The Netherlands Government in London
THE NETHERLANDS GOVERNMENT IN LONDON CONSISTS of a complete Cabinet of Ministers and departments of State which, with the exception of those dealing with purely internal affairs in the Netherlands proper, function as fully and freely as they did in The Hague prior to the fateful week in 1940 when their country was overrun. The Sovereign is in London, where, in the person of the Queen, her Majesty exercises the Royal prerogative in accordance with the Constitution of the Netherlands, and deliberates with her Ministers. The Queen is assisted in her deliberations by advisers of wide experience.
With the exception of those departments of State which, in the very nature of things, can only function on Dutch soil in Holland, all the departments are staffed by Dutch officials.
This is not a mere de jure government, nor are
the officials a scratch team of expatriates appointed locally as a result of necessity.
When the Queen, on the advice of her Ministers, decided to govern free Netherlands territory from British soil for the period of the occupation, it was decided that the entire Cabinet would accompany her. Accordingly, this happened, and several senior permanent Dutch civil servants were also instructed to journey to England. Moreover, the Dutch empire is fortunate in having a civil service which bears comparison with any in the world, while the Netherlands diplomatic service is also richly endowed with talent. As a result of these happy circumstances, the Government have been able to secure the services of men of mature experience and have been able to form a strong executive fully qualified to deal with the new and complex problems which need to be solved in wartime.
The Colonial, Foreign Affairs, Defence and Finance Ministries have the most arduous duties to perform since they have to deal with current affairs and conduct international negotiations of the greatest delicacy and considerable magnitude. But other Ministers are not idle. The Queen's Government continues to govern the Empire from London, to control the Royal Navy and merchant fleet, to conduct diplomatic business with other
governments, to study and protect the interests of Netherlands subjects overseas, to administer worldwide financial interests, to build up a new Dutch army, to arrange for the training of Dutch airmen, to purchase armaments for the defence of Dutch territories overseas and, generally, perform all those normal functions of government, except, as mentioned, those of a purely internal character, which are associated with the modern State.
When the Germans invaded the Netherlands Jonkheer de Geer was Prime Minister. Advanced years did not deter him from what was his plain duty, a duty which was felt in equal measure by all of his colleagues. Jonkheer de Geer, for the very reason of his advanced age and poor health, retired from the Premiership in September 1940 and was succeeded by Professor P. S. Gerbrandy, who was Minister of Justice in his administration. His subsequent conduct showed that the burden of a wartime premiership had been beyond his capacity.
The present Prime Minister is a man of remarkably high character, in true descent from the early Dutch Calvinists who resent injustice strongly and whose Christianity is a living faith on which they base their entire code of living. Professor Gerbrandy is not as well known to the world at large
Professor P. S. Gerbrandy, Prime Minister of The Netherlands
as are the Prime Ministers of other Allied nations. But that is the Dutch way. Advertisement and self-advancement do not as a rule enter into the Dutch scheme of things and that type of press publicity which a certain type of public man in almost every country welcomes, is abhorrent to men of the Gerbrandy stamp.
The Prime Minister is of Frisian stock, and imbued with the same sturdy spirit which led Holland to victory in the Eighty Years war against Spain. For ten years Professor Gerbrandy occupied a chair at the Calvinist University in Amsterdam. In the cabinet of national unity which Jonkheer de Geer formed in August 1939, he was Minister of Justice, and when the strain of the war became too much for Mr. de Geer, Professor Gerbrandy was called upon to fill the high office.
The Netherlands Government is a Coalition which represents the entire electorate. The Coalition is a model of national unity, although Dr. H. Colijn is not a member and is, indeed, still in the Netherlands, where until recently he edited the Standaard, a newspaper of great traditions. The Germans, in their habitual unwisdom, have superseded this great and respected figure in Dutch public life by an insignificant Dutch journalist who has shown sympathies for the German way of thought and actions and thus has qualified for reward
from his masters. The Coalition consists of members of the Catholic, Social-Democrat, Free Democrat, Liberal, Christian-Historical, and Anti-Revolutionary parties.
It will be seen that the political picture of the Netherlands has a religious background. This has not made for frictionless working of the Parliamentary machine in the past. Because of this there were great difficulties in bringing the other parties and the Social-Democrats together. Yet this was accomplished in August 1939, when Dr. Colijn was obliged to resign owing to an adverse vote in the Second Chamber of the States-General on presenting a new Cabinet, which proved unacceptable to the Chamber.1
It was by no means a light decision for the members of the Netherlands Government to leave their homeland and their families. The Ministers decided to travel unaccompanied, in order to avoid the suspicion that reasons of personal safety determined their attitude. Most of them could not even bid their wives farewell. They left their country unknowing of the future.
