§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd December].
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followetth:—
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Wakefield.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Mr. DALTON
Yesterday's Debate turned largely on questions of domestic policy. To-day something more is due to be said about the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government both as revealed, and as not revealed, by the Gracious Speech. We are all very glad to see the Foreign Secretary here. We hope that he is better, and we hope that when he returns from his holiday he will be completely fit again.
Yesterday many speakers drew a contrast between 1931 and 1935. I shall draw another such contrast now. I had the honour to serve for two and a-quarter years at the Foreign Office under a great political chief who has now passed away. When Arthur Henderson handed in his seals of office in August, 1931, international relations at large were more hopeful, the world was more peaceful and this country was more secure than for many a long year either before or since that turning point. The League of Nations at that time was growing in stature and authority. There had been a strong and steady British lead given at Geneva. There was at that time a united Empire foreign policy. His Majesty's Government, in the Dominions, as in the United Kingdom, had been united in achieving certain objectives at Geneva, and many foreign countries had followed our lead. Economic questions at that time were being vigorously handled both through the International Labour Office and through the newly created European Commission on Economic Questions brought 320 into existence by the joint efforts of the late M. Briand and the late Arthur Henderson.
At that time, moreover, Germany was still a democracy, Germany was very lightly armed, she was threatened by none of her neighbours and she threatened none of them. Finally, to summarise this sketch, the world Disarmament Conference was due to meet within a few months, and it was hoped that after an interval of 14 years the promises made at the time of the Peace Treaties to the defeated States would at last begin to be fulfilled, not by an increase of armaments anywhere but by reduction of armaments in all the countries not compulsorily disarmed under the Treaties of Peace.
That was the scene as we saw it in August, 1931. It is hardly necessary to add that during the preceding period there had been no war in any Continent; since there have been wars in three Continents. And, indeed, since that time there has been a catastrophic and tremendous change in the whole international situation. Those who have been responsible for the conduct of foreign policy in this country have, in my submission, a very large share of responsibility for that change. I say "those who have been" rather than "those who now are" responsible. If I am to particularise, the three persons principally responsible for this shocking change are the present Home Secretary, who to our great relief a little while ago was removed from the Foreign Office after a most disastrous period in that office; in the second place Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, who has now been removed from this House by the wisdom of the electors; and, thirdly, Lord Londonderry, who has now been removed from the Government by the wisdom of the Prime Minister.
These three persons have many items on their crime sheets, of which the first is that they have almost completely wrecked the world Disarmament Conference. If that judgment should be challenged, I quote the very summary statement of one of the delegation appointed by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald to conduct the negotiations, who declared:It is my considered opinion that the British Government carries the main responsibility for having wrecked the Disarmament Conference.321 [Interruption.] Those words were used by Mrs. Corbett Ashby, who is not a member of our party but who was thought sufficiently eminent and intelligent to be appointed by the present Lord President of the Council, when be was Prime Minister, to accompany the present Home Secretary and others to Geneva. This lady had quite exceptional opportunities for watching the present Home Secretary at close quarters during those disastrous negotiations.
Before returning to the question of disarmament, which I shall do later, I desire to ask some questions of the Foreign Secretary regarding matters which are not referred to in the Gracious Speech but which have considerable importance. First, with regard to the Far East. There is another instalment of Japanese aggression now proceeding in the Far East. Has the Government taken any action with regard to this, or does it propose to take any action, and if so what? Or would it be the view of the Foreign Secretary that the whole situation in the Far East was so hopelessly compromised by his predecessor's mishandling of it in 1931 and 1939 that there is nothing we can now do except to remain passive? Further, is he consulting with those Powers primarily interested in the Far East, notably the United States, the Soviet Union and the British Dominions fronting on the Pacific?
Further, will he tell us something about the Leith-Ross Commission to the Far East, what was its object and what have been its results? Have those results been appreciable, except apparently to irritate Japan and accelerate her latest aggressive move? Is it true, as stated in the "Times," that Sir Frederick Leith-Ross went to spend about a week at Peking as the guest of Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British Ambassador, the main object of his visit, it is stated, having been sight seeing? We are delighted that a Treasury Official of such distinction should have additional opportunity of foreign travel. But I suspect that there is more to be said than the "Times" revealed.
I turn to the question of Egypt. Signor Mussolini has created a most favourable opportunity in Egypt for a final and friendly settlement of Anglo-Egyptian relations, a settlement which successive British Governments have sought so far in vain. In 1930, under the late Labour 322 Government, we came very close to a settlement. The negotiations then broke down on the question of the Sudan; everything else was settled. If the Egyptian delegates at that time had taken the wise advice offered to them by Mr. Henderson and left over the question of the Sudan for later and separate discussion, we would have got a treaty at that time. Had we got a treaty then, Egypt would to-day be a member of the League, with all the added status that that involves, the capitulations would have been abolished and the British garrisons would have moved from Cairo and Alexandria to the Suez Canal zone, where they might have been well placed to-day in certain eventualities.
Whatever the Egyptians may think of us, I doubt whether any of them wishes to see an Italian dictator established in their midst, scowling at the Pyramids. I doubt that very much. That is why I say that, in view of the provocative troop movements in Libya in particular, the present moment is a very hopeful one for an Anglo-Egyptian settlement. I regret, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary in the course of a speech lately made at the Guildhall has not brought that settlement closer or made it easier. The famous declaration of Lord Allenby in February, 1922, proclaimed that Egypt is a "sovereign and independent State." There were four reserved points, but the Egyptian Constitution was not one of them. It is, I think, a new departure for the Foreign Secretary to have declared that in his judgment the Constitution of 1923 is unworkable—that is a matter of opinion—but it is more serious that he should have declared that he had instructed the High Commissioner in Egypt to advise against the re-enactment of that Constitution. Subsequent to that statement there have been riots in Egypt and some loss of life and injuries, and the sky which before was clear has become rather overclouded.
I ask the Foreign Secretary three questions in respect of Egypt: First, are negotiations for an Anglo-Egyptian settlement yet begun? If not, are they in contemplation in the near future and are they being prepared for? Third, will not he, on second thoughts, in view of the very obvious and unfortunate reactions to his remarks at the Guildhall and in order to increase the hopes that such negotiations, if undertaken, will succeed, 323 now withdraw or at any rate modify or interpret or explain those remarks in such a way as to diminish the Egyptian resentment aroused by that most unfortunate declaration?
By a natural geographical process I pass from Egypt to Abyssinia and to the question of the economic operations now in progress against Signor Mussolini. As this is the first time that I have had the honour of speaking in the House since the Italian aggression in Abyssinia began, I ask leave to say that, speaking personally, I have long had a deep regard for Italy. I have no feelings towards the Italian people except those of friendship, and I have some personal friendships out there. I ask leave also to say that, like the Foreign Secretary, I served on the Italian front in the Great War and brought many memories back from that front. Having said that, I wish to add that none of us on these benches has any feeling of hostility whatever towards the Italian people nor towards the legitimate aspirations which they in common with other peoples, entertain. But the present situation has been created by the action of the present head of the Italian Government, in his brutal breaking of his treaty obligations, in his flat repudiation of post-war international law, and in his armed and murderous assault upon a relatively defenceless people. The present head of the Italian Government has created a hateful situation in which, in my submission, this country has its duty to perform. This country to-day is not doing its full duty in this matter. We are not carrying out Article 16 of the Covenant of the League. Under this Article if a member of the League in defiance of its covenants resorts to war against any other member, the other members are requiredimmediately to subject it to the severance of all trade and financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State.We are not carrying out that section of Article 16. There has been no immediateness and no totality in our own action, nor have we used our full power to persuade other nations themselves to move either immediately or totally to the fulfilment of their Treaty obligations. I desire to pay my tribute to what the Minister for League of Nations Affairs has accomplished at Geneva, but there 324 is a distinct contrast between his speeches there and the slow action of His Majesty's Government in this country. The Minister for League Affairs has made brave speeches at Geneva, like a young St. George going out to fight the Fascist dragon. But obviously he has been badly hampered by the old folks at home. I used sometimes in my previous experience to see the kind of instructions sent on such occasions from Cabinets to Ministers operating at the Geneva end, and I offer my sympathies to the Minister for League Affairs over the many difficulties which it would not be proper for him to admit here but which I can readily imagine he has met with and valiantly contended against in the course of the efforts that he has made.
The Minister for League Affairs has been used in some quarters as a sort of decoy duck to attract the League of Nations Union vote at election time. We may contrast his proceedings with the less happy proceedings of the older members of the Government. Let me quote from a speech made by him on 10th October, nearly two months ago:Since it is our duty to take action"—this was in reference to the aggression of Signor Mussolini—it is essential that such action should be prompt.That was nearly two months ago. Speaking from Geneva on 11th October, in a broadcast address, he said:We cannot afford to daily, for at this moment men are being killed, homes are being shattered. Action must be swift and action must be effective if the League is to achieve the end for which it was set up.That was nearly two months ago. Men are still being killed, homes are still being shattered, and they are being shattered by bombs dropped from Italian aeroplanes driven by British oil. We have been neither prompt nor effective in the application of sanctions. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company—better known as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company—increased its imports to Italy in the first seven months of this year as compared with the first seven months of last year—these are figures from an Italian source covering the total imports of practically the whole of the oil going to Italy—by 80 per cent. These shipments I suppose are nearly all made direct from Persian ports to the ports of Eritrea and Italian 325 Somaliland. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Company declared an interim dividend on the basis of this increased export, or on the basis of the expectation of its continuance, of five per cent. last month, the first interim dividend declared since 1930. I suppose it is good to know that, while men are being killed and homes are being shattered, profits are also being made, two months after the Minister for League Affairs made his moving and, I am sure, wholly sincere speech at Geneva. The British Government has a holding of £7,500,000 of ordinary shares in this concern out of a total of £13,450,000. More than half the capital is owned by the British Government and the dividends thereon are paid to the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer therefore is among those who are profiting by the bombs that are being dropped, the homes that are being shattered and the persons who are being killed.
I express the view that the continuance of this proceeding is a national dishonour. I express the view that whatever may be achieved by way of agreement with other oil Powers it is a dishonour to His Majesty's Government that this particular concern, so largely owned by them, run by a board on which they nominate directors, should be supplying an aggressor nation with oil. It is the Government's dishonour that this trade should continue. Whatever else may be accomplished—and much more may be accomplished to stop oil from elsewhere feeding the Italian arms—this Government at any rate should definitely disallow from this day onwards oil from this company going to the aggressor in East Africa. Until they do that the national conscience will be affronted and the Government's hands will be stained with the innocent blood of Abyssinians.
Nor is this all so far as oil is concerned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan, Western (Mr. T. Johnston) drew attention last evening to certain subsidiaries of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, to refining companies, and so on. His observations were made, I regret to say, in the absence of the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for League Affairs, but they are on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT and I hope that some reply will be made to the points raised by my right hon. Friend before the Debate is over. 326 I have a further specific question to ask in regard to oil. I am informed, and I ask the Foreign Secretary whether I am rightly informed, that Italian aeroplanes which are now regularly flying between Italian Somaliland and Eritrea are coming down intermediately on British territory in British Somaliland and being regularly refuelled there. Is that true? If that is true that also is in my view a most improper proceeding. If it is true, the British Government or their agents, persons under their control, are definitely aiding and abetting the conduct of this war, just as much as if they were wearing Italian uniforms and in the pay of Signor Mussolini himself. If that statement is true, I ask the Foreign Secretary to have this refuelling assistance in British Somaliland discontinued at an early date.
Most of us who endeavoured in past years to devote themselves to the question of a crisis of this sort and to a study of the possibilities of economic pressure upon an aggressor, came to the conclusion that oil was the most indispensable of all the modern materials of war, far more indispensable for the long conduct of any war even than any metal, indispensable as that is. It was said at the close of the Great War by Lord Curzon that the Allied and associated Powers floated to victory on a wave of oil. That was a substantially true statement of the economics of the case. With the increased mechanisation which has taken place since that time it has become more and more abundantly true that without oil modern warfare cannot go on. The aircraft cannot fly, the tanks cannot move, the mechanised transport comes to a stop and even the ships, those which are driven by oil, cannot move on the waters without oil. All modern armaments and the auxiliary services of modern armaments to-day move by oil. Stop Mussolini's oil and you will stop Mussolini's war, and he knows it. The reactions in the Italian Press and in quarters notoriously biased in favour of the Italian dictator in this country, such as the "Observer" show it. All these perturbations prove abundantly that those who say that the stoppage of oil supplies is the quick road to the stoppage of war, are right. Unless we take steps to stop the supply of oil to Signor Mussolini we are neglecting the most important and 327 most effective sanction and permitting the war to drag on needlessly and dangerously for the rest of the world.
I hold the view that even our Government acting alone should, as a matter of simple duty, stop the exports of oil over which it has control. I go further and say that to secure reasonable agreement on the application of the oil sanction should be a good deal easier than many of the tasks on which the Minister for League of Nations Affairs has been engaged when it was necessary to bring some 50 nations, some of them very reluctantly, into line on other sanctions. There are only three really great oil powers in the world, this country, the United States and the Soviet Union. There are minor oil Powers, notably Rumania and Holland, but if we look at the Powers which are important in relation to the supply of oil, whether through government control or through holdings in private enterprises, the conclusion I have reached is that a comparatively small circle of agreement is all that is necessary to bring this overwhelming and potent pressure to bear.
The United States of America, although they are outside the League of Nations, are showing signs—I do not want to put it too high—of willingness to join in putting pressure upon their own oil interests in various ways, financially and otherwise, providing those who are members of the League will themselves stand up to this question and impose the oil sanction.
So far as the others are concerned, the Soviet Union, Rumania and the Dutch, they are all loyal members of the League. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs will agree that none of these have been among the backward boys in his class at Geneva. In Austria, Hungary and Switzerland, fortunately, there is no oil. These are among the backsliders, but they are not in this picture.
Moreover, France is not an important oil power, and in view of the curious policy of M. Laval that is, for this limited purpose, a great advantage. I submit—and this is my final conclusion on the question of oil—that it is the duty of the Government and should be easily within their compass, by discussions with comparatively few Powers who are loyal 328 to the object in view, to stop at once and almost completely the supply of oil to the Italian aggressor. If they do not do this they will be responsible for the continuance of the war and for a weakening of the collective peace system. On the other hand, if we put the pressure on now, and put it on hard, along the pipe lines of oil, the war will come to an early end. More important than that, a demonstration will have been given, which others also may observe with profit to themselves, that it is possible for the organised community of peaceful nations to bring aggressors and treaty breakers to a halt. That will have valuable consequences outside the country over which to-day Signor Mussolini rules. The prestige of the League of Nations would be raised by such a successful operation to a far higher level than ever before, international law and order would be vindicated, and we on this side of the House would be only too glad to pay our tribute of respect and approval of their policy to any Minister of any Government which carried out such a policy on the lines I have endeavoured to indicate.
One further word about the Abyssinian war. The Foreign Secretary is going to Paris and is going to see M. Laval. I trust that he will speak what I am sure is the mind of this country and tell M. Laval that this country is not favourable to, is not even interested in, any terms of settlement of this war which will allow the Italian dictator to profit by reason of his aggression. If the lesson is to be learned that war is wrong and does not pay, there must be no profit for treaty breakers and warmongers, and I trust that in spite of any temptation the right hon. Gentleman may encounter in Paris in conversation with M. Laval he will hold firmly to that view, which I am confident is widely held in this country in all sections of the community. I would also express the further hope that in the privacy of these conversations the Foreign Secretary will find it possible to say to M. Laval that opinion in this country, not least amongst some of the warmest friends of France, has been troubled and shocked by the tergiversations of French policy during recent months. It is not wise for a Frenchman to say to an Englishman that, although a particular treaty has been broken, France can sit 329 back and do as little as she can, merely because, it is alleged, it is British interests and not French which are primarily affected. It is very rash for a Frenchman to speak thus to an Englishman; and if an Englishman in similar circumstances spoke in the same way to a Frenchman the Frenchman would be very indignant. I think the right hon. Gentleman will not disagree fundamentally with that, and I trust that he will take the opportunity of giving M. Laval to understand British opinion on this point. France may one day need us more than we need her now. I would also ask whether for our better information the Foreign Secretary would be willing to publish in a White Paper, or some suitable form, the history of this Italian-Abyssinian dispute and the part played in it by His Majesty's Government and the various committees at Geneva with which His Majesty's Government have been associated. Could we have from the earliest period up to date a continuous chronicle so that we may read the thing as a whole, and in particular the various sets of proposals which have been made from time to time for the acceptance of the disputants? If we could have something in that form we should be grateful.
Following upon what I have said with regard to the Italian-Abyssinian dispute I want to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he has given further consideration to the problem which many of us think is very important, which stands behind this particular dispute—namely, the problem of the economic rivalries and conflicts between nations, the economic causes of war. Has the right hon. Gentleman given further consideration to this question? Is any inquiry now going on under his auspices as to how far the legitimate claims of all peaceful peoples for equal opportunity of access to markets and raw materials might be met by changes in the international arrangements of the world and in the Colonial arrangements? Have the Government any proposal to make on this subject and is any inquiry going on? I ask these questions with more confidence because the Foreign Secretary in a debate in the last Parliament did admit that in his judgment this was a live and an important question, on which this country might be able to make some contribution. Even if we solve this particular dispute by bringing this war to an end, that will leave many 330 potential difficulties and disputes unresolved. The problem of the economic causes of war will remain, and we must confront it not in relation to the Italian-Abyssinian dispute but much more generally.
If we succeed in vindicating by prompt and effective action the collective peace system there will then appear another wonderful opportunity of taking up again the interrupted negotiations for all-round disarmament. The Gracious Speech forecasts re-armament. We are told that deficiencies are to be made good. There will be many later occasions for debating this question in detail and I will only make one or two general observations in relation to the subject as I have developed it this afternoon. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he does not still entertain the hope, particularly if the Italian Abyssinian dispute is soon settled, that we may get an atmosphere favourable to taking up again the proposals for disarmament which his predecessor did so much to render abortive some years ago. Can he not prove to us that the worst in the foreign policy of this country is now passed and that the better is now to come? Is it not evident that the level of armaments which this country should maintain must depend, on the one hand, on the strength of the collective system and, on the other, on the level of armaments maintained by others, those within the collective system and those without; by those who are pledged friends of peace and by others who may show more reserve? Surely the essential thing now is to strive to get together effectively all those friends of peace within the League of Nations and without, and get them to create a real, collective security, within which they can pool their resources and, having pooled their armed forces, can safely reduce them. There has been so much misrepresentation, some no doubt innocent and some much less innocent, of the attitude of the Labour party on this subject that I will venture to read one or two sentences from the manifesto on which we fought the last election. We declared:Labour will efficiently maintain such defence forces as are necessary and consistent with our membership of the League; the best defence is not huge competitive national armaments but the organisation of collective security against any aggressor and the agreed reduction 331 of national armaments everywhere. Labour will propose to other nations the complete abolition of all national air forces, the effective international control of civil aviation and the creation of an international air police force; large reductions by international agreement in naval and military forces; and the abolition of the private manufacture of, and trade in, arms.That is the policy of our party and any statement in conflict with that is not our policy. What are the Government doing to increase the security of the country? All we hear is that an increase in the armaments of this country is contemplated; it is called filling up the gaps and making good deficiencies. So far we have had no indication of the scale of these operations, and no justification put forward for them in relation to the collective system as a whole. Have we no friends in Europe and in other continents? One reason why we have fewer good friends to-day is because in the past we have been unwilling to make clear and definite commitments to them. If we were willing to make clear commitments to them we should get in return clear commitments from them to us. Are the Government working towards the building up on the widest possible basis of a peace group of nations who will pool their collective resources for defence and will sincerely and unambiguously undertake to stand together against any breaker of the peace and any aggressor? Is that being done? If it is, although evidently each member of the combination must make his proper contribution to the total resources of the combination, the contribution which each will have to make will be far less than if no collective combination was formed.
I ask the Government to take us a little into their confidence on this subject, and in particular to take us into their confidence as to the reply they have made to the speech which in the opinion of some was an important speech, made six months ago by Herr Hitler, in which he offered reductions in various arms on this condition and on that. Have the Government taken up that speech, apart from the rather unfortunate Anglo-German Naval Agreement which was debated yesterday? Have they taken up that speech in relation to aircraft? Have they taken up with Herr Hitler his suggestion that he would be content to have an air force no greater than the strongest air force in Western Europe? Have they 332 pursued that question and its implications, and if not do they propose to do so? Let us not humbug ourselves. When we speak of disarmament, we have a certain power on the Continent more in mind than any other, and in view of the speech made six months ago would it not be a good thing—perhaps it has been done—for the Government to pursue to the utmost the possibility of agreement on limitation and reduction of aircraft in particular, but also other forms of armaments, with the present Dictator of the German Reich?
The most fatal policy of all, whether for this country or for any other country, would be to allow to start and to develop a competitive arms race in which we should all be engaged, a competitive arms race with increasing fear, increasing tension and increasing insecurity everywhere, a competitive arms race conducted by each nation on some hypothesis of its own absolute and separate national needs, divorced from any precise and definite calculations of collective security. Such an arms race could have only one end. We know that well. Even after the last war it was, I think, the late Lord Grey who declared that looking back it was very clear to him that great armaments, intended to give security to the nations possessing them, created rivalry, suspicion and hostility among other nations and led in the end inevitably to war. Victory in such an arms race would come not to any one of the contending nations. It would come rather to the pale horse of the Apocalypse of which it is written that:his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.Such an arms race would lead us in the end, and the end might not be far away, to another world war, fought, I know not with what combinations of Powers on either side, but fought in such a fashion and with such weapons and at such a pace that, before many weeks or months had passed, our great cities would be smoking, pestilent ruins. The slaughter of populations, civilian as well as military, would have taken place on a greater scale than ever before in history, and in the end it would be a mere idle trick of words to say that any one nation had conquered or had been conquered. In this world of increasing dangers, frustrations and fears the peoples may not be sure whither they 333 are being led, but when one stands back, as one sometimes can, and looks from afar there is a gripping fear at one's heart that all that one loves best is going steadily down the slope to an inevitable and predetermined disaster in which everything will be swallowed up in one great gulf of bleeding, smoking ruin.
