§ I agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he suggested that there are some wider causes at work than the mere accident of the Division the other night. I was abroad when the Hoare-Laval crisis occurred, but I certainly sustained the impression, at a distance from this country, that something very serious had happened to the Government, and also that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had been affected, and had been affected in those qualities which have commended, and still do characteristically commend him to the British public. At any rate, one felt that there was a great deal that was not easy to understand about his first speech, and, his lips being sealed, about the subsequent change of policy, about the circumstances which led to the Foreign Secretary leaving the Government. It was a very obscure arid difficult situation, and when I returned to this country I am bound to say that I was sensible, conscious, of a different atmosphere in the House of Commons from that which had existed when we all met so triumphantly after the General Election.
§ One incident, which I think is extremely relevant to what occurred the other night, has certainly filled me with surprise. Some few weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made a most grave and serious speech of criticism, and even of censure, addressed to the Prime Minister in his own presence. It astonished me that my right hon. Friend did not rise at once and say what it occurred to him to say. After all, this is a Forum of debate, and a very grave indictment preferred by a right hon. Member of high responsibility, especially a Member who has long been the buttress, and on one occasion at least the saviour, of the Prime Minister's Government, ought not to be left unanswered. There ought to be the cut-and-thrust of debate, and I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, if not at that 2480 moment, at any rate at the earliest opportunity, did not take up the points of argument which were addressed to him. I am sure that when issues of this kind are, as it were, pushed aside and ignored, and an attempt is made to carry the business of Parliament forward with the influence of the Whips and of the Central Office and of an indulgent Press—if that is to become the process there is bound to be a weakening in the ties which unite the House to the Government and which preserve the vitality of our Parliamentary institutions.
§ The Government ask for a Vote of Confidence. They de not ask that this Debate should be treated as a Vote of Confidence, because they have done exceptionally well. They will no doubt get the Vote of Confidence, but I hope they will not make the mistake of thinking that it is a particular kind of testimonial, or a bouquet, or that it arises from long pent-up spontaneous feelings of enthusiasm which can no longer be held in check. There are many matters that are in order in this debate about which we are concerned. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party, in a speech of passionate indignation and stentorian eloquence, has referred to the position in Abyssinia. I agree with him that we cannot avert our eyes from that position. It is very difficult to judge what is happening in the military sphere, but it looks as if the Ethiopian people are being heavily defeated, and there are some authorities who doubt whether their resistance can even be prolonged until the rains come. If that should be so—I cannot attempt to prophesy—then quite soon all those Abyssianians who have not been destroyed by poison gas will be subjugated and their native land annexed by Italy. If that happens it will be certainly a most melancholy chapter in the recent records of the British people. The aggressor will be triumphant. He will be rewarded with gains far beyond the Hoare-Laval proposals. The League of Nations—50 nations led by one, as Signor Mussolini said, in a phrase of formidable significance—will have been unable to do anything of the slightest use to the Abyssinians. Indeed, all we have done for them, as far as I can remember, is to put an embargo on their obtaining arms before they were attacked. Otherwise, we have done nothing for them at all— 2481 except, of course, the speeches which have been made.
§ There is a 'heavy score on the other side of the account. We have incurred the formidable antagonism of Italy in the Mediterranean. That, I expect, will mean in future years a greatly increased charge for our military, naval and air forces in protecting all the important establishments we have in that area. We shall, in fact, only maintain the independence of Egypt in the future, and keep open the road to India, by an increasingly serious strain upon our resources. We have in this matter fallen between two stools. We have managed to secure all the disadvantages of both the courses without any of the advantages of either. We have pressed France into a course of action which did not go far enough to help the Abyssinians, but went far enough to sever her from Italy, with the result that the occasion was given to Herr Hitler to tear up Treaties and re-occupy the Rhineland. Incidentally, it is for these results that we have paid £6,000,000 or £7,000,000 sterling, as the Supplementary Estimates show, and have inflicted a very considerable strain upon the personnel of our Fleet.
§ I must say that the responsibility, not for the events of the world, but for the conduct of our interventions in this matter, must rest in a direct manner upon the Government, nor can you exclude my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from his share. You cannot possibly exclude the Prime Minister from the responsibility which is shared by the Government as a whole. There is an old constitutional doctrine which says that the King can do no wrong, and if the King does what is thought to be wrong it is his bad advisers who are blamed; but no one must really expect to extend that doctrine to the controversial head of a political Government. That would be an altogether undue extension of the principle. Both the last House of Commons and the present House of Commons have followed very docilely and faithfully the course recommended to them in regard to our interventions, and the degree of our interventions, in the Italo-Abyssinian sphere, and here is where we have been led. Everyone knows that unless some extraordinary change in the military situation takes place, what I have just said represents the upshot and the conclusion, the results which have been 2482 achieved. Now, Sir, I say it was a, very grievous thing to lead these 50 nations up the blind alley of fatuity and frustration. It was a grievous thing, also, to encourage, however indirectly, a primitive population to a desperate resistance and then, in the event, to leave them to their fate. We cannot undo the past, but we are bound to pass it in review in order to draw from it such lessons as may be applicable to the future, and surely the conclusion from this story is that we should not intervene in these matters unless we are in earnest and prepared to carry our intervention to all necessary lengths.
§ When the late Foreign Secretary made his famous speech at Geneva, in September, and when my right hon. Friend who was Minister for League of Nations Affairs at that time was busy arranging sanctions at Geneva, as it was his duty to do, in accordance with the policy of the Government at that time, we seemed to claim and to take a leading position in the world, but all the glamour and fame of those days has to be paid for now when, apart from all these material losses, we are likely to look extremely foolish. The price has now to be paid because the Government have been conducting their intervention without, as I believe, either sufficient resolution to carry it through or a sufficient strength of character to confront those who would have been their critics if they had refused to go in so deeply. If we had merely done our duty as a member of the League of Nations—here I am really repeating words which I ventured to speak in June and July last in this House—without aspiring to take so prominent a position, without aspiring to take the lead with all its prizes, with all its penalties, with all its honour and with all the reverse of honour which sometimes attaches in cases of misfortune, we should have fulfilled our obligations under the Covenant, and we should be in a far less questionable and dangerous position that we are to-day.
