§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am quite sure that those who have elected us to this House will not consider it improper or not worth while that on this, almost the last day of this part of the Session, the House should give some attention to international affairs. The Government, I think, have no cause to complain either. We are in the midst of very difficult and very trying times. The ordinary people in the country are rather alarmed and in many cases depressed, certainly in divisions such as I represent, at the condition of affairs as represented by the policy which the Government have found themselves obliged to follow. We find ourselves often discussing, what some people consider is a fact, that democracy as a theory and principle of government is on its trial. I think the British Parliament and all other Parliaments and Governments would do well to consider another aspect of that question. What is on trial to-day is, I think, the code of honour that appears to prevail in the international world.
We are living, we are often told, in the most highly civilised state the world has known, and yet the fact remains that Governments in their relationship with one another appear more distrustful of one another's words than ever before. The late War was a war which, according to the propaganda of the time, was waged in defence of a scrap of paper. At the risk of being charged with repetition, I would remind the House again that nearly a million men belonging to this country were killed in that war, that millions were wounded, that certainly millions of widows and orphans remained, and that, taking the world as a whole, tens of millions were sacrificed. I repeat that the propaganda which rallied large 2890 numbers of young and middle-aged people to the flag was the charge that the German Chancellor had declared: "What is a scrap of paper?" and the further statement that "necessity knows no law."
To-day we are witnessing and have witnessed the tearing up of scraps of paper or treaties by practically all Governments. The nations of the world at the end of the War imagined, from what they were told, that we were embarking on an era of peaceful development. Whatever statesmen may say, ordinary people, of whom I am one, believed that the letter that was sent to the German Government relative to disarmament was meant to convey, not only to the German Government, but to the world, that the disarmament of Germany would lead and was intended to lead to general disarmament, and that instead of the world being cursed by a huge burden of armaments in order to preserve peace, peace was to be preserved by the reign of good will and law. When the present Parliament was elected, after years of hard work and negotiation by right hon. Gentlemen like the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and others, Tories, Liberals, and Labour men, a Disarmament Conference assembled, and during the whole period of this Parliament we have been hoping against hope, after various conferences, that disarmament was to take place. I am not going this afternoon to attempt to apportion blame or praise, except in one connection. I think the whole House will agree that the right hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. A. Henderson) has worked unceasingly in order to strive to bring about some agreement through the Disarmament Conference, but in spite of all his efforts and the efforts of other people, we are now faced with a terrible situation so far as Europe and our own country are concerned.
I do not believe there is a man or woman who has taken part in public affairs from 1914 until now who ever dreamed that in this year, 1935, we should hear in this House such statements as we have heard from the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Minister for Air, and the Under-Secretary of State for War. In every department armaments are to be increased, and the defence all the time is that we are the most peaceful people in the world, that we do not want to build, that we would rather not build, but that 2891 it is other people. I read the speeches, so far as they are reported, of statesmen in other countries, and they say exactly the same thing. I think that ordinary people have the right to say to us that it is sheer cynicism for statesmen to continue to speak in this way. Surely it cannot be beyond the wit of man to find some other method than the method which we were told was finished with in 1918.
I would like to say something that I have said many times before in this House. Repetition is the law of propaganda, and if you are not believed when you have spoken once, you must speak often. I would like to call attention to the fact that the piling up of armaments or the putting of your faith in armaments has not saved the world from war, and that even victory in war does not save us. We were told, and told very often, that we had won that Great War, that German militarism had been destroyed, and that the menace of German militarism was at an end. When I listened to the speeches that have been made during the last few weeks, I could not help recalling the many utterances and the many leading articles that I had heard and read on the subject of the allied victory in the Great War; and I would like to ask those who are in control of our affairs, What argument can they use to-day that they are going to be any more successful in the future, even if victory comes to our side again in another great war? On what evidence do they claim that their policy is going to be successful in future? It has failed; that is my argument. It has utterly failed up to the present, and the evidence of that failure lies in the Estimates and the organisation that is being put up now.
Therefore, I ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the Government's policy in regard to the Disarmament Conference? What is the position of that Conference to-day? Is it the policy of the Government that we should increase armaments up to a certain point throughout the world, to stabilise them at that point and to call it disarmament? I am bewildered when I hear Government spokesmen on this subject. Have they given up faith in disarmament proposals? Do they now feel that it is useless to pursue the policy of disarmament? Have they any intention of asking that the Disarmament Conference shall meet and continue its work 2892 until it is finished? At present it looks as if it has continued its work to failure. Have the Government any intention of bringing it back to life again? I ask the Government exactly what I asked the present Home Secretary some time ago—what is the Government's policy in regard to aerial warfare? Where do they stand on that subject? The air raid circular tells us that the precautions which the Government ask us to take in no way imply a risk of war in the near future. I should have thought that there must have been some idea at the back of the right hon. Gentleman's mind, when he drafted that circular, that the matter was a little urgent and that war might take place at any time within certainly a reasonable period. Let me emphasise what I said a few minutes ago about the pledged words of Governments. The circular also says:His Majesty's Government strongly repudiate the idea of attacks on the civil population by means of indiscriminate bombing. They will continue to make every effort to promote international agreement on that subject.The circular also says:The use of poison gas is forbidden.Further it says:The risk of its being used is nevertheless a possibility which cannot be disregarded.I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether in view of that statement the Government have any policy in regard to the use of poison gas. Are we to understand that the Government have given up the manufacture and the scientific investigation into the manufacture and use of poison gas Have we made up our minds not to use it in future, or are we taking the same line in regard to poison gas as we take in regard to all armaments, that because other people are manufacturing gas we must do the same?
I come back to the broader question that I want to put. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether the Government intend that the Disarmament Conference shall be called together so far as they have power to get it called together? Will the Government take the lead in tabling a Motion that aerial warfare shall be abolished and civil aviation internationalised? I know perfectly well, and none of my friends need to be convinced, that the internationalisation of civil aviation may take some time to 2893 negotiate, to settle details and all the various implications of the proposal. What I do want to know is, not what some other Government will do, but whether the British Government will go to a Disarmament Conference and propose categorically that aerial warfare shall be abolished and that immediate steps be taken to carry out international control of civil aviation?
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not tell me what the Government have or have not done in this matter. There is certainly a case which can be made against the Government on the subject of the abolition of aerial warfare, but I do not want to make that case this afternoon, nor do I want to call into question what happened at Geneva months ago. What I want to know is, with the condition of the world as it is, what steps in regard to this horrible weapon of warfare the Government are themselves proposing to take. It is not good enough for us to say what we favour, or that the French or German or any other Government will do the same thing. It is time that this question was brought to the test of a straight vote at a meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, or at a meeting representative of nations outside the League at a Disarmament Conference. Nor do I want the right hon. Gentleman to tell me that some nations are outside and perhaps would not attend. Let us try them once again, and do our best at any rate to make it clear to the world exactly where the British Government stand now.
I am making that appeal to the right hon. Gentleman because in divisions such as that which I and many other other right hon. and hon. Members represent, all the precautions that are set out in the circular I have mentioned really are of no effect whatever. My division had a very terrible experience of aerial warfare during the Great War. We do not look at this thing as do those who have had no experience. We know what it means to see children in school just destroyed by this beastly business. Our people are becoming very terrified that that is going to happen again. We feel quite definitely that, in spite of everything the Government may have done, we are not satisfied to sit down now and see ourselves gradually driven into a situation which must inevitably lead to a repetition on 2894 a bigger and worse scale of what happened from 1914–1918. So I ask quite definitely those two questions. As to a further meeting of the Disarmament Conference, if I am told that that is impracticable because certain Governments may stay outside, I suggest that the British Government, in concert with whoever would act with them, should summon a bigger conference inclusive of those who are at present outside. The object I have in view is to try to fix responsibility for the failure to do what everyone says he wants to do.
I want to say a few words on the question of Italy and Abyssinia. I am not like an hon. Friend behind me; I am not anxious to send the Fleet or increase the Fleet anywhere, but I am very anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should tell us all he possibly can tell us about the present situation. We feel very strongly indeed that the situation is difficult and very dangerous. The Labour party will support the Government by every means in its power so long as the Government stand quite firmly by their obligations under the Covenant of the League. We have never asked and do not ask to-day that the Government should act alone. In saying that I do not mean "act alone" in the sense of conversations between the Minister for League of Nations Affairs and other statesmen in trying to find a means of settlement. What I mean is taking action by ourselves without other people. Ever since the League was formed the Labour party has pinned its faith to the League for the preservation of peace and law and order. We ask the Government that they should, without reservation, stand loyally by the League Covenant and all that that implies.
I also say very emphatically that we cannot understand how nations that are unable to pay debts owing since the last War are able to embark on expeditions such as those which are now being contemplated. Other people who are more clever than ourselves may know, but we do not know how it is that the German nation, which we have been told over and over again has been smitten by financial crisis after financial crisis, is able to build up a great air force, to embark on a great naval enterprise and to establish a huge army in the way that it is now doing, and yet be in the poverty-stricken condition that we are told it is in. I do not know whether the right hon. 2895 Gentleman can give us any information on that subject. We think that the people in Europe who are in control of finance and of the commodities out of which armaments are produced ought long ago to have taken some steps to prevent the present race in armaments.
I want, finally, to call the attention of the House, as I have tried to call the attention of my fellow-citizens, to another side of this question. Once during a Debate on foreign affairs the Noble Lord the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) said that people like myself who argue that economic causes produce war forget that ambition and man's desire to rule often brought about that calamity. I do not discount that at all, but ever since I have been able to think about war I have never known one that had not really an economic foundation. The right hon. Gentleman said the other day that Italy needed expansion. Someone else said that Japan needed expansion, and that Germany needed to go out into the world. Those who remember the Debates that preceded and followed the World Economic Conference will agree that nearly everyone who spoke emphasised the fact that the Conference and the results of it were as important, if not more important, than the Disarmament Conference and all our plans for preserving peace. I have always held that view and still hold it strongly. Those who, like myself, believe in pacificsm have to try to will the means of peace as well as teach peace. The means to peace cannot be willed by armaments.
The world to-day is much more one unit than ever before. Trade is a different thing from what it was years ago. That is a truism and only needs to be said to be accepted. It is also true that those nations which, like ourselves and France, are great colonising peoples, have large possessions and a great deal of the territory which contains the richest natural resources in the world. It is true, too, that great monopolies to some extent share between them the control of those natural resources. It is also true that the markets of the world are sometimes restricted in certain directions; there is no real freedom in trade, and there is no free access to the biggest markets in the world and to the vast 2896 natural resources of the world. I would like to ask the Government to consider in connection with their policy for the prevention of war whether they will not implement the promise that was made at the close of the World Economic Conference to re-summon the Conference, not in order merely to discuss the lifting of a tariff here and a tariff there, but to discuss internationally the whole of the economic questions that may endanger the peace of the world. It was said in one of our Debates on foreign affairs that perhaps other nations would not come in. That ought not to stop us from calling such a conference. It was also said that the Germans and other nations wish to get out into the world in order to compete with us.
Even monopolistic capitalist concerns are formed in order to put an end to competition between business concerns. The principle of co-operation is accepted by them, and I want that principle to be spread out so that it will be determined by Governments, and not by private concerns. That is not as wild a suggestion as it seems, because there is already under a certain amount of Government control such commodities as rubber, tin, sugar, meat and tea. The old law of free competition is not allowed to work out, and control is exercised mainly to preserve the right to get a proper price so that profits can be made and loss prevented, but it is not always successful. The latest sign of co-operation is between the British Government and the French Government in regard to the "Queen Mary" and the "Normandie." In ordinary circumstances these two big ships would have entered on the business of competing in the same way as the German Lloyd Company competed with American and British liners before the War. Is it beyond the wit of statesmen to carry this principle still further? We are told that nations such as Japan, Italy and Germany have a right to expansion. Where are they to expand, and why do they want to expand? What do they want to get? As I see it, they want places where their populations can live. They want parts of the earth where they can develop new industries, and they want more markets.
I wonder whether, when we are talking about abundance and the need for restriction, the House ever thinks of the enormous unsatisfied demand there is in 2897 every part of the world—in our own country and in Europe, and in China and India, where there is an unlimited demand, to say nothing of the tremendous continent of Russia. I may have lived too long or not long enough, but I do not understand why there should be any need to go to war for either raw materials or markets. It only needs common sense among the statesmen and the economists of the world so to organise that all nations will have access to countries for the settlement of their populations and the opening up of markets. We on this side want that aspect of our case dealt with by the Government. I was speaking with some Americans the day before yesterday. They were travelling through this country and were saying hard things about British Imperialism and the Imperialism of the government in Italy. I tried to show them that I believed our people would be willing to join in, and even to take the lead in, a redistribution of economic resources and in helping to open up the world for whatever nation needed more space for development and for assuring markets.
I said that because I believe that in this country more and more people are coming to see that the old law of life—of competition within a nation and competition between nations—is played out, and that we must find some more excellent way. We have to find it by not doing injustice to those whom we call races not so fully developed as ourselves. I cannot see why anyone should imagine that the aboriginal inhabitants of Africa have not the same right to a full development as we have built up for ourselves. There is a growing number of people in this country who believe that the aim and object of British authority, and of Christian policy, and, if you like, of moral policy—which is always good economics—should be not to exploit or override the people of a different colour, but should be to give them whatever gifts we have in helping them to realise what human beings should really be.
I think that if our country has any mission for the future it can only be on those lines, and I do not believe that the bulk of our people want to secure a higher standard of life at the cost of the misery and degradation of others. I believe they would be perfectly willing to 2898 follow any Government that would take the lead along the lines which I have, though only quite sketchily, put before the House this afternoon. It is for other people to work them out, for other people to show that co-operation cannot be brought about, because we believe it can, and we believe it can be a co-operation in which the races of a different colour from ourselves can play their part as well as us. The other day I read an article in, I think, the "News-Chronicle," written by an African chief, which it was worth any man's while to have written. He has great faith in the British people as represented by the British Crown, and he believes that we are full of good intentions, but one could see there was fear running through that article.
I want the Government to tell us today that it will summon an economic conference; perhaps I ought to put it in another way, and say ask the League of Nations to summon another world economic conference, bringing in the United States and everyone else, as was done two years ago. And I want our Government to take the lead there and to say, "Let us give up this beggar-my-neighbour economic policy; let us try to make a desperate effort to find a way of dealing with economic problems in a more reasonable and in a more settled manner than before." I hope no one will stand up and say to me that that is all a dream. It is not. It is real common sense. The world is full of everything we need, and it is full of people who need everything we can produce. We are at a stage of civilised development far above anything that has gone before. We can do things to-day that were not even dreamt of when I was a boy. Why cannot the British Government, taking the British people into their confidence, go to a disarmament conference and put our whole on the altar of international service, and go to a world economic conference and say, "We are the greatest Imperial nation in the world, we built up the biggest Empire in the world; we are willing, for the sake of the peace and security of the world, to put it all at the service of mankind"?
