§ [SIXTH DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd December],
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
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.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I beg to move, at the end of the Question, to add the wordsbut humbly regret the absence from the Gracious Speech of constructive proposals for absorbing unemployed persons into industry, both by initiating international co-operation for the progressive reduction of the obstacles to trade and by a comprehensive policy of national development.I regret that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) is not here to move this Amendment, and in his place I seek to put before the House certain reasons for its adoption. This Amendment is much more limited in scope than that which the House has been considering during the last two days. It is limited to two matters of cardinal importance which we think are of the utmost consequence in the present halting state of world recovery, and also having regard to the needs of our domestic situation. There has been a great deal of discussion during this Debate on the relative merits and demerits of Capitalism and Socialism. That discussion has not led to any very definite conclusions, and I cannot feel that such discussions have any real practical value, because the question is one that cannot possibly be brought to a practical issue within the life of the present Parliament, or indeed at any time which is easily foreseeable at present.
The plain truth of the matter is that the present system or congeries of systems under which we seek to satisfy 758 our wants and organise our industrial affairs will continue, just as long as the plain, ordinary people of this country feel that it will give them a square deal. When they cease to have that belief, then they will turn to something else. What, I think, the country and the unemployed at this time are entitled to seek from Parliament is that it should devote itself to an attack on poverty and unemployment by all the means which are at present available to it, and which can be brought into operation within the next five years. It is not Communism or Socialism, Capitalism or Fascism which is the source, at the moment, of the world's major ills. The chief single cause of poverty and unemployment to-day is none of these things, but the state of anarchy which prevails in international commercial arrangements between the peoples of the world. That is the major cause of our troubles and economic disabilities at the present time.
We are often told that Capitalism has failed. Capitalism has had many failures. If it had not, it would be the only human institution of which I am aware, which has not had experience of failure. Having regard to the extraordinary developments of science and the application of science to the solution of the problems of production, it would be just as easy to argue that at the present time Capitalism is more triumphant and successful than it has been at any other time since it became an organised system. If one says that, one must go further and point out that it is the failure of statesmanship to direct the distribution of the goods which we have learned to produce, and the fact that statesmanship throughout the world has effectively neutralised the benefits which have accrued in the last 25 years—it is that which is the cause of the failure of the capitalist system to benefit from the extraordinary progress made under it.
When the onset of the economic crisis became acute in 1930 every Government was driven to consider the malady within its own boundaries, without regard to the state of things amongst its neighbours, although the malady afflicted them in almost precisely the same way. They were driven to defend their own interests, and they did so by means with which we are all familiar: they tried to 759 entrench themselves behind barriers of tariffs, quotas, exchange controls and the like. Recovery the world over is taking place in a greater or less degree. There has been a substantial degree of recovery in most countries. It is now, according to the best information available, beginning to halt. The state of anarchy which arose owing to the development of these defensive measures by the different countries has led to the machinery of international trade becoming clogged. Although the worst effects of the crisis are now passing away, the machinery is more clogged than it has been at any time. No country in the world wishes this state of things to continue; every one of them deprecates it. In every country of the world the statesmen have, even as they proposed these measures, regretted them, and expressed the hope that the time may come when they would be able to dispense with them.
We believe that the influence of this country and of the British Empire in international commerce is supreme. We believe, therefore, that we have a better chance, and if we have that better chance we have a greater duty to try, to lead the world out of the morass in which it is struggling at the present time. I would fortify myself in the expression of that view by the opinion of the Economic Committee of the League of Nations. That is a body which, sitting at Geneva, is able to take a detached view of the malady from which the world is suffering, a view free from the prejudices which arise from the spirit of economic nationalism, a detached view not blurred by the special interest of any particular country. The considered view of the Economic Committee of the League is that:While the crisis tends to diminish the machinery of international trade becomes more and more jammed. Of these two things the latter is now the more serious and calls the more urgently for treatment. The restarting of the international machinery of trade takes precedence of all other needs.That is our view, and that is the reason why we are moving this Amendment to the Address. Holding these views, we welcomed particularly the new departure which seemed to be made in the policy of the Government by the Foreign Secretary in his speech at Geneva. That 760 speech seemed to indicate a new recognition of the political necessities of the world to-day. It is quite true that it was related not so much to the general trade question in particular, but to the necessity of making it clear to the countries dissatisfied with economic conditions, within the League and without it, that we for our part were prepared to consider any disabilities, any legitimate cause for complaint from which they considered they were suffering, by peaceful means rather than by leaving the questions to go on smouldering until the countries in question might seek to burst the economic fetters by means of war. It is true that that was the immediate cause of the pronouncement of the Foreign Secretary in his wholly admirable speech at Geneva. No less did we welcome the pronouncement of the Foreign Secretary in his broadcast speech to America. I would like to remind the House of the words he used, for they seem to confirm us in our opinion that the Government were making a new departure in international trading policy. The Foreign Secretary's words were:It seems to me that the lowering of the barriers to international trade, slow and difficult as the task must inevitably be, is one of the most fundamental of the tasks of the present time. It is a task that must be persistently and courageously pursued, not only by Ministers of Commerce who desire to promote the economic welfare of the world, but also more by all those who wish to promote international friendship and to serve the great cause of peace.Experience has taught me that there are very few statements, if any, which can be made in this House without their leading to contradiction from some quarter but I venture to hope that that statement made with the authority of the Foreign Secretary, a man who commands the affection and confidence of this House, is one which will not be contradicted in any quarter of the House. In that belief I cherish the further hope that there will be unanimity in the House, at all events with regard to the first part of the Amendment which I have moved. I will trespass on the attention of the House by inviting them to consider some further words spoken by the Foreign Secretary in the course of the same broadcast. He invited his listeners to consider and read a handbook, "Re- 761 marks on the Present Phase of International Economic Relations," issued by the League, and he said:That little book I would commend to all my listeners this evening. It is a sermon on the folly of our times. Its text may be summed up in this one quotation:'The malady from which the world is now suffering is no longer entirely the crisis, but rather the inability of the countries to co-ordinate their several efforts to emerge from the crisis.'That, as we see it, is the position today. We would ask whether these pronouncements by the Foreign Secretary are merely to be regarded as ballons d'essai, or whether they foreshadow, as we believe, a very important and proper departure from recent economic policy, and what steps the Government propose to take to give effect to them. We were surprised indeed to find that there was no reference made in the King's Speech to this question which we regard as of the uttermost consequence. We regret that no indication has been given to the House of any definite steps which are to be taken to promote this desirable policy. Is it intended to re-summon the Economic Conference at a convenient time? We were told that that body when it broke up did not part to meet no more but was only adjourned. Surely a day will come when it may be possible to ask them to meet again. Or are the Government prepared to take the step which we think they ought to take, namely, to offer full access to the markets under our control to all those countries, whether British or foreign, which are prepared to offer equal facilities to us in their countries That is a step which we think ought to be taken. It might have the effect of breaking the vicious circle in which the countries of the world are moving now. At all events we would be glad to know what is the mind of the Government with regard to this matter. More than any other single policy which they can adopt will it bring relief to the unemployed.
If our overseas trade could be brought back to the level of 1929 we should no longer be talking of 2,000,000 unemployed, for the number would be nearer 1,000,000. I cannot point to any other single step or development of policy which would have that result. It would have an immediate effect on the deplorable position in 762 all our ports. With the exception of London, which enjoys a specially favourable position owing to the new orientation of industry in this country and owing to the fact that London deals largely in products like oil which are not subject to tariffs, practically every port in the country has to-day a volume of unemployment 100 per cent. more than that in 1929. The Merseyside district as a whole has well over 100,000 unemployed, as against 60,000 in 1929. There we have the tragic circumstance of the long-term unemployed, those who have been out of work for three years and more, and a large number of black coated unemployed, and all those distresses which are particularly aggravated by the chronic depression at the ports. Not the Merseyside alone, but all the ports of the country, with the exception of London, are suffering in that way.
This new policy which we thought the Government were adopting is one of the steps which would do more than any single thing to restore hope in those districts where chronic depression reigns. I shall expect to be asked in this House who would respond to such an invitation if we gave it. I expect to be reminded of the efforts made by the late Mr. William Graham, so honourably and affectionately remembered by many in this House, who went to Geneva and failed. I might have my attention drawn to the agreements made by the President of the Board of Trade. Certainly I have no wish to belittle any scheme, however small, which will do anything to ameliorate the position, but I cannot refrain from pointing out that the trade agreements hitherto made by this country are really a mere homeopathic remedy in comparison with the enormous evil and the state of anarchy which prevail in international relationships.
What I wish to impress on the Government is that there has been a very remarkable change in sentiment with regard to this matter in recent times. The fact that the evil has become manifest, and the fact that the condition of the crisis in different countries has to some extent become ameliorated, have led to a saner and wiser view being taken of the matter in many countries. I would remind the House that the United States Government have recently made an important change in their Constitution, in their economic practice, 763 in giving powers to President Roosevelt to lower tariffs in response to concessions from other countries. That is a remarkable thing. As hon. Members know full well, the Americans do not lightly change their Constitution; but they have taken this remarkable step. I could, but that I hesitate to bore the House, justify my statement that there has been a remarkable change of opinion in this regard by various quotations, but I think I can abridge my argument and also convey what I wish to lay before the House by quoting the opinion of Sir Arthur Balfour, as he then was—he is now a member of another place—on his return from the International Chambers of Commerce Conference. He described the Congress as the biggest and most representative one of the kind that had ever been held, and he said:The Congress has, for the first time, shown serious concern at the present state of trade barriers. The proceedings of the Congress have revealed a momentous change, from every point of view, in the attitude of producers in Protectionist nations. In that respect it has proved an eye-opener. Delegates from countries who a few years ago only gave lip service to a fair system of international trade are now really anxious for a change in the situation. As regards France and the French delegation, the change is simply astonishing. It has really been a great manifestation in favour of a relaxation of the shackles which are now hampering international commerce. This has been accompanied by a strong desire on all sides for a revival of currency stability, without which there can be no security in international trade,I think that is eloquent testimony to the change that has taken place and the more favourable atmosphere, unfortunately marred at present by the course of the African war, and it gives good reason to hope that there may be in the near future an opportunity of taking this matter up effectively. Mr. Cordell Hull, the United States Secretary of State, made a speech which I should like to see recited as a sort of general confession by all Ministers of Commerce of all the States of the world, if we could only get them together in unison. Mr. Cordell Hull said:We willingly and frankly admit that we erred in the past, and that we have now repented. Just as we set a vicious example in erecting trade barriers in the form of high tariffs, which induced others to follow us, so we now ask other nations to join us in the attempt to undo the damage that our collective action has done. We want to break down all artificial and 764 excessive impediments put in the way of world commerce, not only in our own interests, but for the benefit of all others as well, as only by restoring the whole world can individual countries hope to remain economically healthy for long.That is the case for the first part of the Amendment which we are asking the House to consider, and I am glad to think it has not evoked any dissent from any quarter of the House up to the present. I am looking hopefully in the direction of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, who, I understand, is to reply.
I turn now to deal briefly with the second part of the Amendment, in which we regret, as we do most profoundly, the absence from the Gracious Speech of any comprehensive and detailed proposals for national development, using the phrase in its widest terms, which are really commensurate with our domestic needs. There seems to be a lack of definition and precision about the economic proposals of the Government, and we are entitled to expect something more definite from them. I do not want, and the House would not expect me, to recite or to lay before them the major items of national reconstruction which we have placed before the House and the country and which indeed have been placed before this House by abler people than myself, but that policy is based upon the call to do something for the unemployed of this country and upon the urgent necessity of seeing that our national equipment in all its branches is at least as good as that of any other country in the world. It is also based upon, if I may borrow the words of Mr. Stewart, one of the Commissioners for the distressed areas, the necessity for replacing, bearing in mind the fact that we are an old industrial country, many of our national assets which the application of science to modern methods is making daily more obsolete. Again it is based upon the profound economic truth that if you have resources—and nobody doubts that this country has greater wealth and resources than any other—it is only an economy to refrain from using them if by so refraining you make it certain that they are going to be put to some other and better purpose. That is the general economic basis of the argument for national development, and it is as true to-day as when it was first announced in 765 the parable of the steward who wrapped his one talent in a napkin and buried it until his master came back again.
An hon. Member above the Gangway here, speaking the other day, said it was not possible to understand the outlook and the experience of the unemployed unless one had been unemployed oneself, and I think he spoke a true word when he said that, but I would like to say further that those of us who represent constituencies where there is chronic depression, where, whenever we are in them, we are surrounded day after day by friends and acquaintances who are enduring the pinched, meagre and restricted life of the unemployed, which they endure with a patience that passes my understanding, know that, although we do not have the physical experience of the unemployed and do not have to endure their life, we do share their mental anxiety and outlook, and, therefore, we think it is intolerable that anything which is possible to be done, whether big or small, should be left undone which could bring some ray of hope and some relief to them in their distress.
I wish, without any intention of giving offence, that some of His Majesty's Ministers would consider the form of the pronouncements which they make with regard to unemployment. We should not lose sight for a moment of the mental anxiety and hopelessness of the unemployed. I would quote the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Election, on 30th October, when he said:The Government has plans that will keep the record level of unemployment up to its present mark.It is good news that the Government have plans. It carries us a long way from the days when the Lord President of the Council, then Prime Minister, assured us that it was no part of the Government's duty to take the initiative in providing work in any special area, but to consider sympathetically any proposal which might be made to them. While we welcome the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government have plans, we would like to ask whether we know all those plans now and whether they are all in the Gracious Speech. The right hon. Gentleman said:The Government has plans that will keep the record level of unemployment up 766 to its present mark, or perhaps more, for a period to come.What a grim, harsh message for the 2,000,000 who are still unemployed. I cannot believe that the ambition of the Government is limited to keeping the level of unemployment on its present basis for years to come, and I hope my right hon. Friend, who, we all recognise, is a man of action and energy, will tell us that that is not the limit of the Government's ambition, but that they have in mind something more than they have put in the Gracious Speech, something more ambitious than keeping things simply as they are. That would indeed be a policy of despair, because we know on the best economic authority that is available, and we know from the Government's own advisers that there is not much hope of things advancing from their present basis unless we can restore international trade.
I would like to ask my right hon. Friend for a little further information on one or two points of practical importance. We all recognise with satisfaction that great and rapid progress is being made in doing away with the scandal of the slums. We are not, however, unaware that while that has been going on, there has been a check in building in other directions, with the result that in many parts of the country the evil of overcrowding, so far from having abated, has actually increased. Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea of the progress that is likely to be made with regard to the development of the attack upon overcrowding? Is it the case that nothing can be done until the survey has been completed by the local authorities in April next and that after that there will have to be a period during which plans will be prepared, and then passed by the Department, so that it may be two years before anything substantial is done? In my own town, for example, where overcrowding is absolutely deplorable, where something like 25 per cent. of the population live under conditions of overcrowding, we should feel it intolerable that progress should have to be delayed for a long period of time such as seems to be possible under the present arrangement.
I should also like to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is determined, and can give us an assurance, that this vital service shall not be held up for lack of 767 adequate financial help to the authorities. I am informed—in fact, I know—that there is in the mind of some authorities uncertainty on this point. It may be a misunderstanding, but it is felt that the financial assistance is to be limited in the main to those schemes which are devoted to housing and rehousing in flats and tenements on sites which may be expensive. The problem of overcrowding will not be solved until there is an adequate supply of houses which are within the reach not only of those who are low paid but of the lowest paid as well. We hope that it is my right hon. Friend's intention, as far as he is concerned, to see that nothing will stand in the way of that programme being carried out. National development does not consist only in major works such as housing and land development. It consists also in the improvement of our transport system in order to prevent the toll of carnage of the roads of which we hear every week, and in a careful study of every conveivable means that will do anything to help to lessen the general volume of unemployment. We welcome the proposal to raise the school age, for we believe that that Measure, coupled, it may be, with further part-time education, will be an important contribution towards helping the unemployment problem. If there is to be a great deal of enforced idleness over a long time, it is a common sense plan that it should be concentrated on those who are of an age to benefit from it, that is, those of an age to be educated; and, I would add, those who are entitled to retire from their labour and enjoy leisure after a life spent in industry.
I rather regret the turn which the discussion took yesterday on the question of pensions. A good deal of fun was made of the fact that hon. Members above the Gangway had stated that they favoured a reduction of the pensionable age and an increase in the amount. I favour that, too; I know that many hon. Gentlemen opposite favour it, and I hope that the Government favour it. I hope that the last word on that matter was not said yesterday. I would like to ask the Government, as it is a matter of great importance, whether they have made any inquiry into the possibility of carrying it out, and whether, in particular, they have made, or will make, a survey of the exist- 768 ing superannuation arrangements made by public authorities and by private employers and wherever superannuation schemes are in existence, in order that they may know the volume and size of the problem which remains. From the indications of a private inquiry which is being made, I have some reason to believe that the problem may not be so unmanageable as it appears, and I invite my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic consideration to the question.
Another matter in the same field, that is, in the smaller matters of national development, is the policy for increasing consumption which was argued in the House on Friday by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). He pointed out the futility of trying to solve the problem of poverty in the midst of plenty by doing away with the plenty, and emphasised the necessity of studying all means by which we can possibly increase consumption. He put his finger on one means by which we can do that; it was by abolishing the household means test. I agree with him in what he says on that point. If there is anything on which there is complete agreement in the House, it is that the charge for maintaining the able-bodied unemployed should be a national, and not a local charge. That being the case, I would like to ask what justice there is in maintaining a system that not only quarters a considerable portion of the cost of maintaining the unemployed on certain localities where unemployment is most severe, but further clamps it on those families in the community where unemployment is actually present? We do not know the intentions of the Government in this matter. Views have been expressed on it from dilerent parts of the House, and I cannot think that when they look into the matter they will consider it either justice or sound economy to maintain a system of that kind.
I now leave the second part of our Amendment because my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) will, I hope, develop it a little more in detail. We have felt obliged to put the Amendment on the Paper because we were unable to discern in the Government's programme in regard to international commerce and development anything which, either in spirit, determina- 769 tion or scope seems commensurate with the immense needs of the present time for trying to get the international machinery of trade moving. Far less can it be said to be commensurate with the needs of the unemployed of the nation.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. W. ROBERTS
I beg to second the Amendment. In doing so, I ask for the special indulgence of the House. As a new Member it is all the more difficult for me to follow such an able and experienced speaker as my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White). I shall resist the inclination, which I have observed is shared by other Members of the House, to tell them all about my election, but I would like to say that I owe my presence here to two causes. The first is that in the north of England, whence I come, the farmers feel that if they have not been forgotten they have at least been neglected. The second is that while many of my constituents live in a special area, we are all neighbours of it, and we have watched with dismay the policy of the Government with regard to their neglect of the tragedy of unemployment. The poverty in the towns of the north of England reacts directly upon the agricultural community, and there are more farmers besides myself who believe that in order to restore prosperity to agriculture we must restore purchasing power to our customers. The position of the farmer in the north, for whom I can speak with some little knowledge, is worse to-day than it was in 1929. Similarly, none of our great export trades have recovered the volume of trade which they enjoyed in 1929.
These two facts mean that the average individual, whether he be an agriculturist or industrialist, is suffering to-day from what used to be called poverty, but what nowadays we call bad distribution or under-consumption. For the agriculturist it is under-consmption of the manufactured products of the town. For the industrialist it is under-consumption of the foodstuffs which the farmer produces. My hon. Friend who has just spoken has dealt fully and ably with the question of restoring our export trade. That is clearly the most direct way of restoring prosperity to our industrial districts and thereby restoring prosperity to agriculture. If that policy be not 770 possible, we are definitely thrown back upon the second part of the Amendment, that is, to a comprehensive policy of national development. If I may start with the problem as it faces the agriculturist, I would like to say at once that we recognise the efforts which the Minister of Agriculture has made. Those efforts, however, have not been successful, and the position is still very serious. I noted with concern and surprise that there was nothing in the Gracious Speech with regard to agriculture except unemployment insurance for farm workers. I support that proposition, and hope that the special arrangement of six-monthly hirings, which are common in the north of England, will receive special consideration when that Measure is brought in. I would like to remind the House that in the last four years 28,000 workers have left the land. Some of us on these benches have advocated a policy of land settlement and small holdings, and the Government, I understand, are considering plans by which 280 men may be replaced on the land. That just shows how little the policy of restoring prosperity has as yet succeeded in maintaining employment on the land, or of replacing men by settlement.