§ There is one particular evil consequence which I must mention, which has arisen out of this policy which we have pursued. The late Foreign Secretary, as part of his great speech, his memorable speech, at Geneva, made a declaration about raw materials which, though carefully guarded, did, in fact, bring up the whole Colonial question. Now, Sir, where do 2483 we stand upon this question of the return of the mandated Colonies to Germany? We ought to know. We ought to know not only where we stand at this moment, but what are the convictions and principles by which the Government will be guided in dealing with this matter in the future. The statements of Ministers are somewhat conflicting. The Colonial Secretary made what seemed to me and many of my friends who sit on these benches a very satisfactory statement, especially in the context in which it was uttered. But then the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Lord Stanhope, is reported in the public Press as having said that on this matter he had an open mind; and the late Minister without Portfolio concluded a speech the other night, fresh as he must he from the very centre of Ministerial thought, by saying, in effect, that we must alter our conceptions about the British Empire and prepare ourselves to make considerable sacrifices.
§ What does all that mean? What is the conviction of His Majesty's Government? Have they an open mind upon the future Are they waiting to see who pushes the hardest? Are they wondering which is likely to be the line of least resistence? I was reading in the "Times" this morning a long account from Tanganyika Colony where, it appears, it is a matter of common assumption that that territory will soon be handed back to Germany.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Yes, among the Germans. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, I understand, is to reply to-night, and who has a heavy burden nowadays with the Budget and all the rest of it on his shoulders—I appeal to him, to give us a plain answer to-night. Does he or does he not accept the view put forward the other day by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham that there should be no question of handing over even mandated territories to Germany while race persecution is rife in that country? I ask him also is it not a fact that we could not in any case hand over these territories to Germany but only to the League of Nations, which alone could decide upon their future destiny? The Government must have a 2484 view, and they ought to declare it to us. We do not want to have another muddle about these Colonies—or our own Colonies—similar to that into which we have been led about Abyssinia. We do not want to excite all sorts of hopes, and in this case arouse all kinds of appetites, and then, when it comes to the issue, refuse point blank to do anything effective. No, I agree with my right, hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, and I hope that he rightly interprets, and that we shall be told to-night that he rightly interprets, the view of the Government on this question.
I shall not detain the House very long this evening, and I will come to what is our main preoccupation, namely, our relations with Nazi Germany. The gravity of the situation is in no way diminished by the fact that it has become less exciting than it was two or three weeks ago. When you are drifting, floating, down the stream of Niagara, it may easily happen that from time to time you run into a reach of quite smooth water, or that a bend in the river or a change in the wind may make the roar of the falls seem far more distant: but your position and your preoccupation are in no way affected thereby. In this Northern problem also, dictatorship has gained an immense triumph. Herr Hitler has torn up treaties and has garrisoned the Rhineland. His troops are there, and there they are going to stay. All this means that the Nazi régime has gained a new prestige in Germany, and a most powerful and sustained impression of their strength has been spread abroad through all the neighbouring countries. But more than that. As I understand it, Germany is now fortifying the Rhine zone, or is about to fortify it. No doubt it will take some time. We are told that in the first instance only field entrenchments will be erected, but those who know to what perfection the Germans can carry field entrenchments like the Hindenburg line, with all the masses of concrete and the underground chambers there included—those who remember that, will realise that field entrenchments differ only in degree from permanent fortifications, and work steadily up from the first cutting of the sods to their final and perfect form.
I do not doubt that the whole of the German frontier opposite to France is to be fortified as strongly and as speedily 2485 as possible. Three, four or six months will certainly see a barrier of enormous strength. What will be the diplomatic and strategic consequences of that? I am not looking at the matter at all from the technical aspect, but from the aspect of its diplomatic reactions. The creation of a line of forts opposite to the French frontier will enable the German forces to be economised on that line, and will enable enormous forces to swing round through Belgium and Holland. That is for us a danger of the gravest kind. Suppose we broke with France. Suppose these efforts which are being made to divide the neighbouring countries and break the union of the last surviving free democracies of the Western world were successful, and they were sundered, and suppose that France, isolated, could do not more than defend her own frontier behind Belgium and Holland by prolonging her fortress line, those small countries might very speedily pass under German domination, and the large colonial Empire which they possess would no doubt be transferred at the same time. These are matters, most grave that ought not to escape our attention, and the public ought to be educated upon them constantly by Ministers and those who see very clearly what are the realities of the times.
I thought that the Prime Minister's remark which he made some years ago about our frontier being the Rhine, was liable at the time to be misunderstood, but if he meant by that that it was a mortal danger to Britain to have the Low Countries in the grip—in the fortified grip —of the strongest military power upon the Continent, and now, in these days, to have all the German aviation bases established there, he was only repeating the lesson taught in four centuries of history. Let me say that that danger will be brought definitely and sensibly nearer from the moment that this new line of German fortifications is completed. But then, look East. There, the consequences of the Rhineland fortification may be more immediate. That is to us a less direct danger but is a more imminent danger. The moment those fortifications are completed, and in proportion as they are completed, the whole aspect of Middle Europe is changed and the whole outlook, which is also important, of Middle Europe, is changed— 2486 the position of the Baltic States, of Poland and of Czechoslovakia, with which must be associated Jugoslavia, Rumania, Austria and some other countries. All those countries are affected very decisively the moment that this great work of construction has been completed.
Some of those nations, but not all, are now balancing in deep perplexity what course they should take. Should they continue in their association with the League of Nations? Should they continue their association with what is called collective security and the reign of law? Or should they make the best terms they can with the one resolute, warlike Power which is stirring in Europe at the present time I That is the question they have to ask themselves. If before the end of the year nothing satisfactory is done, and nothing satisfactory can be achieved by the negotiation and conferences which no doubt will occupy a large part of this year, we may see many powerful nations, with armies and air forces, associated with the German Nazi system, and the other nations who are opposed to that system will, by that very fact, become isolated and practically helpless. It is idle to say that these are not matters which the House of Commons is bound to view with vigilance and attention. It is idle to pretend that these are only matters affecting the obscurities, the politics and the hatreds of Central Europe.
This brings me to the staff conversations which are to begin to-morrow or the-day after in London. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a manly speech the other day. He took his political life in his hands, and Parliament sustained him very decidedly. It is extremely important that there should be a responsible Foreign Secretary and not a headless committee. I trust that the result of that Debate will give my right hon. Friend the necessary power to produce some coherent theme which the country can understand, and which Parliament can faithfully pursue. Almost any honourable policy would be better in times like these, and safer, than a succession of attempts, however well-meant, to find the line of least resistance, and to avoid saying things which might offend this or that well-meaning section of British public opinion. Let us beware, henceforth, of being mealy-mouthed in 2487 these matters which affect our lives and our future.
