August 20, 1945
Whatever controversy or heat or indiscretion may arise on any other part of the Debate in connection with the King's Speech, I am sure that in this case, having regard to the fact that every word one utters affects not only our own country but other countries, and further, having regard to the fluidity of the world situation and its great complexities, restraint will be exercised in this part of the Debate.
In the first place, I would like to express my appreciation of the many good wishes that have been conveyed to me from all parties in the House who are aware of the enormous task that has to be undertaken to rebuild a peaceful world. I am not unmindful of the heavy responsibility that rests upon my shoulders. In conducting the foreign policy of this country I shall always be actuated by the desire that it should be worthy of the immense sacrifices that have been made during the war.
One very important thing has occurred during this great struggle. A close union has been forged, hammered on the anvil of necessity, between the Chiefs of Staff of the Armies, Air Forces and Navies of the great Allies who have had to fight this war. This has, indeed, represented a tremendous comradeship. It should always be remembered, however, that though they represent the Forces of the country these people never really want war, but they have done their duty, and achieved this close co-operation in order to bring about final victory. They and the ordinary people of the world, will be watching us to see that we do not throw away the unity that has been established, or fail to build a peaceful world on their magnificent achievements. On the other hand, it would be as well for the House to appreciate the kind of material with which we have to work in order to endeavour to make a peace that will be worth while. The Allies themselves have suffered gigantic losses. The losses of Russia in man-power have been terrifically heavy. Happily, in manpower, our losses have been less than in the last war, but the methods we adopted to win this struggle have left us extremely poor, and the work of reconstruction that has to be done in order to enable us to take our proper place in assisting others will be a very heavy task indeed. The enormous resources of the United States have also been thrown into this titanic struggle, while the long years of fighting in China have almost disorganised that great land. The smaller allies are faced with the task of completely rebuilding their economic life and making good the gap that the war has created.
Possibly the worst situation of all has arisen in the occupied countries which have now been liberated. Here you have two great difficulties. One is that all people in these countries have been taught to disobey and to oppose the authority of the occupying authorities. Resistance has been the watchword. The result of this has been lawlessness, and now that these countries are liberated it is extremely difficult to bring back a general acceptance of law and order as a natural thing. Secondly, there have been constant appeals to the people to produce as little as they could in order to hamper the work of the occupying forces, and now suddenly they are asked, once again, to acquire the habits of work and energy and discipline. This transition from one state of affairs to another will need tolerance, patience and determination.
Yet another problem is presented by the movement of millions of people from their homes as forced and slave labour. Thousands of these people, now known as displaced persons, have, since the liberation, become almost nomads, wandering about, thieving for their food, committing murder and rape, and indulging in all kinds of practices of an anti-social character. In addition to that, in Central Europe, there are millions of displaced Germans, wandering, or endeavouring to wander, from one zone to another, their homes gone; and the resettlement of this vast population, running into millions, will tax all the genius and ability of those operating the Control Commission.
Perhaps I may be allowed to give a very slight picture from Field-Marshal Montgomery's report which came to hand on Saturday, showing what our officers and administrators are doing with amazing ability. He says that so far nearly 1,100,000 displaced persons have been evacuated from the British zone. Over 300,000 of these were westbound. Over 600,000 Russians have been transported from our zone to the East, and the movement of 200,000 Italians to the South has begun. One and a quarter million displaced persons are still housed in camps in our zone, and perhaps another 500,000 are still at large. By the Autumn, it is hoped that only 645,000 will be left, of whom 500,000 will be Poles. These figures give some idea of the vastness of the problem which has faced our military Government in this sphere.
In addition, the invading armies have stripped many of these countries of cattle and food and the machinery of production, and this has left them in a state of almost complete disorganisation. The need to restore civilised life, and to get production into working order again, presents us with a task which will take a considerable time and much endeavour, and yet I am sure we shall not be able to make orderly and proper arrangements in the political sphere until it has been accomplished. Added to this great problem is the problem of millions of prisoners of war scattered over vast territories, both in the Far East and in Europe itself. These prisoners of war have to be dealt with under two heads. First there are those who can be sent back with safety and security to start again their normal vocations, and according to the figure given me by Field-Marshal Montgomery, in our zone over 800,000 have gone back to agriculture already. Secondly, there are those who have been imbued with the diabolical ideas of Nazism and who represent a very disturbing element in the occupied territories.
