Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £117,736, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs."—[NOTE: £62,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
I must make it clear at the outset that the Government welcome this Debate. They welcome it as affording us an opportunity to make plain the attitude of His Majesty's Government to a number of problems which at present confront the League of Nations, and upon some of which the League will have to take decisions towards the close of this month. In a later part of my speech I wish to deal with other international problems which confront us—problems of no less importance than those which will be discussed at Geneva at the end of the month. But I would like to begin by attempting to put the statement of the Government's policy in respect to the future of sanctions in its true perspective.
Ever since the Italo-Abyssinian dispute began, until now, the Government have taken their full part in collective action. About that there can be no dispute. Certainly it may be argued that collective action should have been more thorough or more complete, but nobody can deny that in the action which has been taken His Majesty's Government have played their full part. We have no intention of departing from that principle now. On the contrary, we shall continue that practice, and collective action remains our aim. In consequence we shall continue to take our full share in any decision 1198 which the League of Nations in its Assembly at the end of this month may decide to take. We are not the League; we are a member of the League. We shall act fully and loyally in line with any action which the Assembly of 50 nations may decide upon. It would be, I suggest to the Committee, open to the Government to say that, and to say no more until we get to Geneva. [Interruption.] It would be open. It would be the very collective action, in one aspect, of which hon. Members speak. It is impossible to have it both ways. You cannot both complain that we must take our full part in collective action and also complain that we do not state our views in advance. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Chancellor of the Exchequer."] I say that it would be possible for His Majesty's Government to pursue that course, but in our view, at what is clearly a period of difficulty in the League's history, that would not be a very heroic course nor one, I believe, which either this House or the country would wish us to take. There is a responsibility.
§ Mr. EDEN
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me make my observations. The Government have a responsibility to the League—a responsibility not only for compliance, but also for guidance. Many times in this dispute the Government have given the lead, many times, and hon. Gentlemen opposite will find not one time when anybody else has given it; many times we have given the lead. We gave it in January of last year when it was our insistence which brought this dispute within the jurisdiction and the action of the Council itself. It was our action and our efforts in the intervening months that resulted in the Council in May handling this dispute, which resulted in the passage of a resolution which maintained the right of the Council, hitherto challenged by Italy, to follow the course of the dispute, and which secured the acceptance then, in May, of the principle and of the machinery of conciliation. Again, it was on the initiative of the British Government that the Council met in July when it otherwise would not have met till September. It was at our instance, jointly with the French Government, that a three-Power conference was called in Paris in August last year. It is 1199 quite true that the Paris Conference was abortive, but no one who at that time or now looked at its proceedings would maintain that our own Government did not do the utmost they could to bring about its success. Again, in September my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty took the lead at Geneva in a speech which met with approval from all sections of opinion in this country; and in October, when it came to the actual organisation of sanctions—[Interruption.]—the hon. Member's cheap gibes are not appropriate to the discussion—when it came in October to the organisation and application of the collective action which 50 nations of the League had decided for the first time in history that they would take, again it was this Government which took the lead, both in proposing and in organising the work of those Committees.
Those are facts which cannot be challenged, which must be admitted by anyone who chooses with any attempt at impartiality to review the events of the past few months. Now that the League is perplexed it is the view of the Government that it is its duty to take the lead again. No doubt it would be easy, quite easy for us not to do so, and to leave it to someone else and to follow after someone else's lead, but I do not believe that that is the right attitude for this country to take. I am quite convinced that so far from this lead, which we are going to take, embarrassing others, it will be welcomed in many quarters. [HON. MEMBERS: "In Rome."] What, in the view of the Government, should the League do? Whatever view we take of the course of action which the League should follow, there is one fact upon which we must all be agreed. We have to admit that the purpose for which sanctions were imposed has not been realised. It is not necessary to give a detailed account of the reasons for that fact; they are many. No doubt there were serious miscalculations. One of them was a miscalculation by military opinion in most countries that the conflict would last very much longer than it has in fact done, and that in consequence the sanctions which everyone knew could not operate at once, would produce their effect and assist thereby to obtain a settlement. In any event, I ask the Committee to remember that there was a very good reason for the 1200 League to enforce the sanctions, the particular ones they chose, because with an incomplete membership they were the only ones they could impose and which by their own action alone they could hope to see effective. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oil."] Oil could not be made effective by League action alone.
§ Mr. EDEN
The fact has to be faced that sanctions did not realise the purpose for which they were imposed. The Italian military campaign succeeded. The capital and the most important part of Abyssinia are in Italian military occupation, and so far as I am aware no Abyssinian Government survives in any part of the Emperor's territory. That is a situation which has got to be faced. It is a situation which nothing but military action from without, from outside the country, can possibly reverse. Is there any country prepared to take such military action? Or is there any section of opinion in this country prepared to take such military action?
§ Mr. EDEN
Those are the hard facts of the situation, and I submit that no Member of this Committee can escape from facing them if he is willing to appreciate the full problem with which the Government are to-day confronted. I suggest that those facts, unwelcome though they are, do bring us to one definite conclusion—that if the League is to attain the objective for which it originally set out, then it has to be ready to take measures of an altogether different character from those applied hitherto. To use plain language, it is plain that if the League means to enforce in Abyssinia a peace which the League can rightly approve, then the League must take action of a kind which must inevitably lead to war in the Mediterranean. No man can say that such a war would be confined to the Mediterranean. I have no reason to think that the League favours such departure or such action. I have no reason to believe that this country, upon whom the greatest burden of such a war must fall, desires it either.
1201 Though the League has not availed to prevent the successful accomplishment of a violation of the Covenant, the Government do not regret, and I do not believe our fellow-members of the League regret, having made the attempt. We have in common applied all those economic and financial measures upon which general agreement could be obtained, in the hope that action would be effective. We ourselves proposed virtually all the most important. These are the motives with which we did so, and in that respect we have nothing to apologise for and nothing to retract. There is no question—I must emphasise it—in our view, of the judgment passed by the League last autumn on the act of aggression being either modified or reversed.
Now I come to the steps to be taken at the next meeting of the League. The League, the Assembly of 50 nations there, will then have to review the whole situation of which this question of sanctions forms only a part. We cannot tell what will be the views of the various Governments represented there, but His Majesty's Government, after mature consideration, on advice which I as Foreign Secretary thought it my duty to give them, have come to the conclusion that there is no longer any utility in continuing these measures as a means of pressure upon Italy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame," "Resign," "Sabotage "]—If the Committee will bear with me I will give them the reasons which have brought us to take this decision. It cannot be expected by anyone that the continuance of existing sanctions will restore in Abyssinia the position which has been destroyed; nobody expects that. That position can be restored only by military action. So far as I am aware no other Government, certainly not this Government, is prepared to take such military action.
In my view sanctions can be maintained only for some clearly defined and specific purpose. The only such purpose conceivable is the restoration in Abyssinia of the position which has been destroyed. Since that restoration cannot be effected except by military action, I suggest that that purpose does not in fact exist, and to maintain sanctions without any clearly defined purpose—which many people, I know, would wish 1202 to do—would have only this result: It would result in the crumbling of the sanctions front, so that in a few weeks' time the League would be confronted with a state of affairs still more derogatory than that which we have to face to-day. If further maintenance of sanctions would serve no useful purpose there is a danger that to attempt them would only bring disorder into what are at present the well-ordered ranks of the League countries imposing sanctions—[Laughter]. Hon. Members may find that amusing, but I do not believe it is in the interest of the League itself that the sanctions front should crumble into confusion. I think it is right that the League should admit that sanctions have not realised their purpose and should face that fact.
Those are the considerations which the Government have had in mind in coming to their decision. But I must repeat that the decision which is to be taken is a League decision, and the Government will, of course, concur in whatever is the view of the Assembly as a whole. None the less we have thought it our duty in advance to state our position before we go there. There is another aspect of the events of the last few months to which I wish the Committee would allow me to refer. [Interruption.]