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
It is usual at this period of the year, when the House of Commons is about to adjourn for a long recess, for a survey to be 2899 taken of the international situation, and we are grateful to the Opposition for having inaugurated this discussion today. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has dealt with a broad range of topics. He began by asking the Government what was their view of the situation of the Disarmament Conference. I am afraid that the view of the Government, probably, is that the Disarmament Conference is in a state of suspended dissolution, but whether it would be advisable to summon it again at this juncture I, for my part, feel considerable doubt. I should have thought it would be better to try to arrive at some basis of agreement first, in order that some proposals might be laid before the Conference with a possibility of their acceptance.
That leads me to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he can say anything about the negotiations for an air pact? Since Herr Hitler's speech of 21st May we have had two Debates on that subject, and on each occasion the Government have said that they were most anxious to arrive at an air pact with other western Powers which would obviate the tripling of our own Air Force, with the immense expenditure that that would involve. On the last occasion the Foreign Secretary said that negotiations on that subject had not even been begun, and although many weeks, and even months, have gone by conversations had not even started, because preliminary objections have blocked their initiation. I should like to know how that matter stands, and whether there is still an entire absence of progress to report in any direction with regard to an air pact among the western Powers for the elimination of bombing and for the limitation of air forces. If not, surely it is high time that a public statement was made, in the presence of all the world, as to the steps that have been taken and as to the reasons why progress has not been made.
I do not propose to follow the Leader of the Opposition in any general survey of the whole situation, but to limit my remarks to a single topic, the one which is arousing the greatest attention at this moment here and throughout the world, and causing a very large measure of anxiety, namely, the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia and the action of 2900 the League in that regard. First, I should like to refer to a Debate on this subject three weeks ago, and pay a tribute to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) who expressed in most cogent and convincing terms the view which, I believe, is entertained by the great majority of this House, on all benches. Since then, however, anxiety, so far from having been relieved, has rather been intensified, and at this moment we are all watching with much concern what is proceeding at Geneva.
It is useless to conceal the fact that there is in many quarters a fear that the main issue may be smothered at Geneva, that conversations, committees, commissions, formulas and resolutions may be debated for weeks until the rainy season in Abyssinia is over and military operations become possible; and then that Italy may act while the League is still talking, that some incident may take place, some fait accompli, which may make any intervention too late. Yet I would not to-day urge the Government to engage in what may be regarded as dramatic measures to force the issue to a crisis straight away at Geneva in these days. It is essential, as we all recognise, that this country should act with other Powers, and particularly with France, as closely and as long as possible. And, again, the League must follow its own established procedure. It must make an effort to adopt measures of conciliation or to press for arbitration. It must, if these are unsuccessful, invite the parties to the dispute formally to state their cases and submit their cases to a careful and impartial examination.
Furthermore, the Treaty of 1906 on Abyssinian affairs exists and is still valid, and that contemplates, in any time of difficulty, discussions between Italy, France and Great Britain on matters that may arise. It is no derogation to the League that such discussions should take place in accordance with that treaty, and therefore I am far from speaking to-day in a tone of criticism or complaint of the action so far taken by His Majesty's Government, or urging them to proceed in a manner that might be thought to be precipitate before these various steps have been taken in accordance with the custom and constitution of the League. They must act with care and caution, but to be careful and to be cautious does not 2901 mean being weak or indifferent. It would be intolerable if the members of the League were to sit in the council chamber merely looking at each other and waiting upon each other, fearful that any definite action might cause Italy to leave the League, with a great weakening of its usefulness, fearful that the new understanding between France and Italy, which Europe in general regards as one of the safeguards of future peace, may be imperilled by any breach over the question of Abyssinia; with the result that the various Powers would be prepared, for reasons of larger policy, to let Abyssinia be thrown to the wolves—to the wolves of the Capitol.
If the merits of this dispute were found, in the issue, to be in reality ignored, if, for reasons of general European policy, questions of right and wrong were put aside and the League took no pains to discover who was committing and who was suffering an aggression, then the League of Nations might give up all claim to become a Parliament of the world striving to secure peace and justice. Then the League of Nations would, in fact, become little more than an alliance between the Great Powers of Europe for their own protection against the dangers of German militarism, and the 50 or 60 other States would be there merely as a cloak for the realities of the situation. That is the main reason why it is incumbent on this country to intervene definitely and strongly in this dispute. I know there are some in this country, happily a small minority, who would have us wash our hands of the matter altogether. And I know that in Italy it is suggested that if we take a serious view of this question and are prepared to take some action with the other members of the League in order to solve the difficulty, we must be animated at bottom by some cynical, selfish interest of our own, that we must have some designs, if not immediate at all events ultimate, on Abyssinia, that we are merely endeavouring to fish in troubled waters for our own purposes.
I remember similar accusations long ago—few Members now present were here in those days. More than 30 years ago, when I was sitting where I sit now, I had the opportunity, by the fortune of the ballot, to bring forward a private Member's Motion; and being always keenly interested in African affairs, 2902 especially as related to native populations, I put down a Motion on the misgovernment, then rife, in the Congo. That was the beginning of an agitation in this country, which spread elsewhere, to put an end to what were called, and justly called, the Congo atrocities. But at that time I was assailed, and Sir Charles Dilke and others who acted with me were assailed, and Great Britain in general was assailed, as being animated by some sinister designs to raise a false agitation against Leopold II, King of the Belgians, in order that we might sooner or later lay hands on the Belgian Congo, or a large part of it, for ourselves. That accusation was utterly unfounded. We were animated solely by the views we had expressed, and when, as a consequence of the feeling that had been aroused, Belgium made careful inquiries into the state of the Congo and found these accusations were in great part justified, and took over herself the administration of the Congo from the personal rule of King Leopold, and when as a result the administration so rapidly improved that it became almost a model for the European administration of tropical African countries, no one rejoiced more whole-heartedly than the British people and the British Parliament.
So it is to-day. We have no selfish ambitions of any sort or kind with respect to Abyssinia, and it is as well that that should be clearly and categorically stated in this House in answer to the allegations which have been made. Our only economic interest, it has been publicly declared, is in relation to Lake Tsana and the head waters of that branch of the Nile which flows down from there into the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan and so into Egypt. There, we have a great interest on behalf of Egypt and the Sudan which has been recognised by Italy and France, and which is generally agreed to be wholly legitimate. Apart from that, we have no other. It is true that our frontiers march with Abyssinia for hundreds of miles; in fact two-thirds of the frontiers of Abyssinia are with British possessions—Kenya, Somaliland and the Sudan. Therefore we have an interest as an Imperial Power in seeing that the peace of that part of Africa is not disturbed.
But, again, we have far wider interests than that. We have to remember that the foreign policy of the whole Empire 2903 is conducted from Downing Street under the watchful eye of the House of Commons. And although we speak of the British Empire as a partnership, one partner in it does in fact take all the definite and effective measures in foreign affairs on behalf of the rest. We can never forget that in the British Empire there are 70,000,000 white people and 430,000,000 coloured people. For every one white man there are six coloured men among the subjects of the King. This is an issue which does arouse keen interest in the coloured races at large, and not least among those within our own Empire. We read in the Press a day or two ago that in Calcutta a huge demonstration had taken place—that was the expression used in the telegram—a huge demonstration of Hindus and Mohammedans in protest against what they regarded as an aggression by Italy against one of the few remaining coloured independent countries in the world, and the only one remaining in tropical Africa. Furthermore, the negro races are taking greater and greater interest in the affairs of the black peoples throughout the world; and Great Britain, as an Imperial Power, has the strongest necessity to deprecate the outbreak of any trouble which might be represented as a contest between white and coloured races.
Our Dominions, whose public opinion we have to take into account always here, recognise that. They also are devoted to peace and are loyal members of the League of Nations, and they would feel keenly any international event which struck at the influence or the prestige of the League. Again, we are accustomed in this House to consider American opinion, and American opinion is concerned particularly in regard to the Kellogg Pact. The Kellogg Pact, which was initiated by that statesman and M. Briand, most clearly declared—it is its purpose to declare—that war shall be outlawed as between nations; and American opinion is watching most closely the actions of Italy, herself one of the signatories of that Pact. I think that we in this country would feel no satisfaction in seeing Italy engaged in any costly and difficult adventure and the public opinion of Great Britain alienated in any degree from Italy. The co-operation that was effected at Stresa served not only a 2904 French interest but also a British interest, and that common front may be needed in times to come in the course of certain eventualities which we all know are not impossible. So we should view with concern any strain that was imposed upon Italy by an adventure of this kind; and the economic strain on Italy is already fairly considerable.
Since January of this year—and I would draw the attention of the House particularly to this fact—there has been a series of remarkable economic movements in Italy. The great governmental activity, partly due to this expedition to Abyssinia and partly to other causes, has led to an improvement in the situation in regard to employment and also to an improvement in the situation with regard to the amount of production. But there is another side to that, and the "Economist" of this week points out that, together with an improvement in employment and an increase of production, there has been a rapid rise in prices, rates of interest, the cost of living, and the import surplus, while the gold reserve has been falling. It goes on to point out that on 21st May a decree was published which obliged all banks, firms, companies and individuals in Italy to deposit within 20 days at the Bank of Italy their holdings of foreign stocks and bonds, and of Italian bonds issued abroad. They point, out further that from 10th June the gold stock began to fall rapidly, and that by 10th July it was as low as 5,524 million lire, which compares with a figure of 7,000 millions in December, 1933. In the first six months of this year, together with that fall in the gold reserve there has been a rise in wholesale prices in Italy of no less than 14 per cent.—in half a year. If that goes on increasingly, as it may do, the effect on the conditions of the people cannot fail soon to become marked. All this is no satisfaction to us in this country, and it must cause us real concern for the reasons I have given; and no doubt in Italy it must cause still greater concern.
The Italian case has not yet been formally stated at Geneva, and we only know it from Signor Mussolini's speeches. There is one point which in the earlier stages was rather in the background, but which in an announcement published yesterday has been brought more into the foreground. It is this. Signor Mussolini 2905 says that Italy is obliged to take this action for the protection of her own neighbouring colonies—that she has reason to fear from the hostility of the Abyssinians the possibility that if she herself were engaged in trouble in Europe that opportunity might be seized by the Abyssinian neighbours of the Italian Colonies to invade those Colonies, and to make an attack upon them which might in those circumstances be very difficult to resist. Whether there is any substance in that fear one doubts, because if Abyssinia had any such intention the right moment to time such an attack was during the Great War—and nothing of the kind occurred. Yet I think that Italy may have a right to draw the attention of the League of Nations to that possibility, and if we say to her: "You ought not to engage in a war which you represent as a preventive war against a possible fear of attack upon yourself," we might at the same time suggest some means by which Italy should be guaranteed against any aggression of the sort from Abyssinia. If the League were to seek now to obviate an attack by Italy upon Abyssinia, the League might also take steps to obviate any future attack by Abyssinia on Italy. I do not think that suggestion has yet been mooted, but I present it for the consideration of His Majesty's Government, and possibly it might play some part in future negotiations. I think that if Britain and France, as neighbours of Abyssinia, were to give their concurrence in such a guarantee, it might possibly ease the situation.
For the rest, since we have to rely only on Signor Mussolini's speeches for any statement of the Italian case, it would really give the impression that the Italian position is simply based on the old maxim:That they should take who have the power,And they should keep who can.One had hoped that belonged to a past era of the world, and that since the establishment of the League of Nations and the signing of the Pact of Paris more peaceful and rational methods would have been adopted throughout the world, and that the whole of mankind would be agreed at all events, on one thing, that a deliberate purposeful aggresion would not again be attempted anywhere by any Power. Attempts have been made in various 2906 quarters from time to time to define what is meant by an aggressor State. There have been juridical conferences, and we have had proposals by Committees and by distinguished Ambassadors like Lord Howard and others who have endeavoured to set out formulae to determine what is, in fact, an aggression. One is that the aggressor is any State which refuses impartial arbitration on the merits of a dispute. Another suggestion is that an aggressor is any State which clearly breaks the Kellogg Pact and uses war as an instrument of national policy. Another suggested definition is that an aggressor is the State which in a dispute is the first to send its armed forces across the frontier. Whatever definition be taken, it would appear from Signor Mussolini's speeches that he sets out to fulfil every definition that was ever proposed. If that be so, unless some other aspect is put upon the matter by any more formal statement of the Italian case, we are bound to come to the conclusion that the League will necessarily be failing in its duty unless it takes cognisance of these facts. If collective security is not to be a sham, if it is true as stated by the Government that the League of Nations is the corner-stone of British policy, if we are to have regard to the feelings widespread among millions of our own constituents, as evidenced by the recent peace ballot among other things, then surely we cannot agree with those who would wish this country to wash its hands of the whole of this dispute.
I have one question to put to the Government before I sit down. There has been a report current in some quarters in this country, and, I am told, more widely on the Continent, that assurances have been given at Stresa which interpose an obstacle to sincere and effective action by either France or Britain at Geneva. It has been said that Italian co-operation was so eagerly desired in matters of Central European affairs by Britain and France that they gave some assurances to Italy which now tie their hands. I do not myself endorse that report. I have, personally, no reason to think it is true, but if it is not true, I suggest that the opportunity should be taken of saying so. It is suggested that assurances were given on behalf of France to Signor Mussolini that not merely might France support 2907 some economic concessions to Italy in Abyssinia—that has been mooted for years past and is now supported in various quarters—but further that France had given in some form or another an assurance that, so far as she was concerned, Italy might have a free hand and take any measures by any methods which she chose, and that France would disinterest herself in the matter. It is said that the British delegates were aware of those assurances and said nothing with regard to them; therefore that they have given a tacit consent to a policy of that kind and that that is the real reason why the action of the Powers has been dilatory or evasive. I have no reason to attach credence to those reports, but it is very desirable that the air should be cleared with regard to them and although we cannot ask the Foreign Secretary to make any statement on behalf of the French Government, he might be able to say a few words that would be helpful so far as the British Government's action is concerned.