I believe that the fundamental problem of agriculture not only in this country, but all over the world, is that of the under-consumption of food. In the north of England we specialise on livestock products, which are the most expensive products and most needed for maintaining physical fitness. In the Debate on the Address I have been surprised to hear so few statements with regard to agriculture, but there was one notable exception. That was the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby), and I find myself much in agreement with his statement. He pointed out that investigations which have been made recently by Sir John Orr and others showed that there was a great deal of under-nourishment among the workers. In fact, Sir John Orr went so far as to say that nearly one-half of the population were unable to purchase sufficient of the more expensive products, such as milk, eggs and meat. Nearly half the population—20,000,000 was his figure—are unable to buy sufficient of those products to keep themselves up to a maximum of physical 771 efficiency. There are many different ways of defining malnutrition. I should consider my farm stock was suffering from malnutrition if, as a result of their feeding, they were not at their maximum efficiency. If that be true of 20,000,000 of the population of this country it is a serious indictment of circumstances as they are to-day.
The Minister without Portfolio made what I feel was a characteristic reply from the Government Benches. In the first place he took credit for the inquiries which had been made; in the second place he claimed that the Government's policy had increased consumption; and thirdly he found that there would be great difficulty in following out the suggestions made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. The words of the Gracious Speech tell us that special regard is to be paid to the distressed areas, and just as the Government may claim credit for this research done by Sir John Orr so they have investigated and explored the problems of the special areas and allied problems, and they have appointed committees and commissions, but in actual practice they have done very little indeed. As to the claim that the Government's policy has increased consumption, I have followed very closely the Government's agricultural policy, and what has increased consumption is the world fall in prices. The Government's policy up to now has been to try to prevent that fall and to maintain prices wherever possible. They have been rather unsuccessful in that policy, and therefore consumption has increased in spite of what has been done.
I am not unmindful of certain small things which have been carried out recently, not unmindful of the school milk scheme. I myself have customers in the schools of Cumberland who refer to me as the tallest milkman in the world. I am not unmindful of that scheme, and I know that there are difficulties in extending the type of scheme which will make surpluses available for the classes which most need them, but if the boards tackled that job I believe they could do it. In West Cumberland there was a scheme by which milk was supplied to unemployed men and their families at very cheap rates—so cheap that the consumption was enormously increased. It 772 was only a small, experimental attempt, but it did achieve the result of getting families which had not known such a thing as fresh milk to drink considerable quantities of it. That scheme came to an end after the Milk Board started its operations. I believe abortive attempts have been made to do something of the sort in South Wales. If there were a determination to carry out this type of scheme it could be done, and the machinery of the various boards could be used for the purpose. I advocate these things not only from the point of view of the industrial consumer, but from the point of view of the farmer, because I am certain that is the only way in which our problem can be finally solved.
The position in the North of England at present is a result of the poor purchasing power of our customers. We as farmers are driven to find markets further afield, and the bulk of our milk and milk products, which used to be consumed in the North of England, to-day find their way to London, and quite possibly hon. Members of this House consume some of them. That is expensive in carriage, it is inconvenient and it is undesirable from the farmers' point of view. We would rather sell our produce at our door, if our customers had the money to buy. I have tried to touch on two ways in which I think this problem of poverty in the North of England can be dealt with, first, by increasing our export trade, and, second, by measures to promote increased consumption, chiefly by cutting down the cost of distribution and by making special arrangements for special classes—the unemployed, the children under school age, expectant mothers, and so on.
I believe there are two other methods by which the problem can be attacked. The first is by the policy frequently referred to as a policy of public works, and the second by the introduction of new industries into the North of England. The Commissioner for the Special Areas recently told us that within 100 miles of the centre of his area in the North of England there are 13,000,000 consumers, whereas within 100 miles of London there are 17,000,000 consumers, but the consumers within that radius of 100 miles in the North are either within the Cumberland special area or within the Tyneside special area, or within Lancashire, which is nearly as bad. There are thousands of 773 them on the means test, many other thousands who draw only the low wages that exist in the coal trade. Because we are poor, new industries do not come there. Because we have not the purchasing power, industrialists go to London and start their factories on the Great West Road. Poverty breeds poverty and prosperity attracts prosperity.
I believe there is a place for a policy of public works. A policy of public works could break that vicious circle of unemployment and under-consumption and of low purchasing-power. There are two particular forms of public works which I should like to mention in passing. One is land drainage. Living as I do very near to the Scottish border I have never been able to understand why it is right to give a subsidy for land drainage in Scotland and wrong to give it in England, and if the Minister of Agriculture had been here I should have liked to have asked him the reason. The other form of public works is electrification. Both forms would permanently improve the equipment of the countryside. I ask whether the Government will not give us assistance for land drainage and speed up the electrification of the countryside, whereby our efficiency in production can be increased and the possibilities of starting small industries in the northern towns would be greatly assisted.
The Government have made certain proposals with regard to railways and roads of which we shall hear more later, but if those proposals, especially those concerning the roads, are to throw a greater burden on the local rates they will defeat their own object, and I hope that that will not be the case. The right policy is to finance those public works by loans, but I agree with those who say that though a policy of public works and nothing else may stave off the evil day the unemployment will appear again when the work is finished, and I feel that we must carry on at the same time a vigorous policy of introducing new industries into the north. The Prime Minister said there was a moral obligation on industrialists who have benefited by Protection to put their plants in the North of England. I say that moral obligation rests on the Government. The conditions in many of our distressed areas are due directly, if not to the action of this Government, to that of previous Governments. We wanted munitions and warships, and in- 774 dustrial plant was developed which is now idle. The men were assembled in those areas at that time but are now left unemployed. From that point of view there is undoubtedly a moral obligation on the Government.
I should like to draw attention to the reasons given by the Commissioner for Special Areas why new industries are not started in the North of England. He gave five reasons. The first is inaccessibility to markets. As I have tried to suggest, the potential market is there. The people are there, but they have not got the money to make it a profitable market. The second is high rates. That is certainly a matter which the Government can put right, can adjust, if they have the will to do so. The third is the fear of industrial unrest. On that I will cite the case of one town in the North of England with mixed industries which are not entirely dependent upon the export trade. In that town of Carlisle I do not recollect a single industrial dispute of any importance in the last 10 years. The fourth is the fact that for some years these areas have been suffering from industrial depression. Trade brings trade, says the Commissioner. That point I have already dealt with. Lastly, and this is the point upon which I wish to lay emphasis, there is the difficulty of obtaining finance with which to start new industries.
When the special commissioners of the distressed areas were appointed an amendment was moved from these benches to give them the power to lend money to public utility societies. I ask the Government to consider the question of giving the Commissioners these powers now. There is a need for capital with which to start small industries. That capital could be provided through public utility societies, with dividends to be limited to a fixed percentage. That may be assisting private enterprise, but I say the Government has a moral obligation to assist private enterprise in those areas. I have been wondering what objections may be raised to this Amendment. It seems to me there may be three main objections. The first is that our suggestions are socialistic. Perhaps hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House will be able to persuade the Government that that is not so. In any case, the proposal to start a trading 775 estate on Tyneside is just as socialistic as the proposal that the Government should lend money to public utility societies. I myself do not think there is much chance that a policy of setting down beehives and hoping that the bees will swarm into them will be very successful. I should like something much more radical than just building a factory and hoping that an industrialist seeking one will put his industry there. Something much more searching than that is needed.
Secondly, it seems to me that one of the great objections one meets with in asking for a vigorous policy in the North is that Members on the Government Benches think that Protection will eventually solve the problem. Protection, we did at one time hear, means work for all, and some of those hon. Members may think that in time that will happen. I do not see how protection, however, is going to assist the coal trade. You have your trade agreements, but any benefit which may have arisen from those has now been fully exploited. In answer to a question to-day it was stated that negotiations are now in progress with Peru and the Dutch East Indies. I do not think there is very much hope for the industrial North from those negotiations. Any benefit which may have been possible to obtain by unilateral trade agreements has now been obtained. If there is one district in the whole world which is likely to suffer from the policy of economic nationalism which has been adopted by the present Government it is the North of England.
Lastly, I do appeal to hon. Members on all sides of the House to give this Amendment their careful consideration. The last objection which I feel may be raised, the last argument against what we are putting forward, is that this is in fact the Government's policy. If that is so—and I am a novice in the procedure of the House of Commons—if it is stated from the Government benches that this is what the Government intend to carry out, I ask "Why cannot they accept this Amendment?" If that is not possible I appeal to the Members on all sides of the House to give the matter very careful consideration. The North of England and the men and women who live there have played their part very fully in building up the greatness of this country in the 776 past. They have given their lives and work not only in the North but all over the Empire and all over the world, and I do ask for your consideration and your energetic support for a policy which will bring back some ray of hope to the distressed North.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I am sure that the first thing the House would have me do is to congratulate very sincerely on its behalf the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) on his maiden speech. It was a speech of admirable lucidity on a very trying occasion—it was not very many years ago since I made my own maiden speech—and of much thought, and I am sure the House will wish to hear him on many future occasions. This Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White), in a more apologetic way than I have ever heard an Amendment moved before, both in its first part in dealing in international trade, and in its latter portion dealing with reconstruction at home. The hon. Member put forward a proposition to the House. He said that the Government should propose that full access be given in all markets under our control to all countries who will grant full access to us in their markets. He went on to say that he did not know whether that suggestion would be acceptable to any country, and indeed it is a suggestion which deserves some examination both in principle and in practice. I can tell him at once one country which would accept it on the spot. That country is Japan. If we were to promise Japan completely free access to the whole of our Colonial Empire and to this country, Japan, who knows perfectly well that we cannot compete with the products she makes, would be willing to grant us full access to her country.
But there is a greater principle than that at stake. That is the principle of the most-favoured-nation Clause. If the principle which the hon. Member proposes were put into practice the mostfavoured-nation Clause would go. The most-favoured-nation Clause is the last legacy of the Cobden tradition. I think it is still very valuable in our trade. I have made an intensive study of it, particularly as it applies to the cotton trade. The abolition of the most- 777 favoured-nation Clause from agreements would lead, in the cotton trade, to an increase in our trade of some 150,000,000 square yards. Its abolition in countries which might make agreements with our trade competitors would lead to a far greater loss than that. It is a proposition which has some advantages and some disadvantages, but on balance I believe it would be the last stage in tariff warfare, and it would be a stage of that warfare in which we would take the initiative.
We were the last people to impose tariffs. We did so reluctantly. Most people on these benches did so with great reluctance. I did myself. At the same time we had to do so because we found every other country had preceded us. If we were to take this step of cancelling the most-favoured-nation Clause, we should be taking the first step in another stage of tariff warfare. At present every trade agreement which the Government can make leads to a reduction of that country's tariffs, not only against ourselves but against other countries, and I for one on these benches welcome that development.
May I examine the proposal a little deeper in practice The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) the other day made an intensively interesting speech in which he drew a distinction between the export of consumers' goods and the export of capital goods. I believe he said, very rightly, that the two principal outlets for increased capital goods were the British Empire and Russia. I think the hon. Member for East Birkenhead would agree. But he also said that the areas most depressed in the country were the exporting areas. We can all agree there. The main exports which are depressed are coal, textiles, iron and steel—iron and steel much less depressed than hitherto, and coal and textiles the worst. Textiles are consumers' goods. The hon. Member who has just sat down said if we made a trade agreement with the Dutch East Indies he did not think it would be of very much benefit to the North. But the Dutch East Indies is the second largest textile market in the world. It is next to India, and China has now gone below it. If you go round the world, what is the real cause of the loss of that trade and many other trades too? That trade 778 is symbolic of our loss of consumers' goods throughout the world. Let nobody suppose that in practice we are ever going to get back a large share of the China market again, because she is developing herself and has Japan at her door. India now produces 85 per cent. of her own consumption in textiles. Most of the tropical countries of the East are beginning to produce for themselves. Russia and Brazil, the great markets of the past, produce entirely for themselves, and they are quite determined to go on producing for themselves.
What steps can the Government take except to make agreements singly with country after country? I should like a proposition to be put forward for a new world economic conference. During the election I said I would support such an idea, but would there be at the present moment any chance of success for such a conference? I believe the hon. Member really began to look facts in the face only when he came to the second part of his Amendment, which dealt with reconstruction at home. There again he outlined several proposals, but he did not, so far as I can see, differ very strongly from the Government's policy. If I did not think I could get the sort of policy he outlined, I should not be on these benches. If I may make another friendly remark to the hon. Member who has just made his maiden speech, I should say that he must not expect to find that it is only on that side of the House that the most progressive people sit. You will find a very considerable proportion of our party here progressive, and indeed I do not believe he will find progress goes with party alignments in the least. The one thought that was continnually running through my mind during both the speech of the Proposer of the Amendment and of the last speaker was that I could not help wondering why they were not here helping us to put such a policy through.
The hon. Member regretted the absence of a number of items from the Gracious Speech. If the Gracious Speech were to contain what everybody in this House wanted it to contain it would be a sort of portmanteau. Our attack on unemployment has gone some way in a comparatively short time. It took a century of higgledy-piggledy laissez faire capitalism to bring us to the stage which we have reached in this country. We have gone wrong. We have gone off the 779 rails. Now we have to reconstruct. All parties recognise that. Our housing policy is well on the way to reconstruction. You cannot reconstruct in a day or a week, and the great achievement of the term of the last Parliament was that we have at last returned to a point where we can say we are now in a position to reconstruct and are financially powerful enough to do so. If I did not think we could get that reconstruction I should not be standing at these benches.
The main lines of reconstruction, as I hope to see it in the next few years, are these. I hope to see a land settlement scheme, not a very large one, because I do not believe it is desirable or possible. It entirely depends on whether you can make agriculture pay, and whether you can make it pay partly depends, as the hon. Member for Northumberland said, on whether we can improve our marketing schemes, and partly on whether we are prepared to offer sufficient Protection to agricultural products. I do not think you can divorce the two. Ottawa has led to a greatly increased consumption from this country. It has also led to the Dominions being willing to take immigrants again. Australia will probably be able to do so very soon, and I hope that migration will be started within the next year or two. I agree with what the hon. Member said about training estates. They are very desirable, but they ought to be accompanied, if necessary, by some measure of compulsion, in order to ensure that new industries are started in areas where they are most needed. The raising of the school-leaving age will be a definite contribution to a solution of these problems.
There is another point, which I would discuss at a little greater length. It is the question of mass production and the turning out of young men of 18 years of age untrained for any form of skilled work. There are a great many factories in this country working overtime, of which they have reason to be ashamed, but it is not always their fault. They cannot obtain skilled labour, and the people who are working that overtime like doing so. That is a fact, although it is socially undesirable. The apprenticeship system has broken down, because it is such a temptation to parents to send children into mass production jobs to obtain the wages for a year or two and not to look into the future when those children will 780 be turned out untrained. I see a significant glance from the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), and I agree with her. Sometimes they cannot afford to look into the future. It is desirable that something should be done to regulate and perhaps to restore the apprentice system.
I throw out this idea as a possible contribution to the solution of the problem: Would it not be possible for those firms who turn out these young men at 18 and take on other children only to turn them out when they get to 18 years of age, to pay a levy towards the training of skilled workers, of which there is a real shortage? That training at present falls on the State, but it is not yet sufficiently developed by the Ministry of Labour. It would be very desirable. I will name one trade, a well paid trade on the whole, in which there is a shortage of skilled labour, and that is skilled engineering and fitting. The increase in the manufacture of aeroplanes is being regarded with great fear by many firms who are turning out other products and who are afraid that their workmen will be taken away to make aeroplanes. Aeroplane making generally pays higher wages because it can afford to do so. I believe that an improved training scheme for young men who are turned out of work in that way would be very desirable, and that the suggestion is worthy of the consideration of the Government.
There are one or two other sides of unemployment which I hope will be attacked. Trade facilities, which were mentioned by the hon. Member in his maiden speech are one. He spoke also of the desirability of electrification. I am not sure that electrification leads as a rule to employment, but trade facilities are in the mind of the Government. At 7.30 to-night we shall pass to what is tantamount to a trade facility, in respect of the payment of something like £30,000,000 to the railway companies for development. A great road scheme is in progress. The plans are in. Many other schemes have been set in motion and will be set in motion, and I hope they will be co-ordinated. If that is not a great programme. I do not know what hon. Members want. Do they simply want the payment of very large sums of money on un-remunerative work which will, at the end of that work, leave people idle and adrift again? If they do not want that, I say 781 that the Government can vet every scheme which comes up, form schemes where possible, re-plan areas, and go in for its great housing programme and press that to a conclusion. It is true that some sorts of housing progress is slowing down. House building by private enterprise has nearly reached the conclusion of its boom and is being replaced by municipal house building. That, I believe, is a great programme.
I will conclude by suggesting that there is not very much dividing ourselves from hon. Members on the Liberal benches. They do not any longer ask for Free Trade and I cannot see why they should not be sitting here. During the Election I received a good many documents from a body entitled "The Council of Action"—I think it has been called the "council of faction"—and a good many telegrams. They went into my waste-paper basket because they definitely asked me to give up my right of free representation of my constituency for no other reason. [Interruption.] It was the third question.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
Will the hon. Member spare a minute to say in exactly what way he was asked to abandon his right of free representation?
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Certainly. I was asked to join a group and to vote according to the majority decisions of that group.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I believe there was no quibble. It was perfectly clear in that document that I was asked—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member will listen to the end of my sentence I will tell him. It was clear in that document that I was asked to attend a meeting of a group, in which I should be able to express any views if I wanted, but if a decision were taken by the group on any matter I was expected, if I were going to follow the Council of Action, to 782 follow the majority decision of the group. The whole thing was couched in terms of "I pledge myself," and I was not willing to pledge myself. As a matter of fact it was a most delusive document and proposal. It was no doubt the foster-child of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and its complete failure is best evidenced by the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is now going off to take a six months' holiday.
It remains a fact that Members who sent in their election addresses without signing anything in that document sometimes got its approval. I did not even send in my election address; if I had done so the Council of Action would have found that it was at least as progessive as its own proposals. I believe that the verdict of the country in the Election was a verdict that you could find progress—
§ Miss WILKINSON
Might I ask the hon. Gentleman this? If he claims that his election address was at least as progressive as the proposals of the Council of Action, is he prepared to do what I think he would do for the Peace and Reconstruction Council, and vote against his party, if necessary, to get it enforced?
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
The hon. Lady was not in the last Parliament. If she had been, she would have known that two or three times I did that, and on a matter of principle I would do so again. This is a personal matter which is not really worth going into. The proposals of the Council of Action are not more progressive than those which I believe the Government will produce during the next three years. In only one item is there a difference, and that is in the Council's agricultural policy, but that, I believe, would lead to such high Protection, if their results were achieved, as to cut off something like £100,000,000 worth of our imported foodstuffs. Otherwise the Government's plan would, I believe, produce a programme just as progressive as that of the Council of Action. That is the real gist and meaning of the verdict of the country at the Election. It is for those reasons that I believe this Parliament will lead to real reconstruction, to which I wish hon. Members of the Liberal party opposite would give their constructive help.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
It would be intriguing to follow the hon. Member in some of the observations that he has made, but I hope that he will have the patience to sit for a time till I return to the glorious results of the trade agreements and to some of the proposals which he makes for a re-orientation of our industrial, economic and social life. At the moment, I want to deal fairly briefly with the terms of the Amendment and to review as briefly as possible, not ignoring any of the essentials, the results of the four years of effort of the past Government, who, I think it can be claimed, used almost every card in their political pack. I have listened during this Debate to the Prime Minister, the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), the Attorney-General and the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and scarcely a glimmer of light came to me as to what they anticipate doing in the next four years, so far as any fundamental change is concerned in the economic system that produces unemployment with all its evil consequences to the vast numbers of our people.
There may be some doubt about this or that question of policy, but there is no doubt about one thing, which is that we have still 2,000,000 people unemployed. We are still spending £100,000,000 per annum in maintaining those who are unemployed through no fault of their own, and a vast proportion of our working-class population is still suffering from destitution and demoralisation. I have been in this House long enough to see a policy of unfettered Free Trade, when we had poverty and destitution, and a policy of half Free Trade and half Protection when there was still unemployment and destitution. For the last four years we have had full-blooded Protection and at the end of the period we still have 2,000,000 of unemployed. All that the Government have said in regard to their future policy is that they will pay special regard to the depressed areas, a policy of bits and odds and ends here and there. There is to be no fundamental attack upon the cause of unemployment. That must remain where it is during the Government's term of office.