Staff conversations are now to begin. I do not expect that those generals will have very much to tell each other which they do not know already unofficially. It is certainly unusual to elevate staff conversations into a prime feature of policy or diplomacy, and it would hardly be possible to choose a more awkward counter which the Government could use as a means of conveying to France and Belgium the assurance that Great Britain stands by her obligations, but the very awkwardness of the counter and its unusual use for this purpose, and the fact that the Government have adhered to this point actually emphasises its healthy significance, in spite of some apparent difficulty which it was anticipated that it might have, and in spite of the efforts made from abroad to prejudice British public opinion on this subject. It surely means, and it is taken to mean, and meant to mean, that Great Britain has linked herself with France and Belgium in the event of an unprovoked invasion of their soil, and that Great Britain will not go back upon her word, even if that means war. That is what is meant. Let us face that, if we are agreed upon it. The importance of this act is in no way diminished because as a matter of fact Germany is not in the slightest degree likely to invade France or Belgium in the next few months. No doubt the Government hope by this act to steady opinion in all countries, and in all the countries which I have mentioned, and which are in great apprehension in Central Europe, and to rally them to the earnest support of the League of Nations.
We ought, therefore to support the Government and to defend them in the country, even if some of us do not think that this would be actually the best method to adopt; but I must point out that any steadying effect which this act of Great Britain may produce will be more than wiped out by the development and completion of the German fortress barrier, because that will be a decisive closing of the door upon the influence of the Western democracies on the fate of Central Europe. Therefore, I hold that the time is coming for a final and lasting friendly settlement with Germany. The time available is short. What should be our next step? I hope we shall not re- 2488 peat the Abyssinian story; I hope we shall not claim an undue prominence, more than we are ready to make good. I should regret to see this issue drawn as if it were one between Great Britain and Germany; I should regret to see the discussions conducted any further as if they were conversations or correspondence between my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and Herr von Ribbentrop or any other German representative. We have not the solidarity of conviction yet in this country, nor have we adequate defences to take a line of undue prominence or to seek to dominate this matter.
We must do our part, but not more than our part, and that is why I agree with the Leader of the Opposition in the view which he has expressed, and which I gather was not at all unwelcome to the Foreign Secretary, that these supreme issues should not be settled by any single Power, but by all chose Powers, or all who matter, at Geneva, and within the circle and under the authority of the League of Nations. We ought to intimate, therefore, to Germany that the points raised in Herr Hitler's interesting and important Note involve the whole of Europe, and that, without prejudice to our specific obligations under Locarno, it would be far better that they should be discussed at Geneva, and that our answers should be made as far as possible from Geneva and with the broadest possible backing of the Powers associated under the Covenant of the League. It does not follow that, because the League of Nations has been ineffective and impotent in protecting Abyssinia, however much we may regret it, that it will not have a real power to deal with the perils which have arisen in Northern Europe. Here you have great nations banded together by solemn treaties, armed most powerfully, whose vital interests are affected; here you have small nations in numbers who, individually, may be helpless, but who, organised and united under the authority of the League, may exert a very great power indeed. Thus the League of Nations, in dealing with these matters for all the interested countries, ought not to lack champions. That is why I agree with what has been proposed. There is safety in numbers, and I believe also that there may be peace in numbers.
2489 The Leader of the Opposition twitted me the other night with having become a recent convert to these ideas of collective security, and I venture to ask the great indulgence of the House to do what otherwise I should be loth to do—to read in vindication of myself a very few words which I used two and a-half years ago, on the 7th November, 1933. I was urging the Government of my right hon. Friend the Lord President to desist from endeavouring to persuade France to disarm, and I was urging him to begin the rearmament of Great Britain, in view of all the news that was reaching us as to the beginning of German preparations. This is what I said:I believe that we shall find our greatest safety in co-operating with the other Powers of Europe, not in taking a leading part but in coming in in our proper place, with all the neutral States and the smaller States of Europe which will gather together anxiously in the near future at Geneva. We shall make a great mistake to separate ourselves entirely from them at this juncture. Whatever way we turn there is risk. There is peril on every side. I believe that the least risk and the greatest help will be found in recreating the Concert of Europe through the League of Nations, not for the purpose of fiercely quarrelling and haggling about the details of disarmament"—German rearmament was then in its infancy—but in an attempt to address Germany collectively, so that there may be some redress of the grievances of the German nation and that that may be effected before this peril of rearmament reaches a point which may endanger the peace of the world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1933; col. 142, Vol. 281.]That was the counsel which I ventured to offer to the House nearly three years ago, when all was so easy; it is still the counsel which I renew to the House tonight, when all has become so hard.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Mr. CASSELLS
I find it difficult to follow such an illustrious speaker as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and I do so with a feeling of trepidation; but, be that as it may, I have as an individual certain very definite views in connection with this matter. In the first place, I may say frankly and honestly that I was not in the slightest degree struck or impressed by the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon. It seems to me that we are sitting here to-day in con- 2490 ference dealing with an inquest on the corpse of the National Government. Coming as I do from a county constituency which in November, 1935, was returned as a Government seat with a majority of no less than 5,000 votes, but where, after the lapse of no more than four and a-half months, the consensus of opinion has so changed that the Government now find themselves in a minority of approximately 1,000 votes, it seems to me that these are facts and circumstances which speak for themselves and brook absolutely no contradiction. Nevertheless, we find to-day from the speech of the Prime Minister that he still considers that he has the confidence of the country behind him. I would address this question to the Prime Minister. He has made an ex parte statement. What justification, what facts has he behind him to justify and merit his placing that statement before the House?
I did not intend to-day to deal with the question of confidence from the point of view of foreign policy, but, in view of what the last speaker said, I propose to address myself in the short time at my disposal to that particular theme. There are people to-day who say that the Great War of 1914–1918 served no useful purpose. I stand here in this House, speaking as a young man, and I say that the Great War did serve a useful purpose. That useful purpose was to prove to every one of us conclusively that wars never have been any good, and never can be any good; and, more than that, the Great War gave to us the League of Nations, which, I submit, is built from its very foundation upon the blood and the suffering of the boys and men who died and suffered that we might live. And yet, in the year of Our Lord 1936, what position do we find? We find, every one of us, if we are honest with our own consciences, if we are honest with ourselves, that that foundation of the League of Nations is tottering and trembling, and the only possible reason is that it is to a very great extent directly attributable to the weak, spineless, changing, vacillating international policy of the so-called National Government.