For the rest, it would appear that those Powers in the world who are anxious above all to preserve peace and to secure a solution of this issue without war, will bring to bear their moral influence upon Italy from whose initiative the present trouble has sprung, and urge her not to be intransigent and to accept some measure of accommodation. Many of us in this House think there is a clear duty of leadership devolving upon this country more than upon any other, partly for the reasons which I have already given, and partly because, in times past, Britain, France and Italy have been regarded as the three Powers primarily concerned in Abyssinian affairs. At this juncture France, as we all know, is in a very delicate position vis-a-vis Italy on account of her new friendship after years of controversy, a friendship which is very well welcomed and applauded here and which we should not wish to see impaired. Therefore the great Power directly concerned and with the freest hand is Great Britain, and for that reason and because of our responsibility to our own coloured populations and to the Dominions, as well as for other reasons, a duty devolves upon us. We may perhaps believe that Italy, great Power as she is, will not proceed in an uncompromising fashion if she finds the general opinion of mankind 2908 west or east, white or coloured, is not with her, and that she will not act if she finds that she is doing so in isolation against the disapproval of the whole world.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General SPEARS
I am sure that the House will have welcomed the speech just made by the Leader of the Liberal party. It is well calculated to strengthen the hands of the Government in the extremely difficult task they are pursuing at Geneva. In particular, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman emphasised the necessity of not pushing too hard. People in this country do not always realise the difficulties. The relationship of France and Italy should not be lost sight of. We have urged and pressed the French and the Italians to compose their difficulties, and it would be unwise on our part to act in such a way as to cause a breach where we have so recently seen union. At the same time, we must not lose sight of the fact that in this dispute merely to gain time does not mean very much. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has pointed out very rightly that the rainy season does not end until October, and that it was unlikely in any eventuality that any movement of troops would take place before that time. Although to gain time is not a bad thing in itself, it is not so essential in this dispute as it is in most disputes. We shall not have achieved anything unless any agreement which is come to carries us well beyond the month of October.
What is of major importance and is so dangerous in this dispute, is the danger to the League of Nations. I am very glad that the Government have so constantly emphasised their loyalty to the League idea. The League means a very great deal to the people of this country, and any Government who forgot that fact would rue it. There are some people who seem glad of the League's present difficulties. They speak as though the weakness recently revealed would relieve us of a tiresome and futile institution. They forget that the League is an ideal of great value in a world where religious feelings are not as strong as they used to be, and that to take away that great hope would mean a definite set-back to the moral standards of this country. If peace is impossible and the rule of grab 2909 is to prevail, what is the use of struggling for better conditions since might is bound to triumph over right in the end? To no people would the weakening of the League be more serious than to the people of this country, for no people has founded greater hopes on the League than have our people.
It is because of this that I believe our Government should take a lead during the present dispute. The Government have taken a very prominent part at Geneva to-day, a part of which we all approve. But I do not merely mean taking a lead in the negotiations for a settlement of the dispute; I mean that the Government should make it clear that they are prepared to take a lead should the present negotiations fail. In my view it is not sufficient to declare what we will do provided others do it as well. Rather should we suggest the line of action which we are prepared to follow to its uttermost consequences, provided that we obtain adequate support from other nations. Everybody knows that we cannot enforce peace by ourselves, and to expect us to do that would be impossible and would inflict an intolerable burden upon our people. What we can do is to give a lead and declare our readiness to take our place in the van of those nations who are prepared to make sacrifices in the cause of peace.
The dispute between Italy and Abyssinia is leading the people of this country to look with growing disfavour upon a people who ought to be our friends. We are not naturally inclined to support Abyssinia. This nation, which once upon a time made such sacrifices to abolish slavery, is not prejudiced in favour of a country where slavery is officially followed. Abyssinia ought not to be in the League, and she would not be there if we had had our way. She is in the League because she was sponsored at Geneva by France and Italy. Abyssinia has proved to be a bad neighbour. Her central government is notoriously weak. All these things we know. But we also believe in the sacredness of a pledge once given. Abyssinia has been given the pledge of the League and we cannot go back on our word.
The abuse of Great Britain in the Italian Press, although we know that that Press is under official control, has left the people of this country singularly 2910 unmoved, but there is a growing sense of exasperation and indignation at the bullying of the weak by the strong. The sense of fair play of this country is being outraged. I must confess that I felt exasperated when I saw that Signor Mussolini had denounced as provocative a speech by the Ethiopian Emperor who declared that he intended to defend his own country, when the Duce's own long series of provocative speeches is fresh in our minds. The more we know the less are we likely to approve of the part that Italy has decided to set herself to play. Is it not a fact, for instance, that practically the whole male population of the unfortunate Austrian province that was annexed by Italy after the War has been mobilised? Those mountaineers make good soldiers, but they are incurably German, and they have been a thorn in the flesh of the dictator. It is unpleasant to think that their character of an alien minority may earn for them a place in the van in a struggle in which they certainly have no interest.
I think it is well that it should be known abroad how deep is the feeling of the people of this country in regard to this matter. I have in my own constituency of Carlisle an Italian colony. They are much respected; they are excellent citizens. But of late I have had a series of letters from my constituents asking that, if the Italians resident in Carlisle should be called up and sent to fight in Abyssinia, they should not be allowed to return. It may be very bad luck for the individuals concerned, but there is a feeling that we should not keep open places and provide means of livelihood for people who are engaged, however unwillingly, in an unjust war. I, for one, dearly love Italy. I think it is a beautiful country. I have the greatest possible admiration for its hardworking, cheerful people, and I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary spoke with such sympathy of Italy's problems and ambitions. But Italy will forfeit more than our friendship if by her action she ruins the League and breaks the peace, for war in Abyssinia will undoubtedly have grave repercussions, not only all over Africa, but in Europe as well.
Before I sit down, I want to say one word about a rather curious speech which was made last Saturday at Southampton 2911 by the Noble Lord who is now Lord Privy Seal, and who previously was Secretary of State for Air. The purport of that speech would appear to be that the League of Nations is a debating society, which can do little to preserve peace beyond initiating confabulations. It could not impose, said the Noble Lord, and, indeed, it was not meant to impose, its will on any nation or group of nations by the exercise of physical force. This seems to me to ignore some of the vital Articles of the Covenant—Article 16, for instance. The Noble Lord went on to say:If war broke out, the League of Nations had failed in its primary object, though it would still be valuable as a mediatory influence, and an influencce to limit the extent of the disaster.I can hardly imagine a more defeatist attitude than this. Nor does the speech appear to be compatible with the conception of collective security which we have been so glad to hear the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs defend in this House. I do not wish to press for an answer as to whether the Noble Lord represented the views of the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I am sure he did not. At the same time, I cannot help wishing that fewer voices were raised to expound our foreign policy. Most of us are content to leave these matters in the able hands of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who has done such very good work in so short a time.
§ 5.20 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I would like to add my gratitude to that of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) for the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), in which the right hon. Gentleman so authoritatively and in so masterly a manner stated the British case as far as it is possible for any Member to do who is not on the Government Front Bench. I think that the last two speeches we have heard are a sufficient answer to the odious statements which have recently appeared in certain organs of our own Press, alleging that Signor Mussolini is now acting as a champion of the white races against the black. For my own part, I doubt very much whether the personal slaves of Abyssinia are much more 2912 to be pitied than the political serfs of Italy. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was listened to with the respect that he can always command. If I may say so without presumption, I much enjoyed his speech to-day, which was distinguished by great moderation; and, further, if I may, I would like, in his own language, to assure him that the truth is that he has so far not lived long enough. I entirely agree with him when he said that now the code of international honour is at stake; but there I am afraid I cannot accompany his logic entirely, so to speak, hand in hand. How would the right hon. Gentleman have us, in the last analysis and in the final emergency, sustain that honour to-day?
He referred, by way of a hint, to a, policy which he has himself personally and with admirable pertinacity promoted over the last three or four years—that of complete unilateral disarmament. To-day he mentioned "a scrap of paper," and, as the House is perfectly aware, there is today in jeopardy the most sacred scrap of paper that has ever been signed by a large association of nations—the Covenant of the League of Nations. I do not wish to state the case against complete unilateral disarmament too highly, but it is by no means unlikely that, in order to maintain our national honour and the international obligations implicit in the Covenant, the Navy might be called upon to sustain ecenomic sanctions against an aggressor. Perhaps I may remind the right hon. Gentleman of the wording of the key Article of the Covenant of the League of Nations. It runs as follows:The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all the members of the League."to respect and preserve"—How else can that be done except, in the last resort, by the collective use of force?
Another point where I would join issue with the right hon. Gentleman is this: He deplored the publication of the recent Air Raid Circular. He may take the view, and it is a perfectly tenable view, that the Government, in common with the other Governments which were once assembled at Geneva to consider air armaments, must bear their own part of the blame for the failure to achieve air disarmament but to reject this Air Circular seems to 2913 me to be the quintessence of ineptitude. It seems to me to be precisely like rejecting a lifebuoy cast to one by a man who has pushed one into the sea. The circumstances which preceded the recent decision of His Majesty's Government not to export arms either to Abyssinia or to Italy exposed a grave defect in our present system. I have long held the view that the only decent thing—and I cannot find a better word than the word "decent" to express what I mean—is for us permanently to withhold licences for the export of arms or munitions to any destination whatsoever until a nation has been attacked and has been declared by the League of Nations to need those arms and munitions for its own self-defence. To my mind it seems to be a plain issue between right and wrong—just as plain an issue between right and wrong as our own unilateral non-continuance of the slave trade 100 years ago. It seems to me to be obviously a most noxious thing that men's profit and employment should depend upon the prospect or progress of bloodshed abroad, and I am confident that some day a Government—either this or some future Government—will have the decency to use to the full the licensing instrument which to-day lies ready to their hand. There is absolutely no difficulty as regards the definition of "arms and munitions"; they have already been defined in the Arms Export (Prohibition) Order of May, 1931, and I would like to add in parenthesis that the last category of arms and munitions mentioned in that Order are aeroplanes and component parts thereof. If the Government propose now to relax any of the restrictions upon the export of aeroplanes, I think they ought to regularise their position by altering the terms of that Order. I think that this step of withholding a licence except in certain definite and particular cases is much more clearly indicated and much more simple than State control of armaments manufacture, though for my own part I believe in that too. I believe, as a Conservative, that private enterprise is a most excellent and indispensable incentive to the production and sale of commodities when the commodities are such things as boots or bread; but I also think that those people must be pretty nearly past praying for who cannot see that that incentive becomes dangerous when the commodities 2914 concerned are bombs or bayonets.
If aggression in fact occurs in this Italo-Abyssinian dispute, I hope the Government will take at least two courses—that, in the first place, they will in no circumstances succour the aggressor by any exports whatsoever; and that they will, not less resolutely, and unilaterally if necessary, supply the attacked with means of self-defence. But I do not think that such unilateral action will be necessary; British leadership is going to play the biggest part of all in council in determining the issue in this dispute, and, if I may say so without presumption, I believe that our foreign policy to-day is being distinguished by a new firmness of character. I hope and believe that the Opposition will not call for a Division to-night. I shall welcome their abstention. It is true that Lord Londonderry, whom my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle mentioned just now and who is, unhappily, free from having to answer the robust criticisms of the House of Commons, has from time to time presented His Majesty's Opposition with a free gift. But I hope that to-day they will grant indulgence to one whom this Sovereign House of Commons cannot call to book.
I think that this crisis is not entirely unmixed with good. We are constantly told that men in this wicked world will only listen to force. Particularly is that true, if it be true at all, of dictators, who are, in the nature of the case, more or less animated with the ethics of the bully. A little earlier to-day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen mentioned Signor Mussolini's "case." It has been a somewhat diaphanous and nebulous "case." Several months ago it was represented in this kind of language:We have old and new accounts to settle. We will settle them. We shall take no account of what is said beyond our frontiers. The judges of our interests and the guarantors of our future are we only, we exclusively, we and nobody else. We will imitate to the letter those who are giving us a lesson. They have shown, when it was a question of creating an Empire and defending it, that they never took into account the opinion of the world"—just as though no Covenant of the League of Nations had come into existence since the last Great War. On 6th July the Duce said: 2915We have entered into a struggle in which, as a Government and as a revolutionary people, we will not turn bark. We have taken our decision irrevocably.It seems from that that nothing except the absolute certainty that he will be met by collective armed resistance if he persists upon his evil course will avail to deter Mussolini. He is counting, I am sure, upon indecision, discord and vacillation. Paradoxically, I believe the League may only thoroughly realise itself when it has to use sanctions, to meet force, paradoxically again, with the use of force in order to preserve peace, just as every civilised State deters gangsters by the certainty of that same use of force. These crises will not recur on the Continent when the sovereign States agree to surrender their Air Forces to an international authority and to accept also some mitigation of their own sovereign independence.
But I would plead with the House not to believe the fallacy that every sanction inevitably means war. Even in this most serious crisis with which the League and the collective system are confronted I do not think that is true. If Italy, for example, loses her supplies of coal, she may well be done. If we and others combine to shut the Canal, as we may under Article XX of the Covenant of the League, she may again be done. But, supposing she persists in her evil course and that these milder sanctions will not in fact avail, I do not think we ought to shrink from saying that, in co-operation with others, we will take the most extreme measures to sustain the Covenant. If that moment arrives, and the House of Commons is consulted, it may well be that every Member above the age of 50 may feel obliged to refrain from supporting an intervention in which he cannot himself personally participate and it may be left to those of us to decide who are still within the military age. In that interesting situation if I were confronted with the direct question, "Are you prepared to fight for the Covenant," I should unhesitatingly, but without joy, say "Yes." I can say that quite safely as I am not in the ordinary sense a "pacifist," whatever may be the meaning of that beautiful word containing two spits and two hisses.
I should like to mention something which I think even more dominates the world situation than the crisis between 2916 Italy and Abyssinia. I believe that the Governments of Great Britain and France are so seized of the seriousness of this problem that it will in fact be peacefully resolved, but I believe the long-term problem on the Continent is presented by Germany. The German desire for Austria is no less dangerous than Mussolini's gaze at Abyssinia. Unfortunately to-day Germany means the Nazi régime. The day for special sympathy with Germany was in 1932, in the early days of the Disarmament Conference, and to-day we and the other victorious Powers are reaping the harvest of our inability to provide her then with effective equality. But I am unable to understand the sudden spate of sympathy for Germany which has recently fallen from the mouths of responsible people. Perhaps its volume and its violence may be due to its belated release. I am told that the German people find in their Chancellor specially admirable the qualities that he does not drink, does not smoke, and is unmarried. The Germans must indeed be at a loss to discover manly virtues for their admiration. Why, Sir, my own father neither drinks nor smokes. It is true that he is not a bachelor, but I am hardly the one to blame him for that.
The Nazis have defiled and outraged what would be defined by the English people as the decencies. They have crushed out of social existence, and are now crushing with renewed venom, men whose only crime is that they belong to the race of the Founder of our common faith. Those who remain Christians in Germany have to observe the official brand of Christianity. Do not let us forget that just over 12 months ago the Nazi rulers massacred without a trial men whose mere intentions were suspected of being inconvenient to the Government. Perhaps worst of all in a modern civilised State is the fact that the working classes have been deprived of any power of articulation. Thousands of liberal-minded Germans have been deprived of their civic and physical liberties. I need not enumerate the rest of the counts in the indictment of Germany which are familiar to every Member of the House. All I ask is that we should not allow sedulous Nazi propaganda to darken our counsel. A few weeks ago my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs 2917 (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) said, standing in the place which I now occupy, that the Nazi revolution had meant the recovery by Germany of her soul and her self-respect. Much good may that recovery do her! If Germans can commit this kind of crime upon one another, is it surprising that the rest of Europe grows sceptical of their international behaviour?
