§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Captain McEWEN
I shall finish what I have to say in one sentence. France, Belgium and ourselves have unanimously and freely decided to make a fresh start, and therein to my mind lies a very great hope and encouragement for the future.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I have listened with great interest to the hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, and with some of his remarks I found myself in agreement. But his references to Spain will receive no support from this side of the House. I go further and I say that his statement constituted a gross travesty of the facts as they now exist in Spain. It is merely playing with words to suggest that this is not the case of an orthodox revolution against the forces of law and order in that country. The Spanish people had their election a few months ago. A majority was returned by the so-called Left, including the Liberals, Socialists and Communists, and even so the Government that was formed did not contain any representatives of the Communist party. Whether that is so or not, following a properly constituted election a Government was formed, but within a few months a number of Generals in Morocco, heading a large number of coloured troops, have thought it their duty to carry a campaign of destruction and pillage and murder throughout the countryside of Spain; and then we are told by the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken that it is not the case of a struggle on behalf of democracy. He even went SO far as to say that Spain was not a democratic country, and in fact that the struggle was between the extremes of Right and Left. That is absolutely inconsistent with the facts.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
It may be an extraordinary thing, but we have in Spain an example of the Communist party supporting a duly constituted Government, supporting the forces of law and order, and hon. Members opposite, who are always preaching that they are the self-appointed protectors of law and order in this country, by their cheers and ejaculations this morning are making it clear beyond any dispute that their sympathies are with the rebels who are carrying on this campaign in Spain.
In the limited time at my disposal I wish to deal with two questions. The hon. Member who opened the Debate expressed great apprehension regarding the policy of the Government on the question of recognition of the annexation of 1906 Abyssinia by Italy. I know perfectly well that we cannot undo the past, but I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will be able to give us an assurance to-day that we are not going to add another chapter to the chapters of tragedy and humiliation that have preceded the present position. Signor Mussolini referred in Rome a few weeks ago to the white flag of surrender which had been hauled up by the sanctionist countries. I hope that we are not going to complete that surrender by recognising in any way the de jure annexation or occupation of Abyssinia. It may be quite true that there is a de facto occupation of Addis Ababa and of one-third of Abyssinian territory, but as regards the other two-thirds there is neither de facto nor de jure occupation. It would be a calamity if our Government in any way, whatever it might pay them to do from another angle, recognised the de jure annexation of Abyssinia by Italy.
I read the other day that it was the intention of the Italian Government to refuse to afford facilities for the payment of trade debts to sanctionist countries, that is to say the pre-sanction debts, until Italy had accumulated sufficient credits by trading in future. Apparently the view in Rome is that unless Great Britain toes the line we may find that the Italian market is closed against this country for ever; and apparently there is abroad in Italy a spirit of counter-sanctions against this country. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State whether there is any truth in these allegations, and in any event whether he can give any information with regard to the abortive negotiations which took place in Rome last week on this question of trading debts. I would also ask the Under-Secretary a question with regard to armaments, the supply of munitions. On July 15th the Government withdrew the arms embargo against Italy. Is there any prospect of the Government issuing licences to exporters in this country to enable them to supply the Italian Government with gas or any other kind of munitions of war which will be used against the Abyssinians in the event of a continuation of the struggle there? I am sure that a strong body of feeling in this country will be outraged by any such policy on the part of the Government.
Let me pass for a moment to another aspect of the international situation. We 1907 are told that Ministers are not going abroad for their holidays because they are apprehensive of the position in eastern Europe. We are told that arrangements have been made for Parliament to be called together in the event of a crisis taking place during the next two or three months. It is quite true that everywhere one goes one hears people talking as if war was inevitable, and as if that inevitable war might easily begin during the next few months. If one pursues the matter a little further one finds that Germany is continually referred to as the country that is likely to cause trouble. I certainly hold no brief for Germany. I realise as well as hon. Members opposite that during the last three years Germany may have expended anything up to £2,000,000,000 on armaments. That does not seem to me to be any reason for getting panicky. From 1919 to 1932 the Germans were practically unarmed. They were spending an average of about £35,000,000 a year during those twelve years. All that time they were waiting for the other countries of Europe, including ourselves, to reduce their armaments to a level which would render it unnecessary for Germany to increase her armaments.
I do not want to go into that question, except to say that, provided we assume that Germany was going to rearm, it is obvious that she had a good deal of leeway to make up, and a good deal of her expenditure during the last three years has been capital expenditure, because during all these years, when Germany was only spending £30,000,000 or £35,000,000 a year, our own country, for example, was spending, on an average, £110,000,000. If, after spending all that money, it is necessary for our Government to come to the House and ask for a further expenditure of £200,000,000, £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 on the ground that we are practically unarmed, how does it lie in our mouths to attack the German Government because they have found it necessary to spend this extraordinarily large amount in the comparatively short space of three years?
I realise, also, that the Germans have behaved very stupidly during the last 12 months. I should imagine that this is the first time in the history of our country that another first-class Power 1908 has refused to appoint an Ambassador to this country. It is more than three months since, unhappily, the late German Ambassador died, and to-day we have no German Ambassador accredited to the Court of St. James's. I am not going to say whether the responsibility rests with the Government, because I must say that, while the hon. Member who said that there was still a good deal of British prestige in Europe may be correct, I cannot imagine that a few years ago, before the War, the German Government would have allowed three or four months to elapse before they appointed an Ambassador to this country. Then there is the matter of the questionnaire. Months have elapsed, and no answer has been made up to the present time. I cannot conceive of any greater illustration of contempt on the part of one Government for another Government than these two episodes.
But granting that, granting that Germany is governed, as it is to-day, by a brutal dictator, surely Hitler is not eternal Germany, and we have to be prepared to face up to the position and do everything that is possible in order to avert war. I am glad that this Conference is to take place in the near future. I hope that the Government will go to the Conference and make every possible attempt to ascertain from Germany what are her actual grievances and what are her actual aspirations, and will do everything that they can, in conjunction with the other countries of Europe, to remove those grievances and, if possible, to satisfy Germany's reasonable aspirations. I am not suggesting that we should have a peace dictated by fear, nor do I want to buy off Germany. All that I want to do is to urge our Government to do everything that is possible and reasonable in order to prevent war breaking out in Europe. I believe that the people of this country and the peoples of the other countries of Europe will judge their Governments by their actions and by the results of those actions. As far as we on this side of the House are concerned, at any rate as far as I am concerned, I hope that the Government will not allow any considerations of amour propre or national dignity to stand in the way. While realising, as I have said, that the German Government has treated our 1909 Government with contempt and with every lack of consideration, I hope they will go to this Conference and do everything that is possible to make at any rate a satisfactory agreement.
If, after all this has been done, it is clear beyond any doubt that the German Government is determined to plunge Europe into the abyss of war, if Germany is determined to secure her aims by the use of force, then the British Government will be in a very much stronger position, because, by making it clear to public opinion in this country that the responsibility for any such catastrophe rests entirely upon the German Government, they will rally all the forces of public opinion in this country behind their resistance and the resistance of the other member States of the League of Nations in order to prove to Germany that she is not going to be allowed to recast the map of Europe by the methods of force. I hope that in the meantime they will not talk about revising the Covenant of the League of Nations in the direction of weakening Article XVI, but that, on the other hand, they will make any amendments by way of interpretation and so on that are necessary. I hope the direction they will take will be the opposite one of strengthening Article XVI if necessary.
My hon. Friend who opened the Debate rightly expressed the objection of Members on this side of the House to regional pacts. But, on the other hand, it is true to say that some of us would not be opposed to a European Pact. We do not want to see a Pact limited to the Low Countries, in order, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said, to enable us to deal with possible complications in other countries. That is not the way to establish a system of collective security. But, if we are to have any regional pact, whether for Europe, Asia, or any other part of the world, I hope that it will conform to these four requirements. First, that it must be concluded within the framework and spirit of the League of Nations; secondly, that it must be consistent with the rights and obligations of members of the League; thirdly, that it must be open for signature to any other States in the same region and on the same terms; and, fourthly, that it must respect the fundamental principles of the 1910 League, which are, of course, non-resort to war and willingness to agree to peaceful settlements and to accept the guidance of the Council of the League. I believe that, if a regional pact were consistent with these principles, a pact for the whole of Europe based upon mutual assistance and open to every nation in Europe, without excluding Germany or any other country because of anything that may have taken place within its own borders, might do something to underpin the system of security which is centred at Geneva. So long as nothing is done to take away the universal conception of the League, I cannot, myself, see any very fundamental objection to regional pacts of the kind to which I have just referred.
I hope that, in the three or four months that will elapse before Parliament meets again, the Government will, as I have said, do everything that is possible to arrive at a satisfactory agreement with Germany; that they will not recognise the annexation of Abyssinia by Italy; and, thirdly, that they will not allow their policy towards Spain to be influenced by any desire to avoid further friction with Italy and Germany. If we are told that this is a dispute between Fascism on the one hand and democracy on the other, I hope we shall not allow ourselves to be influenced by any pressure on the part of Italy or Germany to allow the Spanish Government to be defeated by the Fascist Generals if they are given support by Germany or Italy. If Germany or Italy gives support to the rebels, I hope we shall carry out the obligations of international law, which would entitle us to supply the Spanish Government with any commodities that they require in order to safeguard the welfare of their people. I hope the Noble Lord will be able to give us some assurance on these points.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
I will not follow the tempting course of endeavouring to analyse the speech that we have just heard. It was so contradictory from every angle that it defies my ability to deal with it in the time that I have at my disposal. I will only refer to one remark, because it followed immediately on another, in which the hon. Member said that the essential policy of the Covenant of the League of Nations was non-resort to war, and within one second 1911 he said we must at all costs strengthen Article 16. The most provocative clause in the Covenant, the one most likely to lead to war, we must strengthen and at the same time support the essential policy of the League, which is non-resort to war.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has completely misunderstood my case. I was laying down several principles which must be observed in connection with a pact, and I was saying that those who signed the pact must agree not to resort to war. That must be one of the terms of the pact. That has nothing to do with Article 16, which deals with the sanctions to be enforced against those who resort to war, force being used collectively by the League of Nations in order to resist the law-breaker.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE
There is such a fundamental difference, to use the hon. Member's phrase, between his policy and mine that it is hardly worth pursuing the point. I feel that I should refer to the speech of the Foreign Secretary in the last Foreign Office Debate, because it has largely provided a guide for us who are following the course of British foreign policy. It was, to my mind, I will not say lucid, because that is a term applied to a predecessor of his and has been consistently used in that connection, but it was one of the clearest, sanest, and most convincing statements of Britain's attitude towards the various problems in Europe that I have heard from any front bench Member connected with the Foreign Office, especially when he came to the part of his speech which more or less co-ordinated the thesis of our foreign policy as announced by the Prime Minister, that we, France and Germany must seek every method by which we can come together, and that really was the fundamental of our foreign outlook—to get France and Germany together. It is obvious that we and France must be, and must remain friends. The coasts of both will only remain inviolate as long as that friendship lasts. France and Germany, if only they could be brought to see it, must be friends, for if not they will inevitably exhaust themselves economically, financially and nervously in fighting a danger which need never exist. We and Germany, with a certain amount of common ancestry and common 1912 outlook—I refer to the German people, and not necessarily to any German Government—have a great deal in common. One has only to visit Germany or receive a visit from a German immediately to transfer one or the other into a sincere friend of the German or the British people as the case may be.
With that policy in view it seems to me that our chief aim should be to try to make pacts of mutual assistance between the three countries, to be extended if necessary. I am not sure that Italy would be of great value in any such pact at present. For 10 years to come neither the benefits of exploitation nor the recovery from exhaustion will enable her to take a leading or decisive part in European politics. If we could get that tri-partite understanding, we could start a ball rolling which would end in the general settlement and easement, if not the complete pacification of all the problems at present confronting us.
I must here follow the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) in regard to the question of Germany's rearmament. Of course, she is re-arming and re-arming as rapidly as she can, at a speed and on a scale far ahead of any world nation to-day, but, as the hon. Member truly said for once, she had to start de novo and, if it is a fact, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) never tires of telling us, that she is spending £800,000,000 a year, we have to remember that that, as the hon. Member quite truly said again, is largely capital expenditure and, no doubt, in due course will come down to a more reasonable amount. Why is Germany rearming? Some would say it is with the ultimate aim of attacking us. I only ask the House to visualise the situation in Europe as it actually is and not as their fears, or doubts or theories may create it. France, with her natural doubts and suspicions, has made herself one of the greatest offensive fighting machines in the world, and also by the erection of the Magniot line, has created the greatest defensive organisation of modern times. Furthermore, she has established a series of alliances, starting with Poland in 1921, then the Little Entente, then Italy, then Russia, and of course with us, under the Treaty of Locarno, with Belgium and Italy as well. 1913 What more can she do? She immediately places Germany in the position of having a peace-time army of 3,000,000 bayonets against her, to be expanded into 12,000,000 in the event of mobilisation. Is it not reasonable and prudent of any leader of any country to take such immediate steps as he may deem necessary to defend his people against such menacing encirclement?