I ask the Government now to do their best, according to the beliefs which the two right hon. Gentlemen now confronting me, I know, hold, and according to their study of the facts, to ward off from this country and the world that overhanging fate which sometimes gives us nightmares and makes it difficult to believe that the world in which we live is real. The Foreign Secretary has a great opportunity. He is starting almost with a clean sheet. He has not long been in his present office. He has a tremendous opportunity to make his tenure of office as noble and as shining a piece of British history and of world history as any in the past. I appeal to him on behalf of my hon. Friends here. They will cross swords with him in the ordinary way of debate, but I appeal to him to-day as Foreign Secretary of this great country, of which we are all proud, to do his best first to bring to an end this pettifogging, beastly, contemptible little war in Africa and further to do what he can be make sure that no greater and more terrible war shall overwhelm us in the days that are soon to come.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I wish to thank the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) for the references which he has been kind enough to address to me. I have taken note also of the appeal which he made to me at the end of his speech, and I can assure him that in the time during which I may hold this office, I shall always regard myself as the representative of the nation rather than as the representative solely of a particular party. While I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those references, I could not help regretting some of the bitter observations made by him in the course of his speech. How easy it is—I am sure we have all often fallen into the temptation—to think that everything was perfect when we were in control. We have just heard from the hon. Member of that 334 historic year of 1931, that year of happiness since when, he tells us, everything has gone to the bad. Since my right hon. Friends and I have been in control of the administration of the country the world has gone from bad to worse, according to the hon. Member. Yet the electors did not take that view in 1931, and if I had the time I could refute in detail many of the hon. Member's observations regarding what he described as that golden age of foreign policy.
Then the hon. Member made a bitter attack upon three of my colleagues. Let me tell him that a very similar attack was made in the last Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and if he will forgive me for saying so the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made it with much greater force than the hon. Member. Yet when my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs came to reply to the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion he riddled that attack and there was not a vestige of justification for it left when he had finished. These attempts to drive wedges between one Member of the Government and another are very old expedients in party politics. We have all seen them used. Let me here and now at the beginning of this Parliament assure the hon. Member that in the last Government there was no division of responsibility at all. My right hon. Friends and I were equally responsible in everything that was done, and since my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary left the Foreign Office and went to the Home Office there has been no change whatever in the direction of our foreign policy.
I think that the hon. Member, in part of his speech at any rate, was really delivering to the House a repetition of some of the speeches which I feel sure he addressed to the electors. Let us get away from those election speeches. Let us get away also from the rather censorious lecture which the hon. Member addressed to Members on this Bench and Members on this side of the House generally, and come to the questions raised by him in the course of his speech. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, when he comes to speak at the end of the Debate, will show how groundless were 335 the criticisms which the hon. Member made as to the way in which my right hon. Friend had been directed to go slow at Geneva and the way in which his actions had been controlled by the old fogies at home, and so forth. Here and now I can assure the hon. Member that there is no justification whatever for those charges, but I will leave it to my right hon. Friend to deal with them in greater detail when he comes to reply.
Before I pass to the two or three really big questions that stood out from the other questions raised in the hon. Member's speech, let me begin with one or two of the more detailed interrogations which he addressed to me. He asked me as to our attitude about Colonial raw materials. I explained our attitude in the speech which I delivered to the Assembly of the League at Geneva. I then said, and I say it again now, that there is anxiety in the world, particularly in the countries which do not possess raw materials, lest they should be held up to ransom and lest their national life should be endangered by a scarcity of the raw materials which they require. I said then and I say again now that I believe this problem to be an economic and not a political or territorial problem. I believe that when it comes to be investigated it will be found that the problem is one of selling raw materials rather than buying raw materials. At the same time, I admit the fact that there are these anxieties in the world and, as they exist, my own view is that they had better be investigated. As far as the Government are concerned we shall welcome such an investigation, but we take the view definitely that an investigation of this kind must take place in a calm, dispassionate atmosphere, and that you cannot discuss this question with any hope of finding a reasonable settlement in an atmosphere of war.
I come to the second of the questions addressed to me, namely, the question about disarmament. Here I can assure the hon. Member that month after month we have been making every possible effort to renew discussions for the reduction of armaments and particularly for the reduction of air armaments. Towards the end of the Session in the summer I explained the position as it then was. I made an appeal to Herr Hitler to resume these 336 discussions. Since then we have made a further attempt, and I regret to say that the view at present seems to be that so long as the Abyssinian war is continuing there is little to be gained by resuming these discussions. That, so far as we gather, is the view of the German Government. None the less we shall be ready to seize any opportunity which offers itself. I take the view that an air pact and a reduction of air armaments are urgently needed, more needed than ever they were, and we shall lose no opportunity that may arise for resuming discussions, hoping to bring those discussions to a successful termination.
I now pass to the questions which the hon. Member asked me, first of all, about China, secondly about Egypt, and thirdly about the Abyssinian controversy. I will begin with China. Since about the beginning of this year it became evident that the growing economic and financial difficulties of China and the disorganisation of her currency might entail serious losses not only on China but on all who, like ourselves, have important commercial and industrial interests in that country. It seemed desirable that if possible some remedy should be found for these difficulties. In our view there could be no satisfactory solution of China's difficulties without the friendly co-operation of all the countries concerned, including of course China herself. It was vital that any plan for assisting China, besides being technically sound, should be carried out with the friendly agreement of all these Powers.
In pursuance of these ideas, which we communicated to the Powers in question, we decided to send out to the Far East Sir Frederick Leith-Ross, the Chief Economic Adviser of His Majesty's Government, on a mission of investigation. The other Governments did not accede to our suggestion that they might take similar action. After spending some weeks in Tokyo, Sir Frederick Leith-Ross proceeded to Shanghai, and began his investigations in consultation with the Chinese authorities. In the midst of these discussions the Chinese Government, owing to a sudden crisis in the exchanges, felt compelled to take swift action. On 4th November a decree was issued which changed the basis of China's currency. The Chinese Government took this action on their own initiative, and without seeking the advice of Sir 337 Frederick Leith-Ross. The reports we have received up to date indicate that this currency reform has been well received, and has already had a good effect in restoring confidence and setting the wheels of trade turning once more.
There is still, however, one serious cloud on the Chinese horizon and that is the so-called autonomy movement in North China. There have been rumours for some time past that in some of the northern Provinces of China, contiguous to Manchukuo, an autonomous régime might be set up, and recent happenings in the Province of Hopei and on the Hopei-Manchukuo frontier indicate that influences are at work to force on some such development. Reports have been rife of activities of Japanese agents, and recent movements of Japanese troops have been supposed to be connected with the autonomy movement. These reports have caused His Majesty's Government considerable anxiety, and His Majesty's Chargé d' Affaires at Tokyo was therefore instructed to inform the Japanese Government of our concern and to say that we should welcome a frank statement of Japanese policy. The Chargé d' Affaires was informed in reply that the autonomy movement was a purely Chinese movement—the Japanese Government were watching it closely in view of their great interests in North China, but any idea that Japan was planning military intervention was entirely unfounded, no Japanese troops had been moved into China as a result of the autonomy movement, and even the garrison at Tientsin and Peking, maintained under the Boxer Protocol, was at present below its quota strength.
The troop movements near Peking which have been reported in the Press have, indeed, it appears, been movements of forces already south of the Great Wall where Japan is entitled to maintain troops under the Boxer Protocol of 1901, for the purpose of securing communications between Peking and the sea. They are stated to have been prompted by an alleged removal of rolling stock and fears of further removals. The situation is still very obscure, but I trust that the conversations which are proceeding between the Japanese and Chinese Governments will result in an amicable settlement of any difficulties that may exist. It is the desire of His Majesty's Government, as they have assured both Governments, that 338 there should be friendly relations between the two countries.
I can only regard it as unfortunate that events should have taken place which, whatever the actual truth of the matter may be, lend colour to the belief that Japanese influence is being exerted to shape Chinese internal political developments and administrative arrangements. Anything which tends to create this belief can only do harm to the prestige of Japan and hamper the development, which we all desire, of the friendliest mutual relations between Japan and her neighbours and friends.
I pass on from the questions addressed to me about China to the questions addressed to me about Egypt. The hon. Member alluded to recent unfortunate events in Egypt. He alluded to the riots that took place between 13th November and 22nd November when there were fatal casualties and when, I am glad to hear, the police behaved with great bravery and restraint. It may be well if I say a few words regarding the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards the situation that has been created. I must go back some few years to make the position clear. I will go back to the year 1922, when, in the communication to the Sultan of Egypt accompanying the declaration of 28th February, His Majesty's Government stated that the creation of a Parliament with a right to control the policy and administration of a constitutionally responsible Government was a matter for His Highness and the Egyptian people to determine. Last spring, when consulted with reference to a restoration of the constitutional life in Egypt, His Majesty's Government did not disguise their view, that, as experience had shown, neither the constitution of 1930 nor the constitution of 1923 was suited to Egypt, though they accompanied this advice with suggestions, repeated more than once, that steps should be taken with a view to the drafting of an organic law acceptable to all elements in Egypt and agreed by them as really suitable to the country's requirements.
From the terms of the letter which the Prime Minister addressed to King Fuad on 17th April last it seemed that this suggestion did not conflict with views held by the Prime Minister himself. In the communiqué which he issued on 24th November, and which I commend to the attention of hon. Members, Tewfik Nessim 339 Pasha refers to a formula suggested to him in May by His Majesty's High Commissioner. I should explain that the formula was not at all intended as an indication of a veto, but as a suggestion for use by the Prime Minister in making clear in Egypt his own position on this question, if indeed it correctly represented his views. The formula was to the effect that no one was opposed to a return to Parliamentary life at the appropriate moment, that it was for the Egyptian Government to study the question in all its aspects with a view to finding a form of constitution suitable to the real needs of Egypt, and that it was for the Egyptian Government to decide the manner of elaborating this suggestion, preferably by means of a drafting committee comprising, if possible, elements of all the political parties.
I hope that this may dispose of the idea that His Majesty's Government were intervening to impose any veto on a return to constitutional life or attempting in any way to dictate the form of the law on which that constitutional life should be based. There was no question of imposing any such veto, which, as I explained in my speech at the Guildhall, our traditions alone preclude; nor was there any question of dictation in a matter regarding which His Majesty's Government had taken the position set out in the letter to the Sultan which I have already mentioned.
But His Majesty's Government could not withhold their advice when in the course of consultation this matter came up, and the advice they gave seemed to them, in the light of the experience of the last few years, such as any friend and well-wisher of Egypt must give. Its purport did not run counter to what were understood to be views held by the Prime Minister himself, views which I think I am safe in saying are shared in many influential political circles in Egypt not excluding the Wafd itself, which severely criticised the constitution of 1923 at its inception.
On being apprised of the suggested formula by the Prime Minister, the leaders of the Wafd expressed their disapproval, and the matter was left in suspense. Subsequently the situation produced by the Abyssinian crisis gave rise to misgivings in Egypt. It was feared that His Majesty's Government might 340 wilfully, or under the pressure of circumstances, take measures in Egypt in the enforcement of which they would ignore the status of Egypt under the Declaration of 1922 or actually modify it.
His Majesty's Government have from the beginning sympathetically realised the existence of these misgivings, and by assurances and practical measures have sought to demonstrate their entire lack of foundation. These misgivings have given rise to an honest wish to safeguard the rights of Egypt by submitting any measures agreed by the Government to the approbation of the representatives of the people. This wish again has stimulated the desire for a return to a constitutional regime under which a Parliament could be assembled. It has also led His Majesty's Government to repeat their advice that the measures necessary for the drafting of a constitution should be proceeded with. Meanwhile the situation has been embittered by the play of party politics which have had a considerable share in developing in its acute and deplorable form the recent agitation on the subject of the constitution. In view of this position I should like to make it clear that His Majesty's Government are by no means unsympathetic to Egyptian aspirations, and that they remain, as in the past, ready to promote their realisation.
The attitude of His Majesty's Government has, however, been misrepresented, and the reception given in Egypt to my speech at the Guildhall shows how much harm can be done to the real interests of both our countries by such misrepresentations. The speech, I should like to emphasise, was actuated by the most friendly intentions towards Egypt. I can only regret that perhaps because of the distance of 2,000 miles and more which separates the Thames from the Nile, it has been entirely misunderstood in that country and apparently taken as implying fixed opposition to the aspirations of the Egyptian people. Let me say once more that His Majesty's Government are not unsympathetic to Egyptian aspirations. They are imbued with the friendliest feelings towards Egypt, and it is for this reason that they considered it proper to make a statement of their attitude. For friendship and co-operation can only develop in an atmosphere of frankness, sympathy, and realism.
341 So much for the constitutional aspect of the position. Let me say a word in answer to the hon. Member's question about the position in connection with the Treaty. His Majesty's Government look forward to the establishment of Anglo-Egyptian relations on a permanent footing satisfactory to both countries. The whole matter is receiving their earnest and constant consideration with a view to finding the best means of achieving this result and of assuring—and I emphasise this point—that the failures of the past shall not be repeated. His Majesty's Government have no intention of letting the matter drift, but it is obviously impossible for them, in the midst of the preoccupations caused by the war in Abyssinia, simultaneously to engage in negotiations in a matter of such importance. They will not, therefore, I feel sure, be expected here and now to fix a definite date for beginning negotiations which, as experience shows, present a number of difficulties and complications. This is not to say that they do not consider a solution possible or that its achievement should be regarded as relegated to a dim and distant future.
I pass from the questions about Egypt to the many questions that the hon. Member asked me about Abyssinia, and let me begin my answer by suggesting to the hon. Member and the House that many of these questions and the deductions which he drew from them seemed to me to imply a misconception of our position as a member of the League. Time after time, it seemed to me, he suggested that we should take isolated action. I have always tried to make it clear that that is not my conception of the action that we should take, nor is it my conception of the action that any member of the League should take. I regard the whole basis of the League as collective action. Isolated action would be not only foolish and dangerous for the country that takes it, but actually injurious to the League itself, the basis of the League being that all members should share in the responsibilities and the risks. Having said that by way of preface to my remarks about Abyssinia, let me come to certain of the specific points that the hon. Member raised in the course of his speech. I will deal a little bit later with the question of oil and the exports of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company.
342 Let me begin, however, with the question that he asked me about the air service between Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. There is an air service between Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. It is a civil air service, and it was instituted in virtue of an air agreement between Italy and the United Kingdom signed on the 7th December, 1934. It was due to open on the 3rd December of this year, but I have as yet no official information whether it has actually done so. A condition of the service is that the aircraft shall land at Berbera, and steps have been taken to ensure that it shall not be used for military purposes. In the circumstances, to refuse refuelling facilities to these aircraft, should such facilities be required, would be contrary to normal practice and indeed to the Convention itself, and would constitute in effect an additional sanction against Italy which has not yet been agreed upon.
Let me pass from this question of detail to the more general position of the conflict. There is no need why I should travel once again over the ground that I have so often surveyed in our previous debates. All that I need to do is to take up the story from the point at which it was left when the last Parliament came to an end. Since then we have consistently and steadily followed the double line that has time after time been approved by the League and by this House. On the one hand, we have taken our full part in collective action under the Covenant and, on the other hand, we have continued our efforts for a peaceful settlement. When my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs and I attended the last meeting at Geneva, towards the end of October, it was clear to us that the League was solidly behind this two-fold programme. With scarcely an exception, the member States showed themselves ready to take their share in collective action, even though that share meant loss and sacrifice to many of them.
Nor was the agreement among them less remarkable when they gave a particular blessing to the efforts that France and we were making to find the basis of a peaceful settlement. Not a suggestion was made that France and we were going behind the back of the League. Indeed it was obvious to anyone who was present at the meeting that the other 343 States were most anxious that we should continue to take, on their behalf, this initiative for peace. Nothing could have been clearer than that the members of the League wished us to take this action, and nothing could have been made clearer by France and ourselves than that we were working within the framework of the League, that we wished at the earliest possible moment to share our special responsibility with the other members of the League, and that any proposals that might emerge from these or other discussions must be acceptable to the three parties to the dispute—the League, Italy, and Abyssinia. I state these facts once again lest anyone should be so foolish as to harbour suspicions that the French and ourselves are attempting to sidetrack the League and to impose upon the world a settlement that could not be accepted by the three parties to the dispute.
As to the economic pressure that is being applied to Italy, I am glad to be able to tell the House that the League machinery is working well and that the member States are for the most part playing their part. The situation is being constantly watched by an expert committee, and if it is found in actual practice that gaps exist, every effort will be made to strengthen the common front. As to the embargo upon oil, upon which there has been so much public discussion and to which the hon. Member made many references in the speech to which we have just listened, I need only say that, as in the whole field of collective action, so in this particular part of it, we are prepared to play our part. The League has already agreed to the embargo in principle; Great Britain has already agreed to it in principle, and I would like to make it quite clear that no one Government is any more responsible than any other for this collective decision or, indeed, for any of the sanctions proposals. These proposals are put forward by sub-committees on which many Governments are represented. They are laid before the Committee of Eighteen on the responsibility of the whole subcommittee from which they come.
The question still to be decided is whether the action of the non-member States would render ineffective the action of the member States. Further light has recently been thrown upon this very important question, with the result that it 344 is now possible for the Committee of Eighteen to have a further meeting for the purpose of discussing the actual application of a form of pressure that has already been accepted in principle. When that meeting takes place, we shall be prepared to take our share in whatever collective action is determined. In the meanwhile, let me dispose of the charge that the British oil companies are exploiting the situation. In point of fact, there has been in the last quarter a great increase in oil exports to Italy, but this increase has not come from the companies in which Great Britain is interested.
The hon. Member, in the course of this Debate, quoted some figures, I think he said, from Italian sources. I have taken great care in investigating the figures, with the help of experts here in London, and my information does not substantiate the charges that he has just made. To take the case of the Anglo-Iranian Company, with regard to which a number of suggestions have been made, the quantities of oil shipped by this company to Italy have in fact during the first 11 months of this year, that is, up to date—his figures dealt with the early months of the year, but these figures deal with the first 11 months, up to the present time—been considerably less than the amount exported to Italy during the corresponding period of 1934.
§ Mr. DALTON
I do not want to score a point at all, but I am seeking information. Do these exports which the right hon. Gentleman quotes include not merely exports to the mainland of Italy, but also direct shipments from Persian ports to Italian ports in Eritrea and Italian Somaliland?
§ Sir S. HOARE
I understand that they include all the exports of the Anglo-Iranian Company to Italy or to Italian dependencies. I will confirm that information, but I feel sure that that is so, and the President of the Board of Trade confirms the statement which I have just made. Moreover, this reduction—and I will call the hon. Member's attention to this fact—has been particularly marked during the three months from August to October, during which military operations have been going on. I think that disposes completely of the criticism that he made of the ground that we in particular have been exploiting the situation in our own interests.
345 There has been a delay, I admit, in the meeting of the Committee at Geneva. The delay was unavoidable. It was essential that the French Government should be adequately represented at the meeting. Let me say in passing that I regretted some of the remarks that the hon. Member made in connection with the French attitude, particularly with the attitude of the French Prime Minister, M. Laval. It was essential that the French Government should be adequately represented at the meeting. In view of the political crisis it has been impossible to avoid a postponement. The change of date means no weakening whatever in the attitude of the member States. It does, however—and this is the point I wish to emphasise this afternoon—give a further opportunity for an intensive effort to bring about a peaceful settlement. It may be that we are engaged upon a hopeless task. It may be that it is impossible to reconcile the divergent aims of Italy, Abyssinia and the League. It may be that the atmosphere is so heated for the voice of reason to make itself heard. None the less, the French and we intend not only to go on trying but to redouble our efforts during the short period of time that is still open before the Geneva meeting.
The world urgently needs peace. We and the French, acting on behalf of the League and in the spirit of the League, are determined to make another great effort for peace. We have no wish to humiliate Italy or to weaken it. Indeed, we are most anxious to see a strong Italy in the world, an Italy that is strong, morally, physically and socially, and that is able to contribute to the world valuable assistance. I appeal once again to Signor Mussolini and his fellow-countrymen—and I make no such attempt as the hon. Member made just now to draw a distinction between them—I appeal once again to Signor Mussolini and his fellow-countrymen to dismiss entirely from their minds the suspicion that we have sinister motives behind our support of the League. We have none. Let them dismiss from their minds the suspicion that we wish to drive a wedge between Italy and France. We wish to see Italy and France the firmest friends, and we are glad that we were able to help in the entente that brought Italy and France together at the beginning of the year. Let them dismiss from their minds the suspicion that we 346 wish to weaken Signor Mussolini's own position and to destroy the Fascist regime. We have not the least desire to interfere in the internal affairs of Italy, and we are most anxious to see a strong Italy governed by a strong government in whatever form the Italian people may desire.
Cannot we lay aside these suspicions and concentrate in the immediate future upon finding a basis of settlement and making it possible for the world to return to normal life? There is not a nation that is taking part in the collective action of the League that would not be delighted to see friendly relations restored between themselves and Italy, and sanctions ended. As long, however, as collective action is needed, the League, including ourselves, is bound to proceed under the Covenant. Nor is there any likelihood that the League will weaken or the members fail to take their part. But, one and all, we desire the occasion that calls for collective action to cease to exist. That is the reason why I make this appeal for peace. The appeal is no sign of weakness; it is evidence solely of our desire to end as soon as possible a controversy that is embittering the world.
I do not disguise from myself the great difficulty of the task of finding a reasonable settlement. I do not wish anyone in the House to think that the task is easy, or that the road is smooth. While, however, we must all recognise the formidable character of the obstacles in our path, we must not despair of surmounting them; yes, and we must make a particular effort to surmount them in the course of the next few days and the next few weeks There are sufficient difficulties in the world without the added trouble and danger of the Abyssinian dispute. There is already too much inflammable material in Europe and the East for fresh powder to be added to it. The nations need a long period of rest and quiet if economic recovery is to be assured and permanent peace established. On all sides there are problems overdue for solution, problems which cat only be solved if old feuds are forgotten, if suspicions are removed, if fears are allayed, and good will and common sense take the place of ill will and hysteria.