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
I should like to say how cordially I agree with every word that has fallen from the last speaker. I am sure he expressed what is in the mind of a great many of the younger Members in all parts of the House. I speak to-day with a certain amount of diffidence, as I have never intervened in a Debate on foreign affairs before, but I should like to endeavour to say some of the quite simple things which I think are in the mind of ordinary people, especially if they are under 40. We have been reading in the newspapers about the negotiations that are going on at Geneva in reference to the Abyssinian dispute and, naturally, everyone in this country hopes for a successful outcome of those negotiations. But what is in the mind of every Member of the House is the situation that may arise if those negotiations are not successful. I think we should nearly all agree with what was said at the meeting at the Central Hall the other day by Viscount Cecil that, if all the nations of the world determined that this dispute was to be settled by peaceful means, it would be settled by peaceful means. The task of our representative at Geneva is first of all, if it is possible, to arrive at a settlement by conciliation and, if it is not possible, to do their utmost to secure that universal determination.
We all have fresh in our recollections the Debate that took place on the 11th of last month. There was one remarkable feature about that Debate that, although we had two most comprehensive surveys of foreign affairs, one from the Foreign Secretary and the other from the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, the really important pronouncement did not come from either of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench but from the right hon. Gentleman the Memer for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I think he expressed more than anyone what is in the mind of the majority of this House when he said that what was at stake was 2918 the system of collective security. He went on to say that, if we did not live up to our obligations, the whole collective system is gone.It is not merely that it has failed to protect Abyssinia; it is that it is a broken reed for any European Power to rely upon. It is more; in fact, it does not exist."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1936; col. 567, Vol. 304.]I believe the great majority of people would endorse the words that the right hon. Gentleman used on that occasion. We frequently hear it said that we as a country cannot act as the policeman of the world. No one suggests it and, in any case, it is an entirely inapt analogy, because the policeman, after all, is a comparatively modern creation. The police force as we know it is something that only came into existence in the last century, and the stage to which we have got in international affairs is much nearer the primitive stage of the sheriff's posse and the hue and cry, where every man has the common law duty to take his part in the apprehension of the law breaker. The events of the next few weeks may show whether in international affairs we have even reached that rudimentary stage. What was at stake said the right hon. Gentleman the other day, was the system of collective security. I would put the same thing a little differently. What may have to be demonstrated in the next few weeks is whether a system of collective security exists at all or whether it is a mere figment in the imagination of statesmen and diplomatists.
We are told in a certain section of the newspapers that this is a quarrel in which we are not concerned. I think it has been made clear by the last two speeches, both from Conservative Members, that there are a great many people in this House who think that this is a quarrel in which we are vitally concerned, because we share the view that has been expressed on so many occasions by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs when he says that the only way to keep out of war is to prevent it. The future of Europe as we all feel may very well depend upon what is done in relation to Africa. Collective security means just as much or just as little in Africa as it does in Western Europe. There has been a certain amount of speculation in the newspapers as to the attitude of France, and it has been suggested, in French newspapers 2919 as well as our own, that, even if we were prepared to move forward should the need arise, the French would not be prepared to come in with us. I may perhaps be unusually gullible, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that, if we professed ourselves ready and willing to discharge our obligations under the Covenant, the French would not be prepared to play their part as well. More than any other nation they are concerned with the establishment of the system of collective security.
After all, the Treaty of Locarno is a part of that system, just as much as the Covenant of the League itself. The Treaty as the result of which we have been told our frontier is on the Rhine is, after all, bound up with the Covenant of the League of Nations. In that Treaty again and again one finds references to the machinery of the League. In fact, for some of the Clauses of the Treaty of Locarno to operate at all it is necessary that action should be taken by the Council of the League of Nations. But, even if that were not so, even if there was not this close connection between the machinery of the League and the machinery set up by the Treaty of Locarno, the Treaty and the Covenant would really march together. Every hon. Member knows that the Treaty of Locarno does lay upon the people of this country great and onerous burdens. I am not complaining, and I am not criticising that Treaty. I am not one of those who has ever advocated that we should try to avoid our obligations under that Treaty, but no one can possibly doubt the magnitude of the burdens, because we have to guarantee the frontiers of France and of Belgium under that Treaty, and we receive no sort of guarantee in return. It is entirely, on the face of it at any rate, a one-sided document.
If it were to happen that our neighbours across the Channel in this particular matter were not prepared to fulfil their obligations under the Covenant, with what justification could they afterwards turn round to us and ask us to fulfil our obligations under the Treaty of Locarno? If I am wrong about that, and if it were possible to separate collective security in Africa from collective security in Europe, even 2920 then it would be an extremely undesirable thing. As was pointed out earlier by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), if it were to be shown that collective security does not apply in the Far East, that it does not have any great effect in South America, and that now it has no application to Africa, but is something which is confined to Western Europe, then there is no real and practical difference between the Covenant of the League and the collective system based on that Covenant, and a hostile military alliance against Germany. All real distinction disappears then between the League of Nations and another Holy Alliance in order to preserve the status quo in Europe.
We sometimes hear of the contradictory policies which are advocated above the Gangway. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) had something to say in reply to the speech of the Leader of the Official Opposition. I think that there is a good deal of force in that criticism, because I agree that it is rather unfortunate from the point of view of the electors, that the Leader of the Official Opposition should advocate one policy, and that the party that he leads should advocate an entirely different policy. But it is not only, as we heard from the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears), the party above the Gangway that speaks with two voices. While we have the professions that are made in this House and the professions that are made by the Prime Minister as to the devotion of the Government to the League of Nations, and to the Covenant and all that it contemplates, a very different type of speech is frequently made in the country. I have in my hand a report of a speech which was made last Saturday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is in his place, as I wish to read to the House one or two sentences from what the right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion. He was speaking at a fete organised, I suppose, in support of the National Government. At any rate, he started his speech by appealing for another lease of life for the Government and then, after various references to other matters, came to the question of the Abyssinian dispute. His view, 2921 apparently, was not very different from that expressed the other day by the Lord Privy Seal. He said:To-day they were confronted with the fact that Italy seemed determined to swallow up Abyssinia, and she would do so unless Abyssinia was strong enough to defend herself. No one else is going to defend her.So much for the Covenant of the League and the whole system of collective security. The right hon. Gentleman at this stage lays it down that no one else is going to defend her, and that Abyssinia must rely entirely upon her own resources. Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say:They might ask where the League of Nations came in. In all this he noticed that Sir Herbert Samuel was very gloomy about it, and seemed to think the whole existence of the League of Nations was at stake unless something was done to prevent by force Italy interfering with Abyssinia. He (Mr. Amery) was not quite so pessimistic and did not believe that the existence of the League of Nations, or the good work that it had done and was capable of doing were at stake over the Abyssinian affair. He regarded the League of Nations as an organisation of the very greatest value in promoting intercourse and understanding among the nations. It could prevent by force people who wanted to go to war because that force could only be exercised if the whole of the League was unanimous as to the rights and wrongs of their case. It was no good thinking that they could force out of the League a unanimity which did not exist. They could not think that France was going to quarrel with Italy and Abyssinia, or that any other nation concerned with its safety in Europe was going to do anything to endanger that safety.Before there was any announcement from the French Government or from any other Government as to what they will do, supposing this dispute cannot be solved in any other way, the right hon. Gentleman, speaking at a Conservative fete in the country, says that the whole thing is hopeless. Apparently he regards the League as simply a form of international pleasant Sunday afternoon. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has ever read Article 16, or, if so, whether he attaches the slightest meaning to it. It is true to a certain extent what he says about the necessity for unanimity in the Council, but apparently the right hon. Gentleman, if he were sitting on that Front Bench—in view of this speech I am rather glad that he is not—and if he were in charge of our foreign affairs, would not be prepared to take any steps 2922 to bring about that necessary unanimity. There is a very great gulf fixed, though they sit so close together, between the policy that was enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham and the policy that is represented in this speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook. I hope that when the Secretary of State comes to speak in this Debate he will make it quite clear that the Government stand not only by the Covenant, but by the whole Covenant, and that they reject the counsel of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, and accept in toto the declaration made a few days ago by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham.
I wish to say a few words about the attitude of the United States of America. There has been a certain amount of speculation as to the attitude of that country. When we are contemplating the sort of events which may lie ahead in this dispute, it is important to know exactly what their attitude is likely to be, and this point of view was summed up in very emphatic language by the Prime Minister some months ago when he spoke at Glasgow:Never, so long as I have any responsibility in governing the country, will I sanction the British Navy being used for an armed blockade until I know what the United States is going to do.What steps, if any, have the Government taken to discover the attitude of the United States towards this dispute? I think it is too easily assumed in this country that the attitude of the people of the United States towards European politics or towards obligations in other parts of the world never varies. I believe that it is true that in the last few years there has been a very big change in American public opinion. I am not suggesting that if it came to the use of sanctions and to the actual use of force that we could actually expect the active co-operation in that matter of the United States army and navy, but it does not follow from that that the Government of the United States would necessarily be indifferent. I am not sure that in this country we ever attach quite the importance it deserves to the declaration that was made as to the interpretation of the Kellogg Pact by Mr. Stimson when he was Secretary of State in 1932, when he declared—and no doubt the details of that declaration will be very familiar to the 2923 right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary—that the Pact of Paris had changed the whole doctrine of neutrality. The very point of his remarks—and I think that this is a correct summary—was that there could be no neutrals as against a breaker of the Pact of Paris. If the House will bear with me, I will read a sentence or two of what he said on that occasion: He was speaking as to the implications of the Kellogg Pact as they were then understood by the Government of the United States, and he went on to say:Since war between nations was renounced by the signatories of the Briand-Kellogg treaty it has become illegal throughout practically the entire world. It is no longer to be the source asd subject of rights. It is to be the principle around which the treaties, the conduct, and the rights of nations revolve. It is an illegal thing. Hereafter when two nations engage in an armed conflict either one or both of them must be wrongdoers, violators of this general treaty law. We no longer draw a circle about them and treat them with the punctiliousness of the duellists' code; instead we denounce them as law breakers, and by that very act we have made inapplicable many legal precedents and have given the legal profession the task of re-examining many of these codes and treaties.The interpretation which we have recently had from an authoritative body on the Kellogg Pact will no doubt be fresh in the minds of the right hon. Gentleman, but I should like to give a short quotation from the interpretation that was placed upon that Pact by the International Law Association, because the contention which I am putting forward is that, if the nations of the world were to stand by at the present time and were to make no active attempt to restrain aggression, it would not only be a breach of the Covenant, but also a breach of their obligations under the Pact of Paris. The quotation I want to give is as follows. Referring to the violation of the Pact by resort to armed force or war it says:In the event of the violation of the Pact by resort to armed force or war by one signatory State against another, any signatory State not being a party to the original dispute may, without thereby committing a breach of the Pact or of any rule of international law, do all or any of the following things (a) refuse to admit the exercise by the State violating the Pact of belligerent rights such as visit, or search or blockade; (b) decline to observe towards the 2924 State violating the Pact the duties prescribed by international law apart from the Pact for a neutral in relation to a belligerent; (c) supply the State attacked with financial or material assistance including munitions of war; (d) assist with armed forces the State attacked.I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us whether the Government would accept that interpretation of the Briand-Kellogg Pact, but that quotation I gave from the speech which Mr. Stimson made in 1932, represented a very great advance on anything that we had previously had from the United States. Mr. Stimson went on to say:Consultation between the signatories of the Pact when faced with the threat of its violation becomes inevitable.And he also said:Any effective intervention of the power of world opinion postulates discussion and consultation.I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell us whether that is still the view of the Government of the United States, and if so, have our Government done or are doing anything to bring about that consultation which Mr. Stimson suggested if there was a danger of the Pact being violated.
I believe that on these matters there is a very considerable degree of unanimity between the various parties in this House. I do not think that there is any great difference anywhere in this House as to the aims of British foreign policy. For instance, when we were dealing with a matter like the MacDonald plan, I think it had the approval probably of the great majority both in this House and outside. The only differences that arise are differences as to the methods that ought to be adopted, and as to the speed at which we ought to go.
It seems to me, and I think to a great many other people, that although the Government are faced in the matter of the Abyssinian dispute with a considerable difficulty, nevertheless it may prove a very great opportunity which will redound not only to their credit but may greatly increase the prestige of the League of Nations and of the whole system of collective security. We all realise that if collective security breaks down here it will be a fatal blow to the whole of the Leagus system, but if it were successful the international situation 2925 would be immensely improved. When the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition began his speech by a reference to the Disarmament Conference, he expressed the wish to see the Disarmament Conference resummoned. If the Conference were summoned it would have much better prospects than it ever had if once it could be shown that the machinery of collective security had really worked, and if countries could really feel that they could put a stop, at any rate, to part of their armaments with confidence that they could rely upon pacts and treaties as a substitute for the armaments they had given up. The best definition I think of what our aim should be in international affairs is in a phrase that I saw the other day from Sir Norman Angell, who said that the abject of our policy in international affairs should be to transfer power from the litigants to the law. It seems to me that if this matter is successfully handled, as it may be, and a great deal depends upon our own representatives, we shall be able to take the greatest step that has yet been taken in that direction.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE, for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot) has made allusion to our relations with the United States of America. No Debate on foreign affairs ought to take place without some such reference. I will only say that throughout this difficult controversy I have tried to keep the American Government fully informed of the attitude of His Majesty's Government and of the gravity with which they regard this situation. It was with great satisfaction, though with no surprise, that I noticed the condemnation by the American Government of any possible recourse to war. The hon. Member, with true hereditary talent, produced a number of quotations from speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). In the Conservative party there is great tolerance. The Conservative party is a very comprehensive institution. It contains under the same roof my humble self and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). That being so, I feel that I need only be responsible for my own speeches and for 2926 the pronouncement of Government policy made by Members of the Government. The Prime Minister has made our position quite clear and I, in a lesser way, have tried to make it clear also. I do not think there can be any doubt after the speeches of the Prime Minister, particularly the answer he gave to a question one day this week, that we are fully conscious of our obligations under our treaties and under the Covenant, and that we certainly intend to uphold them.
