HC Deb 22 February 1932 vol 262 cc173-84

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


I would have preferred, as I expect the House would have preferred, that the subject which I am going to ask it to consider for a few minutes should have been dealt with at an earlier part of the day and have had a longer time devoted to it, but I understand there is very little likelihood of our getting a day for its discussion for some little time, at least, and also that the Foreign Secretary may have to leave England to go to Geneva, and I felt, as I think the Foreign Secretary does, that a rather fuller statement than is possible at Question Time ought to be made at the earliest possible moment. We are all aware of the difficulties of the situation, and we want the House to understand that we are leaving the responsibility to the Government. I shall state our own view about the matter, but in the last resort responsibility for whatever action is taken must rest with the Government. We as an Opposition cannot accept any responsibility. There is one point on which I wish to ask the Foreign Secretary if he can give us any information. A good many people in this country and elsewhere are concerned to know whether there is any real Red Cross organisation—


May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what subject he is talking about?


If the hon. Member does not mind I will—


But you have not mentioned the subject.


I am sorry. I thought everyone knew that the subject was Shanghai, and the difficulties that have arisen there. I gave notice of it at Question Time, and I took it for granted that everyone knew. I would like, if possible, to hear whether there are any Red Cross hospitals or units out there, and also whether the Foreign Secretary can say whether any effort has been made to remove non-combatants, women and children, from the area of the fighting. I ask that question because I have read in some Press telegrams, though I am not taking it for granted that it is true, that women and children were being killed during the fighting. The fundamental question to which everything I say will lead is; What actual immediate means do the Government intend to take—

It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment lapsed, without Question put.

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


I want to ask the Foreign Secretary what actual immediate means the British Government intend to take through the League of Nations to bring about an Armistice and a conference for ending the dispute. Whatever any of us may say or think, that is the most important question both to-day and to-morrow. I want also to say—and I beg the House to bear with me, even if hon. Members thoroughly disagree with what I am saying; I am going to try to say nothing of a provocative character if I can help it—I want to state our position if I may, and to put a question to the Foreign Secretary as it is my duty to do as a Member of the House. I am also speaking for my hon. Friends behind me. We acknowledge to the full that the fighting area is a dangerous and difficult one, and that that danger and difficulty arise because of its nearness to the international settlement. The right hon. Gentleman who was Foreign Secretary in the late Conservative Government will remember that when a similar difficulty arose in regard to the British Government and our own troops, we took the line, quite definitely, that the best and most pacific measures to take were to evacuate, not only civilians, but the troops as well. We—and I say this after a very great deal of consideration—would prefer to leave the bricks and mortar and property to take care of themselves, rather than that at any period our soldiers, our sailors, or our civilians should be involved.

I believe, and I think the Foreign Secretary will agree with me, that there is a very large body of opinion that feels that the League of Nations should bring into operation some of the powers which we believe rest in the Covenant of the League. I do not want to say which of the powers or what of the powers should be used; nor am I going to say that I wish them to be used at this moment, but only that the British Government and the other Governments connected with the Council of the League must freely make up their minds whether they are ever going to consider taking some action, drastic action, in order to bring the conflict to an end; whether by economic measures or by withdrawing Ambassadors is for the Government to consider.

I do not think that the civilised world can stand still and see this thing that is happening carried right through to the bitter end without any protest. I would point out that the League of Nations last week, through its Council, has put it. on record clearly and distinctly—I am not bringing up anything that is not public knowledge and that is not officially put on record—that Japan has refused arbitration, and disregarded her obligations under the Covenant, the Nine-Power Treaty and the Kellogg Pact.