I mention these things because I must ask the House and the country to show their understanding and sympathy for the Control Commission, particularly for Field-Marshal Montgomery and his staff in the British zone in Germany, and for those who are undertaking similar duties in Austria, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria. One only has to take a view of this terrifying scene to realise what a happy hunting-ground it is for men who are seeking to obtain political power in these countries, and how difficult it will be to create settled and orderly Governments with obedience to the law and acceptance of its normal rules together with the habits of useful labour.
I would urge the House not to measure elections in these countries as if they were a General Election in Great Britain. It may be that at the beginning it will be impossible to ensure completely that Governments are elected in accordance with the desires of free peoples. There will be much that will go on in the period which lies ahead of us which we shall not like, but one thing at which we must aim resolutely, even at the beginning, is to prevent the substitution of one form of totalitarianism for another. The Fascists and Nazis are so detested by everybody that there is a tendency, at the moment, to extend these names to groups of people and parties who are neither Nazi nor Fascist, but simply people who want to be represented, and are disliked by the majority party but who see the possibility of winning power, and therefore would like to deny these parties the opportunity to express their views in the elections.
I will endeavour to show in specific cases how we are endeavouring to deal with these situations as they arise in different countries; but before I review the different countries I think I should make it clear to the House that in a world stunned and only just beginning to awaken from the stupefying effect of war, the great thing is to direct our attention to economic reconstruction and to work hard to get people resettled and earning their own living. U.N.R.R.A., which we support as long as we can afford to do so, can only be at the moment a kind of a dole, but it is one which ought to be used to stimulate the efforts of these nations, and we can only afford to assist this benevolent work so long as our economy is supported, and we are given a chance to pull through the transition period safely.
At the same time we cannot allow the idea to develop that the liberated countries can, as it were, lie down and rely on the Allied countries for continuous support. There is a limitation to what U.N.R.R.A. can do, both in amount and time, and I would say to all these countries, "Use U.N.R.R.A. as a help to get on your own feet, but proceed at once to strive to work out your own salvation." The basis of our policy is in keeping with that worked out by the Coalition Government, in which I worked in close collaboration with the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). It rests in the main on agreement and co-operation between the great Powers that have emerged from this war, but though they are great Powers in a military sense, I have already said that they have impoverished themselves in achieving military success. Our own needs are great, if we are to maintain our standard of living in this country. Their main duty will be to act as the guardians of the peace, not dominating others, but accepting it as their obligation and duty to create conditions under which other countries of whatever size can, once more, contribute not only to their own well-being, but add to the common pool for the good of humanity. No foreign policy can ever be good unless it is constructive, and the constructive aspect of our foreign policy is the most important.
Between the wars we became accustomed to the vicious circle whereby trade could not flourish because of lack of security, while security was endangered through lack of trade. Now, at last, we have found our way to what is, for the time being, security. Therefore, this is the moment to break the vicious circle. We must strive to fight successfully against social injustice and against hardship and want, so that the security we have won militarily may lead to still greater security, and that greater security to still greater economic expansion. It is with this in mind that His Majesty's Government regard the economic reconstruction of the world as a primary object of their foreign policy. We are indeed fortunate that the war has ended but, if I may say so, it only just ended in time. We were on the eve of a great world crisis in food. We shall not be able to stop the decline this winter, but there is a chance that with all people working with energy the harvest next year will at least check that decline and bring relief to the miseries that people have suffered; but, I repeat, that is if all nations return to work. Never was there a time when economic reconstruction was so vital to foreign policy and international co-operation as now.
In this respect I would say that one of our basic needs is coal. If every miner in this country gives us the output asked for by my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Fuel and Power, and if the mines in Europe can be brought nearer to normal output, it will be a Godsend for this winter. The miners in this country are international in outlook. The Gracious Speech proposes to give them what they have asked for for years. I ask them therefore to help us, not for profit, not for the capitalists, but in the task of building peace, and bringing succour, help and warmth to millions of their fellow workers at home and abroad. I ask our miners in this country to set the example, and give these extra millions of tons. I know of nothing at this moment that could help me in the Foreign Office more than that.