I am grateful to hon. Members on all sides of the House for the restraint and the care with which they have approached the difficult situation that we are here to consider this afternoon. I make not the least complaint of any speech that has been made in the course of the Debate. I may not agree with all the arguments that were urged by every hon. Member, but none the less I was conscious of the fact that the hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate realise that we are faced with one of the most complicated and difficult situations that has confronted us since the War, and we have to discuss it, each one of us, with a feeling of great responsibility on our shoulders. The Debate was opened by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with great feeling. He was evidently speaking from the warmth of his heart and with a firm conviction of the wisdom of the course that he was urging. It was clear to all of us who heard that speech that no one could question the right hon. Gentleman's motives. They were clearly on the side of peace, and they were clearly appreciative of the need for the British Government, to whatever party that Government belongs, to take a lead in the world and do what it can in the cause of peace.
I have no criticism to make of the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity of purpose. Where, however, I have to part company with him is when we come to the question of methods. Let me illustrate to the House from the right hon. Gentleman's speech the difference between his attitude and my attitude towards the problems with which he was dealing. He made some very interesting observations upon the economic side of things. He pointed, not without reason, to the fact that economic controversies have often been 2927 the source of international hostilities, and he made the proposal at the end of that part of his speech that the British Empire should come forward at a world conference with a proposal to pool the resources of the Empire for the general good of the world.
§ Sir S. HOARE
My difficulty in approaching a proposition of that kind is its vagueness. I would not turn down that or any proposition that was likely to lead to the reinforcement of peace in the world.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I did not ask, and never have asked, that the British Empire should say: "We will pool our resources alone." I ask that the British Government should take the lead in asking the nations of the world to pool the resources of the world.
§ Sir S. HOARE
My difficulty may, perhaps, be due to the narrowness of my mind, but I do not appreciate the scope of general propositions of that kind. I should like to see them in much more precise form before I give an opinion upon them. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one of the most difficult problems with which the world is faced to-day, and with which it will be faced even more in the future, is the problem that is raised by the existence of States that have Empires and States that have no Empire—the haves and the have-nots. Upon that problem let me make this observation. I certainly agree that it does place a grave and heavy responsibility upon the countries that have Empires. There I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I think he will agree with me when I say that the way to settle these problems, however difficult they may be, as undoubtedly they are, is not by recourse to force in any part of the world, but by conciliation, settlement and agreement.
§ Sir S. HOARE
The right hon. Gentleman says, "Summon an economic conference." I am nervous of these general world conferences unless there is a basis of agreement between the Governments that are taking part in them. The right 2928 hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about church history, and perhaps he will agree with me when I say, looking back on the history of the Oecumenical Councils of the Church that they were faced with the same kind of difficulties, and they usually broke down unless by a careful preparation beforehand some kind of basis of agreement had been reached between the parties concerned. The World Economic Conference is still in being, and it may be that in the future we may have recourse to it, but recourse to it under more favourable conditions than existed two years ago. That Conference broke down mainly upon one issue, the fact that there was no general agreement upon one of the basic conditions of a conference of that kind, the question of the stabilisation of currency. I do not believe that the Conference if it were resummoned would be any more successful if there was still not agreement, and I believe at the moment there is no agreement upon a basic question of that kind.
Let me pass from the Economic Conference and from economic questions to that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that dealt with disarmament. There, again, he will see that his attitude and mine differ as in the economic field. First, let me deal with the specific questions he asked me. He asked me a number of definite questions. His first question was this: Are His Majesty's Government prepared to take the initiative at Geneva in tabling a Motion to provide for the total abolition of air warfare? His Majesty's Government have already taken the initiative in this respect. The British Draft Convention, which was presented to the Disarmament Conference on 16th March, 1933, ran as follows:The permanent Disarmament Commission set up under Article 64 … shall immediately devote itself to the working out of the best possible scheme providing for (a) the complete abolition of military and naval aircraft, which must be dependent upon the effective supervision of civil aviation, to prevent its misuse for military purposes.The British draft was accepted by the Conference as the basis of the future convention, and it therefore holds the field as the foundation upon which negotiations will be resumed, if it is possible to continue negotiations with any hope of reaching agreement. The failure to 2929 continue the discussion of the British draft was due to the departure of Germany from the Disarmament Conference, and it seems clearly impossible to discuss any agreement for abolishing air warfare without German co-operation. It may be mentioned that the chief obstacle to further progress on the air question in the Disarmament Conference was the irreconcilable difference between France, Germany and other States on the question of the internationalisation of civil aviation, which France and Spain considered essential as a condition for abolishing air warfare, and which Germany and others declared impracticable. As to bombing from the air, we discussed that question in some detail on the last Foreign Office Debate, but let me repeat that Article 34 of the United Kingdom Draft Convention provides for the immediate abolition of bombing from the air except for police purposes in outlying regions. His Majesty's Government have declared that they are ready to abandon the latter reservation if it should stand in the way of the conclusion of an agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a further question—do His Majesty's Government renounce unconditionally the use of gas in war, or do they take the line that, as others are prepared to use gas, they must do likewise? His Majesty's Government have signed and ratified the Geneva Protocol of 17th June, 1925, renouncing the use of gas in war as between the parties. Their ratification is subject to the reservation that they will consider themselves absolved from these obligations vis-a-vis any State that uses gas warfare against them. France made similar reservations. The Convention is in force, but has not yet been ratified by certain States, for example, the United States of America, Czechoslovakia and Japan. I hope that in the answers I have given to the House I have made the position of the Government quite clear upon the subject of air warfare. I hope I have also made it clear that if we have failed to achieve the progress which we all hoped and desired, it has not been due to any failures on the part of His Majesty's Government, but rather to the difficulties between certain countries in Europe over the question of civil aviation, and due most of all—let me emphasise this point 2930 —to the great gulf in all these questions of disarmament—we had much better face and realise it—between the French point of view and the German point of view. This gulf is nothing new in Europe; it has existed for centuries, but it does mean that in all these questions of disarmament sooner or later we come up against it.
The resummoning of the Disarmament Conference, is of course, in the hands of the President, and we shall put no obstacle whatever in his way. My view is that no real progress will be made in the field of disarmament until somehow or other we or other Governments, or the affected Governments themselves, can lessen if not bridge the gulf between the German and the French point of view. I suppose it was because of that that the right hon. Member for Clay Cross (Mr. A. Henderson), to whom I should like to pay a tribute this afternoon for his work in the cause of disarmament, and who we all hope to see back in the House in the Autumn completely recovered from his ill health, held the same view which I am trying to express, namely, that this gulf between Germany and France must be narrowed or bridged before the discussion upon disarmament can be resumed with any reasonable prospect of success. That is the reason I assume why the right hon. Gentleman has not yet resummoned the full Conference. In the meanwhile I can assure the House that His Majesty's Government are doing everything in their power to narrow the differences between these Governments and make it possible that we shall be able once again to discuss this question with a reasonable prospect of success. In particular, we have been concentrating our efforts upon the negotiations for an air pact, and I do not mean an air pact without limitation. I cannot conceive of an air pact without some limitation of some kind, or conceive a settlement of the air question without some consideration of an essential question like the bombing question.
With reference to the air pact, I will be quite frank with the House and tell them the present position. On the one hand, there is the French point of view, that you cannot take one question out of a list of questions concerning the peace of Europe and deal with it separately from the others. On the other hand, 2931 there is the German point of view which takes the line that you must deal with these questions one at a time. The difficulty when two Governments take up a rigid position on these lines is to get the negotiations started at all. I am doing my best to find a way round, if it is possible, these rigid positions, and make it possible for the discussions to start, and to start as soon as possible. I deeply regret that I cannot report further progress than that in the matter, but I can say that not a day passes without my making some new effort to make it possible for these negotiations to begin.
The House will see from these observations that I am trying to approach this question not in a world of generalities, but, as far as I can, in an atmosphere of realism. When people talk of realism they are apt to think of a cynical or indifferent attitude. That is not my attitude at all. I realise as fully as the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, although we may differ as to methods, the urgency of these problems, the tremendous issues which are at stake if we cannot settle them, or at least if we cannot mitigate the dangers in the near future. It is in the attitude of trying adjustments if I cannot find remedies, to bring Governments together which hitherto have taken up rigid and irreconcilable positions towards each other, that I am trying to approach these difficult problems in the international world. I often remind myself of a line of the poet William Blake:Labour well the minute particulars.The right hon. Gentleman who is a student of Blake will remember the remarkable lines coming from him, a poet who no one could accuse of a lack of moral fervour and imagination. It is not the least interesting point to note that the poet who wrote "Jerusalem," who was inspired with imagination and moral fervour yet took as his motto:Labour well the minute particulars.When he was building the "New Jerusalem" he was thinking not only of the great conception, but also of the houses, the drains, the lay out, and the roads. The right hon. Gentleman will, I hope, believe me when I say that because I am approaching these problems in an atmosphere of realism it does not mean that the realism 2932 hides cynicism or indifference, or that it hides an ignorance of the great issues which are at stake.
It is from the same point of view that I approach the terrible difficulty of the Abyssinian controversy. Let me say how grateful I am to every hon. Member who has spoken for the responsible manner in which they have dealt with a controversy which is fraught with every kind of danger. It is the question which is in everyone's mind, and it provides a good illustration of the attitude which I have been describing as the attitude of His Majesty's Government. We approach it not with a desire to make declamatory speeches or to hurl charges and general principles against countries and systems, but with a realist and practical attitude which admits its complexities and is determined to make every reasonable effort for averting war.
It is easy, and perhaps it is tempting, in a controversy of this kind to jump into the arena impetuously and rashly, to throw down your glove and to challenge anyone who disagrees with you to fight. Supposing, however, that your attitude destroyed for years the basis of international co-operation, supposing the result of your action was to cripple and mutilate the League for a generation to come, your rashness, however courageous, would be foolish to the point of criminal folly. Moreover, you would be failing to achieve the object for which you acted. So far from averting war you would be more likely to extend its scope. The Government's policy is the very reverse of this rash and dangerous attitude. Nevertheless, we realise as keenly as anyone the gravity of the issues that are at stake. We are second to no one in our intention to carry out our obligations under the Treaties and under the Covenant. Indeed, it is just because we realise the gravity of the issues that we are determined to take no rash steps which would make the situation irredeemable.
The effect of a war between Italy and Abyssinia would, in our view, be wholly bad. Whether the war be long or short, whether the victor be Italy or Abyssinia, the effect would be harmful beyond exaggeration to the League and all that the League stands for. The attempt that we have made in the post-War 2933 world, to substitute peaceful settlement for the arbitrament of the sword would have been frustrated. The small weak countries of the world would see the protection upon which they have been depending gravely endangered. The pacts that have been laboriously concluded for the greater security of Europe would seem little more than scraps of paper. That is why we shall strive to our utmost to keep the League in being. If war breaks out, it is certain that, in the modern conditions of the world, there will be endless complications, controversies and crises connected with finance and trade, the rights of belligerents and neutrals and, indeed, all the normal relations between one civilised country and another.
Outside Europe, the reactions, though they may be not so immediate will be no less deplorable. For a generation past, we in Great Britain and our friends in France, have been engaged in a wise and generous policy of eliminating issues between the white and the coloured races. We do not believe in the inevitability of these colour clashes. We have worked not to dig a gulf but to build a bridge between Europe and Africa and between Europe and Asia. It has been the guiding spirit of our work in India. It has been, particularly, the guiding spirit of our work in Parliament, in connection with India, during the last four years. It was the guiding spirit of Marshal Lyautey's policy in Africa. A war that was acclaimed to be a war between the white and black races would throw intolerable obstacles into this path of reconciliation and mutual understanding.
I have already told the House that we are not unsympathetic to the Italian need for expansion and our action since the War show that our sympathy is more than a sympathy of idle words. If the Italian Government have complaints to make against the Abyssinian Government, let them make those complaints in the proper and regular manner. They will find the League ready to give full and impartial consideration to the case which they put before it. But these are issues which can be settled without recourse to war. Above all they are issues that can be settled without recourse to a war which would inevitably lead to confusion in Europe, to the serious weakening and perhaps the destruction of the forces of 2934 peace and to the formidable unsettlement of the great coloured races of the world. The House can rely upon the British Government to use every influence available to avert these calamities.
Let me turn aside for a moment to answer two or three questions which were put to me by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) in what I venture to thank him for as having been a very helpful speech. The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting suggestion. He pointed to the claims that the Italian Government are making in connection with the need for safeguarding their position in Africa, in case complications might arise in Europe and they found an East Afrcan complication employing them at the same time. The right hon. Gentleman made the suggestion that the League, or at least ourselves and the French, might be able to take some action to reassure the Italians that such a state of affairs would not be allowed to arise. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion struck me as very interesting and I will certainly see, if my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs has not noticed the suggestion in the report of the Debate tomorrow, that it is conveyed to him and that it is conveyed to Geneva.
The right hon. Gentleman asked me a specific question. He said there had been rumours, for which he in no way made himself responsible, that at Stresa the British Government and the French Government had given some kind of undertaking to the Italian Government, under which we were supposed to be prepared to give the Italian Government a free hand in Abyssinia. Speaking for His Majesty's Government, I desire to say that there is no foundation whatever for this report. I would add that the question of Abyssinia was never discussed between the delegates of the three Governments at Stresa. So far as the French Government is concerned, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is for the French Government to make the answer in their own Chamber. None the less, I feel justified in saying that I am quite certain that the French Government gave no undertaking either at Stresa or in other conversations that would justify any statement of that kind. I am quite certain that the French Government has taken no action and has made no statement that would be contrary 2935 to its obligations either under the Covenant or under the existing treaties.
Let me say a word in conclusion about Abyssinia. I wish to-day that I could be more precise. I wish that I could report to the House that some great progress had been made with our peacemaking efforts in Geneva. I am afraid all I can say is that the negotiations at Geneva are continuing, that we are doing our utmost upon the lines that I have described to the House, that we realise just as keenly as any hon. or right hon. Member in this House, the urgency of these issues. We realise just as keenly as they do the risk of accepting or approving dilatory methods that might lead to no result. We do, however, feel that it is essential that we should give the fullest and the fairest opportunity to any methods of conciliation that may occur to us or to the Council of the League. That is the task upon which my right hon. Friend is engaged at the present moment, and it is a task in which I believe every hon. and right hon. Gentleman in this House will wish strength to his arm and success to his efforts.
I have dealt at some length with Abyssinia for not only is it the most urgent question of the moment, but it serves to illustrate the Government's attitude and my attitude towards the problems of the world. It shows, and I believe it will show, even more strongly in the future that we have ignored none of the unpleasant facts, least of all have we ignored any of our obligations. We have dealt and we are dealing with the question as realists but not as cynical realists, rather as sympathetic realists who know that great moral issues are at stake and who know also that if these moral issues are treated rashly and clumsily, we may with the best intentions in the world and the most honourable motives, plunge the world into a great catastrophe.