As I sat in this House last week listening to the speeches of the Foreign Secretary, of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), and of the right hon. 2491 Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), I was struck by two things. The first was that the Foreign Secretary stated that he was not prepared to be the first Foreign Secretary to break his word. I want to say quite frankly that I believe in our Foreign Secretary; I should be lying if I said anything to the contrary; but in none of these speeches did he find a single word of criticism levelled at the policy of the National Government so far as support of the League of Nations was concerned. If we trace the history of the League of Nations, we find that, almost from its inception, our Government's policy, apart from when it was represented by the late Arthur Henderson, has been changing and vacillating in character. Let me give one or two illustrations.
In the first place, there was the invasion of Manchuria by Japan, which has already been referred to by a Member on these benches. Then, in February, 1932, we had the Italian Government, through Signor Grandi, coming to the League at Geneva with a concrete policy of disarmament to the German level of the Treaty of Versailles. That was destroyed and killed in its very infancy by a representative from this House. In December, 1925, there was the attempted agreement between this country on the one hand and Italy on the other with regard to the partition of Abyssinia; and lastly, and most important of all, in November, 1935, the National Government went to the country on a definite and very particular issue. That issue was two-fold—an issue of rearmament and an issue relative to the application of sanctions. I come from my constituency with this demand behind me. What the people of my constituency and the people of Great Britain want to know is this. The National Government was returned in November, 1935, with a definite working majority, with a definite authority and mandate from the people of this country to apply sanctions. Whether we agree with that policy or not does not matter so far as this question is concerned, but what we desire to know is how it comes about that, after no less than four and a-half months, oil sanctions have not been imposed, and during all this long period the raping, the ravishing and the destruction of the poor uncivilised Abyssinians have been going on. Everyone in this 2492 House has a conscience. There is something inherent in everyone of us which tells us the difference, between what is right and what is wrong, and between what is good and what is bad. Foreign policy is not a party matter. It should at all times be above party politics and I ask that when we go into the Lobby we shall judge our future conduct by our experience of the past, and vote accordingly.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry that the Debate has gone so rapidly from the circumstances that precipitated it to the general question of foreign affairs. I hope I shall not be asked to deal exclusively with foreign affairs, beyond at this juncture congratulating the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Cassells) on his first effort in this House. He chose an extraordinarily difficult occasion to make it, and he chose perhaps the most difficult man in the House to follow. The right hon. Gentleman's entertainment value is at a very high level. He always plays to capacity, and a new Member has to face the ordeal of losing the vast audience that came in for the first house. The hon. Member surmounted these difficulties in a very capable fashion and his further interventions in the House will not, I am sure, have the same difficulties and terrors as on the occasion that he adopted just now.
I do not think that the Prime Minister, in his statement with reference to the decision on Wednesday, has done anything like justice to that occasion. There is no doubt that the Government was defeated on a vote about conditions in the Civil Service. I am not going to ask, in face of the Prime Minister's statement, and of the fact that he has made this a Vote of Confidence, that we insist on him establishing equal pay for equal work. Obviously the Government has taken its stand against that view. But I think it will be a break with all the precedents, and I think something of an affront to the House of Commons, if the Government does not review the position of remuneration in the Civil Service from top to bottom. It is quite wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that Civil Service conditions compare more than favourably with corresponding conditions outside. There are many Departments of the Civil Service where conditions exist which are little less than 2493 sweated labour, Many persons engaged in the public service—office cleaners, part-time postmen, night telephonists, junior clerks, storekeepers, office keepers in various parts of the country—whose wages conditions, both for men and women, are indefensible, and the Prime Minister's statement the other night—I cannot recollect whether he repeated it to-day—of the Fair Wages Clause being the principle on which they stand, has been proved time and again not to be a principle that secures justice to the people. We have heard it used to defend wages of 4d., 5d. and 6d. an hour to public employés, because they could find some sweating employer in the immediate neighbourhood who paid wages of that description for work of a somewhat comparable nature.
I do not suppose that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury will attempt to deny that he has a certain amount of responsibility to bear for the decision of last Wednesday. When his followers do not roll up in the necessary numbers, he must feel that a rose has fallen from has chaplet, or perhaps there is a blot on his escutcheon or some of these other things. I ask him particularly to direct the attention of the Government and the Prime Minister to the fact that there are many grievances in the Civil Service which urgently demand redress, and that the vote of Wednesday night at the very least ought to be taken as a mandate to investigate Civil Service conditions in general with a view to removing conditions which are unworthy of the public service. In the Government of this country there are four partners—Government, Lords, Commons and permanent civil servants. When we begin to weigh up each of these four, no one will come to the conclusion that the civil servant is the least important. Governments change, and Parliaments change, but the Civil Service goes on steadily all the time, carrying very heavy responsibilities from the top to the bottom, and their conditions, men or women, should be such as not merely can be excused but such as we can point to with pride as being the best possible.
I want to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his speech, For spirit, for breadth and for depth it is easily the best effort that he has made since assuming the position of leadership of the party 2494 above the Gangway. I certainly agree with his major criticism. I have never known a Government whose moral ascendancy has deteriorated so badly in so short a time. The explanation of it is not merely the ineptitude and contradictions of the policy that is has adopted since the Election. I do not think the country ever wanted it. The Government was elected, not because there was any enthusiasm for it in the country, but because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen were not able to present themselves at that juncture as a suitable alternative. They are there, not with any enthusiasm from the country, but because the country generally could not see a practical alternative at that time. I think my right hon. Friend's speech to-day brings them nearer being a practical alternative, but I am afraid both he and the leader of the Liberal Opposition will have to make quite clear to the country precisely where they stand on the issue of peace and war because, when they dealt with foreign affairs, I was horrified at their jingoism. There could be no other conclusion from their speeches than that their criticism of the Government was that it had not speedily enough landed us into war with Italy and Germany, so that we might have two major wars on our hands.
