount, Lord Addison, when the Foreign Secretary made his statement—that His Majesty's Government should act as a simple messenger. After all, that commits them to nothing. It is the only course that does commit them to nothing. If these men return to Poland they are beyond your responsibility. You cannot exercise protection, and you will not be called upon to do so. But, unless that is done, what will happen? Some of these men will return to Poland, and they may or may not be well received. That we do not know, although we may have our own opinion. Supposing they do not, things being in their present state, some of them may go to Chile, and some to Brazil, and, if they go there, they will do what commonly happens in these countries. They will form a little colony, and I have not 528 the smallest doubt that, with the qualities they possess, they will prosper there. Surely it is folly to expel these men in that way, carrying away these memories to hand on to their children, and make yet another spot on the face of the earth where the name of Britain will be for ever odious. For the memory of that will not die or fade in fifty years, nor one hundred years, nor one hundred and fifty years. These men have been promised British citizenship. I am not going to make any distinction between a Parliamentary undertaking and a promise. They were promised British citizenship on March 14 of last year, and that fact was acknowledged by His Majesty's Government at a later date in a debate in another place.
At the beginning of the war, when the resistance of Poland was vital to us, we made many promises to Poland, indeed anything to get them to stiffen their resistance, and help to give us the time needed to draw our sword. These promises have not been fulfilled. It is perfectly fair to say that every Pole I have talked to on the subject says, "We realize that you cannot fulfil them." But this promise of British citizenship is a promise that we can fulfil, and if we fail to fulfil that promise, that failure will infect every promise that we have made to the Poles, and it will then be clearly seen that our failure to keep our word was a defect not of power but of will. A very great Englishman (I do not know if he ever existed, but he was a very great Englishman), Shakespeare's Henry V, said before a battle:For he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother;Be he ne'er so tile, this day shall gentle his condition.That was said for a single battle on a single day of war. These men have been with us for nearly seven years. They have been our staunchest comrades on many a stricken field. They are the men who, in spite of fearful losses, took Cassino, and held it, and opened for us the path to Rome. Had they not done that, the British casualties might very well have been increased by 150,000, the number, roughly, of the Poles to-day, whom I think ought to be offered British citizenship. Is it too much to ask His Majesty's Government to remove the pressure which I am sure is being placed upon them; to re-address themselves to the problem, and, 529 in the words of my own Motion, to assure them, in the words of Mr. Winston Churchill, that "if everything else fails, here are open the portals of the British Empire"? I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CRAVEN
My Lords, as this is my maiden speech and I am a novice in the arts practised in your Lordships' House, I wilt endeavour to be brief, and beg to claim your indulgence. I speak only in the interests of justice. If Great Britain is to remain great, she must keep her honour and her word. The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has spoken in those interests. I reiterate all that he has so very ably said and I wish also to bring to your Lordships' notice several other points that deeply concern this problem. I have no wish to embarrass His Majesty's Government, but while there is still time let us honour our agreement. Let us leave the choice of nationality to the Poles themselves. It is their business. A lot of them have found peace and happiness under our flag. A lot of them wish to remain there. Surely the Poles are the people who know most about their own country. I myself have many Polish friends and have talked to Poles who have come under our protection from almost every quarter of Europe and of Asia. I have come to like them; they are very fine people. I feel quite strongly that they have been very definitely ill-treated by fate in the past and it looks as though it will be the same in the future. The provisional Polish Government thinks in Russian and the biggest illustration of this is to be seen at the U.N.O. conference.
The majority of Poles who do not wish to return to Poland are Poles who at some time or other have been in Russian hands. Those who are going back to Poland are Poles who have never been near the Russians; they have fallen straight into Allied hands as our Armies advanced through France, Germany or wherever they were. They held posts in the high organization of the Germany Army. I have heard it mentioned by certain people that Poland may put the stigma borne by the German people on these Poles. Whether this will happen I do not know. History will reveal that. I would be pleased if His Majesty's Government would tell us if a record has been kept of all those Poles to be repatriated. There have been some cases 530 of British girls, some of them Scottish—I once met one—who have tried over and over again to get into touch with their husbands but they cannot find out anything about them. Is there any possible way to help these people? I am just as much concerned about them as probably any of your Lordships here. I am sure you will be very much interested to know what happens to those girls. There are many other reasons why such large numbers of very brave men are asking questions about their country as it stands to-day, though they do not wish to return to it. Some have homes and children there. Some of the reasons are good and some are bad. It is the good reasons in which I wish to interest your Lordships at the moment.
I ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government, if they have been able to get from the Polish Provisional Government any satisfactory answer as to what is going to happen to those men after they return. As the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, has pointed out, in another place it was said that it has not been possible to obtain this. We do not know what the Polish Government is going to do. The Polish Security Police under Russian control, direct or indirect, is still rife throughout Poland and is being used as a political weapon. This can be illustrated by a statement issued by the American Secretary of State on January 31 of this year. I will read Mr. Byrnes's statement to your Lordships:In view of these responsibilities assumed by the United States Government at Yalta and Potsdam, looking to the establishment of a democratic representative Government in Poland, this Government must necessarily follow closely Polish political developments. The greatest importance is attached to the fulfilment of Poland's election commitments and the American Ambassador has on several occasions brought to the attention of the Polish Government the fact that activities of the Security Police hinder fulfilment of this commitment.I have, therefore, requested the American Embassy in Warsaw to inform the Polish Government that we are relying on the Government to take the necessary steps to assure the freedom and security which are essential to successful holding of free elections.Members of your Lordships' House will have read of the conditions prevailing in Poland to-day. They have been referred to in a debate which took place in another place on December 7, 1945. These conditions prevail over most of Occupied 531 Europe and it is hard to understand any reason existing which can allow such untrammelled brutality and pagan violence to stalk abroad at will over the fair face of Europe. Time does not allow me to go into details on this subject in this debate, because it is an extremely long one. Were I to do so, your Lordships might be shocked at what is taking place. I would also like to mention Major Tufton Beamish's articles which were published in the Daily Telegraph during the last week of February, after he returned from Poland. He was a member of the Parliamentary delegation sent to that country and he knows a lot about it.
The British Empire has always stood for freedom, so how can it now countenance oppression? It is the plight of Poland which first made us take up arms to preserve the four freedoms. If there is a man who doubts the valiant work performed by the Poles during this last and greatest of wars, in this country or wherever they fought, I suggest that he read what Professor Savory said in a speech he made in another place on February 20, 1946. It is an extremely good speech in which mention is made of Cassino. Another member of your Lordships' House has vouched for the magnificent fighting qualities of the Poles. I for one sincerely hope that we shall see detachments of the Polish Forces marching side by side in step with our own brave fighting men in the forthcoming Victory Parade. I think it is our duty to give them a place of honour among our own men: There have been some Polish comments on the leaflet the men have received from the British Government urging them to return home and I thought it might interest your Lordships to hear just one or two of them. "Why this talk of a general amnesty?" they ask. "What have we done that is wrong?" Another one is: "Why has the leaflet not been signed by the Warsaw Government?" Again, they ask: "Why is it in pigeon Polish?" (as Lord Saltoun pointed out.) Is it not irregular and most highly undesirable that the British Government should promulgate a leaflet which is so open to the criticism of foreign nationals? In the past this country has benefited by the absorption of colonies of foreigners; for instance, the German miners who have 532 gone up north and the Dutch and Flemish who have gone into the wool trade.
You would hardly know that they had come into the country; yet they are still here and they have been extremely helpful to the industrial build-up in this country as a whole throughout a long period of time. I suggest also that Italy could be invited to take over some of the Poles of General Anders' Army. I believe it has been expressed in several places that they are willing to do this. Again, could not France be asked or invited to succour some Poles who wish to go to her? I believe it was put forward—in fact, I know it was put forward in the Daily Telegraph this morning—that France is only too willing to take these men; that they are in need of the labour and the brains to set up their towns and industries again after the frightful mauling they have gone through.