Finally, I should not be honest with the House if, on this, the last day before the Recess, I did not say to them that in our view the state of Europe remains one of gloom and apprehension. The world seems to have entered upon an era of deep and genuine anxiety. But if this is so, it is no reason why we should either be plunged into revolutionary changes or throw up our hands in despair. Rather 2936 have we to remain true to British policy and British tradition. Rather have we to remain true to British instincts and particularly the British instinct of common sense. Rather have we to examine with careful forethought our position and our resources for maintaining our position, our responsibilities and our commitments and our means for carrying them out. In my speech of 11th July, I ventured to say and to say with emphasis:You cannot have collective security … without proportional contribution. You cannot defend a principle let alone a neighbour if you are not prepared and able to defend yourself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1935; col. 517, Vol. 304.]I do not say that we cannot carry out our commitments. I do not say that we cannot defend our principles, but I do say that in the troubled state of the world we must examine once again, with great care, our resources and we must see that Great Britain is not only brave enough to have a firm and consistent policy of peace but is strong enough to ensure that the world as a whole respects it.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
It seems to me that on occasions such as this the House of Commons is really useful and does its work to perfection as a national institution. The speeches delivered this afternoon have been admirable and should be of the greatest possible assistance to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I do not remember for a long time a case in which we have had such complete unanimity between all parties. I am naturally prejudiced at all times against the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Regretfully but none the less sincerely I should like to congratulate him on a foreign policy quite in keeping with the times of Palmerston and the great days of the 19th century. He is apparently afflicted with a feeling of the enormous responsibility which rests upon him at this moment. A black world is thrown upon his shoulders. I would rather point out to him a magnificent opportunity of giving the world a lead and England a reputation, because here is a chance for the first time of making the League of Nations the instrument of international law and international peace. This is almost the first chance there has been of the League 2937 of Nations showing what it can do. It may fail—I will deal with that in a moment—but if it succeeds, here is a real advance from the state of tooth and claw to the state of law. There is no doubt that if he succeeds in putting down this war, a particularly brutal and stupid war, I admit, if he succeeds in using the League of Nations to put down this war, then we can use the League of Nations to put down other wars in future. It is the opportunity for the future that I see more than the difficulty of the moment.
And what is the danger? The House will probably forgive my saying that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need always say he is extremely sympathetic with Italian ideas of expansion; we are not, and I do not believe the League of Nations is sympathetic with anybody's ideas of expansion. But apart from that, the situation is really in our hands. I yield to no one in hatred of a war between rich and poor, between a white race and a black race, between a manifest aggressor and a brave people fighting for freedom, and yet I do not see in this question a struggle between Italy and Abyssinia, nor between white domination and black despair; I see in it the question of whether the League of Nations is going to save the world or whether the League of Nations will be destroyed. If the right hon. Gentleman fails to get that necessary unanimity in the League of Nations for using collective security to prevent war, what must be the immediate result?
Let us look ahead. If one dictator cannot be stopped from attacking Abyssinia, nothing can stop another dictator from attacking Lithuania, and Memel, and Austria. It is opening the doors to the rule of force in a worse degree than we have had it in the past. In the old Empires and Kingdoms absolute dictators were restrained by family relationships, by traditions and a certain conscience. Under the new dictatorships there is no restraint of tradition, there is no public conscience. The only restraint is the League of Nations, so that the outlook for the future under dictatorship States is really far worse than it was in the nineteenth century; and that danger applies not only to Lithuania, to Austria, and to all the little States. It applies also to France itself.
2938 If the question we are discussing is really, "How can we assure the co-operation of France?" I think the only way to get that assured co-operation is to show her that if this effort goes wrong, then everything goes wrong; Locarno goes. If we fail, if the League of Nations fails, to show united support in favour of preventing a war—which the League of Nations can stop perfectly well if it is unanimous—if it fails there, if we are failed by France in this, Locarno vanishes, the Covenant of the League of Nations vanishes, and security will leave, not only the small nations, but France, and Czechoslovakia, and Italy as well.
I recall the time in the middle of the last century, about 1863, when a very similar situation arose. The French Government desired our help in order to protect the Poles from Tsarist Russian atrocities. The Polish Republic had been started, and the French Government, the Emperor Napoleon III, was particularly anxious to have our help because he knew that England and France together could save that nation. The English Government, even under Palmerston, refused to commit itself to a war with Russia in order to save Poland. Almost within six months the position was reversed. Prussia was attacking Denmark, and our Government was committing itself to the defence of Denmark against the Prussian attack. We wanted to get French help, but they turned on us and said, "You would not help us in Poland, and we will not help you in Denmark." The English Government had to eat humble pie, and to allow Denmark to be trampled on by the Prussians, and Schleswig-Holstein to be taken from them. And exactly parallel results will happen here if England and France are not solid in the defence of right on the League of Nations. I give that illustration because I am certain that if the right hon. Gentleman does not manage to maintain peace he will have opened the floodgates to far worse things, he will have broken down not merely the League of Nations, but all security in Europe; and at a time when we have dictatorships everywhere, that insecurity will be far greater than it has ever been for the last 300 or 400 years.
The other point that I would like to make is that here is a real opportunity for the British Government to lead the world towards safety and away from war, 2939 and at the same time to use the great position which Great Britain occupies to-day throughout the world. With the possible exception of the United States of America, we are respected most by all the peoples of the world. It is almost pitiful to see the way in which the German Government is trying to get the good opinion of English people. The outburst of anti-British feling in Italy at the present time, dictated, of course, is another example of how much importance is attached to our opinion. I would say that the moral position, and the economic position, and the power of Great Britain to-day is far greater than it has been in my lifetime, and probably for 100 years. We cannot afford to allow that magnificent position which we have achieved to fail to secure the peace of the world, and this collective security, this public police, which may be of such inestimable benefit to the future.
We have the power of conferring an everlasting benefit on mankind. No other country has that power which we have. We can get that unanimity in the League of Nations which is necessary to stop the war with Abyssinia, and we can get it by showing to France what it means if we do not have their support. The opportunity must not be allowed to slip from our hands. I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman will let it slip. I was better pleased by one thing that he said than by all else. He said that we had already been in touch with America on this question. Really, this is the joint testing of the two branches of the Anglo-Saxon race. It is in their hands to preserve the peace of the world and to prevent aggression for the future. It is in their hands, and if France is with us, peace wins. If we fail, it is the end of all that America has always stood for and that we have stood for since the Great War. Pray God the right hon. Gentleman will stop the war and preserve the reputation of this country for honest dealing with its neighbours.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Like the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who has just spoken, I should like to say that we are very much obliged to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for having given us so lucid an exposition of the attitude of the Government to the 2940 problems which we have been discussing this afternoon, and we were all, naturally, particularly interested in his observations in regard to the Abyssinian situation. He was kind enough to say, and I think with truth, that no speech in this Debate had been delivered in a sense that was in any way embarrassing to him, that all the speeches had been couched in terms of care and caution, and he expressed appreciation of that fact. I should deem it a very great disservice indeed if in any way I departed from that attitude in what I have to say. I gather that at an earlier stage, during the speech of one hon. Member, there seemed to be some doubt as to where the Labour party stood in regard to this difficult situation. I do not quite understand why any dubiety should arise in anyone's mind in the matter, for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—and no one surely can speak more authoritatively than he in this matter—made in the most explicit terms a statement of the attitude of this party in regard to this problem. Lest it should have escaped the memory of some hon. Members, let me recall his exact words. He said:The Labour party stands by the Covenant of the League and will support the Government so long as it stands loyally and without reservation for all that the Covenant stands for.Those words were quite explicit, and I think they can leave no doubt as to what they mean. In any case, they have been given now a second time, and I hope our position is therefore quite clear. We have heard, and heard quite properly, from the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary himself, the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and other speakers what great issues hang upon this matter. To state one of them, and by no means the smallest, we must all be aware of the tremendous implications of this matter from the racial point of view. I understand that the natives of various parts of Africa are already indicating that they have been profoundly moved by this question. I gather that the same thing is true of the negroes of America and it is quite obvious that it would be in the highest degree disastrous if as a result of the outbreak of hostilities, which God grant may never occur, a consequential difficulty might arise of a racial character between the white and 2941 coloured races. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he stated so categorically as to grievances, if there is a sense of grievance entertained on the part of the Italians or of the Abyssinians, that the place to which to take those grievances is not after all the field of battle but the field of conciliation. All the members of the League of Nations have repeatedly committed themselves in the event of the development of some misunderstanding to the application of the conciliation procedure provided for by the League Covenant and other Pacts. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman was right when he said that if the Italian people or the Abyssinian people submit their difficulties to the arbitrament of reason at Geneva or elsewhere they can be assured in advance of the fullest consideration of the statement of their respective cases.
I wish to return to another side of the problem on which the right hon. Gentleman himself touched. Every single Government, it has been said this afternoon, has repeated times without number that for us in this country it is a cardinal principle of our foreign policy that we in Britain stand by the League. When Governments have said that they have expressed the mind of the whole people, and if it were necessary to have proof of that one could with propriety I think cite the result of the ballot recently held in this country in which some 11,000,000 people in cold reflection re-stated their abiding faith in the League as an instrument of conciliation in the world. I am not sure that I would be saying too much if I said that to the people of this country the League is their surest shield and defence, and there is no wonder that they regard it as such having regard to the dread alternative which is present to the minds of all people who lived through the awful days of 1914 to 1918. It is right that we should ask, therefore, before we go to our respective places for a brief recess where exactly does the League stand to-day? I am afraid that I must differ from some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman in his speech this afternoon. It will not be denied I think that in the course of the last three or four years there has been a steady deterioration in the prestige of the League in the world. Without making any party point at all I do not think that any one will deny that in 1931 there was a belief 2942 that Britain stood for leadership in League affairs, and it was as a tribute to that belief that my right hon. Friend the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Henderson), to whom the Secretary of State referred so kindly and generously this afternoon, for which we thank him, was asked to accept the presidency of the Disarmament Conference in 1932.
The world view and the League of Nations view were that Britain was exercising a definite lead in League affairs. What is the position at this moment? Let me give one or two instances of the deterioration. I need only point to the Far East. At this moment Japan, in deliberate violation of her obligations under the League when she was a member, has over-run Manchuria, is now clearly intending to penetrate into inner Mongolia and is determined to establish a protectorate over China up to the Yellow River. Apparently the League in three years has become impotent over the matter. I remember referring in this House to the memorandum of General Tanaka in which he stated what Japan was to do in the Far East, and how the Foreign Secretary told me that there was nothing in it. Yet almost everything recommended in that memorandum has been realised over a large part of the Far East, and I am not sure that we shall live very much longer before we shall see the whole of the Far East come under the hegemony of Japan. I am not raising this to blame anyone but to ask my question again—Where does the League stand now? In that region it seems to have lost its authority completely.
The importance of the point to us is that when we were calling attention to the obligations, duties and responsibilities of the League in the Far East we were promptly told that we were warmongers and that we wanted war. Yet in the last Debate on foreign affairs, the Minister for League of Nations Affairs said that he had told Signor Mussolini that British foreign policy was founded on the League and that this Government could not therefore remain indifferent to events which might profoundly affect the League's future. Have we been indifferent or have we not? Is there any hon. Gentleman on that side of the House supporting this Government who can deny that as far as Japan is concerned, we have scarcely raised an effective voice in the matter?
2943 Let me resume my review of the last three years. In 1931–32 Herr Bruning was Chancellor in Germany. Germany was in the League and at the Disarmament Conference Herr Bruning made an offer in regard to Germany's claim for equality of treatment, an offer which if made today would be regarded as Utopian. Yet it was not attended to. The claim for equality was scarcely listened to, almost ignored; and the result has been—I am not blaming entirely the British Government—but the fact remains that the treatment then meted out to Herr Bruning has largely helped to create Herr Hitler. Three years ago Italy was prepared to support all-round abolition of armaments prohibited to Germany, and yet to-day she is sending men and materials, ad infinitum one might almost say, to Abyssinia, to carry on a war which if it is waged will undoubtedly be in definite defiance of the Kellogg Pact, which pledges her not to carry on a war as an instrument of national policy. What has the League so far done in that matter?
I am bound to say that I was very much encouraged by the observations of the Secretary of State this afternoon. If he will allow me to say so with very great respect, I think that I discerned a different approach, a change in attitude, and certainly a very great difference in clarity of statement of policy than we have ever had before, and it is an advantage to know where a person stands. That at any rate, we do know concerning the right hon. Gentleman. Three years ago seven nations, at the beginning of the Disarmament Conference, were advocating total abolition of naval and military aircraft—Germany, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Hungary, Russia, Italy and France; each of these, with varying conditions attached, was prepared to accept the general principle of the abolition of naval and military aircraft. At the earlier stage of the Disarmament Conference our own Government merely indicated a "practical examination of the whole problem of bombing from the air in its wider forms." There were further words: "Such limitation or prohibition as will weaken attack and so remove the temptations of aggression."
After that we had the well known Hoover plan, which included the abolition of all bombing planes and the absolute prohibition of all bombing from the 2944 air. That was a proposition from America itself. We were undoubtedly very polite about it. As to the bombing of civilians, we said that that ought to be prohibited and that bombing in general ought to be prohibited, "save within limits to be laid down as precisely as possible by an international convention." We added that the numbers and weight of military aircraft should be limited. Thus, at one time, we had seven of the leading nations prepared to accept, on certain terms, total abolition of military and naval aircraft. Then we come to two years ago and the French and other Governments proposed the abolition of all national air forces on conditions, including the creation of a small international air police force. Our Government presented difficulties. I do not complain of that, for difficulties must be faced. A little later, in March, 1933, they presented their proposals for a convention and gave figures. That Draft included proposals for the abolition of naval and military aircraft, with the addition of an effective system of control of civil aviation and reservations about bombing.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to attribute much of the difficulty in this matter to the differences between France and Germany. I do not deny that this was an important, indeed, a primary factor, but in this question of the limitation or abolition of aircraft our Government must really take their share of the responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman said that our Government indicated that if the question of bombing for these purposes was likely to stand in the way, they would gladly not press it. That is true, but it was a statement made much too late, and if that reservation had not been insisted upon at the discussions I feel sure that much greater progress would have been made with the problem of the limitation of armaments, and especially of aerial bombing generally. In April, 1933, when all these declarations had been made by various Governments, including our own, the most dreadful and reprehensible thing happened. The Air Committee of the Conference dealing with the question of disarmament adjourned for a few days. It has never met since. The Air Committee has never even been convened since. The right hon. Gentleman will not deny that all these nations, in the original presentation of their proposals, had indicated their preparedness to consider the abolition of this kind of 2945 aircraft. In May, 1933, the Spaniards presented their proposals consisting of 20 articles, and they were supported by Signor Madariaga in a brilliant speech indicating the Spanish approach to this problem.