I believe that Great Britain can give valuable support to those—and they are 347 very many—who are striving for a world in which the problems of the future can be considered on their merits in the calm and dispassionate atmosphere that they require. Whether we succeed or whether we fail, we intend to make every effort to give this help. The peace of the country, the peace of the Empire, the peace of the world being the basis of our foreign policy, we shall not hesitate to make our voice heard and our influence felt against war and international strife. There are many dangers ahead and we do not shut our eyes to them. But if we show ourselves strong in purpose, strong in resource, strong in defence of ourselves and in the cause of peace, we shall surmount them as we have surmounted even greater dangers in our past history.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I am sure the House has listened with deep interest—and, I think I may add, with gratitude for the further information supplied—to the speech which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has just made. There was one question put by the hon. Gentleman opposite to which, I think, he made no reference. It was whether the time had not come when the Government should produce a White Paper dealing with the whole history of what I may call the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. I think that such a paper is due, and even overdue, and that the House is entitled to, and could receive, as far as I can gather, without injury to the public interest, information on some things which are already in the comparatively distant past and others which come much nearer to the time at which we stand. The Debate has travelled over a very, wide field and there are one or two subjects on which I would ask the indulgence of the House to be allowed to make some observations. I was very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the exposition he gave of the circumstances in which the Leith-Ross Commission proceeded to China, and of the connection—or lack of connection I had perhaps better say—between that mission and a particular act of policy of the Chinese Government.
When he turned between Japan and echoed the feeling of that certain aspects give rise to very considerable anxiety in 348 wide circles in this country, and in still wider circles outside. We have reached a kind of impasse internationally in the Sino-Japanese situation. The League declared the occupation of Manchuria by Japan an act of aggression. It judged the new State of Manchukuo, in effect, as a puppet State, but the League had not the authority or the force to follow up this judgment. That is no blame to the League. You have a great country impotent for its own defence whose defence, if it is to be undertaken at all, is not a defence primarily falling upon its own citizens but supported by the moral strength of the rest of the world, by economic sanctions enforced by them, and, it might even be, in the last resort, by arms. It is a defence for which China has made really no provision, and the whole risk of which, the cost of which, would fall on other shoulders. That is not collective security. In a system of collective security each member of the League ought to bring its proportionate quota of strength to the defence of its own land and to the common defence of the peace of the world.
There was only one Power beside ourselves which could have acted with any effect—the United States of America. If there is at any time to be a policy which can hope to maintain the old principles common both to the United States and to this country, and formerly accepted by other governments as well, in those far distant places, it must be a policy common to the United States as well as to ourselves in which they are not unwilling or afraid to act in close co-operation with the only Power that cap aid. I speak with all respect of the Government and people of the United States. There is nothing I have more desired in my life than a closer approach between our people and the United States, not merely that we should preserve most friendly relations, not merely that there should never occur again those disputes which have embittered our relations from time to time in the past, but that that common stock of morals, of love of liberty and freedom, of history and tradition which we possess, should lead to a common policy in these great world affairs.
But the American Government is a very difficult Government to act with. When my right hon. Friend was speaking a moment ago about solitary action by 349 this country, the enforcement of sanctions by the sole act of this country, an hon. Member opposite interrupted him to ask "What about the United States?" If he will allow me to say so, the interruption showed a complete misapprehension of the policy of the United States. The whole purpose of the policy pursued by the President and Government of the United States, in pursuance of the authority given by Congress, is to keep America out of all these complications and to preserve her absolutely free of them. She does not forbid the export of arms as a sanction against Italy; she forbids the export of arms and the implements of war which are included in her lists to any belligerent. If she forbids her nationals to travel in the fleets of belligerents, it is not as a sanction on Abyssinia or on Italy, but in order that questions may not arise of the rights, liberties and safety of American citizens such as might bring America into the war and cause complications similar to those which brought her into war before.
The whole trend of American policy, not, I think, uninfluenced by the constitutional position in which the President stands, is to abstain from any close arrangement with any other Power, to move quite independently along their own lines. I am not criticising that attitude, but we cannot launch ourselves into some distant adventure on the assumption that because American interests coincide with our own, because those things which we set out to achieve are things which America has declared to be part of her policy, she will at once rally to our aid; that if there is any trouble we shall have a partner; and that if extreme measures are taken America will be beside us when that time comes.
Out there the League had no force that could be effectively employed. What is the present situation? I said that we are in an impasse. The State of Manchukuo is being continued and consolidated. The chance of its recovery by China in any future to which we can look forward is nil. Are any negotiations passing, can my right hon. Friend, or my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs tell me, between China and Japan towards reaching an agreement between those two countries? If there are or have been such negotiations, what is our attitude towards them? I venture 350 to think that we ought to encourage China to try to reach an agreement with the Government of Japan and to regularise the position, for I am quite certain that as long as the position of Manchukuo is unregulated, the danger to China proper continues, and that until that question is settled we cannot feel that China itself is really secure. That is all I have to say, and I am not sure that it is a very popular doctrine, about China and Far Eastern affairs.
I turn for a moment to Egypt. I was myself, as Foreign Secretary, the negotiator of one Treaty with Egypt, accepted by the Prime Minister of his day but rejected by the Egyptian Representative Assembly. The late Mr. Henderson negotiated another Treaty in which he went further than the Government, of which I was a member, were prepared to go, and consented to the removal of British troops altogether from Cairo and Alexandria. I think that is unsafe, and I do not think that provision ought to reappear in any treaty of the future, but I agree with my right hon. Friend that though it cannot be done in the confusions of the present time, it is desirable to take up negotiations again with Egypt in a spirit of great sympathy with their aspirations and great friendship to them. After all, it should surely be possible for them to be brought to understand that geography has placed them and us in a relationship which we cannot break, that it imposes on us certain duties to our own people, to our own safety, to the other communities of our British Commonwealth, which we cannot neglect, and that if they will once recognise the necessities of that geographical situation they will find none more ready to promote their liberty and advance their fortunes than the British people and this House of Commons.
Finally, I want to say a few words about the Abyssinian question. I was glad that my right hon. Friend, in making his appeal to Signor Mussolini, dissociated himself from the attempt of the hon. Gentleman opposite to separate Signor Mussolini from the Italian people. Signor Mussolini probably represents more at this moment of the heart and soul of Italy than at any previous time in his career, and all attempts to distinguish between him and the people over whose fortunes he presides do not make for peace, do not make for good- 351 will, and are bitterly resented by every Italian with whom I have ever spoken on the subject.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I say that Italy has been culpable, Italy has been guilty of an aggression. That is the verdict of the League, and I accept it, but I add that to try to distinguish between the rulers and the people is not, as you would hope, to divide the Italian people but to solidify them, to insult their national pride and make them less ready to listen to any appeal to come to some reasonable arrangement. In regard to that matter I stand exactly where, as I understand it, the Government stand. Except for the United States of America there is no country with which I would less desire to have a quarrel than with Italy. In the whole of our history Italians and Englishmen have fought, now and again, on the same field of battle, but it has been in defence of Italian soil. We have never had any quarrel with them, and it is tragic that this particular development of Italian policy should have estranged two peoples who have had so much in sympathy and have never had a serious quarrel in their history.
But I am with the Government in thinking that by the action of Italy a much bigger question is raised than the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. It is the question whether all the efforts which have been made since the War to establish a new public law and new standards of conduct between nations are to be abandoned at the first test, or are to be asserted, and by the assertion of them, strengthened. I beg the hon. Gentleman opposite not to be too impatient. The League is a young body. This is the first time it has been confronted with a situation in which it could act and where it has acted. I am not discouraged because it works slower than I could have wished. I am certainly not discouraged because, as he says, it has not applied the totality of the sanctions under Article 16. I have no desire to throw every Italian who is now settled and working in England out of this country. I have no desire to see whatever Englishmen there may be in Italy 352 thrown out of that country. We have not come to that, and I hope we may not come to it. I am not discouraged by our working slowly.
A great institution like the League cannot be made in a day, though its constitution may be written in a few weeks. It must be a thing of slow and gradual growth, and it will be by the way it is handled in case after case that its authority will be gradually built up and its strength affirmed. In this case it is applying sanctions. I am glad to think that the representatives of this Government have been foremost in the counsels at Geneva in consenting to maintain and enforce the authority of the League. There are other nations taking their part and sharing the risk, and I would go as far as that collectivity is prepared to go. I am entirely against the individual action which the hon. Gentleman opposite seemed to desire. That does not circumscribe the dispute; it enlarges it. It does not bring it nearer to its end, but makes its end more distant. It is the whole basis of the League that there is a collective system, a common judgment that is followed by common action, that each State takes its responsibility and plays its part in discharging its duty under the League.
I hope that the Government will be able to persuade the League and its members to apply quickly an embargo on the export of oil from any sources within their control to Italy. Sanctions are in the long run very effective, but most sanctions are slow of action. You have in oil a sanction which would be comparatively quick. It is better for all concerned that it should be applied at once and as completely as possible.
One other thing I wish to say. My right hon. Friend has repeated to-night a phrase which he has used on two or three occasions. He has said that the British Government, collaborating with the Government of France, will continue to seek a peaceful solution and I am glad of it. He has added that it must be a solution that is satisfactory to the three parties, Italy, Abyssinia and the League. I think that it must be a solution satisfactory to the League, but if it is satisfactory to the League, and Abyssinia refuses to accept it, are we to go on employing sanctions, when not merely Italy has disregarded, but 353 Abyssinia has also disregarded, a decision of the League? I beg my right hon. Friend to remember that the British Government thought Abyssinia was not qualified for League membership at the time when she was admitted, and that some other Governments have come to the conclusion that the British Government was right and have regretted that they pressed for Abyssinia's inclusion.
Abyssinia is not the client whom I would have chosen to fight a, test case. It is a slave-holding State; it is a slave-raiding State. It is not a good neighbour. I do not blame the central government because the central government cannot—it has not the strength to police their frontiers properly and prevent raids into neighbouring territories, our own or the Italian; but I do not think that you can say to Abyssinia: "We will continue indefinitely our pressure on Italy and go on heightening it until you agree." I think it must be until the League of Nations agree and a satisfactory solution is accepted by Italy.
I venture to put in that word of caution because I am certain that if the statement were taken literally by Abyssinia it would only mislead her not only as to the future action of this country but the future action of the League of Nations itself. I conclude by saying again that I listened with interest and satisfaction to my right hon. Friend, who carries with him the good wishes not only of hon. Gentlemen opposite but of all Members of this House, to whatever party they belong, in the very difficult task which lies in front of him.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
In the final passages of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) dealt with a phrase in the Gracious Speech which, to a good many of us, gave ground for misunderstanding. He referred to the statement that the Government willcontinue to exert their influence in favour of a peace acceptable to the three parties in the dispute, namely, Italy, Ethiopia, and the League of Nations.He made clear what I imagine must be the intention of the Government, that the settlement must be acceptable to the League of Nations and that it must be accepted by Ethiopia and Italy. I do not imagine that the Government mean 354 anything else. If one were to say that we must reach a solution that Italy would willingly accept, we should never arrive at any solution at all. I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has so clearly called attention to what was a certain lack of clarity in the drafting of the Speech from the Throne.
I should like to congratulate the Foreign Secretary upon making another of those admirable surveys of foreign policy which he has given us from time to time since he took that high office. It seemed to me that it was an effective and satisfactory way of dealing with the many problems which he referred to during his speech. It was very much better than one hoped for from the opening words of the Gracious Speech. If I took those at their face value I should feel considerably alarmed. Those words were:My Government's foreign policy will as heretofore be based on a firm support of the League of Nations.If that were really true it would be extremely alarming. I imagine that all that is really meant is just a kindly attempt to draw the veil of oblivion over rather a murky past. We might leave it at that.
My hon. Friend who opened for the Opposition just now said a good deal with which I entirely agree about British foreign policy between 1929 and 1931. The policy was admirable. He also made certain references to what has happened since then, and with most of that I agree also, but that does not really concern us. We are opening, I hope and believe, an entirely new chapter. Whatever anyone may say, there has been, as we all know, a fundamental change in the foreign policy of this country during the last four months, and it is naturally excedingly gratifying to many of us who have been urging this policy on the Government, not for four months, but in and out of season for the last four years. It is undoubtedly the collective peace policy of the League of Nations which has brought the Government in again with their great majority. If the Government had gone to the country as they were constituted 12 months ago, with their then personnel and policy, I doubt if they would have obtained a majority. It has now been made clear to the country that the League of Nations is the most popular policy that any Government could possibly adopt. It makes a direct appeal 355 to that practical idealism which is so much imbedded in the character of the British people.
May I make a reference to another point which was dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham just now, in reference to the situation in the Far East? He took what seemed to me a very pessimistic view of the situation between China and Japan. It may be that he is correct and that the situation has so far deteriorated that you cannot do anything better than suggest to the two countries that they should make friends as well as they can. It is rather like saying to the lamb: "We think your best course is to make friends with the lion. We hope things will go on all right, and we will watch with sympathy and good will." I should think there is a good case for waiting a little to see the result of the action of the League in the case of Abyssinia. If that succeeds, I believe it will affect the situation all over the world, and may well play its part in the policy of Japan in future. This is not a matter between those two countries ony; there are the Nine Powers, to say nothing of the League of Nations itself.
Nothing has been said so far about the Naval Conference which is shortly opening. I hope that the policy of the British Government, both in the Far East and at the Naval Conference, will be to work in the closest co-operation with the United States, and to appreciate their point of view that this is not purely a naval matter but a matter of the highest political importance. Having regard to the way in which Japan has repudiated so many of her treaties in the recent past, it is open to consideration as to the guarantees which you can get for the better maintaining of any treaties that may now be concluded. It is important for us to know the precise object of the naval armaments that Japan now requires. I hope that that question will be thoroughly explored, in close co-operation all the time with the United States of America.
May I now ask my right hon. Friend to be good enough to deal, when he replies to-night, with another question to which no reference has been made? What is the situation in the territory of Memel at the present time? There has recently been instituted a Directory responsible 356 to the Landtag. Does that mean that matters will now work out upon a peaceful basis? I hope that that may be so, but I very much fear that the situation there is almost an impasse and that it really depends, as so many world problems do, on whether the League of Nations is going to be an effective instrument or not. I cannot help thinking that, if difficulties continue in that territory, the right policy of the guaranteeing Powers, who have very great difficulty in guaranteeing anything and in co-operating, that is Great Britain and France—Italy and Japan being out of it—is to surrender their task to the proper authority under the League of Nations. If any change or alteration is to be made in the situation there, it should be made under the direct control and authority of the League, if it exists as a powerful instrument, and the matter should no longer be left in the very unsatisfactory state in which it has been left in recent months, although not on all occasions, by those guaranteeing Powers.
I happened during August and September to be in some of the Baltic States, and I was very much interested to find in every one, when one met leaders of opinion, that they put the question: "What is your Government going to do in regard to the crisis in Abyssinia?" I ventured to put to them that the British Government were going to stand firmly and resolutely behind the Covenant of the League of Nations. They listened to me very politely, of course, but it was with polite incredulity. They said: "If that really be true it will be one of the grandest things that has happened in the history of the world, but it is almost too good to be true." Well, we know that it is true, but the question is, is it going to last? Events will show the answer to that.
As one who has in the past often criticised the foreign policy of the British Government I take pleasure at this moment in paying my tribute to the magnificent way in which, during recent months, they have been supporting the policy of the collective security of the League. I believe that the Ministers who really matter most in this respect, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, are absolutely sincere and resolutely determined to pursue this 357 matter to the end, and that nothing will prevent them from maintaining an attitude of that kind. I believe I am right, and until I am proved wrong I shall work on that assumption. I am sure that His Majesty's Government will, in that case, have no more whole-hearted supporters in this House than those who sit upon these benches. The triumph of the League of Nations in this issue will be one of the greatest events in the world's history, far transcending the interests of any party.
May I now ask the question "How is the sanction system working since it has been in operation?" It is very easy to criticise. One sees faults committed, and one imagines that in any future case things will be done differently. But this is a new technique which is being applied for the first time in history, and the wonder is, not that mistakes are made, but that such an extraordinary advance has been made, and that it is functioning anything like as well as it is at the present moment. No doubt there has been delay. No doubt Article 11, which deals with the threat of war, ought really to have been tackled many months ago, before war actually broke out. No doubt the scope of sanctions is incomplete, and the loyalty of the members of the League who are applying sanctions is incomplete, one such case being that of a great Power which has most to gain by the successful working of this system. It may be slow, but I believe it is working surely. Is not the principle to be applied that on which the police work—that you should use the minimum of force, but ally the force that is necessary to attain your object?
We have heard that the Government are going forward on the question of oil. I entirely agree with all that has been said by the Foreign Secretary and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham about the necessity of working on a collective basis. To work in isolation is very dangerous. It may leave you open to retaliation single-handed; it may be a precedent in future for some country to say, "You acted in such-and-such a way in the Abyssinian dispute; why not act alone here?" I believe we are on the safest and surest ground in trying to keep the collective system working all through. During the General Election, many of us heard a 358 good deal, and many questions were put to us, about the Suez Canal. We were asked, "Do you want to close the Suez Canal and so start a war?" Is not the position really this, that all sanctions of any kind involve the risk of war if the aggressor cares to say, "I regard the fact that you are stopping such-and-such a thing coming in collectively as an act of war"? Merely to isolate and select one particular thing is really quite irrelevant to the great issue involved. The risk of war is less if it is known that all are united and all are determined. The mere fact that Signor Mussolini may signify his dislike of any particular sanction that is going to be applied is surely, to put it in a very modest way, no reason at all for not putting that sanction into effect.
I would like to try to define, if I may, the policy of the Government with regard to sanctions right up to the very end. I believe I know what it is, though they have not stated it quite clearly. It is that they are prepared to go all lengths necessary to support the sanctions under the Covenant of the League of Nations—all that may prove necessary—provided that other countries will play their part with us. I understand that at the moment France is not willing to contemplate such a sanction as closing the Suez Canal, but if the situation arose that all the other sanctions were failing, and the only one left that could ensure the victory of the League was the cutting off of communications between Italy and Abyssinia, and if France and all other countries would Come in, I believe it is true to say that His Majesty's Government would play their part in any such necessary action. I said that in the Debate before the Dissolution, and I was not contradicted. I say again that I believe that to be the perfectly right and proper policy on which the Government are working. I am very glad to gather from the admirable speech of the Secretary of State that they are going on collectively, fearlessly and progressively until peace terms are secured that are acceptable to the League of Nations and accepted by the parties to the dispute. There have been certain rumours in the Press during the last few days that a "deal" was going to be made, that some betrayal of the League case might take place. Frankly, I do not believe it, because I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman in any circumstances would depart 359 from the carefully marked out line on which he has been working so effectively since he took office.
I turn for a moment to what has been said with regard to the reassembly of the Disarmament Conference. The Secretary of State gave us the very interesting information that Herr Hitler is not prepared to discuss aerial disarmament until he knows the issue of this dispute. That is a very natural feeling on his part, because, if the result of this dispute is the destruction of the League of Nations, it means one thing for Germany and everybody else. If it succeeds, then Germany will no doubt be inclined to play a very different and more useful role inside the collective system than would otherwise be the case. It only goes to emphasise the immense importance of securing a League triumph. I hope that the first step after the settlement of this question will be the reassembly of the Disarmament Conference, and that His Majesty's Government will give there the same magnificent lead that they have been giving on this other question during the last few months. I hope it will no longer be necessary to discuss regional pacts here and there, but that one great pact covering the whole world will be arrived at in the discussions under the new and more hopeful auspices that will then exist.
My right hon. Friend referred to the question of inquiry into Colonial matters with which he dealt in his speech at Geneva and in his broadcast to America—the question of those countries which feel, rightly or wrongly, and in a very exaggerated way, I think, that they have some need of territory to which their surplus population can go, from which they can get their raw materials, and to which to send their goods. I hope that under League auspices such an inquiry will in due course be instituted, with the best men that can be found in the world. I do not know what the result will be, but I venture to suggest that the best method of settling this question will not lie in handing round parts of the British Empire to the peoples of the world; I believe it is much more likely to lie in stressing and strengthening the principle of trusteeship and equal opportunities for all nations in British and other Colonies, and in reverting to the position as it was 360 when Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, referring to British Colonies, was able to use these words:In our Colonial policy we offer, in all those markets over which our flag floats, the same opportunities, the same open field to foreigners that we offer to our own subjects, and upon the same terms.It is not possible to say that to-day. Things have changed since Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was able to make that notable statement, and I believe it will be found that we shall have to retrace our steps and come back to a position which will enable the Colonial Secretary of these days to make the same statement.
We may be asked, will we vote for an adequate contribution to the collective system? It is a great issue that is coming, and I say most certainly that we will, although we may differ as to the precise details and amount. It has not been brought before us yet, and we do not know, but, provided that it really is going to be used as part of the new collective system for maintaining order in the world, then certainly our contribution must be adequate and worthy of this great country. But that does not mean that this must be taken as an excuse for rearmament on a great scale on purely national lines. Surely there ought to be consultation, if it is a collective system, between the different countries concerned, to see what separate contributions each of them is going to make. Otherwise, we shall see an unco-ordinated armaments race.