I wonder if it is possible for His Majesty's Government to tell us whether these points have been gone into very carefully and thoroughly examined? I ask whether consideration has been given to placing the problem of the repatriation of the Poles before the United Nations Council which is now in America, with the idea in mind that the United Nations Council forms an organization for looking after the repatriated Poles who are now in Poland or who are going there. Great Britain is powerless to aid the Poles once they have been repatriated—that is obvious to everybody and nobody can dispute it. It can only be accomplished by the joint action of all nations. The time has come to take our heads out of the sand and face the problems of Europe as they really exist to-day. If we do not do it now we may find ourselves too late to do so in the future. The Poles are not the only foreigners living within our protection and under our flag, and I suggest to your Lordships that in the future it may come about—in fact it has already started to come about—that other foreigners will all the time be coming under our protection from parts of Europe which we consider to be oppressed. I most certainly consider them oppressed from all I have heard. I ask His Majesty's Government what action has been taken to get over this other problem.
§ 5.54 p.m.
THE EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE
My Lords, I am sure your 533 Lordships will wish me to follow usual custom in offering to the noble Earl who has just sat down the hearty congratulations of your Lordships on the first time that he has addressed the House. I am certain that we have all been impressed by the thoughtfulness and the courage of his speech. Personally I should like co add another word of thanks to him for having taken the opportunity of a maiden speech to address himself to a very important topic and to pay a tribute to that gallant nation of Poland. I cannot help casting my mind back to a similar situation in which I found myself many years ago, soon after I came back from active service in France after the last war, and when I, with great temerity, addressed your Lordships for the first time. Following me, the House was addressed by the noble Viscount who then sat on the Woolsack, and he started his speech with these words: "If the noble Lord who has just sat down had thought for a moment, he would not have said what he has said.' I do feel to-day, however, very forcefully, that the noble Earl who has made this contribution to the debate has served a very great public duty and has done it well.
I should like also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, for having brought this subject before your Lordships. He, with the Earl of Craven, has covered the ground extremely well. I think the three points they have brought out are these: that we require more facts; that the future of these men is obscure; and that by the recent action of His Majesty's Government pressure has been brought to bear upon them in making their choice. In December, 1942, I had the honour to submit to you a Motion in respect of Poland and of her great contribution to the war effort, and of the pledges which we had given to her. On that occasion your Lordships did me the honour and distinction of accepting my Motion and agreeing to it without any contradiction. The noble Earl, Lord Selborne, who replied on that occasion to the debate on behalf of His Majesty's Government, concluded his speech in these words:All our pledges to Poland to which the noble Earl referred will be honoured. Great Britain drew the sword to fulfil the first pledge that we gave to Poland. We shall not sheathe our sword until the last pledge has been fulfilledA great deal has happened since then. A great many negotiations have taken 534 place, and I should like to pay a high tribute to the earnest and solid endeavour of the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bevin. But in spite of these endeavours and the results which they have achieved, there still remains in the minds of many of us—and it has been said by the two noble Lords who have just addressed your Lordships that it is in the minds of the people of this country—a doubt that all is not well and that further effort is required. I am glad, therefore, to have this opportunity of supporting the Motion of my noble friend in which he has expressed, I think in moderate terms, the desire for an assurance that no pressure will be exercised to induce these gallant men who have served with us in almost every theatre of the war to return to Poland, except of their own free will.
I do not wish this to be interpreted as an indication that I, for one, desire to encourage any Pole not to return. My dearest wish, and I believe it is shared by all your Lordships, is that all these men who have shown such gallantry and heroism in the field of battle should return and help in the rebuilding of the land which they love so well. But I think very few of us in this country realize what the Poles have suffered. First, at the hands of the Germans, the population since 1939 has been reduced by approximately 10,000,000. In the same period the losses at the hands of Russia are no less severe: 1,500,000 have been deported to Russia. The Soviet have claimed nearly half the territory which was Poland when the war started, and has included in her citizenship, therefore, about one-third of the then population of Poland. Thus, even with the addition of Danzig and Eastern Prussia, Poland is smaller now than she was before the war.