I want to see, not only the removal of international obstacles to trade, but the removal of the great obstacles of 784 rent, interest and profit, because I see no possibility of complete absorption of the unemployed until that side of our economic and financial life is dealt with by some courageous Government who really want to solve the problem. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) suggested that Capitalism and Socialism had been debated almost ad nauseam in this House. That is true, and I suppose that Capitalism and Socialism will be debated until finally Socialism is applied, for outside Socialism there seems to me to be no hope for the unemployed. There seems to be no hope even for the Liberal party, and I do not see any possibility of their retaining their identity very much longer. But, just as the Liberal party seems to have as many doubts as it has sections at the moment, so Members of the Government express doubt from time to time as to what they feel regarding the fiscal policy of the country. The Prime Minister, speaking on this question since the adoption of tariffs, said:Though we have adopted a tariff policy, this has not been done in order that we may join in the building of ever higher tariff walls. That way lies the destruction rather than the development of international trade. The fallacy of prohibitive tariffs lies in the assumption that a country may thus make itself prosperous in a poverty-stricken world. This is a delusion.Those of us who sit on these benches entirely agree with that. The Prime Minister, therefore, has little or no confidence in the efficacy of tariffs as a means of solving our economic or unemployment problems. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, whom one really ought not to quote, because he means so little to anyone, said:They must not assume that mere tariffs were going to affect the 2¾ million unemployed. He only supported tariffs to get rid of them.That is exactly what one would expect from the right hon. Gentleman. The President of the Board of Trade, a very responsible Minister in the Government, and one who, after all, has an important political past, speaking in Newcastle, in the centre of shipping, where they have suffered perhaps more acutely than in any other part of the country as a result of tariffs, said:Now our national policy has brought us right into the industrial sphere. We cannot 785 help that. Once we step into the world of high tariffs we put an end to that very freedom of international exchange which is the essence of British industry and commerce.The result of our having entered, as the right hon. Gentleman said, into the heart of the tariff world, was an announcement to-day by some Minister or other that another subsidy is to be given to the shipping industry. They knocked the shipping industry out of existence, or at least aimed a deadly blow at it; they recuperated it by a subsidy of £2,000,000; and now a further subsidy is proffered by the Government. One of the shipping magnates, referring to the policy of Protection pursued by this Government, said that that industry had lost approximately 2400,000 per annum in freights through subsidised sugar, £375,000 through subsidised wheat, £200,000 through the subsidised restriction of bacon imports, and similar amounts in the case of meat and coal. It is no wonder that certain sections of the shipping industry are by no means prosperous.
We find ourselves in this position as regards the fiscal policy of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has no confidence in Free Trade, the Prime Minister has no confidence in Protection, and the President of the Board of Trade has less confidence in national development schemes; and I am anxious to know whether the Minister of Health is going to tell us of anything in which any Minister in this Government has any confidence, except the capitalist system which has produced all the problems with which they are confronted. The Government during the past four years have used every card in the political pack. Now, apparently, they are relying on some confidence trick, and we are anxious to see what it is. In any case this is their system. It is a system that has produced unemployment, and they are responsible for and to its victims in all parts of the country. It does not matter whether or not they persist in supporting or preserving Capitalism or any other ism; they have the responsibility for about 20,000,000 of our people, and something infinitely more tangible than the progress they have so far made ought to have been forthcoming in this Debate.
They have had four years of office, with unlimited dictatorial power. Their main proposals have been applied in some form 786 or other. When they were returned in 1931, they asked us to wait until the World Economic Conference arrived, when they would remove all world obstacles, and would usher in a new heaven and a new earth. Then, of course, Ottawa was going to be a bright Imperial spot. The application of Protection would put on the final touch. All these things have been attempted, and we ought to see exactly what the net result has been. There are committees, commissions and commissioners—a sort of faith, hope and charity—but we are still confronted by those 2,000,000. I want to make a very brief reference to the efforts that the Government have made and how they have made them. The ex-Prime Minister, referring to the World Economic Conference, said:I place great reliance, great hopes upon the World Economic Conference.Later he said:We must not fail.Later still he said:The Conference is going on. It is as lively in spirit as any I have seen. It has sat down to business.The next that we heard of the Conference was the then Prime Minister reading the funeral ovation. Apparently the World Economic Conference was drowned in its own spirit, and, so far, nothing further has been heard of it. Then we had the Ottawa Agreements. I regret that the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley) has left his place. The President of the Board of Trade, the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade boasted in June or July, when dealing with the Board of Trade Estimates this year, of the marvellous results of the Ottawa Agreements, and the hon. Member for Stretford made reference to them also. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman has sat down to examine the figures and see what they really mean in terms of trade and employment, and how nearly our 1929 or 1930 trade with the Dominions has been restored. The Parliamentary Secretary, in the course of the Debate, gave a multitude of figures which nobody could follow, and on the face of it it did appear as though wonderful progress had been made; but what are the facts?
The President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary declared that, while our exports to six countries, Canada, Australia, New Zea- 787 land, India, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, in 1932 were little more than £100,000,000, by 1934, as a result, it was declared, of the Ottawa Agreements, our exports to those countries had gone up to £126,000,000, a colossal increase of no less than 26 per cent. Those figures were perfectly accurate, but what did they mean in fact? In the first place, the President of the Board of Trade started in 1932, when our exports to those countries were the lowest for, perhaps, 10 or 20 years. He made his start right at the bottom of the trough, and declared that there was a wonderful increase of 26 per cent. in two years. But to those six countries, to which we sent in 1934 £126,000,000 worth of goods, we sent in 1929 £222,000,000 worth; so that, despite the Ottawa Agreements, despite all the efforts of the Government, we are a very long way from the normal trade of 1929, and it seems to me that there is little to boast about in that particular. I hope the hon. Member will look up these figures before he repeats the statement he made to-day, and gloats over the magnificent results of the Ottawa Agreements.
The Government applied Protection in 1932, and again we heard the President of the Board of Trade telling the House of the magnificent results of the application of Protection. I do not want to worry the House with a large number of figures, but it is interesting to note that, despite the application of their full fiscal and other economic and Imperial policy, in the present year, 1935, the estimate of our exports is round about £410,000,000 to £420,000,000 worth of goods. In 1929, however, which I repeat was regarded as a normal year, our exports were £729,000,000, and the increase in 1935 as compared with 1932, when the world was at the bottom of the trade trough, is round about £50,000,000. That is not necessarily due at all to Protection; it is largely due to a general improvement in world trade; but, if the same rate of progress is to be maintained, namely, £50,000,000 in three years, until we get back to the 1929 figures, it will be another 18 years before our exports reach £729,000,000, and in those 18 years scientific progress will be such that we shall have 18,000,000 people out of work. That seems to be the maximum that the Government hope for at the moment.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I entirely agree with all the figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman, but he left out one. We are today, in our exports, enjoying a greater percentage of world trade than we were in 1932, and also a greater percentage than we were enjoying in 1929.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
After all, the hon. Gentleman's correction, if it can be termed a correction, really means nothing as applied to the problems confronting this country. Even the Minister of Health, though he is too old a Parliamentarian to attempt to reply to any of the substantial points that have been raised, would find it extremely difficult to satisfy Members sitting in any part of the House who have any feeling for those 2,000,000 people who are unemployed and for those untold numbers 'who will subsequently become unemployed as a result of the further use of mechanisation and applied science. The problem here seems to me to be that, with such results, Members of the Government should be so satisfied, so happy, so indifferent to this great human problem; but that seems to be the only thing one can extract from their speeches and their general demeanour.
We have seen the results of the World Economic Conference, the Ottawa Agreements and the application of Protection. What about home trade? In 1934 the President of the Board of Trade said that our home market had reached the point of saturation. A few months since he said we had not quite reached saturation point, but he could only express himself in terms of restrained optimism. In point of fact, he did not expect that our home internal trade would expand very much more. What is he willing to do for the purpose of stimulating home trade? He is now a supporter of Protection but he has no confidence in Protection. He thinks our home market has reached saturation point and yet, when confronted with the question of public development schemes, he said, "We are abandoning this policy once and for all." Where, therefore, do the Government stand? It seems to me that they have only one policy, a policy of trading estates or a policy of transfer, which they explain in about 17 different languages. Even their policy of transfer is sabotaged by another policy pursued by the Government. There are voluntary agencies in various parts of the country attempting 789 to transfer unemployed persons from distressed areas to less distressed areas. They take first a son or daughter, for whom they find employment, and then they endeavour to transport the families of the young men and women for whom work and houses have been found, but the moment the voluntary agency wants to transfer the family the Government means test commences to apply. The transfer policy is a hopeless proposition so long as the means test remains in existence. The ex-Prime Minister, who has no solution for any one of these problems, declared in 1933 that:If the greater facility of mechanical invention means a greater volume of production with a substantially less number of employed, we shall have to face a very serious problem of permanent unemployment.He seems to have settled down to that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said not too long since that there was little or no hope of reducing the unemployment figures to low numbers for about 10 years. The present Prime Minister is as optimistic as his colleagues. What are we to expect? The Minister of Health might tell us all about it. He is a very useful servant to the Tory Party in the propaganda department and every other department. Now that their general fiscal, Imperial and other policies have been applied, and they have no belief or confidence in one fiscal system or the other, or in schemes of national development, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what the Government intend to do during the next four years to avoid an increased rate of unemployment instead of the decrease that they hope for but never expect to get. We have almost reached the stage where the word "Ichabod" ought to be written over the Tory headquarters.
I want to make two very brief references to questions relating to drainage in various parts of the country. The Ouse Catchment Board operates in one of the most difficult areas in the country from the point of view of lack of drainage. Schemes have been produced and ultimately the Board has satisfied the Minister that the work ought to be undertaken at once. I am only referring to it as one of the schemes which might have been dealt with years since but which the Government in their stupidity have refused to take in hand. The Catchment Board has now produced a scheme which 790 the Minister of Agriculture has accepted, but he only offers a grant of a third of the total of £1,190,000. He knows that the county borough councils are hostile to the scheme because they know they will have to pay some £600,000 of the total expenditure. Therefore work is held up. Will the Minister of Health not consult with the Minister of Agriculture and see whether they cannot effect a compromise with the county boroughs by increasing the grant, no matter how slightly or how largely, so that, instead of the work being spread over 10 or 15 years, it may be put in hand at once? Three times in 18 months thousands of people have been homeless. We do not want to see a repetition of that. If the work is to be held up for 15 years, all the people in the area will be drowned before the scheme is finally undertaken.
There is the case of the 3,000 acres of land in Hampshire to which so much publicity has been given. Dr. Addison suggested that power should be taken to deal with any land where the owner refused to utilise it himself or to allow other people to make use of it. He was sneered at and the Land Utilisation Act has been disregarded by past Governments and, so far, by the present Government. Will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Minister of Agriculture whether he will utilise the Land Utilisation Act to take over the 3,000 acres from this absentee owner in Hampshire so that useful work can be found for people who are really anxious to get back to work as soon as possible?
Another question that I should like to put is in reference to credit as affecting Russian trade. It is well known that during all the years that Government guarantees have been made Russia has never once defaulted. It is, as the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby)) says, the one country to which we may supply for long periods large quantities of capital goods. I believe it is the stupidity of hon. Members sitting behind Ministers who have intimidated them into withholding decent terms to Russia. Conditions have changed in that country. While in 1931 they were indebted to foreign countries to the extent of £140,000,000, their liabilities to-day are less than £12,000,000. It is no longer necessary, therefore, for them to pay 11 per cent. for guarantees of credit and discounting their bills, for they can pick 791 and Choose in the world markets where the best terms can be obtained. The opportunity is there and the Government ought to take it. They ought very largely to expand our trade with that country and provide a goodly proportion of work for our people. With regard to the Amendment before the House, it will be helpful to remove international obstacles but it will not be a solution. To initiate national schemes of development will also be helpful but will not be a solution. Unless and until this or some other Government will go a long way towards reducing rents, interest and profits and increasing the spending power of the multitude of workers we shall still have a large army of unemployed. For that reason we shall not oppose the Amendment but we shall not support it in the belief that it is going to solve all our problems.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
In the early part of the hon. Member's speech there kept coming back to my mind a remark made by the seconder of the Amendment that under-consumption was really the cause of unemployment. I believe we all make a wrong approach to the problem of unemployment. That is the assumption that the objects of human life and of the State is to find everybody work. I am sure if we would only approach the problem from a new angle and try to increase consumption, in the process of doing that we should largely solve unemployment. I seemed to detect also in the hon. Gentleman's speech the idea that there is only a limited fund of wealth or money and that, therefore, you must abolish the profits in order that there should be more money or wealth available to the mass of the people. I am sure that that also is a wrong approach. The proper angle from which to look at the problem is that there is a vast untapped reservoir of wealth in potential production which must immensely increase year by year, and that we must rid our mind of the conception of a limited amount of wealth which has to be shared out.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
Surely the hon. Member is not representing me accurately. My point was that, if your machine is so capable of producing in large quantities but the spending power is not there so that the goods can be 792 consumed, unemployment will become inevitable and, even if you export goods which cannot be consumed here because of the absence of spending value, you cannot even buy the goods that are imported.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I have not time to follow the hon. Member in his argument, but if he will refer to former speeches of mine he will find I have expressed much the same idea he has just now. I intervene in the Debate because for many months past if have been struggling with the problem of international trade. I realise that it is so intensely linked up with the question of peace and war. I have felt for some time, and have expressed it in this House and in every newspaper that I could get it into, that unless we arrange to allow the discontented nations, Germany, Japan, Italy, to import freely we are bound to intensify the position in such a way as to lead probably to world war. I have come to the House to these debates on the Address hoping to find definite ideas which would help to solve the problem, but I have not heard any practical proposals. I have listened to the official criticism of the Labour party and it boils down to this, that the only solution is international Socialism, but surely, even if one admitted—and I do not admit it—it is a counsel of utter despair, because the economic pressure in Japan, Italy and Germany is increasing month by month. We see the pressure forcing action by Japan in China and by Germany and Italy elsewhere, and something has to be done within the next year or so, otherwise that pressure will lead to war. Incidentally the Attorney-General pointed out that the semi-Socialist States to-day had not solved the problem. I would add that every country has to contribute something to the solution, and that the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics could make a very big contribution. Italy has to import raw materials in increasing quantities year by year to keep up the standard of life of her people, poor as it is. She can obtain many of those raw materials from Russia, and it would be interesting to know whether the Government of that great country is willing, as a contribution to the peace settlement to-day, to make an offer to Italy and say, "We will take your machines and your manufactured goods, and when peace is re-established 793 we will take these in payment for the raw materials, metals and oils and so on which we have in abundance and can export to you."
I listened to the speech of the Mover of the Amendment, the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), and I frankly confess that I was disappointed. I had hoped for some definite proposals to cure, or to suggest the lines of cure of this cancer which is destroying the peace of the world, and I could not find any. I wanted to know, for instance, the attitude with regard to the necessity of establishing some international currency and price stabilisation. What is his proposal? Does he believe in going back and stabilising on the old Gold Standard? Does he believe that the United States will de-sterilise gold, coin it, mint it, issue it and raise prices in the United States, stop their export trade, and import vast quantities of manufactures? That is the only way it can be established, paying for them by the export of their gold, and I do not think that you would find the States will do it.
Take another question. What about prices? International conferences constantly point out that the price level of commodities and raw materials is too low. What is the policy behind the Amendment on this matter? Does the hon. Gentleman propose to do anything about international debts? The hon. Member pointed out that the economic blizzard of 1930 had caused high tariffs and protection everywhere. What was the cause of the economic blizzard? Was it not possibly due to the vast mass of international debts of all kinds and to the fact that the creditor nations would not receive goods in payment? Can he give us any indication of how to restore the international trade? It is no use talking of lowering tariffs to-day unless you settle simultaneously the question of international exchange and assure debtor nations that their financial systems will not be wrecked in future by the power of the creditor nations to demand gold in lieu of goods in payment. I notice that an hon. Friend opposite is very impatient, and rightly so, but I have put these points forward because I feel intensely that we have to get international trade going in much greater abundance than we ever imagined in the past. We have to give every nation the assurance that it will be able to import its necessities 794 if it works and produces exports for them.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
I never mentioned tariffs once during the Election. That is utterly beside the point. We have to devise something new, and I can only lay down certain principles which I think might help. The principles I would suggest are, first, the old truism that exports can and must be paid for by imports, that any nation exporting goods must be prepared, directly or indirectly, to take the goods offered in payment by the importing nation. If you accept that principle ipso facto it stops the creation of new international debts and the trading in gold, which is what I desire. It means that you have an international money system which will force the exporting nations to take payment in the currency of the importing nation which it can only use for the purchasing of the goods of the importing nation. What I suggest is that with a very greatly increased flow of international trade allowing for the fullest export—and the only object of export is to import for the requirements of the people—you must have a technique which will allow very full imports without damaging essential home industries. I am not speaking of this country only, because in every country of the world people have discovered that modern mass production machinery enables them to produce a greater abundance of wealth in manufactured goods than is produced by mere agricultural goods. We shall have to invent that technique, and I should be quite willing to consider even such things as import boards—I know that that might be called Socialistic, but it does not matter. I believe that we shall come to that ultimately in the Milk Marketing Board—with the control of imports as well as home production.
My final point is that imports and international trade on a large scale would be for the benefit of humanity. It would mean in every country in the world—not in this country only—a very great increase in the standard of living. That is inevitable. That brings me back to my original point that if you seek to increase consumption you will solve, in the process of doing it, both the problem of international trade and the problem of unemployment. I will con- 795 clued with this remark which, I hope, will not give offence to hon. Members opposite. In listening to these Debates, both in this Parliament and the last, I have felt that we were hampered by the inheritance of the 19th century ideas. I feel that many minds are closed because they brood over and hold to the fixed dogmas of that very dogmatic century. [An HON. MEMBER: "Such as?"] The Opposition, the Labour party, inherited from the 19th century all the fixed dogmas of Marx. The Liberal Opposition inherited, I will not say dogmas but the tendency towards international Free Trade. I believe that all those doctrines are out of date in this new and modern world where science is daily increasing the productive power, and where the possibilities of science in the next few years are colossal. We have to approach these problems with new minds. Therefore, I support the National Government because we have full liberty to discard old fixed ideas and to put forward any ideas which we believe will contribute to the advancement of this country and the world.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. DINGLE FOOT
We on these benches entirely accept the definition that the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) gave just now of our attitude as a tendency towards a freer international trade. The House ought to be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts)—and I should like to add my congratulations upon that admirable maiden speech we have heard to-day—for introducing a note of reality into this Debate on the Address. I must say that we on these benches have listened with a certain amount of impatience to the rather academic Debate on Socialism and anti-Socialism which we have heard during the past five or six days. We had a speech yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) whom we are all glad to see back in this House. After having given an exposition of Socialist principles, he devoted a part of his speech to proving how very Socialistic were some of the leaders of the present administration. I entirely agree with him. If one 796 wished to see how close the two Front Benches above the Gangway are drawing, one has only to look at the words used last night by the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of foreign trade. He said:If our industries were publicly owned the controversy about tariffs would go. We should control our import and export trade as a nation. If we wanted to import we should import, and if we did not want to import we should not import. That would be an infinitely more straightforward way of doing things than tariffs and quotas and subsidies or agreements between capitalists themselves."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 9th December, 1935; cols. 679–80, Vol. 307.]I take it from that that the right hon. Gentleman was advocating a system of import boards, but for the life of me I cannot see how that system is any different in principle from the system of import quotas which has been practised by the present Government for the best part of the last three years. There may be certain differences in machinery, I agree, but in each case you have the regimentation of trade. Whether it be an import board or a quota you have someone in authority, the Minister in one case and the board in the other to decide exactly how much bacon we should purchase from the Danes in any given year and how much meat from Argentina. The machinery is different, but I submit to the House that there is absolutely no difference in principle. If the result had been different and the party above the Gangway had made their way as a result of the election on to the Treasury Bench, there would not have been very much difference in the trade policy of this country and the people would have soon found that new Morrison was only old Elliot writ small.
In this Amendment we are putting forward an entirely different point of view from that of the Government or of the party above the Gangway. We are asking for greater freedom of trade and for a greater stimulus to industry within our own frontiers. It is useless to deny—and we do not seek to deny it—that the Government have won a great victory at the polls and a very much greater victory than most people expected. I share the view that has been expressed by a number of hon. Members in this Debate that really what it amounted to was a vote of confidence in the Prime Minister. I think that the Government would be making a great mistake if they took it 797 as being a complete endorsement of every item in their programme and in their record. Some hon. Members during the last day or two have pointed out quite rightly that there was scarcely anyone in the industrial constituencies, whether they were for the Government or whether they were against it, who had defended the way in which the means test is being administered in their particular division. I do not suppose that there is an hon. Member opposite, except hon. and right hon. Members who sit on the Treasury Bench, who would go to his division and say that he was entirely satisfied with the administration in his own part of the country.