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. GARRO JONES
On a point of Order. May I respectfully draw your attention to the fact that some of the Labour benches are occupied by Conservative Members, and while no protest was made as long as those Members remained silent, when they begin to interrupt and falsely create the impression that those interruptions are coming from Labour Members, we protest.
§ The CHAIRMAN
In a case of this kind, when feeling sometimes runs rather high, it is, I think, the business of the Chair to interfere as little as is necessary in order to preserve the decencies of Debate. I have not up to the present thought it necessary to interfere, although there have been times when the interruption, if I may put it so, of the Minister occupying the Floor of the House has made things a little difficult for him. I have not attempted to draw any particular view as to the party of any Member responsible for that interruption, and I do not wish to do so. I do not think that at the present time any question of 1203 order arises as to where hon. Members are sitting. While it is perfectly true that under normal conditions Members of different parties or groups sit in particular places, there is no rule of the House against any Member sitting where he can find a seat. Therefore, I think that in the circumstances to raise a point of Order on this question is quite unnecessary. I hope that a little forbearance all round will enable the Committee to do what I am sure is the intention, and one of the objects of the Debate namely to hear the statement from the Government of their policy.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
As you have said, we are all desirous that this important Debate should be conducted in the best possible way and, as you said, it is difficult sometimes when feeling runs high. But I put it to you that for that purpose it has been Mr. Speaker's rule to consult with the leaders of different parties in the House as to where they should sit. That has been done in this Parliament. These seats have been assigned to the Labour party, and for other Members to insert themselves in those seats and to interrupt Debate so as to give an impression either that those interruptions come from this side or that there is dissension in our party, is something that is not calculated to give a reasonable chance to the right hon. Gentleman who is speaking or to preserve that decency of Debate which we desire. I suggest that that is entirely contrary to the wishes of the House, and that those hon. Members should withdraw to the part of the House to which they belong.
§ Lieut.-Commander AGNEW
On a point of Order. As one of the Members who is sitting in a seat not usually occupied by those of my political views, I should like to give a word of explanation to the House. When certain interruptions were made more loudly than usual from these benches when the right hon. Gentleman was addressing the House, I ventured, perhaps usurping your function, to say, "Order, order." It was then that I noticed that the demonstration against hon. Members sitting on these benches began. If it should be your Ruling that I should withdraw from this seat, I am willing to do so.
§ Mr. R. J. TAYLOR
Further to that point of Order. May I draw your atten- 1204 tion to the fact that Labour Members are standing under the Gallery on this side in numbers equal to those who are taking their seats?
§ The CHAIRMAN
When the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition rises to put anything to me in regard to a point of Order it is only right that I should take note of it. If the Committee will permit me to do so, I wish to do it in this way. I have no power, nor has any occupant of this Chair or the Speaker's Chair any power to order any Member either to sit or not to sit in any particular place. There are not only the customs to which I have referred, but there is a custom, which we may take to be an absolute rule, in regard to Members reserving seats. Outside that, I have certainly no right whatever to interfere with Members as to where they sit. I think hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will be acting to the common advantage of the whole Committee if they do not shorten the already short time available for this Debate by any unnecessary points of Order or any unnecessary interruptions.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. EDEN
There is another aspect of the events of the last few months to which I wish at this stage to draw the attention of the Members of the Committee, and in respect of which I wish to make a declaration on behalf of the Government. The Members of the Committee will perhaps recall the fact that last December exchanges of view took place between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of certain Mediterranean Powers, as a result of which certain reciprocal assurances were exchanged under paragraph 3 of Article 16 of the Covenant. Papers were laid at the time. In brief, the effect of the assurances we gave was that we assured certain Mediterranean countries that we would come to their aid in the event of their being attacked for action which they were taking under Article 16. It is the view of the Government that this assurance given by this country should not end with the raising of sanctions but should continue to cover the period of uncertainty which must necessarily follow any termination of action under Article 16. Therefore, should the Assembly at the end of the month decide to raise sanctions, His Majesty's Government intend, with a view 1205 to making their contribution to establishing confidence in the regions concerned, to state at Geneva that such are their views.
I need hardly add that the Government regard any such eventuality as those assurances covered not only as hypothetical but as improbable. Moreover, obviously—[Interruption.] If hon. Members opposite would put themselves in the position of the countries concerned they would not interrupt me. Moreover, obviously, these assurances would be intended to operate only so long as in the opinion of the Government they remain appropriate to the circumstances. Within these limits we think it right that these assurances should continue, and we are prepared to state that fact at Geneva. Moreover, in the light of the experience of recent months the Government have determined that it is necessary that we should maintain permanently in the Mediterranean a defensive position stronger than that which existed before this dispute began. Arrangements will be made to carry out that declaration.
Important as these matters are, there is another problem the significance of which in my view dominates everything else at this time—the future of the League itself. A further reason which actuated me and actuated the Government in the decision that I have just announced was the conviction that the future of the League needs to be earnestly and urgently considered by all its members. We believe that such consideration can only be given when the preoccupations and problems in connection with the imposition of sanctions have been liquidated. I must make it plain that the Government are determined that the League should go on. [HON. MEMEERS: "Where? Which way?"] In our view, the course which we are pursuing is much more calculated to secure that result than the gibes of hon. Members opposite. I was going to say "the course of hon. Members opposite," but they never tell us what it is. In our view, the fact that the League has tried and failed in this instance is not a reason for making us wish that the attempt had not been made, but it is a reason for making us determine to seek so to organise the League that it may achieve the best chance of success hereafter. [Interruption.] I beg to think that my 1206 remarks have some importance. If the League is to have its best chance of success then it must be organised on a basis which takes account of the lessons of the last few months. Those lessons have to be analysed, and the instruction which they give has to be embodied in the future practice of the League.
The Government do not anticipate that at the Session of the Assembly at the end of this month the other nations will be willing or ready to deal with that vast problem of the future of the League. We think probably it would be wiser to leave dealing with that problem until the normal Assembly in September. But in the meanwhile each Government should be engaged, must be engaged, on considering the shortcomings, the weaknesses and even the dangers which have been revealed by the experience of the last few months. All minds must be turned actively to that task. His Majesty's Government have already begun upon it. We are already actively engaged upon it, and we shall keep in close touch with the Dominions in respect of this question. Our intention is to make the most constructive and effective contribution in our power at the Assembly which takes place in September.
The question is, can the world succeed in reorganising itself on a peace basis? I am convinced, despite the events of the last few months that it can, if it will. I am convinced that it remains true that a universal League of Nations of substantially disarmed States, in a world made safe for democracy—that is what the Covenant contemplated—can effectively and without doubt maintain peace, but, unhappily as I believe for mankind, such a League has never in fact existed, nor in present conditions can it readily be seen how such a League can be made. I say that to the Committee in order that they may appreciate that we are to-day confronted with problems totally different in character, unwelcome though those differences may be, from the problems which confronted the original authors of the Covenant. We have to comprise within one organisation the willing collaboration of governments of totally divergent character. That gives some indication of the nature of the problem, but unless we do face it we cannot expect the League in the future effectively to meet these problems. At least I will give the Committee this definite assurance, that 1207 the Government will strive to restore to the League its full authority, after this set-back which we admit, and to that end we propose to devote ourselves.