The world's needs are in short supply-clothing, cotton and all domestic goods. If His Majesty's Government are to play their part in leading the world back to security and well-being we shall need everybody's help. If the women who intend to leave industry would agree to stay on for six months, if the men released are absorbed rapidly into civilian industry, and if the necessary commodities can be produced, it would not only improve our own life in this country but help us to help others in the liberated countries. We could shorten the stagnation caused by this war by years, and it would also assist our export trade. This next year is vital. I know what the men and women in this country have done in six years of war, and it may be hard to call on them now for more, but is not peace with understanding, with Britain playing her proper role as leader in the social and economic field, a prize worth winning by our people?
Now may I turn to some of the points which have been mentioned in speeches on which the House will be anxious to have the views of the Government? I think the Potsdam Conference has been fully covered by the communiqué that was issued when the Conference ended. In that document is set down our line of approach to the resettlement of Europe, and while I shall refer later to some of the points with which it deals, I do not propose to take up the time of the House by repeating what has already been published. His Majesty's Government have accepted the Potsdam decisions as the basis upon which the Council of Foreign Ministers and our general work must proceed. The only thing I would say about it is that when the Foreign Ministers meet we must not be obsessed merely by a desire to punish or revenge but in everything we do, ask ourselves whether such or such a course will make for future peace or plant the seeds of future war. In Europe there is bound to be conflict between security and right economic development. Looking at Europe as a whole, with all the differences of races, I believe that if we could only succeed in eliminating the war mind from Germany, I see a chance of unity in Europe where no such conflict need exist.
Coming now to our policy in relation to particular countries, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the position in Greece. His Majesty's Government adhere to the policy which they publicly supported when Greece was liberated. We then stated that our object was the establishment of a stable democratic Government in Greece, drawing its strength from the free expression of the people's will. Those are the words I used at the Labour Party Conference on that occasion. Unfortunately, this process was interrupted by an outbreak of violence. We then supported the policy of restoring law and order. The purpose of restoring order was to create the conditions in which the Greek people could determine the future of their own government and also settle the constitutional question. We supported the policy which instituted the Regency, which by the way was supported by all parties in Greece. The question now to consider is what urgent steps can be taken to give effect to this policy. We have reviewed the situation and, in the first place, we see no good purpose in lending our assistance to the creation of a new Government prior to the election.
It is therefore our view that the Voulgaris Government should carry on pending the decision of the Greek people. Greece will never recover while her leaders spend their time in continuously, week by week, trying to change their Government. They had better take an example from us. Until the election has taken place, no one can know whether any new Government rests on the sure foundations of the consent of the people or not. Therefore, we have urged that the election should take place at the earliest possible moment. The question arises which should take place first, the plebiscite or the election. Under the Vaskiza agreement it was decided that the plebiscite should be dealt with first. We are, however. aware that there is a considerable weight of opinion in Greece in favour of modifying the procedure and of changing the order laid down in that agreement. This is, clearly, a matter which must be settled by the Greeks themselves, and I do not wish in any way to prejudge the issue. I repeat that so urgent is it that a settled Government resting on the opinion of the people should be instituted, that I trust that a very early decision will be taken on this question. Our own interest is to ensure that the solution adopted is most likely to be generally acceptable to the Greek people, and to lead to firm results without procrastination.
There is the question of the gendarmerie. A country which has been overrun, and where normal arrangements for enforcing law and order have been almost completely disrupted, must have a new civil police force. To assist in that work it was agreed to lend the services of a police mission, and I have taken every step to speed up that arrangement, both in transport and the necessary equipment, in order that the police might carry out their tasks efficiently and well. The British Government would also welcome, at the earliest possible moment, an amnesty. I realise that this is a difficult problem, because not only violent criminals but also collaborators with the enemy are concerned. Subject to that, we feel that it would assist to restore confidence if amnesties were granted at the earliest possible moment, and the prisons were emptied.