When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was challenged over the sum of £800,000,000 in the Press and in the House, he began to make a way of escape, and he included roads. Every country needs roads, and roads naturally lead to the frontier, but to include them in the armaments of a nation because they lead to a frontier is to take a completely distorted view. If the right hon. Gentleman is challenged again he will, no doubt, include the bonus offered by Herr Hitler to newly-married couples as a means of increasing the population and raising a military force in Germany. Apart from that, there is something about this rearmament which seems to me to offer ground for more hope than we have been able to encourage ourselves with during the last 15 years. Before Germany and the other disarmed countries broke the chains that bound them and started rearming, there was no quid pro quo for which heavily armed nations like France and Italy would give up their armaments. They were strong, and they were protecting themselves with all this great steel wall around them. But now the situation is different. Now there are nations whose forces are becoming level, or are being made up to their level. The pace has become increasingly rapid, and the cost increasingly heavy. I believe that we are possibly on the edge of a situation and a period when these nations will turn with relief to the suggestion of a bilateral or general disarmament whereby they can reduce this expenditure which is forcing them into national bankruptcy, and be enabled to turn that wealth which is now being expended upon the production of war material into channels in which the social services and well-being of their own people can be developed.
There is only one more point upon which I propose to touch, and that is the vexed question of sanctions and the Clauses in the Covenant which enforce 1914 sanctions I believed in sanctions more fervently and more ardently than anyone probably in this House. I have spoken for the League of Nations Union up and down the country from Land's End to John o'Groats, because I believed that Article 16 was the real foundation upon which the peace of the world depended. Now I believe it no longer. I believe that sanctions have been tried—I admit that the test case was not a particularly good one, as I will explain—and have failed, and now I am doubtful about the future. The testing time will come again. Are we to be faced with the same troubles and dissensions? I do not believe that sanctions now can ever win out, partly because we have the experience that you will never get unanimity between the nations enforcing them, and if you have one loophole unplugged the whole system falls to the ground. The second reason is that I believe that with the swiftness by which war secures its result in these days, with all its scientific accessories and powerful forces, poisoned gas and aeroplanes—any war will be won or lost before sanctions, economic, financial or whatever they may be, can have the adequate effect. Therefore, in view of the fact that this experience has led me to a very definite conclusion, we would be wise in this country to again give the lead—and we have courage in giving leads, even though at times they may be mistaken ones—to the world in the hope that we may get removed from the Covenant these provocative clauses which, in my opinion, will undoubtedly one day lead the world into chaos again.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Mr. W. ROBERTS
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Col. Moore), although he struck rather a more optimistic note than some speakers on the subject, even though his reasons for optimism do not seem to be so good. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) suggested that there was an atmosphere of defeatism and pessimism with regard to the future of peace, and seemed to wish to fasten that upon the Opposition. The Home Secretary, speaking in the country last weekend, said something on the same lines; that there were some people beginning to whisper that war was inevitable and all 1915 that remained was to calculate how soon it might happen and prepare for the worst. I cannot say whether the Opposition sometimes whisper, but I know that the Government and supporters of the Government are shouting from their Benches that war is inevitable. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO!"] I do not know what other conclusion one can draw from the engaging speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but the one which he himself has drawn, is that war in one or two years is inevitable. I remember a speech in which, I think, he even gave the month in which the crisis would occur. The Secretary of State for War said the other day that the situation was worse than it was in 1914. Nothing that the Opposition has ever said can equal that. The Attorney-General, speaking last week, said,Black as the prospect is, I do not despair.That pessimism is not coming from these Benches either above or below the Gangway, but from the Government's own supporters and Ministers. Some of us are beginning to believe that the Government think that war is inevitable. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They have tried one policy after another in foreign affairs, and the Government have not succeeded in any of them. There are some of us who feel that a government who have lost confidence in their own foreign policy and in their capacity to keep the peace, should make room for those who believe that their policy will establish peace upon a firm basis.
I want to say a few words upon another question which, I believe, will become increasingly important in the next few weeks, namely, the question of Spain. I do not think that we can regard it as just a question of Spanish domestic politics. The possible rise of another military dictatorship in the Mediterranean cannot be viewed by this country with any satisfaction whatever. The old argument is used on every occasion that it is to save this or that country from Communism. These dictatorships have never come except on the basis of a so-called threat of Communism. They have never actually taken the place of a Communist government. I do not believe that that is the threat in Spain to-day and, if it is, it is the fault of the militarists who have 1916 raised that issue. The Government, under President Azana, was a Liberal Republican Government, and there were no Socialists or Communists in that Government. Socialists and a few Communists, deputies in the Cortes, were supporting the Government, and if there was lawlessness since the last election it was just as much the fault of the Fascists and militarists as the extremists on the Left. I do not feel able to judge between those two extremes, but the murder which led immediately to this revolt was a murder of revenge for the murder of Socialists. I do not think that we in this country can view what is going on with impartiality. The international effect cannot be anything but damaging if the revolutionaries should win their fight. I cannot understand why the constitutional party which sits opposite, on every occasion on which democracy is threatened, support the dictators, and I sometimes fear if in England democracy should decide upon a Left Wing Government, what, in those circumstances, would be the methods of some hon. Members who sit opposite?
After the expressions of opinion which have come from the benches opposite I do not know whether it is any use making the appeal to the Government which I had intended to make. I wanted to appeal to the Government to speak with no uncertain voice and not to take an attitude of impartiality on this Spanish question. I believe that the interests of this country are essentially bound up in the victory of the present Spanish Government under its Liberal and Republican leadership. I believe it will be a disaster for our foreign policy if the revolutionaries win. I do not ask our Government to intervene but I do ask whether, if the established Government of Spain ask for permission to buy armaments in this country, that permission will be granted and whether the necessary export licences will be granted? Already, one gathers from the Press, a few aeroplanes have found their way out of this country to support the rebels. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it would be possible to stop the export of those aeroplanes.
I understand the position to be that aircraft can be exported from this country under what is known as an open general ex- 1917 port licence to any country except Abyssinia, and of course Italy was also an exception while sanctions were in force. I believe it would be possible to introduce regulations which would prevent British aeroplanes finding their way to the support of the rebels and I ask the Under-Secretary whether he is prepared to take such steps as may be necessary to see that aeroplanes or arms of any sort do not reach the rebels in the future. I also wish to ask whether, in the event of the Spanish Government asking for support, our Government will grant it. I appeal to the House and I appeal to the backbenchers on the Conservative side, to think very hard before taking any action or use any words which would encourage another country to join that group of dictatorships, which apparently, at the present time, terrorises hon. Members opposite sufficiently to cause them to fear another war at some near future date. If democracy had not gone down over such a wide area of Europe there would be no fear of war to-day.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) began by saying that we on this side of the House took a more pessimistic view of the foreign situation than hon. Members opposite. Perhaps that is excusable seeing that this side has the responsibility of Government, and I can assure the hon. Member that our pessimism would be far more profound if a Government of the Left wing were in power in this country. Every speech that has been made on the opposite side of the House has shown astounding ignorance or misunderstanding of the facts. The hon. Member for North Cumberland, the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) and the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), one after another, assured us of the angelic liberal and democratic qualities of one of the most savage Governments, except the Russian, that has ever been seen in Europe.
§ Mr. WISE
I contend that a Government which, long before the revolt broke out, destroyed, or allowed to be destroyed, at least 100 churches—figures which are incontrovertible—and which used its police for political murders, is a 1918 Government which is wholly uncivilised. The question at the moment for us is this. Here is a country engaged in civil war.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
Will the hon. Member give proof of his statement that the Spanish Government used their police for murdering people?
§ Mr. NOEL-BAKER
Would the hon. Gentleman give the House some instances of murders committed by Fascists immediately after the present Government came into power as the result of the election?
§ Mr. WISE
I have been very patient in giving way to interjections of that sort which are not at all apposite to the question under discussion. What murders were committed by one party or the other is not the point I am discussing. I have not mentioned murders committed by the Communists. I was referring only to murders carried out by the armed forces of the State.
§ Mr. WISE
We have had the same description of this Spanish government from all three hon. Members opposite who have spoken. It is in no way Communist, they say. It is only Liberal—hardly even Socialist. The mere fact that its supporters greet each other with uncouth gesture of holding the right fist in the air of course has nothing to do with the matter. The fact also that it was elected by a minority of the votes of Spain, owing to the incredible electoral system of that country, is not mentioned. I suggest that the best thing that we can do is to preserve that neutrality which any responsible Government would wish to preserve in similar circumstances. The hon. Member for North Cumberland apparently desired 1919 above all else that we should not be impartial, and yet, on the other hand, that we should not do anything which would savour too much of partiality—other than selling munitions, presumably to the side which is able to pay for them.
This idea of constant interference in other people's affairs which has been carried out now for over 18 years, is one of the reasons why we have such a difficult foreign situation at the moment and why there is an anxious and dangerous time ahead of us. I suggest that hon. Members opposite are ignoring two things. The hon. Member for Kingswinford said he was not particularly worried by the immense re-armament programme of Germany and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore) endeavoured to clothe the wolf in a fleece—I thought rather unsuccessfully. I am profoundly worried by German re-armament, because I think that ultimately that re-armament is directed against us. In 1914 the ultimate enemy against whom Germany was arming was Great Britain. Germany might have to undertake certain preliminary steps to get a proper jumping off point against Great Britain and the Germans hoped that they would be able to get away with their war in 1914 without the intervention of Great Britain, but sooner or later Great Britain would have been their objective, and I should be very doubtful about making the assertion that that is not their ultimate object again to-day.
I see two dangers ahead for this country, which is a monarchial and democratic country with a Christian civilisation behind it. There is one immediate danger—Nazism; and it is immediate because it is most ready to strike—and one distant danger—Communism—a danger which has affected hon. Members opposite more than hon. Members on this side. The attack upon them and their supporters in the country by the Communist party is becoming much more effective and dangerous than any attack which immediately affects the party on this side of the House. There is, therefore, great difficulty in linking ourselves up irretrievably with either system of civilisation—"civilisation" is the only word I can use; I wish I could find another. If we do we may find that Europe is sharply divided into two, Fascists and Com- 1920 munists, and there is every indication that this is about to happen now without any added encouragement from us. It is extremely probable that we may be faced with a Communist France, and, if the revolution is crushed in Spain, we shall certainly be faced with a Communist Spain, because the Communist party has been armed in desperation by the Government.
If these two camps do arise in Europe how can we justify the inclusion of Great Britain on either side? How can we turn to our people and justify taking part in collective action with the Communist Government of Russia, the Socialist Communist Government of France, the Socialist Government of Czechoslovakia and the absence of government in Rumania. To take collective action with them is just as fantastic as to suggest that we should take collective action with the Nazi Government of Germany and the Fascist Government of Italy in an alliance to destroy Communism. Hon. Members opposite would not recommend the second course, and I am certain that their Government would not stand for the first. Therefore, we feel most profoundly that some action will have to be taken in the near future with regard to our obligations on the continent of Europe. The Covenant of the League of Nations lays down certain obligations which are interpreted extremely liberally by all the Powers who are signatories, but which in their real and proper interpretation—which is the only one that the dignity of this country should allow it to take—would commit us to armed intervention which on many occasions it would be impossible for physical and moral reasons for us to take. Therefore, there must be considerable modification of the Covenant of the League, unless we are to be faced with the dilemma of dishonouring our obligations or engaging in a war which we know the people of this country would not be prepared to fight—dilemma of dishonour or disaster.
There are many of us who do not like regional pacts. We cannot see the idea of having a sort of range of obligations; that if trouble starts in district A you go to war without hesitation; if in district B, you stop trading and impose economic sanctions; and if in district C, you confine yourself to booing outside the Embassy. Modified obligations of that nature are wholly impossible to 1921 enforce, and in any case are undesirable even if they could be enforced. There is surely only one hope, and that is that the League of Nations shall become a body which can use its powers for conciliation. If the penal clauses are removed from the Covenant I believe that the power of the League to start discussions when nations are drifting to war would be enormously enhanced, because there would be no danger of appealing to that automatic coercion which made things so extremely difficult when we were negotiating in the first days of the Italian-Abyssinian crisis; that automatic coercion which made such difficulties in regard to proposals which are now universally recognised as sound and far more just had they been carried into effect than the eventual result of the war.
There is this one danger. If we do not remove these coersive clauses from the Covenant our countrymen, on whom we depend for our positions in this House will turn round and say, "We will have done with all of you; we will have no part in any of the quarrels in Europe." That doctrine is gaining ground all over the country, and it is a doctrine which has definite dangers. It has been held before and may be held again. May I end with one quotation from one of the most typical of Englishmen, Sydney Smith, who said:For God's sake do not drag me into another war. I am worn down and worn out with crusading and defending Europe. I must think a little of myself. I am sorry for the Spaniards, I am sorry for the Greeks, I deplore the fate of the Jews, the people of the Sandwich Islands are groaning under the most distressing conditions, Baghdad is oppressed, Tibet is not comfortable—the world is bursting with sin and sorrow, but am I to be the champion of the Decalogue, am I to be eternally raising troops and armies to make all men good and obedient. We have just done settling Europe and I am afraid the consequence will be that we shall cut each others throats.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
Much of the Debate to-day has been taken up by hon. Members who did not get the opportunity to speak in the great Debate last Monday, and in that respect I am reminded of the All-England Plate competed for at Wimbledon which is arranged for the benefit of those competitors who are not able to get a footing in the championship to enable them to have a 1922 little fun among themselves. I must confess that I have never been able to discover any member of the public who knew or cared who won the All-England Plate. I think it is a dispensation of providence that the Adjournment should come so soon after Monday's Debate, because we are able to get out of our system those undelivered speeches which have been upsetting our digestion during the week. In the Debate last Monday I felt that the Foreign Secretary told us very little, but he told it very well and very forcibly indeed. He was certainly on his high horse, although I have a suspicion that the high horse is a rocking-horse.