I give that only as an example. I think there has been and there is now a very strong feeling not only on this side of the House but on the other side as well that we need a very much more vigorous policy in order to stimulate industrial recovery in this country. We do not deny that there has been a reduction in unemployment and that there has been a certain measure of trade recovery. The Government may take credit for that, as they did most successfully at the General Election. I have never sought to deny that there has been a considerable reduction in the figures on the live register, but the effects of that recovery, such as it is, are not felt equally over the country. There is still a very great disparity not only between the depressed areas and the rest of the country but between one part of the country and another. In Greater London only one in 14 of the industrial population is now unemployed; in Scotland the proportion is one in five, in Wales one in three, and we have heard in this Debate that there are a great many areas where the proportion is very much larger than that.
If you want to see the other side of the picture you have only to look at the very ominous rise that has taken place in the last three or four years in the figures of those drawing Poor Law relief. In my constituency, in September, 1931, the number of those drawing poor relief, with their dependants, was 4,158, and in September of this year it was 8,737, an increase of more than double. If you take the whole of Scotland the figure for 1931 was 189,661 and in September of this year 341,654, an increase of something in the neighbourhood of 80 per cent.—[An HON. MEMBER: "Ninety- 798 three per cent."]—in the numbers of those who, with their dependants, were living on Poor Law relief in Scotland. I am not making the error of saying that those figures are necessarily additional to the figures on the live register. I admit that the figures are not strictly comparable. While a certain number may have been re-absorbed into employment the fact remains that the Poor Law figures, which have increased so steadily in the last three or four years, throw a very sinister light on the condition of those who are so unfortunate as to remain unemployed. It also shows that their position is deteriorating and that whatever may be happening to their more fortunate comrades they themselves are sinking deeper and deeper into misery and destitution.
We are putting forward the proposition, which we shall continue to put forward in season and out of season during the lifetime of the present Parliament, that the only permanent way to bring back prosperity to this country is by recapturing our overseas markets. We are told of the comparatively trifling improvements which have taken place from month to month. In the first 10 months of 1929, up to the end of October, British exports, in round figures, were of the value of £701,000,000. In the first 10 months of this year the figure was £396,000,000, leaving a deficit compared with 1929 of £304,000,000. One does not have to look very much further than that to see the reason why we have still a very high unemployment figure in Scotland, Wales, and in many other industrial districts of this country which used to live by export trade. Whenever this point is made by Liberal speakers some spokesman for the Government is sure to respond by talking about trade agreements. We cannot help feeling that these trade agreements have a much greater political value than they have a commercial value. They figure very largely in the speeches of the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade or, if they do not put them in their speeches, they put them in their letters, because they are most accomplished letter writers.
Let us look at the value of these agreements. They have been the stock-in-trade of Government speakers for two or three years. Whenever the question of overseas trade is raised in the House or in the country these trade agreements with 799 foreign countries are trotted out. Let me take the trade agreement countries. I am not now referring to the Ottawa Agreements, which have been referred to by speakers from these benches, but the trade agreements with foreign countries. I have worked out the figures of nearly all the trade agreements made since 1933, and it is a fair comparison, if we want some idea of the value of these agreements, to compare the figures of British exports in 1932 with the figures in 1934. In 1932 our exports to the trade agreement countries amounted in value to 118.87 million pounds and in 1934 to 125.64 million pounds, an increase in those years for all the trade agreement countries of 6.77 million pounds. I want to be perfectly fair to the Government. I admit that those figures include Soviet Russia and Germany. There were particular circumstances in connection with Soviet Russia and Germany, the embargo, in one case, which was imposed in 1933 for a short time, and the peculiar economic conditions in Germany. Therefore, we can leave out of account Soviet Russia and Germany. In each of those cases there has been a decrease. Leaving Soviet Russia and Germany out of account and taking the other trade agreement countries, our increase in exports in 1934 as compared with 1932 was only 12.18 million pounds. I am not saying that that amount of extra trade is not worth having, but it is a perfectly fantastic argument to trot out when the Government are asked what they are going to do to recapture the £300,000,000 of export trade that we have lost since 1929. Additional export trade of £12,000,000 is a mere flea-bite compared with the trade lost during the past six years.
The question that I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply is, how much further this process of trade agreements is going to go? We were told at Question Time to-day that negotiations are now proceeding with Peru and the Dutch East Indies. How many other trade agreements do the Government contemplate? How many invitations have they received from foreign countries and in how many cases will they themselves take the initiative in opening conversations with a view to trade agreements? There has been some reference in the Debate to the United 800 States of America, where President Roosevelt has taken powers from Congress to cut his tariff by 50 per cent. in making trade agreements. The United States has been making trade agreements throughout last year. She has already made agreements with seven countries, including European countries, and is in process of making several more. Why cannot we do something in that direction? If we could get a trade agreement with the United States, that very great market in which we used to sell such a large quantity of our manufactured goods, it would be worth more to British industry, particularly the textile industries, than all the former trade agreements put together. Why is it that no attempt to bring about such an agreement has so far been made by His Majesty's Government?
Let me say a few words on what was said by the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Crossley). He said that the proposal put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland would involve the cancellation of the Most Favoured Nation Clause. We wish to make it clear that the cancellation of the Most Favoured Nation Clause altogether is not what we desire, but if the process of trade agreements is to be carried much further it does seem obvious to me, and I think a great many other hon. Members take the same view, that we shall have to have some modification of the Most Favoured Nation Clause. I am speaking from memory, because I did not know that the point was to be raised, but I think it will be found that such an exception was made when trade agreements were made in 1923 with the Baltic countries, Esthonia and Latvia. Those agreements were excepted from our most-favoured nation rights. It is along those lines of special exception in the case of commercial agreements, particularly multilateral agreements, that we can best get round the Most Favoured Nation Clause.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Has the hon. Member considered how such exceptions could be carried so far without immediately raising up retaliation on the part of other countries? My belief is that you cannot bring about these exceptions without almost immediately raising widespread retaliation on the part of other countries with whom we trade.
§ Mr. FOOT
Probably so if you proceeded only by way of bilateral agreements, but the risk would be very much less if you proceeded by means of multilateral agreements. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman in his reply will tell us whether the Government have entirely ruled out of consideration proceeding by multilateral trade agreements. We put this forward as the long-term policy, and as we believe the only effective long-term policy, for reviving industry and employment in this country. I am not going to deal with the proposals for national development which have been made from these benches. There are hon. Members in all parts of the House familiar with their own district who could of their own knowledge mention projects which would enrich the country and would have the effect, at any rate for a time, of diminishing unemployment. The sum total of our policy as expressed in our Amendment is that we want to see a policy adopted which will not restrict enterprise but will encourage it. Right through the last Parliament the keynote of the policy generally associated with the Minister of Agriculture was restriction. Again and again the emphasis was laid on restriction of production. Powers were given to the Minister or to a marketing board to say to the farmer: "You shall not be allowed to produce more than a basic quantity." That is a policy which we wholly reject and which we did reject in the last Parliament. We want to see a consumers' policy such as the one advocated by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) a few days ago and by my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland in his maiden speech to-day.
I do not want to stand between the House and the Minister of Health, but I should like to make one further reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Stretford. He stated that during the Election he did not answer the question of the Council of Action. He said that he was asked to pledge himself to follow the majority decision of the group, and that he would be abandoning his representative function if he did so.
§ Mr. FOOT
That he would be abandoning his right of free representation. I sent for a copy of the questionnaire, and I gather that his objection was to 802 the third question in the questionnaire. The third question reads like this:Do you pledge yourself that you will on all occasions consistently support and vote for this policy even should the Government of the day fail or refuse to carry it out?
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
That is in conjunction with the second question, which says that you pledge yourself to agree to work in co-operation with the decisions of the council.
§ Mr. FOOT
The second question was:Will you, to whatever party you belong, join an inter-party group of members similarly pledged and undertake on all issues which concern the carrying into effect of this policy to act in conjunction and co-operation with that group to bring, the utmost pressure to bear on the Government to implement the policy?The hon. Member was asked to commit himself not to a caucus or to any group to decide on a policy, but to say whether he would work with an inter-party group in order to see the policy carried out.
§ Mr. FOOT
I myself never had any doubt about the meaning of the questionnaire, but I imagine that there were people who had the same doubts as the hon. Member. Before I dealt with the questionnaire I got into touch with the organisation and asked whether there had at any time been any question of giving orders to Members of Parliament or tell them what interpretation they should put on the policy should they be returned. I was told that it had never been under consideration, that there was no question of issuing a Whip or giving orders to anybody.
§ Mr. FOOT
The answer is that it did not. If the hon. and gallant Member 803 looks he will find that that phrase does not occur anywhere. We are putting forward the Liberal Amendment to the Address, and we make no sort of apology for putting it down or taking up the time of the House in discussing it. If we were not here in this House the voice of Liberalism would never be heard within these walls. Yesterday we had a speech from the right hon. Member for South Hackney and a very moving peroration. He told us all that Socialism meant to him. I ask hon. Members above the Gangway to believe me when I say that to us Liberalism means just as much and is just as vital as Socialism is to them. After the General Election we cannot help being conscious—naturally I am—of certain gaps which have been created in our ranks. In several cases our colleagues in the last Parliament were defeated not by candidates of the Labour party but by candidates belonging to the Conservative party. We bear the Conservatives no sort of malice on account of that. Representing as they do an entirely different creed and point of view, they are entitled to oppose us if they choose and beat us if they can. We shall endeavour in the constituencies concerned to overturn the result at the first opportunity. Meanwhile we can congratulate them on their temporary success.
But we cannot congratulate them on their allies during the General Election, some of whom, while protesting their own devotion to Liberalism, did all they could to bring about the defeat of Liberal candidates in other constituencies. We had a speech the other day from the Home Secretary. He is very good at quoting the former speeches of other people. Let me give one or two quotations from his own utterances. On 8th November, 1935, as reported in the "Manchester Guardian" the right hon. Gentleman said:He admitted that there were too many Conservative members in the House of Commons.It will be interesting to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether that is still his view. Although he was of the opinion that there were too many Conservative members in the House of Commons he nevertheless sent his letter or, shall I say, his coupon to the whole of the 450 Conservative candidates who stood at the Election. How true it is of the right hon. Gentle- 804 man and his followers that circumstances alter cases. The Home Secretary a day or two ago in this House said:It is idle to argue in what proportions you are going to find this or that party in support of this Government of national co-operation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th December, 1935; col. 166, Vol. 307.]The right hon. Gentleman did not always take that view. I have here an extract from a speech he made on 8th December, 1918, as reported in the "Times." Speaking at York he said:Mr. Lloyd George had complained of the unreasonableness of the criticism that his Government was likely to prove in social policy a reactionary government, but it was Mr. Lloyd George himself who had consented to the plan by which the next House of Commons should contain twice as many Tories as Liberals.I wonder what the Home Secretary would have said if the proportion had not been two to one, but ten to one. But that was the arrangement to which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues lent themselves at the last General Election. Let me say a final word about our own position. I know that in our endeavour to rebuild the party and the movement to which we belong we shall have many obstacles and difficulties to encounter in the next few years, but we comfort ourselves with the reflection that we can look back on a very long history and that these things have sometimes happened before; yet we have always managed to survive. The Prime Minister is fond of quoting from Sidney Smith. Let me also quote from Sidney Smith, who in referring to the state of affairs a century ago said:From the beginnings of the century to the death of Lord Liverpool was an awful period for those who ventured to maintain Liberal opinions, and who were too honest to sell them for the ermine of the judge or the lawn of the prelate. A long and hopeless career in your profession, the chuckling grin of the noodles, the sarcastic leer of the genuine political rogue.That might almost have been written of the present time. Whatever may be said of us and whatever gibes may be cast at us on the smallness of our numbers we shall continue to make our own independent and individual contribution to the proceedings of this House. We shall continue to resist on every occasion we can the growing powers of the executive and its growing stranglehold over Parliamentary government in this country. As we are doing in this 805 Amendment we shall lose no opportunity of insisting on the vital importance to this country of expanding our overseas markets, and in the meantime of using every effort in order to expand our own national resources and bring immediate relief to the unemployed and the depressed areas. We have had many invitations issued to us during the last few days—one was issued across the Floor of the House to-day. We decline all these invitations without thanks. We propose to preserve our separate identity as a political movement. We do not propose to be the hangers-on or the galley slaves of any other political party. Although there may be temporarily only a small handful of Liberals in this House we are yet able to sayAll is not lost,Our banner torn, though flyingStreams like a thundercloud against the wind.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Kingsley Wood)
Something seems to have gone wrong with the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Dingle Foot). I do not propose to follow him in the latter part of his speech because I have only a few minutes left in which to reply, and other important matters are to be raised this evening. We have had a most interesting Debate and an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Northern Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts). He certainly did not address the House in anything like the spirit of the junior Member for Dundee. His speech was very interesting because it was a surprise to me to find that there had been a Liberal win in any part of the country. The hon. Member is responsible for that occurrence. He gave us two reasons for his victory; and I would remind Liberal Members that neither one of his reasons had anything whatever to do with their programme. He said that he won because there were a number of disaffected farmers and a certain amount of disappointment in certain special areas, but he did not claim—and I was not surprised—that his victory was in any way due to any particular Liberal programme or policy. After hearing the hon. Member my own view is that it was largely his own personality and powers which secured him his seat. I am sure that we are all glad to have him in the House of Commons, especially as some of 806 us remember his father who served here and did such fine work.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) opened the Debate in a moderate and persuasive speech. I must comment upon one or two statements which he made. He said that during the last two days we have debated the question of Socialism and Capitalism but had reached no definite conclusion. I must remind him, as he and his friends apparently have forgotten the fact, that there was a Division last night in which victory was secured against Socialism by 242 votes. I was surprised to hear an hon. Member on the Labour side say that they were going to vote for the Liberal Amendment because they did not believe in it. Certainly that is a handsome return as far as the Labour party are concerned. I am sure we all regret, especially as this Amendment has come from the Liberal benches, the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He ought to be piloting this Amendment. We have heard many statements during this Debate about what people said in the last Election, but I think the most poetic utterance of all was the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to the effect that the result of the Election meant that winter was not over, that there was still a keen chill in the air and spring had not yet arrived. I suppose it is in consequence of that fact that the right hon. Gentleman has quite properly gone to a much warmer climate.
I wish to comment on one or two of the statements in this Amendment, and I must do so rather hurriedly because there is so little time at my disposal. In the first place, the Amendment complains of the absence of constructive proposals for absorbing unemployed workers into industry by initiating international co-operation for the progressive reduction of obstacles to trade. I have listened carefully this afternoon to hear what are the complaints of hon. Members opposite and what proposals they themselves have to make in reference to this matter. As I understand the position, the programme of the Government has been before the country and has been adopted by a large majority and I think it is now the responsibility of anyone who wants to make any suggestion concerning it or to displace it, to state exactly what their own pro- 807 posals are. Having heard what the hon. Member for East Birkenhead had to propose it seemed to me that it all came to some suggestion, very ill-defined, of a conference in some part of the world or another. With that single exception I have heard nothing definite proposed this afternoon by hon. Members opposite. I would remind them, on the other hand, of the real efforts which were made for such a conference by a man who was held in very high respect in this House, the late Mr. William Graham. He worked hard for a tariff truce conference and actually got one convened in Geneva in February, 1930. It is interesting to recall that as a result of that conference a Convention was drawn up under which the Powers concerned were to pledge themselves not to increase the existing protective duties for a period of years, but by January, 1931, only 12 States had agreed to ratify that Convention, while 10 had made increases in their tariffs during the progress of the negotiations, three of these having conditionally signed the Convention. The project, as hon. Members will recall, was abandoned owing to the impossibility of reaching agreement.
What have been the results of our own tariff policy and of the agreements which we have made with 19 other countries It is all very well to criticise what has been accomplished, but it would be better if those who have criticisms to offer had also practical suggestions to make. I have obtained from my right hon. Friend figures showing the results of the 19 agreements which have been secured by the Government during the last two years and which have led to the reduction of foreign tariffs, the repayment of debts due to United Kingdom traders and the provision of exchange to pay for current trade. These results are very interesting and are well worth having from the point of view of the country as a whole. In the first six months of 1935, the exports to the foreign countries with which agreements were then in operation, were greater by over £7,500,000, or 17 per cent., than they were in the first half of 1933, when these agreements were not in operation. Compare that result with the increase in exports to other foreign countries, which was £5,000,000, or only 9½ per cent.
I can assure those who have submitted this Amendment that in carrying out this 808 method of agreements we are following out the desire of the League of Nations Assembly itself, which passed a resolution in September, 1935, saying that in their judgment this was one of the best ways of achieving the object which we all desire. I sum up on this point by saying that our tariff policy and the trade agreements that have followed it have achieved several things. They have checked the upward tendency of foreign tariffs against us; our adverse balance of payments has been wiped out; and we have again become the foremost exporter of manufactured goods in the world. Our employed population is the highest ever recorded, and, on top of it all, the import duties are contributing some £30,000,000 annually to the national revenue. That is an achievement which I am sure the House as a whole would not desire to minimise, as hon. Gentlemen opposite seek to do.
I turn now to the last part of the Amendment, which complains of the absence of a comprehensive policy of national development. What I heard on that subject this afternoon seemed to me to be our old friend "We Can Conquer Unemployment," all over again. As regards the policy of the Government, we, equally with every other section in the House, desire to develop and to reorganise wherever necessary our national resources and to improve national conditions. Inasmuch as I have been invited to state the policy of the Government in this matter, I desire at once to say that finance need be no obstacle to any sound and solid scheme. That statement, of course, could not have been made two years ago. It can only be made now because, thanks to the efforts of the Government in many respects, confidence has been restored, our credit is good and money is plentiful.
Questions have been put concerning the action which the Government propose to take in regard to particular schemes, but as I have only a few minutes left I must confine myself to one matter in regard to which a great contribution has been made to the employment situation in the country. I refer to the present housing position. I make this assertion—that the Government's policy in this respect has had a profound effect in decreasing unemployment. Building generally, and particularly house-building, is now producing results and providing employment on a scale hitherto unknown. At the end of 809 June in this year the number of people insured in the building trade and at work had reached the figure of 865,290. That, I think, is a wonderful contribution. It has been suggested by various speakers during the last two or three days that there is some danger of the Government's efforts in this direction being relaxed. Such, of course, is not the case. It is true that the demand for houses for sale may be less during the next year or so. But, to counteract that, we must take into account, in calculating whether our building activity will continue or not and in making an estimate for the next three years, the various plans that we have in connection with slum clearance and the relief of overcrowding.
I hope I am not too optimistic, but I do not think it would be unreasonable to say that there is every possibility that we shall have, at any rate, the same amount of house building in one form or another during the next three years as we have had in the past few years. I think that activity will be directed in the right directions and will meet a great need of the present time. Many people have spoken of the need which exists for houses to let at rents which will be within the means of the lower paid workers. I assure the House that I shall do all I can to help in the achievement of this important object. I am sure it will be gratifying to hon. Members, in whatever part of the House they may sit, to learn that small houses to let at low rents are now being erected at the rate of 90,000 a year, a higher rate than has been recorded at any previous time. That, I suggest, shows the right tendency in more than one respect because of the 90,000 houses 40,000 are being built by private enterprise and are small houses of the "C" class. I shall be publishing to-morrow a return showing that this output may be expected to increase steadily, the last week in November having been particularly productive, not only in the case of the large authorities but in the case of a number of the small authorities distributed all over the country.
I think I can also make this statement: It can now be said that houses provided in relation to slum clearance and relief of overcrowding will be available at lower rents than have been practicable under any previous scheme. What is equally important, they will be made 810 available for those who are now living under bad housing conditions, which could not have been said about other housing accommodation provided with the State assistance by local authorities. It has not always been the people who have the greatest need who have secured the accommodation provided. The House can be assured that in our slum clearance scheme and in our work to abolish overcrowding we shall proceed vigorously in the direction I have indicated. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead expressed the hope that it would not be necessary to wait until next year for plans for dealing with overcrowding. I have already suggested to local authorities that they should not wait for the result of the survey that is being made before they present their proposals and I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that already a number of authorities have placed proposals before us.
The hon. Member asked another important question which has also been put by many other people who are interested in housing. It has been pointed out that generous subsidies are to be given in the case of flats built for the purpose of reducing overcrowding—and in the case of flats the subsidy is, of course, automatic, because they cannot be built to let at the required rents without State assistance—and the question has been asked, "What about cottages?" Cottages are, of course in a different position, but I can say this to the House that the Act enables ample subsidies to be paid wherever they are needed, and there is certainly no bias in my mind in favour of flats as against cottages. I believe that I shall administer that part of the Act in a spirit which will commend itself to the House.