With reference to the conduct of the elections, the United States, France and His Majesty's Government have undertaken to assist in the supervision of the election, and I propose to invite as part of our contingent of observers representatives of the Dominion Governments. It will be remembered that the Australians and New Zealanders in particular fought in Greece, and are well respected there. We regret that Russia did not see her way to take part in the supervision of the elections. I am glad to announce that the Regent has accepted an invitation to pay a visit to this country, in order that we may discuss the problems face to face.
We have also been concerned about the relations between Greece and her northern neighbours. Serious allegations have been made by the Yugoslav Government about the treatment of the Slav-speaking Greeks in the northern areas of Greece. These allegations have been investigated, and the reports I have received from British troops stationed in the area do not bear out the Yugoslav charges. It has been proposed, and I have welcomed the suggestion, that a commission formed of representatives of American, British, Soviet and French Governments should be sent out to investigate the situation on the spot. It is our policy to carry out all the undertakings we have given to Greece, but we look to Greek political leaders to play their part in solving these problems. From the messages I have received from the working people of Greece, I feel certain that nothing would please them better than to have an opportunity to return to work and a normal life under settled political conditions. If the elections and a plebiscite are held, I think we can confidently hope for tranquillity and happy conditions in that area of the world.
I turn now to the situation in Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. The Governments which have been set up do not, in our view, represent the majority of the people, and the impression we get from recent developments is that one kind of totalitarianism is being replaced by another. This is not what we understand by that very much overworked word "democracy," which appears to need definition, and the forms of government which have been set up as a result, do not impress us as being sufficiently representative to meet the requirements of diplomatic relations. Elections, we understand, are very shortly to take place in Bulgaria. The electoral law in accordance with which the elections will take place is not, in our view, consistent with the principles of liberty. We shall not, therefore, be able to regard as representative any Government resulting from such elections. Our views of what constitutes a free election are well known, but any elections held with all the restrictions and exclusions laid down in the Bulgarian law would run entirely contrary to our conception of a free election.
I turn to Italy. The question of making a peace treaty with Italy will come before the Council of Foreign Ministers when it meets in London next month. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government that that treaty should be made on fair terms, and that the people of Italy should be given a chance of reviving their life on the basis of liberty. We deeply regret and cannot forget the lives of the men from this country and the Empire and our Allies which were lost in the battle against Italy, but the time came when the Italians themselves turned against Fascism and the dictatorship, and joined us in the struggle against the Nazis, to whose defeat they made a material contribution. We then said that Italy must work her passage.
I do not think it wise to pursue a policy of revenge. The Italian people were oppressed by more than twenty years of Fascism, and it was perfectly obvious that a very large number of Italians were sent into this war against their will. The policy which Fascist Italy followed of trying to become a great Empire at a cost which she could not afford, a policy which led to aggrandisement and aggression, is now repudiated by the Italian people. While, clearly, such a state of affairs must never be allowed again, we have no intention of approaching the problem of Italy as if Mussolini and his policy still existed. Rather we intend to proceed on the assumption that the country will be re-established on the basis of free elections and parliamentary government. To that end, I have indicated that it will facilitate matters if the elections to the Constituent Assembly in that country could also be held at the earliest possible moment, and, if practicable this Autumn. I also hope it will soon be possible to dispose of other outstanding Italian problems, such as the problem of prisoners of war.
I am engaged in the task of reviewing the whole of our policy in relation to France, with which great country I am most anxious that we should be on the best terms. I am not in a position at this moment to make any detailed statement. It must await the talks I am proposing to hold with the French Government, in order to try and clear away points of difficulty which have arisen between us, and arrive at a clearer and closer understanding between France and ourselves, so that both of us can contribute not only to the economy, but also to the stability of Europe as a whole.
It is encouraging from all the reports we have received that Belgium has made great headway. Her output appears to be improving, and many of the difficulties caused by the occupation and disruption of the war have already been overcome.
Equally, we welcome the deliverance of Holland, which was delayed by the protracted resistance of Germany. We are fully conscious of the damage perpetrated by the enemy in the Netherlands, but from reports I have had it is clear that our Dutch friends are working with a will to make good the ravages of the war. I know I shall be echoing the feeling of the House if we send them congratulations on the liberation not only of Holland, but of the Dutch territories in the East.