Among the few things for which he was really able to claim credit was the upshot of the Montreux Conference, but I think it is rather easy to achieve a success of that nature. If you take great pains to discover from Turkey beforehand5 what will satisfy her and then arrange a conference in order to give it to her, it is very natural that you should have a success. I was not able, however, to understand why those ridiculous Mediterranean guarantees, which were quite valueless and have now been removed, were ever allowed possibly to compromise the success of that conference by causing the absence of Italy. The Foreign Secretary referred to the Anglo-Egyptian Conference, and we were told that we shall be able to discuss the agreement arrived at between this country and Egypt. We shall not, however, be able to alter it in any particular. I look forward to that Debate, because it will be very interesting to hear the Foreign Secretary appealing to his friends behind him for support on a great many matters and details in connection with which the party opposite gave the late Mr. Arthur Henderson a very severe handling when he proposed them in order to effect a settlement with Egypt.
I would like now to say a word or two about the situation in Spain, and I would ask the Noble Lord whether the Government had no forewarning whatsoever of what was likely to happen in Spain and whether this rebellion burst upon our Government completely as a bolt from the blue. If they had some forewarning, was it passed on to British residents in Spain? If they had no warning of what was to happen, it seems to indicate a very severe breakdown in our intelligence services. I 1923 do not wish to add to the pain which the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) has endured this morning in consequence of remarks from these benches about the situation in Spain, but I venture to say that I hope the Spanish Government—as I feel sure it will—will receive from our Government the treatment which is due to a freely-elected Government dealing with a rebel movement inside its own borders.
Another thing which interested me in the Foreign Secretary's speech were the testimonials to his own behaviour in the matter of sanctions which he read from the Governments of Poland and Russia. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is contemplating applying for another situation, and for that reason attaches value to such testimonials, but I am sure he would have no trouble in getting further testimonials from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Haiti and so on, because naturally many countries were extremely grateful to us for showing them the way out of a position which they had begun to find embarrassing.
The main interest in the right hon. Gentleman's speech was, of course, centred round the Locarno conversations which the Government are now hoping to hold. No tangible result has been achieved since March. It is now August, and still we are no nearer to dealing with the situation created by Herr Hitler's proposals of last March. The possibility of making an advance at that time was compromised by some very unfortunate handling on the part of our Government. There was, for instance, the suggestion that Italian troops should be sent to keep order in the Rhineland. I wonder if the Government feel very proud of that proposal now. There was then the questionnaire, which has been treated with such utter contempt by the German Government through the German Press. I read a speech by a member of the German Government the other day in which he referred to that questionnaire and said, "Really, is the German Government to be set homework?" I think it is deplorable that since March we have made no advance and that now hon. Members are going away for the holidays with nothing but pious hopes on the part of the Govern- 1924 ment in this matter. I will venture to read a few lines from a speech which I made in the House on 26th March, dealing with this subject:If our object is to get Germany to enter into negotiations I suggest that the thing to do is to endeavour to remove all obstacles to negotiations. In making proposals, do not use injudicious language. Endeavour to set in motion machinery for a revision of just grievances from which we know Germany is suffering."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1936; col. 1520, Vol. 310.]In August we are still no further, and the obstacles continue to exist. It is no good shilly-shallying in this way and not coming to grips with the dominating factor in European politics, which is Germany and German rearmament. The existing disintegration in Europe is all in Germany's favour. She realises to the full the threat from Japan and from the new Italy to the British Empire, and she may well think that we may in future want a friend. She continues to make offers and proposals, and as time goes on her price rises. It is the old story of the Sibylline Books. She has offered the books to us a great many times, we have always rejected them. She goes away and burns some of them, and then comes back and asks a higher price for those that remain. There was a time when we could have settled with Germany on the basis of an army of 300,000 men. How very glad we should be if we could get back to that offer again now. She came with the proposals in March last. We made no progress. The next time she comes to make an offer of the books to us the Colonial question will be part of the price. So far as we have seen, Germany has always achieved her objective, and the Colonies are now one of her objectives; they will be part of the price the next time she comes to make proposals to us. The longer you put off, the higher the price will be.
The news from Germany indicates a consolidation of the extreme elements at this moment and an acceleration of the rearmament programme. All Germany's economic life is now harnessed to the military machine. All the productive and distributive trade is linked up with preparations for war. All industrial programmes and plans have to go to the War Ministry for sanction. No business is free to put factories were it chooses. All public works, railways and canals are controlled by the General Staff. The 1925 military control not only the whole of the economic life, but the political and social life of the nation. Through the Arbeitsdienst, through compulsory military service and through reservist organisations they are educating the nation in military ideals and conditions from the cradle to the grave. From beginning to end the whole system in Germany is the glorification of war.
It is the same in her diplomacy. The aims and methods of German foreign policy are clear. We know what she wants; we know that she means to get it. We know that having achieved one object she goes on to the next. All German foreign policy is conceived and carried out in terms of military technique. All the principles laid down by military writers are to be found in the methods by which German diplomacy is carried on. A definite objective, speed, resolution, the element of surprise—all these things are the common form of German diplomacy. Countries with which Germany is engaged in diplomatic negotiations are treated in exactly the same way as military writers lay down for the treatment of an opponent in the field. One thing I notice is that where this country is concerned, German diplomatic moves are always carried out on a Saturday. They know quite well about the British week-end. They make their moves on Saturday, knowing that ministers and officials over here will go away saying, "We will deal with that on Monday". Then during Sunday there is a period of lazy reflection when they think it is not so bad after all, and when they get back to work on Monday they are quite resigned to the latest German move, and by that time Germany has consolidated her gains and is ready to make a new advance. How are we going to deal with this situation? Whatever we may say about having given the lead at Geneva in connection with Abyssinia the fact remains that Germany and other countries in Europe regarded the withdrawal of sanctions as a crushing defeat for British policy. As a result, the tempo is accelerating in Europe faster than we realize in this country, and it is very noticeable that the smaller nations are now trying to get under the wing of the aggressive and successful nations, with whom they have to live cheek by jowl.
1926 Last September the great speech made by the then Foreign Secretary at Geneva gave us the initiative in Europe. Thanks to the irresolution of the Prime Minister since that speech the initiative has passed to Hitler, and Europe now waits upon the words and actions of Hitler and not upon the words and actions of this country. Last September we showed the way to Europe. Since then we have done nothing to implement that speech, and Mussolini has shown Europe another way to achieve the same object, and it is his example that is being followed at this moment. It is no use the Government trying to meet the situation by going to Geneva to propose a reform of the League. The Foreign Secretary once said that "the Government would try to restore the League to its full authority." Having nearly destroyed the League, are the Government going to Geneva to ask the assistance of Italy in giving the world the sort of League of Nations which the Primrose League thinks the world ought to have?
What has happened is not the fault of the League but the fault of the Government. Bad workmen blame their tools and the Government blame the League. The League succeeded beyond expectations. Were not 52 nations mobilised in support of the sanctions policy? It was not the League that failed. It was this Government that failed, and failed because it never had a clear understanding with France.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I say that the League succeeded beyond measure, but I do not think this country ought always to take credit for what goes well at Geneva and wash its hands of things that go wrong. The Foreign Secretary says that in September he is going to Geneva to propose one "of an infinite gradation of ideas" concerning the reform of the League. My advice would be to leave the League alone to conserve its goodwill as a going concern and use it to remove grievances. That was the purpose for which very largely it was designed. It was designed as a piece of machinery with which to remove grievances and to correct injustices and hardships which might be caused by the peace treaties. Instead of that, the 1927 French have used the League to preserve grievances and to consolidate injustices, and it is that fact which has caused a temporary breakdown of the League.
If we use the League to create frontiers and conditions in Europe which are just, we shall have an international law of Europe which all must respect and all will uphold and defend, and the aggressor will then really be dealt with. Are we going to do this? We hear very contrary voices. The Foreign Secretary says that collective security is the basis of his foreign policy. His Prime Minister says that collective security has failed. So we drift on under a Prime Minister who seems to have abdicated many of his functions. As a sailor I have heard of a captain going to sea with sealed orders but, thank heaven, I have never had to go to sea with a captain with sealed lips. The combination of sealed lips and sealed orders is really too much. The Prime Minister seems willing to steer any course that anyone suggests to him. Last year the then Foreign Secretary said: "If you want to get to Peacehaven, steer north." "Right," said the Prime Minister, and we steered north. Then the Foreign Secretary had to resign and was succeeded by a Foreign Secretary who said: "Let us steer south, and we shall get to Peacehaven." "Splendid" said the Prime Minister, "we will steer South." I wonder who will advise him next what course to steer and what course it will be. If the Conservative party are satisfied with such a captain, all I can say is that they are better fitted for hunting the Snark than for dealing with dictators. They certainly have a captain who has brought them what he considers "the best of all possible charts," "a perfect and absolute blank."
When we speak from these benches hon. Members opposite are very fond of asking: "What would you do"? We hear that question frequently. I have endeavoured to put forward two suggestions which may deserve a passing thought, and I should like to put forward two or three more. If we are going to deal with the European situation, there are three or four things which we should take in hand at once. I am certain that we need to overhaul the Foreign Office machinery. The Foreign Office and its 1928 machinery were designed in happy and peaceful bygone days when we never had more than one crisis at a time to deal with. Now we always have five or six major crises to deal with at the same time. The Foreign Office and its machinery are no longer capable of dealing with the enormous burden which is thrown upon it by the chronic state of crisis and disorganisation in Europe. It is a machine only capable of dealing with day to day business, and I do not believe that there is either the staff or the time for evolving long-term policies. More than ever is it necessary to have a Foreign Office machine capable of evolving a long-term policy because the dictator has a great advantage over a democracy. He has the advantage of speed. He has no public opinion to consult and convert before he turns his thoughts into words and actions. Therefore, he has the advantage of speed, and democracy can only stand up to that by planning. Planning the machinery for a long-term policy is essential if we are to stand up to the dictators and the Foreign Office has neither time not staff for such planning.
The second thing that I would urge is that we should call a Dominions Conference. I know that the Dominion Premiers are coming over next year when we shall all be occupied with the Coronation. The need for a conference is urgent. Next year it may be too late to evolve the foreign policy which is going to guide us through these anxious times, and in regard to which it is vital to consult the Dominion Prime Ministers. Difficulties may exist, but they can be swept away if we mean business and ask the Dominion Prime Ministers to come over here for a conference. My third suggestion is that we should take up the speech which was made by the then Foreign Secretary at Geneva last September. It is of the greatest importance that we should implement that speech. If we do that, and if at the League we once again rally those nations which mean business on the side of collective security and do not go there on the assumption of failure, I believe that along those four lines some solution of our difficulties can be found.
I believe the present negotiations, which the Government are hoping to set on foot with the Locarno Powers, repre- 1929 sent the last chance of a general European settlement which we may have in our generation. If this effort fails, I feel strongly that the opportunity of such a general settlement may not present itself again. We must all wish the Government well in those efforts. I know we say rather hard things occasionally about each other across the Floor of the House. Lately we seem to have drifted into a position where the Conservative party, and in particular the Prime Minister, say that the Labour party are warmongers, but will not find the armaments necessary to fight the war in which they wish to involve the country, and in return we say that the Conservative party wish to impose huge armaments which they are too timorous to use. All that sort of thing, however, does not get us any further. We are going away on holiday, while the Foreign Secretary and that very devoted staff at the Foreign Office will be left with the burden of very difficult negotiations on their hands. I wish them, from the bottom of my heart, God speed in these negotiations, and I hope that when the House reassembles in November we shall see the Foreign Secretary sitting there, radiant with smiles and able to invite the House of Commons to take part in a bumper harvest festival.
§ 1.37 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
I naturally echo the expressions of good will which have fallen from the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), who has just preceded me. I am sure we can say that we all wish the best of good fortune to the Government in the immediate future. I think a stranger would be struck by the uniformity of the expressions of devotion to peace which have fallen from hon. Members to-day. It rather recalls to my mind something that happened at the end of the last war, when two chaplains, the one a Catholic and the other an Anglican, who had been attached to the same regiment, were returning from France. When they reached their port of disembarkation one of them—I need not specify which—said to the other, "Goodbye. It has been splendid to work with you for the last three years. Each one of us has striven to do the Lord's work, you in your way and I in His." As between hon. Members in various parts of 1930 the House, just as between those two reverend and gallant gentlemen, there is no division of motive, but there is a difference of method, and to-day we have heard propounded a variety of methods in order to secure peace.
The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Lieut.-Colonel Moore), speaking from a seat immediately adjacent to where I am now standing, said that Article 16 was the most provocative part of the Covenant of the League of Nations. There, of course, I find myself profoundly at issue with him, because I do not believe you can get peace in the world any more than you can get peace at home without a system of order, and that system must, both at home and abroad, be sustained by another system of guarantees and sanctions. Last Monday, in the great Debate to which reference has been made, the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said he wished the Abyssinian question to be closed as soon as possible. The Foreign Secretary also said "we now look definitely to the future and do not confine ourselves to the past."