A British destroyer carried them to England.
There they joined their colleagues, Dr. van Kleffens, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Mr. Welter, the Minister for the Colonies, who had left for England on the first day of the invasion for the purpose of consultation with the British Government. On Tuesday, May 14th, 1940, Queen Wilhelmina and her Ministers were in London able to carry on the task of government. The lawful government of the Netherlands functioned from British soil.
Constitutionally the issue was clear. According to the laws of the Netherlands, legislative power is vested in the Crown and Parliament. Government, however, may be exercised by Royal Decree. Since Parliament was unable to function (Seyss-Inquart lost no time in ordering its abolition), the Constitutional alternative was to legislate by decree. These decrees are published in an official Gazette issued in London. In this connection it should be observed that London is not the seat of the Government of the Netherlands. The Government exercise their powers temporarily in London. Executive power in the Netherlands was entrusted to the permanent heads of the Departments of State subject to the direction of General Winkelman, the Commander-in-Chief, who remained behind.
One of the earliest acts of the Government was
to prevent Dutch resources abroad from falling into the hands of the Germans, whether directly or otherwise. Accordingly, they declared themselves trustees of all property overseas belonging to Dutch subjects in German-occupied territory.
Mention has already been made of another initial step taken by the Government which made it possible for Dutch business concerns to transfer their domicile from the occupied territory to a free part of the Netherlands Empire. Legislation passed by the States-General prior to the invasion enabled this to be done. Hundreds of leading commercial undertakings have been able to benefit by the provisions of this special law.
Much of the Government's effort has been devoted to defence questions. Ships of the Netherlands navy succeeded in reaching British ports. Several of these have been transferred to the East Indies, but others have remained in European waters and take their share in Allied fleet operations. Dutch pilots and crews are serving with the British coastal command of the Royal Air Force; other Dutchmen are being trained with the fighter command.
The Army suffered severely in the Battle of Holland, but a number of officers and other ranks made their way to Belgium and France, whence they were evacuated to England. A special camp was
The Netherlands Cabinet in London
immediately placed at their disposal by the War Office. All male Netherlands subjects between the ages of 21 and 36 have been called upon to register, and a Netherlands Legion has been formed. The Legion is being given intensive training for the part it will have to play in the liberation of the mother-country. Its formation has been welcomed enthusiastically by Hollanders everywhere. Volunteers have come from the remotest parts of the globe. Many Dutch troops are being trained in Canada, but their training will be completed in England. The importance of defence questions in the eyes of the Netherlands Government is best illustrated, perhaps, by the fact that more than 90 per cent, of the expenditure figure in the Netherlands Budget which was approved by the Cabinet in November 1940 is earmarked for the Ministry of Defence.
Dutch shipping matters are dealt with by the Minister of Commerce, Industry and Shipping. The Netherlands mercantile marine, comprising some 2,600,000 tons, is a considerable factor in world affairs and renders invaluable service to the Allied cause. The Ministry of Shipping pays particular attention to the social welfare of Dutch seamen. The Minister, furthermore, has been especially entrusted with the task of preparing for the reconstruction of the Netherlands after the
war. In this respect one of his most important duties is the purchase of stocks of food and raw materials, to be transported to Holland when hostilities cease.
The Netherlands Government Press Service is a department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Its activities are manifold. It provides the Dutch papers in the Indies and the Afrikaans papers in South Africa with Dutch news and news of Dutch activities in the British Isles. It maintains, inter alia, a close relationship with the British, American, and Empire press. Finally, it broadcasts a short daily programme of talks and feature-programmes in Dutch which is transmitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Foreign Affairs, Defence, Colonies, Finance, Economic Affairs, the Mercantile Marine and the fishing fleet are the most important subjects which call for the unremitting attention of the Government. All form part of the Allied war effort. But these do not exhaust the catalogue. The Minister of Labour has found employment in Britain's war industries for many Dutch refugees. The Minister for Education continues to supervise Netherlands cultural institutions overseas. The Minister for Home Affairs distributes relief to distressed Dutch subjects, whether in Britain or abroad. The fishing fleet is controlled by the
Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Questions of international law and Trading with the Enemy questions are dealt with by the Minister of Justice.
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