Questions have been asked in relation to the health proposals of the Government. They are very germane to a discussion on national development, because our plans are of little avail unless we build up on the foundation of a healthy, vigorous and educated nation, and it is for that reason that the Government have given prominence in their programme to an ordered plan for the improvement of the health and social services. In my judgment the fact that so many women die in child-birth is a tragedy. While the causes of our comparative failure in this matter are not yet fully understood, we are giving unremitting 811 attention to that part of the problem. But we do know that there is an urgent need of a salaried midwifery service in order to ensure for every woman who requires it skilled care in child-birth. I would like to tell the House that a Bill for this purpose is now being drafted and we hope to introduce it early next year. I shall in the interval consult with the appropriate associations, including representatives of the important voluntary associations who are interested.
Another question has been put to me in relation to two other proposals the Government have made. There is a very obvious gap in our system of health insurance which we propose to fill—the period between the time when a boy or girl leaves school and his or her 16th birthday. It is a critical period for future health. They are no longer cared for by the school health service and are not yet eligible for medical benefit under the insurance service. The other proposal is in relation to the old age, widows' and orphans' contributory pensions scheme. Anxiety certainly plays a part in causing ill-health, and I hope in this matter to get support from every quarter of the House.
At present many people who work on their own account are unable to enter the pensions scheme although their circumstances do not differ from those who are eligible. We shall introduce legislation to deal with this important matter, and steps are now being taken in that particular connection. Anyone who has had experience of pension legislation knows that it is complicated, and to work out details and put the proposals in the form of a Bill must necessarily take some little time; but the necessary work is being done as rapidly as possible, and we hope to present these measures to Parliament at an early time in the Government's period of office.
I regret that I am unable, owing to the arrangements that have been made, to answer in more detail many of the matters that have been put before the House. I will endeavour to pass on the suggestions of hon. Members to my colleagues who are particularly associated with some of the proposals that have been made. I must apologise to the House for having dealt so rapidly with 812 many of the matters that have been brought forward this afternoon. I would like to give this general assurance in connection with all these points of national development. Undoubtedly the Government of the day has received an unprecedented verdict. It is in many respects a verdict also for the democratic system in this country. Everyone may have views about the result of this Election. Probably some of the most interesting views of all we shall never hear in public. One thing is clear. In an age when so many people in so many countries are either deriding or sneering at our democratic system we have given a great example to the world of how millions of people can go and vote, free, unfettered and unchallenged, and express their own decision and will. It is for the good of the country that we should have a firm and stable Government for the next four or five years. That will be of benefit not only to this country but to the world, and, speaking, I am sure, for all my colleagues, we regard this unprecedented verdict not only with some satisfaction—we are not in the habit of being unduly elated over our opponents—but as a great responsibility and a great trust, and we are determined to do our best to carry out the will of the people.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I am afraid not; I should like it myself, but the hon. Gentleman will see the long programme that we have got. There is the education programme and there is my Maternity Bill, and I cannot expect to have everything in the first year. But no time will be lost. As the hon. Gentleman knows—he is skilled in national insurance—it will take some time to work out a scheme, but I hope that we shall push forward as rapidly as Parliamentary time will allow, because I think that one of the things that has appealed to the country has been this very scheme.
§ Question put, "That those words be there added."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 143; Noes, 350.815
|Division No. 3.]||AYES.||[7.10 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Potts, J.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Price, M. P.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hurdle, G. D.||Quibell, J. D.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Ammon, C. G.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Riley, B.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Ritson, J.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Banfield, J. W.||Holland, A.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barnes, A. J.||Hollins, A.||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Barr, J.||Hopkin, D.||Rowson, G.|
|Bellenger, F.||Jagger, J. H.||Salter, Dr. A.|
|Benson, G.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Sanders, W. S.|
|Bevan, A.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Broad, F. A.||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Silverman, S. S.|
|Bromfield, W.||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Simpson, F. B.|
|Brooke, W.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Buchanan, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Burke, W. A.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Cape, T.||Kirby, B. V.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Charieton, H. C.||Kirkwood, D.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Chater, D.||Lathan, G.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leach, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Lee, F.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Compton, J.||Leonard, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Leslie, J. R.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Daggar, G.||Logan, D. G.||Thorne, W.|
|Dalton, H.||Lunn, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Viant, S. P.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||McGhee, H. G.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McGovern, J.||Walker, J.|
|Day, H.||McLaren, A.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dobbie, W.||Maclean, N.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Ede, J. C.||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Mainwaring, W. H.||White, H. Graham|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Mander, G. le M.||Whiteley, W.|
|Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Marklew, E.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Marshall, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Foot, D. M.||Mathers, G.||Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Maxton, J.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||Messer, F.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Montague, F.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Gibbins, J.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Oliver, G. H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Owen, Major G.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Paling, W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Parker, H. J. H.||Sir Percy Harris and Sir Hugh|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Parkinson, J. A.||Seely.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Boyce, H. Leslie||Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.|
|Albery, I. J.||Bracken, B.||Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Brass, Sir W.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (E'kn'hd)||Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.|
|Assheton, R.||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Craddock, Sir R. H.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Critchley, A.|
|Astor, Visc'tess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Bull, B. B.||Crooke, J. S.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Bullock, Capt. M.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Burton, Col. H. W.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Butler, R. A.||Cross, R. H.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Crossley, A. C.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Cartland, J. R. H.||Crowder, J. F. E.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Cary, R. A.||Cruddas, Col. B.|
|Balniel, Lord||Castlereagh, Viscount||Culverwell, C. T.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cautley, Sir H. S.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.|
|Barrie, Sir C. C.||Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Davison, Sir W. H.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Dawson, Sir P.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||De Chair, S. S.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||De la Bère, R.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Channon, H.||Denman, Hon. R. D.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Denville, A.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Christie, J. A.||Dodd, J. S.|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Clarke, F. E.||Donner, P. W.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Clarry, R. G.||Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.|
|Borodale, Viscount||Cobb, Sir C. S.||Dower, Capt. A. V. G.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cochrane, Comdr. Hon. A. D.||Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Colfox, Major W. P.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir G. P.||Dugdale, Major T. L.|
|Duggan, H. J.||Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Latham, Sir P.||Reid, D. D. (Down)|
|Dunglass, Lord||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Dunne, P. R. R.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Eales, J. F.||Leckie, J. A.||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)|
|Eastwood, J. F.||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Lees-Jones, J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Leigh, Sir J.||Rowlands, G.|
|Edge, Sir W.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Levy, T.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Elliston, G. S.||Lewis, O.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Elmley, Viscount||Liddall, W. S.||Salmon, Sir I.|
|Emery, J. F.||Lindsay, K. M.||Salt, E. W.|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Sandys, E. D.|
|Entwistle, C. F.||Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.|
|Errington, E.||Loftus, P. C.||Savery, Servington|
|Erskine Hill, A. G.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Scott, Lord William|
|Everard, W. L.||Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Selley, H. R.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Lyons, A. M.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||MacAndrew, Lt.-Cot. Sir C. G.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||M'Connell, Sir J.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Fremantle, Sir F. E.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Furness, S. N.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||McEwen, Capt. H. J. F.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Gibson, C. G.||McKie, J. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Gledhill, G.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Macquisten, F. A.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Magnay, T.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Maitland, A.||Somerset, T.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Graham Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, E.)|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Maxwell, S. A.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Spender-Clay Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Spens, W. P.|
|Gridley, Sir A. B.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake)||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Storey, S.|
|Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)||Mitcheson, G. G.||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Moreing, A. C.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Guy, J. C. M.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Hamilton, Sir G. C.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Hanbury, Sir C.||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Harbord, A.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Hartington, Marquess of||Munro, P. M.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Harvey, G.||Nall, Sir J.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Touche, G. C.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||O'Connor, T. J.||Train, J.|
|Hepworth, J.||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Turton, R. H.|
|Holmes, J. S.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Patrick, C. M.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Peake, O.||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Peat, C. U.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S.||Penny, Sir G.||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Petherick, M.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Hunter, T.||Pilkington, R.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||Plugge, L. F.||Wells, S. R.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Jackson, Sir H.||Porritt, R. W.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Power, Sir J. C.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Pownall, Sir A. Assheton||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Procter, Major H. A.||Windsor-Clive. Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Purbrick, R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Keeling, E. H.||Radford, F. A.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Wragg, H.|
|Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities)||Ramsbotham, H.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Kimball, L.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Kirkpatrick, W. M.||Rankin, R.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Mr. Blindell and Major George|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Rayner, Major R. H.||Davies.|
§ Main Question again proposed.817
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
We wish, in accordance with the statement made by the Opposition Leader this afternoon, to initiate a short debate on the war between Italy and Abyssinia, in the light of the new information that has been published in the Press in the last 24 hours, and I think it is important that the Debate on the Address is still open, so that we may continue the discussion of this subject on the Address instead of under some special urgency Motion. There have been very full reports, published first in the French newspapers and now in all the newspapers everywhere, which assert that they indicate the general line of the proposals at present being put forward as a basis of settlement. The Prime Minister this afternoon, when asked about the accuracy of these reports, said that there was considerable difference in matters of substance, but I noticed very carefully that he did not in fact say that the reports were mere idle conjecture. It is clear that these reports are based on a leakage, as he said, and do tell us a large amount of what is in the mind of the Foreign Secretary and, I presume, of the Government, in the proposals which they are going to make.
We do not know yet the full degree of accuracy of these reports, but if they are accurate up to only 50 per cent., they are a contradiction of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and, more serious still, or just as serious for our purpose, they are an abandonment of the foundation upon which the Government fought the last Election and as a result of which they practically came to an understanding with the British people, all parties combined, and as a consequence of which understanding they sit where they are to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Largely as a consequence of that understanding. One of the main arguments was their unqualified support of the League of Nations, and the whole effort of the Government was to show that, so far as that question was concerned, their support of the League of Nations was more unflinching even than ours had been.
I would point out at the beginning that the Government stand in a very special responsibility on this question. There would probably have been no election at all if this question had not arisen. They 818 chose support of the League of Nations as an issue on which they asked for a national mandate. They now have a national mandate, and I say that not only have they a national mandate to support the League of Nations through thick and thin, but they are bound by that mandate, and that when there are suspicions aroused by these reports that what they are finally going to do is to put forward proposals which are a kind of compromise between the League of Nations and the Imperialist desires of Fascist Italy, those are proposals which, if they are half true, are quite unlike anything they put before the country at the Election. In those circumstances it is the duty of the Opposition, before an irretrievable step has been taken, to give the Government an opportunity either to repudiate any idea that such proposals have been suggested, or to correct them before it is too late.
On this matter it seems, to me we ought to be guided by a very simple principle. Italy has been condemned by the League of Nations under Article 11 as a wanton aggressor, and the simple principle which we ought to support is that a wanton aggressor shall not in any way or in any degree profit by the aggression of which she has been found guilty. Indeed, I go further, and I say that finally, when the League of Nations authority is established, as it will largely be established if we maintain our position in this critical issue, the aggressor will be expected to pay reasonable compensation for the material damage she has caused. We do not go so far as that at present, but we say that it is our duty, it is the duty of the Government, in accordance with the mandate for which they asked at the Election, to make it clear that Signor Mussolini shall in no way profit because he has chosen war instead of choosing to put his claims to the arbitral decision of the Council of the League of Nations.
The reason why we have raised this Debate is that the terms of the settlement proposed have been published. In order to deal with the most authoritative statement of those terms that we have, I will read a summary of them from this morning's "Times" and then explain why, if these terms are 50 per cent. correct, it is impossible for this country to make itself responsible for them with- 819 out utterly discrediting itself in the eyes of the world. These are the reported terms:
I will take these terms in order. By the first of them Italy, although Signor Mussolini has distinctly said that he is not going to lay claim to anything but the non-Amharic portions of Ethiopia, will receive Tigré. She will thus receive possession of one of the most purely Amharic blocks of the whole country, and if we accept that we are not only going further than the League of Nations, but further than the principle which Signor Mussolini has himself laid down. Ethiopia is then to receive the Port of Assab, with a corridor through Eritrea. That corridor would always be at the mercy of Italy. This is no concession, therefore. All that it means is that Ethiopia lays her neck upon the Italian block. The last important statement made here is that Italy is to receive Ogaden up to the 36th degree of longitude in the west and the eighth parallel of latitude in the north. That is to say, Italy is to receive territory which, after she has started a war, she has not herself yet been able to win, territory which it is by no means certain that she will ever be able to win on her own account. I have been reading for some time since the war began all the military appreciations in various newspapers by highly expert correspondents of military experience upon the prospect of the Italian campaign, and I have learned from them that it is generally believed that, if Italy is to succeed, she must succeed quickly, that she must have practically forced the Ethiopian army to a decisive issue and defeated her, not only before April, when the full rains begin, but 820 probably well before the end of January, when the rains are about five times as heavy as they are between October and January.
- "1. Italy would receive Danakil and the eastern part of the Tigre, including Adowa and Makale, but not Aksum.
- 2. Ethiopia would obtain the port of Assab in Eritrea and a corridor to that port through Italian territory, or alternatively the port of Zeila.
- 3. Italy would receive in the south all the territory included between the frontier of British Somaliland, the eighth parallel of latitude in the north and the 36th degree of longitude in the west, including most of the Ogaden.
- 4. Within her new frontiers Ethiopia would preserve her full independence and would receive League assistance for her development and the carrying out of necessary reforms."
I would ask the Government a particular question. The 36th degree of longitude in the west is mentioned. The reports in the newspapers, obviously with a good deal of inside information, have been for weeks pointing out that there has been a disagreement in opinion between the British Foreign Office representatives, who wish the line to be fixed at the 40th degree of longitude, and the French representatives, who wish it to be fixed at the 36th. If that be so, according to these reports we are not only giving away to Italy a large part of territory which she is unable to win, but we are giving away the most extreme demands that have yet been put forward. If Italy is to receive this fresh block, it means she is to receive a number of towns, she is to receive the chain of lakes to the south of Addis Ababa, and she is to receive a frontier which will bring her nearer to Addis Ababa and will make her a perpetual menace to whatever of Abyssinia is finally left. These are the proposals, and it will be well to see, if anything like them are accepted, if they are half way to the reality, how inconsistent they are with the principle laid down by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs in the Debate of the 23rd October:There is no question of a bargain in some unknown way, and still less is there any question of some Imperialist deal, as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1935; cols. 222–3, Vol. 305.]I hoped that, that statement having been made in the House only a few days ago, it would be enough to repudiate any vestige of truth in this report in the "Times." I can understand the difficulty of the Government. I can understand the dilemma in which they find themselves. The dilemma is obviously this: They wish to support the League of Nations and at the same time they do not wish to endanger the position of Signor Mussolini and the Italian regime. That is admittedly and publicly stated as the policy of the French Government. If the British Government come to an agreement with them on anything like those lines, it means that now, as in so many years gone by, they are following the policy of France instead of our own. 821 Here we have once again an example of that dualism in the Government's foreign policy to which the Leader of the Opposition referred. Dualism and indecision have been the curse of our foreign policy for the last four years, and it is here once again.
Our view is fairly clear; it is a view we have always taken. You have to make the choice between the League of Nations and the maintenance of the safety of the present regime in Italy. It may well mean that if Signor Mussolini receives a serious diplomatic defeat, his whole situation may be endangered. Our view is simple. It is that it is the duty of the Government to maintain the understanding with the British people and with all parties in the British State on account of which they are now in office. It is the duty of the Government to stand unequivocally for the whole Covenant of the League of Nations and to leave the internal affairs of the Italian people to settle themselves.
There is one last consideration. I cannot see how anything like these terms can be accepted by the Negus unless by the threat that his almost unarmed troops shall be met by bombs and poison gas. They cannot be accepted with any willingness by the Negus, and I cannot see how they are finally going to be accepted by, at any rate, a large number of nations in the League of Nations. I can quite understand the Government and France making an arrangement which will carry a number of countries with them in support of these proposals, but there are bound in the end to be all those countries which are able to take an independent view, which will condemn the proposals as a betrayal of the League and of the principles upon which we asked the verdict of the people. If anything like these proposals goes forward, it can result in the whole of this story in which we were playing a leading part in September utterly and finally ending in the discredit of the British name.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ The MINISTER for LEAGUE of NATIONS AFFAIRS (Mr. Anthony Eden)
I can speak again only with the leave of the House, but, if I may have it, I think I can best serve the House and also the international situation, which is, after all, our chief concern— 822 or should be—if at the outset I recall to the House the origin of the conversations which have been taking place in Paris in the last few days, because there seems to be some doubt and no inconsiderable misunderstanding as to them. I would remind the House that last November, when the Co-ordinating Committee of the League, that is to say, the body of 50 members who have been co-operating to carry out the sanctions which have been imposed, agreed upon the sanctions which are now in force, it at the same time specifically approved of attempts to find a basis of discussion between the two parties. It particularly welcomed the suggestion that His Majesty's Government and the French Government should seek to find such a basis. I would like to quote one or two speeches then made in order that the House may understand the work upon which we have been engaged and why we have been engaged upon it. M. Laval then said:I shall therefore stubbornly pursue my attempts, from which nothing will deter me, to seek for elements that may serve as a basis for negotiation. I have thus taken the initiative in the matter of conversations, without the slightest intention, however, of putting the results into final shape outside the League. It is only within the framework of the League that the proposals can be examined and decisions reached.Again, our own Foreign Secretary said:It is common talk during the last few days that there have been conversations taking place between Rome, Paris and London on the possibilities of such a settlement. There is nothing mysterious or sinister about those discussions. It is the duty of all of us to explore the road of peace. That is what we have been doing and that is what we shall continue to do. Up to the present the conversations have been nothing more than an exchange of tentative suggestions. They have had as yet no positive outcome. There is, therefore, nothing to report. If and when these suggestions take a more definite form we shall take the earliest opportunity to bring them before the Council in the most appropriate manner.The House will observe that that is entirely consistent with what my right hon. Friend said the other day in this House during the Debate on the Address: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 dis- 823 pute —the League, Italy and Abyssinia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; col. 343, Vol. 307.]That declaration of policy remains the policy of His Majesty's Government at the present time. I will not weary the House, but I could give extracts from other speeches which were made in that debate at Geneva approving the suggestions that the British and French Governments should undertake this unenviable responsibility. The Prime Minister of Belgium sponsored the suggestion that the Committee, these 50 nations as a whole, should show their approval, and the President, after that suggestion had been endorsed, wound up by saying:He felt sure he was speaking for the Committee in saying the members of the League assembled in that Committee noted the hope expressed by the first delegate of Belgium and gave it their full approval.In other words, since the beginning of last month we have, with the knowledge and approval of our fellow-members of the League, been engaged upon this task of attempting to find a basis of negotiation, a basis of conciliation, which would enable the parties to talk. What we are now doing, therefore, is interpreting the League's wish, which was and is that the search for conciliation should be concurrent with the imposition of sanctions, and I am bound to say that to me that seems an eminently wise and reasonable course. Clearly that was the course which the League approved, the course which we have followed. We have no mandate from the League, because the Committee to which I referred had no power to give us one, but it did express its approval of, and its good wishes for, the work in which we have been engaged. The fact that these conversations have been proceeding is a surprise to no one, nor have we ever had any illusions about the difficulty of the task in which we are engaged. In any event this is only the first step in a long and complicated enterprise. If it should happen that this basis which was discussed in Paris, the basis for negotiation, should commend itself to the principals in this dispute, then a beginning, but only a beginning, will have been made in the task that still lies before us.
Now I turn to a subject to which the hon. Member referred, the question of publicity. It is perfectly true that Press reports have appeared in a number of 824 papers in this country and in foreign countries purporting to give an account of the proposals which were discussed and provisionally agreed in Paris. I cannot flatter myself that I have had the time to look at the reports in all the papers, but in all of those I have seen there are inaccuracies—important inaccuracies—and many of them are mutually contradictory. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in the account which he read to us there certainly are important inaccuracies. It is not possible for me or for His Majesty's Government at this time to make public the proposals discussed. An hon. Gentleman expresses surprise, but I think I shall be able to ask for his personal support when I give our reasons. From his own experience he will know that we cannot make public these proposals at this time, any more than we could ever in the past or in the future make public any similar proposals under similar conditions.