To illustrate, if I may, by a homely parallel, the difficulties which confront these men, I would put a question to your Lordships. How do you think Lord Saltoun and I would view the removal of the border line between England and Scotland from where it is now to the line of the Forth and Clyde? That is apparently approximately the same as the change-over which Poland has to face. I think you will agree with me that neither Lord Saltoun nor myself would receive that suggestion with open arms, even if it were accompanied by the offer of part 535 of Northern Ireland with the port of Belfast.
To return to the serious situation. I have had the honour of being President of the Scottish-Polish Society ever since it was started at the beginning of the war. The society was started to promote friendship between the two countries and to promote cultural relations after the war. Your Lordships will understand that that society has given very careful thought to this subject which we have before us to-day and its bearing on the present situation. A number of communications have passed between the society and the Foreign Office during the past two years in which the society has endeavoured to point out the anxiety of its members in regard to the pitiful plight of Poland and the possible danger which this condition may cause to the peace of the world. We have tried to stress the urgent need for united action on recreating a free and unfettered republic in Poland, and to this end we feel that the British nation has an obligation to do everything in Sts power to ensure a free and secret ballot, and especially a duty to see that the members of the Polish Forces who served with us, and under British command, shall have the full right to record their votes and exercise their free judgment.
I have no wish to embarrass His Majesty's Government any more than either of the previous speakers. Indeed, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, I am deeply sensible of, and grateful for, the courageous action which has been taken by the Foreign Secretary. But I should be wrong if I allowed anyone to imagine that I thought all was well, or that by the covering note issued by His Majesty's Government to the Polish troops we fully redeemed the pledge given by Lord Selborne in the name of the Government in 1942. I fully realize and acknowledge that it is difficult to get authentic information. That is our chief difficulty.
In conclusion, may I quote a resolution adopted unanimously at a special general meeting of the Scottish-Polish Society held in Edinburgh on Friday of last week? It was resolved:To obtain and publish all possible authentic information regarding the tragic conditions in Poland and, if possible, to arrange to send a Committee under the auspices of His Majesty's Government to visit 536 Poland; to continue to represent to his Majesty's Government that on grounds of international justice and humanity it is vital that immediate steps be taken to terminate the Police State at present existing in Poland; that in confirmation of the resolve taken by the society in September, 945, we shall make public our intention to support every effort towards the re-establishment of the sovereignty of the Republic of Poland, and that the peoples of Poland must be given immediate facilities for expressing their desires regarding a future Government by means of an election of representatives nominated by the citizens of Poland, free from pressure and outside influence.I have tried to sum up our feelings that more facts and information are required and that we require from the Government a further statement, as asked for by the two previous speakers, showing more clearly what was in the mind of the Government when this circular was issued to the Polish troops, and whether they cannot see their way to continue the pledge, given in the name of the country, of British citizenship.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, without following the noble Earl who has just spoken over a very wide field which he tended to cover in the latter part of his speech, I would like to re-enforce the much more limited plea which was made by the mover of this Motion for precise information and precise assurances on a very specific question. In doing so, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl on a very sincere, sympathetic and informed maiden speech. I am very glad that this Motion has been put down by my noble friend, because I think some rather disquieting things have happened—I am sure the Secretary of State will agree—since the Foreign Secretary made his statement in another place and circulated his own statement and its Polish enclosure to the Polish troops. The Secretary of State himself obviously felt some anxiety because in the statement he made on March 20 he said that to his great surprise and regret agreements had hardly been reached upon the text of these documents when the Polish Provisional Government addressed to His Majesty's Government and published a Note in which they declared that they could no longer regard the units of the Polish Armed Forces under British Command as forming part of the Armed Forces of Poland, and asked that those units should be disbanded forthwith, stating that the 537 men who wished to return should make individual application to the Polish Consulates abroad. He went on to say that that Note had since been fully discussed with the Polish Provisional Government, and he had received assurances from them that it did not affect the conditions set out in the document which was being issued to the troops. Obviously, the Secretary of State was naturally disconcerted by this half disavowal, or what looked like it, by the Polish Provisional Government.