I should like to turn to another and no less important aspect of the international situation which now confronts us, and I want to deal, if the Committee will allow me, with the negotiations which the Government have sought to set on foot ever since the German re-occupation of the Rhineland in March. Successive Governments in this country have long stood for a, policy based on a desire to establish good relations between Germany and the countries which were her enemies in the War. We have sought to do that on a basis of German equality and independence and the equality and independence of others, and on a basis of respect for engagements undertaken. The collaboration of Germany is indispensable to the peace of Europe, and we have asked, as successive British Governments have asked, nothing better than to work with Germany to that end. That is the purpose that underlay the Treaty of Locarno negotiated by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). It was the purpose in the mind of successive British Governments when they negotiated the reparation arrangements, culminating in their disappearance at Lausanne altogether. It formed part of the negotiations of the Disarmament Conference, and after the breakdown of that conference in the spring of 1934 the Government of this country did not relax their efforts. The Committee has only to read the Blue Book which we published last April—I think it is of interest to read that Blue Book—to appreciate the whole course which these negotiations have followed.
There are only one or two of these most important matters to which I desire to refer. In February of last year the joint Anglo-French Declaration was agreed upon in London to try to secure a general settlement for the pacification of Europe. That was a comprehensive settlement, comprising proposed agreements between Germany and a number of European States, mutual air pact agreements, and agreements which should replace the armament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. Soon after that meeting in March Germany enacted conscription by declaration, and the task of His Majesty's 1208 Government was thereby complicated, but we persevered throughout last year in efforts, constantly renewed, to secure an air pact, arrangements in Eastern Europe, and an agreed limitation of certain forms of armaments. For various reasons the German Government felt obliged to postpone their response to our efforts.
That was the situation which I found at the end of the year when I came to the Foreign Office. I felt that I must make plain at once how earnest was my desire to enter into friendly discussions with the German Government in order to secure working arrangements in which that country could participate. Accordingly I instructed our Ambassador in Berlin to tell Herr Hitler that I shared the view he had expressed as to the importance of close collaboration and understanding between, Great Britain, France and Germany, and I expressed the hope that the two Governments would keep that object in view despite the fact that Germany was unwilling at that moment to open discussions.
At intervals in January and February we sought to make progress with these negotiations and also with an Air Pact, but the next development was on 7th March, when the German Ambassador came to the Foreign Office and informed me that German troops had entered the demilitarised zone that morning. I do not want this afternoon to repeat the earlier observations I had to make on that matter. Suffice it to say, and the whole Committee knows it, that the suddenness of that action on the part of the German Government aroused the utmost anxiety and disquiet in Belgium and in France, and for other reasons among countries in a great part of Europe. In those circumstances the policy of the Government was to seek to calm anxieties and thus promote a situation in which considered reflection and careful negotiations might be possible.
Ever since the events of 7th March we have sought to rebuild. We did not suppose, of course, that the action of the German Government could be revoked, and we did not ask for it, but, we did hope from the German Government some contribution which would show, as they affirmed themselves, that their action was only of symbolic significance. We asked the German Government to 1209 make spontaneously a contribution towards the restoration of confidence. The German Government unhappily felt unable to do so. So far as we are concerned we have done everything we could to restore confidence and allay apprehensions. That is why we reaffirmed on the 19th March our obligations and our guarantees under the Locarno Treaty. That is why, as tangible evidence, we agreed to Staff conversations to arrange the technical conditions in which our obligations could be carried out in case of unprovoked aggression. Moreover, we made it plain at once that we were ready to negotiate with Germany, France and Belgium, new nonaggression and security arrangements for Western Europe.
But it was also clear, in view of the German occupation of the zone, that Europe at large would wish to know what Germany's intentions were towards the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and all the more naturally in the light of the proposals which the German Chancellor had himself announced. Moreover, it was important for us and for Europe to be assured that Germany now felt that a point had been reached at which she could signify that she recognised and intended to respect the existing territorial and political status of Europe except of course' as it might subsequently be modified by free negotiations and agreements. A frank and a reassuring response to that question I am sure would be the signal for a return of confidence to Europe. I believe that nothing less, if I may say so, than a European settlement and appeasement should be our aim. If a reassurance can be given on this point then there are elements in the present situation which would enable us to attempt to conclude a permanent settlement in Europe based on the disappearance of the demilitarised zone. That was the primary purpose of the communication which the British Ambassador made to the German Government on the 6th May last. The inquiries thus put to the German Government were in our view very necessary and legitimate on our part. They were made as soon as possible after we had elucidated the position at Geneva in a meeting with the other Powers signatory to the Locarno Treaty. 1210 For that reason the Government felt justified in looking for an early reply from the German Government, a reply which we trust will enable progress to be made with the negotiations which if is our first object to see successfully realised.
In the remarks which I have addressed to the Committee this afternoon I have confined myself to two subjects but there are many other problems. Although there are many other problems no one in the Committee will deny that it is these two problems, the Italo-Abyssinian dispute and the negotiations with Germany, which dominate the present situation. Neither of them is of our own making but we cannot ignore either. There seems to me to be a tendency in some quarters to close the eye to one and let the other occupy the whole field. The Government with their responsibilities cannot afford to do that. I recognise, no one better, that there are many people in this country who have given the Government strong support in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute and, if I may say so, who have given me personally strong support. I can understand only too well their keen disappointment at present events. As a convinced believer in the League, I share that disappointment, but I feel I am entitled to ask hon. Members in all parts of the Committee to look at this problem as a whole.
It is in that perspective that the practical question of what to do about sanctions has to be decided. If we cling to a course after the objective has become unattainable, we may lose a greater end for which we are working, the greater end being in anxious days to keep peace. To that end we have to bend all our energies. If it means admitting failure in one instance, that has got to be faced. This is a situation in which there is no ideal way out. If there were, there would be no difference between us in any part of the Committee or in the country. The aim upon which we are all united is that peace, not chaos and catastrophe, shall rule. Peace is the one essential need of the world. It is because I believe profoundly that the policy I have outlined to this Committee this afternoon is the one which, in the present anxious, difficult and critical situation, is most likely to preserve peace that I submit it with a 1211 deep conviction and with a full sense of responsibility to this Committee.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I think hon. Members on all sides of the Committee are impressed by the importance and seriousness of this Debate, and in what I have to say I shall try to put faithfully the views of my party, and the views, I believe, of a very large number of British citizens who are outside my party. I am bound to say at the very outset that no more deplorable speech has ever fallen from the lips of a British Minister. During the whole of the speech there was not a single word of sympathy for a broken nation and not a word in condemnation of a Power which has deliberately organised the use of poison gas in spite of its treaty obligations. It was a speech which means truckling to a dictator. Millions of people in our land will hear with shame and consternation the statment that has been made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.
The National Government's disastrous foreign policy over five years has been reviewed in the House on more occasions than one. It is a sorry story. I do not propose to go back further than the last nine months, but to confront the Government with the noble sentiments which it issued and uttered a few months ago compared with the despicable attitude which it is taking now on precisely the same question. The speech of the then Foreign Secretary at Geneva last September gave new hope to this country and to supporters of the League of Nations everywhere. It was felt that after their unfortunate adventures in the realm of foreign politics the Government had at last come down to the basis of reality and were prepared to enable the Foreign Secretary to make a speech which stands out as one of the greatest speeches that has been made since the War. We had thought that that was the turning of a new page. That speech has been reechoed by other Ministers, and I think we ought to be grateful to the "News Chronicle" for bringing these speeches to our notice during the last few days. The Chancellor of the Exchequer only a month later said:If the League were to abdicate its functions under the Covenant every weak nation would first begin to arm, then to seek alliances with its strongest neighbour, and 1212 before long the peace of Europe would be at the mercy of the biggest and strongest Powers in Europe.He went on to say:The choice before us is whether we shall make a last effort at Geneva for peace or security or whether by a cowardly surrender we shall break a promise we have made and hold ourselves up to the shame of our children and their children's children.The National Government issued, over the signature of its three leaders, an election manifesto to which hon. and right hon. Members were pledged and which was responsible for their holding their seats in the House. The people believed that these words were what the Government really believed, and in consequence the people gave them support. These are the words:The League of Nations will remain, as heretofore, the keystone of British foreign policy. We shall continue to do all in our power to uphold the Covenant and to maintain and increase the efficiency of the League. In the present unhappy dispute between Italy and Abyssinia there will be no wavering in the policy we have hitherto pursued. We shall endeavour to further any discussions which may offer the hope of a just and fair settlement, provided that it be within the framework of the League and acceptable to the three parties to the dispute—Italy, Abyssinia and the League itself.It was on the strength of those promises that these people climbed back to power, to commit within nine months the biggest act of political treachery known in the history of this country. While the ears of the people were still ringing with these tones about peace, the Government were preparing their big rearmament programme on an unexampled scale against an undisclosed enemy, and people then began to wonder whether those very fine words were a sincere expression of the National Government's opinion.