I wish to speak very briefly about the reform of the League of Nations. It would be quite wrong to dismiss the events of the last 12 months by merely saying, "Let the dead past bury its dead." I do not think we should to-day treat the Covenant of the League as a useless and discredited instrument crying out for abandonment or for root and branch reform, by which seems generally to be intended ruthless and wholesale emasculation. Let us see, in this final Debate of this Session, whether it is the Covenant that requires weakening or our wills that need strengthening. On 23rd October last the present Foreign Secretary, who was then Minister for League of Nations Affairs, said, if I may remind him:If we fail, even though that failure be not final, we shall have shattered for a generation, and it may be more, the hopes which mankind has placed in this new endeavour. Who can tell what the consequences of such disappointment may be?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October," 1935; col. 225, Vol. 305.]My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) did not think our prestige had suffered much over the last 12 months. Indeed I wish I could agree with him. 1931 As was right, our name came to be linked with this the first step to bring in the reign of law. It was a frail step and has brought us back to the start. Let no one think that our name now stands as high in the world as it stood 12 months since. We tried to lead the world to quell crime, and so far—let us face it—crime has won. May I go back a year? On 11th July of last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham made a speech, which was acclaimed inside and outside the House of Commons. In it he said:We have to take the risk of saying (at the Council table at Geneva), 'We are prepared to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant if others will do the same.' We ought to say that openly at the Council, even at the risk that others may refuse."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1935; col. 567, Vol. 304.]Now I wish specifically to answer the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs. Hon. Members will recall the wording of Article 16 of the Covenant, Section 1 of which has never been completely applied, while, as for Section 2, which provides for military, naval, or air action, that has been completely ignored. The right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), speaking in this House on 22nd October last, when he was Foreign Secretary, said:As M. Laval has recognised in his recent speech at Clermont-Ferrand, we have never even proposed to the French Government the consideration of any military measures."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 30, Vol. 305.]In the same Debate I ventured to say:I could wish the Government now to say to France, 'Co-operate with us in denying to Italian vessels access to the Suez Canal. If you cannot join us to-day, you may find opinion in Great Britain reluctant in any future emergency to discharge those obligations which guarantee your security.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 106, Vol. 305.]I am sorry to quote myself, but indeed I advocated naval interception, I think, a year ago. Since "I told you so" is never said, I suppose I must not say it. France has, in fact, never been forced out into the open, and I am sure it would have been in the best interests of France had she been compelled so to come out ten months ago. That being so—and these facts are not, I believe, in dispute—we have no right, either in this House or in the country, to conclude that the Covenant has failed when it has never 1932 been fully tried. I am not one of those who wish for a strong policy accompanied by weak armaments. I support substantial rearmament, but I think this House is entitled to know its proposed extent, the speed with which it is proceeding, and its relation to policy; and here I must say that I cannot understand the motions through which His Majesty's Opposition are going in this matter of collective security. You cannot rearm in a day or overnight, and supposing, if and when, let us say, the right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) is Prime Minister, a crisis arises somewhere in which he feels compelled to ask this country to make a contribution to the collective restraint of the aggressor, will not he and his colleagues in that contingency be grateful and inclined to pass a vote of thanks to the present Government for providing itself and its successors with the means of helping to enforce that policy? It seems to me quite false to argue, as was argued last Monday, through the lips of the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), that their voting against rearmament is comparable with voting against the salary of the President of the Board of Education or against that of the Home Secretary. A vote against the foreign policy of the Government I can understand. Such action as I have taken is, I hope, intelligible to myself, but I cannot understand a vote, things being as they are, against our making a proper contribution to any system of collective security and through that to our own self-defence. For this substantial rearmament there is one justification, and that is, the temper and ambitions of Nazi Germany.
I do not think that we in the House or the people in the country need be very perturbed at the recent apparent conjunction between Germany and Italy. It has exposed the folly of any attempt to buy off a criminal by removing penalties before he has purged his offence. Irresolution in restraining Italy has increased the jeopardy of the British Empire. I am told that later to-day we are to have a discussion on Mandates, and it may be that the next objective of Fascist territorial ambition will be British territory. There is, indeed, no other direction in which the hungry powers may turn their eyes, and to feed a land-hungry Fascist State with more land would be like feeding a fire 1933 with brush wood. There is an incredible amount of nonsense talked in Germany about the need for Germany to have colonies for economic reasons. I believe it has been ascertained that before the War Germany imported from her own colonies one-half of one per cent, of the total raw materials that she then needed for her industrial consumption. It is equally agreed that she could have obtained from those same territories that tiny quantity without actual territorial possession on the substantial scale that she then enjoyed. Therefore, for these and other reasons which I could specify, I believe that we should never have entered this sanctions policy unless we were resolutely determined to carry it through to a completely victorious and successful conclusion. That would unquestionably have resulted if Article 16 had been properly applied. When we embark on any international enterprise the words "cannot" and "dare not" should be excluded from the vocabulary of British statesmanship. I think I heard my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary interpolate the word "war."
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
I would retort to any suggestion of that kind that you will never have peace in the world if you always run away from the prospect of fighting. It is certainly true that the events of the past year have proved that collective security will only work if the nations of a large area, or, better still, of the whole world, join hands and say that, if necessary, they will fight an aggressor. They must not only say it but they must mean it as well. They must have both the power and the will. When that is a clearly established universal policy, we may be pretty certain that no changes by violence will be contemplated in any way. We need not worry about the temporary or prolonged loss of Italian friendship. She would, in any case, be a useless friend, her word has been proved worthless and valueless again and again, and, as for her conduct of her African performance, it is beneath contempt. In that campaign it has been shown that her troops are to-day no better than they were in the last War.
It is still possible by means of a clear and resolute British leadership to 1934 marshal together in an overwhelming collective front 50 nations in the world, 20 of them in Europe, including Russia, France and the free peoples of the British Empire. In organising such a system, it would be the height of folly to exclude Russia. It would be as though a boxer were entering for a championship after deliberately cutting off his left hand. What is the objection to Great Britain co-operating with Russia? It is perfectly clear that the interests of the two great Empires, the British and the Russian, do not conflict anywhere in the world. Russia foreign policy, particularly with regard to Italy, has been fully as correct as ours. If the objection is to Communism, may I suggest that in this country we are not concerned with any sheer alternative between Communism and Nazi-ism? Few would be so bigoted as to say that the Communism of Russia is more odious or more abominable than the Nazi-ism of Germany or the Fascism of Italy. But we, as members of a political democracy, can take a detached view of both extremes. If we to-day, clearly or by implication, at Geneva signal, as it were, "all clear" to Germany to rend Czechoslovakia or Russia, or forcibly to enter Danzig, we shall be guilty of many offences, among them incitement to a general European anarchy, repudiation of our obligations under the Covenant, and a drift towards isolation suicidal in the centre of a great Empire.
The instrument of power should remain or should become the League of Nations. Among people who have lived long on an island there may exist about that institution some obstinate prejudice, some stubborn bias. It is true that the League is uncomfortably and inconveniently full of foreigners, but I suggest that we in this House have in these matters some responsibility. The electors last November thought that they were voting in favour of collective security, and it is not particularly gratifying to me when occasionally I re-read what I wrote in my election address. We cannot abandon that enterprise before it has been fully tried. It would be dishonest so to do, and, speaking as a Tory and an Imperialist, I see no other way than a system of collective security by which we can maintain and safeguard that glorious institution, the British Empire.
§ 1.54 p.m.
I shall not refer to what the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) has said, although I agree with most of it, because I know that the House is anxious to pass on to another subject. All that I will allow myself time for is to express the uneasiness which I, and I think all hon. Members feel, at the complete ambiguity of the present position as regards the future of the League. We are adjourning for a period of three months, and during that time the Assembly of the League is to meet and the meeting of the Five Powers is likely to take place. There are all sorts of explosive possibilities in Europe, and I do not think that any Member of the House, with the exception of those who sit on the Front Bench—even if they are an exception—could tell us what is going to happen if any of the mines explode after we have adjourned. Take one of the possibilities which is in everybody's mind. Suppose that Germany presents us with another fait accompli in Danzig, or suppose that on some excuse, perhaps of internal discontent, she makes an inroad on Czechoslovakia. Is there anybody in this House who could answer a foreigner who put the question, "What would Great Britain do in that event?" We have had enough said in this House by those in Ministerial positions, speaking generally in very vague terms, to shatter our own confidence and the confidence of the whole world, especially that of any menaced Powers, in the willingness of this country to live up to its promises and its obligations under the League, and yet we have been given only the vaguest hints of what the Government really propose to substitute for their present obligations. The Foreign Secretary, speaking the other day, did indicate that he believed that if the full system of collective security could be carried out, backed by all the nations in the League with their full military as well as economic power, that it would be—I think he said—the best solution of our problem, but he also indicated that that was no longer possible. He indicated that proposals for a reformed League were under consideration, and I think it may be assumed, from his speech, that there is an intention to limit the obligation to resist aggression by military sanctions, 1936 and, indeed, that is already provided for under Annexe F of the Covenant, but none of us know whether the Government mean to hold fast to the general obligation concerning economic sanctions. In that speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he gave us some "provisional reflections" which turned out to be a good forecast of the Government's decision to withdraw sanctions against Italy there was a much more neglected phrase, the one quite equally important, in which he said that we must limit the powers of the League. Does that mean that the Government do intend to put forward such a proposal, that that is what they are feeling towards? Several Members who have spoken to-day have made it clear that they would like to see the removal of all the coercive powers of the League and be turn it into a mere body for conciliation, in other words, a talking shop. That would be a disaster, but whether or not it is going to happen I think there is very great unfairness to every menaced Power and to ourselves if Europe is to be left any longer in uncertainty about what the policy of the British Government is going to be. If those countries which are entitled to expect the full assistance of the League, under the Covenant of the League, are left in doubt as to what Great Britain intends to do it is a very great danger.
There is one trend of opinion which I have noticed becoming more and more prominent which seems to have great dangers and which would be likely to give the most alarming stimulus to some of the most dangerous tendencies to-day. In certain organs of the press which speak for the Government and in certain speeches in this House, especially by the hon. Member opposite who spoke recently of it has been clearly indicated that what is passing in the minds of a large and influential section of public opinion in this country is that we have to face two dangers—German re-armament and the economic ideas of Russia. These are becoming more and more successful, and there is nothing which hon. Members opposite so much dread as the democratisation of the Russian system and its economic success.
§ Mr. WISE
The hon. Lady is misrepresenting me. It is not the economic success of the Russian system that worries 1937 us, but its spiritual system. None of us, at least none of those associated with my particular point of view about this, would ever attack Communism on the ground that it is likely to be successful.
The hon. Member did say that there were likely to be two blocs in Europe, the Communist bloc and the Fascist bloc, and that this country ought not to side with either, and that because France or Spain may some day become part of either we are not to carry out our obligations under the League with either of those countries. That is a very noticeable trend of opinion, and I merely want to point out the terrible dangers we are running. Encouragement is being given to Germany—we must speak plainly—to believe that the anti-Communist feeling and the fear of Russia in this country is so strong that if she attacks Russia or attacks any of those countries—I suppose Czechoslovakia is the most likely, but nobody knows where the first attempt may be—that she can count on the passive attitude of Great Britain, that we shall apply neither military nor economic sanctions, and, in fact, she is given to understand that she will have our blessing.
If anybody thinks that is an exaggeration I recommend him to study rather carefully the leading articles which have appeared—I am not sure whether I am permitted to mention newspapers in the House—in a very well-known newspaper, one of which compared Russia to a hippopotamus, the snout and eyes of which were appearing above the water, and indicated in the plainest terms that if we had to choose between the friendship of Russia and the friendship of Germany there was no doubt that it was Germany we should choose. Again and again—about three times a week—that paper has followed that up with articles which point exactly the same moral with increasing plainness, and a certain number of Government organs and Government speakers are doing the same. What is likely to be the effect of that in Germany? We all know that if there is one thing which Herr Hitler hates more than he hates France, perhaps even more than he hates the Jews, it is Russia, and if he is given to understand that he can count us out, and even, perhaps, have our blessing, what a tremendous 1938 impetus that will give to belligerent ideas on his part.
I want to make an appeal to my hon. Friends of the Labour party, because it has seemed to me they have been playing a rather dangerous game, that to a certain extent they were playing into the hands of this trend of opinion. They profess devotion to the idea of collective security and yet they give their votes against re-armament. I do not like rearmament myself, but they are playing into the hands of the enemy by those votes. They moved the Adjournment of the House the other day because of the excellent speech of the Secretary of State for War, in which he said, what every believer in liberty and democracy ought to be glad to hear stated, that we are linked to France not merely by memories of our alliance in the War but by that strongest of all links, our common ideas, and common beliefs in freedom, liberty and democracy. I suggest that those of us who believe in keeping together the collective system of the League in all its strength, who believe that what needs reform is not so much the machinery of the League—though I think it would be better if we could make our obligations; more precise, perhaps limit them in some directions and strengthen them in others—but we should resist with all our might and rouse democracy to resist any attack on the system of collective security. I believe that we shall do that best if we make it clear in concrete terms, terms of nationality and economic ideals, that that is the danger against which we are working. If the Opposition take an unrealistic view forbidding the means of implementing collective security through the League by their votes on disarmament, they are running the danger of destroying what I venture to call—though I am not a Communist and I hate many features of the Soviet system—one of the most interesting and fruitful experiments the world has even seen; and if that experiment goes down, and if Czechoslovakia goes down, what other democracy is going to be saved and how long shall we ourselves be able to keep out of war?