Regarding Norway, the task of reconstruction has begun, and I am looking forward to meeting my good friend, Mr. Lie, the Norwegian Foreign Minister, at an early date. With Denmark, we have signed a financial agreement, and as a result, I am looking forward to a full resumption of trade which should assist us in our food supply. The opening of the Baltic has permitted the resumption of trade with Sweden. In the case of Finland, we have invited the Finnish Government to appoint a political representative here with the personal rank of Minister, and to regard the British political representative in Finland as having the personal rank as Minister in Helsingfors. For constitutional reasons, this is as far as we can go at the moment until a peace treaty is made.
One of the great problems which still face us is that of Poland, and I know there is some feeling about the extent of the area which has been included in the Polish zone. The question of the actual future area of Poland must be settled at the peace table, and I admit personally, taking the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) with regard to the danger of the Poles going too far West. Let me tell the House something of the situation which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I found at Potsdam. There was a kind of vacuum from which the Germans had been driven, and the administration of the zone was largely handed over to the Poles. I am referring to the territory between the Eastern and the Western Neisse. We came to the conclusion at the end of our discussions with the Soviet, United States and Polish Governments that there was no escaping the conclusion that the economy of the region must be restored so that these territories could be able to make their full contribution as soon as possible to the provisioning of devastated Europe.
The question of where the final delimitation of the frontier will rest will depend to a large extent on what the population is that returns to Poland. From what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford, the impression may have been given that the figure he quoted of 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 was the number of persons to be displaced as a result of the transfer to the Polish zone of the territories between the Eastern and Western Neisse. In actual fact, that figure represented the pre-war census of population contained in the whole area of German territories now being administered by the Poles.
MR. CHURCHILL (Woodford): That is what I meant.
MR. BEVIN: It did not quite read that way. There has been agreement, at least by the inference, that the Poles should go up to the Oder and the Eastern Neisse. The population of the territories to the West of this latter river, even on a pre-war basis, amounted to a little over 3,000,000, most of whom were said to be already gone. No mines were working, nothing was happening there, and they had just been driven out. On the other side, as I understand it, there are 4,000,000 Poles in the territory that has been ceded to Russia. Will they return to Poland, or will they remain in Russia? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It depends on what happens. When people are attached to their little bits of land, they do not always go. You never know what will happen. They are allowed a certain period in which to go into Poland, and we cannot tell whether they will transfer. It would not be right of the House to ask me to judge what is going to happen until I can see. Then there are the Polish troops and civilians in Western Europe. Thousands of Poles are outside Poland, either in the Services or working. The number of Poles in Field-Marshal Montgomery's zone alone to be repatriated is 550,000.
Right hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware, as a result of their discussions with the Poles, how difficult it is to get a clear understanding as to the future Government and administration of Poland. It was with this knowledge, and with these considerations in mind, that the Prime Minister and I met the representatives of the Polish Government on three occasions while at Potsdam. We pursued the question of Poles returning to settle in the new Poland, and we were assured that all Poles returning, whether in the Services or as civilians, will be accorded personal rights and rights of property on the same basis as all Polish citizens. Then we raised the question of the elections, and were assured that the elections would be free, secret, and conducted in accordance with the 1921 Constitution and further that it was hoped to hold them as soon as possible, not later than early 1946. We asked about freedom of religion, and we were assured that it was free in Poland and would remain so. We also asked for the right of entry for the Press of the world, and for the sending out of uncensored news. That, too, was accepted. Further, we came to an arrangement for the establishment of a reciprocal air service between London and Warsaw, to serve British and Polish official needs, and that service has now begun.