Before Christmas, within two months of the General Election, we had the Hoare-Laval proposals. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary did not dwell upon them, but I would remind him that those proposals were destroyed by a torrent of public opinion and indignation which amazed the Government and even amazed the lethargic Prime Minister. The then Foreign Secretary, in a very courageous speech in the House, stuck to his guns and was sacrificed to save the faces of the Prime Minister and his colleagues. It ought to have been a lesson to the Government then that the people of this land stood by the declara- 1213 tion of foreign policy made by the Government at the Election. And it did seem, after the collapse of the Hoare-Laval proposals, that there was some return of sanity on the part of the Members of the National Government. In April, only seven weeks ago—this sudden conversion is a most astonishing thing—the Foreign Secretary said at Geneva:This is a solemn hour. We are faced with a grave decision. Every Government must show its responsibility and clearly state the policy they are prepared to pursue. So far as His Majesty's Government is concerned, we propose to maintain those economic and financial sanctions which have already been put into force. In addition, His Majesty's Government are ready and prepared to consider the imposition of any further economic and financial sanctions that may be considered effective for the settlement of the dispute.That was in April. A great change has taken place since. There has been another event of some significance. Within a few short months the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was back in high office—was back in the councils of the Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty. His absence this afternoon has been noted. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is here."] I withdraw that. Has the First Lord of the Admiralty changed his views since last December? Has he influenced the Government to change their decision I Has he been a silent and impotent member of the Cabinet since his return, or is there some relationship between the return of the First Lord of the Admiralty and the new policy of the Government I say that his return to the Government so soon after his dismissal—his return to a Government which he very nearly destroyed—was an insult to those millions of people in this country who raised their voices and made him go.
To proceed chronologically, we have the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The first part of the Foreign Secretary's speech was a record of "His Master's Voice." We have read all this about sanctions in the columns of the morning papers. I only wish the Foreign Secretary had been a little more emphatic, in the second part of his speech, as to whether he subscribes to the views which were the personal reflections of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the 1900 Club dinner, because until that is denied we shall assume that that is the Government's policy. I am referring to the two crucial points of 1214 the Chancellor's speech, the limitation of the powers of the League and the reversion to regional pacts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is not a person of bubbling exuberance. He is one who has sealed lips. He is not the kind of person to blab, not even in the genial atmosphere of a 1900 Club dinner.
Was this a calculated indiscretion? Was the Chancellor speaking only his own mind? Has he never discussed with his colleagues this so-called failure of the League? Did he take upon his own shoulders to make a tremendous pronouncement of this kind without the knowledge of the Prime Minister and his fellow members of the Cabinet? If so, the right hon. Gentleman ought not to be sitting there. If statements of high policy are to be uttered by unauthorised persons, that is the end of Parliamentary Government. Unless we have an emphatic denial that the limitation of the powers of the League and the reversion to regional pacts is not to be the policy of the Government, we have no alternative but to believe that that it what is honestly and sincerely in their minds. The Prime Minister's reply last Thursday, I feel quite sure, disturbed Members on all sides of the House. It was not a spectacle I would wish to see often repeated, to see the Prime Minister so thoroughly uncomfortable and embarrassed at having to defend his friend. The answer was shuffling, it was shifting, it was not the kind of answer we have learned to expect from the right hon. Gentleman, whose reputation for honesty is world-wide.
If we are suspicious, is it surprising? Is it surprising, in view of the shifts and wriggles of the Government, with its mouthing of high principles one day and its mean and despicable actions on another day, that large numbers of people now doubt the sincerity of the Government? It is a serious matter to doubt the sincerity of a Government. Opponents may think it misguided, but sincerity ought to be the soul of all Governments, of whatever political party. Is it surprising that large numbers of people now in all parties and in all walks of life—as some of us know from correspondence which has reached us—are disgusted with and ashamed of this Government? The Government to-day is a very sorry spectacle, the victim of pernicious anaemia. I would not go so far as someone in the "Times" did when he 1215 said that the Government was suffering from paralysis of the insane, but it is anaemic certainly.
The Prime Minister and his colleagues have in our view forfeited the respect of all thinking people. The Prime Minister and his colleagues are in the words of Shelley:Rulers, who neither see, nor feel, nor know,But leech-like to their fainting country cling.Now we have this statement of the Foreign Secretary to-day. We are glad to think that the Prime Minister is going to make his contribution to the Debate and is going to break his long silence on foreign affairs. For six months, during which international affairs have been a matter of general discussion and in everybody's mind in this House, the Prime Minister's lips have been sealed. Are they to be opened to-day? If they are, I would like to ask him two questions.
Will he explain to us how these fine sentiments to which his colleagues have given expression and to which he has himself signed his name in the statement I have read to the Committee, can be reconciled with this new policy of scuttle? How can that policy be reconciled with belief in the integrity of the League and a just settlement of the dispute in Abyssinia? How can it be reconciled with the deplorable speech of the Foreign Secretary? I would like to ask a further and a more serious question. In view of these statements by His Majesty's Ministers and the complete volte face of to-day, can he believe that Britain's word can ever be believed again in the world? I have on more than one occasion criticised the whole of the foreign policy of the National Government. Fiddling whilst Rome was burning was a childish folly compared with the gross incompetence of the National Government's handling of foreign affairs. They have reduced us to a pretty pass.
The Foreign Secretary has made a speech which I believe he will live to regret. I saw a newspaper placard this morning—a newspaper I rarely buy myself—containing four words "Eden to lead retreat." That was a very apt description. The retreat from Moscow was historically less significant than the retreat of the right hon. Gentleman. Who would have thought that this new and 1216 enthusiastic apostle of the League of Nations would have led the retreat from Geneva, because that is what is implied in the right hon. Gentleman's statement. They are now prepared to go to the League and give it a lead. The Foreign Secretary explained how on occasion after occasion the British Government had given a lead to the League of Nations. It is now prepared to give the lead again and the right hon. Gentleman, like a certain Duke of York, having led his troops up the hill is leading them down again.
There is no word as to what the Government mean to propose in order to settle this dispute. The Abyssinian dispute still exists. The only suggestion is that sanctions have proved a failure and that therefore sanctions are to be lifted. That leaves the African situation unsettled. There was to be a settlement within the framework of the League, a fair and just settlement. All we are to have now is a withdrawal of sanctions against the victor. The primary question remains unsettled. Gangsterdom is triumphant and Abyssinia stands as a ghastly monument to the treachery of nations who were sworn to stand by her. No Government in this country, bad as some have been in the past, ever humiliated itself or the people it represented more shamefully and more completely than this Government has done to-day by the proposal to dispense with the one effective weapon in the hands of the League of Nations, the one effective weapon by which the rule of law can be vindicated. [Interruption.]