Thus we have the Spanish proposals, the British proposals, the French proposals and the German proposals; all these nations have presented separate plans and proposals, and they have never even been discussed in detail. The British proposals were discussed in a sort of second reading debate, but even that debate was occupied mostly with a discussion of our reservations on the question of bombing. All the rest of the proposals have remained in the pigeon holes at Geneva without being brought out for examination. That is a bad enough record, but a worse thing than that happened. When the Conference adjourned on the 18th June, 1934, it adjourned for a short time with all these proposals, as it were, in the offing, but the then Secretary of State for Air, Lord Londonderry, proceeded within a few days, not to discuss the problem of limitation, nor to announce the Government's resolution to go back and insist on a discussion of their proposals, but to declare on behalf of the Government that they were abandoning all hope for agreement on limitation. It was a disastrous thing, not only in the sense of indicating where our Government stood, but because of the impression produced abroad. I do not propose to follow that story in greater detail. I merely say that it is a fact—whoever is responsible, it is unprofitable for us now to discuss—that year after year from 1932 to 1935 we seem to have been going down these steps steadily into the abyss, until to-day we ourselves are committed to a colossal expenditure on the sea and in the air and practically every nation of any consequence is building as though a war were imminent.
That is a dreadful consequence to contemplate as the result of three or four years of diplomacy, and I doubt whether there is any supporter of the Government who can derive any satisfaction whatever from the contemplation of this picture. The question still remains what we are going to do in the face of this situation. May I dwell for a minute upon another aspect of this business of re-armament. 2946 I believe that as a consequence of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement we are to be committed to a tremendous building programme. Yesterday afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) put a question to the First Lord of the Admiralty inviting him to tell us specifically the programme to which we were committed or which had been communicated to the foreign Powers. My hon. Friend referred in terms which were understandable to the First Lord to an announcement which had been made in the Press the day before as to the extent to which we were committed in expenditure in the next seven years. The figure which I saw in the Press was £150,000,000, and there was a further statement that the Government proposed to deal with that expenditure, not in the orthodox way out of current taxation, but by means of a defence loan, thus adding enormously to the burdens upon our children for an expenditure on armaments which we have pledged ourselves to our children should never fall on their shoulders again.
We have had no denial from the Government. We have had an admission of the fact that the programme has been communicated to other Governments, but no denial of the details which appeared in the Press. If Mussolini or Hitler or the French or any other Government is entitled to know, surely the people of this country are entitled to know. We are, however, apparently told to wait until next year's Estimates and perhaps we shall know then to what we are committed. That is scarcely good enough. The Government should understand that this policy of committing us to a defence loan is a very controversial policy. It is not one to which we are likely to give our adherence very lightly, and the Government ought not to leave the country in ignorance one minute longer because, if we are to have an election, as is suggested, in the autumn, the country should know how the Government propose to meet the commitments which they have so madly undertaken in armaments.
I turn from that to the question with which I began—where do we stand in regard to the League? We are committed to use the League method, and that involves some sacrifice. It must involve the loss of a certain amount of 2947 sovereignty when we join an international convention or organisation like the League. We cannot insist that although we belong to an organisation of this sort, we shall make no contribution at all. The Secretary of State dealt with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in a kindly way, but he complained that he did not understand what he meant when he referred to the economic problems that are involved. My right hon. Friend asked what was the trouble underlying the Japanese incursion into Manchuria, and said that it was an economic problem. It was the necessity for a place for the surplus population and perhaps the chase for raw materials. What is the trouble which is said to underlie one of Hitler's difficulties in Germany? It is the fact that Germany feels she is circumvented by nations on all sides and has no outlet in other parts of the world. What is the trouble underlying Mussolini's incursion into Africa? It is in part the urge and pressure of surplus population, and in part the chase for raw materials. There are people in our country who argue that we may, in the absence of a well-controlled emigration, be brought up against the problem of surplus population, but we have an outlet, we have possessions, as we call them, in various parts of the world.
I am not urging that the case for Hitler, or Mussolini, or Japan rests solely on that consideration. But I am prepared to say that if the League of Nations is to function at all it must pay regard to the difficulties of what I may call the dissatisfied Powers. Unless you can give satisfaction to those who are dissatisfied your League ceases to be of use. Is it too much to ask us to reflect once more upon the significance of the fact that we control so much of the territory of the earth? It is easy for a man who is gorged at a feast to ask the other fellow, who has no crust, to be content. We have gorged ourselves with possessions; we do not want any more; we say so; we can afford to say so; but others require them very much. I am not going to urge, and nobody else urges, that territory now called British territory should be handed over to Italy or Germany or Japan, but what we do say is that you could contribute enormously to the contentment of nations if you guaranteed to all the nations ready access to 2948 the raw materials which they require. An hon. Member inquires "How?" He knows that there is a Mandates Commission. It may not function as fully as it might under Article 19, I think, of the Covenant. But it functions. Indeed, we occupy Tanganyika under the operations of a mandate. If you improve your mandate arrangements I can quite see how you could satisfy these difficulties of what I may call the dissatisfied Powers, always subject to this overriding consideration.
The Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I think I am right in saying the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself this afternoon, used words which I was very glad to hear from that side of the House. The Secretary of State for the Colonies said that the prime task of those who administer Colonies is to consider not our well-being but the well-being of the races living in those territories. The Secretary of State also said something of that sort. There, I think, is the authentic voice of reason and common sense. We ought not to find it an insuperable job to govern those areas for the well being of their peoples. Give mandates, if you like, to other nations, but give them subject to the overriding consideration that all shall guarantee to the natives of those areas freedom to develop and to grow as their necessities demand. That is what was meant by the reference of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. The Secretary of State said he understood it is implying the problem, "What are we going to do with our big Empire?" We will accept it stated in that way. I am sure that the day will come when the world will not allow nations to go on much longer with some starving for want of opportunity, some ruining their opportunities because of the over possession of territory, and others excluded from having territory at all. I have ended what I intended to say. We attach the greatest possible importance to this last point, this question of the economic causes of war. We have left the old types of war behind long ago—the old wars of religion, the old wars between petty chiefs about nothing in particular. Modern wars generally arise from deep and fundamental economic causes, and that is why, in our judgment, it is so important to summon again the Economic World Conference. The question of stabilisation is important, but of small 2949 importance compared with the larger issues which my right hon. Friend would like to see dealt with at such a conference.
We have pretty well come to the end of this Session, and soon we shall all be scattered "o'er moor and fen," leaving, I am afraid, the crags and torrents to be negotiated by the Secretary of State. I am sure that I can say to him, on behalf of all of us, that we wish him a happy holiday and a happy issue out of this terrible problem that now confronts him. The more he succeeds the more we shall be pleased. There is none among us, I assure him, who will begrudge him any fame or credit that may properly come to him for any settlement he may be able to bring about in this difficult and dangerous matter. We leave it at that. We can only hope that under the guidance of the right hon. Gentleman we shall not only be able to use the League in these new circumstances but, through using the League and by using the League, to raise once again among the nations of the world the collective authority that reposes at Geneva.
§ 7.37 p.m.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State has, in the past few months, often found himself in a difficult position, but never, I think, has he had to choose his words so carefully as to-day, and I hope he will allow me to say—and I would rise to say it if I said nothing else—with what tremendous pleasure and delight the House listened to his speech. It seemed to me to be not only wise and cautious, but infinitely courageous as well. It was just the kind of speech which was wanted to guide public opinion in this country and to give a lead to the nations abroad. Practically everything that can be said and should be said on the subject of the Italian-Abyssinian dispute has already been said, and I think I find myself in whole-hearted agreement with almost every utterance made this afternoon in reference to it; but there are one or two aspects of it which are peculiar and deserve attention. I cannot imagine that there has been any other instance in history where a country has given six months' notice of going to war, as certainly appears to be the case with Italy. I cannot conceive of any decision which a Government of this country has had to make since 1914 which is going to be so vital both to the future of the people 2950 in this country and to those in Europe and the world as well.
We all hope and anticipate that some arrangement will be come to which will satisfy Italy, which will prevent war, and which will enable the League of Nations to continue in undiminished strength and vigour, but one asks oneself the question, What can the League do? I think it is idle to suppose that if the League really acted, if the Covenant were put into force, this war could not be stopped. Of course it could. If France and ourselves, supported by the Little Entente, said to Mussolini, "You may have a case in Abyssinia—we are not denying that—but if you go to war we shall all unite against you," of course it would stop war. Why I make that point is because it is apt to be said that collective security has failed. Collective security has not failed; collective action has not been put into practice.
Another argument often raised is that because the League failed to preserve the peace in the Japanese-Chinese conflict, therefore it cannot and should not function here. I think the circumstances in that case were not in any way analogous to the present situation. Chinese sovereignty in Manchukuo was disputable in law and non-existent in fact. The two countries which could have taken action were the United States and Russia, and neither of them was a member of the League. Again, it is said the League has failed because it could not function to restrain Germany. I venture to say that the case of Germany also was not analogous. I deplore the fact that the League did not function in both instances, but in the case of Germany there were those in this country and elsewhere who believed that Germany had a case for rearmament—I am not arguing the merits of that view—and, further, Germany always said she regarded the Treaty of Versailles as different from any other treaty because it was imposed upon her by force. Whatever may be the merits of those arguments, we can all deplore that the League was not able to function, but I do not think that is an argument for saying that it should not function in the future.
After all, Italy and Abyssinia are both members of the League, and one of them has appealed to it and has offered to accept whatever decision the League 2951 comes to on the matters in dispute. As has been already said, it is no argument to say that Abyssinia should not be a member of the League. It is over 12 years since Abyssinia was admitted a member of the League, proposed and supported by France and Italy, opposed at the time by ourselves. It is quite true to say that she has proved herself a bad neighbour, that there is no central Government with control over the whole country, and that slavery not only exists in the country but that a slave trade of considerable dimensions is still carried on between Abyssinia and Arabia. Raids take place not only into the Italian Colonies, but over the borders of Sudan and Kenya; the perpetrators are very seldom caught and hardly ever punished; and compensation, if it is paid at all, is on an insufficient scale and not received until many months, if not years, after the incident.
Again, I think, as the Secretary of State has wisely said, that there is considerable sympathy for Italy's point of view that her natural requirements demand expansion, that in the last 10 years she has found every door closed to her, that her citizens can no longer go to the United States or Brazil or South America, and that rising tariffs throughout the world have prevented her from selling her goods. All these factors can be brought forward to support an Italian case, and I, for one, deplore that Italy has never made any case whatsoever. One of the posters in Italy which has appealed most to the youth of the country depicts an Italian looking at Abyssinia and saying, "I regard Abyssinia in the same light as an Englishman regarded the Colonial possessions which he was taking in the 18th century." After all many years have passed since then. A hundred years ago men were hanged for stealing a sheep, men were flogged to death, with the general consensus of public opinion. Still, it is rather much to ask us to-day to close our eyes to the Treaties of 1906 and 1928, to the Kellogg Pact and the Covenant of the League.
No one proposes that we should take unilateral action; that would be contrary to the whole spirit of the League. The difficulties, dangers and complications of any form of intervention are, of course, obvious, and to ignore the fact that economic sanctions might, and probably 2952 would, result also in military sanctions is, I think, merely dishonest. It is much easier to do nothing for the moment. Whether we like it or not, this is a test case for the League and as to whether collective security will work or not. Quite apart from presenting our case and taking our stand on the League, I think we ought to make it plain both to the people of this country and of Europe what must be the inevitable consequence of a breakdown of the League on this issue. I do not believe the League would stand the blow which its prestige would receive if it failed to intervene in this matter. Collective security would be replaced by selective security. The law of the jungle would return, and right would be to the mighty. Last and by no means least, what an example it would be to Germany, or any other nation, who next year, or in the years to come, could make out an excuse for expansion just as good as Italy's. You would never be able again to mobilise public opinion in this country to restrict that country or to restrain it from doing what you would have allowed to be done in the case of Italy. Any arguments which are used to condone, to excuse or obviate these unpleasant facts are to my mind, gross hypocrisy and are all contrary to the best interests of the League.
There is not the slightest doubt that during the last 12 months there has been a tremendous increase in the interest, faith and belief of this country in the League of Nations. Anyone who speaks for the League of Nations Union knows that wherever you go you find packed meetings. The people of this country believe in the League for itself and for the principle that underlies it, and not as an instrument of policy which is to be used for the benefit of this country in certain circumstances. A very large number of people believe that a moral issue has been raised over this question of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. It is not a question of Italy, Abyssinia, Austria, Memel or anything else. It is a belief that here is a case of gross injustice and our honour has been involved. No Government can afford to ignore and neglect this attitude of public opinion. I have not the slightest reason to suspect, especially after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day, that the Government would do anything so foolish either in their own 2953 interests from an electoral point of view in this country, or from a much wider point of view in the interests of European peace.
There is no doubt that our attitude, whatever we do, will be misrepresented in Europe. France will hardly ever believe that our actions are not based on self-interest. I admit that in the past we have sometimes taken a point of view, on moral grounds, which has worked out in our self-interest as well, but I see it none the worse for that. The question remains, how are we going to be able to persuade France and others to view the situation in the same light as we do, because I think it would be a crime not only in our interests but in their interests, and in the interests eventually of Italy herself unless we can make her see what will be the consequence of a breakdown of the League.
If we ask France, as we may have to do, to take our view, and to sever, I hope only temporarily, that recent friendship which she has enjoyed with Italy, what will she answer? She will ask, and it is a reasonable request, that collective security if it applies in the case of Italy and Abyssinia must also be made to apply to her in relation to Germany. Are we prepared to make that reply? There are some who say, "You have it under the Locarno Treaty." We may say that in this country but there was a time, not many years ago, when public opinion in this country was rather alarmed about the foreign commitments into which we had entered; when Cabinet Ministers went about the countryside trying to explain that Locarno did not really mean what a great many people thought it meant, that we could be judges when the incident occurred, and there was a question of whether we could refer it to the League or not. In any case I think we should give that assurance to France, for it will do much to enable her to work in harmony with ourselves at Geneva.
I believe that if we could make it quite clear that we were prepared to put into the pool, in regard to maintaining the integrity of Austria, the same contribution as either France or Italy is prepared to put, not only would it reassure France, but it might do something to influence Signor Mussolini. I know that on this matter we have made several declarations. Sincere and definite they may appear to 2954 us, but up to date they have not satisfied opinion abroad. I have no qualms or doubts whatever. I think the Government will pursue the right policy, and the very policy which the Secretary of State has outlined this afternoon. They will insist that this dispute is a matter within the competence of the League, and they are prepared to accept both the obligations and responsibilities which are entailed in the Covenant of the League.