There is one passage in the Gracious Speech to which I should like to make a brief reference. Referring to rearmament, the Gracious Speech says:The fulfilment of our international obligations under the Covenant, no less than the adequate safeguarding of My Empire, makes it urgently necessary that the deficiencies in My Defence Forces should be made good.Why bring in those two things? Surely they are exactly the same. Surely the defence of the Empire—every part of it—depends, or should depend, on the proper functioning of the collective system. It may be that it is just a piece of drafting, but it seems to me that they do not fit in very well together. Finally, I would like to point out that the Gracious Speech from the Throne consists of two parts—first, the foreign situation, the foreign policy; and, secondly, the programme of social reform at home. The second part 361 is perfectly useless and meaningless unless the first part is made to succeed. If the Government's League policy fails, it will not be education and better housing that the people of this country will get, but mutilation and destruction. I would venture to urge the Government to continue in the spirit of firm and courageous world leadership which has marked their course in recent months.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. MABANE
Having listened to the speech which has just been made by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), I have been led to wonder why he and his friends are sitting on that side of the House. During the election the Government, and particularly the foreign policy of the Government, were persistently and violently attacked by the hon. Member and his friends—I do not mean the policy that has been pursued recently, but the policy, considered as a whole, of the last four years. I would remind my hon. Friend that there have been successive statements, and very definite statements, from the Treasury Bench, that the foreign policy of the Government during the last four years has been a continuous foreign policy—
§ Mr. MABANE
I am quite certain that those who make these definite statements from the Treasury Bench believe it firmly, and I am certain, too, that the evidence of the voting at the recent election makes it clear that the country believes it too. We come back here, after four years of continuous policy, with a confirmation from the country of the work of the Government, and I think it would be a good thing if the hon. Member and his friends were to support the Government, and support it thoroughly and continuously in the future, learning from the wisdom of those Liberals who sit on this side of the House.
§ Mr. MABANE
I am very glad to hear that my hon. Friend supports the Government, and I hope he will continue to do so. I should like to refer to the speech, with which the Debate opened, by the hon. Member for Bishop 362 Auckland (Mr. Dalton). This is the first time that I have had the privilege of hearing him speak in the House of Commons, and my feelings, after hearing his speech, were feelings of thankfulness that he had not been in charge of foreign affairs during the last four years. It was evident from his speech that he regards the rest of humanity with suspicion. Apparently he distrusts the people of this country and its Government. He indicated his belief that the policy at present being pursued by the Government is one that reflects, not honour, but dishonour on this country, and I observed that in the course of his speech he made references which some people might describe as offensive to almost every other great Power in the world. He made objectionable references to Italy, France, Germany and Japan. I should like to ask where his friends are, and whether he imagines that this country will succeed best in pursuing a policy of peace by indicating that it thoroughly distrusts the other nations with which it must co-operate if a collective peace system is to be established?
I want to put in a word on one point raised by both the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. They apparently are now treating it as a matter to be assumed that there was a break in the policy of the National Government. As the Foreign Secretary said, that is an old and an easy trick, but it is quite outside the belief of those who support the Government that there was that break in their policy. It is clear that those who continue to make that accusation are trying to drive a wedge between members of the Government for purely domestic party purposes. It can do no good at all, it can only do harm to our prestige abroad to suggest that there has been a break in the continuity of the foreign policy of the country and that for the first few years of the National Government the policy was going in one direction and for the last six months or so it has been going in a different direction.
§ Mr. MANDER
Does not the hon. Member appreciate that no one realises the change better than foreign statesmen all over the world?
§ Mr. MABANE
I cannot admit the truth of that suggestion at all. Great 363 play has been made with the Sino-Japanese dispute, and it has been suggested that our foreign policy was defective in that dispute, and that we ought to have taken more drastic action in the East. Yet I think every sober and sane person will agree that that dispute can be resolved into very simple terms as far as we are concerned, and that is whether we were or were not prepared to go to war in the Far East. I know Japan at first hand. Japan is a proud militarist, determined nation, with an Empire of the East as the least of their ambitions. We regret that they take that view, but I am not convinced that if we had engaged in a war with them in 1931 or 1932 to dissuade them from their ambitions we should have contributed to the progress of the world. Rather by preventing the outbreak of war we may hope that in the future the chance may come to persuade them to change their views and adopt an outlook on world affairs more in accordance with that which we would have them adopt. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland himself made it clear in one of his books not so long ago that, if we had taken the sort of action against Japan that is now suggested, it would almost certainly have led to war, and I cannot believe for a moment that that would have had the support of this country or that it would have improved the position of the League of Nations. The result would have been smashing the League of Nations and involving the world in war rather than ending the aggression of Japan.
I was surprised and disappointed that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made no reference to the very many successes of the Government during the last four years. He has made complimentary references outside the House to some of their achievements. Too much emphasis has been placed upon the Sino-Japanese dispute. That has not been the only difficulty of the last four years. Europe itself has been from time to time in grave danger since 1931. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made a comparison between the experience of the years 1929 to 1931 and the experience of the years from 1931 to 1935, but he omitted to say that during the earlier period conditions were much easier. The problems with which he and his colleagues had to deal were nothing like so complex 364 or so dangerous as those with which the National Government have had to deal. There have been successive troubles in Europe. At one period a difficult situation occurred at the time of the assassination of Chancellor Dolfuss. This Government stepped in and, through the agency of the League of Nations, enabled the danger that might have arisen to be averted. Not so long after that there was another dangerous situation that arose upon the assassination of King Alexander and M. Barthou at Marseilles. It was the leadership of this country at Geneva that enabled that difficult situation again to pass by without Europe being involved in a conflagration.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland himself has stated in definite terms that the settlement of the Yugo-Slav-Hungarian dispute was due to the way in which this Government led the League of Nations. Again there was the leadership of the League of Nations in the difficult situation in the Saar. There can be no sort of doubt that you had there a situation which might have precipitated a conflagration. It did not, because this country led the world in sending to the Saar a police force which enabled the plebiscite to be taken without any sort of disturbance at all. And in the latest difficulty of all, a careful examination of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute can lead to no other conclusion than that the Government has been prudent and firm. It would have been ridiculous for them to undertake at once the sort of drastic measures which have been from time to time proposed. I was interested to see that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton apparently does not suggest that we ought now to close the Suez Canal, or to propose that it should be done. I wonder, therefore, why he got the coupon of the Council of Action.
§ Mr. MANDER
My position is exactly the same as that of the Government that, if that proves to be the only way of stopping the war, and all the other countries are prepared to come in and play their part collectively, I should certainly be in favour of it.
§ Mr. MABANE
I am glad to hear that, because it makes it plain that the hon. Member is not really a supporter of the Council of Action and did not deserve the coupon that he was given. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland suggested 365 that we should by some means or other prevent the Anglo-Iranian Company exporting oil to Italy. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Johnston) made the same suggestion last night.
§ Mr. MABANE
Apparently there is another company to which he would wish the embargo to be applied. It does not matter to the general principle, because surely it must be agreed that such action on our part would be unilateral action. I ask the House to consider how we should regard any similar unilateral action adopted by any other country. Suppose that France or any other member State of the League of Nations suddenly said to us, "We are going to do this or that in isolation." We should interpret it as an attempt to force our hands, or else as an attempt to gain applause from the rest of the world and make us appear not to be favourably inclined to serious action against an aggressor. Quite apart from this, however, the fact remains that such an embargo could not be effective. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland suggested that the area over which agreement had to be achieved in order that oil should be prevented from going to Italy was small. He said there were very few countries supplying Italy with oil, and apparently he wished the House to believe that, if you could get those countries not to supply oil to Italy, that would solve the problem. Of course it would not, because any one of those countries could at once ship the oil through some other country and, until there was effective agreement amongst all those nations at present co-operating in League action, I do not think there would be any chance of such a sanction as he suggested being effective.
The hon. Member suggested that the United States is leading the way. We had some experience of the United States leading the way in the Sino-Japanese dispute. Although I have every desire that the relationships between us and the United States should be friendly, I think we must distrust a little the generous gestures of the United States. Gestures are very easy and it is a very 366 Machiavellian form of politics to make proposals which you know are almost certain not to be accepted by those to whom you make them, and to gain cheap applause by having made them. It would be easier to work with the United States if their gestures were not so frequent or so generous.
As we look back over the last four years we can contemplate with satisfaction the fact that this country has been kept from war in conditions when war might very easily have broken out. As I listened to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, and as I have listened to some of the speeches of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton in the past, I have been driven to the conclusion that, had they been in charge of our foreign affairs, we should almost inevitably have been thrust into war. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland himself has made a very wise comment in one of his writings. He said, "No war is inevitable until it breaks out." I would much rather make any sort of effort to secure that war does not break out than recklessly engage in these adventures that he apparently would have us do.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made no constructive suggestion for peace. I want to make what I firmly believe to be a constructive suggestion for peace in the future. As I heard the Gracious Speech read, I hoped that I should hear that it was the policy of the Government to endeavour to create an atmosphere in which the peace treaties could be reconsidered. Nothing has pleased me more than the statements that the Foreign Secretary has recently made to the effect that some sort of reconsideration of the general situation in that respect might be undertaken. I was very glad to hear the Prime Minister say on Tuesday:It is true that the sanctity of treaties must be upheld, but that does not mean that a given treaty is incapable of amendment, or that, through all time, it must stand in the form in which it stands to-day."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd December, 1935; col. 66, Vol. 307.]That is not a very definite statement, but it is, I think, an illuminating statement.
During the last four years the Government has successfully steered not merely this country but Europe through a very difficult period, and I think another phase of its work is now opening out. I have 367 every hope that the present unhappy dispute in Abyssinia will be settled fairly speedily. But the dispute in Abyssinia points a moral—the moral that before nations labour too seriously under a sense of grievance their grievances should be tackled and, if possible, redressed. As we look back over the history of the last generation we are bound to conclude that there has been a continuous trend in history. The war broke out, it is generally agreed, because international relationships were anarchical. Some of us went into the war inspired by a very definite ideal. We desired to substitute law for anarchy. And out of the war was created the League of Nations—a great reward but at a heavy price. The war, unfortunately, also created the peace treaties. It is significant that, whereas it was the young men who fought the war, it was the old men, without the idealism that inspired the young men, who made the peace treaties. I am sure that if you were to get together to-day men who were belligerents during that war and asked them to remake the peace treaties made in 1919 and 1920, they would not make them as they were then made. Unfortunately, the peace treaties are bound up with the League of Nations, and it is common ground among most people who have considered these things that it is unfortunate that the League of Nations has become to a degree the instrument for preserving the peace treaties intact. There is in the Covenant of the League an article which envisages revision of treaties. There is Article 19, which reads:The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconstruction by members of the League of treaties which have become inapplicable and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world.That Article exists, but I think that no one would be inclined to say that that Article has ever been invoked to the extent to which it might have been. I believe that the post-war settlements of Versailles, St. Germain, and Trianon are at the root of much of our trouble and that they were an obstacle in the way of a successful issue from the Disarmament Conference. That point of view has frequently been expressed in this country by the "Times" newspaper which on the 23rd November, 1933, wisely said: 368It becomes plain with every successive phase of the Disarmament Conference that no substantial progress is likely to be made until the question of revision is boldly faced and settled in one sense or another.I know it is easy to talk about the revision of peace treaties. It is also easy to argue that peace treaties have been revised substantially already. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) very frequently expresses that opinion. My respect for him is so great that I hesitate to differ from him, but in my view such revisions as have taken place have usually come too late, and when the trouble that earlier revision might have avoided had already become chronic. I do not want to talk about revision as being an easy thing, or to suggest that reconsideration of the peace treaties can be undertaken to-morrow and carried through, but it would be well if the second phase in the foreign policy of this Government were to create an atmosphere in which reconsideration of the treaties could be undertaken. There have been significant speeches in this direction already both by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that certainly accord with general opinion in this country and have met with general approval—speeches that indicated a desire to create an atmosphere in which the nations of the world could come together and reconsider all these many difficult problems. We have our diplomatic service, and many people have urged with force that since the war that diplomatic service has not been used as it might have been. Cannot our diplomatic service be used to take soundings in the capitals of Europe on this important point? I believe that if a serious attempt were made to create an atmosphere in which reconsideration of the treaties could be undertaken, we should be setting our foot on the surest way to peace.
Notwithstanding all the condemnations of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, the foreign policy of this Government, taken as a whole over the last four years, will bear the closest examination. I am certain that history will write down those four years as years in which prudence guided our councils in face of a campaign of calumny that might have incited many smaller men to reckless 369 action. It cannot but be regretted that the attack on the National Government has tended to take the form of a personal condemnation which has no sort of justification, for we all know that all Ministers bear equal responsibility for the foreign policy of the Government. The attack might have led weak men into dangerous courses. They have not been so led, but instead have pursued a policy of firmness tempered by caution in connection with every problem that has come their way, and the result is that at the end of it all, and in face of every difficulty—much greater difficulties than the last Labour Government had to face—they have brought us through without any serious international dispute. They have brought us through, after four years, to a moment when the Government was able confidently to go to the country and secure an overwhelming vote of confidence in their general policy, and, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said, nothing so influenced the country to vote in the way it did than its complete confidence in the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. PRICE
I should like to take exception to the statement of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) when he said, in his opening remarks, that the policy of the Government on foreign affairs is the same now as it was six months ago. I am sure of one thing, that if it were true, as he said, that their foreign policy is the same now as it was then, there would not be as many hon. Members adorning the benches opposite as there are now. I am satisfied that as far as the constituency which I have the honour to represent in this House is concerned, the change in the foreign policy of the Government in recent months played a very important role in the decision of the electors on that occasion.
I would like to refer to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I differ, with great respect, from so great an authority as he, but I wish to refer particularly to his remarks in which I understood him to say that we misunderstand the attitude of the United States of America on foreign affairs at the present time, and that the actual trend of the United States is more and more towards 370 isolation and away from any possible co-operation with the League. I admit that the tendency is now more and more towards isolation, but I am convinced that the recent legislation in Congress insisting upon neutrality is one which, in the long run, is to the advantage of the League, and that we can make use of that fact in our general support of League policy.
The Neutrality law which recently passed through Congress makes it difficult for the United States to trade with any belligerent State, and, although the inspiration of that policy is always isolation, the net result is to make it easier for the League to carry out economic sanctions against an aggressor. I maintain that that is in itself a revolution in American policy. The United States has for generations, since the inception of the Republic, always stood for the rights of American citizens to trade with any belligerent Power. It was that which brought the United States into the War, and yet here we have—and I do not think it is fully recognised in this country or anywhere outside the United States—that country throwing over a very important plank of its original foreign policy which almost might make George Washington turn in his grave. I am not impressed by the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham that that is in any way a matter which we might really fear as regards our support of League policy. Moreover, I am strongly of opinion that American policy three or four years ago was not such as would have made it difficult for us to intervene with considerably more force than we did in the Far East.
I was in the United States for three months last year and I remember very well the impression that was made on my mind that, if we had been ready to give diplomatic support to the United States and to co-operate in the early days of the Manchukuo crisis, the situation might have been very different. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Huddersfield said that there was only one thing for us to do, and that was to go to war with Japan. That shows a complete misconception of the whole situation. If we had acted with the United States diplomatically there was then in Japan a Government which was not a Government of 371 the military powers. We must get rid of the idea that the only political forces there are the soldiers. Alas! they are too much in power now, but it was not the case a little while ago, and it certainly was not the case in the early days of the Far Eastern crisis. If that situation had been realised then the course of events might have changed. Instead of that the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary, by his speeches over here and his actions, aided and abetted the military powers and made it difficult for the Liberal administration to act. He discouraged the Soviet Union and the United States from taking any action.
I should also like to refer to speeches I heard yesterday from the benches opposite in connection with the attitude of my friends and colleagues on these benches in regard to sanctions and war. It is entirely untrue that we advocated, or advocate, any provocative action such as the closing of the Suez Canal, which is in itself an act of war. We are sometimes accused of being bellicose pacifists because we are said to advocate these measures and at the same time are not prepared to give support for rearmament. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Those who say "Hear, hear" and are acting in that way are really impotent militarists, because on the one hand they are advocating considerable rearmament, while at the same time they are not prepared to use the collective armed forces of the League for the purpose of supporting the Covenant. I do not think that it is desirable at all to use, or even to threaten the use of, armed forces in a solution of these international questions except as the very last resort. I would only say that that action might be contemplated in the event of the Italian dictator taking action and attacking any member of the League in consequence of the application of such a sanction. That is the only reason why I would support military action. In my opinion, we are right at the present time to go no further than the application of economic sanctions. I sincerely hope that the Government will carry on the policy they are now adopting and apply at as early a stage as is possible the oil sanction, which I am confident would bring the conflict to an end as speedily as anything.
372 In regard to the possible settlement of the war between Italy and Abyssinia, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) when he said at the opening of our Debates how difficult it was, indeed almost impossible, to bring about a settlement satisfactory to all sides. That point that we have to consider is that it must be impossible for the Italian dictator to get out of this war what he has set out to obtain. We must not allow any settlement which would enable him to get better terms than he could have got had he accepted the offer made by the League in September of this year. The House will no doubt remember that before hostilities began in East Africa the Council of the League was negotiating with Italy and Abyssinia with a view to getting some kind of settlement, under which some of the Italian economic aspirations could be satisfied. I understand that a cut-and-dried set of proposals was put before the head of the Italian Government, but he rejected them. He chose to follow the course of war. Therefore, it must be the duty of the Powers who are members of the League to see to it that he does not profit by having gone to war. We hear now a suggestion that negotiations are taking place, or are likely to take place within a few days, between this country and France for a possible re-opening of the prospects of a settlement. We hear of the possibilities of an Italian protectorate or mandate over some of the non-Amharic territories of Abyssinia, but I hope that nothing will be done which does not uphold the authority of the Covenant of the League, or which gives to Italy anything which it could not have got by peaceful negotiations in the autumn of this year.
I should like to refer to another point, and that is in connection with the legitimate aspirations of those countries who consider themselves aggrieved under the post-war settlements. I refer mainly to Italy and Germany. There is not the slightest doubt that the difficulties now arising in the world and the causes of the trouble in East Africa are due to the fact that certain countries feel themselves aggrieved and economically at a disadvantage compared with the older and more established nations. It has been suggested that something could be done in regard to raw materials. I agree with 373 what the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Acland) speaking from the Liberal benches said yesterday, that it is not only a question of raw materials but the markets for the manufactured goods made from those raw materials. That is the really important matter for consideration. In this connection I am bound to feel that the Ottawa Agreement of 1932 did not play a very useful part. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in quoting from a speech of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, said that our pride in the years before the War and up to a few years ago had always been that the British Commonwealth was open to the nations of the world to trade in. That position has been broken.
The Ottawa Agreement has made the Empire a close ring fence, and if that policy is pursued we are bound to get into dispute with those nations who feel themselves aggrieved like Italy and Germany. The fact that there has been a change of Government in Canada shows that even our Canadian friends are not too enamoured of the results of the Ottawa Conference. One of the first fruits of the policy of the new Government in Canada has been an agreement with the United States. I welcome that. I think it shows that there is a tendency to go away from the idea that the Empire is to become a close ring fence. Closer economic relations between this country, the United States and our great Dominions are essential for the re-opening of international trade. I had occasion to speak with certain important persons in Washington when I was over there a year ago and I believe that is the opinion of a great many people there. Although I know there are tremendous interests and influences working against such a policy, those interests and influences are not insuperable, seeing what has been done between Canada and the United States. I suggest that the negotiation of international trade agreements and low tariff agreements if necessary between this country and other countries, starting with the United States, is the proper line to pursue if we are going to do something to allay the suspicions and fears of those countries who to-day feel themselves aggrieved.
In the Gracious Speech there are these words:The fulfilment of our international obligations under the Covenant, no less than the adequate safeguarding of My 374 Empire, makes it urgently necessary that the deficiencies in My Defence Forces should be made good.We have heard a good deal in our Debates about dualism, and as an instance of dualism that sentence in the Gracious Speech is a smoke-screen which confuses the issue. If we are a member of the League of Nations and if it is possible to pool our security it is also possible to pool our defences. When there is talk about the necessity of filling up the gaps in our defences, the first thing we ought to do is to consult with other countries who are loyal members of the League and who are prepared to stand by the Covenant, as to how far it is possible to pool our naval, military and air force resources. We hear nothing about that in the Gracious Speech. I should have said that that was the most important point to bring up.
I have certain figures which I should like to quote, and if they are incorrect I should be glad to know the correct position. They are figures showing the actual armed forces of the League Powers and the non-League Powers. I regard Italy as a non-League Power for this purpose. Although officially she is a member of the League, in actual fact we know that she is in conflict with the League. I do not include the United States of America in the list of the non-League Powers for the purpose of my calculation, because we are all agreed that there is no necessity for us to consider the armed forces of the United States with a view to laying down what our armed forces should be. Let me take Italy, Japan and Germany as the three Powers which are either not in the League or which are at the moment hostile to it. The military aircraft of those three Powers amounts to 5,000, while the military aircraft of the League Powers, not including Italy or the United States, totals 16,000. In regard to battleships, the non-League Powers possess 16, and the League Powers 21; cruisers, non-League Powers 63, and League Powers 143; destroyers, non-League Powers 128, and League Powers 400. In other words, if we take the situation as it is to-day, there is an overwhelming superiority for the League Powers.
It may be argued that that is the position to-day but what about the position to-morrow. Italy, France and Germany are laying down big battleships and are 375 going to increase their armaments in other respects. Surely, if we make our defence plan on the assumption that we can rely upon the support of the League Powers and we can pool our resources, there is no necessity for us to consider the fact that France lays down a big battleship or increases her cruisers. And we need not consider what the United States are going to build. I understand that the United States has not yet fully built up to the level permitted her under the Washington Convention. She is the only Power which has got two great postwar battleships, the "West Virginia" and the "Colorado" which are in some degree commensurate with our latest postwar ships, but what is that to us? What we ought to have had in the King's Speech was some recognition of the fact that as a member of the League we could pool our resources with the other League Powers, and then we should know whether it was necessary or not for us to fill up the so-called gaps in our defences. We have not done that and therefore it is a great failing on the part of the Government that they have not put this in the Gracious Speech as the most important aspect of foreign policy and one which would show that the Government are really in earnest in their policy of supporting the League and the Covenant. Only that international system can save our civilisation from destruction, and it must have behind it the force of an international police which must be organised under the League of Nations.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD GRIGG
As so often happens in debates of this character the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken most of the interest and substance out of the Debate. That fact is in itself a tribute to his speech. It is quite clear, I think, from what has been said in all parts of the House, that he can go abroad at the end of the week feeling that he represents the opinion of this country as a whole in the effort he is going to make for peace. It is a pity, however, that debates of this kind should fade away so quickly as they often do. I think that we shall have to ask the right hon. Gentleman in future either to speak later in the Debate or to make a speech of a less satisfactory character so that something may be left to be said by the others before all 376 the stuffing has gone out of the discussion. I am very glad that, as far as I am concerned, there little to be said in criticism of his speech, but there are one or two points which he did not mention with which I should like the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League Affairs to deal.