§ The CHAIRMAN
Hon. Members must realise that if the right hon. Gentleman who is addressing the Committee does not give way, they have no right to interrupt.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The Foreign Secretary has told us there were many reasons why sanctions failed. He was not good enough to outline any of them in any detail. The real reason why sanctions may have partially failed is because of the half-hearted attitude of the British Government. I do not believe that war is the only thing left now. I believe myself that the most terrifying power in the world to-day is the power of economic and financial sanctions. I say that, properly applied, they would bring any 1217 nation to its knees however powerful it was. If the Government haul down the flag of sanctions now they will have hauled it down because they have never had the courage of their convictions. We hear about crumbling sanctions. Where then is this noble British lead? Is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to go to Geneva and say, "Will you, the nations of the League, still honour your obligations?" Why has he not done that before giving them this lead? The Government are leading the League where they want to lead it. It is not that the League has failed, it is not that sanctions have failed—it is that the courage of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends has failed.
I ask the Committee what is the logic of the situation in which we are now. The step which the Government propose is a complete surrender to Fascism and all that Fascism means. It is an admission that successful aggresion—not unsuccessful aggression—is to be condoned. It is an abject capitulation of reason and the rule of law to wanton lawlessness and gangsterdom. It cannot mean anything else. It has given heart to Mussolini, who can stride in his jack-boots across Europe, and a supine British Government will let him do it. I take the matter further. I would like to do the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert) the honour of having his poem, which appeared in the "Times" yesterday, reprinted in the OFFICIAL REPORT. The hon. Member was inspired to verse by a telegram in a daily paper which said:It is hinted that only a reversal of the League verdict that Italy was the aggressor in Abyssinia would really meet the case.We may have that next Tuesday. Now for the poem:Let us be realist and face the facts,For peace, at any price, is more than pacts.The house is broke; the burglar keeps the cruet;Why not be wise, and say he didn't do it?It may be awkward to condone a crime,But not if it was lawful all the time.If humble pie be what the nations wish,Let them have plenty, let them lick the dish,Singing, 'The meek Italian left his homeTo drive the Abyssinian brute from Rome,'Maybe that mustard on the mountain topsWas loosed by Englishmen disguised as Wops?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, seeing that he has completely sold the pass or means to do so at the earliest opportunity, with regard to sanctions where the Government and the League now stand on Article X.The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.My simple question to the right hon. Gentleman is: What advice is he going to take to the League when he goes back? The Foreign Secretary was studiously vague in what he said about the future of the League. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was much more pointed and I want to say again that the House of Commons is entitled to a clear and unequivocal statement as to what the Government mean by "revising the League." Does it mean seeking, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, a limitation of its powers or does it mean that behind the League, or under the umbrella of the League, we are to revert to regional pacts? A League of Nations which allowed itself to be dominated by the mailed fist of an aggressor is a mockery. It is not a League in which there can be any confidence, but the great lesson to be drawn from the tragic events of the last eight or nine months is not that the League should be emasculated but that the League should be strengthened. The time is ripe, not for limiting but for enlarging the powers of the League in the light of the unfortunate experiences of recent months. Surely all people who have given thought to this question stand for a League of Nations, not crippled, not emasculated, not dominated and terrified by dictatorships, but a League given powers which would enable it to set its face relentlessly against aggression from wherever it may come. [HON MEMBERS: "What powers?"] I have already informed the Committee that I am not under examination. The Government are in the dock and I want to keep them in the dock.
I put it to the Government that this is a very bitter experience for a very 1219 large number of citizens of this country who, during the last year, calmly and deliberately placed their faith in the League and all that the League implies. The peace ballot was not a light-hearted thing and it must be now a very bitter experience to many to find this Government prepared to be the first Government of a great nation in the League to throw a stone at it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The limitation of its powers means the strangling of the League and that appears to be the policy of the Government. The Government are now running away from terrific responsibilities. The very fact that the League has had to face one who flouted its authority, ought to nerve people to stronger action for the maintenance of the League.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The only hope of settled peace is a strong League and collective security. There is no other way and for the Government now to consider tampering with the fabric of the League and dropping its effective weapon against an aggressor means that they are shirking their responsibilities. We have this shuffling and cringing retreat on the part of a Government which has always prided itself on consisting of strong men, some of them silent, with sealed lips, but strong nevertheless. It is rather shameful to think of them now turning tail on huge problems which they have had a hand in creating by their own weakness and vacillation. We do not need now to haul down the flag. What we need now, in the light of the dreadful experiences of recent months, is a new and determined approach to peace. I do not believe that we shall get it from the Foreign Secretary. I ask the Government what is their policy for keeping the peace. Is their policy to condone aggression—because aggression grows by success? It it their policy to emasculate the League of Nations? Is it their policy to reduce the League of Nations to the level of a pleasant Sunday afternoon meeting?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Is it the Government's policy to rely on partial pacts to 1220 keep the peace? Is it their policy, to use the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to "limit the danger zones" and to mark out beforehand your potential enemy? Is that the peace policy of the Government or is it their policy to arm to the teeth in desperation, because they know no other way out? As surely as night follows day, war must follow these suicidal policies. What we are discussing to-day is something of tremendous importance.—[An. HON. MEMBER: "You do not realise it."] Hon. Members opposite do not. The fate of mankind to-day hangs in the balance. There are two ways to tread. Are we going to tread the path along which lie the bodies of hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens who were killed in the last War, or are we going to scale the heights to a rule of law which means something in the world? That is not the declaration of the Government this afternoon. If the Government treat their most solemn statements, which were made in the atmosphere of the General Election and since, as scraps of paper, they are unworthy of public confidence. Having misled the people of this country, the Government ought to have the courage to go out of office, dishonoured, with all their sins on their shoulders, and to make way for those who are prepared to put their principles to the test, principles by which scores of millions of people in this and other lands now swear to vindicate the rule of law in the world once and for all. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] The establishment of a League of Nations which shall be effective—[HON. MEMBERS: "How? By war?"] I have the most supreme contempt for the stupid and parrot-like interruptions of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They will do their own cause no good by them and by treating this question with flippancy.
I am saying that if the Government will not fulfil their heavy and high responsibilities they ought to make way for people who are prepared to stand by what has been said on this and thousands of platforms, not by men of one party, but by men of the party opposite, too, to stand by the League and all that the League means. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Hon. Members can treat this question flippantly, I know. I will repeat the point and perhaps hon. Members 1221 opposite will understand it. There must be no place for this trembling, vacillating, cowardly Government, which is leading people backward instead of forward, and we must have a Government that sincerely believes in the possibility of an effective League of Nations, that is prepared to put that principle to the test—[HON. MEMBERS: "How? By war?"]—and a Government that is prepared to abandon what is the motive in the hearts of many Members opposite, the motive of Imperialism and militarism, which animates people who are prepared to fight for any cause but the League of Nations, and who treat with levity what has been the greatest adventure in the history of mankind, the foundation of the League of Nations. The Government now bring it into contempt, but the League will flourish when these men's names have been forgotten.
§ 5.36 p.m.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I feel that after the powerful speech which we have heard from my right hon. Friend, it is hardly necessary for me, or for anyone else, to restate the case, but I feel a certain sense of personal responsibility, in the circumstances under which this Debate has arisen, to say one word. I was one of those who was primarily responsible, as Prime Minister of this country and as head of the delegation of the British Empire, in committing Britain and her Empire to the League, its Covenant, its obligations, its risks, its sanctions, and I have no hesitation in answering the questions which have been put from the other side of the Committee. Unless it means that, in the ultimate resort, the League will have no authority. I think that it will avert war all the more if this is known. Therefore, I have no hesitation in answering; that challenge leaves me without any difficulty at all. I agree with my right hon. Friend that this is a very serious occasion. I cannot imagine a more serious Debate than that which we are going through now.