If the League succeeds in preserving peace in this question, as it can and I believe will, the League will be able to preserve peace for many more years to come in Europe. Of course, the consequences of any such action are not only extremely involved but incalculable. All I would say is that in these circumstances it is unprofitable to try to formulate and shape our policy by speculating on what may or may not be the consequence of any action we take. If we allow our policy to be influenced by any such consideration, I am certain that we shall find that in the future we have miscalculated the consequences, and we shall have to face exactly the same issue in far more difficult circumstances in a few years' time. If, therefore, we do in this case what I believe to be the right thing, and incidentally it is the thing to which we are pledged, then I believe that we shall not only be justified by public opinion in this country but by the verdict of history, and we shall be able to give to the peoples of Europe a lead which, I am certain, they are not only waiting for but will welcome and follow.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
I do not intend to add anything to what has been said on the Italo-Abyssinian question, except to say that I listened with great interest to the speech of the Foreign Secretary and I agree very much with what he said. I trust that as a result of his efforts and the efforts of the Government and other Governments at Geneva a disastrous war may be averted, because I sometimes think that just as the Balkan war led to the Great War, so a war on the Abyssinian question might lead quickly to a second Armageddon. I want to deal with another matter in the general situation in Europe. It is equally dangerous, though it is not now very much in the Press. It will be remembered that in February last here in London, at Stresa and at other places, the Government laid down in con junction with France and Italy certain 2955 lines of a policy of appeasement in Europe. In that policy of appeasement certain things were proposed. For example, it was proposed that Germany should sign an Eastern Pact of non-aggression. It was suggested that she might also sign a Danubian Pact of non-aggression and give pledges that she will not interfere with Austria, and that she also would return to the League. On the other hand, there was the Western Air Pact, and as a result of these contributions to security in Europe, Germany would be given certain agreements on armaments to replace Part V of the Treaty of Versailles.
I rather fancy that the Secretary of State, when he spoke upon that plan, did rather less than justice to the point of view of France. He put it in this way: That the difference between Germany and France was that Germany wanted to deal with these questions one at a time, whereas France wanted to deal with them altogether, as part of one scheme. If you put it in that way, most people would think that on the whole one thing at a time seems more reasonable than to insist upon all these things being taken together. But the point is that France thinks, and many other nations think, that whereas Germany is quite willing to sign a Western Air Pact which might guard her flank in the event of warfare in the East, she is not equally willing to sign an Eastern Pact. Therefore, those who are not sure of Germany's intentions, either in the East or in regard to Vienna, are very insistent on an Eastern Pact as a part of a general pact—that the Eastern Pact should be signed simultaneously with the Western. Upon these points little if any progress has been made. The Secretary of State mentioned that very little progress has been made so far as the Western Pact is concerned, but also very little if any progress at all has been made in these other matters. For example, the Secretary of State has stated in this House that although he has tried on several occasions to get from the German Government the conditions upon which she would consider returning to the League he has not been able to get the German Government to make any definite statement on that matter.
The right hon. Gentleman has further stated on several occasions this very 2956 month that as far as the Eastern Pact is concerned he has tried to get the German Government to give a decision as to whether they intend to sign the Eastern Pact or not, but in spite of the repeated requests of the Secretary of State he has not been able yet to get any satisfactory reply. In the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday it was stated that Herr Hitler is no longer willing to carry out those very carefully guarded and reserved intentions which he expressed in his recent speech. This is what the newspaper says:It is now known that Herr Hitler is no longer ready to proceed along the lines which he himself advanced in Berlin last March.As far as Austria is concerned, I was talking the other day to a well-known high business authority who understands Central Europe, and in his opinion Herr Hitler will be in Vienna before the end of this year. Certainly, if Italy goes to Abyssinia it is almost certain that that is exactly what will happen.
As we are leaving the Government with a free hand, free from criticism, for the next three months, we should know what the Government propose to do. I have been intensely alarmed by what I have seen of recent tendencies in British foreign policy, tendencies on the part of the Government to go away from the principles which inspired that policy until a few months ago, and to go rather on the side of Germany in the various discussions. One sees it, for example, in the refusal of the Government to do anything whatsoever to prevent the export to Germany of aeroplanes, munitions of war and materials for the munitions of war. One sees it, too, in the most extraordinary change that has taken place and which has been referred to this afternoon in the attitude—with some honourable exceptions—of the British Press, a change which I am informed has been partly the result of very strong pressure put upon the newspapers of this country by the British Foreign Office.
§ Mr. COCKS
That is stated. That is what I have heard in Fleet Street; that pressure has been put on the Press of this country not to say anything very much about the real things that are taking place in Germany to-day, and to publish articles rather sympathetic to the Nazi régime, or at any rate which are 2957 not hostile but are conciliatory and sympathetic in character. If the Foreign Secretary could give me an assurance that no such influence, either direct or indirect, has proceeded from his Department, I should be very grateful, but such statements have been freely made, especially in the last two or three months. Some newspapers have not needed any pressure or influence of that kind. I have referred before in this House to the attitude of the "Times." To be perfectly fair I should say also that I have read articles by certain well-known Labour correspondents which have been harmful, or have not been helpful in their attitude, because they would give Herr Hitler to understand that some Labour bodies in this country are sympathetic to his policy or to his ideals. A tremendous change has been taking place in the Press almost universally, during the last two or three months, but two great provincial newspapers have stood out against it, the "Yorkshire Post," a great Tory organ of the North, and the "Manchester Guardian," a great Liberal organ of the North. It is only fair to say that the papers under Lord Beaverbrook have not taken up that pro-Nazi attitude, although their policy of advocating isolation is one with which I do not agree. That attitude on the part of the Press is encouraging present tendencies in Germany.
A second indication of the Government's attitude is this: We had a full, detailed debate the other day about the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. We now know that when that Agreement was signed, the Government were not aware that the German Government had already laid down two large battleships of 26,000 tons contrary to the Treaty of Versailles. The Government did not know it until they signed the Agreement. I see that the "Daily Telegraph" said yesterday that these battleships will be armed with 12 11-inch guns and will have such machinery that they will be able to fire each gun three rounds a minute. They will outrange any British ships except the Nelson, the Rodney and the Hood. I am also told that tremendous strides have been made with regard to armour-plating since our latest battleships were constructed. It seems that the Admiralty or the Government were led entirely up the garden by Herr von Ribbentrop and his friends, and that the signing of 2958 the Agreement has caused great consternation among the smaller powers of Europe, some of whose representatives have been over here to see what is happening to England and to find out if she is going over to the camp of Germany in the future. There is a definite change of diplomacy in that way. What are we to expect in the future?
The matter is extremely important. The First Lord of Admiralty challenged the House the other day to say what they would have done in his position but agree to the German demands. I suggest there are many things he might have done. I suggest to the First Lord that he should have said to the German delegates that he could not consider giving our agreement to illegal building on the part of Germany, but that, with France and other signatories, we would seek another agreement to replace Part V of the Treaty of Versailles, a proper agreement, made by all parties concerned, in return for which Germany would have to make the position more secure by returning to the League of Nations, signing an Eastern Pact, and so on. Had that been of no use at all, and had the German delegates said: "In spite of that, we are going to build up our fleet," the First Lord should have said quietly and privately to them, first of all, and in a diplomatic way, "If you propose to do that we shall at once conclude a naval agreement with France and Russia," or any other European Powers in the League who would join such an agreement, and that Germany would be deprived of the benefits of Locarno. In other words if she were attacked by any nation we should not lift a finger to help her.
If that had not moved the delegates, and if they had said: "We are going on to build these ships in defiance of the Treaty," I should have said the same things loudly and publicly all over Europe. That is what the Government should have done. If their cautions had had no result, the Government should have written their case in German and broadcast it from the British, French and Russian broadcasting stations every day for a month or two months. [Laughter.] There is nothing to laugh at; that is the method which was adopted by the Germans themselves. It would let the German people know what their 2959 Government were doing. There is one thing His Majesty's Government should not do. They should not sacrifice their friends and Allies of August, 1914, for the assassins of 30th June, 1934. The Government should stand up for the collective system and for the League, and should face the German Government with a resolution equal to their own. An election is pending and the Government seem to have electoral considerations in mind. I suggest to them that the election cry could certainly be raised, if it represented their policy: "Every vote given to the National Government is a vote given to Herr Hitler," and that it would not be very popular for them.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I want to put one or two points to the Government. To-morrow we shall depart to the country for three months, and we have been dealing with the very important question of what is likely to happen with respect to the League of Nations and the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. If anything should arise on those subjects while we are away, may I have an Assurance that Parliament will be called together immediately to deal with the situation? Listening to the speeches makes one feel that something terrible may happen. Many suggestions have been made of action to be taken by this country. I have heard several speeches disapproving of unilateral action. I gather that if France would join with us, some hon. Members would be prepared to call that collective action against Italy. That bilateral action is only another step forward.
What is the position likely to be if the League decides, for instance, that Italy is in the wrong, and if we cannot get the consent of any other nation to take action? What will be the position of this country? Are we prepared to take action in regard to sanctions and to prevent any loan to Italy—we have power to do that—or, if those fail, to cut off any trade that we may be doing with Italy or take power in regard to other economic sanctions that are possible? Those are questions which we shall have to face sooner or later. The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) told us that if we failed in regard to Abyssinia the world would be thrown back to as terrible 2960 a position as it had ever encountered. I take that as being the substance of the suggestions. We must realise that the world is on the verge of being thrown back to the chaos and trouble of 1914. What steps are we prepared to take to prevent that happening? We play a most important part among the nations of the world, and the question is: "What will Great Britain do if we are faced with an emergency?"
I have never been a pacifist; I say that quite candidly. I have differed from many of my colleagues on this side of the House. I can see the time when we may have to be resolute and determined, as to the course of action we shall take to bring peace in its train after we have taken that action. Now appears to be one of the most vital moments with which we have ever been faced. I want the Government to realise the intense feeling which prevails in the country. I do not think the Government are complacent in the matter, I heard the speech of the Foreign Secretary, and I want to congratulate him upon it. It was a most sincere speech, and I believe that his heart was in it. When Parliament is not sitting, I hope that the Government will put their trust in Parliament and will immediately call Parliament together and let us know where we stand. Let Italy be warned that she must not go too far. I want to be serious in this matter because I realise what it means. Firmness and determination will prevent Signor Mussolini taking the steps which he proposes to take, and Which would be fatal to him and to the world. I trust that, if a crisis arises, Parliament will be called together to decide what course the country should take.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Sir S. HOARE
I can speak again only with the leave of the House, but I feel sure that hon. Members will wish me, not, indeed to make another speech, but to answer the questions that have been raised since I last addressed the House. Let me begin with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I am much obliged to him and to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) for their kindly references to my speech. As to the possibility of a meeting of the House, supposing that a crisis should arise, I can assure him, that, under the Motion for the Adjournment to 2961 be moved to-morrow, power will be left in the hands of Mr. Speaker to call the House together in the event of the Prime Minister recommending a meeting of the House, and I have no doubt that, supposing that a grave crisis did arise, recourse would be had to that procedure. As to what we shall say or do in certain conditions, I would prefer to add nothing to what I said in my speech. I hope I said enough, anyhow, to make hon. Members realise that I feel the gravity of the issues as much as any of them. All I can say is that we shall do our best to deal in a wise and responsible manner with whatever situation may arise.
Let me now pass to the questions raised by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. He devoted a good deal of his speech to a lamentation, I am afraid well justified, over the history of the League in recent years. I agree with him that in recent years the League has not gathered the strength for which we had hoped. Indeed, by the defections that have taken place in its ranks it has lost rather than gained in influence. That is no fault of His Majesty's Government. We have done everything we could. I cannot recall a single occasion on which we have not done our best to uphold the prestige of the League and increase its influence. We shall go on firmly following that policy, and, as far as we are concerned, we wish and we pray that nothing will emerge from the Abyssinian controversy that will mean another set-back to the League. We wish to see the League strengthened, and not weakened.
The hon. Member raised again in some further detail the position with regard to disarmament. He recalled the fact, and here again I agree with him that it is a regrettable fact, that no progress has been made with the Air Committee. That, again, is no fault of His Majesty's Government. The reason why no further progress has been made with the work of the Committee is the reason that I gave in my speech, namely, the fact that Germany quitted the League, for, without the participation of Germany, these discussions were likely to lead to nothing. I believe that that would be the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. A. Henderson), who is the President of the Disarmament Conference, and I can assure the House 2962 that throughout all this difficult period, so far as I know, we have acted in full co-operation with the right hon. Gentleman, both in connection with the Air Committee and in connection with the other Committees of the Disarmament Conference.
The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) raised once again a number of questions connected with the Naval Agreement in particular, and connected more generally with our relations with Germany. For much that has happened in Geneva in recent years I am not prepared to take the blame. It was the result, not of the action of His Majesty's Government, but of other developments into which I need not go in detail. Nor am I prepared to take the blame for what may or may not appear in particular newspapers. Until the hon. Gentleman made himself responsible for certain wild remarks about the Press, I can assure him that I never heard of them before, and, so far as I know, there is not a vestige of foundation for anything that he said. As to the Naval Agreement, I will not recount again the very valid arguments as to why it was wise for the British Government to sign the Agreement. The hon. Gentleman seems to think that the German programme and its consequences were the result of the Agreement. Not at all. The German building programme was there already, and all that would have happened if the Agreement had not been signed would have been that that programme would eventually have become much greater, and the state of Europe infinitely worse. I believe that, so far as the Naval Agreement is concerned, the general opinion in Europe, including considerable bodies of opinion even in France, is coming round to the view that we took, in the circumstances, the only action and the only wise action which was possible.
With regard to the question of an Eastern Pact, the hon. Gentleman will remember the answer that I gave yesterday. I repeat it. I regard the conclusion of an Eastern Pact as one of the cardinal factors in the field of European progress. It is quite clear to me that, unless an advance can be made on the lines of an Eastern Pact, there will be great difficulty in making satisfactory progress with the Air Pact and certain of the other measures for the pacification 2963 and reconciliation of Europe. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I shall go on pressing that view upon the German Government and upon other Governments in Europe. I myself see no reason why, in its present form an Eastern Pact should not be concluded, and I am quite sure that, if an Eastern Pact were concluded, it would be regarded as a measure of reconciliation in Central and Eastern Europe, and would greatly help on the conclusion of an Air Pact such as is desired, not only by ourselves, but by the German Government as well. I can assure the House that, in these matters of disarmament and these Pacts of security and reconciliation, I shall go on trying. It is not an easy task, but I shall go on trying, and, if I fail, just as in the event of my failing in our peace-making efforts at Geneva, it will not be for want of any desire, and it will not be for want of making attempts, night and day, during the time that I hold those responsibilities.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.