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I refrain from yielding to the temptation of discussing the abstract question whether the League of Nations should exist only for conciliation 1939 or for the exercise of the maximum of coercion to prevent war. There is a great deal to be said on both sides of the argument. I believe myself that a League which existed for conciliation alone would gradually acquire far greater power and influence than a League based upon nominal powers, which its Members are never prepared to implement when the occasion comes; especially as the very existence of those powers keeps out of the League those whom we should get in, if the League is to be a real power in the world.
But let us get away from abstractions. The fact is that in Europe to-day certain Powers, Germany for one and Italy for another, do not accept the theory, which finds favour with hon. Members opposite, of a League based upon coercion. If we stand by that conception, our League will, in fact, become an Anglo-Franco-Soviet alliance against Germany, Japan and Italy. That would be the worst situation which I could imagine in foreign politics, and one which might well make war inevitable.
I am not one of those who believe in the inevitability or the necessity of war, either for Europe or for ourselves; nor do I believe there is any inherent need for conflict between Germany and ourselves. On the contrary, I think there are auguries of hope in the present situation. If Germany would only respond to the suggestions which have been thrown out, and if the four Great Powers of Western Europe, Germany, France, Italy and ourselves, met, without any preconceived theories, to try frankly to come together and stabilise peace, there is a real chance of success for those negotiations. On the other hand, those negotiations are not likely to succeed if subjects are dragged into them which, by their very nature, are not discussable. You only wreck all hope of conciliation if you encourage demands for concessions which you know, in the last resort, you are not in a position to meet.
From that point of view, many Members on this side of the House have been mystified and alarmed by answers given in this House which seemed to throw open to question our right and intention to continue to control territories which are, after all, within the framework of the British Empire, at the vague and 1940 evasive character of those answers and at the underlying suggestion that the Government, if they were pressed hard enough, might be inclined to yield to Germany's demand for the cession of territories that many years ago were hers. On 6th April, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave a reply which, in one aspect, was entirely satisfactory. He said that any question of a demand for the cession of any British Colony or Protectorate could not possibly be entertained for a moment; it was not discussable. The rest of his reply went on to say that there was a clear distinction between those Colonies and our Mandated Territories, and it considered the terms and conditions under which the cession of those Territories might be regarded as possible.
The emphasis laid upon the non-discussability of our Colonies and Protectorates seemed to imply that the others were discussable. What is the distinction? Why is the one discussable and the other not? Why can we not for one moment contemplate the cession of any of our Colonies or Protectorates? Is it merely a technical distinction or is it not that, first of all and above all, with the Colonies and Protectorates we are concerned, not merely with territory and material resources, but with people? We have a moral obligation towards the people who are within those territories, who enjoy the benefits of British rule, have been brought up in our traditions, have been led, in accordance with those traditions, to develop such modicum of self-government as has been possible hitherto and to look forward, as they develop, to further extensions of self-Government. For all those moral reasons of trusteeship and responsibility, we cannot consider handing over those people to anybody. In that respect, what is the difference between a Mandated Territory and a Protectorate? None. The people have lived under the British Flag in exactly the same sense and have enjoyed the same benefits of British rule, with the added contrast between British rule of to-day and the German rule of the past, which at any rate, the older generation remembers.
In the case of a British Colony, the obligation is one to our own conscience, but in the case of a Mandated territory it is one which we undertook to the conscience of the world. That is the whole 1941 meaning of the obligation that we assumed towards the rest of the world: that we intended to govern those territories in accordance with certain principles. The Colonial Secretary said the other day that British subjects were not for sale. Did he use the term "British subjects" in the purely technical sense? In that sense, the people living in our Protectorates as well as in the Mandated Territories might be for sale. Surely he meant that those who live under our Flag and look to us for justice and protection are entitled to continue to do so. That, I think, is the major reason in respect of which there is no difference between Mandated Territories and Colonies and Protectorates.
There is another reason, which is that many of our Colonies are vital points in the strategy of the Empire. Many of them, if ceded to an ambitious military power, would involve immense danger to the whole structure. Surely that is at least as true of most of the Mandated Territories. That was one of the main reasons, why, after the experience of the War, and after we knew not only the danger to which Germany exposed us in the War but something of the ambitions which Germany entertained and the policy which she meditated, that we decided that we were not going to incur that danger again. We were not prepared to have Tanganyika Territory a base for German air power, submarine power and cruisers, and for a German-trained native army. Those reasons are just as valid in the case of a Mandated Territory as in the case of Colonies and Protectorates. The differences between a Mandated Territory and other parts of the British Empire are very real, but they are entirely irrelevant to this particular consideration. So much for the merits. What of the legal position? Under the Peace Treaties, Germany surrendered those Territories outright to the Allied and Associated Powers; not to the League of Nations. The Allied and Associated Powers distributed those Territories among themselves, and they allocated those Mandates among themselves. The League had nothing to say to that allocation. They framed the Mandates themselves and then submitted them to the League for the blessing of the League.
There is nothing in the Mandate which gives any member of the League, and 1942 still less any non-member of the League, any say in the territorial status of mandated territories. We are there by our indefeasible right and for all time. We are honourably bound to fulfil the conditions that we ourselves defined in the Mandate, and we shall continue to honour those conditions. But there is no essential difference, I maintain, as regards the possibility of considering the surrender of territory between those and any other of our territories. That is not a new point of view. On behalf of the Government I expressed that view more than once from that bench when I was Secretary of State for the Colonies. It has been repeated again and again by Ministers until almost the other day. Lord Swinton only two years ago not only said that we had no intention of surrendering our trust but went on to say, with confidence which, I believe, was well justified, that no Government in the future would ever change its mind. As recently as May, 1935, the present Home Secretary when Foreign Secretary informed this House that he had made it clear to Herr Hitler that the transfer of mandates was not a discussable question. There is nothing new, therefore, in the clear statement we are asking for.
Nor, if I may venture to say so, is it from a party point of view a controversial issue. It is not the case that hon. Members opposite have pressed the Government to adopt this attitude of hesitancy. I read a statement in the journal called "West Africa" by the Leader of the Opposition in which he said it wouldobviously not be in the interests of the inhabitants to transfer a single British Mandate to Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy or militarist Japan, and that Labour would oppose any such transfer.In the "Evening Standard" the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said very truly thatColonial territory and peoples cannot be bartered between one Imperial Power and another.The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) in Debate a few days ago gave voice to exactly the same sentiment. Therefore there has been no pressure in this country on the Government to adopt a hesitating attitude. Is it the case, then, that other countries have given us the lead? There is no evidence 1943 of that. On the contrary, I know that some of the smallest and weakest countries in the world are taking the only attitude that any self-respecting nation could take, that they are not prepared to surrender an inch of their territory to demands made from outside. Is it our Dominions who have suggested surrender? On 13th March Senator Pearce, speaking for the Australian Government, declared that the surrender of Australian mandated territory was unthinkable. He went on to say thatto hand over national rights and interests on the demand of a powerful nation would encourage other nations similarly inclined to demand their price for non-aggression. It would amount to submitting to blackmail.We all have in our minds the very clear statement made the other day by Mr. Pirow about the impossibility of surrendering either South West Africa or Tanganyika. I may add that the information which has reached me recently from the Union of South Africa is that Boer and Briton alike are solid against any question of the surrender of Tanganyika.
Mr. Pirow and the Union of South Africa are well within their rights in expressing a view on that question, although Tanganyika is mandated to us. The troops of the Union played a very large part in the conquest of Tanganyika. In fact, they and our native troops there and not the Regular Army conquered that territory. More than that, the presence of a powerful German base in Tanganyika would cut off any help coming from the north from this country in an emergency. Mr. Pirow as Defence Minister is therefore well entitled to have a view on that subject. Statesmen looking to the future in South Africa, in Southern Central Africa and Rhodesia, may well look forward to the day when all the territories under the British flag will be united in some loose Federation and work together as an integral part of the British Empire. Are we entitled to wreck that aspiration, thinking that we might thereby purchase immediate peace in Europe? That would strike a fatal blow at the whole structure of Imperial unity.
If I may venture to remind my right hon. Friend in charge of this debate of an historical parallel I would call to his mind that Some 200 years ago it was 1944 a British Colonial force from Massachusetts that conquered the great French fortress of Louisbourg and so removed a deadly menace to the whole of our colonies in North America. When the British Government, disregarding this sacrifice, afterwards surrendered Louisbourg to the French, that action, in the opinion of historians, did more to create the bitterness that subsequently broke out in the American revolution than any other single action on the part of the British Government. It is quite true that Mr. Pirow also said that he had no objection to Germany finding territory somewhere else. Well, what does that mean? Who is going to hand over territory? Certainly not Portugal; certainly not Belgium. I see no evidence whatever that France has any intention of surrendering the Cameroons and Togoland. Are we entitled—if I may use the language of the Foreign Secretary—to introduce further causes of serious differences at this moment by pressing France to make such a surrender? I see no reason for encouraging the idea that anybody is ready at this moment to make such a surrender to Germany in any part of Africa.
The more we look at the question the more obvious it is that the Foreign Office has now begun to recognize the fact that we cannot make any surrender without grave dereliction of our duty to the native inhabitants, and without grave menace to the security and unity of the Empire. Apparently the Government have at last realised that any question of transfer would:inevitably raise grave moral, political and legal issues.Quite so, but should not that have been obvious from the start? Even now my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has not seen his way to go beyond expressing the hope that in no quarter will a desire of this kind introduce further causes of serious differences. With all the desire in the world to be friendly to Germany, with the greatest anxiety to come to good relations with her, is that really the way to invite Herr Hitler to drop the claim which he has already so clearly intimated? That is not the word which in such circumstances should be used. There is a word which every German understands, a very simple and 1945 straight word—"verboten?". He knows quite well what that means, and he knows that it refers to something which it would be useless to prosecute any further.
I have given some reasons why from our point of view a surrender would be impossible. But what are the reasons that may be urged from the German point of view? There is, of course, the crude answer that Germany wants something, that she is now strong, and that we had better surrender it before she asks for more. I have had letters from some of my panic-mongering friends who say that Germany has 20,000 aeroplanes, that she could make a ruin of England in 72 hours, and that we had better accept Herr Hitler's point of view, which is that, not we, but Germany, should in the long run emerge victorious from a war which, after all, was not provoked by the Belgian invasion of Germany. From that point of view I suggest that we should be making a fatal mistake if we surrendered to force what we did not believe it to be just to surrender in the past. We are not likely either to encourage the cause of peace or to make the world safe for democracy by those methods. I remember that just after the War the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) dismissed in the following terms the suggestion that these territories should be given back to Germany. He said:It would have been folly to restore these Colonies to Germany. We should under those conditions have widened the area of injustice—it is already wide enough—and given renewed opportunities to Germany for possible future mischief.If that was true of the beaten, humbled, and at that time democratic Germany of 1919, is it less true of the militarist, ambitious Germany of to-day, with its principles of racial government? After all, if concessions are to be made, is it likely that it would be in the interests of peace that they should be made in this field? Bismarck foresaw that a German Colonial Empire would bring Germany into conflict with ourselves, would create ambitions which could only be fulfilled or put an end to by war. These Colonies were regarded by German Imperialists in those days as only the stepping-stone to a wider African Empire to be won by war. Are we to renew that fatal course? Are we going to give to Germany, in her 1946 present temper, the opportunity of creating a fresh and far more formidable menace than we were ever confronted with in 1914, in every African territory and in the seas that surround Africa? I suggest that is not a reasonable course. The policy of Danegeld never paid in the past, and it will not pay in the future.
There is another reason which might be urged, and which, I think, deserves very careful attention, and that is that Germany is suffering from "economic suffocation." But, after all, there are countries in Europe which are prosperous although they have no Colonial Empire. Sweden, which has no Colonial Empire, is perhaps one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, while Holland, which is rich in Colonial possessions, is nevertheless in a position of great financial difficulty. Difference of monetary policy seems to me to be much more likely to account for the state of some countries than the presence or absence of Colonial territories. Before the War, Germany drew from the whole of her Colonies barely 1/200th of her imports, and she sent to them barely 1/180th of her exports. She sent out emigrants at the rate of 33 a year, or one in 20,000 of the annual increment of her population. Today she is doing quite as well in her trade with her African Colonies as she ever did when she held them. But there is really very little room for a great expansion of German trade in her former colonies. In 1929, the former German colonies imported from all over the world £12,000,000 worth of goods. In that same year German exports were £600,000,000. Even if Germany could have acquired those territories and kept the whole world out of them, it would, at the most, have produced but the merest fraction of increase in her export trade.
There is, I believe, a real economic issue in the world to-day, but certainly it is not one of mandated territories. The ex-German colonies contribute only 0.1 per cent., or 1/1,000th, of the total supplies of raw materials and imported foodstuffs required by the manufacturing nations of the world. It is not even a colonial question. All the dependent colonies of the world added together do not produce more than about 10 per cent. of the world requirements in raw materials and imported foodstuffs. The vast bulk of these supplies for world needs come from the United 1947 States, Soviet Russia, India, the British Dominions, and the South American countries—all countries which have control of their own fiscal policy, which, for reasons which I need not go into, are determined to protect their own industries, and which, wherever they can, make direct negotiations for their trade in their own interests.