If the policy of the Government is to materialise, if they are going to Geneva to say, "We are beaten, the League has failed, we do not propose any further sanctions, we propose to abandon our position altogether," believe me, there is, an end of the authority of the League of Nations. It is like a Government that is confronted with gunmen, with organi- 1222 sations to defy the law; they make every effort to re-establish law, order and authority, and they say, "We are very sorry, we have got to give it up." Believe me there is nothing but anarchy as an alternative. That is anarchy, and there will be international anarchy the moment it is known and recognised. It is no use saying, as the Foreign Secretary did, that he is going to reconstitute and reform the League. There is not the slightest use. The League is sufficiently loose in its constitution to adapt itself to every contingency. That was the object of it. It is not an elaborate written constitution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There is nothing that you need alter in the League of Nations. You can pursue any policy you like under the conditions of the Covenant. What is needed is that, once you have undertaken a line of action, you should stand by it.
The fundamentals are not that you should have a League of Nations which meets there like a debating society, Ministers flying over there delivering great speeches, and coming back feeling that the thing is done. We have had that for years over disarmament. You must have some sort of authority there and the nations must stand by it. Which of the nations have refused to stand by it? Which of the nations have failed to stand by sanctions? I put that question to the Prime Minister. Not one—[An HON. MEMBER: "Germany!"] Germany is not in the League. [Laughter.] What a silly laugh that is. It is the sort of laugh that betrays the vacant mind. I am asking which of the nations in Geneva who voted for sanctions have withdrawn? The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary referred this afternoon to the well-ordered ranks of the League. They have not broken away, and he is going there now to break them. He is going to Geneva to smash the League of Nations. I wish he had left it to somebody else; honestly I do. The right hon. Gentleman was hailed everywhere as the champion of the League. I have heard of great meetings in support of the Covenant cheering him to the echo and placing great confidence in him. I am sorry that I am one of those who were taken in. His predecessor, when his policy was thrown over, had the decency to resign. It is true that he had a reassurance that he would be brought back after a period of quarantine, and when he comes back he 1223 finds the wind tempered to the bleating lamb. But the right hon. Gentleman, with all the authority he has acquired, with all the hold he has upon millions of men who believed in him, is going to Geneva to smash the League. If you go there and go back upon the challenge you made to an aggressor—the 50 nations—and say you cannot bring him to heel, there is an end of the authority of the League of Nations.
This is a unique occasion. I have been in this House very nearly half-a-century, I am sorry to say, and I cannot recall an occasion quite like this. I have never before heard a British Minister, one holding the most important position in the Government next to the Prime Minister at the present moment, come down to the House of Commons and say that Britain was beaten, Britain and her Empire beaten, and that we must abandon an enterprise we had taken in hand. I cannot understand it. I cannot understand it of an Empire that faced one of the greatest emergencies that any Empire was ever confronted with, while thoroughly unprepared, and for four and a-half years fought her way through. That is not the Empire which I thought would ever say, through its spokesmen in the House of Commons, after six months, with no loss of life, with only £7,000,000 of trade loss, "We are beaten, we cannot go on." It is a unique occasion and may God never repeat it for this Empire. Why have we done it? I have got my views, and I am not going back on them. There is no intolerable burden of sacrifice. £7,000,000—very important, but only two-thirds of what the Empire paid in a single day in fighting for the vindication of international right and to redress the wrong of a little nation.
Why? "The danger of war" said the right hon. Gentleman. The danger of war is less than when we entered into these sanctions. I know the kind of thing that was then being said: that our Navy was unprepared, that it had insufficient ammunition, that it was ill-equipped under this patriotic Government. It was broadly said that this great Navy of Britain could not face the Italian Navy. [Interruption.] Oh, yes, it was talked about quite broadly all over Europe. Now the Navy is fully equipped, well equipped, perfectly ready for any 1224 emergency, and there is less danger of war. What more? There has been a complete change, of the most vital importance, in the attitude of the two greatest Mediterranean Powers. Not a word was said about that. The Laval administration was hostile, and therefore it was very reluctant. It was only dragged unwillingly into sanctions because it was afraid to quarrel with Britain. That was the only reason. They were rootedly hostile, and did their best with all the ingenuity of that very subtle southerner, M. Laval, to thwart, to delay, and to destroy action. Now there is a Government of a totally different character. I read in the "Daily Telegraph" of Monday a communication from its very able Paris correspondent—and I think the "Times" had a similar communication. It said:The position of the French Government on sanctions may be defined as follows: The Cabinet and M. Blum, the Prime Minister, have informed the British Foreign Office"—Is that so?—more than once that France would be ready to back Britain in every step she was prepared to take to enforce the League Covenant.Is that true? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I think the House ought to know. The right hon. Gentleman professed to give a frank and full statement to the House. Is not that a very vital fact, that the new French Government have more than once intimated their readiness to back us up in any step we take to enforce the Covenant?
§ Mr. EDEN
If the right hon. Gentleman challenges me I am perfectly willing to reply. On more than one occasion I have approached the new French Government to endeavour to learn their attitude with respect to sanctions. They have told me that they are not prepared to take the initiative in raising sanctions. They have told me of their anxiety to work with His Majesty's Government. They have never given me the least indication, on the contrary, that they either desire to maintain present sanctions or would support the imposition of any fresh sanctions.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That in substance—I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether I am misinterpreting his answer—is what the "Daily Telegraph" said. 1225 [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] This is very important, and if it is true that the French Government are backing out of it—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Certainly. That they are prepared to back Britain in the action which it is taking. That is what I understand. They have not gone back upon that. Then this statement stands. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Does anyone mean to tell me that he believes in his heart that the attitude of the French Government to-day is the same as the attitude of the French Government before the elections? Of course it is not. They take a totally different point of view. An hon. Member over there says they do not take a different view at all. I should like to know what authority he has for that statement. This is one of the most authoritative men in France, and he certainly does not represent the Left. Spain has altered its Government and its attitude is different. So that from the point of view of war you have got the Mediterranean Pact, which you have had since sanctions. You have Spain and France infinitely more favourable than they were then. You have the whole of the Mediterranean Powers except Italy prepared to support you. And yet you are running away. Why?
The German menace? There was a hint from the Prime Minister in his famous phrase about "sealed lips" that there was some impending disaster. Everybody said, "That means war with Germany." As a matter of fact, when sanctions were imposed Germany had already challenged Europe. She had carried conscription, she was doubling her Air Force, she was building a new Navy—the present Government came to terms with her to sanction it—including submarines. There, at any rate, was something you might say was the menace of impending war—the building of a great new army and air force which were going to be equal to the greatest Power in Europe. But we knew that when we undertook sanctions. There is nothing new there. Three months ago there was the Rhineland occupation. At the moment it looked as if there were some peril there, and there was a good deal of apprehension in Europe. Nobody 1226 believes now that the French Government are going to war over the occupation of the Rhineland. I am not minimising the peril of war in Europe. All I say is that the dangers are less now than when you undertook sanctions.
I am trying to find out your reasons for changing your mind. Austria? Well, Austria is always with us, always full of trouble. But there is one thing the people of this country have made up their minds definitely about. Whatever Government is in power they will never go to war again for an Austrian quarrel. [Interruption.] I am just telling you what my conviction is about the feeling of the country, and there is not one of you can deny it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Abyssinia."] Yes, but you have accepted sanctions for Abyssinia.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Before you ever committed yourselves there was a good deal to be said for considering very carefully what you were going to do. I am dealing now with an action of this Government, in which it has taken the lead, in which it has condemned the aggressor and has organised the world behind it to enforce sanctions against the aggressor. The Government say, "We have failed," and therefore they have funked. May I invite the attention of the Committee for a moment to one or two questions about this failure? Where is the failure? You imposed economic sanctions. We, on this side of the House, said that they were inadequate; what was the answer of the Foreign Secretary? He said, "They will take time." He gave that answer to me. Oil sanctions would have been immediate, but economic sanctions, he said, would probably take time. We have not given them time. The foreign trade of Italy has dwindled to more than half. Why do you say sanctions have failed? You say: "Addis Ababa has been reached. Abyssinia is conquered. What is the good of going on? "[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am repeating the question with a view to an answer. Abyssinia has not been conquered. What is Addis Ababa? When we went to war with Abyssinia, Magdala was the capital. We captured it, and being fairly wise people in those days we went back. Addis Ababa is not even 1227 traditionally the centre of Abyssinia. It is not, even now, the nerve centre of Abyssinia. It was one of the difficulties experienced by the Emperor when he organised the forces of the country. It is a tribal organisation, exceedingly loose.