Let me examine it without any passion or hate. The Government, according to the right hon. Gentleman, had been vacillating in applying the power of the League of Nations against Italy. The right hon. Gentleman makes them responsible for the slaughter of the Abyssinians that is going on to-day because they did not apply sanctions with energy and enthusiasm, as presumably the right hon. Gentleman and his Friends would have done if they had been in office. My hon. Friends and I, before and during the Election and subsequently in the House, have pointed out that sanctions necessarily meant war. Here we come to a position where you have applied every sanction with the exception of oil, and iron and steel.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I will bring that in as another. Could any of these three additional sanctions have been applied without having men under arms and ships and aeroplanes ready to go? Could you 2495 have put an embargo on ships, or even oil sanctions, without bringing the Suez Canal definitely into the dispute, and could you have brought the Suez Canal into the dispute without being ready for war? I want to know from the Leaders of the Liberal party and the official Opposition whether they are a war party or a peace party.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
If the hon. Member is asking me, I will tell him shortly. We are a peace party, but he knows perfectly well that we have been drifting perilously near war in recent weeks, and one reason is that we have not enforced the law against Italy in this dispute.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am pointing out that, if they are going to start running all over the world as policemen, they had better get their batons in their hands and they had better tell the workers of the country that in the years that lie immediately ahead, until they have established the League of Nations in the mind of the world as the great peace procurer, they have to be ready to shoulder their arms, they have to join the Territorials, the Army and the Navy, because you are not going to get the League of Nations accepted by the Mussolinis or the Hitlers unless you are going to take armed force methods. It is wrong and misleading of the right hon. Gentleman to say he stands for peace, because in the immediate future he stands for war and the training of the peoples of the world through the League of Nations, which has never yet been in agreement on any occasion. You have to teach the world through the League of Nations that any aggressor is going to be met by the armed force of Great Britain.
§ Mr. GARRO-JONES
Would the hon. Member be good enough to explain whether he is in favour of allowing the continued export of oil to Italy?
§ Mr. MAXTON
I have made it perfectly plain in this House again and again that we are not in favour of the application of sanctions at any point. We are absolutely 100 per cent, against it. It is not a substitute for war, it is merely a 2496 preliminary to war. My right hon. Friend spoke strongly, and rightly so, about the conditions that the Abyssinians are in. He says that the responsibility for that lies with the non-strenuous application of sanctions. The responsibility for the condition of the Abyssinians to-day lies in the fact that they were made to believe that sanctions were an effective way of preventing Italy from smashing them. If they had never been misled in that way they would have had to accept what was happening, and the lives of tens of thousands of men would have been saved; or alternatively, in addition to the tens of thousands of Abyssinians gasping out their lives under poison gas there would have been tens of thousands of Britons gasping out their lives alongside them.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The answer I make is this. If you have a capitalist system of society—I notice that the acting Leader of the Labour party laughs at the idea of criticising the capitalist system.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Gentleman knows to whom I am referring. I have lost knowledge of the hierarchy since I left, and I do not know the different gradations. The hon. Member who usually speaks for the party above the Gangway on foreign affairs is here.
§ Mr. DALTON
If the hon. Member wishes to bring me to my feet, I was laughing at the sorry state in which he found himself when asked a perfectly straight question, "Are you or are you not in favour of supplying oil from British firms, including the Anglo-Persian, largely owned by the British Government, in order that Abyssinians might be gassed by planes driven with this fuel?" It was at his utter failure to answer that that I laughed.
§ Mr. MAXTON
The hon. Member laughed before I had even the opportunity of replying. I stand on definite Socialistic principles in this House and I do not have to go shilly-shallying and dodging about. I would prevent any company from selling oil in these conditions or any other conditions, and my hon. Friend may he perfectly certain that in any direction in which we could save the lives of Abyssinians, or 2497 Britishers, or Italians, we would always be ready to support any steps.—[Interruption.] No it is not sanctions. But when the hon. Gentleman and his friends ask us to have millions more mutilated, then we say we part company from them completely. As long as you are out for saving life and preventing the spread of warfare we are with you, but when you go out for a world war to stop a conflagration in one corner we are against you. That is a straight answer, and a Socialist answer. If it does not satisfy the hon. Gentleman it is the best I can do for him.
Is the hon. Member seriously of opinion that if an oil sanction was put on against Italy, Italy would be in a position, with the Abyssinian war on her hands, to declare war against the British Empire and the League?
§ Mr. MAXTON
If all the nations of the world united to smash Italy they are capable of doing it. I am satisfied of that, but I have yet to see all the capitalist nations of the world united on that or on any other issue. I see today Great Britain with the possibility of two wars on her hands, and, according to the speeches that I have heard, the Liberal party and the Labour party are in favour of taking on these two wars. I am sorry that I have aroused the wrath of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the gangway. Those who were in at the beginning know that I prefaced my remarks by congratulating the Leader of the Opposition, said that their chances of becoming an alternative Government were better to-day than I have seen them for some time, and certainly better than they were at the General Election. But I said that there were one or two things on which they would have to make plain to the electors where they stood, and that was one of the things I referred to, and that was the reason I brought it in, not to argue sanctions or no sanctions. The three sections of the Opposition have everything in common on a Vote of Censure.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I am sorry if I have identified him too completely with the hon. Gentlemen among whom he sits. 2498 This Government has lost caste in the country and in the House, and the Opposition have to get that Government removed from office as soon as possible. I say that the official Opposition, as the major partner, should be the alternative Government. Before they get a vote of that kind from the country they have to let the country know precisely where they stand on certain issues. Among those the most important at this time is the issue of peace or war. Do not let them start taking on a quarrel with me about it, because on the last day when there was a Foreign Affairs Debate I listened to five first-class speeches from above the Gangway from five first-rank leaders of the Labour party, each putting a different point of view on this issue, each eloquent and plausible. But it does not give the country confidence in a party that, on the major issue confronting the nation, an important section of the House of Commons, aspiring to Government office, should have five different points of view presented in one debate.
§ Mr. MAXTON
If that be the case the hon. Member should apply at once for the leadership of the party. If he is capable of making one common policy out of those five conflicting views, he is the one man who is wanted. I am sorry that I have detained the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on!"]—I suppose I am not the first person in this House who has been embarrassed by his support rather than by his opposition. This Motion we are discussing has been turned by the Prime Minister into one of confidence in the Government, and has been turned by the Opposition, naturally, into a Vote of Censure on the 'Government. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) from his own particular angle has added substantially to the power of the censure. His criticisms, although not from the direction of this side of the House, were very deadly criticisms indeed. I see the position that the Government is in to-day as merely symptomatic of a deterioration which has found its expression in home affairs, in social affairs and in foreign affairs, 2499 and which, if continued, cannot fail to work havoc with the condition of the people of Great Britain, cannot fail to reduce the chances of peace throughout the world; and I suggest to the Government that they should consider now trying to make right the wrong things they have done in home affairs, social affairs and foreign affairs; or failing to do that they should give the electors the opportunity to replace them by some alternative Government.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not wish to embarrass the hon. Gentleman by my support, for I profoundly differ from his outlook on foreign affairs and the means by which he thinks our own safety can be secured, but the hon. Member has done a useful service, for he has challenged us all to think out exactly what we mean by the views that we are expressing in this House. It is not in one part of the House only that uncertainty is visible, that contradictory positions are taken successively, and that the attitude varies from day to day according to the sentimental considerations which affect us, rather than being governed by a clear outlook on the world and a steady appreciation of certain principles which should govern our policy in relation to it. I hope the Government will to-night do something to make their own position more plain.