That being so, it is not really going to make much difference to the world situation, or to the German situation, if you extend the area of Free Trade within such small part of the Colonial empires as are not already under a Free Trade regime. You have to deal, and to deal by free negotiation, with self-governing States in order to arrive at some better economic system than the world is enjoying to-day. That is what we did at Ottawa, and I believe that the example we set there of bringing a number of nations with complementary resources together to help each other is the only way in which the European situation, and, incidentally, the German situation, can be improved. There are on the Continent of Europe countries whose Colonial territories are far greater than they can fully develop themselves. Why should they not work together, under some system of mutual preference, with Germany and with other non-Colony-owning countries of Central Europe? The other day Herr Schacht succeeded by rather devious ways in immensely strengthening Germany's trade with South East Europe. I welcome that, as giving Germany a field for economic expansion and for drawing on the primary productions of those territories. If he can come to similar arrangements with Holland, Belgium and Portugal with regard to their Colonies, let us welcome that too.
We have something to offer to Germany as a contribution to such a policy if we are prepared to waive our rights under the Most Favoured Nation Clause and enable these countries to get together in order to pool their resources of all kinds and develop a wider common market, instead of fencing it off by excessive tariffs and restrictions of every kind. I believe that, if we introduced that suggestion in the forthcoming negotiations, we should do something which would bring both Italy and Germany on to our 1948 side and create a much better prospect of a successful outcome of those negotiations and of the stabilisation of peace in Europe than anything we can do by merely negative pacts and promises not to break the peace. It is far more important that we should put forward constructive schemes, rather than lay so much stress upon negative schemes for preventing war. The other conception, of arrangements for meeting aggression by force, is one that we cannot altogether exclude. Let us confine it to those who are directly menaced by a specific danger. Let us avoid the fatal mistake of thinking that our chief object is to make what is called collective security the basis of a universal policy. Wars will come within nations as well as between nations. Let us observe the same principle of neutrality that we apply to the conflict in China and the conflict in Spain, to conflicts which break out elsewhere which do not directly concern our own peace and our own security. Let us make it our business to promote peace and not to meddle in war. Meanwhile, let us hold firmly to what we have and fulfil our obligations to those who trust us.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Mr. PRICE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is always interesting when he speaks on Colonial matters. With many of his remarks I found myself in at least partial agreement and with some in complete agreement, particularly some of the remarks in the last part of his speech concerning the economic conception of world organisation, but in the earlier part of his speech, in his remarks about Crown Colonies and Mandates, he seemed to have rather a one-way mind. He seemed to suggest that there was no distinction between Crown Colonies and the Mandates which we administer under the League of Nations. There is a big legal difference, and the mere fact that he seems to confound the two together shows that he does not realise how important is the rôle of the League of Nations in the mandatory system. We received those territories, Tanganyika and German South-West Africa, to administer from the League on behalf of the League.
§ Mr. PRICE
That is a legal point perhaps, but we are now under a legal obligation to report to the League. Their legal status differs entirely from that of Crown Colonies, and the right hon. Gentleman cannot and should not mix the two up. He said we were there for ever, and he seemed to apply that to the Mandated Territories as well as to the Crown Colonies. While I agree with much that he said, I join issue with him entirely there. At the beginning of his speech he belittled the League in its rôle of the authority to which States administering Mandates have to report. It seems to me that in days to come there might be something to be said for considering the claims to a Mandate from the League of some of the Powers which do not now possess Mandates, but only on condition that they join the League and accept all its obligations. There I am entirely at one with him, that Germany to-day, the Germany of Nazism and Hitlerism, a Germany whose foreign policy is built upon violence and on a racial theory which every scientist knows is utterly wrong, foolish, and wicked, has no right to be in possession of a Mandate from the League of Nations.
I should like to say a word or two about the economic issues involved in the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. He dealt with the claims of the dissatisfied Powers for Colonial Mandates on the ground that they have economic wants which are not satisfied. I am inclined to agree with him on many of the points that he raised. There is not the slightest doubt that the German Colonies before the War were not, economically speaking, of much value to her, certainly from the point of view of colonisation and of the supply of raw materials. The great trouble of the world in the last 10 years has not been to get raw materials but to sell them. The whole of this talk about Colonies for the purpose of getting raw materials is so much propaganda. No Colonies are of much use to a European State unless it has command of the sea, and Germany could not make use of her colonial territories in Africa during the War because she had not command of the sea. The real difficulty from which Germany is suffering at the moment in regard to getting raw material from the world's markets is mainly because of 1950 her own methods of managing her currency. Remaining nominally on the Gold Standard makes it very difficult for her to buy with Reichmarks in world markets.
I come to the question of trade. Here I am not so much in agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook, although I admit that there is something to be said for his point of view. The Ottawa Agreements are undoubtedly a difficulty. They have broken with the great tradition of the British Empire, which has always been free and open for all nations of the world to trade in. We cannot escape the criticism, that our policy has been to make the British Empire a ringed fence to shut them out. That applies mainly to the Dominions, which are the main raw-material suppliers for manufacturers in Europe. There are raw materials also to be got from South East Asia and Africa. It is true that over a large part of Africa, namely, the great free-trade Congo Basin, which includes many of our Crown Colonies, those of Belgium and France, and extending, I understand, right away to Kenya on the East Coast, the Ottawa, Treaties do not apply, but, unfortunately, there are certain areas in which those Treaties do apply. There are preferential tariffs against other nations outside the British Empire which run in Sierra Leone and, I understand, in parts of Northern Rhodesia which are outside the Congo Basin. It is also the case in the West Indies. Preferential duties are applied, and it is not right to say that-the Crown Colonies are now, as they always were, a free trade area with which the dissatisfied Powers can do all the trade they want. There are the unfortunate exceptions. We shall not be in a position to say that we have a clean slate in this matter until we have done away with the application of these preferential duties inside the Crown Colonies.
There is another question upon which the dissatisfied Powers have an even stronger case, but which can be remedied without any very great difficulty. There is no doubt that it applies even in the case of territories which are mandated under the League. On questions of concessions for public works and loans raised in the money markets of the world, it is the fact that such conces- 1951 sions and loans go to the Mandatory Power or to the suzerain Power, if it is a Crown Colony, and that where the concessions go a lot of orders and trade will also go. Therefore, in spite of whatever free-trade area there may be, there is a good deal of preferential trading going on in the Crown Colonies and Mandated Territories which shuts out opportunities for other nations outside the British Empire. That is a matter which ought to be given serious consideration, because it is one which has caused a good deal of trouble.
I have in mind the kind of way in which it might be approached. It should be something like what has happened under the auspices of the League during the last 10 years in the floating of a loan such as was floated in order to help Austria. A loan was floated to stabilise the finances of Austria, and arrangements were made that it should be divided among the different nations of the League. We all got our share. A certain amount went to London, Berlin, Paris, and to other parts of Europe. The case is very strong, but the time is coming when at least in the Mandated Territories there should be some arrangement of that kind where money is to be raised for public services. Concessions for railways, or for public works, or whatever it might be should be open to free tender. If this were done in the Crown Colonies also, it would certainly go a long way towards making the Crown Colonies, partly at least in the position of a Mandated Territory and would do a great deal towards killing altogether the agitation for Germany to get back the mandates. If we treated these Mandated Territories more openly and had a real free trade, not merely in Customs duties, but also in loans and concessions, that would help to do away with the disabilities, which I know are exaggerated by dissatisfied Powers like Germany, but which nevertheless do exist to some extent.
There can be no question of handing over any Mandated Territories to Germany as she is to-day. The first thing would have to be that Germany should rejoin the League of Nations and give a guarantee that she would not leave it at her own sweet will if she thought she was aggrieved about some point or other. Moreover, she would have to give 1952 guarantees to treat the natives, not on the basis of Herr Hitler's crazy racial theories, but on the line of what hitherto has always been the tradition of our administration in the Crown Colonies, although I am afraid that there have been signs in recent years that we are falling a little away from grace. I refer, of course, to the Kenya Order-in-Council and similar kinds of legislation, which rather indicate that we are taking steps now to discriminate upon racial grounds against citizens of the British Empire, whereas formerly it could be said that every member of the British Empire of whatever colour he might be, white, black, or yellow, could say, "Civis Britannicus sum". That may not be so in future.
The British Empire cannot stand still. That is the main objection to the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who seemed to think that everything is perfect and that we must just carry on as we are. Athough in one part of his remarks he seemed to hold out some hopes of some kind of international understanding, I do not think that he was quite clear in his own mind about what he meant, but I wish he would elaborate it. While we may refuse Germany in her present mood, if the time came and there was another Germany and she approached the League, I am not prepared to say, "Never, never shall you have a mandate again". I do not mean this Germany, but possibly some other Germany prepared to work in co-operation with the rest of the world and a stronger League of Nations. That would be the one criterion by which we could judge. The question of the League of Nations which has been raised in this important and interesting Debate leads naturally to that of the Colonial mandates. The two questions are mixed up together. It is impossible to solve our international problems without a strong League of Nations, and the problem of mandates cannot be solved unless we approach it along the lines which I have indicated. That, I believe to be the only way in which you can guarantee peace in the colonial parts of the world.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. SANDYS
Before passing to the question of the Mandated Territories, which is the subject of this part of the Debate, I would like, as we are now separating for the Summer Recess, to 1953 register a protest against the manner in which the Opposition have used the opportunities of discussion which are at their disposal on the Votes of Supply. I know that the Opposition are entitled to decide what Votes shall be discussed, but I would like to ask them and the Government in a future Session to consider some arrangement whereby every important Government Department's Vote shall be discussed. We have passed through the whole of the Session without a single discussion on Dominion Office subjects. That must create a very unfavourable impression throughout the Empire. It leads the Dominions to think that we have not been able to devote even one day to Dominion affairs.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
May I point out to the hon. Member that at the beginning of the Session I, as Leader of the Opposition, said that in asking for Votes of Supply to be put down for discussion, we would always consider the desires of the House? No hon. Members have ever suggested that they specially wanted the Dominion Office Vote put down.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remark, and I hope it holds out some hope to us that if back-bench supporters of the Government express their views to the Government, those views will be passed on to the Opposition.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The hon. Member is quite wrong. It is not a question of holding out hopes. The suggestion to which I refer was definitely made by the Opposition, and the hon. Member himself could have taken advantage of it at any time. It is not a matter of approaching the Government but of approaching the Opposition. Hon. Members approached me several times with regard to a Debate on the Co-ordination of Defence, and accordingly we asked that the appropriate Vote should be put down for discussion. If the hon. Member had approached us with regard to the Dominion Office Vote, we should have met him in exactly the same way.
§ Mr. SANDYS
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Let me now pass to the question of the Mandated Territories. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Mr. Price) referred to the legal status of the Mandated Territories and seemed to be in complete disagreement 1954 with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) on that question. He suggested that the Mandated Territories belonged to the League of Nations and that our obligations in respect of them were obligations to the League. Much as the hon. Member might wish that to be the case, it seems to me that his statement does not represent the facts. After the War, these territories were allotted among themselves by the Allied and Associated Powers. The Powers concerned received those territories from Germany without conditions and without restrictions. It was only because they wished to give a pledge of good faith to the world and to show that there were principles on which these colonial territories should be administered, that they decided, one and all, to set down on paper, in the form of a mandatory code, certain principles of government—incidentally the very principles according to which we have been administering our British Colonial Empire for many years. The League of Nations approved of that, but there is nothing in the constitution of the League or in the Mandatory Code which gives the League any power to interfere with the disposition of those territories. My right hon. Friend was not trying to suggest that there was no legal difference of any kind between the Mandated Territories and the Colonial Empire. He was trying to show, and, I think, did show very clearly, to those who listened to him attentively, that the responsibility for any change in the status of these territories, as from one Power to another, lay entirely with the Power which held the Mandate.
The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean also referred to certain obligations to the League and, in particular, the obligation to furnish an annual report on our government in those territories. Of course, we gladly undertook that obligation, but if to-morrow we were to say, "We are not going to furnish this report; we are going to put a tariff barrier round this territory; we are going to raise a native army," or if we said we were going to do any one of the things which we have undertaken under the Mandatory Code not to do, the League could not step in and say, "These territories no longer belong to you." The territories would still be under our con- 1955 trol and administration as much as before. The only thing would be that we should have committed a breach of treaty undertakings, and we should be in exactly, the same position as if we had broken any one of the hundreds or thousands of treaties which we have signed. The League or the other Powers could take the ordinary action of imposing sanctions or going to war but our status would be as complete in respect of the territories concerned as in respect of any other part of the British Empire.
I have been associated with other hon. Members in a request to the Government for an explicit statement that this question of the transfer of mandates is not regarded as discussible. The first reason why I think it essential that the Government should make such a declaration is the grave anxiety which exists throughout the Empire on this question. I asked the Prime Minister some time ago whether he was aware of that anxiety, and he said that he was not aware of it I think it well that the House should appreciate the fact that there is grave anxiety on this question. The anxiety of people who do not know who is to govern them, and the territory in which they live is, surely, understandable, and I wish to draw attention to a telegram sent a little while ago from Dar-es-Salaam to the Joint East Africa Board in London. This is the text:Fully representative territorial committee being organised immediately. Convey to Imperial Government serious alarm aroused among all British, Europeans, Indians and natives by evasive attitude of His Majesty's Ministers regarding permanency of British rule in Tanganyika. Unanimous opinion that any consideration of transfer of mandates would be serious breach of faith and of repeated pledges. Present uncertain position gravely retarding economic development.Since then meetings have been held all over this territory, and the wishes of the inhabitants have been expressed in no uncertain terms. Only recently, a very full appeal on this subject was sent out from the people of Tanganyika, and I understand that it has received the consideration of His Majesty's Government. Not only that, but the inhabitants of these territories, particularly Tanganyika, have become so alarmed that the British settlers and the Indian settlers between them have taken definite precau- 1956 tions against the possibility of being handed over by the British Government to another Power. We, as a free people, believe in the self-determination of those who live in the territories concerned, and they have taken definite steps and have made it known that, if they are to be deserted, they are as well fitted to carry on the government of those territories themselves, as any European Power. The British settlers have declared that they are ready to carry on the government themselves, and I do not see, in the face of this clear expression of opinion, that they can be disregarded by the Imperial Parliament.