Let us not forget our experience in the Boer War. [Interruption.] I am not likely to forget mine. We conquered Pretoria with the greatest ease—well, not with the greatest ease, but in a few months. As long as the Boers were congregating their forces together in an army, badly equipped compared with our own, we were able to defeat them. The real trouble came after the capital, which was a real capital—or the two capitals, Bloemfontein and Pretoria—had been captured, the Governments scattered and the President, Head of the Republic, in Europe, just as the Emperor is to-day; then our trouble came. It took us two years to try to conquer the country, and we did not conquer it. In the end we had to make a treaty with the guerillas there which ended in practically the restoration of independence of those people. Why are we giving up now, merely because Addis Ababa has been conquered? You say, "What is the motive" The motive is, the strain on Italy would increase. We had to double our forces after Pretoria. It was afterwards that we felt the strain. So will the Italians, and if you kept it up for another year you would find that you would be able to make terms with Mussolini. You may say: "You will never restore the thing as it was." Probably not, but you would restore freedom and independence, and the form of some better organisation, which would be an infinitely better thing for both Italy and Abyssinia. It is a fatal error to deprive yourselves of the means of bringing the necessary pressure, which would enable you in the end to establish a very much better peace than you could do now by running away.
But there you are; Italy knows. The Viceroy has already given up his job. I am asking the Prime Minister what our attitude is going to be, with the withdrawal of sanctions, towards those men who are still in possession of two-thirds of Abyssinia and are organising the only fighting which they can understand—guerilla fighting. What is our attitude 1228 going to be? Are we going to close our frontiers? We surround the country on two sides out of three. Are we going to prevent their getting arms through our territory? I am told that the one advantage of private enterprise in arms is that arms can go through without the Government accepting the responsibility. Are we going to try it down there? You imposed an embargo on Abyssinia. You absolutely forbade her to sell concessions of property which were her own when she wanted to raise money to buy arms. You accepted the responsibility of defending her by those two acts. Now I ask: What are you going to do now'? Are you going to stop the whole trade in arms with Abyssinia by closing the frontiers'? Have you thought it out? Probably not.
§ Mr. EDEN
If the right hon. Gentleman challenges me in that way, perhaps I might be allowed to say that we have, of course, done our best to get in touch with the situation in Western Abyssinia, which is what, I suppose, the right hon. Gentleman refers to. That is the area where the Italians are not in occupation. Our information—I think we are the only country in touch with that part of the world—is that the independent Gallo tribes there are strongly hostile to the Emperor's administration. I must say that, in order that the Committee may know the true position.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. If the Abyssinians take a different view with regard to that, and they are of opinion that they can get arms through, provided they get them to the frontier, are the Government going to put an embargo upon them? I understand that they are not. That is definite.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I again ask: If those who are organising guerilla warfare—[Interruption,]—this is really a very practical question and it is bound to arise—in two-thirds of Abyssinia, are able to buy arms and to get them to the frontier, are the British Government going to impose an embargo on their passage? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer!"] 1229 Perhaps the Prime Minister will answer that question. It is a very practical question.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
That means that the Government have not really considered it. The fact of the matter is, I am sorry to say, that there is no evidence that the Government ever meant business over sanctions. Sanctions were adopted immediately after the Government had decided to have an election. During the Election they never suggested any doubts at all. We have heard some very striking questions this afternoon, but I think the most striking quotation of all is not merely the Government manifesto, in which it was stated:In the present unhappy dispute between Italy and Abyssinia, there will be no wavering in the policy we have hitherto pursued,but most important in that document are the signatures. Their names were the guarantee that there could be no wavering:Stanley Baldwin, J. Ramsay MacDonald, John Simon.Who could doubt that we should have unflinching adherence to the policy which the Government had adopted?
That is not all. A book came into my hands a short time ago, known as "This Torch of Freedom." It contains the speeches of the Prime Minister. There is a very remarkable picture of him on the cover, with the torch of freedom illuminating his countenance. They are the speeches delivered by him before the Election. In one, he is talking about the difficulties of Abyssinia, and he says it is essentialthat this country stand like a rock in the waves, however rough they may be.The rock has turned out to be mere driftwood. He goes on to say: "We have got to go on steadily, facing risks. There are foolish people who are shocked at the idea that you may have to confront great risks in this policy. There lies our duty," he declared. He said, in a great message to the Peace Society, talking about this dispute:Let your aim be resolute and your footsteps firm and certain.1230 Here is the resolute aim; here is the certain footstep—running away. He states that this speech, which was delivered on the eve of the Election, was delivered to assure the world that we stand by our pledges. Only a few weeks after the Election was over, they were negotiating treachery to their pledges. Fifty nations ranged themselves behind that torch—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
They said, "Here is the British Prime Minister, with the greatest Empire in the world marching; we will range ourselves behind him." The Abyssinians believed it; the vast majority of the people of this country believed it. The Government had not been in for more than a few weeks before that torch was dimmed. To-night it is quenched—with a hiss; a hiss that will; be re-echoed throughout the whole world. The Government have led. How? There has been no stability, there has been no steadfastness, there has been no resolute pursuit of any particular aim. They go forward, then they go backward; they go sometimes to the left, and sometimes to the right—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Let me tell the hon Gentleman that that Coalition brought us right through to victory. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to taunt me. It did not, within six or seven months after it started to vindicate international right, run away from it. We had many faults and many defects, but cowardice was not one of them. The Government led. There have never been so many vacillations in the course of a few months in the conduct of foreign policy. The right hon. Gentleman has boasted to-day and he boasted in the last speech of his that I heard in the House, that we led the nations. That increased our responsibility. We led in the imposition of sanctions; we led also in the denunciation of the aggressor. We led, too, in proposing, I think, oil sanctions in principle; and we also led in selling oil in practice.
What were we doing We were leading! We dawdled for weeks before taking any action at all, after everybody knew what Mussolini was after. He never 1231 concealed it; he has been perfectly straightforward—and we dawdled for weeks. Why? We were leading! We put an embargo on arms for Abyssinia when we knew she was going to be attacked, and when the Italians were massing armies and piling up arms such as have never been landed by an invader on the coasts of Africa. We put on an embargo. What were we doing We were leading the nations in the way of showing how an aggressor—a well-equipped aggressor—could be effectively dealt with ! We tried to compound a felony. We said: "This is a crime—the robbing of a nation of its liberty. It is a crime; we condemn it." And then we entered into negotiations to give the burglar half the goods. What were the Government doing? They were just leading the nations, they were just leading civilisation in the right way to deal with crime!
They were driven back by an outraged opinion. They were afraid of Mussolini. They dared not retreat very much further, so they skulked for three months in the communication trenches. What were they doing? They were showing the National Government's ideas as to leadership! And now they are running away, brandishing their swords—still leading! The right hon. Gentleman said so. I am going to Geneva," he said, "to lead." They are running away on the battlefield. I remember Sir Wilfrid Lawson in this House very many years ago telling us a story of a soldier who was found 20 or 30 miles behind the battle line. He was asked, "What are you doing here?" and he replied, "The Colonel asked us at the beginning of the battle to strike for home and country, and I struck for home." The Government have struck for home. They are there. Are they at the end of their activities? They have jumped about so much for the last six months that they remind me of that aeroplane about which we have heard so much in the last few weeks, the "Flying Flea."