I indicated to the representatives of the Polish Government at Potsdam that the British people desired friendship with the Polish people, and said that nothing could prevent friendly relations except failure to give effect to the assurances which the Polish representatives had given. We shall expect, in particular that the principal Polish democratic parties, such as the Peasant Party, the Christian Labour Party the Socialist Party equally with the Communist Party will be allowed to take part in the elections with full liberty to make their own programmes and put up their own candidates, and that freedom of speech, freedom of association and impartial justice shall be granted to all Polish citizens. Further talks are going on both on commercial and economic matters, but here again there are very great difficulties. Transport in Poland is in a parlous state, food is short, much of the cattle has been killed It will take time for the Poles to overcome all these difficulties, but their task will be eased if they re-establish a really independent Poland based on genuine liberty. Finally, I inquired from Marshal Stalin whether the Soviet troops were to be withdrawn, and I was assured that they would be, with the exception of a small number required to maintain the communications necessary for the Soviet troops in Germany. That is not unreasonable. There is also the question of the presence of secret police in Poland. That still needs clearing up, but, with these assurances, I would urge Poles overseas, both military and civilian, to go back to their country and assume their responsibilities in building the new Poland. They will render a far greater service there than they can do from outside.
May I now turn to a very popular subject-Spain. A good deal has been said in this Debate about General Franco and the Spanish question. I will briefly quote His Majesty's Government's view. It is that the question of the regime in Spain is one for the Spanish people to decide. I cannot go further than the declarations issued at the Berlin Conference, which makes it plain that while we have no desire permanently to penalise the Spanish people, we cannot admit Spain into the club, unless she accepts the basic principles of the club. These are the rights of peoples freely to choose their own form of Government. On the other hand, I am satisfied that intervention by foreign Powers in the internal affairs of Spain would have the opposite effect to that desired, and would probably strengthen General Franco's position. It is obvious from what I have said that we shall take a favourable view if steps are taken by the Spanish people to change their regime, but His Majesty's Government are not prepared to take any steps which would promote or encourage civil war in that country. In this, I know, I am voicing the views not only of myself but of many ardent Spanish Republicans.
I turn now to a point raised by the right hon. Gentleman in relation to Persia. As is well known to the House, the question of Persia was discussed at Potsdam and an arrangement was made for the immediate withdrawal of Allied troops from Teheran. It is the view of His Majesty's Government that since Persia agreed to allow Great Britain and Soviet Russia to utilise her territory for the purpose of defeating the enemy, when that purpose had been accomplished both countries should withdraw. Not only the Soviet Government and ourselves had those facilities from the Persian Government, but the United States Forces have also been able to use them and they were of tremendous value in providing a vital link with Russia during the most critical days of the war. Therefore, the purposes for which those facilities were granted having now ended, so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, it is not our policy to take advantage of them for any purpose other than that for which they were given, namely, the prosecution of the war. Neither do I believe that it is the policy of our Allies. I should be very much surprised if, having been freely granted these very valuable facilities in another country, they in any way demurred at withdrawing when their purposes were served.
There are of course, many other serious matters left over and still to be dealt with. The internationalisation of the waterways of Europe, the question of the Straits, the position of Turkey-all these matters will become the subject of very careful study during the coming weeks, but I should be glad if I am not pressed to pronounce decisions upon them at this moment. I ought, however, to say this to make our position quite clear. One of the most vital areas affecting the British Empire and Commonwealth, as indeed it affects the peace of the world, is the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
With regard to the Far East I am sure the House and, indeed, the peoples of the world heard with great relief the news of the surrender of Japan, which ended a period of terror in that part of the world. Vivid recollections will, however, be brought to our minds of the magnificent struggle of China, a peace-loving nation bound to this country by long standing friendship and sympathy and the close bond of trade and cultural relations. I am sure it has been the desire of everyone in Britain to see China strong and prosperous. We welcome this great nation to the place provided for her in the new world organisation and in the councils of the nations. Now, with her deliverance and with unity within, is her opportunity to make her great contribution to the progress of the peace of the world. Neither can we forget the enormous task undertaken by the United States of America, which has contributed so much in bringing about the defeat of Japan. The organisation, determination, provision of materials, mobilisation of man-power and the transport of men and armaments over so many thousands of miles represents one of the greatest feats in history, whilst the speed of their effort from Pearl Harbour until to-day has been prodigious. Our own task in preventing the invasion of India by the Japanese and fighting through the jungles of Burma also represents a magnificent effort.