Before I mention those points, however, I should like to revert for a moment to the speech with which this Debate was opened this afternoon by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland. I should like in the strongest terms possible to dissociate myself from the reference he made to France. The hon. Gentleman, who I am sorry to see is not in his place now, was, I believe, for a time a member of His Majesty's Government serving in the Foreign Office. It astonishes me to think that anyone could spend even a few weeks in that office and then get up in this House and make a speech of that sort. It reflects badly on the responsibility one would expect to see on the Front Opposition Bench. The hon. Gentleman went so far as to speak of the tergiversations of the Prime Minister of France. I can only say that such an expression applied to a statesman of a friendly Power is intolerable in this House and will do nothing to promote international co-operation for peace.
I have been quite lately in France and I had the opportunity of seeing representatives of nearly every current of opinion, from the Prime Minister himself to the extreme Left, and I am bound to say that the fact which above all impressed itself upon me was that responsible public men in France, whether or not they are political supporters of the present Prime Minister, desire him to continue in power for the time being if that can possibly be arranged, and in particular support the efforts he has been making to prevent this trouble between Italy and the League from spreading into something more dangerous. There is no question whatever that M. Laval in that course of action has represented the mind and the wish and the spirit of France. The hon. Gentleman seemed to me to be quite unaware of, and to speak without any sense of, the difficulties through which France is passing at the present time. If you look for international co-operation you must take some trouble to understand the 377 difficulties of other people. You are not going to get international co-operation by speeches such as we have listened to this afternoon from the Opposition Bench. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that France at the present moment is passing through intense internal difficulties. She has a budgetary situation nearly as grave as that which we had in this country in 1931.
§ Sir E. GRIGG
It is well for France that there is not. Every step is being taken by responsible people in France to prevent anything in the nature of a Labour Government coming into power, and I am bound to say that those who represent that trend of opinion there are anxious not to take responsibility at the present moment. The budgetary situation in France has caused difficulty, the future of the franc is uncertain, and any country passing through difficulties of that kind is bound to look anxiously on external difficulties, which, if they became more acute, would make internal problems the harder to solve. What would have been our attitude during the crisis of 1931 if at that moment France had been asking us to take some particularly difficult line in international affairs? What would have been our attitude if we had had not only a financial crisis but also a threat to the constitution of the country and to the normal system of Government by armed Leagues? I think we should have been inclined to say that our internal problems were quite enough to keep us occupied for the moment and that we wished to have as little external trouble as possible. If that is the attitude we should have been likely to take up at that time, then we should show sympathy at the present time for the Government and people of France.
When the hon. Gentleman pleads for the immediate imposition of an embargo on oil, he must realise that that embargo involves dangers greater than any which have been presented by sanctions hitherto. Obviously the more effective the economic sanction the greater is the danger of retaliation. That is a point which every responsible statesman is bound to take into account. From the French point of view it is particularly necessary to take that 378 into account. In the event of retaliation we might assume that we should have no trouble to face except naval action of some kind, and that any other danger involved would fall on remote places like Malta and Egypt. That is not the situation in France. The consequences for France might be serious. It is possible indeed that general mobilisation might be involved, and no Government in France at the present time can be anxious to face responsibility of that kind.
It is quite right and proper that the French Government at the present moment should be straining every nerve to prevent this trouble from spreading, to secure a settlement if it possibly can. I was delighted to hear the phrase in which the Foreign Secretary affirmed his determination to arrive at a settlement if a settlement can be arrived at which will be approved by the League. France will certainly strain every nerve in that direction, and we will certainly give her co-operation. The strangest point about the hon. Gentleman's speech was that after his talk about France he went on to speak about the collective system, and, holding up his hands, asked: "Have we no friends in Europe?" I should like to tell him that speeches such as the one he made will ensure that we have no friends in Europe. After all, the key to the collective system in Europe, about which hon. Members above the Gangway are always talking, is France. You cannot get that collective system working without the whole-hearted co-operation of France. There is no hope for such a system without the co-operation of France. It is well, therefore, that we should seek to understand the difficulties of France and the spirit in which France is meeting them instead of making irresponsible, unforgivable attacks upon the French Government.
Having said that about the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, I would like to turn to the point raised by the right hon Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). He dealt with a point which is of very great importance, and which I know is exercising the minds of people in France, when he asked whether the British Government really meant that the only terms of settlement of the Abyssinian dispute which could be supported were terms satisfactory not only 379 to the League but to Italy and to Abyssinia. If that is to be the formula, it seems to give the Abyssinian Government a veto over any settlement. That is one of the defects of the Covenant as it is now framed. Under Article 10, if that Article is to be read literally, all members of the League give universal and unconditional and unqualified guarantees to every State member throughout the world. Article 19 is an article which merely suggests that the League should recommend the revision of arrangements or treaties which might be found inconvenient, but Article 10 is absolute and unconditional. It means as it stands that any State in the world, however backward, however unreasonable, however unwilling to regard in any way the advice of the League, can stand out and say: "We are guaranteed in our independence and territorial integrity, and we insist on the protection of the League." That is one of the things that will have to be considered in due course. In any case there can be no question of allowing the Negus to take his stand on that principle.
It must be made perfectly clear that if the Negus is not prepared—and indeed if Italy is not prepared—to accept terms which are regarded as just and reasonable by the League, then the protection of the League must be withdrawn. This is a very important matter, because, unless the point is made clear at an early date, there may be opposition from Abyssinia to a reasonable settlement which might strain the situation in Europe. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs will deal with that point when he speaks with reference in particular to the difficulties in the Province of Tigre. What is going to happen in Tigre? The Abyssinian Government might claim that, whatever has happened in Tigre, Tigre is part of the Empire of Abyssinia and must remain part of the Empire of Abyssinia.
I can only say that in this matter some consideration should be given not only to Abyssinia but to the population of Tigre itself. There is such a thing as victimisation, and I cannot conceive that the League of Nations, if it is really going to face its responsibilities in this matter, will hand back people who have declared that they wish no longer to be governed 380 by Abyssinia. The record of the government of Abyssinia in dealing with its outlying provinces is well known; it is on record. The effects of its administration in many of the outlying provinces have been cruel and brutal in the extreme. Its record in dealing in outlying territories with people who are not of Abyssinian blood is as bad as any record can be, and that must be taken into consideration when we are discussing the future of a province like Tigre, which, in so far as its legitimate ruler is concerned, and many of its chiefs, seems quite voluntarily, when the opportunity was given, to have thrown off Abyssinian rule and joined the Italians. I hope that in the question of Tigre there may be no question of returning people who have once thrown off the sovereignty of Abyssinia to that sovereignty again.
The other point on which I should like the Minister for League of Nations Affairs to say a word is this: We have quite rightly taken action against Italy, in accordance with the Covenant, for breaking treaty faith. We must be scrupulous to keep it ourselves. I do not think we can argue that we are absolved from the tripartite treaties and the undertakings we gave Italy in those treaties merely because Italy herself has broken faith. A breach of the Covenant does not annul other people's obligations. We remain bound by the undertakings we gave to Italy, and it must be made perfectly clear that we are prepared, in any settlement that is made, to honour the undertakings we have given in treaties, some of which were signed long before the League came into existence and which have been reaffirmed and registered with the League. That is a very vital matter at the present time, and I raise it with seine anxiety because it seems to me that the Committee of Five, in the proposals which they made before Italy broke with the League, did not take that sufficiently into account.
Under the terms of our treaty engagements to Italy we are bound to recognise certain special rights of Italy in certain parts of Abyssinia once there is an alteration of the status quo. There is no question that the proposals of the League were an alteration of the status quo and brought into play our treaty obligations to Italy. I have never felt certain that the proposals of the Committee of Five gave adequate weight to that point.
381 Abyssinia did not accept them. But that does not make us any less bound; we signed them ourselves. I absolutely refuse to accept the statement that a treaty is no longer binding which is registered with the League. My view, which is taken by a majority of this House, is that this country keeps its engagements, whatever they may be, and that we are not absolved from our engagements merely because other people have broken theirs. That is the point I wish to make. The criticism which I have ventured to make of the proposals of the Committee of Five has been made by impartial international jurists in Europe, and, therefore, I think that some attention should be paid to it.
The Debate has drifted away from defence and I do not propose to bring it back to that point. But before I sit down I should like to express my strong agreement with the appeal made yesterday by the hon. and gallant Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James). There is a strong feeling of anxiety amongst those hon. Members who have experience of the problems of defence and are interested in them, as to the co-operation of the Services, whether or not there exists any adequate doctrine or plan for the co-operation of the Services at the present time. Before the War this House always understood clearly what it was voting for when it dealt with two of the Services. The role of the Navy was well known and the role of the Army was well known, and when the House voted the Estimates for either of these Services it voted for a definite plan of defence which it understood. There is no such plan now which the House understands. When we vote for the Navy, Air Force or Army we are voting for Services which overlap and which have intermingling responsibilities, and we do not know how these responsibilities have been worked out. We feel great anxiety that the money to be spent on them may not be well spent, that much of it may be wasted if a very clear doctrine is not worked out and stated to this House. The House should know what it is voting for when these Estimates are presented. I support strongly the appeal made by the hon. and gallant Member for Welling-borough, and I hope that it will not be overlooked when we come to the Estimates which will be presented early next year.
382 I should also like to ask whether the Government have any intention of making any statement on naval policy before the Naval Conference. Very vital matters are to be discussed there, and there is some anxiety about the commitments which may be made. I think it was an undesirable precedent that in the Naval Conference of London in 1930 our cruiser policy, the basis of our cruiser policy, was altered without reference to this House. It was presented as a fait accompli and was one of the worst things ever done by any Government. I am very much afraid of that limitation on our cruiser strength being accepted again. I am not sure that such a limitation is not implied in the German Treaty, but when we were discussing a limitation of naval armaments at Washington there was no question of limiting our cruiser strength, which is purely defensive and cannot be offensive, by ratio with other Powers. Our cruiser strength is based entirely on the needs of our world-wide trade, and no other basis was accepted until the Conference of 1930. There is real anxiety amongst those who care about the principle of defence as to whether this new plan of basing our cruiser strength on that of other Powers, regardless of what their requirements are, may not be accepted again. I ask that some statement may be made on that subject before commitments are made at the Naval Conference.
Cruiser strength is a matter of vital importance in our naval policy. Big ships are built in order to keep other big ships from our cruisers. Our cruisers are our fleet, and this principle of limiting our cruiser strength by what other Powers choose to do in that line is unsound and dangerous. This is not a matter on which I ask for an answer to-night because the Debate has gone beyond that point, but while wishing the right hon. Gentleman God-speed on the difficult and responsible journey he is about to undertake, and wishing him a rapid recovery when he reaches his holiday on the other side of his task in Paris, may I ask that an answer shall be given to the two points in regard to Abyssinia which I have raised?
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. COMPTON
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary stated yesterday that the Debate on the Gracious 383 Speech should be confined to electioneering speeches and generally how the Election was conducted. I am satisfied that if the hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) had made the kind of speech in his constituency—in which I am privileged to reside—that he has made to-night, he would not have obtained the many thousands of votes he did obtain from Liberals who remembered him as a once progressive Liberal beginning his political career in a Lancashire division. Listening to his speech I felt that there was something more than coincidence about it. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) began his political career in the Oldham division of Lancashire, and the hon. Member for Altrincham began his political career in the Oldham division, both of them as Liberals, and now we see them in this House on the other side in the year 1935. I will leave it at that.
The Debate has proved one thing conclusively, and that is that clouds overcast the international situation. "Dull, cloudy weather, rain probable" is the ever recurring weather bulletin describing the state of apprehension which presides over our discussions, in public or in private, of our relations with foreign Powers or the relations of foreign Powers with one another. No one on this side of the House is oblivious to the abnormal situation in Europe which has been created by the existence of States where public opinion is manufactured daily by an official press. In these countries the one ideal is the patriotic ideal, but patriotism seems to be not love of country but love of more country—whose country is one of the obscurities of their foreign policy. Armaments grow apace, in more or less secrecy, and international disarmament negotiations have been suspended. The Air Commission of the Disarmament Conference has not met, I would remind the House, since March, 1933. Our own air armaments and those of neighbouring great Powers are being built up to an indefinite level of parity, each guessing at the other's level actually or prospectively. It has been estimated that before very long there will be from 8,000 to 10,000 first-class military aircraft in Europe alone, ready to take the air and bring devastation upon mankind. Lord Londonderry, in a speech which 384 won well-deserved fame during the Election, compared the military aircraft to the eagle—a bird of prey. Why he did not think of the vulture I cannot tell, unless it be that a suitable quotation was not available. But he forgot that bad ideals as well as good ideals are infectious, and that the eagle as a national symbol has already been appropriated.
Moreover, the uneasiness created by the race in armaments and the uncertainty about the foreign policy of certain Powers is not mitigated, as it should be, by the sense of security given by the knowledge that members of the League will co-operate in the fulfilment of their Covenant obligations. In the Speech it is declared without qualification that the Government are prepared to fulfil, in co-operation with other members of the League, the obligations of the Covenant, but the ideals of reduction and limitation of armaments by international agreement no longer find a place in the programme of the Government. We are assured that our relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly and at the same time that the fulfilment of our obligations under the Covenant make it urgently necessary that deficiencies in our defence forces should be made good. What has become then of the proposed European associations? Have they been abandoned or merely set aside until a more propitious moment?
Do the Government still believe that peace in Europe is to be found by trying to secure this corner and that corner in different parts of Europe so that at some future time a system of collective security may be devised? That is how the problem was stated by the Prime Minister on 11th March last. Has that conception of the way to make progress been abandoned, as it ought to have been abandoned, with the change in the foreign policy of the Government—a change which has been observed, noted, commented upon and welcomed in almost every centre in Europe to-day, a change which all democrats have commended in the Press and on the platform? I suggest that Europe itself is but a corner of the world and that it is not only more desirable but more practicable to try to secure that corner of the world against the menace of war, than to break up Europe into compartments which are safe and other compartments which are unsafe, because they 385 have been left insecure. How can we be certain that war will not break out in some corner of Europe which has been forgotten? The moment will come soon when the project for the completion of a European union will have to be revived and energetically pursued in a conference of the European members of the League.
I ask the Government whether they still stand by the project of a western Air Pact? Do they really believe that such a pact, negotiated with a State which is not a member of the League, is consistent with a foreign policy based in the language of the Speech on firm support of the League of Nations? Do they think that an agreement to bomb the country which starts bombing, which does not provide for the peaceful settlement of the dispute and as far as we know would not provide when and how the bombing was to be stopped, could be a basis for the permanent security of Europe? How do the Government excuse or defend a pact which separates air aggression from aggression by land or by sea? Is the one different from the other? If aggression takes place in one corner of Europe it will spread to all Europe—yes and beyond Europe. If aggression takes place, whether by land, by sea or by air, it will perhaps within a few hours be transformed into aggression by armies, navies and aircraft together. It has been explained that although Great Britain, by the Locarno Treaty, guarantees other states against aggression she has no guarantee against attack. Is the Covenant, then, to be regarded as worthless? Have the Government found any basis for this opinion in any negotiations with other members of the League? If so, the fact ought to be indicated to this House. That is certainly not the view of the Covenant which is taken upon this side of the House. The members of the League undertook to respect and to preserve against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. That guarantee is reciprocal and universal—
§ Mr. BRACKEN
On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Member to come down to this House and to read out a long, prepared speech?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I understood that the hon. Member had rather copious notes. It is not in order for an hon. Member to read his speech, and I am afraid that I 386 shall soon have to apply that rule more strictly than I have done hitherto.
§ Mr. COMPTON
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As regards what is known as mutual assistance by armed forces I contend that our claims are as great as our obligations. British interests, as well as the interests of other members of the League are protected by the Covenant in the sense in which I have defined it. Any other interpretation is exceedingly dangerous. I profoundly regret that the project of the western Air Pact seems to lend support to a contrary view. If there is any doubt about the matter let it be settled by a European security Pact. I wish to refer to certain speeches made by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite during the Election and particularly to call attention to a speech delivered by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs at York. I quote from the report in the "Times." The right hon. Gentleman said:Two elements in British foreign policy if it were to contribute to peace must be clarity and consistency.It is for that clarity and consistency that I now appeal. The right hon. Gentleman also said:Clarity and consistency were elements which were not wholly present in British foreign policy before the War.I maintain that clarity and consistency are still absent from the foreign policy of the present Government. The right hon. Gentleman further said:Posterity would judge the events of the last two weeks at Geneva as forming an important landmark in the long record of man's endeavour to preserve international peace.May we be permitted to believe that it is still true? In another respect we hope that events at the present time will not, in the future, form an important land mark in a record of failure. Italy has committed an aggression against a member of the League. I was pleased to hear the Foreign Secretary to-day deny certain statements in the Press. It would indeed be disastrous if negotiations were to take place betwen two or more great Powers with regard to the position in Abyssinia as has been suggested in certain sections of the Press which are not wholly favourable to the party which sits on this side of the House. It would indeed be disastrous if there were any ground for the suggestion that two great 387 Powers were prepared to cut and slice certain territories in Abyssinia without consulting the parties principally concerned, namely, the Abyssinian leaders themselves. If terms of peace are to be acceptable at all we are assured that they must be acceptable to Abyssinia and I suggest that Addis Ababa has more rights in the matter than Rome. According to the Press it is Rome alone that is to be consulted and I think therefore we are entitled to protest on that issue. My last quotation from the right hon. Gentleman's speech is as followsIf when the present dispute was finally settled the League found its authority much enhanced then the moment should be auspicious for a further effort to secure international agreement for the limitation and reduction of armaments. There was no security in piling up armaments.That, I regard as a definite pledge to the electors. I hope it will be formally endorsed on behalf of the Government before this Debate ends. One always looks for a reservation in a statement of that kind. The reservation in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is contained in the words:If the League found its authority much enhanced.This Government, with the collaboration of the party on this side of the House, have by their action in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute enhanced considerably the authority of the League. If the policy already pursued with success is pursued to the end, with the knowledge that the peoples of the world are behind this great experiment, the moment will come for putting the security of the corner of the world known as Europe on a new foundation, and making a further effort to secure a measure of agreement for the limitation and reduction of armaments.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. PORRITT
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the early opportunity which you have afforded me of expressing my views before this House. I crave the indulgence of the House if I should fall into any error or commit any mistakes in procedure. I hope it will not be inappropriate if at this stage I acknowledge the great help, encouragement and courtesy which I have received at the hands of old Members. I am a new-comer and I was told that I should find 388 it very difficult indeed to get my bearings in the House of Commons. I wish to say that I have received the greatest courtesy here, and that I shall in future look back with the keenest pleasure to the first few days spent by me in the House of Commons.
The Debate to-day, being devoted to foreign affairs, I must continue on that theme. As a Lancashire Member I think the most significant topic which has been mentioned to-day in connection with foreign affairs is the question of access to markets. Hon. Members of the Opposition and also the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary himself have declared their belief that the future policy of this country should be to provide greater facilities for countries which have no outlet for their goods. We in Lancashire, and in the cotton trade in particular, have seen our markets despoiled; many of them have been shattered through the unfair competition of Japan. I think that the Government should consider very carefully any suggestion which may be made in regard to the ceding of any of our territories. I cannot see that the cession of any one square mile of British territory would not jeopardise the security of the Empire. Wherever you look you will see that not only this country but also our Dominions have interests in every corner of the globe. We shall do well to consult with them first, and to get their whole-hearted approval before we embark on a policy which may be revolutionary in its outcome.
The hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Compton) mentioned that the Government should strive for the reduction of armaments by international agreement. Surely they are doing that. They have issued invitations to all the naval Powers to assemble in London in December, and I understand they have received favourable replies from every one. I submit that is a very real contribution to the problem of reducing armaments. It is naval armaments, I believe, which count most, and certainly they count most for this country. Another point I would like to raise is the question of British alliances in the Far East. Our foreign policy in the Far East seems to have been in a dilemma for years, and I believe it will continue to remain so. The question is whether we should ally ourselves with the Orient or with America. At the 389 moment we seem to be gravitating towards American principles, and I think we should, as far as possible, maintain the alliance with our own kith and kin, men and women who have a similar outlook to ourselves. The foreign policy of this country has received the approbation of every section of opinion in this country. I represent an industrial constituency in which I live, and I have had frequent opportunities of discussing the Government, not only at the election but during previous months. In every case I have found unqualified approval from men and women who, at other times up to 1931 had declared their allegiance to Socialist principles.
If I may be allowed to digress from the topic of foreign affairs, I would like to mention the Cotton Surplus Spindles Bill. That Bill has been included in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. We in Lancashire are grateful for what the Government have done in regard to the cotton trade. We realise how much we owe to the various Colonial quotas that have been imposed on Japanese goods, and also to the agreements which have been arranged with the Dominions. I think that the Government will do well to hesitate before they embark on the further policy of reorganisation. I welcome this Bill as an indication of their earnest desire to continue to help the industry, but I feel that if we are to have reorganisation it should be a comprehensive scheme, and not one which will merely apply to one section of the industry. Whether I have spoken to the working people or to employers I have never yet found any enthusiasm for the terms of the Bill, and I trust that the Government will find it possible to consider amendments which will make the Bill more acceptable to opinion in Lancashire. I beg them not to be satisfied with the passage of these proposals. If reorganisation is to be carried through, let it be comprehensive and include the whole trade, and not be limited to one particular section. In the past the cotton trade has waged an internecine strife between all sections of the industry, which while well enough when there was no foreign competition, cannot now continue. I hope the Government will take up any scheme which in future may be submitted to it by other sections of the industry.
390 My embarrassment in addressing the House for the first time has not been alleviated by having to speak from the Opposition side, and I hasten to assure the Government that it is no indication of my general view. I hope to prove a loyal and enthusiastic supporter of their policy. I shall always be proud to be associated with a Government which has earned the gratitude of millions of our countrymen by its efforts during the past four years, and I shall make it my earnest endeavour to help forward any measure that will help the people of this country.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member on his maiden speech; not indeed, on its matter, with which we find ourselves here in violent opposition, but in regard to its manner and thought, for which I think he is entitled to the congratulations of the House. I think he was a little rash in promising for ever to support the Government. He may find before many months or years have passed that he will regret the bold promise which he has just given to his leaders.