I join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in urging that we should have a clear and authoritative answer from the Government about the British Colonies and the mandated territories. The article in "The Times" this morning from their Tanganyika correspondent, to which my right hon. Friend referred, shows that it is high time that the Government state clearly and unmistakably what their position is, and that then all Members of the Government should conform their language to that authoritative statement. But the ambiguities go further, and are not confined to the Government. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party with a vigour and violence of speech denouncing the Government for not having forced upon the League more drastic sanctions in the case of Abyssinia and for not enforcing those sanctions now.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
To summon the Council of the League. For what purpose? In order that the British representative of the Council should inquire of the Council what they propose to do.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
It is not what the right hon. Gentleman wants. He wants, and he has called for, a lead from the British Government.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
The task of the British Government would not be over when they had summoned the Council. They are to go to the League and call upon it for additional sanctions. I do not say that that is wrong. I think that that was the right policy at the beginning, but nobody has the right to urge this Government to take that line, unless they are prepared to meet the challenge of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) not by asking, "What would you do about oil," but by asking what they themselves will do if that action leads to war?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The right hon. Gentleman could not have been present when I answered my hon. Friend here and another hon. Member. I said clearly that we have resolutely to support the authority of the League and take all measures necessary to enforce the law.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I wish to point out to the House that in very few eases, if in any, will economic sanctions alone be sufficient to deter an aggressor, and that when the aggression has once begun the effect of economic sanctions is very slow. If a war lasts a long time the effect may be very influential on the ultimate result. You have no right to press for sanctions unless you are prepared to make them effective, and you have no right to press them unless you tell our people openly and frankly that with the imposition of sanctions the issue of peace and war passes out of our hands into the hands of the other party. In other words, you ought not to take our people—you have no right to take them—blindfold into a risk, concealing from them what that risk is. I was prepared in the Italo-Abyssinian conflict to 2501 take all those risks, including—[An HON. MEMBER: "The Peace Ballot!"] No, I was not in favour of the Peace Ballot, and how little meaning that has is shown by the profound difference you would get if you put the same questions to our people to-day.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
I am trying to put to the House a serious argument on a very serious thing. I hope that I am not being unduly provocative, but I should like to put the argument as clearly as I can to the House without unnecessary interruption. I was prepared to back up, and to go to all lengths with the League at the beginning. I think that if we made a mistake, it was in pressing the League to go so far when it was obviously unwilling and unprepared to go further. The lesson of the Abyssinian war and the action of the League of Nations in regard to it is, that we have to make up our minds in this country, as they have to do in other countries, whether we mean to make collective security a reality or whether it is only to be a decoration to our speeches, and an answer to impatient constituents to whom it appears to promise safety without any risk.
I believe that if you can follow up the League of Nations system, it is the best guarantee that the world can have against war, but you cannot develop that system in the present very imperfect state of the League, without all the members of the League taking great risks and perhaps suffering great losses for causes which are not immediately their own, though they are the causes of common security. It is quite true that we have been unable to restrain Italy and it is quite true that the prospect or the possibility of similar action has been unable to restrain Germany. If an aggressive nation, unable to obtain its purpose by any other means but war, feels itself Strong enough for war, we have those two instances, and they are sufficient, though there are others to prove that paper guarantees will not deter them, and, in the last resort, the only thing that will hold them is the knowledge that a forward movement would mass a still greater force against them than they could command. There is the whole question of the League. It does not lie in whether an oil sanction 2502 is imposed, or in whether the ships of Italy are forbidden our ports. What are they to carry from our ports? Even though they were all laid up, if they were running at a loss or were carrying little cargo, that would not be an effective sanction. It does not lie in that. It lies in the question which each country has to answer. If aggression is proved and declared by the League of Nations, are we willing to put our resources, military and naval, at the service of the League? In the case of Locarno we pledged ourselves definitely to put our whole resources behind the League. We are pledged again in what my right hon. Friend rightly called the courageous speech of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the other night. How far are we prepared to give the same pledge in respect of all our other obligations to other countries? That is the real problem.
The world has become so narrow. Europe, above all, has become so narrow that you have to ask yourselves whether you can keep the peace by sections or whether you must not keep the peace by common action on every occasion whenever it is broken. My right hon. Friend's survey of the result of the German breach of the demilitarisation clauses must, I think, have impressed the House, and will, I hope, be studied carefully in the country. What is happening at the present moment? Nations who are not strong enough to stand by themselves, whose independence, I will not say hangs by a thread, but is certainly not secure, are watching anxiously to see whether there is a collective system which can offer them protection, or whether they must pay ransom to the forces of violence and disturbance. I think that the answer is that that protection can only be given to them through the League of Nations, that they themselves must help, and that the condition of effective action in any case is the whole-hearted co-operation of all in every country. I should like very much to know how far the Government have thought out this matter in the light of our recent experience, and how far they are prepared to put a policy before the country, either explaining the limitations of our action or accepting whole-heartedly the complete support of the League in all the decisions to which it may come.
2503 These are very grave days. We are anxious in this country, I think a little over-anxious, to enter into new conversations with Germany. It is not easy to get. Powers suffering from a grave breach of faith to sit down at once and discuss a new treaty with the party which has broken the old. But if there is to be a meeting, we want to know precisely what is meant by the conditions. We want to know what guarantees there are that such a treaty will be kept if it comes into being, and what sanctions will be avail-able if that treaty too, is broken. I am disturbed by the character of the German proposals. It is hardly yet the time to speak about them, but I am disturbed about the reference to equality of status. One of the earliest things we ought to know is exactly what Germany means by it. Does she mean that she is to have everything that anyone else has, or does she mean something less? Does she mean that the mandated territories which we possess are to be returned to her? That is a question which must be faced. We have a right to ask Germany to say explicitly what she means, and she has the right to ask us, before we accept that as a basis of negotiations, whether we are prepared to give her what she asks.