Then I want to say that we who sit here—and I hope that this applies to everyone in the House—are neither pro-Japanese nor pro-Chinese; we are pro-humanity. We are internationalists, and in this matter our interest is not to gain an advantage for one country over the other—not even for our own country over another. I would like to say this, and I would like to say it to the Japanese people. The people of China, as the people of Japan did years ago, have suffered very considerably through the interference of foreign nations in their affairs. I think the people of Japan ought to remember that Japan herself, not so many years ago, got rid of the power of foreign nations to act in her ports as we are able to act in certain treaty ports now, and I think that the Chinese people have a right—an inalienable right—to say that the day must come, and ought to come soon, when China's ports and her territory shall be under her own control.

There is one thing in that connection that I would like to put to the Foreign Secretary, and I do so without a shred of suspicion on my part that what I am going to put to him is true, but I want him publicly to contradict it here. There is a very widespread belief in China, and I have had this brought to me on the very best authority, that some of the Powers are in alliance with Japan, that some of the Great Powers have encouraged Japan to take the action she has taken, telling her that in the end the Great Powers would not interfere with her. I cannot believe for a moment that anything of that kind can be true, but I hope that the Foreign Secretary will stand up and tell us the truth about it, and categorically deny it.

The other thing that I want to say in that connection is with regard to something that was raised by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) this afternoon. I would remind him that, when the ultimatum was delivered to the Chinese General, the Chinese General replied that he had sent the ultimatum to the Government in China at Nanking, from whom he took his orders. The question was raised this afternoon as to which Government in China the General was responsible to. He himself has put that on record. I would ask the House to remember that, when the right hon. Gentleman was Foreign Secretary in 1926, he took a line which I hope will be taken to-day. I cannot believe that the present Foreign Secretary will take any different line from that which the right hon. Gentleman took then. It will not take me a minute to put it to the House.

Let me first say that Japan undertook, in the Nine-Power Treaty signed in Washington, to provide the fullest and most unembarrassed opportunity to develop and maintain for herself an effective and stable. Government; and in 1926, when our British goods were boycotted and British lives and property were in danger, the British Government adopted a policy of liberal and friendly co-operation with the new China; and, in a memorandum by the right hon. Gentleman to China on the 28th May, he laid down the principle which I now recall, and to which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will still subscribe, that all the Powers should abandon the idea that the economic and political development of China can only be secured under foreign tutelage, and that it should be the policy of the Powers to endeavour to maintain harmonious relations with China, without waiting for or insisting on the prior establishment of a strong central Government. I have recalled that because I think that is the central doctrine which needs to be kept in mind at this moment.

I am not, as the House knows, acquainted with foreign affairs as hon. Members are. I have had no experience of them, directly or indirectly. I should like, if I have the power, to say to the Japanese Government and nation what I am saying to this House. In private life, in public affairs, or in international affairs, when people rely on brute force, and break their word, and do the sort of things which are not usually done between man and man, it produces Dead Sea fruit. The Japanese military forces may overwhelm the Chinese forces, but they will reap Dead Sea fruit as a result. That is the lesson of all Imperialist domination, and I beg the House to remember, I beg the so-called civilised world to remember, that this great struggle is the old economic struggle of one Power against another in order to obtain either raw materials or markets. We want peace at home and abroad and we want it on the only lines that it ever can be secured, that is, on the basis of co-operation between men and women for the good of one another. We believe that, if the Western world has anything to give to the Eastern world, it must give them the law of co-operation and not the law of fighting, the law of brotherhood and not the law of death.