There are other reasons for anxiety. One of the chief reasons for the anxiety which exists here and in other parts of the Empire is the unhappy comparison which one is obliged to make between former speeches of the Government and their more recent statements. Let me refer to a few of these. Lord Swinton, when he was Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking to the Kenya European and elected Members at Government House in Nairobi, in January, 1934, made a declaration which has been regarded as the Bible of their status by the people in the territory. He said:It is quite unnecessary for me here to say anything about the Tanganyika position, I stated before I left England that His Majesty's Government had never considered and were not considering, and never would consider, any surrender of the mandate. The residents in Tanganyika, both official and unofficial, may count upon this as a fixed certainty.It would be impossible to say more than that. It is no good the Government saying that they are not committed and that it is unwise to press them to commit themselves. They are committed up to the hilt. The Home Secretary went to Berlin as Foreign Secretary with the present Foreign Secretary and made the matter perfectly clear in the House when he came back. On 2nd May, in the Debate, he said:My right hon. Friend and I made it perfectly plain that the transfer of mandates is a question which is not a discussible question, and that, as far as we were concerned, we left the German Chancellor under no misapprehensions as to our own position in that matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1935; col. 687; Vol. 301.]I wish the German Government, were under no misapprehension as to our position, as they would have been had the 1957 Government maintained the same attitude throughout. I ask the House to compare these statements with more recent statements made by the Government. Lord Stanhope, who is now a Member of the Cabinet, in a Press interview said:A return of Colonies to Germany will require very careful consideration. Personally I have an open mind on the matter.How very different to the statement made at Berlin to the German Chancellor! On another occasion, when Lord Stanhope was asked if he could give an assurance that the Government would never consider the transfer of our Mandated Territories, which Lord Swinton had said was a fixed certainty, he replied:No, I am not in a position to do that.Mr. Thomas, when he was Colonial Secretary, said:We have not considered, and we are not considering this question. If it is raised, it will be our duty to consider the circumstances again.Is it surprising that people out there feel that a change has taken place in the mind of the Government? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to bring to an end all these awkward discussions, made a speech to which the Colonial Secretary referred me the other day in answer to a question. He said that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech occupying a column and a half in the OFFICIAL REPORT. People in the Mandated Territories do not want a column and a half in the OFFICIAL REPORT; they want a plain answer, "Yes" or "No." The Foreign Secretary a day or two ago, when we were all anticipating that he would remove our doubts and anxieties and that we should be able to go away and forget all about this unhappy controversy, said:This question is one which affects, of course, all mandatory powers, the United Kingdom, the Dominion Governments and foreign Governments. The Government have had no consultation with them upon it.In passing, I would like to ask my Noble Friend whether that is, in fact, the position, that the Government have had no consultations with the Dominions Governments or foreign Governments on this question? From Mr. Pirow's statement, it would appear very much as though the Government had dis- 1958 cussed this question with the South African Government. I do not think it is enough for us to be told that all the conversations were of an informal nature. When an important Cabinet Minister comes from the Dominions, I think all the conversations which he has with different Government Departments must be regarded as being an the nature of official consultations. I cannot believe that he will not go back to his Government an South Africa and inform them of the views expressed in those informal conversations as being the official views of His Majesty's Government. Therefore, I hope my hon. Friend will answer the question which I have put to him. The Foreign Secretary then went on to say:But, so far as His Majesty's Government are concerned, the question of any transfer of Mandated Territories would inevitably raise grave difficulties, moral, political and legal, of which His Majesty's Government must frankly say that they have been unable to find any solution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1936; col. 1134, Vol. 315.]I feel that that attempt to reassure the House has only made the matter worse. Beforehand, we had at any rate the assurance of Mr. Thomas that the matter had not been and was not being considered by His Majesty's Government. Now it appears that the question has been and is being considered. Again I ask my Noble Friend whether, when the Foreign Secretary said the Government had been unable to find any solution, he meant that they had not looked for a solution. If they had looked for a solution, surely that implies that the matter had been under the consideration of His Majesty's Government. If they had not looked for a solution, I think the words of the Foreign Secretary were somewhat misleading. I hope my Noble Friend will give a definite reply on that question, because I think it is of the greatest importance for us to know whether the matter is being considered, and whether, if it is being considered and the Government have hitherto not been able to find any solution, they are still looking for a solution.
There is another aspect of the question which is causing uneasiness and that is that this evasion and uncertainty are arousing increasingly dangerous hopes in Germany. I am not prepared to resent in the least that Germany is looking with 1959 envious eyes upon the British Mandated Territories. It is only natural that, if given the impression that here is an opportunity for an easy success, a great Power, after being defeated in war and having lost territories, should welcome the possibility of receiving those territories back. Germany has certainly received that impression from the replies of the Government. What is making the people in those territories anxious is that there is growing propaganda in Germany, and not only in Germany, for the propaganda has extended as the Government are no doubt aware, to the territories concerned. I have evidence—if my Noble Friend has not got it, I should be glad to give it to him—that this propaganda, is extending to the native population in Tanganyika, and that the natives are being promised that if the Germans come back to Tanganyika, the poll tax will be either entirely removed or very largely reduced. Not unnaturally, that is having a very serious effect upon the settled position of the natives in those territories. They are not unnaturally wondering whether this is the best sort of Government under which they could be. All those things are causing grave uneasiness, which could be brought to an end by one word from that Box. It seems to me that the Government might do that when so much is at stake.
Let me return to the reasons against such a transfer. The first and final consideration is the interests of the natives and the British inhabitants in the territories concerned. I will deal with that point later. There are subsidiary considerations also, and the most important is how this transference would really help Germany. Let us remember that Germany before the war, when she had all the territories that she could possibly get back, said that she had not a place in the sun. If we do make this serious sacrifice, shall we satisfy Germany? My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook referred to the German demand for an outlet for her surplus population and gave some very interesting figures, which showed that this transfer would not solve the problem of Germany's surplus population. I will only add one further illustration. Before the war, when Germany was carrying on very great and widespread emigration, out of every 800 1960 emigrants that left Germany only one went to her former Colonies, not because they did not like to go there, but because they are not suited to large-scale white settlement. They are not any more suitable now. The climate is just the same as when Germany was in possession of those territories!
The question of raw materials has been dealt with. On that point all that I would say is that there are no obstructions and no tariff restrictions against German trade any more than against any other country in the Mandated Territories. A point which is more often raised is the question of currency. The hon. Member for the Forest of Dean said that currency is a difficulty and that Germany needed these territories because currency was such a difficulty in trading with them. There is no substance in that argument.
§ Mr. SANDYS
The hon. Member said that she was suffering from currency difficulties. That is not a fact. The fact is that she is exporting to these territories more than she is importing from them. She is selling more than she is buying. She is taking away the balance of currency from these countries in order to buy from other countries. Therefore, it cannot be suggested that it is a currency difficulty from which Germany is suffering. If I had time, I could give figures in support of that suggestion. Our strategic position has been fully dealt with, and I will not go into that. Let me deal with our obligations to the natives and to the British settlers. We have this obligation throughout the British Colonial Empire, and if there is any part of the territories over which we have control, where we have an even greater obligation to the inhabitants, it is in these territories, where we have in black and white undertaken to maintain certain principles of enlightened government.
I was surprised to hear the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean talk about the advantage of transferring these territories, not to the present Germany, but to some future Germany, in order to bring her into the League of Nations and 1961 to get this or that advantage in Europe. Surely, the party opposite, of all parties, have proclaimed to the world that they stand above all else for the interests of the people who are governed and that they believe that populations should not be bartered about for the sake of some outside gain. I am sure that when the hon. Member reads his speech, he will not be altogether happy about that passage. We have only one question to ask ourselves, finally, and that is, Would the people in these territories be better off if they were transferred to Germany's rule than they are under our own? That is a simple question, and hon. Members opposite and the people outside who clamour for this surrender of territory must face up to that issue. They must either say, "We are indifferent to the interests of the inhabitants," or "We consider that they would be as well off under Germany as they are under British rule." We must realise that we are taking a very big decision if we decide to say that they would be as well off under Germany's rule as under ours.
I am not one of those who wish to run down Germany's administration of those territories before, but I do wish to say that German conceptions of government and of liberty and German treatment of racial and religious problems are entirely different from those in which we believe in this country, and I cannot believe that a people would be as well off under one system as they are under the other. If we are to suggest that they would be as well off under German rule as they are under ours, with all our ideas of ultimate self-government, then I think it is tantamount to condemning British rule, British institutions, and British conceptions of justice, not only in the mandated territories, but throughout the Colonial Empire, and it is not the mandated territories alone but the whole of our Colonial Empire that we ought to hand over. Therefore, let me finally appeal to the Government, in the interests of Anglo-German relations, in the interests of our own security, and in the interests of the British settlers, and let me appeal to them in the interests of the native inhabitants, who look to us for their protection, to give the long-needed assurance which would put an end to all this unhappy uncertainty, reassure the 1962 people within the British Empire, and give a chance for that settlement for which my Noble Friend is working at the present moment in the distracted state of Europe.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Viscount Cranborne)
In the speech with which he opened this Debate the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) said he regretted the necessity for it, owing to the extra strain which it put upon the Foreign Office. I should like to thank him for his kind sentiments, but indeed we fully understand why this Debate is taking place. With all due deference to the eminent Members who have taken part in it, it is really in the nature of an overflow meeting. We had on Monday an important Debate, in which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made a statement of considerable importance. Unfortunately, for various reasons it was a shortened Debate, and the speeches were rather unusually long, so that there was a very large number of Members who felt that they would have to go away for their holidays without saying what they felt they ought to say. I hope that these hon. Members will not expect a very spectacular declaration from me on behalf of the Government, because my light hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke for an hour and a half and made an additional speech at the end of the Debate, in which he explained with regard to the majority of the subjects raised that he was quite unable to amplify what he had already said. Moreover, in the last four days the situation has not radically changed, and, therefore, my aim to-day will be not so much to amplify what my right hon. Friend said as to emphasise the points which on that occasion he made.
But before I begin I would like to say one word with regard to a subject which has taken up a certain portion of this Debate and which is yet not quite directly connected with the main cause of it, and that is the question of the mandates, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and by other hon. Members. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook and the other hon. Gentlemen put forward very important considerations 1963 which, of course, we must all bear in mind, but, while recognising that, I hope that they will understand it if I do not add anything to what has already been said. My right hon. Friend made a statement on this subject in the Debate on Monday, and, what is more, he made it perfectly clear in the speech in which he wound up the Debate that it was a most carefully considered statement by the Government. He said that he could not possibly amplify it, and certainly it would be a most improper thing if, after that, his Under-Secretary tried to do so. I would recommend the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) and others who spoke and asked me a number of questions to read my right hon. Friend's last words on this subject. Referring to the statement he had made, he said:I would only ask hon. Members to read it carefully, and then I think that they will appreciate that that statement is as definite as the Government could possibly make it in existing circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1936; col. 1216, Vol. 315.]
§ Mr. SANDYS
All we are asking is that the Government should make as clear a statement as they were able to make in years gone by. We cannot accept the suggestion of the Foreign Secretary that it is impossible for the Government to make this statement. What we want to know is whether any change of policy has taken place. If the position has changed, then, at any rate, we shall know that our fears are justified. We cannot accept the suggestion that we have been given a direct and clear answer such as an ordinary person can understand.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
My hon. Friend may not be able to accept the statement, but I cannot make another statement to-day. He must just consider the words of my right hon. Friend's statement during the Recess.
Now we come to the main course of the Debate. The Debate has differed in one important respect from those that we have had during the last few months. Practically all of those Debates were concerned with the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, that is to say, with what we may call the negative or police functions of the League. We were concerned with an attempt by the League to restrain a State from violating its obligations 1964 under the Covenant and from reaping the fruits of its aggression. To-day the Italo-Abyssinian dispute has not taken up the largest part of the Debate; it has taken up a very little part. It is true that I have been asked one or two questions with regard to the present situation in Abyssinia and the Government's attitude to it, and I would like to answer those at once. I have been asked what is the attitude of the Government with regard to the recognition of Italy's annexation of Abyssinia. That, of course, as hon. Members opposite will recognise, is primarily a matter for the League of Nations itself. The hon. Member for Derby mentioned what I understood him to describe as some shady manoeuvres that were going on behind the scenes. His intelligence service must be better than mine, because I have heard nothing about them. So far as the attitude of the Government is concerned, I can tell the House that they have no present intention of recognising the annexation of Abyssinia. I am glad to make that clear, and I hope it will relieve the minds of hon. Members opposite and in other parts of the House.