This Debate has hitherto followed the usual lines of a Foreign Office debate; bold and frank observations have been made by some hon. Members, and have been followed by lofty and pompous rebukes from the other side. I know well that invective uttered in this House, or in any other deliberative assembly, and carried into foreign countries does not conduce to the cause of peace or to good understanding. But I think we can leave the reception chambers of foreign diplomacy to make allowance for the respective weight of utterance by hon. Members. We each know our responsibilities, and we have a duty to our constituents that we should not attempt to suppress the public opinion which we were sent here to voice.
I wish we could assemble for comparison the acts of policy which have been carried out by successive Conservative foreign Governments since the War. You can take it as certain that before the trouble with which we are now particularly concerned began, the Italian leaders assembled those considerations. They studied the post-war history of Europe, and in particular the attitude of the British Foreign Office. What did 391 they find? They cast their minds back to the bombardment of Corfu, which has been almost forgotten. On that occasion the Italian dictator got away with an act of aggression. They remembered the invasion of Memel, when again there was no action by the League. They remembered the invasion of the Ruhr Valley by France; and finally, the successive gross breaches by Japan in connection with Manchuria and the Chinese Provinces.
Is it to be wondered that after these incidents of neglect to carry out our pledged bond to the League of Nations, the Italian leader thought he could get away with this attempt in Abyssinia? If these were not sufficient he had the words of the British Prime Minister, who at Glasgow last November said he did not believe in the principle of collective security while certain nations remained outside. I think we can take it that the Prime Minister on that occasion was being watched with sinister eyes, and that when his words were carried into the Italian Foreign Office the Italian dictator was justified in drawing the conclusion that he would be able to carry out an invasion in Abyssinia and that no action would be taken by Great Britain to prevent it.
It is said that on this side we have no leaders. I wonder what would have happened if there had been a Labour Prime Minister in office, and if instead of that speech the Labour Prime Minister had said, "We recognise that all nations are not inside the League, but the League is young." We have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) appeal to us not to expect too much of the League. If a Labour Prime Minister had admitted that the League was young and must have time to develop, that Britain would throw the whole weight of her economic and political leadership into the scale in favour of the principle of collective security, and that any nation which attempted to flout that principle would do so at the peril of its friendship and against the whole influence of the British Empire, do you think that a single Italian soldier would have left Italy for Abyssinia? I very much doubt it.
We often hear about the continuity of British foreign policy, but since the War the story of British foreign policy has 392 been a story of indecision and vacillation. We have to carry with us the whole of the conflicting, diverse interests of a vast Empire. I believe in the continuity of British foreign policy, but it would have been extremely difficult to carry with us all the countries and influences of the British Empire in the foreign policy that has been followed by this country since the War.
It reminds me of a story I was told only the other day, just after reading a biography which was written by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. The late Field-Marshal Haig had been visiting the front and had inspected the trenches. He was accompanied by the usual staff, but he was not recognised by all the front-line troops. When, later that afternoon, a sergeant-major was visiting the company on the extreme right of the British line, he remarked to one of the soldiers, who had not shown much enthusiasm in the reception of his Commander-in-Chief, "Do you know who it was that came round the trenches this morning?" "Yes," said the man, "it was Haig, wasn't it?" The sergeant-major said it was, but the soldier seemed quite unimpressed, so the sergeant-major said to him, "Do you realise that if he gave the order Left wheel,' you would be doubling for the rest of your life?"
That same consideration applies to the attempts made under our present foreign policy to change direction from a principle of indecision and lack of confidence in the League to the present principle, which has practically the unanimous support of the whole nation. I would ask the Prime Minister not to show any further weakness in this policy of collective security. We cannot get it in a day, or a year, or even, it may be, in a century, but if we make it clear to the whole world that that is the steady, unfailing principle which will guide the leaders of this nation, I believe that in the long run we shall establish that principle in the councils of the nations.
I want to say one further word with regard to what was said by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, who voiced, for the first time, a sentiment which I believe to be dangerous. Until now we have heard that any settlement of this dispute must be a settlement acceptable to the League of Nations, to Italy, and to Abyssinia, but doubts have 393 appeared to cross the right hon. Gentleman's mind—in my view, legitimate doubts—as to whether that is a formula ever capable of application. He began to hedge and to say, "It may be that we shall not be able to satisfy Abyssinia," and he gave the same plea in defence of the failure of the Government to apply the principles of the League to China. "China," said the late Foreign Secretary, "is weak, Abyssinia is barbarous, and we must not commit ourselves to give the same satisfaction in those circumstances as we should give to a nation more favourably placed." I believe that to be a dangerous utterance, and he who is so ready to rebuke back-bench Members on this side is equally capable with us of creating mischief in foreign countries. It is in such countries that trouble nearly always arises. It is not strong, civilised nations which are the victims of aggression and exploitation; it is weak nations, it is barbarous nations, and those are the places where the League will be compelled to establish and apply its principles.
If we are to hear from the lips of a responsible Minister at this stage of the dispute that Abyssinia is not to be satisfied, I regard the situation with grave concern. I go further than that, and I say that I believe that this formula, which requires satisfaction to be given to the League of Nations, to Italy, and to Abyssinia, is wholly impracticable. How can it be possible, without abrogating the sovereignty of Abyssinia, to give any satisfaction to Italy at all? Italy will never be satisfied unless the sovereignty of Abyssinia is abrogated, and we are pursuing a will o' the wisp, if we expect to get peace that way. We shall never get peace that way. We may get peace by breaking the rights and the sovereignty of the country which has been invaded, but that will be a barren victory for the League of Nations, and it will be worse: it will be a dishonour for the League of Nations. I therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman there who is largely concerned with these matters to try to adopt some new formula. Under the present formula you either break the League of Nations through breaking the sovereignty of Abyssinia, or you break Italy. Surely there is a more statesmanlike way than that. I believe that Italy has just grievances and legitimate aspirations, but it would be fatal if she were 394 allowed to gratify them after an act of aggression.
I want to refer, finally, to a statement made by the last speaker. We must be sure that Italy has some chance to meet our views. It will be impossible to get a settlement if we try to humilitate Italy and make it impossible for her to meet our views, but if we give explicit assurances to Italy that we shall give weight to her aspirations for expansion, then, I believe, and then only, will it be possible to find a settlement of this dispute. The last speaker said that if we ceded a single inch of British territory, the whole Empire would be in danger. I am not at this stage suggesting that we should cede or surrender populations now being governed by Britain. I believe they are as well governed by Britain as, if not better than, by any other country, but the present Foreign Secretary has himself envisaged a situation in which new and progressive principles shall govern the conduct of our Empire, and I believe it is by pursuing that idea that we shall persuade Italy, with friendship on all sides, to release her grasp on the Abyssinian people and nation. That, I believe, at any rate to be the only hope. I believe that action is futile along the present lines except by the humiliation of one country or the other, and therefore I appeal to both the Ministers who are entrusted with this grave task to see if they cannot carry further the suggestion made by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva, as in that way alone lies our hope for a peaceful settlement of this dispute.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
The hon. Gentleman unwittingly misrepresents me. I was bold enough to suggest what would have happened if a Labour Prime Minister had been speaking on that platform at Glasgow when the present Prime Minister made his statement about collective security. That was my only suggestion.
§ Mr. WISE
I accept the hon. Member's correction. If there had been a Labour 395 Prime Minister over the last few years, judging from the speeches which we have heard to-day from the other side of the House, I know perfectly well where I at least would have been. If I had been fortunate enough to survive a war with France, I should have been in a war with Japan. If I had not been killed by the Japanese, I should have been sent to war with Lithuania, and if I had survived that, I should now be at war with Italy. On the whole, the country can rest well satisfied that its foreign policy has not been in the hands of hon. Members opposite. The whole theory on which they are basing their case is fundamentally wrong. At the end of the hon. Member's speech he even advocated the old solution, to pacify Italy, of making some cession of British territory, but not, he said, a cession of population or of sovereignty. What, then, is the kind of cession he would make? Room for Italians to expand? There is plenty of room for Italians to expand, plenty of areas of the world where they may settle, where they are encouraged to settle, and where the conditions are suitable for them. There is only one bar to that expansion and it is that it is forbidden by the ruler of Italy. Exactly the same applies to Germany.
It is not an outlet for population that is worrying these nations, but the question of extended sovereignty, and we have to realise that fact. I would never associate myself with any person who suggested the abdication of any part of the British sovereignty over any part of the British Empire. What we have I believe that we must hold. I am unashamedly an Imperialist, and I have never concealed it. I believe that our Empire is right and proper, just and suitable.
§ Mr. WISE
I am perfectly prepared, if the hon. Member wishes, to tell it to anybody and even to his own supporters. This idea of making any cession in that way is fundamentally wrong. If you once start paying Danegeld you will never get rid of the Danes. They will cut and come again, and you will always be making cession after cession with the idea of preserving the peace.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he has read the speech of the Foreign Secretary at Geneva, in which he himself envisaged making some cession to meet the aspirations of Italy and other nations which needed expansion for raw materials and so on. Does he agree or disagree that that would be a fruitful source of investigation as a way of settling this dispute and future disputes?
§ Mr. WISE
I disagree profoundly with the whole idea, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that what the Foreign Secretary said at Geneva was another thing. He said that we should have a conference to consider the question of the available supplies of raw materials, and I was delighted to hear him say this afternoon that he was convinced that the real trouble with our raw materials was not that nations were short of them, but that producers could not find markets in which to get rid of them. That is a different thing. We do not deny to any nation, except Italy at the moment, the right to acquire raw materials from British territory. We do not in fact deny their right to form their own companies to exploit them. All we ask is that they should pay for them, and that seems to me to be a reasonable request. Even if they owned these raw materials they would still have to pay for them, or else use slaves to extract them from the ground and so get them without cost.
The solution does not lie there. It lies, I am convinced, in preserving the peace over as wide an area as possible. I profoundly distrust the existing Covenant of the League of Nations. I believe that its coercive clauses are the main barrier to the admission of Germany and the United States into the League. There is Article 16, in particular. That was inserted only to please President Wilson with the idea that the United States would like it, and the only result was to frighten the United States straight out of the League. It has been the stumbling-block to an effective peace system ever since the League of Nations has been in existence. It is still the stumbling block, and every step we take at Geneva to enforce Article 16 makes the idea of effective peace machinery go further and further away.
What have we actually done in the present embroglio between Italy and 397 Abyssinia? It is most regrettable that war broke out. It is probably an entirely unjust war on the part of Italy—at least, so the League of Nations has said, and their judgment has not been questioned. On the other hand, the result of the action taken at Geneva was that we entirely failed to stop the war breaking out. We may be able to exercise such pressure that Italy will be defeated or that Abyssinia will think she has been defeated. I would suggest that the danger of a victorious Abyssinia, or an Abyssinia which thinks she is victorious, is a very real one. Abyssinia is not a civilised country. Prior to the present troubles we have with all the power at our command been endeavouring to stop the supply of firearms entering Abyssinian territory because sooner or later they found their way to the northwestern or southern borders into the hands of raiding parties which made raids into the Sudan or Kenya Colony. For years past we have been maintaining that embargo on the supply of arms to Abyssinia, and now not only have we lifted it but we are ourselves sending arms which will ultimately, if Italy is unsuccessful, be used against us.
Again, if she is unsuccessful, she will of course leave the League of Nations, and I want the House to understand what the effect of that may be. Already, as a result of the application of sanctions, Hitler is dominant in Europe, Germany is without fear, the original Stresa front is broken, and Germany now is on top of the Continent. She will be much more on top of the Continent when Italy is driven into her arms as an ally, exasperated at the way in which, as she thinks, she has been treated by the League. Austria is already in with Italy and has refused to apply sanctions, and Hungary has done the same. Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy—for 20 years before the War we laboured to break up the Triple Alliance by diplomatic means. By diplomatic means we have recreated it in about 20 minutes, and that I regard as a most serious phase of this post-war diplomacy.
§ Mr. WISE
It is true that it was an achievement of the Government, but with the most enthusiastic support of the Opposition, who wanted to go even 398 further and to start a war. What are military sanctions but war? The Opposition approved of sanctions by a twenty to one vote, but now, apparently, they are suffering from one of those blanks in memory to which the Prime Minister referred at the opening of this Parliament. I would urge on His Majesty's Government that they should make it the basis of their policy to slow the pace of this pressure, and not to accelerate it. The whole question of sanctions, how sanctions are to be applied and the pace at which they are applied is entirely in the hands of His Majesty's Minister for League of Nations Affairs. If he says, "Go fast" the League will go fast. So far he has led the League in a most creditable way for British prestige. He can lead the League, and lead it firmly, in any direction he likes, but I would ask him to mark time and not to go forward at the pace we have been doing hitherto.
The oil sanction may be necessary, though I trust it will not. I trust that an accommodation will have been reached long before the necessity to apply the oil sanction comes about, and I also believe that that accommodation will have to include a transfer of what was Abyssinian territory to Italy, whether we like it or not. We have got to have peace, a peace acceptable to both parties and acceptable also to the League—clearly any peace accepted by both parties must be acceptable to the League—and if any concession is necessary surely hon. Members opposite will agree that it is better to have peace on those terms than to let the war go on, even if Italy is allowed to retain half her tail feathers after the other half have been plucked. I believe that peace is essential and that a revision of the Covenant is equally essential.
The League of Nations can perform a very useful function. If two nations are drifting into war—and of course quarrels will occur between nations—in nine cases out of ten neither of those nations really wants to go to war. In such a case the League can stop a war from breaking out. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite seem to find this entertaining, but do not seem to realise that it was what actually occurred a few years ago, when a quarrel arose between Hungary and Yugoslavia, which Socialists in the House at that time viewed with the gravity 399 which was its due. Those two countries were drifting into war, though neither wanted it, and by the intervention, largely, of the British Government that war was prevented. That is one function which the League can carry out. On the other hand, if two nations are determined on war there is no power on earth that will stop them from fighting. No power could stop Bolivia and Paraguay, both members of the League, from fighting for two years under the aegis of the League. What the League can do in such cases is to limit the area of war, but not by the use of this new sanctions weapon, particularly military sanctions, which make it quite certain that any war which breaks out will spread into a general war—the most dangerous phenomenon at the present moment. But it can limit the area of war and leave the two nations to fight it out, prevents other people joining in and keeping the rest of the world at peace. We ourselves can set an extremely fine example. We have one quarter of the world now under one sovereign. War between the component parts of the British Empire independent though they are, is absolutely and entirely unthinkable. It cannot be visualised that one part of the British Empire should go to war with another.
§ Mr. WISE
It is unthinkable that even Ireland should go to war with us now. Again, war between the United States and ourselves is unthinkable. There are also the Scandinavian countries. There we have the nucleus of the completely peaceful part of the world and the main object of British diplomacy should be to see that, come what may in the rest of the world which is not peaceful, that very large section of it will not be involved in any wars which take place. It is for that understanding that we should work. If we can get France to join in with the same object, so much the better. If the rest of the world is war-minded it will go to war. If Germany is set on a war, and I am not at all sure that Germany is, she will go to war, sooner or later. If Russia is military-minded Russia will go to war—and we could not stop her from doing so if we wanted to. The same observation applies to Italy, to Japan and, possibly, to such generals as still exist in China. 400 But what we can do is to see that the bulk of the world is not involved in any trouble which may arise. I believe that should be the aim of British foreign policy. It always was the aim of British foreign policy. Possibly that is not completely collective security but it is quite collective enough to see that we do not throw another generation into the same morass as the generation just behind us was thrown into.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKIN
We have heard a great deal in this Debate about the League of Nations being on its trial. In my submission the Parliamentary system is much more on its trial, and the first challenge to that system is the problem of Egypt. With the permission of the House I desire to direct to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs a few comments on the Foreign Secretary's remarks regarding Egypt. I direct those remarks to the right hon. Gentleman on this footing, that I lived in Egypt for four years, from 1919 to 1923, a period when precisely the same happenings occurred as are seen in Egypt now, and when Englishmen were shot at and killed. Round about the year 1920 about 100 English residents in Cairo were either killed or wounded. I urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that if he continues in the policy he has started on now there can be nothing but chaos in Egyptian affairs in the future.
I say that for these reasons. I understood the Foreign Secretary's remarks to mean that the door was absolutely bolted and barred, and that for the Egyptians there was no hope in the future—at least, not in the immediate future—for any kind of development. This afternoon the Foreign Secretary has added to that an explanation. In my submission that explanation will carry no weight whatever with the natives of Egypt because they think that the suggestion which has been put forward by the right hon. Gentleman is impossible. How does he propose to put forward the organic law which he says he suggested in April? To whom is this organic law to be submitted? He has said: "I totally disagree with the form of the constitutions of 1923 and 1931." His suggestion that the whole onus be thrown on the Egyptian Government, in the present circumstances there, is offering the Egyptian people exactly 401 nothing. The native mind will see at once, and see rightly, that the Government do not intend to develop the position which was left in abeyance in 1930.
Anyone who knows anything of the position now in Cairo knows that the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman is impossible. It is impossible in Egypt to get together the various parties to whom this organic law can be presented. It is impossible too, because if the proposed Treaty is to have any strength it must not only be right, but it must have an appearance of rightness. Anything on the lines suggested by the right hon. Gentleman will be impossible. I have the advantage of speaking as one who saw things in Egypt, not from the official standpoint, but from the standpoint of one who had to earn his living in Cairo, and they are two altogether different standpoints. It is common ground that the friendship of Egypt and of the Egyptians is essential to us. They do not love us, but they respect us. The position up to 1929, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) has said, was that the Egyptians thought: "We have a reasonable hope that our line of independence, started in 1922 and which, without the points reserved, was then a phantom without any reality, will become a reality." Does anyone believe that any Treaty put forward by the Government, and lacking the acceptance and the support of the Wafd, will in future be respected? No one does.
The four reserved points which were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland are, first, the security of the communications of the British Empire in Egypt and secondly, the defence of Egypt against all foreign aggression or interference, direct or indirect. The present is a time when those two reserved points could very easily be settled. They are two sides of one problem. The third reserved point is the protection of foreign interests in Egypt and the protection of minorities. There we come up against the thorny and difficult problem of the Capitulations. Is there any hon. Member on the other side, including the right hon. Gentleman, who will say that the retention in Egypt of the Capitulations is not a grave indignity to a great nation? When Iraq and Turkey have put this system aside, why should this indignity be suffered by such an advanced people as the Egyptians?
402 I know from experience that if the system of the Capitulations were taken away, the position would be uncomfortable for the Europeans in Egypt. The alternative is to keep them on, but that alternative will not be thought of by the Egyptians. I believe that in 1929 we got over the difficulty. In Egypt each nationality is dealt with in this way: If a Greek commits a crime he is tried by the Greek consul, an Italian by his consul, a Frenchman by his consul, and so on. The whole thing places Egypt and the conception of Egypt in such a position of contempt that the Egyptians themselves will not stand for it, and they are perfectly right. There is only one way by which this country can get the support of Egypt and the Egyptians, and that is by going frankly to them and for the Government to take the initiative. How else can it be done? If the onus be thrown on to the Egyptian Government to call together this nebulous kind of Committee which binds nobody, this time next year no progress will have been made, and I am certain that the Government will have missed a first-class opportunity.
During the last few months, Egypt, as everybody admits, has behaved extremely well over the League of Nations. Are we to reward her for that fine attitude by saying: "I am sorry, but we can do nothing for you"? There is a great and growing demand from the youth of Egypt to be allowed to build up their nation, their laws and their institutions in their own way. They have the right to do it. I say with the greatest respect that if the Government go on with their policy of doing nothing—for that is what it comes down to—nothing will be done and, much as we shall regret it, there will be such chaos and bloodshed as those of us who were in Egypt in 1920 know only too well.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. WOODS
I was informed that there was a very real and abounding enthusiasm on the back benches of the Government upon questions of foreign affairs, but is the plight of those benches to-night ample evidence of the tremendous enthusiasm which the Imperialist supporters of the Government have in affairs pertaining to the peace of this world? Their enthusiasm for the League of Nations is demonstrated by the state of the benches opposite. If further confirmation of their enthusiasm for and intelligent understanding of the problem of 403 the peace of the world is wanted, the last three speeches from the Government Benches were amazingly illuminating. The first was from an hon. Member who, from his speech, might have represented France and Italy. I gathered subsequently that he is a representative of Oldham. His speech was almost entirely devoted to the internal affairs of France, and he reprimanded Members on this side for passing comments which were incorrect concerning foreign affairs and other nations. I am certain that many quotations from the speech of that hon. Member will be recorded in the Italian Press as a justification for the aggressive attack by Italy on Abyssinia. The hon. Member said something about the Navy, to the effect that cruisers are quite nice small ships which just go about the sea and are no danger to anybody. But, when I have read the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I have gathered that, when the Germans were building cruisers, they were terrible ships that would blow this little island of ours clean out of the sea. I cannot understand the discrepancy.
The next speech was from a young Member who was making a maiden speech, as I am trying to do, and, although he spoke on foreign affairs, it was merely to throw a few compliments and to show his absolute satisfaction with the National Government, the Foreign Secretary and the policy of the King's Speech. It was obvious that the real motive of his speech was that, here in an empty House, he could get across under this heading his criticism of the inability of the National Government to solve the problem of cotton in Lancashire. That was the whole point of his speech; that was his interest in foreign affairs. The contribution of the third of these back-benchers, who alone of them remains in the House, the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise), was the most entertaining of all. I am certain that the Front Bench were very grateful to have such profound advice from their back-benchers. It was all as easy as putting the salt on the proverbial bird's tail, and then you could catch it.