I warmly agree with the Leader of the Opposition that it is desirable to take such opportunity as is open to the House for a rather more continuous statement about the very serious situation that has developed and is now existing in the Far East. I told the House to-day, in answer to a question, that in a day or two there will be available in a White Paper the reports that have been sent from Shanghai to the Secretary-General of the League of Nations in connection with the investigation that the League of Nations is making. Perhaps it would be convenient if I occupy two or three minutes in placing before the House as clearly as I can how it appears this struggle at Shanghai actually arose. The House is aware, of course, that the international settlement, spreading along the north side of the river, is a very large area, something like eight miles in length and an average of a mile, perhaps, in depth, and it is occupied in common by a large number of foreign nations. There is no division of it up between Americans, British, Italians, Japanese and so forth. We are aware, of course, also that outside the international settlement there is a large part of the Chinese population of Shanghai and many Chinese live also in the settlement. It was on 18th January, according to this report which the House will receive to-morrow or the next day, that the immediate trouble began, but before that date, for a long time, certainly running back into the middle of last year, there had been a very intense anti-Japanese boycott operating in this great Chinese city. It was a boycott of the most severe kind, including not only the refusal to buy, but including penalties and punishments of all sorts imposed upon all those concerned with Japanese trade. On 18th January there was an attack on some five Japanese, not inside the settlement, but just to the north of it, in the suburb with which we are all now familiar. I mean the suburb of Chapei. A few days later there came the counter-blow. Fifty Japanese youths armed, we are told, with knives and clubs, went to the place where this attack occurred, set a factory on fire, and on the way back came into very serious collision with the police of the Settlement: There was killing on both sides.

Thereupon, the Japanese Consul presented five demands to the Mayor of Greater Shanghai, that is to say, the Chinese Mayor. He demanded an apology, compensation, punishment of the wrongdoers, the stopping of the boycott, and so on. That was on the 20th January. On the next day, a Japanese admiral, who was a commander of some Japanese ships in the river, declared that unless a satisfactory reply was given, he was going to protect his Japanese Nationals. Japanese reinforcements arrived in the river some three or four days afterwards, and a week elapsed from the first demands when on 27th January the Japanese Consul announced that there must be a satisfactory reply by 6 p.m. the next day. In that situation the Municipal Council of the Settlement—the Settlement has its own municipality and to a large extent governs itself—considered that a situation arose which justified declaring a state of emergency, and various guards and troops therefore took up their places, and it so happened, for the purposes of defending the International Settlement, a portion of the lines of defence extend outside the boundary of the International Settlement, and project into the Chinese town. There may be strategical reasons for that, but it is an unfortunate circumstance. Just as a decision was reached that there must be a state of emergency proclaimed—in fact, the same afternoon that the state of emergency was to come into operation—the Chinese Mayor announced that he accepted all demands made upon him.

That, I think, is stating quite impartially how the matter arose. The view taken by the Japanese Admiral was that he was not satisfied with these promises. The view taken by the Municipal Council was that the emergency really continued and that the Settlement must be protected, and the consequence was that very shortly afterwards some Japanese marines were landed and the trouble began. I am not attempting to apportion the blame, but it is desirable to understand how the matter began, because it has now reached dimensions which everybody who cares for the authority of the League of Nations, for the maintenance of peace, and for the preservation of good relations between the different nations of the world must regard with the most profound disquiet. Here perhaps I may be allowed to say without offence that I greatly appreciate the public spirit and moderation with which the right hon. Gentleman has brought these matters before the House.

The House is familiar with the way in which the thing developed. It has reached very serious dimensions. The actual situation is this: In spite of the fact that the League of Nations appointed a commission which very promptly went on its way and will very soon be on the spot, a commission which, let the House observe, was appointed with the assent of the Japanese representatives in order to investigate the relations between China and Japan which were calculated to produce disturbance and conflict; in spite of the fact that the four Governments of the United States, France, Italy and ourselves, the four principal foreign Powers immediately interested in the Settlement, made proposals on 2nd February to the Japanese Government, which it is fair to say the Chinese authorities said they would accept but to some of which the Japanese authori- ties took exception; in spite of the fact that the League of Nations, through its council, unanimously addressed a note of appeal to the Japanese Government on 16th February, we are faced with the situation which is now before us. We are faced with the lamentable fact that, in spite of all these efforts which have been made to establish on a firm foundation a new world order and to secure that disputes between members of the League shall be solved peaceably, by methods of conciliation; in spite of the fact that the Kellogg Pact and the Pact of Paris, which both these nations have signed, and to which America and ourselves and other nations were parties, denounced war as an instrument of policy —in spite of this fact fighting is actually going on at this moment on Chinese soil, between the forces of two members of the League and, indeed, of two members who, as it happens, at the present time are both members of the council of the League.