Now, as in Europe, the task of resettlement faces us in these great areas, and the problem is no less serious from the point of view of the peace of the world than the European problem. The fact that the Far East is a long way off must not blind us to the necessity of accepting wholeheartedly now the principle that peace is indivisible. We would assure all British subjects who have been liberated in the Far East of our watchful care for their interests, for the re-creation of their industries and the restoration of their normal life throughout all those territories.
I would here say a word about His Majesty's Government's position and intentions in Hong Kong. The first fury of the treacherous Japanese attack fell simultaneously on Pearl Harbour and on Hong Kong on 7th December, 1941. The Hong Kong garrison, of United Kingdom, Canadian and Indian forces, fought to a finish without hope of aid from outside at a time when we were in a death struggle in Europe. From the bases which they have wrested in South China from the gallant Chinese armies, the Japanese brought great land and air forces and overwhelmed Hong Kong by Christmas Day, 1941. Since that date our men and women have sustained the hardships of the prison camps. We have now taken steps to receive the surrender of the Japanese Forces in Hong Kong. There may still be difficulties, but they will be overcome, and I am sure that in agreement with our Chinese and American Allies our territory will be returned to us.
May I now say a word about Siam, a country whose relations with Great Britain had been particularly cordial before the war, a country with which we have been closely associated in its attainment of full emancipation as a sovereign State. She declared war upon us in January, 1942. It came as a disagreeable shock that when Siam was invaded by the Japanese she immediately entered into an alliance with Japan and later accepted British territory at the hands of the Japanese. It is pleasing to note, however, that last year the Government which took those measures was replaced and that there has been a growth of a resistance movement in Siam. We acknowledge the help received from this movement. If it has not taken overt action before now, I ought to make it clear that this has been due to our advice, on purely military grounds. It remains to be seen how far its spirit permeates the country. We have now learned that the Siamese Regent issued a proclamation on 16th August denouncing the declaration of war on Great Britain as null and void and declaring Siam's readiness to make restitution, and further stating her readiness to co-operate in every way with the United Nations in the establishment of stability. The text of this proclamation when received will be carefully considered to see whether it provides an adequate basis for an instrument which would regularise the present anomalous position. Siam's association with Japan inevitably leaves many practical questions for settlement. These will be examined, and our attitude will depend on the way in which the Siamese meet the requirements of our troops now about to enter their country; the extent to which they undo the wrongs done by their predecessors and make restitution for injury, loss and damage caused to British and Allied interests and the extent of their contribution to the restoration of peace, good order and economic rehabilitation.
Before I leave the Far East, there is one question uppermost in our minds which concerns our prisoners of war in that part of the world. I assure the House that the Government will give the highest priority to bringing them back to their homes and taking every step at our disposal to secure proper treatment for those who have suffered so much in that area.
In conclusion, it will be noted that both Russia and the United States were brought into the actual conflict by treacherous attacks. Hitler's attack on Russia brought that marvelous Red Army into the struggle, with results with which we are all familiar. What an amazing surge forward by the armies of the Nazis, and what an heroic defence it took to stop them; what marvelous courage to drive them back from Stalingrad to Berlin. The victories of the Red Army have been an outstanding factor in the deliverance of Europe from Nazi tyranny.
I cannot close this statement without again paying a tribute to the United States. It has been a marvelous partnership. I shall never forget the dark days of 1940 and the leadership of the late President Roosevelt, who unhesitatingly showed to the world where his great sympathies lay. Steadily and surely his eagerness to help was unfolded. With what relief we heard of the signing of the Lend-Lease Act in 1941, and we knew directly the treacherous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour had been made that the great American nation under his leadership would rise as one to join with us in this titanic struggle As I said earlier, out of the German attack on Soviet Russia, and the attack of the Japanese upon the U.S.A., and out of our own fortitude in this country, there have been forged a great respect and a great comradeship. We shall have our differences and difficulties, but in the interests of future generations we must overcome them.
Our own part is one of which we can justly be proud. History may well judge that our place is the proudest place of all. To the people of these islands belongs the imperishable fame of those grim days when, almost unarmed, they rose, refused to accept defeat, fought on, and made this little island the bastion of liberty, so well expressed by my right hon. Friend at that time. It can fairly be said that we held the fort and preserved the soul of mankind. Our policy now must be worthy of our people.