The House must appreciate what the position is. The procedure in connection with these proposals has yet to be completely agreed between us and the French Government. I anticipate that it may be agreed to-night. The proposals have not been despatched to either of the parties to the dispute, and surely it must be clear to the House that it would be unprecedented at this stage to make public proposals, which we hope will make a basis upon which the principals will talk, before the principals have even had a chance to read them.
Now I come to the hon. Gentleman who interrupted. To transfer the conditions of international life to industrial life, if you are trying to make two parties to a dispute come to a settlement, can you imagine a worse way than to tell the world what you are going to tell them a little later on? To do that would be to make failure absolutely certain, and I do not believe there is anyone in this House, in whatever quarter he sits, who can really want to do that. It is not possible for us to make public these proposals now, not possible for us to correct inaccuracies, because that would be to make public the proposals by another method.
It is not possible for us to do that for another reason. We cannot do it until the League organisation concerned has 825 considered these proposals and has decided what to do with them. All through the summer the various committees which have considered this dispute, the Committee of Five, the Committee of Thirteen, and others, have uniformly adopted the same procedure, and it is the only possible one. Neither of the parties nor any of the Governments have ever made public the documents or the proposals we have made. They have been made public at Geneva at the moment when, in the view of the Committee, it seemed possible to make them public without damage to the chances of a peaceful settlement.
The hon. Gentleman when he spoke just now said that in this dispute we should uphold the Covenant and take no heed to the particular form of government in the country which has been found Lo he the aggressor. I make no complaint on that declaration; we have always made it clear that the interest of this country in this dispute is only its interest as a member of the League, and we are not concerned in any way with the internal government of Italy. That is our position to-day, and will remain our position throughout this dispute.
At Question Time a right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench said that we were not an "honest broker" in this matter. I do not know about that, but I am quite sure that after an expression of opinion such as was given at the Committee of the League at the beginning of last month it was not possible for us to sit still and do nothing. The proposals which have been agreed to in Paris do not necessarily represent the point of view of the French Government or the point of view of His Majesty's Government, but they do represent suggestions which, in the judgment of those who took part in the conversations in Paris, might enable the parties to get together, and that is all those proposals were intended to do.
We have never said that either party must accept the proposals, we are not seeking to impose terms on anybody—we have no authority to do it—but we are trying to find out, by communication with the parties, whether we can find a basis upon which peace negotiations should be possible, and I make no apology for that. Surely it would be unwise for third parties to condemn the proposals before 826 they fully know them, to express opinions upon them before they know whether they are going to prove acceptable to the principals. Let us be frank about this; let us face the facts. If Italy and Abyssinia and the League accept to discuss on the basis of the suggestions made in Paris, there is nobody here who is going to say No, even if some of those proposals may not be particularly appealing to us.
I was asked at Question Time "Have you gone beyond the terms of the Committee of Five"? It is a perfectly fair question, but I can show the House by an example how difficult it is to give at once a full and satisfactory answer. The Committee of Five included among its proposals suggestions for the exchange of territory; they are one of the annexes to the documents which our Committee issued; but the Committee of Five did not go into the subject of what those exchanges of territory should be, for the reason that there were various views as to which form of exchange was most likely to secure agreement between the two parties. If the two parties had accepted discussion on the basis of the report of the Committee of Five then of course the nature of the exchanges of territory would have been gone into and argued, but on this occasion, in Paris, in order to be constructive at the stage which the dispute has reached now, it was necessary, indeed inevitable, to be more precise. Therefore, the proposals in Paris do contain, as the Committee of Five proposals did not, exchanges of territory in detail.
This will explain the difficulty in which I am placed to-night—a difficulty which is much enhanced by the complicated nature of the proposals themselves, the inevitably complicated nature—in giving even the broad principles upon which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and the French Prime Minister have worked in Paris. Nevertheless, I am going to try. These proposals were based on three main principles: An exchange of territory, conveying definite advantages to both sides; League assistance to Ethiopia for the purpose of social, economic and administrative developments; special facilities for Italian settlers and Italian companies in connection with that economic development. Those are the three principles upon which these proposals were based. If 827 the right hon. Gentleman will carefully consider them he will see that they are at variance with the examples he gave to the House this afternoon. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. I can only ask the right hon. Gentleman to examine them.
I come to a point which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman that what the Government is now engaged in doing, he maintains, is contrary to the League and contrary to the principles of the Covenant. If that be so then, surely, it is for the League to say so. If they do say so we shall make no complaint. We shall be ready to accept their judgment just as we have been ready to take our part in this very unwelcome task. The League placed its confidence in us when it approved of our undertaking the task. We have every confidence in the judgment of the League when they come to examine these proposals.
I have told the House all I can at this stage, and I can only ask them to appreciate both my position and my responsibility. I go to Geneva to-morrow to represent His Majesty's Government, and I go there because the policy of His Majesty's Government remains based upon its membership of the League of Nations. I shall hear at Geneva the views of my colleagues from many countries. I shall discuss with them aspects of this complicated situation. I will seek with them to determine the best course to pursue to further the two objectives which we have had constantly before us throughout these anxious months—establishment of peace and the maintenance of the authority of the League. I would beg the House not to seek to pledge me beforehand to particular forms of procedure in the work I have to do. I ask for latitude and for confidence in a task which no one can envy me, and in the discharge of which I trust that all parties will seek to bring me aid.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I shall endeavour to follow the request made by the right hon. Gentleman and not attempt to commit him to definite decisions beforehand, when he is obviously going to negotiate. He has given to the House a very interesting account of how these proposals came to be made. If I may venture to say so, no one has 828 attempted to challenge him on that point. No complaint was made by the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway that these proposals had been made, but what he did point out was that the nature of those proposals as reported in the Press was such as must raise the very greatest alarm and despondency amongst all lovers of peace. We have not had from the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench any contradiction of the general correctness of those reports. Inaccuracies he has said there are. I have no doubt there may be, but if the situation has been that the whole report in the "Times" and other papers was a sheer travesty, we think we should have been told so at once in unmistakable language.
We are, therefore, entitled to assume that what has leaked out, unfortunately it may be, is not entirely divorced from the truth. We are entitled to discuss it on that basis on broad lines. I want to do so with every sense of responsibility. I am rising to continue this discussion with one feeling foremost in my mind, that the burden of responsibility on His Majesty's Ministers at this moment in dealing with foreign affairs is not only heavy; it must be almost a crushing burden. We have supported the policy of imposing sanctions. At my own election, although I stood for the imposition of sanctions the National Government candidate was opposing the Government on that issue. But these things are only of local interest and I will not pursue them. We on these benches, and the bulk of the nation, in giving the Government backing in its policy did so with a clear understanding of what sanctions were. We did not suppose it was a lighthearted adventure on which one would enter for the sake of watching the wheels go round and seeing if the League would work. The imposition of sanctions means the interruption of trade in the first place, the embittering of international relations—it cannot be helped; it is part of the inevitable price—and it does fill the atmosphere of the world with a very dangerous electricity. His Majesty's Ministers must be anxious, as any one of us would be anxious, to put an end to this situation as soon as they can on terms consistent with honour and with justice, and that is a very important proviso. If we end the situation otherwise, if violence is at long last allowed to win prizes, glittering results which 829 could not have been obtained by judicial arbitration, certain results will follow: Throughout the world the League, though it may still be regarded as an instrument of peace, will cease to be regarded as an instrument of justice.
I hope that His Majesty's Ministers and rulers all over the world understand that the most dangerous thing you can do is to divorce the two ideas of peace and justice. Even the fairest name in the world may be smirched and sullied, even that of peace, and if the world gets the impression that peace as interpreted at Geneva is a thing which has no relation to fairness and justice, what lesson will you be teaching? A lesson that every man and nation must trust to the strength of his own right arm because that is the only thing that can avail him; because if he calls in the world police they will only assist in the division of the spoils that the victor has claimed. That would be a most dangerous result. It would mean that the smaller nations of the world who have their place in the League and are amongst its most valuable supporters, would come to the conclusion that though they might get peace through the League they can only get it at a price; that over the door of the League of Nations at Geneva there were written the words, "Abandon half all ye who enter here—half your authority, half your territory and half your prestige," and that only on those terms could the League work for the weaker nations.
Indeed, the same might apply to the stronger nations. What if France were to find herself in difficulties and the other nations were to say, "There is Alsace and Lorraine. I think you should consent to give up Lorraine, and if you do not do that, we really cannot concern ourselves with settling the dispute"? It is a very dangerous precedent that is being set if only one portion of the reports in the Press is true. I would ask the Government also to consider the effect upon our prestige as a nation, with which is included their own prestige as a Government, though I am sure they put the first thing first. If they came to this lame and impotent conclusion or anything like what is outlined in the Press, what is the verdict to be on our own policy of to-day, the policy of sanctions? We have offended Italy. We have to face that. We have embarrassed France. We have to face that. And when we have tried out all 830 the elaborate machinery of the League what is the result? A division of territories which quite possibly Abyssinia might have effected with the force of her own spears.
I cannot imagine any more lamentable conclusion than that the League, which should have been the guardian of the peace of the world, should become the distributor of spoils after a victory which is yet in doubt. I am sorry to have made a speech which is so full of misgivings and foreboding. I would not have made it if the Minister had removed all my fears. I fully appreciate the position which he has explained, and I hope that before long he may be able to give us a new declaration. I would not ask for that if he could repeat some of the declarations that have been made in the past. On 7th June of this year, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Gentleman who was then Lord Privy Seal said:It has been our constant, our persistent endeavour, to help to bring about a permanent settlement mutually satisfactory to Italy and Ethiopia; a settlement which would take Account of our responsibilities and those of France and Italy in the Tripartite Treaty of 1906, by which we, France and Italy agreed to co-operate in maintaining the political and territorial integrity of Abyssinia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th June, 1935, col. 2210, Vol. 302.]That is the point. If these suggestions are true, can anyone call it a mere exchange of territory? Is it not obviously a violation of the political and territorial integrity of Abyssinia? I ask that that point should be regarded and that we should have regard to what was said by the Foreign Secretary at the League Assembly at Geneva on 11th September. He said:We believe that small nations are entitled to a life of their own and to such protection as can collectively be afforded to them in the maintenance of their national life. And we believe that backward nations are, without prejudice to their independence and integrity, entitled to expect that assistance will be afforded them by more advanced peoples in the development of their resources and the building up of their national life.Is the treatment accorded to Abyssinia the treatment to which we are prepared to consent? Is it going to be on the lines made out in either of those speeches, with which I would agree? We want to have an assurance as soon as it can, consistently with the obligations of secrecy, 831 be given—and may I say it seems rather hard that such tremendous discretion should be observed in London when no sort of discretion is observed in Paris—an assurance that the Italy which has been found in the eyes of the world to be a convicted law-breaker, shall not gain greater advantages than those which were put before her for consideration before the peace talks. That at least we are are entitled to ask.
I have endeavoured to avoid anything which would unduly embarrass the Government because I realise their tremendous responsibilities, but if they will believe me, I realise my own, because any private Member who gets up and urges the Government in any way to continue with a condition of affairs which we recognise to be fraught with danger takes upon himself some part of the responsibility of the Government, and I am bound to recognise that I am doing so to-night. I am speaking only according to my lights. I was sent here, like every one of us, to speak my mind as I could upon the affairs of the nations. I am sure of this, that there are no affairs so momentous or so fraught with infinite possibility for good or for ill as those which we have been discussing in the last hour. It is not only a question of the future of our own affairs: it may well be a question as to whether civilisation as we know it is to be submerged or is to survive.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs concluded his speech by saying that he hoped that this House would still continue to place in him the confidence that has hitherto reposed in him. How I wish he could still have that confidence, but it is gone. Only two months ago everyone in this House saw in the action of His Majesty's Government the hope for the future of mankind, in that they were at last going to put Great Britain at the head of the new collective movement for peace, extending the safety of the British Empire to the whole League of Nations. If that were to be a success there was one obvious thing; we must have one case where the authority of the League triumphed over wrong—just one case. We lost over Corfu, we lost over Paraguay 832 and we lost in other directions. In every case that has come up, hitherto the authority of the League was as nothing. Its capacity for making peace after war has taken place was undoubted, but its authority had never been asserted and had never been successful. By England placing itself at the head of the movement, the League authority for collective responsibility had, sponsored by us, suddenly opened the eyes not only of this country but of the whole world, to the magnificent role that England could play to save civilisation.
All along, that attitude has been sapped by the old enemies of peace and by the old enemies of England. I do not speak as a partisan any longer in this House. I think I am a unique example in the history of Parliament, returned to this House on the nomination of all three parties. Not only that, but my words during the Election in my own country were printed by the hon. Member who represents me and by the Solicitor-General who sits for a neighbouring constituency, and they were broadcast by them. Why? Solely because I supported the Government's attitude in leading the world towards peace and England towards leadership.
It is quite clear to-night. It was put forward quite clearly by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. He is going on a deadly dual policy: peace at any price, and the authority of the League, He is still trying for both. The authority of the League is getting a little lower, and peace at any price is getting a little stronger. Those two aims and objects are diametrically opposed. It has always been possible to secure peace through the League of Nations. You watch which way the war is going and then you have conference after conference and polite indignation, and in the end the conqueror gets what he has conquered. Peace is made. It is easy to do that. If you are going on a dual policy you can always carry out one side of it easily. You can always make peace—but the authority of the League, how about that other side?
We have had a long story to-night from the right hon. Gentleman of all the steps that have been taken, how every action he has taken has been in accordance with the League, which asked France and England to act as honest brokers between the two parties in order 833 to see if they could devise some scheme and some terms of peace. What sort of honest broker is it that consults only one party and does not consult the other? Then they draw up this amazing basis of peace. I have no doubt that it will be accepted by Italy and I have no doubt that it will be rejected, and rightly so, by Abyssinia. I am not really interested in Italy or Abyssinia. I do not much mind what the terms of peace are. What I am interested ir4 is saving the authority of the League.
You have this peace plan put forward and agreed to by the Foreign Secretary. When that scheme is put before the League of Nations at Geneva to-morrow or the next day, what will be the attitude of His Majesty's representative? Will he support that scheme, or will they say, as they might still say if they would save the situation, "This is the only basis upon which Italy will make peace. It is up to the League of Nations to decide, as before, whethey they will accept it or whether we shall carry on on the old lines." If that were the attitude taken to-morrow by the Minister, the situation might still be saved. I do not believe for one moment that the League of Nations, and those 50 nations who have backed us in the past, will not then reject, with the same unanimity with which they have accepted sanctions, this leaked document, as a basis for discussion. It destroys all the hopes that have been built up in the last six months so far as the small nations are concerned.
Are we going to coerce the League of Nations? Is this disastrous alliance with France—or rather, I should say with M. Laval, because I do not know how much of France he represents—going to continue in face of the League of Nations or not? It is said that any agreement will have to be agreeable to both parties and to the League of Nations. Is that merely a façon de parler? Are we really going to leave it to the League of Nations? Are we going to express our English views as to the necessity of saving the authority of the League or are we going to the League to say, "This is the best we can do. We had better accept it just as we accepted all the other. The League of Nations has failed again"? If the League of Nations say "No, we cannot accept these terms," is England going to go on? Are we then going to have that sanction of oil, the prohibition 834 of oil, or has that, too, vanished? Are we going to have the continual pressure of further sanctions in order to secure League authority?—and it may be secured yet. Are we going to leave this Chamber to-night uncertain as to what the Government are going to do?
We do not ask what the exact terms are, but we do ask the Government, "Are you going to force this monstrous solution upon the League of Nations; and, if they reject it, are you going to continue to support the League of Nations to impose further sanctions, although Mussolini has accepted this particular scheme which was evolved in Paris?" That seems to me to be the critical thing. If these 50 nations come in as before; if England is still going on with the majority of the League, is France going to wreck that policy because she wishes to agree with Italy. After all, France does not export any petrol. If our position is made clear, the situation may yet be saved and the authority of the League may yet be triumphant. On the other hand, if the Foreign Secretary, from his peaceful refuge in Switzerland, is going to carry still further the policy of peace at any price and justice forgotten, then the English Government will not only fail to secure the authority of the League, but they will be damned in the eyes of all those small nations and all those innumerable people in America and throughout the world who have pinned their faith upon the honesty of the British Government. They will be condemned far more than they would have been if they had never gone in for this attempt to save civilisation. We have had to-night a quotation from an hon. Gentleman on the Liberal benches. The correct quotation comes from a gentleman called Dante, who enjoyed drawing pictures of his enemies in hell—a very fitting protagonist for Italian propaganda. The exact words, I think, are:"Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch'entrate."That really means in this case,Leave all hope those who enter the League of Nations and pin their faith to the British Government.I think that a little less Italian propaganda might be well, even from Members of the House of Commons. Years ago I was in the French Chamber when they were debating the question of a strike of the railway workers, and the Chamber 835 was finally carried away by a magnificent speech by Jaurès. In the French Chamber you stand on the tribune with the Ministers all below you ready for denunciation. I remember him pointing his finger at the Prime Minister, M. Briand, and saying to him:You, Briand, who in the eyes and the hearts of our young men stood as a bright light from a guiding star, whom now they name only as a proof that there is no truth in this world.I never in my life heard such denunciation; it was a charge which smashed M. Briand and his Government at that moment, the words might well echo in all our hearts. Are we, who have been the bright light guiding the hope of the peoples, going to be just one more example that there is no truth and honesty in politicians?
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I venture to intervene in this Debate because the party I represent takes a line in this matter different from that of any of the other parties in the House. I have noticed that Members and Ministers speaking from the various benches have always been ready to say that the whole country is behind this policy of sanctions, and there is no one who has ventured to say other than that he is putting his faith in the League. The Independent Labour party from the outset has taken a very definite line, and is opposed to the policy of sanctions; and if we needed any justification for the line we have taken, I think we have had that full justification to-night in the speech from the Front Opposition Bench, and also in the very pitiful speech of my hon. Friend behind me on the Liberal benches. Surely the Labour party will now begin to understand how, in putting their trust in the League of Nations, they have taken an altogether wrong line.
As I listened to the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, I could not see that he was making out a very strong line. He asked any Member of the House to point out any contradiction between what the Government were doing to-day and the policy that the Government had pursued previously, and I did not notice any great anxiety on the part of any Member on this side of the House to challenge the statement of the Minister 836 in that respect. As I see it, the Government are pursuing the logical development of the line that they have taken throughout, and it only proves that the League of Nations is a fraud and an imposture. Long ago a great Russian leader called it a thieves' kitchen, a collection of bandits; and the present position in connection with the Italo-Abyssinian dispute makes it plain that, in spite of the entry of the Soviet Union into the League, it remains a thieves' kitchen or a league of robbers. The Minister, in his plea that nothing should be done or said to make his task heavier at Geneva, seemed to me to be talking truly in the language of the League of Nations.
A speaker on the Liberal bench protested that he did not want to do anything which would embarrass the right hon. Gentleman at the League in view of his statement that he was not prepared to deny that the reports in the Press were substantially correct. I believe every Member of the House is of opinion that what has been in the Press is more than 50 per cent. accurate—is practically wholly accurate. Hon. Members above the Gangway believe that that is an accurate statement of what has been arrived at in Paris but, in the face of that, and in face of the Minister's statement that he is confident that the other nations in the League will back them in what they are doing, I cannot understand how hon. Members above the Gangway can go on following this fraud and imposture with regard to the provision of a real settlement of international dispute. The Socialist position with regard to international troubles was stated long ago, that you will have international trouble and war so long as you have a capitalist economic system. I remember once addressing a demonstration in Glasgow under the auspices of the No-more-war Movement. I was telling the late John Wheatley all about it and he smiled and said, "I wonder that in a country like this, where we are troubled with so much rain, no one has ever founded a society for the prevention of rain." When I looked at him he said, "It is just as reasonable to expect that you will have no more war in a capitalist world as it is to expect that you can by the work of a society arrange to have no more rain." I think that is true and, if those who hold the Socialist faith realise 837 that war is simply an incident in the working of the capitalist economic system, you will not have the great Labour party putting all its faith in the League of Capitalist nations as a means of ending war.
I wanted to say that because I also want hon. Members to face up to a question which is very obviously in the mind of His Majesty's Government. The Government, as a member of the League, has embarked upon this policy of sanctions, and it has been said that, if there is one issue upon which the country has decided to back the Government, it is this question of sanctions. I believe if there is one question about which the people were not at all clear was this question of sanctions. I believe the people were prepared to back the Government in the policy of sanctions only if sanctions did not lead to war. What they had in view was the avoidance of war at practically all costs, and they were assured that sanctions would be sufficient to prevent Italy carrying out her designs in Abyssinia and that the world would be saved from the dreadful prospect of another world war on even a greater and more terrible scale than the last. That is how I interpret the mind of the country during the Election, and I notice that, so far as Scotland is concerned, members of the Tory party and the Labour party alike ran away from the policy of sanctions other than sanctions which did not result in war. Prominent members of the Conservative party said they were not prepared that a single British life should be lost in the arid wastes of Abyssinia. Prominent members of the Labour party said they were prepared to back economic sanctions, but they were not prepared to give any adherence whatever to military sanctions.