There are other things. The German proposals offer a series of bilateral pacts of non-aggression. I do not see their relationship to the Covenant of the League. They give no support to the Covenant. Locarno gives support to the Covenant of the League in a particular case. A purely bilateral pact of non-aggression is no guarantee but merely leads you to eat up each morsel separately instead of having to eat them altogether. At the earliest moment at which my right hon. Friend can make a more explicit statement on the part of His Majesty's Government, it is his duty to do so. This Debate ought not to close without all ambiguity as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government with regard to the British Colonies and mandated territories being removed once and for all.
§ 7.31 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
In the circumstances of the Debate it may perhaps be for the convenience of the House if I intervene for a few minutes at this 2504 stage, since so much of the Debate has concerned itself with foreign affairs, and since in certain quarters of the House charges have been directed against the Government which we wish to take the earliest opportunity of meeting. Later in the Debate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reply for the Government upon other matters, including that which has just been raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). The Leader of the Opposition when he opened the Debate, indulged himself, and nobody will complain, in a celebration of the victory which the Opposition felt that they had gained a few days ago. Nobody will complain because, as I understand—I was not present—the victory was not of very long duration, only some 10 minutes. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman struck the Government with his first barrel and missed with his second.
When, basing himself upon that incident, the right hon. Gentleman proceeded to give an indictment of Government policy on a wide range and expressed his solicitude for our health, we are touched that he should be anxious, but we are surprised at the testimony which he calls in evidence to support him—Lord Rothermere's newspaper. He has to go there to make sure that the Government are ailing, and I congratulate him on his newfound friendship. He dealt at some length with foreign affairs and gave what I am obliged to call a complete travesty of the history in respect of the earlier phases of the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. I do not want to weary the House by going back in detail over the past, but none the less the right hon. Gentleman's charges should not be allowed to go unanswered. What he said was that if only the Government had taken a strong line earlier all would have been well. The right hon. Gentleman adduced not one shred of evidence to justify that charge, and he did not do so because there is no evidence that he can adduce.
From the very beginning of this dispute, from the month of December, 1934, when the Wal-Wal incident took place, the Government have been active and unceasing in endeavouring to obtain first a peaceful solution of the problem and then such action as we felt compelled to take under the Covenant. The right hon. Gentleman has perhaps forgotten that from Decem- 2505 ber until just before May last the only issue that we had before us and that the world had before it was the Wal-Wal incident, which in actual fact was eventually settled.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Is it not a fact that for nearly four months before the matter was referred to the League it was discussed by the Stresa Powers only?
§ Mr. EDEN
That statement could not be further from the facts. The incident took place in December, 1934. The following month, in January, the matter came before the Council of the League. More than that, it was kept before it very largely through the action of His Majesty's Government. It is these wild inaccuracies, which the hon. Member believes are justified and which have no foundation in fact, that are used to make charges against His Majesty's Government, although they have no place in history. The only incident before us in January was the Wal-Wal incident. That was before the Council and it was ultimately settled. It was just before the Council met in May that the matter became internationally of greater significance on account of the troop movements of Italy to the Italian African colonies. It was that which first made the world wonder what was going to be the consequences of this small frontier incident. That was just before the May Council. We went to the May Council with two definite intentions, first, to make sure that all matters connected with this dispute should be submitted to arbitration, and, second, to ensure that the Council should continue to be in charge of the matter right through. Our essential pre-occupation—and we carried it out—was to see that the Council did not adjourn from May until its next ordinary meeting in September. If the right hon. Member will take the trouble to look at the records he will learn something of the difficulty we had in ensuring that the matter was not shelved from May till September. I have here the speech made by the Italian Government's representative at the Council. It was made on a resolution which was pressed 2506 for strongly by His Majesty's Government and eventually adopted. It is no exaggeration to say that it was largely on account of our efforts that it was adopted. He said:By accepting the arbitration procedure the Italian Government Iliad demonstrated their determination to respect the undertakings entered into by the Italian and Abyssinian Governments in the Treaty of 1928 …That was a Treaty by which they bad undertaken to submit all questions of dispute to arbitration, and not to have recourse to arms. He further said:If the Italian Government accepted the conciliation and arbitration procedure they did so because they intended to conform thereto.That was not said at a hole-and-corner meeting, but before the Council of the League of Nations, where the matter was brought and kept owing to our own efforts. In the month of June, acting on the instructions of His Majesty's Government, I was sent on a mission to Signor Mussolini himself, to make plain the position of our Government in this dispute. Since hon. Members suggest that we never made our position plain I should like to quote three or four sentences which I put before Signor Mussolini. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said: "You never bothered about the League of Nations; you were only thinking about your own interests. You kept the League out of it."
I expressed to Signor Mussolini the grave concern of His Majesty's Government at the turn which events were taking between Italy and Abyssinia. I said that our reasons were neither egoist nor dictated by our interests in Africa but by our membership of the League of Nations. I said that British foreign policy was founded on the League, and that His Majesty's Government could not therefore remain indifferent to events which might profoundly affect the League's future. I said that upon this issue public opinion in this country felt very strongly. It was only through collective security that peace could be secured and only through the League that Britain could play her full part in Europe. It was for this reason that His Majesty's Government had been anxiously considering whether there was any constructive contribution which they could make in order to promote a solution.
2507 That was in June, 1935, at a time when we had put forward a solution the fate of which is fresh in the minds of the House.
I am prepared to stand a challenge on this issue, that throughout this dispute we have been foremost in keeping the matter within the League and before the League of Nations. If the right hon. Gentleman's indictment over this dispute meant anything at all, it meant to anyone listening this afternoon, and to anyone without a memory of what happened, that the charge against the Government is that they have been a drag on the League of Nations all along. The impression that he gave was that the League was anxious to take spirited action if His Majesty's Government had not been continually dragging at their coat-tails to pull them back. If he believes that, he is the only man in Europe who does so. Nor is it possible to adopt the attitude of saying that all that the League did was good, and all that His Majesty's Government did was ill. What the League decided to do may or may not have been good, only history can tell, and it is much too soon to start writing that history this afternoon. Whatever the final verdict may be, responsibility has to be shared by the League and we will take our share, no more and no less. We have done our utmost since the dispute began to fulfil what we believe to be our duty under the Covenant, and we will go on doing so.
I think the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was not fair to His Majesty's Government in this respect, on what they have sought to do in the last few months, He said, I thought very wisely, last October, when we were debating this subject:If I am asked, how far will you go in support of the Covenant of the League of Nations, I shall say we ought to go the whole way with the whole lot.