As I have listened to the Debate, I have thought once or twice that I was back in a theological college, and that we were listening to discussions about 404 theological abstractions having no relation to human beings. I think that on the Government Benches the whole issue has been evaded. We have got tied up in mutually cancelling considerations. To take one illustration, we listened to a contribution from a Member on the other side of the House who claims to know something about international affairs, and the burden of his complaint was that the League of Nations could not be responsible for maintaining peace in those countries where there is essential weakness—countries like China. We heard, from the only hon. Member on the back bench opposite who is still interested in foreign affairs, that we have made a tremendous mistake in allowing a few rifles to get through to Abyssinia. He thinks that our policy should have been to keep them weak, and that, when they are weak, we should allow Italy to do what she likes with them. Hon. Members cannot have it both ways.
What is the problem of the peace of the world? We on these benches are as much concerned as I believe most Members on the opposite benches to be about the peace of the world. We have what appears to them to be a faint hope that, through the machinery of the League of Nations, the disturbers of the peace of the world may be brought to their senses, and that perchance at some time a spirit of peace may be achieved which will be the beginning of the fulfilment of the prayer which has been going up through all the ages that peace may be established throughout the world. The nearest approach that we had to an explanation was from the Foreign Secretary himself, when he complained, in connection with the aspect of the problem with which the last speaker dealt, that it would be all right if he could get on with it—if it were not for the atmosphere of suspicion. Whence does the suspicion arise with regard to the League of Nations? People throughout the world at the present time, including a considerable percentage of the population of this country, believe that this newly discovered enthusiasm of the National Government for the League of Nations is merely because the policy of the League of Nations coincides with a policy which in a beneficent policy for the British Empire. I am prepared to concede that that belief may be fictitious, but it is a fact that it is held throughout the world.
405 Hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench laugh, but I suppose they do sometimes read the newspapers that come from America, France and other countries. It is almost impossible to take up a newspaper from any of those countries at the present time without seeing it seriously suggested that the interests and enthusiasm of our Front Government Bench are due to the fact that the League of Nations policy is a policy favourable to the British Empire. A good deal of suspicion is created, not only in foreign countries but in our own Colonies, along these very lines—that, if it were not for the fact that the policy coincided with a policy that is in the interests of British finance, we should not be so enthusiastic about it. That may or may not be so, but it is almost universally believed throughout the world. That creates a very great difficulty for those of us who believe in the League of Nations. Whether there is any truth in it or not, some of us realise that the difficulty is created because the world is run at the present time in the interests of profit. Human beings who toil are merely treated as a means of creating wealth; their employment is only conditioned by the fact that they can be used to make a profit. While this competitive system continues, in which the raw materials of the world, the populations of the world, and the needs of the world are various ways and means of making profit out of the people, it is almost inevitable that there will be clash, not only within the social organisation of any one country or Empire, but also between the interests of different countries.
Some of us are olds enough to remember when the Conservatives really and truly believed in competition, when they thought that by competition things would somehow or other even themselves out, until we had a stable and steadily progressive society—that this competition brought out the best elements in all of us, and that everything would come on nicely. We have lived to see the day when a Conservative Government is doing all it can, and is indicating its intention in this King's Speech which we are supposed to be discussing, to limit and circumscribe the operation of competition within the nation. But the King's Speech does not go on to face up to the necessity of eliminating competition between the nations of the world. While the nations of the world are mainly run 406 on a competitive basis, and industry and commerce are carried on in the interests of profit, the necessity will continue to exist for maintaining vast armaments, and there will be the danger of those armaments being used and of the whole world being devastated with war. We on these Benches have our ideals and aspirations. We want to see a world that is based on our common humanity, which recognises that every child born into the world is as entitled as any Member of this House to a full and joyous life. We believe that the sacred thing in the world is men and women, and if there should be any supreme concern for the legislative chambers of the world, it should be a concern for growing children right through until, with old age, they get past work. There is no reason why things should not be organised so that every child has the fullest opportunity.
We have these ideals, and we are going to work until they are achieved. But in the interim we are concerned about the peace of the world. We see that, if we allow the world to be deluged again as it was from 1914 to 1918, many of our progressive aspirations and ideals will be frustrated and indefinitely postponed, and we are prepared like the drowning man to clutch at any straw. We are as anxious as any one on the benches opposite that the League of Nations should not be used, as it was in the Election, as a pretext for increasing armaments, but should function as an instrument of peace. We have heard criticism of the League. We feel that negative or hostile criticism is no good. We should like to have seen in the King's Speech some suggestions as to how the League of Nations might have been made a more effective instrument of peace. But, even if the League fails, there is this view point that we hold that, however much the interests of the owners of property, employers of labour, financiers and industrial magnates of the various countries clash, the interests of the common people of the world, who produce the wealth of the world, are one and undivided, and on that basis of our common humanity, our common needs and our common aspirations we believe peace will be achieved.
May I come to another aspect of the Gracious Speech? The Prime Minister suggested that we had in our minds a 407 significant blank which covered the historic year 1931. If there is anyone who ought to have a blank about 1931 it is the people who occupy the benches opposite and those who would like to be occupying them but have not the right to sit on them, although they hold appointments entitling them to positions. Some day the inner story of 1931 will be written. Then it will be increasingly impossible for gentlemen like the hon. Member for Oldham to suggest that during the 1931 collapse of competitive civilisation any interference by France would have been resented. Some of us know that there were foreign influences at work affecting the administration and government of this country. We are hoping that some day we shall be in 'a position, from that side of the House, to go into the whole of the pros and cons of 1931 and give the full story of why the poor were reduced in their meagre income and why the civil servants were reduced in their wages. The only blank is one created artificially by the Government because they will not allow us access to the sources of information.
Let us come to one or two real blanks. I have drawn some blanks in the days since the Election! I have been very interested in the type of literature which achieved such a glorious victory for the National Government. I have studied a number of Election addresses circulated to constituents who were asked to support National Government candidates. I Am now complying with the request of the Home Secretary that we should hold some sort of inquest on the. General Election, otherwise we should not be justified in taking part in the Debate. Having studied these Election addresses, I discovered one thing which was almost consistent in all of them. They said absolutely nothing about the legislation for which the National Government had been responsible in its four years of office. There was a vague claim that all the prosperity, and so forth, that had been achieved was the result of their noble efforts. Circulated in the constituency that I represent was an august claim that overcrowding had been abolished. I should like to invite any hon. Members opposite to take a 2d. omnibus ride with me, and I will show them overcrowding in the very heart of this great metropolis such as I have not seen in any of our provincial cities. I 408 saw no reference in any Election address to the fact that this Government had passed legislation to compensate to some extent owners of slum property. I got the impression that when the sun shines we have to thank the National Government, and, when it rains, curse the Labour benches. If this country could give a lead in putting progressingly forward the common interests of the common people of all countries and putting in a subordinate position the rival interests of profiteering elements, putting human interests before moneyed interests, we should be on the highway to peace.
On the question of prosperity at home, there is a significant gap in the Gracious Speech. The one interest in which every working family is concerned is how much is in the pay packet at the end of the week. It is, stangely enough, this purely material consideration that decides the prosperity or otherwise of the family. It is this which decides whether the parents can do justice to their children. It is this which decides how much holiday, if any, they are to have. This is the vital consideration in every home. Many things have been stressed from the benches opposite, but those who know the inside of the working class homes of England, know that the thing that is absolutely vital is whether there is a pay packet and, if so, how much there is in it. Every one throughout the country knows that decent men and women are being exploited, because there is so little employment and there are so many anxious to take any job that it makes it easy for employers to repudiate all trade union agreements. There are those who are driven to such desperation that they will take any job that is going. The men and women of England are being exploited from one end of the country to the other, in the villages of the countryside as well as in the towns, because of the abundance of working class people and the scarcity of remunerative employment that the competitive system provides for them. You know as well as we do that these men and women are being victimised, and the children are paying the price, and there is no suggestion in the whole of the King's Speech that deals with this fundamental issue.
Those with any experience of the co-operative movement know that the amount of money that goes over the counter is decided by the amount of 409 money that goes into the homes of working class people. The same thing applies to every tradesman in every branch of commerce. If we want prosperity in this country and to bring it about with a minimum of inconvenience, surely any Government worth its salt would say that here is the highway to prosperity. Let us raise the wages of the people of this country, make it impossible for any employer to exploit men and women because of their human needs, reduce the hours of employment, and make compulsory a system such as we have in the co-operative movement whereby men may retire at 60 or 65 years of age on half pay. If we can do that as a working class organisation without the advice of the captains of industry, if we can run mines, factories, mills and shops from one end of the country to the other and pay wages which on an average, are from 30 to 50 per cent. more than those in privately owned industries, if we can run the whole of our industry and pay trade union wages, even a colliery, and pay above the trade union rates, and make a success of all this, surely we are not asking a great deal, when we suggest that a Government such as we have, with all its power and influence, with its captains of industry, should do at least what we are doing in our working-class organisations. By raising the wages of the people of this country, reducing the hours of labour and giving honourable retirement at a reasonable age, it would be possible to start many of the mills and mines and to do something in the way of a contribution towards aiding a trade cycle on its upward tendency.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Sir EDWARD CAMPBELL
I shall be expressing the wish of the House when I compliment the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods) upon his maiden speech. We have just returned from a General Election, and I have noticed that some of the maiden speeches have rather been a repetition of what has been said on the public platform. I am sure that when we have settled down we shall hear the hon. Member again, and we shall look forward to hearing him in debate. I think that I may safely say that the Opposition have another Member who can state his mind in the House of Commons. Whether we agree with him or not is quite another matter, and I dare say 410 that he would not expect me to do so. I am going to criticise one statement very severely. He said that many people in this country, in the Dominions, in the Colonies, and in most foreign countries had stated that the one reason for the Government's support of the League of Nations was because it was in their own interests. Why is it that certain Socialists—not all of them—will persist in always running down their own country?
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
I think the hon. Member said that it may be true or it may not. He knows jolly well that it is not true, and he should have said so the same as I do.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
I have travelled a very great deal and know most of the Dominions and Colonies. The statement that the policy of the present Government is not genuine is not a criticism which is made in the Dominions, or the Colonies, or even overseas. In fact, I believe that I am right in saying that the prestige of this country has gone up a hundredfold within the last year owing to our great support of the League of Nations and our anxiety to do all that we possibly can to try to back it up in a most difficult time.
I have lived among foreigners a great deal, and I am very surprised to find that we have been able to get even 50 nations of the world to agree to one policy. I do not mind where it is, whether in Labour party meetings, our own meetings, Liberal party meetings, in our cricket or football clubs or wherever it is—[An HON. MEMBER: "Or night club!"]—I had forgotten my hon. Friend is back again. We have been on our best behaviour since some of those present have been out. I have found in all these associations that there is the greatest difficulty in getting a number of people of the same nationality, with practically the same interests, and views, to agree. It is a great achievement that there are to-day about 50 foreign nations, all talking different languages, all with different 411 interests, combining to put these sanctions into force, because we have to realise that in many cases they are running grave risks that in severing their commercial relations with Italy to-day they may never be able to resume them again.
I should also like to ask the hon. Member why we left disarmament? Was it is in our own interests that we have far too long left this country almost bereft of a first-class Navy, Army and Air Force? There is one right hon. Gentleman opposite—perhaps I may call him my right hon. Friend; we have known each other for a number of years now—who was right when he sat on these benches as the First Lord of the Admiralty and said that we cannot afford to continue disarming unless other nations disarm. I do not think that I am misquoting him. Our Navy, Army and Air Force are in this position. If we bought a motor car in 1932, it is out of date in 1935. New inventions are continually being brought in. If any of my hon. Friends went to the Motor Show in 1932 and bought a new motor car they would, if they went in 1933, have found one a little better. That is the position with regard to our Navy, Army and Air Force at the present time. I did not get up to talk about this because we shall have other opportunities of doing so. I am only pointing the moral that we did not leave our Navy, Army and Air Force in the deplorable state it is in to-day because it was for our own advantage. We did it as a great example to other rations, and there was not a nation in the world that folowind suit. The hon. Member opposite gave us his advice as to what to do to achieve peace. May I camly and quietly tell him that if he really wishes to achieve peace he should support the policy of the National Government. If he does that, he will be as near achieving peace as it is possible in present conditions.
§ Sir E. CAMPBELL
Exactly, because things cannot go quickly. It is much easier to make a quarrel than it is to settle it. Whatever foreigners or members of the Dominions or Colonies or people in this country may say, when you know that their statements are wrong, contradict them.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MESSER
I intervene in this Debate because I think that there is just one point in connection with this particular subject that has not yet received attention. Before I come to that point I would like to make one reference to the speech of the hon. Member who spoke last, and it is to his plea that those who believe in the necessity for the safety of this country should join with the National Government. I want to suggest that there is no such thing as a National Government and that the Government is a Tory Government masquerading as a National Government. If any proof were wanted of that fact it is to be found in the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary, who certainly shed the last vestige of his Liberalism in the foreign policy he pursued. While I think that it is desirable that his colleagues should pay him that loyalty which they have paid him to-day, yet it cannot have escaped the attention of anybody that throughout the country there was a gasp of relief when he surrendered the important office of Foreign Secretary. I have no wish to traverse what has already been debated in connection with the unwillingness of the National Government to use its influence in the Sino-Japanese dispute. Yet there are those in this country who look upon the fact that the influence of this country was not exerted as a blot which it will take us a long time to erase.
The particular point to which I want to refer is not so much the machinery for preventing war or dealing with wars when they have started. The aspect of this question that, if it does not engage the attention of the House now will demand the attention of the House later, is to deal with the causes of war. The causes of war are not to be found in the causes that existed years ago—in the rivalry between nations, the hatred and the suspicion, except in so far as they are based upon an economic need. It is that economic need of the countries of the world that will have to come under consideration before we can hope to create the machinery to prevent war. It would have helped us if we could have known from the speeches from the Government benches whether it is their intention to give us any idea, if they have any idea, as to what steps are to be taken. The danger spots in the world are so well 413 known as hardly to necessitate our reminding those who are debating the subject this evening of them. We want to know something about the situation as it exists not only in the Far East and in Africa but in the Near East also.
We want to know just why it is that this Government went to the country on an appeal for more armaments. Does it mean that the Government allowed our armaments to get below the safety point? One can hardly believe that. What we want to know is: Against whom are we arming? For it is fairly obvious that we are not embarking on a re-armament programme unless we have in our mind some idea of the necessity for those armaments and where they are likely to be used. Against whom is it that we propose to defend ourselves? Are we anticipating an invasion? Is there any foreign country that wants to steal our mining areas? Do the distressed areas in Lancashire call for the suspicion that somebody has covetous eyes fixed on them? Has the Government raised the prosperity of our agriculture so high that there are countries which want to invade these shores to participate in the benefits given by the National Government? We ought to have it frankly stated, if we are to have a bigger Army and Navy, if we to darken the skies with aeroplanes and teach our children how to put on gas masks, against whom we are arming and who it is that desires to use the sword against us.
Realising that wars spring from economic causes, everyone in this House knows quite well that there is no danger of invasion of these shores. Everyone knows that if there is likely to be international conflict it will be between the nations who have and the nations who have not. You may build your League of Nations, create your machinery for dealing with disputes, you may be possessed of all the sincerity which I am prepared to concede right hon. and hon. Members opposite have, but you will not prevent war unless you deal with the causes of war. We should frankly admit our power in this direction. Owning so much of the world's surface, owning it not by a right of heritance but by the method that we now deplore in others, holding so much of the world's sources of raw materials, controlling so much of the world's markets, there is no 414 country in the world to whom such an opportunity was given for leading the world in sharing out the products of the world for the use of the people of the world. I had hoped to have heard something from the Government benches in regard to that important aspect of the matter.
This matter is too important to be regarded as a question of debating points. The realities of the situation are there. Japan did not march into China simply because she hated the Chinese, but because she was a rapidly expanding industrial country which had looked eastward and westward, and neither Australia nor America would take her surplus population. She was compelled by economic necessity to do what she did. Germany is an industrial country with an enormous population, and Germany has taught the world that her eyes are not turned westward; they are turned eastward. If there is a danger of Germany being compelled to take by the sword what will not be conceded by other means, no League of Nations will prevent that happening. What we have to do is to get in at the beginning, recognise the economic necessities of these countries, and do what we can to meet those necessities, and by those means avoid war.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Although my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) is not entirely a stranger to this House, we had not the pleasure of his company in the last Parliament, and I am happy to be able to congratulate him on his reappearance here. Many speakers since yesterday have made allusions to the year 1931, and it is quite natural that one who had the privilege of being in the last Parliament should compare in a happy vein the situation which is presented to us in the House to-night with that which we saw at the end of 1931. We are apt to be in a reminiscent mood. Those of my colleagues who were on these benches in 1931 will recall the prophecy that was made. I think it ran in this wise: "The places that know them now shall know them no more." Well, we look along these benches and we discover that those who were rejected by the electors in 1931 are here again with us, and that the prophecy has been falsified. What has happened 415 to the prophets? One of them has been translated to another place, and another is awaiting translation, no doubt.
It is said that prophets are ofttimes stoned in the streets of Jerusalem. But that is not the worst thing that happens. Sometimes the prophets stone each other. It is certainly true of two of the prophets. Viscount Snowden and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald have, for the last two or three years, been throwing brickbats at each other. We can leave them in their splendid isolation, rejoicing in the fact that while they have passed into, I will not say oblivion, but into temporary obscurity, at least, we have returned strengthened enormously not only in numbers in the House, but also strengthened by reason of the increased vote given to our party in the constituencies. The Prime Minister deemed it wise to take the General Election a month or so ago. In spite of all the claims which have been made on behalf of the Government in the last few days, let me remind the supporters of the Government that in 10 constituencies in South Wales they were not able to find one who was ready to make an apology for them. In 10 constituencies of the most depressed areas in the country they were not able to find one standard-bearer to make excuses for the National Government. They had to allow the Labour candidates completely unopposed returns.
In the discussions yesterday and to-day one common vein of thought has run, particularly in to-day's discussion, since it has necessarily been devoted primarily to foreign affairs. The question that has been in our minds on both sides is this: How far can it be said that the Government have remained, since 1931, faithful to the League of Nations? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been very vigorous in their assertion, and they make the assertion in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, that the attitude of the Government towards the League has been one of undeviating loyalty. The words "as heretofore" indicate that that is the Government's belief. For good or for ill, for good, I think, we in this country are members of the League of Nations, and as members of the League we have accepted what is known as the Covenant of the League. In accepting that Covenant we have declared that we accept the League 416 method as the only acceptable method for settling international disputes. If anything has been plain in to-day's discussion it has been the fact that it has been tremendously hard for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to deny the charge that the Government are not entitled to claim undeviating loyalty to the League. In truth there has been a dualism in its policy, and there still is.
Let me refer to a controversy which occupied our attention a good deal in the last Parliament and has been referred to considerably in to-day's Debate, namely, the Sino-Japanese dispute. The one outstanding feature of that dispute was, and it cannot be denied, that it was a plain violation of the Covenant by one League member in relation to another League member. The League's own Commission, the Lytton Commission, amply adduced proof in support of that proposition. We are entitled to argue that the hesitation and the vacillation which was so characteristic of the mind of the Foreign Office during the course of the Sino-Japanese dispute in 1931–32, and it still is, has been largely responsible for the consequences which now gravely oppress our minds. I refer to the Sino-Japanese dispute not for the sake of reciting old history but because it is clear to all of us that if at any particular moment you temporise or hesitate or vacillate in your foreign policy, although you may secure some temporary escape, the consequences are bound to overtake you in the long run.
The world at this moment in Asia and also in Africa is confronted with international complications which might easily have been avoided had the Government taken a firmer line in 1931. After all, what difference is there in essence between what happened in Manchukuo and what has happened in Abyssinia in recent months? Is there any difference whatever in principle between the action of Japan in her attack upon China and the action of Italy in her attack upon Abyssinia. From the standpoint of the League, and that is the standpoint we should take, I suggest that there is not one jot or tittle of difference between the two; they are both equally reprehensible in so far as they are a violation of deliberate and formal treaties and undertakings. I have said that hon. Members opposite are finding great difficulty in justifying the action 417 of the late Foreign Secretary. They pretend to fail to see any difference between the foreign policy of the present Home Secretary and the foreign policy of the present Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Indeed, a publication issued by the Conservative party recently is at some pains to show that what has happened in far off China was the natural thing to happen and that nothing else could possibly have happened. I quote from a book called "Working for Peace" on page 28:It is said that we opposed the imposition of economic sanctions on Japan, but the question of economic sanctions was never mentioned either in the United States note of January, 1932, or in the Lytton Report nor in the Resolution of the League. Indeed, China herself never asked that Article 16 should be applied, nor could it have been applied if she had, for the two countries were never officially at war.That is the official apologia of the Conservative party for the failure of the National Government to live up to its formal and explicit undertakings through the medium of the Covenant of the League. Let me ask this question: did they expect the United States to ask for the application of sanctions? The United States was not a member of the League and, therefore, could not ask for the application of sanctions as she was not committed to the Covenant of the League. But our Government was a member of the League and was committed to the Covenant. Yet because a non-member of the League does not apply for the application of sanctions we excuse ourselves on that account. Let me take the next point, that the Lytton Report never mentioned it. Did the right hon. Gentleman expect the Lytton Report to mention sanctions? The Lytton Commission had no terms of reference which entitled them to do that. They were called upon to examine the situation in Manchuria, and it was not within their province to urge the application of sanctions. Then we are told that the Resolution of the League itself did not call for such action. I ask, was there any representative inside of the League more likely to have sufficient influence to bring about the application of sanctions, if it was desired, than the right hon. Gentleman's colleague in the League of Nations? What lead did Great Britain give? No lead whatever. In point of fact, the action of our own Government forestalled 418 the League in this matter, because it declared with an air of great purity and propriety that we were going to apply sanctions ourselves, that we were going to apply an arms embargo on Japan and China. By so doing the Government forestalled the League, and in such a way that Japan suffered the least ill effects from that embargo and China most. That is what the right hon. Gentleman calls being faithful to our signature of the Covenant of the League.