What I think has exercised all of us is the action taken by the Provisional Government in Poland immediately after the Secretary of State made his plain and clear statement in Parliament. I have only the reports from the Press, but the noble Lord, no doubt, with direct information from the Embassy in Poland, will be able to confirm whether these reports are correct. According to the newspaper reports, which are very specific, there have been a series of broadcasts. On March 21—that is, the very day after the statement made in another place by the Secretary of State—there was a broadcast (which was, I think, fairly summarized in the Press, I read it in the Sunday Times) taking the Foreign Secretary to ask for "presuming to take upon himself to protect Poles in Poland." That was based, apparently, on the very natural and proper statement made by the Foreign Secretary that His Majesty's Government could not disinterest themselves in the future of these. Poles once they got back to Poland. If I may say so, that was a very right and proper statement, although I agree that one has to be extremely careful in making a statement like that to see that you are not giving, or appearing to give, to the people you are addressing a guarantee which it is not within your power to carry out.
That was followed on the following day, March 22, according to the Press, by a further broadcast which denied that the Polish Government had made the statement which was issued in its name. That is the statement which has been referred to in this debate, and which is headed "A Statement by the Polish Provisional Government." What I think we ought to know is what is the authority of that statement. I think we had all assumed when it was published in Hansard that of course it was a statement—and it may 538 be it is so—supplied to His Majesty's Government by the Polish Government, and issued with the full authority of the Polish Government, as would be a statement issued by the Secretary of State in this country as far as this. Government was concerned. We really ought to know, because it is entirely upon that statement that the undertakings rest. It does seem a very curious thing that the Polish Government should apparently draw attention to the fact that it is not signed by anybody, and cast doubts upon the Polish Government's authority to issue that statement, although they admit, I am sure, that a number of the things in it are undertakings which they have given from time to time. Surely it is vitally important, when something upon which the whole life and future of these people depend is issued to them, that it should be issued with the absolutely full and unqualified authority and undertaking of the Polish Government.
I am sure that the Government are as anxious as we are to discharge our duty in full to these Poles who have so gallantly served in the Army, Navy and Air Force. They have an absolutely wonderful fighting record, as the Secretary of State in another place said when he paid a very great tribute to them. I observe that the Minister of State, Mr. Noel-Baker, speaking at an U.N.R.R.A. session in America recently, said:The British authorities would not think it wise to close their camps if it meant a pressure on people to return to countries to which they did not wish to return.He was speaking of the Poles. Now I am sure the Government do not mean to put pressure upon these Polish soldiers. I think we all agree that if they can return to Poland under decent conditions they will perhaps be the greatest asset that Poland could have. I am certainly going to be most careful not to say a word which would deter them from giving their services where their services are most needed, in the reconstruction of their own country, but these men themselves, these. Poles, know the conditions in Poland and are able to appraise them far better than we can. It is their fate and their future which is at stake. Their choice should be absolutely free, and not only should that choice be free in fact, but His Majesty's Government should make it abundantly plain to them that that choice is free.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate and I am sure your Lordships will excuse me if I do not cover quite all the very wide ground which the noble Earl went over. Questions of policy are always most interesting, but it is clear that we cannot discuss general policy in this debate. It is a concise and limited Motion that has been made and I will do my best to answer that. As regards the individual case which the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, mentioned, if he can give me some details I will have it looked into. I should imagine the noble Earl's inquiries about the Scottish women who married Poles will be looked into by the Foreign Office and the Ambassador to Poland and they will be glad to help. I will, however, refer again to the noble Earl's extremely attractive maiden speech later.
I will ask you to treat this not as a political issue but as a practical problem of some moment. Some of these Poles came from France in the early days of the war; some were taken as prisoners to Russia and after the Russians came into the war against Germany they came to us through Persia and were organized in military formations under General Anders. Some came over to us during the fighting in Italy and on the Western fronts. I as an old member of the Royal Air Force and now Secretary of State have nothing but the warmest tributes to pay to their gallantry from the time of the Battle of Britain onwards. During the Battle of Britain I sat once in the control tower of an aerodrome in the north of England and saw a Polish squadron go out with twelve machines. They came back about thirty minutes later doing a victory roll but with only eleven machines. I should be the very last to deny the gallantry of these people. We know they have adopted our ways and worked with us and if we could find a means to keep some of them we should be very very pleased.