I should like to state what I conceive to be the principles of British policy in facing this most disastrous and dangerous state of affairs. I will try to formulate them under three heads. First of all, let me advance this proposition—I am sure for the general acceptance of the House—that the British Government will direct the full influence of Britain, in conjunction with other Powers, whether they are members of the League or not, to support the moral authority of the League of Nations. However disappointing it is to find that in this instance—in some respects, a very very difficult case—the League of Nations has not been able to prevent the outbreak of fighting, let us recognise that the League is the organised expression of public opinion of a very large part of the world. I say on behalf of the British Government, and on my own behalf, with deep conviction, that it is only by affirming with boldness and sincerity the principles of the League that we shall find the best means of restoring peace. Japan and China both remain members of the League. Representatives speaking in their name are at present at the Council table, and, if we show ourselves devoted to the purposes of the League, the time may soon come, notwithstanding the wreckage of our hopes, when the moral authority of the League will be seen to exercise its influence on the side of peace. To my way of thinking that is a proposition which we all may affirm. Great Britain has, from the beginning of this unhappy trouble, shown that she is ready to lend her good offices, whether in combination with other members of the League or in association with the United States of America, or in any other way that is most practical. Our Minister, Sir Miles Lampson, our Consul-General, Mr. Brenan, and our Ambassador at Tokio, Sir Francis Lindley, have all exerted themselves to the utmost, and we stand ready, at the first moment which offers itself as a useful and practical occasion, to serve the cause of peace and help in any arrangements which may put an end to this horrible conflict between two nations, with both of whom Great Britain remains in friendly relations.

The third proposition is this: The British Government are in a very special degree charged with the protection and defence of British interests, and there is no part of the world in which it can be said with more complete truth than in the Far East that British interests are summed up in the words "Peace and trade." We do not seek to secure trade through the boycott of other people. We have made, we believe, the most complete arrangements for the safety of life and property in the International Settlement, and the right hon. Gentleman may consider, as a matter of fact, that those in the International Settlement are feeling quite secure. I deplore the incidents which have occurred and while we have made it plain to both parties that we must reserve our rights, we look to them to continue their efforts to avoid injuring innocent neutrals in any way possible. But this is far from being the full extent of our duties, because I agree that the duty of the British Government and the duty of its representatives at Geneva, as well as of the whole of this House, is above all to use its influence in the best way it can to get the fighting stopped and the bloodshed ended. I am quite aware that in some quarters there is a desire, as is only natural, to discuss other aspects of this matter, and apportion blame, but I must point out what is really the nature of the duty which the League of Nations has been called upon to discharge. This dispute has been brought before the Council and before the Assembly, and the duty of the League is to collect as rapidly as possible all the information, and to hear both sides. As I have already said, and must repeat, it would be quite improper for anyone to attempt to pronounce a partial or interim judgment in a matter where everything depends on the report which will have to be made by the League of Nations, recognised on both sides as proceeding from a complete sense of impartiality. In this matter, therefore, I feel sure that the House, in supporting the Government, will reflect the opinion of the country.


As one who has held the same responsible office which is filled by the Foreign Secretary, and held it in less but still in critical times in the Far East, I desire, for what my support may be worth, to assure him of my whole-hearted approval of the statement he has just made. I am sure that in this matter it is unwise to show a preference until the League's investiga- tion has taken place, and until we have its report and its advice; and that for this House and hon. Members to advocate the cause of one or other of the parties in the meantime must be injurious to the authority of His Majesty's Government and through them to the authority of the League. I accept the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as the proper policy for the Government to pursue and I hope we may leave it at that.


I intended to say to the Leader of the Opposition that, of course, I most gladly do what he asks, that is to give the most absolute contradiction, as far as any knowledge of mine goes, to the suggestion that there is any secret compact or understanding whatever.

It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.