Then this question occurs, and it appears to me that it is one of the questions that has worried members of the Government. The policy of economic sanctions has been carried a certain distance and it does not appear to be meeting with any great success. Now the oil sanction is going to be invoked. If Italy decides that the imposition of the oil sanction is a case of war, and we are engaged in war, what then? If the present basis fails and the Government goes on with its policy of sanctions and it results in war, are conscientious objectors above the Gangway prepared to back the 838 Government in carrying on war? If they are not, they are not entitled to back the policy of sanctions at all. Sir Walter Citrine said at the Trades Union Congress they had to realise that it might come to war, and they had to be prepared for that. I hope in this serious situation no one is going to support the Government in its policy of sanctions and, if it leads to war, to find excuses for not assisting the Government in carrying on the war.
We are opposed to the policy of sanctions. It may fairly be asked, "Is your policy then simply a negative? Are you prepared to stand aside and see Italian Fascism having its own way and over-running Abyssinia?" There have been a lot of Abyssinians killed in spite of your sanctions, and this constructive policy of backing the fraud and the imposture of the League of Nations has not carried you very far. The Minister is very confident that whatever Britain and France agree upon, all the other pigmies of the League will agree to afterwards. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is your League."] I would not say it is our League. I would say possibly it is British and French Imperialism's League.
As far as working-class policy is concerned, we have not the slightest doubt, but that a constructive policy is one not of saying to the Government, "We will support you and we will support the League," but of seeking to rouse the working classes of this country for the overthrow of British Imperialism and appealing to the workers in other countries for the overthrow of the Imperialism in their respective countries. After the end of the war in 1918, and after the Russian Revolution and the German Revolution, and when revolution was in the air, there was not so very much being said by governments about the need for building up armaments as you hear to-day. They were afraid of a working class that might overthrow their Imperialism, and I believe that the right line for the working-class movement here is not a policy of isolation.
The Minister for League of Nations Affairs the other night joined the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) with Lord Beaverbrook, Mr. Garvin and Lady Houston as being supporters of the policy of isolation, and he seemed to think that these people were sinners above all, or people in this country that were 839 to be regarded with the greatest amount of ridicule. I could quite well understand that a year or two ago he would have quoted Mr. Garvin as being a great authority. But the policy of the Independent Labour party is not a policy of isolation, but a policy of the solidarity of the working classes in opposition to the Imperialisms of the different countries, and it is only by the solidarity of the working class that you have the real sanction—the sanction of organised working-class power for the overthrow of the Imperialist system. That is the one sanction that can be an effective sanction. I notice the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), and I would ask him to-night the position of his party.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The hon. Member can answer me on some future occasion. I am asking him if his party will not have misgivings now if this thing happens with regard to Abyssinia. If a future dispute comes along and Soviet Russia is in a similar position to that which Abyssinia is in, will the Communists of the world depend upon M. Laval and the Minister to the League and the people of the League for their defence? I say definitely that in our opinion the League of Nations is nothing but a fraud and an impost and can be no real instrument for bringing peace to the world. Only through the overthrow of the capitalist economic system and the bringing into being of the Socialist commonwealth can we establish world peace.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. COCKS
Like the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), I feel the responsibility which should be attached to every Member of this House in taking part in this particular discussion. I realise very fully the dangerous and difficult nature of the international situation, and I would not wish to add, by any words which I may use, to the danger of that situation. There is something more to be said. In the first place, the silence which has been observed throughout this Debate by Members on 840 the opposite side of the House is no indication at all that those supporters of the Government are satisfied with the policy which seems to have developed in the last few days in Paris. I think that it is true that one of the reasons for the success of the Government at the recent Election was the fact that the electors felt that the Government were carrying out the policy of supporting the League of Nations and the collective system. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs said last week that he thought that the foreign policy of the Government represented the real feeling of the people, and went on to say:I have not heard in the whole course of this Debate one single speech advocating that we should turn our backs on the League."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; col. 431, Vol. 307.]By which, I understand, he means not merely turning our backs on the League but upon the principles for which the League stands. What are those principles as related to the present situation? They have been stated by the Foreign Secretary on two or three occasions and repeated in a State document addressed to the French Government. In one of the most notable speeches of the present year, and indeed of the last two years, he said:The Leaguestands, and my country stands with it, for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.The meaning of that is that, in the first place, we are pledged to respect the independence and integrity of every State Member of the League; and, secondly, we are pledged to support steady and collective resistance to any act of aggression. Those are the two principles by which the Government and the country stand. There are one or two other utterances which, I think, it is as well to put on record again to-night. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs, speaking on 7th June, said that it was the Government's endeavourto bring about a permanent settlement mutually satisfactory to Italy and Ethiopia a settlement which would take account of … the Tripartite Treaty of 1906, by which we (Britain), France and Italy agreed to co-operate in maintaining the political and territorial integrity of Abyssinia, and a settlement which would lie within the framework of the Covenant of the League, the Kellogg Pact and the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of friendship of 1920."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th June, 1935; col. 2210, Vol. 302.]841 Speaking only last week he said that: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.He went on to say: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.Therefore, his conclusion was:Those nations are determined to do all they can to maintain that system"—the new peace system—in which they believe the greatest hope of their future security lies."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; cols. 427 and 429, Vol. 307.]That is perfectly clear. The last statement I want to put on record is one which was made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the same Debate, when he said:Any proposals … 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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; col. 343, Vol. 307.]It is important that all these references should be placed on record in this discussion. I have no intention of going into the miserable history of this affair. I have no intention of dealing with the many treaties, some of a somewhat scandalous nature, which have been concluded by various countries relating to Abyssinia during the last 10 or 15 years. I do not intend to deal with what I consider the Government's great failure at the beginning of the year to prevent the war breaking out, nor do I intend to criticise the delays which have taken place in imposing effective sanctions, delays largely owing, I understand, to the policy of M. Laval, the reason for which I appreciate, because I know the difficult position of France in regard to this matter. I would simply say that any proposal which does not conform to the utterances I have quoted, or any suggestion, or the basis of any plan, which enables the aggressor to gain any advantage at all from the fact that he has committed an aggression, should not be considered 842 either by the Government or by the League. We do not know what the proposals are. We have seen a statement in the newspapers. My right hon. Friend who opened the debate has read some of them, but the Minister for League of Nations Affairs says that they are inaccurate in certain respects. Inaccurate is a very moderate word.
§ Mr. COCKS
"Inaccurate" does not mean that they are without foundation. It has been suggested, without going into the geographical details, that the plan means the transference from Abyssinia sovereignty of 150,000 square miles of her total area of 350,000 square miles—nearly half the country. That may be inaccurate. It may be only 10,000 square miles, but a suggestion of that nature, that Italy, because she has wantonly attacked Abyssinia, against all her pledges, should be rewarded by being given large extents of Abyssinian territory, should not be considered by the Government or the League of Nations. Even to buy oft Italy by giving her a British colony like British Somaliland or by giving her a French colony like Tunis, would be a wrong thing to do. To give her a large part of Abyssinia would be a shameful act.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Continually in this House we have people stating their policy, at one time as pacificists and then as militarists. I want to know whether the hon. Member has changed his attitude and whether he wants military action.
§ Mr. COCKS
I was not a conscientious objector. The hon. Member is as ignorant as he is impertinent. I am dealing not with the idiosyncracies of hon. Members below the Gangway but with the Government's policy and with the proposals suggested in Paris for a basis of discussion. I was saying that the Minister for League of Nations Affairs tried to explain the proposals as well as he was able to-night. He said that they were based on three points. The first point was an exchange of territory. To a fair exchange of territory no particular objection could be made, but to suggest that we should take from Abyssinia large provinces in exchange for a small port, would not be a fair exchange of territory. Another point was that a part of Abyssinia should be reserved for Italian settlers. I suppose that in that settlement they would be independent of the Abyssinian Government. I should like to ask the Minister for League Affairs whether he would suggest that an Italian settlement of that nature in Kenya or Tanganyika would be acceptable to this country. If such a proposal would not be acceptable to the British Empire, clearly it ought not to be acceptable so far as Abyssinia is concerned.
The danger that I foresee is that these proposals may be put forward and sent on to Italy, that Italy may accept them as a basis for discussion, and because they have been so accepted by the Italian Government the French Government might then say that owing to the fact that Italy had accepted the proposals as a basis she declined to go on with the policy of oil sanctions. That seems to me to be a distinct danger in the situation. In that event we must, with the other members of the League, go on and impose oil sanctions even without the co-operation of France. What is really happening at the present time is that M. Laval, for reasons that are quite understandable, is fighting tooth and nail for his ally, for military reasons, and not for the sake of Abyssinia. There are those who are fighting tooth and nail for the maintenance of the Fascist system. The duty of this country ought to be to fight tooth and nail for the Covenant of the League of Nations and to see that the way of the aggressor is made stony, 844 thorny and, most important of all, barren. I think that is the view of the people of this country.
Abyssinia is in a very strong military position, in a strong strategic position, while Italy is in a weak one, and the application of the oil sanctions would bring the war to an end in a few months. In view of these facts the people of this country would be inclined to say to the Emperor of Abyssinia: "If we were you we would go on fighting until every Italian soldier had left your territory, and we would not make peace so long as the Italian army was there." If the basis of the proposal is anything like those that have been suggested to-night and if it does not conform to the utterances of Members of the Government that I have quoted, on the principle that the aggressor should not be allowed to succeed, then when the members of the League get the proposals I hope they will reject them. To the Government I would say: "If you dishonour your word and break the Covenant or allow the aggressor to succeed, not only future generations but the present generation will rise up and curse you."
§ 9.5 p.m.
Several speakers have remarked that it is impossible for any private Member to take part in this Debate except with reluctance and a deep sense of responsibility. I feel that strongly. We are under a double disadvantage. The Debate has taken us by surprise, and we have had no time for that elaborate preparation of written speeches which Mr. Speaker so much deplores, but which is sometimes such a comfort to nervous and inexperienced speakers. Still more we are under the disadvantage of not knowing fully the case we are arguing. We cannot assume that the terms which have been announced in the newspapers are precisely the real terms which are being offered. We know indeed that they are not exactly the terms which are being offered. Anyone who listened to the statement of the right hon. Minister for League Affairs must have had his misgivings deepened rather than lightened by what he said. If the reports in this morning's newspapers had been a travesty, an exaggeration of the terms, he would have used very different language this afternoon, and we are bound to draw the conclusion—indeed, no other conclusion 845 can be drawn—that if the newspapers have not got it quite right they are pretty nearly right.
What is the position? Is there any ordinary plain man or woman who has been interested in this dispute since June when it first came before us who can read the terms which have been printed this morning and not feel that they represent a tremendous surrender, a real climb down? The Debate in this House on 11th July was the first occasion when the Abyssinian question was fully discussed. I thought it was one of the most impressive debates to which I had listened during the course of six years in the House. From every side of the House, from the Foreign Secretary, from the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, from the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and the right hon. Gentleman the late Member for Darwen, Sir H. Samuel, whose absence those who care for the dignity and efficiency of the House of Commons so much regret, came the same warning, that we were at a turning point in the history of the League and collective security. Let me quote a few lines from the most impressive of those speeches, the speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham:We are coming very near to what may be a test case for the League as to whether it does mean collective security; whether it does mean anything for anyone or nothing for anyone. It is not to be supposed that the League can be flouted under the eyes of Europe, that League methods can be repudiated, a policy of force and conflict engaged in, and that the League can pass all that by because it happens to occur in Africa and not in Europe without thereby destroying the value of collective security not for Africa only but for Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1935; col. 568, Vol. 304.]It may be said that nothing that has happened in connection with the peace terms now really contradicts that statement, and that in a sense it is going to be a victory for the League and for the system of collective security. It is a strange sort of victory which allows an aggressor who has made war after six months warning from the League, an aggressor who has defied the authority of the League and broken all his obligations, should be offered, three months after he has gone to war, terms incomparably better—if the terms are any- 846 thing like what we are led to believe—than he was offered before he went to war at all. Does the Prime Minister or the Minister for League of Nations Affairs deny that the terms which were agreed upon between France and Great Britain are immensely better than the terms which were offered in Paris three months ago? If he did he would bring great relief to our minds. He has not denied that they are an immense improvement on those terms. Is that a victory for the League? In any other realm of human affairs if an intending offender was warned that he did it at his peril and that the whole of authority and power would be brought to bear against him if he transgressed, and if after the transgression had taken place he was offered a way out on terms almost as good as he ever wanted, and infinitely better than the terms offered before the transgression took place, would that be looked upon as a victory for authority?
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs told us that three principles were to be observed. With two of them I have not much to say. There is to be League assistance in social and industrial development, and special facilities for Italian settlers in Abyssinia, apparently not only in the parts which are to be given right out to Italy, but in the rest of Abyssinia. A very welcome kind of settlers they will be in Abyssinia proper! But the principle which attracted my attention was that of exchange of territory. That sounds reasonable enough; but what sort of exchange? Is it the exchange which is foreshadowed this morning, the small port of Zeila to be handed over to Abyssinia, with a connection with the rest of Abyssinia going through hostile territory, which would be under the control of Italy, and that in exchange for that Italy is to have something like 150,000 square miles of Abyssinian territory? If that is the exchange it will be like an arbitrator suggesting to one disputant that he should hand over 6d. and in exchange for that he would get £1,000. Is that a fair exchange? That is the kind of exchange which this exchange of territory contemplates.
We are told that these terms, good or bad, are only a beginning. In what sense are they a beginning? Apparently they 847 may be repudiated by the League, and the Minister for League Affairs said that if they were so repudiated, the Government would accept the decision of the League. Or they may be repudiated by Abyssinia. We would like to know, and we have a right to know, in what sense is the League to be free to accept or reject these terms. What I mean is, is it free, are the other members of the League, the other 50 nations, who have agreed to impose sanctions, free to say that they object to these terms? What will happen if they do? Will His Majesty's Government still be willing to take part in the sanctions which have already been imposed? Will they be willing to take part in the sanction which the Foreign Secretary said the Committee of Eighteen had accepted in principle and will be put into execution at their next meeting—the oil embargo? Every expert has said that an oil embargo is dreaded by Italy and disliked by France, just because it is likely to be successful.
The Foreign Secretary led us to believe that the oil embargo would be imposed by the Committee of Eighteen if the peace terms had not been agreed upon in the meantime. Supposing that the peace terms are not agreed upon in the meantime because other nations in the League, Russia for instance and also the small nations, refuse these proposals on which France and Great Britain have agreed. Will the Government still be willing to impose that really effective embargo, the oil embargo? If not, in what sense can we say that the League is free to accept or to refuse these terms? We all know that Great Britain and France are the only two really great Powers remaining in the League. Upon them, necessarily, the greater part of the onus of imposing sanctions must fall. Therefore, how can we say that the League is free to accept or reject these terms, if Great Britain and France are going to stand out and say "If you refuse the terms which we think we ought to offer to Italy and Abyssinia, then we will not take any further part in the imposition of sanctions." How can we expect the United States, which has given in many ways such reassuring indications of its anxiety to do what it can to prevent the arming of the disputants on either side, to continue in that attitude, if we are going to stand out of 848 the oil embargo? Unless it is made clear to the other nations of the League that, if they refuse these terms, we shall go on just the same with the imposition of sanctions and that we shall be willing to impose the one really effective sanction, namely, the petrol embargo, then I say it is a mockery to assure us that the League is free to accept or reject these terms.
The other question I want to ask is: In what sense is it true that Abyssinia is free to accept or reject these terms? Supposing that Abyssinia says, "No." It would not be surprising if Abyssinia did so. Which of us would say "Yes" if we were asked to part with nearly half our territory. In this case it is the territory of the one independent nation left in Africa, whose independence and integrity the League is pledged to protect. Who of us in that position would agree to having these vast territories taken away in exchange for the port of Zeila? Supposing that Abyssinia says "No" what is to be the position of Abyssinia? Supposing that the rest of the League has been forced to consent to these terms, is Abyssinia to be told, "You can refuse them if you like; you have a perfect right to do so, but in that case the sanctions will be withdrawn"? Is that the attitude which will be adopted in that case? It is as though the right hon. Gentleman came across a highwayman who had got hold of a passenger and said to the man who had been attacked, "I was coming to your rescue but this highwayman has kindly consented to let you go if you give him all you possess. You are perfectly free to refuse, but if you do refuse, he will cut your throat and I will not interfere." Is that carrying out our obligations to Abyssinia? I say it is treachery to Abyssinia. It is a betrayal of Abyssinia.
I wish to put just two more questions. The first is: Why are we forced into this disgraceful surrender? What has forced us into it? Is it because Italy has so far been so successful in the war against Abyssinia? Nobody would have thought so to read the papers, though we recognise that the accounts given in the papers are very imperfect. Is it because sanctions have failed? Surely not. The imposition of sanctions has only begun. Is it because the projected sanction is likely to fail or is it because that sanction is likely to be only too successful and 849 that therefore France, and Great Britain following France, are afraid of imposing it? Or is there some real substantial reason such as even those who care most for their obligations to the League might have to accept? Is it, perhaps, because the Government have discovered that if Italy is not allowed to get its way in reality if not in theory, if we do not make this tremendous surrender to Italy, we shall have war with Italy and Germany too? It it is war with Italy cannot we, with all the other nations of the League standing by our side, afford to risk that rather than risk the destruction of collective security for years to come? Is it not the smaller risk of the two? If there is really risk of war from Germany, we have a right to know it, because to we plain men and women it seems that the real risk from Germany would be in allowing Italy to succeed.
Suppose that the moral of all this dispute is that Mussolini, the head of one of the weaker of the five great Powers, has been able to defy the 50 assembled nations of the League. Suppose that Italy has been able to get almost everything it wants from the League, simply by making a big show of force and defying the League. Then, if Italy can get that by defying the League, what cannot Hitler get if he takes similar action? And what will be the position of the smaller countries in the League knowing that to be so? What price the League of Nations for any small country, if Italy is to be allowed to get away with it, as these terms are going to allow her to get away with it? And what shall we have got out of it? We shall not have got the friendship of Italy. We have alienated Italy for some years to come. Italy will know perfectly well that if we yield to these disgraceful terms it is because we have not the courage to hold our position. We shall not win the real respect or friendship of Italy in that way but we shall have lost the respect of all the coloured peoples of the world if we betray one of those coloured peoples. After all, this Empire is the greatest Empire of coloured peoples in the world and that is not the way to defend the interests of the coloured peoples.
I may have spoken too bitterly and from imperfect information. It is a necessity of the situation that we have to speak from imperfect information. But there is not a man or woman in this 850 chamber or in Great Britain whose honour is not at stake in this matter. There is not one of us who is not deeply concerned in whatever action has taken place behind our backs in conference at Paris, with a Foreign Secretary who has now gone away on the sick list. By those conversations our honour and our future, as far as it is bound up with the collective system of security, may be taken away and we are perfectly helpless. We are not even allowed to know the truth. These terms are to be presented to the League to Abyssinia and to Italy before we are even allowed to know what they are. I do not think that is a position in which the sovereign Parliament of this Kingdom ought to be placed. I think we ought to know a little more of the truth and especially ought we to know the replies to the two questions which I have asked, namely, What is to happen if the League refuses these terms, and, what is to happen if Abyssinia refuses the terms, before we can give the Government a doctor's mandate to go ahead in this matter.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHICK - LAWRENCE
The Debate to-night has, in my opinion, been one of extreme importance. It is almost certainly the last opportunity which the House will have of discussing the terms of peace before they are adopted and handed over to the persons concerned for their approval or rejection. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs told us that a better opportunity for discussion would come later after the terms had been presented to the League. He told us that we would then be in possession of the terms and would have the whole facts before us instead of the imperfect information which we have at present. For our purpose that Debate would come too late. It is essential that our protest should be made to-night before these terms are definitely fixed and before they are handed to Signor Mussolini and the other persons concerned with this dispute.