Then there was the question, put forward, I think, by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) of the resumption of Anglo-Italian trade. He wanted to know what the position was. That is primarily a question for the Board of Trade rather than for the Foreign Office, and only yesterday my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made to the House a very full statement on the situation. I do not think there is anything I need add to that statement, which makes the position quite clear. The hon. Member also asked a question which arises from that—the position with regard to the sale of arms to Italy. He will see from the statement of my right hon. Friend that at present the negotiations for a resumption of trade are temporarily suspended. They have broken down at the moment, and therefore any question of the sale of arms does not arise. If there is no trade, then there can be no sale of arms.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
What the President of the Board of Trade was referring to yesterday was the pre-sanction credits, especially, and surely the sale of arms in the future can have no reference to 1965 the negotiations which have just broken down.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
As I understand it, it would not be possible for the sale of arms to take place at the present time.
§ Mr. NOEL-BAKER
I believe that before licences are granted for the export of arms the Board of Trade consult the Foreign Office. Can we have an assurance that licences will not be given, with Foreign Office approval, for the export of arms for use by Italy in Abyssinia against the Abyssinians?
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
The hon. Member can certainly have the assurance that if and when such a situation arises all the usual procedure will be gone through. It is quite obvious that I cannot give an assurance on a completely hypothetical case. The present situation is, as I understand it, that arms cannot and will not be sold to Italy. With regard to any country the normal legal procedure would be what I have stated. The hon. Member for Derby is perfectly right. The Foreign Office will be consulted, and I can assure him that every relevant consideration will be borne in mind when that time comes, but that time is not yet. I think those were the two main questions asked with regard to Abyssinia. I have said that during all this time we have been concerned mainly with what may be called the negative or police function of the League. Of course, there is another function which is infinitely more important. I think the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has already referred to it. A good many years ago—eleven years ago—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made a speech at Geneva in which he said:Anything which fosters the idea that the main business of the League is with war rather than with peace is likely to weaken it in its fundamental task of diminishing the causes of war.That is a very profound saying, which I think will receive general agreement in every part of the House. The business of preventing or stopping war is very important. Nobody under-estimates its importance, but it is infinitely more important to remove the causes of war, and though I do not think that any of us, in these troublous times, wish to underestimate the anxieties by which we are 1966 surrounded I think that events have happened in the last month which seem to show that some nations, at any rate, are turning their attention to this more constructive function of international affairs. There is, for instance, the Montreux Conference, to which reference was made on Monday. I think the signing of the Agreement for the new Straits Convention received universal praise, and it was generally considered that it was a great example, in these difficult times, to see a really thorny question solved by peaceful negotiations. Then there is the Austro-German Pact. Of that, I think, it is necessary to say only that those principally concerned have indicated that its purpose is to increase stability in Central Europe and to remove causes of friction. So far as it succeeds in that purpose it will receive, I am certain, a welcome in this country.
Then there is the main question of reform of the League. That subject occupied three-quarters, I suppose, of the time on Monday, and it has occupied a large portion of the Debate to-day. The Government fully recognise that there were Members in this House, and people in the country, who were disappointed because they did not receive a more detailed statement of Government policy. I recognise, too, that the disappointment was not caused by any desire to embarrass the Government, but was due to a very deep attachment to the Covenant. [Interruption.] I did not say to the Government but to the Covenant—and an anxiety lest the League should cease to be so strong a basis for British foreign policy. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary explained in his, speech why, in his opinion, it would be not only undesirable but almost impossible for him to make a more detailed statement at the moment. He said that a premature statement would do more harm than good. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, by a very ingenious plan of piecing together into a pattern the remarks made by various Ministers, and then reading between the lines, has succeeded in making up his mind clearly what the Government are after. I am afraid that his imagination has run away with him on this occasion, and I hope that he will not give it too much rein, as that would cause him unnecessary pain, I am afraid, in the weeks which 1967 lie before him. He got the impression that the Government were shirking the issue. That is not true; the Government are perfectly ready to express their view, but only at the proper moment, when a declaration of policy will do more good than harm. They do not believe that a situation has been reached when such a declaration would tend to a general settlement, and I hope that that will be the view of hon. Members in all parts of the House.
The impression which I received in the Debate on Monday was that what preoccupied the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite was a fear that some settlement might be reached weakening the Covenant, before any opportunity had been taken of obtaining an expression of opinion in this House. I think that my right hon. Friend's winding-up speech should have relieved their minds, so far as the weakening of the Covenant was concerned. He broadly indicated, first of all, the Government's view and said that they were not in favour of any drastic amendment of the Covenant. I would like to quote what he then went on to say:Moreover, there are certain principles connected with the collective organisation of peace which, in our view, it is essential to maintain and to which the Covenant gives expression. Most important of all these principles is the prevention of war. That includes a number of important elements, of which I will mention four: the machinery for the peaceful settlement of disputes, the machinery for the adjustment of grievances, the creation of a deterrent to war, the establishment of an international agreement for the reduction and limitation of armaments. All those elements are indispensable to the collective organisation of peace, and all those elements the Government wish to see maintained in any modifications that may be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1936; col. 1217, Vol. 315.]Surely that should relieve the minds of hon. Members opposite, because in that statement are enshrined all the main provisions of the existing Covenant. I think this statement indicates very clearly that there would be further opportunities of discussion. My right hon. Friend said that there were likely to be complex negotiations, and anyone who has had experience at Geneva knows that that is likely to be true.
In these circumstances I think it is quite obvious that the House will be 1968 sitting again long before these discussions are completed. The idea that 53 nations are going to rush to the Assembly and make an immediate agreement on every point is one which, if not midsummer madness, is perhaps an indication that the silly season is about to begin. If there are still any lingering doubts in the mind of some hon. Members opposite, I would refer them to a question asked of the Foreign Secretary by the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) on 29th July:Whether he will give an assurance that no fundamental changes in the Covenant of the League will be made or finally assented to by His Majesty's Government until Parliament has had an opportunity of discussing the changes in question?Mr. EDEN: Yes, Sir."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July; col. 1499, Vol. 315.]That is a perfectly simple and clear affirmative, and I really think that the House need have no fear that they are going to be faced with a fait accompli on this subject.
Finally, I would mention the Locarno Conference. Everybody, I suppose, is glad to see how general was the approval accorded to the meeting which took place nearly a fortnight ago, and although I notice that the hon. Member for Kings-winford seemed to be profoundly sceptical about the German Government, even he gave a modified blessing to the proposal. He did, however, seem to have the idea that there was a desire on the part of the German Government to insult His Majesty's Government, and he quoted the fact that no new German Ambassador to this country had been appointed. I think he might have been a little more charitable. It is equally likely, and in my opinion much more likely, to be the case that the German Government want to get the best man for a very difficult post. There was a case when His Majesty's Government not long ago were in the same position. That was not because they washed to inflict indelible injury upon another nation, but only that they wanted to get the correct man for a particular job.
One hon. Member—I think the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts)—said there was a very general opinion on that side of the House that war was inevitable. I do not think that 1969 war is inevitable, and I hope that many Members of the House take my view. What is however true, as I think everybody will regretfully agree, is that the general situation during the last few months has deteriorated. There have been signs that nations are drawing apart and that blocs may be formed, and the blocs may become suspicious of each other and may arm against each other. That is a situation fraught with the utmost danger. It is, indeed, the situation which led to the catastrophe of 1914. What we can feel, I think, about the conversations which took place in London a few days ago is not that they have averted danger—that would be claiming far too much—but that they have checked, or helped to check, a tendency in that direction. The French, Belgian and United Kingdom Governments made it perfectly clear that they did not want blocs, that they wanted free and equal discussion with Italy and Germany with the object of arriving at co-operation in the solution of the problems common to all; and I think we ought all, in whatever part of the House we sit, to pay a tribute to the far-sighted statesmanship of the French and Belgian representatives in these conversations.
Perhaps I might, in this connection, say a word with regard to a point which the hon. Member for Derby raised at the beginning of his speech. He said that the statement had been made in certain quarters—I understood in France—that it was the existence of a Socialist Government in France that had led the Prime Minister of this country to postpone his visit to France. Of course, there is not a word of truth in that suggestion. The reason has been published in the Press. It is perfectly clear that the Prime Minister wanted to keep in close touch with the international situation, and anyone who knows what the international situation is will think that that is a very natural reason. It is the only reason, and I am very glad to make that clear.
As hon. Members will know, an invitation has been sent to Italy and to Germany to take part in further conversations. If that invitation is accepted, and we all hope it will be, I believe that a real step forward may have been taken. I have said that the situation in some respects was rosier, but it cer- 1970 tainly is not rosy enough to justify the slightest relaxation on the part of any government of its efforts to bring about a settlement. Indeed, there are cases for the most intense anxiety still. There is Danzig, to which the hon. Member for Derby has already referred. He knows the situation as well as any Member of the House A report is being awaited from the High Commissioner on the present situation, and, until that report is received, there is no further step that can be taken. I agree with everything that the hon. Member said about the High Commissioner. Mr. Lester has done immense work for the League in exceptionally difficult circumstances. The hon. Member said that he hoped we did not propose to desert Mr. Lester. Of course, we are Members of the League, and as Members of the League we have never deserted Mr. Lester and I hope we never shall.
Another cause of anxiety, and a serious and urgent cause of anxiety, is Spain, which, not unnaturally, has been mentioned by a great many speakers in this Debate. I have been asked certain definite questions with regard to Spain, which I should like to answer. First of all, the hon. Member for North Cumberland asked two questions. He referred to the sale, which has been reported in the Press, of certain aeroplanes, and he suggested, as I understand, that the Government could and should have stopped the sale of those aeroplanes. He is, if I may say so, misinformed. These aeroplanes were civil aircraft, which had been used for civilian purposes, regular passenger-carrying aircraft; and no licence of any kind is needed for the sale of such aircraft. Indeed, His Majesty's Government had no power of any kind to intervene in this sale. The fact that the sale took place does not necessarily signify approval of the deal by His Majesty's Government; it merely means that it was an ordinary commercial deal, in which they were not, and could not be, concerned.
§ Mr. W. ROBERTS
Am I to understand that the Government have no means at all of preventing the sale of aircraft to any particular government or any particular area in Europe?
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
So long as they are civil aircraft they are just like 1971 boots or shoes. I was asked a more general question—what would be the policy of the Government with regard to the purchase of armaments? No application from Spain has been received. If it were received, it would be dealt with by means of the ordinary procedure with regard to such applications laid down by law and dealt with by the Departments concerned. The hon. Member for Derby referred to that procedure in another connection, and that would be adopted in this case. I want to make it quite clear that in this very difficult situation the Government want and mean to act all the time in strict accordance with the existing law. They believe that is the only line of action for them to take, and they mean to stand by it. If anyone wishes them to adopt any other attitude, they will be unable to accede to it.
So far as the general situation in Spain is concerned, I do not think it will be possible for me to say anything. The situation is immensely delicate and complex, and the less we all say about it the better. All I can do is, first of all, what I am sure everyone would wish to do, to express the sympathy of everyone in this country with the people of Spain in the trouble in which they are, and to assure the House that the Government have taken no improper action in regard to this dispute and will take no improper action, and I hope all other sections of opinion in the House will take up exactly the same position. These very grave problems and the growth of armaments must to some extent discourage optimism. The situation is obviously one of great complexity and difficulty, but at least we can say this. A month or two ago it seemed to be hardening. To some extent it is now somewhat less rigid and it looks as if an era of opportunity is opening, and it is up to us to grasp opportunities when they appear.
May I say one word about the general policy of the Government? We are always told that the Government do not give a strong enough lead. We were told it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) a month ago, and we have been told it several times to-day. I think that, to a certain extent that arises from a misapprehension both of the limitations and 1972 the purposes of foreign policy. It is very important to give a spectacular lead. It is often right and it is always pleasant, because it is flattering to the national amour propre. It gives a good effect, and everyone enjoys and likes it. But there is something more important, and that is to achieve one's object. That is only too often done by far less spectacular means. It is very important to give a lead, but it is even more important to get other people to go with you. That is not generally recognised, and it is far the hardest part of foreign policy.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) referred to the offer of Germany to limit her army to 300,000 men and he seemed to indicate that it was the Government that was responsible for the failure to accept it. That is not so. My right hon. Friend went to Berlin to discuss the proposal with the German Chancellor. It is true that it was not accepted, but it was not the British Government that was responsible for the failure. [Interruption.] I quote it as an example of the difficulty of getting other people to go with you. The Government are not weak or vacillating, as some hon. Members would like to think they have been on some occasions. Their policy is clear and consistent. They want peace and co-operation among the nations. That is an aim common to all parties in this country at the present time. A material step forward—I would not put it higher than that—has been taken in the Locarno conversations, and if the German Government and the Italian Government can see their way to accept the invitation to come and discuss further these problems, then, I think, a very real step forward will have been taken, which, to use the words of the communique published on these discussions, may well lead to the widening of the area of the discussion in such a manner as to facilitate, with the collaboration of the other interested Powers, the settlement of those problems, the solution of which is essential to the peace of Europe.
That is the aim and object of the foreign policy of the Government at the present time, and I think that it is the aim and object of the policy of everybody in this country. Nothing, to my 1973 mind, has been more apparent in the last two Debates which have taken place than the high tone of the Debates. There has been a very broad measure of agreement as to the objects to be attained. Therefore, I think that the Government, before the House rises for the Recess, may fairly hope that in their efforts they may receive, if not the support, at least the good 1974 will of every section of opinion in this House and in the country.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Three Minutes before Four o'Clock, until Thursday, 29th October, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.