Here they are in this country and in Italy, this fine and gallant band, and what are we going to do with them. I want to beg noble Lords not to do anything to dissuade these people from going back to their own country by suggesting sinister possibilities. I think that would render them a very poor service. Some people have talked as if you could 540 order Australia and order Canada to take them, but you cannot do that These are independent countries though they regard the problem as sympathetically as we do ourselves. What we have done is this. We first of all urged these people that it is their duty to play their part in the reconstruction of their country, because we believe they are wanted in Poland and there is a future for them in Poland. Mr. Bevin got an authorized statement giving the conditions. I do not know whether your Lordships have read this but it gives a great many answers to the questions which have been asked. It deals with pensions, demobilization, settlement of land and a great many other things, and I do not think anyone would suggest that this statement—it may be in bad Polish because it may be it is difficult to get things translated easily—is a bogus statement. I do not think anybody will suggest this.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
Could the Secretary of State say who drew it up? Was it prepared by the Polish Government or was it prepared by us?
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
It was a statement of what will happen to these men if they go back to Poland. It is published under the authority of the British Government with the agreement of the Polish Government. I have seen reports of recent broadcasts from Warsaw, but I have not seen anything in them which can be considered to undermine or invalidate the statements about the conditions of return that were made in this published document. Nevertheless, there may be some Poles who feel they cannot go back to Poland for one reason or another. I think I am allowed to quote Ministerial statements and in this connexion Mr. Eden said:Is it still the fact that the men who want to go back will be given every facility and those who do not want to go back will have no pressure put upon them?That is exactly the same question as was asked by Lord Saltoun. He went on to ask whether His Majesty's Government would try to find another way of life for them within the British Empire. That I think really set out precisely the two points that were made by Lord Saltoun. And the answer of the Foreign Secretary was, "I think that correctly states the position." I do not think that I need go beyond that.
541 When it comes to working out a means of employing those who decide to remain, whilst it is quite clear that no guarantees can be given, I must say that I was very much moved by what the noble Earl said about profiting by their presence here. We have had examples of that in our past history—as for instance in the case of the Huguenots. And I, myself, well remember how in the "nineties" we derived an enormous industrial advantage out of the flood of aliens that then came over here. But that is another topic, and all I will say is that I entirely agree that the noble Earl's was a really true and sound Liberal sentiment. I hope that the noble Lords who have raised individual points will do me the favour of letting me have particulars so that I may have search made, and that otherwise your Lordships will be satisfied with what I know amounts to no more than a repetition of the assurances given already by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
§ 6.22 p.m.
My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said, but there are two points upon which I would have liked him to be more precise. One arises out of the fact that, immediately this document was issued, Poles were ordered to proceed from points all over the country to certain camps—I will not call them concentration camps—and to remain there two or three weeks to consider the offer. That, I submit, does amount to pressure. The other point comes up in this connexion. I know that one Pole—and I am told that there are a very large number of others in the same position—has not received a proper issue of ration cards. That is a very serious matter. You cannot allow it to go all over Europe and the world that the British Government—and it will be the British Government who will be accused whoever is in fact responsible—took that course with men whose services were what the noble Lord has so beautifully described. I would like to withdraw my Motion, but I would ask the noble Viscount, if he would be so kind, to say that he will try his best to have some action taken in these particular matters. You cannot go without bread.
§ VISCOUNT STANSGATE
If the noble Lord will give me details of the allegation, I will have them carefully examined and will ascertain the facts. If the facts do not 542 support the allegations I hope that the noble Lord will give the same publicity to those facts as he has given to his well-founded fears.
My Lords, I shall be very happy to do so. I thank the noble Viscount very much for what he has said and in the circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.