We have not had contributions from hon. Members on the other side in this Debate. We have had an eloquent contribution, to which I am sure hon. Members have listened with the greatest pleasure, from the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), and I think the powerful points which she made should be 851 answered by the Prime Minister if he is to reply. We have not had definite speeches from hon. Members sitting on the benches opposite, who support the Government, but I watched their faces when the Minister for League of Nations Affairs was speaking, and I came to the conclusion that there was no reason to doubt the accuracy of what the "Times" said to-day, that these proposals had created an unfavourable impression on the rank and file of Government supporters in the House of Commons. I beg the Government not to assume that, because hon. Members have not taken part in this Debate, they are behind them in supporting terms similar to those which have been reported. They know better than I do that hon. Members do not like to oppose the Government in their speeches, particularly so early in the Session, and they have means of finding out that the silence is not one which gives consent.
I think that large numbers of Members on the opposite benches are alarmed and disquieted by what they have seen in the papers to-day, and it is no wonder that that is the case. With the exception of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and one or two others who followed his line of country, the whole of the Members supporting the Government at the General Election gave out in no unmistakable way their support for the League of Nations and collective security. A great many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House said, as we were entitled to do, that the Government was only a late convert to this policy. We quoted statements by the Prime Minister and by other Members of the Government not many months ago, in which they scouted collective action and trusting to the League of Nations. How were we met by electors in the country? They said, "It may be, as you say, that the Government have not always been a great supporter of collective action and the League of Nations, but we have read the speech which the Foreign Secretary made at Geneva, we have heard on the wireless the utterances of the Prime Minister, and we have read and heard the utterances of the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, and whatever may have been their failure in the past there is no doubt to-day that they are standing 852 up to this business and that they are going to see the matter through."
I would remind the House of the words of the Foreign Secretary, who said on 22nd October: "We cannot condone the multiple breach of treaties and let the League survive." The Prime Minister at an earlier stage in our present Debate on the Address said, not that the terms of peace must be accepted but that they must be acceptable to all the parties in the dispute, meaning the League of Nations, Italy and Abyssinia. The question that we put in this discussion is—are these pronouncements to be honoured not merely in the letter but in the spirit? My hon. Friend, in opening the discussion, pointed out that the ideal thing is that where a person breaks a covenant and is responsible for the death and mutilation of large numbers of people, he should not merely get nothing but should suffer some form of punishment, and that the lowest punishment that can be inflicted is that he should pay some reparations for the terrible damage that he has done. He also pointed out that at this stage in the development of the League of Nations that was probably too much to ask.
We on this side of the House have a great deal of sympathy with what the Prime Minister said earlier, that however much he supported sanctions he felt it necessary to try by every means in his power to obtain a peace which would end this horrible slaughter of men, women and children, which would bring this terrible war to an end, and which was a peace that, however imperfect, would be better than a continuance of this terrible struggle. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs told us that in the efforts to find a peaceful solution he had the support of members of the League of Nations, and he asked plaintively, why then should we not accept the peace efforts of the Government as an earnest of their desire to bring this war to an end, and was it not to be expected that the League of Nations would applaud and not quarrel with what the Government have done?
In that debate to which the Minister referred several members of the League of Nations pointed out that the peace must be one within the framework of the League, and we on these benches say that the peace must be one which accords with the spirit of the League of Nations and 853 not merely with the letter. The question is, is that definition fulfilled by the terms which are under discussion at present? It will be said from the other side that we do not know the terms. That, of course, is meticulously the case—we do not know the precise terms. But we have not merely a shrewd suspicion of the terms. We know pretty well what they are. Apart from the fact that the Press has revealed these terms to us, and we have little doubt of some of the sources from which they are derived, we have evidence in the speeches to-day that the basis of the terms is that which has been revealed.
In the course of answering my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister spoke definitely of there having been a leakage in the French Press. If the French Press reports were mere guesswork and were largely or even considerably different from the terms which are actually under consideration, he would not have used that word "leakage." Leakage implies that these reports have got very near to the truth. Then the Prime Minister went on to explain his words, and, having carefully refreshed his memory, because he was not quite sure about it, he told us that there were differences of substance. He would not have used those mild words, and he would not have had to refresh his memory by discussing with his colleagues, if they had been fundamental differences. Then the Minister for League of Nations Affairs watered it down still further. He did not even say they were differences of substance; he said there were certain inaccuracies. It is open to the Prime Minister to say that these differences are far greater than we imagine, but I do not think he can really say to us that they amount to a really substantial alteration in the basis of the settlement which is under discussion.
That being so, what are these terms that we are told are going to be offered to Italy? Do not let us hide them up by a number of geographical expressions, to discover the meaning of which many of us have to look at the map. In the first place, it is proposed to hand over a great strip in the North adjoining Eritrea; in the second place, it is proposed to hand over a great corner on the South East; and, what is far more important, it is proposed to hand over 854 to Italian colonisation—a nice, gentle phrase; not "annexation," but "colonisation," which reminds me rather of the nice distinction between the nationalisation and the unification of mining royalties—an enormous strip in the South of Abyssinia. If you examine those territories with a map, you will discover that at least half the country of Abyssinia is being handed over in this way to Italian domination. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs said it was an exchange of territory. I join with my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities in asking what sort of exchange it is when half the whole country of Abyssinia is to be handed over to Italy, and in exchange Abyssinia is to have some rather indifferent access to the sea, possibly by a corridor which will be entirely under Italian control, or possibly by some harbour facilities on another part of the coast.
Finally, the Minister for League of Nations Affairs told us that another recommendation to Abyssinia would be that she would have the assistance of the League in her future affairs. If I represented a country that had not a white population, I should say, "Thank you very much for your offer of assistance from the League." My impression is that this offer simply means putting the one part of Abyssinia that is left under its tutelage, which would be very nearly the same as annexation. If the terms which in fact are being put forward are in any respect similar to those, surely they cannot satisfy the meaning of the words used by the Prime Minister. It is a misuse of words to say that they fall in with what has been promised. We know that they may be forced down the throat of the League; they may be forced down the throat of Abyssinia, though that would be difficult; but they will not be forced down the throat of the people of this country, who believe that words are real things and that they should not be scrapped at the convenience of Ministers. I am certain that the publication of the news in the papers to-day has come as a great shock to the people of this country, and when they learn, as I fear they will learn, that these suggested terms are in fact and in substance the terms which are being offered to Italy, that shock will become dismay and consternation.
855 I have attempted to inquire what really is the genesis of these terms, and the more I have inquired, the more unpleasant have been the revelations that have come to me. When I look back over the history of our negotiations with Italy over the question of Abyssinia, I find that we have for a long time past made arrangements with Italy for the partition of Abyssinia. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs told us that there was no question of some Imperialist deal. I wonder whether that is the reason why, as I understand the progress of these negotiations, Signor Mussolini has been kept informed throughout of what has been going on. I do not say kept informed by the right hon. Gentleman here, but there is no doubt, I think, that he has been kept informed, by other parties to this question, of what has been taking place, and I would like to ask the Prime Minister whether the Negus of Abyssinia has equally been kept informed throughout of the negotiations that have been going on, because if there is to be anything like equality, surely it applies to that case as well as to the other.
If these terms are carried out, and if there has been a juggling with the scales of justice in the matter, it is an outrage that the people of this country will not forgive. Hon. Members opposite may think that, after all, this is a very convenient and happy way of making peace. I wonder whether they saw that cartoon of Low's recently in the "Evening Standard," in which there was the prostrate figure of a Chinese gradually being eaten up by a tiger, called Japan, and the Chinese on the ground said, "All lite, all lite, eat up, but only eat so far." I wonder whether, if Signor Mussolini is given permission only to eat up so much of Abyssinia, he is likely to stop there, whether he is likely to stop in that part of Abyssinia, or whether he may be expected to go on, having eaten the whole of Abyssinia to eat other parts of the world as well.
We cannot forget the talk that is going on in that country about re-creating the Roman Empire, and I ask the Government whether they hope by the terms that are now put forward to solve not only the immediate problems, but the problems of the future. I ask the Government to realise that there is a 856 large underlying opinion in this House and outside which distrusts this settlement and believes that if it is carried out it will do a very great injury in many respects. I hope that even at this twelfth hour they may see the wrong of the step they are proposing to take, and that they will take different action. If this policy is allowed to go unchallenged, it will not only betray Abyssinia and strike a blow—perhaps a fatal blow—at the League of Nations, but it will greatly damage British prestige and destroy all confidence in the word of British statesmen. It will usher in a future so threatening and so black that none of us can contemplate it without horror and dismay.
Hon. Members on these benches feel so strongly on this question that they find it necessary to express their opinion in the form of a vote. In ordinary circumstances, they would not take the unusual course of giving a vote against the Address to the Throne. This Debate has arisen unexpectedly, and though in the form of a Debate on the Address, it is, in fact, a discussion on the policy of the Government on this one particular point. We are quite certain that it will not be regarded as any discourtesy to His Majesty, but that it will be regarded as the only means open to us of entering our emphatic protest against the terrible crime which seems likely to be committed. It is only that that leads us to take the unusual course on this occasion of voting against the Address.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
We can take no exception to the last words which fell from the lips of the hon. Gentleman. We think that this is the only course open to the Opposition, who desire to express dissent from the conduct of the Government. I shall be but a short time to-night. I have seldom spoken with greater regret, for my lips are not yet unsealed. Were these troubles over I would make a case, and I guarantee that not a man would go into the Lobby against us. It is some years since the hon. Member was in the House, and as Members of his conviction must come to this House, I welcome one who was a Fellow of my old college. But I had forgotten what a suspicious nature he has. I can assure him that, so far as I know, no communications of any kind such as he suggests have gone either to 857 Addis Ababa or to Rome. He informed me as to the feelings of my own supporters. I generally have a knowledge of what they are thinking; but I quite agree that on occasions like this there is always anxiety when proposals are made, the full history of which is not known and cannot be disclosed. I remember quite well anxiety in many quarters when the suggestion was being put forward before the war broke out that a port should be obtained for Abyssinia at the expense of this country. I have great sympathy with all those anxieties. I would perhaps thank the hon. Gentleman for the compliments he paid me for my use of English language, and I would not say that the deductions he drew are false.
I shall be a very short time because there is really nothing that I can say beyond what was said by my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. Some people speak of the League of Nations as though it were a kind of celestial body which is always right, whereas it is really a human body of fallible nations gathered in council and represented by fallible statesmen trying to do what they can to build up a League, which in time may perform all those services for humanity that we dreamed of when the League was first founded. I do not propose to-night to say anything about its constitution or its difficulties in the absence of certain great nations. I have often spoken on that. I do, however, want the House to remember that, much as they critcised the Government, and much as they may say that the League ought to do this or that, we, after all, cannot control the League of Nations. We have an influence there, and we use it, and shall continue to use it, but there are 50 nations in that League, and I would put to hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is no easy matter to get decisions or a continuous course from a body of 50 nations. There are gatherings, such as the Labour Conference at Brighton, where they all have the same ideals, seek to attain the same ends, and speak the same language, yet I am fully conscious that the proceedings are not always characterised by unanimity and that results are not always reached without difficulty; and, mutatis mutandis, conferences are the same at other places, whether they are held at Bournemouth or elsewhere.
When you have a conference of many different nations with many different 858 histories and constitutions, trained in many different ways, and speaking different languages, the difficulty of securing unanimity and of securing a continuous course is almost insuperable, When this history comes to be written, I think every one will consider it remarkable how far the League has travelled and how much it has done. I listened, as every one in the House did, with great respect and interest to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined Universities (Miss Rathbone). I do not think, however, that these matters are so simple as she would have us believe. I tell her quite frankly that I should tremble if she were Foreign Secretary at this moment. The difficulties with which we are surrounded at present are difficulties that from their very nature I am unable to discuss in this House at present for fear of imperilling considerably the future in every way.
I invite hon. Members opposite to look at any observations I have made on the League of Nations or anything that I have written, I was going to say, for years past. I do not think there is a word that I would retract, and I do not thins that, consciously, I have been false to a word that I have said. I have at times said things that have brought upon me the indignation of the League of Nations Union when I have hinted at the possibility of the League failing in its earlier attempts to secure peace by collective action. I have always recognised the possibility of that, and I was brought to book for it by the League of Nations Union; but, after all, I have never taken the view that if the League should fail we are to despair. It should be merely an incentive to try to do better next time.
What I want to say to the House to-night is this, and it really sums up the whole position. We shall go on, as we have gone on, in conjunction with other members of the League, as far as those other members will go, as far as we can all go together. Unilateral action we do not propose to take now any more than we have ever proposed to take it. Our power is not absolute. I grant that our prestige is great. Hon. Members have said that it may be impaired by what is taking place to-night, and by our action. It may be so, but I hope not. Prestige rises and falls, and I think that in time people will appreciate the circumstances. 859 We may, perhaps, in detail have gone farther than some members would have gone. But, after all, you must remember that we were commissioned to make this inquiry with the French. My right hon. Friend will make his report. When he goes there my right hon. Friend is not going—not if he wished to do so—to enforce that basis of settlement on the League if the League do not want it. He cannot enforce it on Italy. He cannot enforce it on Abyssinia. We do not know at this moment what any of those three parties are going to say. If nothing results we have to try again later, by and by. This dualism is not impossible and, I am perfectly certain, will commend itself to the country. We shall have to consider again the whole question of how far sanctions may go. The hon. Lady spoke as though it were the simplest thing to stop oil going into Italy. It really is not. It is extraordinarily complicated. If you are going to do it you must be sure that your prohibition is effective. That is carrying out the dual policy that we have been carrying out.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) made an observation which, I believe, is really true. He said that a large number of the voters at the election would support sanctions but did not wish for war. I believe that is perfectly true. I do not believe anybody in this country wants war. There are very few people in Europe who do want war. The people of this country are following with the keenest interest what is now taking place. I say frankly and I assure the House that there is no cynicism in it, that we are learning and have learned a great deal in the last three months, as to what is possible at present in the world and what is not. The time will come when we
§ shall be able to give our full experience to this House, and this House and the country may well have to consider, in the light of what they have learned, what we may be able to do in furthering the work of the League of Nations in the future.
§ Beyond that there is really nothing that I could usefully say to-night. We are going on with exactly the same policy as we have been pursuing. We work in consonance with the League as far as and no further than it goes. It must be all or none. My right hon. Friend is, as he said, going to Geneva to-morrow, and we shall know very shortly what the reactions may be to the course we have been pursuing. Now I would ask the House whether it would be convenient to take the Division, because the time before Christmas is short. We have gladly given this extra time for this discussion, but we are most anxious to get the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution on the Railway (Money) Bill, on which hangs a great deal of employment. If we cannot get it to-night that will make it more inconvenient to try to get it before we rise at Christmas, which we very much want to do.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
May I ask one question before we take the Division Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether these terms have been submitted to Italy and Abyssinia, and, if not, are they going to be submitted?
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 281; Noes, 139.863
|Division No. 4.]||AYES.||[10.2 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Blaker, Sir R.||Castlereagh, Viscount|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Boulton, W. W.||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)|
|Albery, I. J.||Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'kn'hd)||Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Boyce, H. Leslie||Channon, H.|
|Aske, Sir R. W.||Braithwaite, Major A. N.||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)|
|Assheton, R.||Brass, Sir W.||Chorlton, A. E. L.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Clarry, R. G.|
|Astor, Visc'tess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Cobb, Sir C. S.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Cochrane, Comdr. Hon. A. D.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Colman, N. C. D.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Bull, B. B.||Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Burton, Col. H. W.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S. G'gs)|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Butler, R. A.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Butt, Sir A.||Courtauld, Major J. S.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Cartland, J. R. H.||Craddock, Sir R. H.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Cary, R. A.||Crooke, J. S.|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Rankin, R.|
|Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Joel, D. J. B.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Cross, R. H.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Crossley, A. C.||Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Keeling, E. H.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)|
|Cruddas, Col. B.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Remer, J. R.|
|Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Kerr, J. G. (Scottish Universities)||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Dawson, Sir P.||Kimball, L.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)|
|Denville, A.||Lamb, Sir J. O.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Dodd, J. S.||Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Rowlands, G.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Law, R. K. (Hull, S. W.)||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Dower, Capt. A. V. G.||Leckie, J. A.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Leech, Dr. J. W.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)|
|Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Levy, T.||Salt, E. W.|
|Dugdale, Major T. L.||Lewis, O.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)|
|Duggan, H. J.||Liddall, W. S.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Lindsay, K. M.||Savery, Servington|
|Dunglass, Lord||Little, Sir E. Graham-||Scott, Lord William|
|Dunne, P. R. R.||Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Selley, H. R.|
|Eales, J. F.||Lloyd, G. W.||Shakespeare, G. H.|
|Eckersley, P. T.||Loder, Captain Hon. J. de V.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Loftus, P. C.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.|
|Edge, Sir W.||Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Lyons, A. M.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Elliston, G. S.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|Emery, J. F.||MacAndrew, Lt.-Col. Sir C. G.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Emmott, C. E. G. C.||M'Connoll, Sir J.||Somerset, T.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||McCorquodale, M. S.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Entwistle, C. F.||McEwen, Capt. H. J. F.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Errington, E.||McKie, J. H.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, E.)|
|Erskine Hill, A. G.||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Fildes, Sir H.||Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Spender-Clay Lt.-Cl. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Fleming, E. L.||Magnay, T.||Spens, W. P.|
|Fox, Sir G. W. G.||Makins, Brig.-Gen. E.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Furness, S. N.||Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Fyfe, D. P. M.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Stewart, J. Henderson (File, E.)|
|Gibson, C. G.||Maxwell, S. A.||Storey, S.|
|Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Stourton, Hon. J. J.|
|Gledhill, G.||Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Gluckstein, L. H.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.||Mitcheson, G. G.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Goldie, N. B.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Goodman, Col. A. W.||Moreing, A. C.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Gower, Sir R. V.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Graham Captain A. C. (Wirral)||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Granville, E. L.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)|
|Grigg, Sir E. W. M.||Nall, Sir J.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Grimston, R. V.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Guinness, T. L. E. B.||O'Connor, T. J.||Touche, G. C.|
|Gunston, Capt. D. W.||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. G.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Guy, J. C. M.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Hannah, I. C.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Turton, R. H.|
|Harbord, A.||Patrick, C. M.||Wakefield, W. W.|
|Harvey, G.||Peake, O.||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Peat, C. U.||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|Heilgers, Captain F. F. A.||Penny, Sir G.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Hepworth, J.||Perkins, W. R. D.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Peters, Dr. S. J.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Herbert, Captain S. (Abbey)||Petherick, M.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)||Plugge, L. F.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Hopkinson, A.||Porritt, R. W.||Wilson, Lt.-Cot. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Pownall, Sir A. Assheton||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S.||Preston, Sir W. R.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Procter, Major H. A.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Purbrick, R.||Wragg, H.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Radford, F. A.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Ralkes, H. V. A. M.|
|Hunter, T.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Ramsbotham, H.||Mr. Blindell and Mr. James Stuart.|
|James, Wing-commander A. W.||Ramsden, Sir E.|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Benson, G.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Banfield, J. W.||Bevan, A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Barnes, A. J.||Broad, F. A.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Barr, J.||Bromfield, W.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Batey, J.||Buchanan, G.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Bellenger, F.||Burke, W. A.|
|Cape, T.||Jagger, J.||Quibell, J. D.|
|Charieton, H. C.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)|
|Chater, D.||Johnston, Rt. Hon. T.||Riley, B.|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Ritson, J.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)|
|Compton, J.||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Rothschild, J. A. de|
|Daggar, G.||Kelly, W. T.||Rowson, G.|
|Dalton, H.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Salter, Dr. A.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Kirby, B. V.||Sanders, W. S.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Lathan, G.||Seely, Sir H. M.|
|Day, H.||Lawson, J. J.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Dobbie, W.||Leach, W.||Shinwell, E.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lee, F.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Ede, J. C.||Leonard, W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Leslie, J. R.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Logan, D. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Lunn, W.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Frankel, D.||McGhee, H. G.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Gallacher, W.||McGovern, J.||Stephen, C.|
|Gardner, B. W.||Maclean, N.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Garro-Jones, G. M.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||MacNeill, Weir, L.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Gibbins, J.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Thorne, W.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Mander, G. le M.||Thurtle, E.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Marklew, E.||Viant, S. P.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Marshall, F.||Walkden, A. G.|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Maxton, J.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Milner, Major J.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Montague, F.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Morrison, Rt. Hn. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)||Welsh, J. C.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Westwood, J.|
|Hardie, G. D.||Naylor, T. E.||White, H. Graham|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Oliver, G. H.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Owen, Major G.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Paling, W.||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Parker, H. J. H.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Parkinson, J. A.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Holland, A.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hollins, A.||Potts, J.|
|Hopkin, D.||Price, M. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mr. Mathers and Mr. Whiteley.|
Resolution agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth—
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.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.