The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made some reference to the difficulty of co-operating with the United States. What precisely were the difficulties at that time I am not quite sure, but I have a quotation here from a nobleman who ought to be in a position to judge, Lord Lytton, who was chairman of the committee of inquiry which sent into Manchuria to examine this particular difficulty. This is what Lord Lytton says:We have never been told that our Government had proposed to the League to invite the co-operation of the United States of America or that it is to make proposals to the Government of that country which have failed to find acceptance. On the contrary, the United States of America have made overtures which have not been reciprocated and the failure of our Government to back up Mr. Stimson is perhaps one of the most regrettable of its shortcomings.That is what Lord Lytton, who was Chairman of the Lytton Commission, sent specifically at the instance of the League to examine the situation in Manchuria on the spot, says. I need hardly say that Lord Lytton in politics is not an adherent of our party but a devoted and loyal follower of the party opposite. To-night we have had an entirely new theory advanced by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham. I do not suggest that it was advanced as an excuse for anything that has happened in China, but I was intrigued by the philosophy underying it. Let me state it in order to be sure that I have understood it correctly. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that China after all was militarily unprepared, and being militarily unprepared was not entitled to claim from the rest of the members of the League that same measure of support which she might have been able to anticipate if she had been more fully prepared. I do not think that is an unjust interpretation of what he 419 said. What does that mean in practice? It is a new theory, and I ask the House to examine it. It means this, if it means anything at all, that the measure of a country's arms becomes the measure of that country's fitness for membership of the League, it can mean nothing else.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman earlier because I thought it was not necessary to do so, but that is not my meaning. My meaning is that a Power must not fail to provide for its own defence, in the expectation that the other members of the League will take its burden on their shoulders as well as their own burdens. In other words, the scheme of the League is collective security. It is not that certain Powers should undertake to discharge the defence of all the countries, leaving other Powers to take no part in their defence at all.
§ Mr. JONES
I do not think there is very much difference between us. Let me follow my argument a little further. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that a nation is not entitled to expect from the League a measure of support in a military sense, unless it has safeguarded itself by its own efforts and its own measures of defence.
§ Mr. JONES
But surely before the question of collective security can arise there must be the question of its own defence. What does that mean? It means that the more a nation follows the path of disarmament, the more it abandons its claim to collective security through the League. In other words, the more a nation realises in practice the fundamental purpose of the League and of the Covenant, namely, disarmament, the more it abandons its claim upon the League, because it is militarily unprepared. I submit that my deduction is not unjust. If that test is to be applied, then, clearly, we are in the presence of an entirely new interpretation of the League and the Covenant.
What is the main merit of the League to many of us? It is not that it gives security to the strong, but that it gives security to the weak. If the League cannot give some measure of security to the weak, then in my judgment the case for 420 the League is half gone. Put it in another way. What is the value of the security which the League can give to a strong Power like Great Britain? Practically none. The greater value of the League lies in the strength that it is supposed to give to the weaker nations. But if the right hon. Gentleman and his friends introduce this new test and require that nations, before they can call upon the League for collective assistance, must first provide themselves with military defence that is an entirely new view to me, at any rate, of the constitution and function of the League.
The right hon. Gentleman no doubt is a strong supporter of the Government's policy in relation to the League and the Abyssinian question. I wonder what he would have said to the proposition that before the League could be called upon to defend Abyssinia, in a dispute like the present one, the Abyssinians must provide themselves with adequate armaments and make an adequate contribution to the effective force at the disposal of the League. [HON. MEMBERS: "They have."] Let me then ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite this question. What is the measure of Abyssinia's contribution to the effective force of the League? I may be ignorant on these matters, but I have never heard an answer to that question yet. No, the League of Nations has been brought into this dispute, not upon material grounds such as those suggested by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, but on a much higher and firmer ground, namely, that the laws of nations and the laws of humanity are being violated. It is upon that ground, I take it, that the Government have acted in the Abyssinian dispute. Reference has been made to-night to our obligations in relation to collective security. I must again recall to the House how difficult it is for many of us to believe that the Government have a consistent policy in this matter. It is about twelve months ago that the Prime Minister himself, speaking in relation to collective security, used words which have been quoted already but which I propose to repeat:It is curious that there is growing up among the Labour party support for what is called a collective peace system. A collective peace system, in my view, is perfectly impracticable in the view of the facts of to-day.421 That is the fact that the United States, Germany and Japan are not in the League.It is hardly worth considering when these be the facts whether a collective peace system could be undertaken.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members say, "hear, hear," but they and their friends went to the country during the Election declaring to the people that the policy of the Government was in favour of a collective peace system. Collective security was a fundamental article of the faith propounded by the official spokesmen of the Government. I have difficulty in understanding why a collective peace system which seemed wholly irrational and impracticable, in November, 1934, should, in September, 1935, become the acme of wisdom.
I am convinced that when the Government and their supporters use the phrase "collective security" they do not mean the same thing as we mean. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen are now engaged in a great campaign in favour of rearmament. They have stated constantly that they would never undertake any unilateral action in relation to any international dispute, that whatever action they take as belonging to the League of Nations, will be collective rather than isolated action. As I understand it, collective security only requires us to play our proper part in any collective action which the League may undertake. But, if you are never going to take any individual or isolated action, what is the point of demanding a larger navy or army? I put this question before the conclusion of the last Parliament and I put it again. Suppose that your navy is made 100 times stronger will that enable you to discharge your collective responsibilities any better than you are able to discharge them now? Will you then undertake unilateral action? If not, what is the point of having a navy one hundred times as strong, ten times as strong, twice as strong, if your action is to be related to the quota of contribution made by other members of the League.
I suspect that right hon. Gentlemen opposite use the phrase "collective security" in an entirely different sense from that in which we use it, and while they are using this phrase I submit that in practice they are seeking to secure some measure of priority in the matter 422 of armaments in the world. They propose to increase the Navy. By unilateral action behind the back of the League the Government have established an agreement with Germany whereby Germany is guaranteed, I think, the right to build up to the ratio of 35 per cent. of the aggregate strength of our own Navy. If the British Government builds the Navy to a higher limit, then ipso facto Germany is entitled to do the same thing. If Germany is entitled to do it, will France just look on? Will not France demand the same right, and if France does that, will not her next door neighbour demand the same right? It means that instead of our accepting the Covenant of the League, which relates not only to sanctions but also to proposals of disarmament, instead of submitting ourselves to the Covenant, we in fact through the medium of this Anglo-German Naval Agreement commit not ourselves only but the world to naval rearmament.
If that be the eventuality which we must anticipate, then clearly we are embarked upon a course the end of which none can foretell, except that we all know that the ultimate end of such a process must be financial ruin, and possibly the ruin of European civilisation. The case, therefore, it seems to me, is overwhelming. At this juncture the Government should be re-examining the problem of an agreement in relation to disarmament throughout the world. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite threw a great deal of vigour into the rearmament campaign during the Election. I would to Heaven that they would put one-tenth of the same vigour into the business of building up the League of Nations. But they will not cure themselves of the belief that by invoking Beelzebub they can exorcise the devil. It is not without significance that in the course of the last few weeks and months since the Government's rearmament policy was announced, armament firms have seen their shares rocketing up in the most scandalous fashion. It would not be an unjust thing to say that the more armaments expenditure expands the more do the Government's friends contract.
The most menacing side of this rearmament business is, to my mind, in the air. Perhaps it is also the side that lends itself most easily to international agreement. May I recall to the House this 423 fact? The British Draft Convention was presented, I think, in March, 1933. In that Convention there were proposals relating to air armaments as well as other armaments. I believe I am right in saying that not one single discussion has taken place either upon the British proposals or the Spanish proposals. They have never even looked at the United States reply to the query sent in March, 1933. They have never even examined the German proposals or the French proposals, or the Swedish proposals. Yet I think it is true to say that these proposals taken in the lump did afford ground for the belief that with the will to apply them some sort of hopeful agreement might have issued from their discussion. This is December, 1935. We are 21 months away, and no discussion whatever has ever taken place upon any one of these proposals. I was glad in some respects to hear the speech of the Secretary of State this afternoon. In some particulars he allayed some apprehensions which I myself had entertained, but I will say to him, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro-Jones) said earlier in the evening, that the statement that you cannot have a settlement which is not acceptable to Italy, to Abyssinia and to the League is a very vague formula. You can give almost any interpretation you like to it.
If it be possible to find ourselves some acceptable settlement, well and good, but for myself—and I think I can say for my friends also—we shall watch with meticulous care any proposals submitted to this country with a view to discovering whether in the last resort the authority of the League is to be vindicated as against any aggressor. No settlement of this dispute can be acceptable to anyone who loves the League unless the League is vindicated in the long run. We have started a new Parliament under happier and better auspices. Some of us had the privilege of trying to hold up the flag under the devoted leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) in the last Parliament. If I may venture to say so, our party, and indeed Parliament, will be eternally indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the invaluable leadership he gave in the course of four difficult years. We have kept the flag flying through a time of great difficulty. Now 424 we are reinforced, our battalions are stronger, and the Abyssinia of opposition is not to be over-run. We are going to drive the enemy back, and in the long run we shall occupy the territory which it is the destiny of our party to occupy.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ The MINISTER for LEAGUE of NATIONS AFFAIRS (Mr. Anthony Eden)
I am sure we all listened with the greatest pleasure to the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), who has just sat down, and not least to his peroration, but I am bound to confess that for myself, as a supporter of the League of Nations, I was a little shocked at the military metaphor with which he concluded, and I was a little pained to find that he has come back from the hustings speaking of battalions and of enemies. I thought he would have learned better and would know that we have all a part to play in collective security.
This Debate, as is wont with Foreign Office Debates, has ranged far and wide. I make no complaint about that, but perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to preface the main purpose of my argument by addressing an answer to a question, a little apart from the other subjects of this Debate, put to me by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in the course of a constructive speech which he contributed earlier this afternoon. He asked me about the situation in Memel, and in reply I am happy to be able to confirm the information in the Press that the negotiations for the formation of a Directorate for the Memel Territory have resulted in the appointment of a Directorate of four members of the majority parties in the Landtag under the Presidency of M. Baldszus, who headed the poll in the recent elections. This Directorate assumed office on 30th November. His Majesty's Government have continued to keep a careful watch on all the developments of the situation since it NN as last explained in this House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and they have not failed to use their influence when necessary to promote a solution of such difficulties as have arisen. They have done that in accordance with the spirit of the Memel Convention. We regard the appointment 425 of the present Directorate as a good augury for the future, and His Majesty's Government trust that all parties concerned will approach in a spirit of conciliation the questions which remain to be solved before the situation in the Territory can be regarded as wholly satisfactory. That is all I have to say on that subject.
Now I would like to turn to the main part of the Debate and to begin by making a reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). The hon. Member gave us a historical disquisition. He is, of course, noted for his academic distinction, so it is with some temerity that I tell him that his historical account, while it seemed to me eminently picturesque, also seemed to me utterly inaccurate. Restraining what we know to be his natural modesty, he characterised the two years 1929 to 1931, during which he was associated with the Foreign Office, as being a paradise of peace and plenty. Well, those years were not so, but if it is true that the hon. Gentleman did gaze so complacently through rose-coloured spectacles out of the windows of the Foreign Office at that time, then let me tell him that that in itself is the condemnation of his whole Government, for I do not think anyone else, taking a long view of the European situation, would have been as confident as he seems to have been. But perhaps it is only his memory that is merciful. If he was so complacent at that time, I think he would have been more just and more generous if to-night he had paid some tribute to the part that the then Prime Minister took in that work. To sneer at the Lord President of the Council in the present Government and to trumpet the achievements of the Government over which he presided is an ungracious inconsistency characteristic of hon. Members opposite and is, I believe, the chief reason why they lost the last General Election and why they will probably lose the next.
If I view the post-war years with a greater measure of detachment than the hon. Gentleman has given himself, I believe that the judgment of future history will be different from that which he gave to-night. I believe that future historians will say that the best of the postwar years were the years that immediately followed the signature of the 426 Treaty of Locarno, and that they will date the deterioration of international relations from the death of Herr Stresemann, which death, curiously enough, coincided with the advent of a Labour Government into office. If I were like hon. Members opposite, I would say that that was all their fault, but I merely remark upon that date and point out that from the consequent weakening of M. Briand there came about a falling apart of France and Germany. I do not in the least blame the Government of the day for that happening, but I do say that the historian, taking rather a different view from that of the hon. Gentleman, is more likely to approve my rendering than that which he gave earlier this afternoon.
Equally apocryphal is the hon. Gentleman's description of the internal position of the present Government. For nearly a year it has been my task to represent this Government at Geneva in connection with the present very anxious and difficult dispute. During the whole of that time there has never been, it should hardly be necessary to say, the faintest shadow of difference between myself and either my right hon. Friend who is now Home Secretary or my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. On the contrary, it is inevitable that anyone who represents this country at Geneva is in an exposed position, both from the point of view of publicity and from the point of view of criticism. In fact, however, the more difficult that my situation has been, the more sure have I always been able to be of the most splendid and loyal help of my colleagues at home. To pretend anything else is singularly insulting to myself, for if in truth I had been in constant disagreement with my colleagues, what a poor sort of creature I must be still to be occupying my position on this bench. These rumours, which, I suppose, are the ordinary stock-in-trade of party politics, are, for those who are their victims, extremely unpleasant because they have repercussions beyond our own country. It is not true to pretend that at any time the policy which it has been my duty to pursue at Geneva has been other than the policy of His Majesty's Government, with which my colleagues have been in complete accord.
A question has been asked whether we would lay a White Paper. I would like to assure the House that my right hon. 427 Friend will look into this matter carefully again, but I will be frank with the House in explaining the position. It would be possible for us to lay a White Paper, and in many respects we should ourselves welcome it, but it is clear, I think, that it would not be possible to lay such a paper without consultation with certain other Governments, which consultation might result in controversy in at least one case. I would only ask for time so that we may consider whether this can be done without exacerbating relations with another foreign Power. In any event, there are a number of League documents which have already been made public, and we will certainly consider collecting them and re-issuing them in a form in which they can be more useful to Members of this House.
I wish now to say one word about peace terms. I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton quite clearly interpreted what is in the mind of the Government and in the mind of my right hon. Friend. In working for terms of peace we are seeking for terms which shall be acceptable to the League and which shall be accepted by Abyssinia and Italy, the two parties to the dispute.
I will say a word next on the subject of sanctions. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland belittled what had been achieved, and I do not think he really did justice to the records of the last few weeks and months. It has to be remembered that no single nation at Geneva assumed with alacrity or without careful thought the responsibilities which have devolved upon it in this dispute under Article 16, and least of all ourselves. This assumption of responsibility and the action that has flown from it has meant a loss of trade to all the nations there, to some nations a very serious loss of trade indeed, and the fact that 50 nations have been willing to shoulder that unwelcome responsibility is, I believe, a remarkable testimony to their faith in the new order which they are anxious to see prevail.
So far from complaining that the League has been slow, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that if I had beforehand had to forecast the speed at which action would have been taken I should have 428 expected it to be very much slower. It has often taken several years for 50 nations to agree upon one considered line of policy. In recent weeks they have decided issues, sometimes of vital consequence to themselves, within the space of a very few hours. The hon. Gentleman says that we have not yet applied Article 16. He is wrong. He forgets that the Assembly itself, in 1921, drew up a number of resolutions for the interpretation of Article 16, and if he will turn to those resolutions he will find that it is on the basis of that interpretation that the League has been working.
I should now like to say a word about the order in which sanctions have been applied, why they have been taken in this way. One or two hon. Members have said in this Debate "Why have you been so long in considering the oil sanction; why was that not thought of before?" The basis upon which we have been proceeding is the fact that the League is not universal. If its membership had been universal, no doubt its procedure would have been different, but conscious that its membership was not universal we thought it better to begin with sanctions which could be put into effect by the members of the League themselves, even if countries outside the League did not co-operate. For that reason we began with a number of raw materials like rubber, tin and nickel, the control of which is vested in the members of the League. For that reason, also, the next sanction imposed was one refusing imports of Italian goods, because the action of members of the League alone could deprive Italy of three-quarters of her export trade without the co-operation of countries outside the League. It was only after the imposition of those sanctions that we have come to the consideration of sanctions for the effective functioning of which the co-operation of countries outside the League is indispensable, and the oil sanction is one of these.
I confess that when I consider the difficulties of the last few months, and when the House appreciates, as I am sure it will, that the machinery to work these sanctions has all of it had to be improvised, I cannot understand why any hon. Member should complain, as one did earlier, that we have not taken steps more in advance. The answer is that there were no steps which we could take in advance, because in 429 the present complexity of international trade relations each country's case has to be considered separately. Even after the experience of the present time it by no means follows that the action taken in this dispute will be applicable to another dispute later on. What is proved is that, owing to the complexity of our time and owing to the fact that we have to improvise our machinery, the obstruction of one or two countries would have been quite enough to throw the whole machinery out of gear. Once again I say that I think what is remarkable is that that machinery should have moved with so much smoothness. On the whole I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. I believe it to be because the great majority of the nations judge this dispute as being not a colonial war, not a matter of economic enterprise or of economic difficulty, but as a dispute wherein the whole conception of the new peace system is at stake that those nations are determined to do all they can to maintain that system in which they believe the greatest hope of their future security lies.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly and other speakers in this Debate maintained that there has been some sudden change in the action of the Government in regard to this dispute. That is not so, and I may perhaps give one or two examples to show how inaccurate that is. At this time last year, almost, if I remember rightly, on this very evening, the League were confronted with the problem of the position in the Saar, and my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary, who has been so many times and so unjustly attacked for his administration of the Foreign Office, was Foreign Secretary. It was at that time that this country took the initiative which alone made possible the creation of the International Force, and the solution of one of the most prickly problems that Europe has had to consider since the War. It was this Government which took the initiative in the Hungarian-Yugo-Slav dispute and the draft Disarmament Convention, as has been pointed out this afternoon, and it was this Government which proposed the Resolution based on the Lytton Report partly as a result of which Japan withdrew from the League of Nations. When hon. Members are trying to conjure up these sudden changes 430 of government policy they are again trying to create history to be used at election times.
May I now say a word on the subject of armaments, about which there has also been much discord in the present Debate? When hon. Members opposite say that their conception of collective security is different from ours they are right, because their conception of collective security is that the world should be made safe for us, but that we should do nothing about it ourselves. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Members will allow me to develop my argument. I am prepared to agree that the best level of armaments is the lowest level which, internationally, all the nations will agree to respect. That is at once the cheapest and the safest level for arms, but that is not the world as you have it to-day. The world as it is to-day is an armed world, and, in some countries, a very rapidly rearming world. Let hon. Members make no mistake about it. Not in this country but in some foreign countries it is a very rapidly rearming world. How are we to get collective security, if we want to apply it honestly and not on the cheap, unless this country is at least as strong as other Great Powers that bear responsibilities similar to our own? I pause for an answer.
That seems to be the position which this country has to confront. I believe that the only way to peace is through collective security. I believe that bit by bit, as your system of collective security grows stronger, you will be able to reduce your level of armaments; but you are not improving the international situation if you put the cart before the horse—if you say that you will reduce your armaments and hope that there will be collective security as the result, and that other nations will reduce their armaments also. That is not a practical policy, and is not one which in the last resort is likely to bring peace. If in the present dispute the League emerges stronger than it has been for some time past, that in itself will create a further opportunity, which must not be missed, for seeking agreement for reduction and limitation of armaments. We must never forget that this problem of armaments is only a symptom of a disease, and that what made it almost inevitable that the Disarmament Conference should fail was the political conditions which existed in 431 the world while we were attempting to reach technical agreement. If, as I trust will be the case, the outcome of this dispute is greater strength for the League, then I hope an opportunity will present itself, which will be used to the best of our ability.
I would now like to bring some comfort to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Woods). He seemed to think that, because hon. Members on this side of the House were not making speeches, and not many of them were here, they were not enthusiastic in support of the Government's foreign policy. Perhaps, when the hon. Member has been in the House a little longer, he will know that the measure of the confidence of Government supporters is interpreted by their silence. As you well know, Mr. Speaker, the wisdom of hon. Members is not to be measured by their verbosity. I think that the hon. Member's complaint, and also the difficulty I perceive on the benches opposite of stoking up any real opposition to the Government's foreign policy, indicates the real feeling of the nation at the present time. I believe that there is in this House a very general measure of agreement about the foreign policy which the Government are pursuing. I have not heard in the whole course of this Debate one single speech advocating that we should turn our backs on the League, that we should abandon the playing of our part in collective security. There has not been a single speech in support of splendid isolation—
§ Mr. EDEN
I am not responsible for him. I grant the hon. Member his exception, but the feeling of the House as a whole is clearly in support of the policy that we are pursuing. Apart from that one exception, there has not been a single advocate of isolation. Perhaps, as I have the honour to represent Stratford-on-Avon in this House, I may be allowed to quote Bacon. If the hon. Member for Bridgeton will turn to Bacon's works, he will find this very wise saying:Men ought to know that, in the theatre of human life, it is only for God and angels to be spectators.We have to add to that list Lord Beaver-brook, Lady Houston, Mr. Garvin and the hon. Member for Bridgeton.
432 Let me turn for a moment to a broader aspect of international affairs. I believe at this moment international politics are passing through a phase of evolution when far the greater part of the nations of the world are striving to create a system of international security as the outcome of which they hope to substitute the rule of law for the rule of force in international dealings. This is not the first time that that attempt has been made in history, but perhaps on this occasion the attempt is being made on a wider scale and with a greater measure of hope and confidence than ever before. We have been engaged in the last few weeks in a general election campaign. What has been our objective, whatever our party politics? Only one presumably—to try to bring about an alteration which we believe will result in increasing the happiness and prosperity of the great mass of the people.What matters"—Wrote Voltaireis that this poor species of ours should be as little miserable as possible.That surely is the object of all political endeavour, and yet what avails such political endeavour unless we can maintain international peace? That is why I would say to the House that we should not lose heart in the work that we are doing. Although the barriers to international understanding are many and formidable, I believe the great majority of the nations are to-day trying to move into an era when comprehension shall replace suspicion, and when they can work together in greater harmony for the peace that they all wish to enjoy. In that work I am convinced that the House wishes the Government, as the Government itself intends, to play a part, and I can give this assurance, that in that work we are determined to play our part fully and honourably until the end.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.