§ Mr. EDEN
That, I submit, is precisely the policy that His Majesty's Government have attempted to pursue throughout this very troubled period. I do not think it is possible to say that we could throughout the dispute have never taken the lead and still have fulfilled our obligations under the Covenant. 2508 This country, one of the few great Powers in the League, is so circumstanced that inevitably a special responsibility rests upon us, and I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend's statement of last October, which seems to me clearly to state the Government's policy.
What are the lessons that can be learned, even so far? I think they are important. The first is, that the League, with its limited membership, is inevitably limited in effectiveness. The second is that financial and economic sanctions cannot be immediately effective if the membership of the League is not complete. I do not say that they could not ever he effective, but I say that they cannot be immediately effective. Thirdly—and this is where I disagree with some of my hon. Friends—it may be said that, viewing all that has happened, we ought not to have attempted to stop this war at all. I do not agree. It is impossible to establish international law by abetting breaches of international law, and it may be if we are to see these things correctly we must look at them in a longer perspective than is possible to-night. It may be that when the history of this difficult post-war period is written, when the time comes to assess the attempt to make collective security operative that this unhappy, this tragic war and the lessons derived from it will have been found to have played an important part in establishing a lasting peace.
I should like to say a word or two about recent events in connection with this dispute. Last February the Experts Committee on the oil embargo reported. At the beginning of March I made it clear on behalf of His Majesty's Government that, while admitting the ineffectiveness of the oil embargo, we thought such an embargo should be put on. The French Government took the view, which they were fully entitled to take, that another effort should be made at conciliation before the embargo was put on. The Committee agreed, and the effort was made. Conciliation was accepted by both parties, but in the interval since the acceptance of that conciliation the Italian Government have intensified their aggression. In the view of His Majesty's Government it would be intolerable that we should at Geneva merely speak of conciliation while war continued. There must be real conciliation, that is to say, 2509 conciliation which results in a given period in a cessation of hostilities, otherwise the Committee of Eighteen would have to face its task once again. The position of His Majesty's Government remains exactly the same as it has throughout the dispute. We are prepared to take part with others in economic and financial measures, if others accept them and carry them out in the same spirit and the same measure.
May I turn for a few moments to the other subject which is very much in our minds to-night, that is the situation created by the German Chancellor's reply? I told the House last Friday that the Government were engaged in examining these proposals. That examination is still in progress. A few days ago the French arid Belgian Governments approached His Majesty's Government with a request that we should hold a meeting of the Locarno Powers other than Germany early this week, either in Paris or in Brussels. I confess that we were a little doubtful of the utility of such a meeting at this moment. At any rate, I thought it right to make it clear that His Majesty's Government could not come to a meeting and agree that conciliation was at an end. On the other hand, we thought that an exchange of views might be valuable whether through the ordinary diplomatic channels or direct by Ministers meeting. Since in our view a meeting of the Committee of Thirteen dealing with the Abyssinian dispute was urgently necessary—we have pressed for it and it is meeting on Wednesday—we thought it an opportunity of suggesting to the French and Belgian Governments that during the period of that meeting an opportunity might arise for informal consultations between us. I am glad to tell the House that both the French and Belgian Governments have concurred in that view. I am leaving for Geneva tomorrow, and I understand that M. Flandin and M. Van Zeeland will be there within the next day or two. That will afford an opportunity for exchanging views at Geneva.
The right hon. Member for Epping and the Leader of the Opposition remarked upon the importance in their view of bringing the League into these discussions at the first opportunity. I entirely agree. The German Chancellor's proposals contained, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham most rightly said, a 2510 number of proposals. Some of them concern the group of Western Powers; some of them concern individual Powers, either in the south or east of Europe. It is in our view essential, if we are not to enter into confusion which might weaken the League, that these proposals should be co-ordinated, and should be co-ordinated by the League. The Leader of the Opposition said that Locarno is too narrow in basis—we must broaden it. He was really simplifying our difficulties too easily. The task is not as simple as that, because the Locarno obligations are there, and we are bound by them. I would remind the Leader of the Opposition that successive Governments have been bound by them, the Government of which he was a Member was bound by the Locarno Treaty, and it will not be a great contribution to confidence in Europe to say that Locarno is much too narrow and must be widened. It would not meet the circumstances. What we must do is to ensure that the League is in charge and co-ordinates and controls our new efforts to create security in Europe. That is exactly the policy of His Majesty's Government in this matter.
I would utter this word of warning. If the idea is that what we ought to do now is to set aside the German Chancellor's proposals, set aside our immediate task which has been created by the violation of the Locarno Treaty and try to negotiate some wide scheme of general settlement for Europe—if that is the idea I want to enter a caveat. I am not so sure that that is the best method to proceed, and I will tell the House why. I am very doubtful whether it is possible or desirable at this moment to negotiate general obligations of mutual assistance all over Europe going beyond the terms of the Covenant itself. We all have general commitments in the Covenant which we must make plain we are prepared to fulfil, but we are equally at liberty to reinforce the Covenant for given circumstances by regional agreements. I want to make clear to the House what my fear is if at this moment we try to get some vast new European settlement on terms other than the Covenant. In trying to obtain that we may lose the immediate objective upon which I think, we should concentrate.
If I may be frank with the House I would say what in the view of the 2511 Government we should wish to see realised by the end of this summer. We should wish to see a complete European membership of the League; all the nations of Europe members of the League. We should wish to see a new structure of security in Western Europe to take the place of Locarno. We should wish to see a strengthening of security elsewhere by arrangements directly supervised and controlled by the League itself. If we could ensure that result by the end of the summer we should have gained so much more security for Europe that it might then be possible to enter upon these larger schemes in respect of armaments and economic matters, and also a strengthening of the security afforded by the Covenant itself. It may seem that the programme I put forward is modest, but we have seen so many grand-scale conferences fail that I believe we should be wiser to seek to make this immediate contribution which can and should be made to the security of Europe.
Let there be no mistake. If the Covenant itself is accepted and reaffirmed by all European States, it must have a stabilising effect. It would mean a recognition by the States that in any question, territorial or otherwise, which faces a nation, they would act only in accordance with the principles and through the machinery of the League. If we can secure that, together with the reinforcement of regional agreements, we shall have made an important step in advance. Finally, I would like to say to the House, that in the present period of extreme difficulty it is none the less true that through all these years the League has grown in strength; that its roots have struck deep. That is why it is imperative that everything we do should be founded on the Covenant. For my part, I hope that not lightly shall we seek to amend that instrument until we are sure, in the first place, that everyone in Europe is ready and willing to fulfil their obligations under that instrument. His Majesty's Government are prepared to do that. In that belief and confidence we shall face the task which now confronts us.