I see the President of the Board of Trade here. He made a speech the other day. His one great objection to a Labour Government was that it was not stable. Among the many gifts that my right hon. Friend has inherited in this life, a sense of humour is certainly not one. A few 1232 months ago there was not a speech delivered by a National candidate or Member, and certainly not by a Minister, which did not include the old phrase, "The prestige of this country has never been higher." [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] My friend over there is still articulate, but he is isolated. You dare not say these things now. Some have been abroad, and some have met foreigners from other lands, and there is one story that they all tell—that the prestige of this country has never been lower.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Fifty nations trusted us. [An HON. MEMBER: "So they do now!"] They will not when they see the British Empire saying they cannot go on. They will never trust this crowd. I began my politics when you had very great names—Disraeli, Gladstone, Balfour, Joseph Chamberlain. There was a name that had only just passed away—he had not passed away when I was born—Lord Palmerston. You might agree with their policies or not, but no one doubted that they were men of dauntless courage. They pursued their policies without flinching and without fear. Now in their successors you have this exhibition of poltroonery. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been quoted. I am going to do myself the honour of reading a part of it again. The right hon. Gentleman is heir to the throne and recently he has been trying the crown on to see how it fits. I hope for his own sake that it does not. He has not merely tried the crown on. He has wielded the sceptre—which is just the sort of thing that heirs do when there are weak monarchs. The right hon. Gentleman said at the last election:The choice before us is whether we shall make a last effort at Geneva for peace and security or whether by a cowardly surrender we shall break all the promises we have made and hold ourselves up to the shame of our children and their children's children.To-night we have had the cowardly surrender, and there are the cowards.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)
I had intended that perhaps a speaker from the back benches should occupy about a quarter of an hour. I noticed 1233 throughout the whole of the Debate today an interesting feature of it, It is a long time since we have had one which seems to have stirred more feeling and more excitement, because after all what we are discussing is the functioning of the League of Nations. I will deal first with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition. The most serious part of the charge that he made against us was an accusation that we had misled the country and that we had recently committed a complete volte face. That point of misleading the country was also taken up in that extraordinarily brilliant speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), which showed me that he has not lost the least atom of the vigour which I remember in this House nearly 30 years ago and I congratulate him. It was a very remarkable performance. If there was one thing before and during the General Election which I took special pains to impress on every audience that I addressed, and which I also think I stressed in the broadcast, it was the tentative nature of sanctions and collective security. I said they were being used for the first time. I would follow them as far as anyone else would go. I did not know if they would be successful but, if they were not successful, there would be people who would say, "That is the end of the League." I explained that I never took that view. I said if they were not successful it was up to the League at its next meeting to consider where it had failed and whether collective security was still possible. I do not know that it is worth giving a number of quotations—I have armed myself with them—all of which consist of references from my own speeches. I think the House will do me the justice to believe me when I say that and to allow me to proceed with what I wish to say on the question of collective security, which is really inherent in this whole question and which must lie at the foundation of our policy for some time to come.
I do not think there is any matter in this country on which clearer thinking is more essential or on which in the meantime it is more difficult to decide what you ought to do. I am still convinced that, when the League meets in the autumn, it has to consider most seriously 1234 this whole question of collective security. Colective security in my view, whatever the reasons may be—and many have been adduced on that side of the House and on this—has failed, and we have to get the nations of Europe together at Geneva to see that, if possible, it shall not fail again. There is immense difficulty in stopping a war before it has begun. That is far more important than stopping it after it has once begun. After war begins, the difficulty is immeasurably greater. The danger and the damage to Europe may spread far more widely and be more dangerous. I think these are the points that we have to consider with regard to collective security, and indeed they illustrate some of the very difficulties that we have been in and that have led in my view to the failure of collective action during the winter and the last few months. When the idea of collective security was originally embraced in the Covenant of the League it visualised more or less a disarmed Europe, that is to say, certain Powers had at that time been disarmed and there was every hope that disarmament might have spread among all the nations of Europe. Had that happened, then indeed not only would security of that nature have been easy but then you might really have had what some Members of the House have advocated with such sincerity and energy in the past, a system of an international police force which in my view, as at present I understand it, could only function in a disarmed or nearly wholly disarmed Europe, but is quite impracticable in the Europe as we know it to-day.
Ordinary financial and economic sanctions do act and will act, as a rule, slowly. Both right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken referred to that. When you put on further sanctions and they become more stringent, it is, of course, quite simple to see that the danger of war increases but, as a mater of fact, will the aggressor wait for sanctions when collective security is invoked against him? An aggressor may always prefer to fight if he is ready. If the State or States which aggress are strong and are prepared to fight, it is essential for collective security that the opposing combination shall be in a position to overcome the aggressor quickly. I think every one 1235 will agree with that. I beg the House, as they are kindly doing, to attend to these few short propositions because they really are extraordinarily important. That postulates a real military preponderance on the side of the States which are trying to get collective security, that is to say, on behalf of the League States against the potential aggressor or aggressors. It is most important to realise that military preponderance does not necessarily depend on the mere numbers available theoretically. After all, let us take an aggressor, or a group of aggressors, who have a high state of organisation in their territory, who have ample means of military communication, who have ample supplies, who speak the same language and who have unity of command, and they may well be stronger than much larger forces that belong to different nations which speak different languages, which have no unity of command, which have never been trained to act together under one leader, and which may be separated from each other by great distances. Therefore, you come back to this point, that the forces of the League at any given time must be on such a footing as will ensure a certain and immediate superiority against the aggressor, and if that be not secured, though you may have in your collective security a large number of States, if you have not the power to act at once in the event of war, then you will find that the States that are weaker and are more nearly exposed to the weight of the aggressor's force will never hold their line, and you will find that your collective security may be hard put to it. I wanted just to put those points, and that is all that I would say upon that matter, because I want the Committee to be realistic, when it talks about collective security, and to know what it means. That is the security which we should desire and the security which we believe, and always have believed, we should aim at. Our experience of these last months has conclusively proved to me and to the Government that collective security in anything approaching that form does not yet exist. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] The question, as I have said in speeches in this House and elsewhere, that the League and Europe will have to make up their minds to answer is, Are they 1236 prepared to put their forces into such a condition that they can rally immediately in support of the League States against any aggressor or any combination of aggressors that may turn up There is, of course, one other question that I think is worthy of consideration by the Committee. I caught a phrase which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs used, but I was not quite sure of the context, and I do not want to quote him unfairly. He spoke at one time of—and I think he meant—our troops refusing to take part in a war about Austria.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I was talking about the British people when I said that whatever happened I was absolutely certain that no Government could get this country again to enter into a war in an Austrian quarrel.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that that was what he said, and that really confirms a very serious doubt I had in my mind, which I should like to put to the Committee. I think that this is a point that all Members of the Committee ought to consider. We often talk, statesmen who go to Geneva and many of us here, as to what the League should do and what it should not do, and statesmen go, and, I suppose, in certain circumstances they would commit their people to fight. I feel this about Europe, and I leave out Germany and Italy to-day with their peculiar and unsettled conditions, I feel convinced that among the common people of Europe in many countries and in our own country and in France, there is such a loathing of war as such not from fear, but from a knowledge of what it may mean, that I sometimes wonder if they would march on any other occasion than if they believed their own frontiers were in danger. I do not know the answer to that question, but I often ask myself that question, and I wonder, and when you begin to wonder on these points your wonderings may travel a long way. [An HON. MEMBER: "To the frontier on the Rhine."] I would like to add this on this point, that if you are to have collective security and if there be any truth in what my instinct tells me about men's hearts in Europe, then, indeed, one of the problems before the League of Nations is to educate the peoples of Europe, that they may be ready to fight 1237 to restrain the aggressor, and I doubt if to-day they are. Those are the great problems to me. They are the most difficult problems of human nature and human instinct, and on the answer to those questions much may depend.
I have often said in this House that we make a great mistake in these days in believing that every people in Europe is animated by the same feelings towards peace and war that we have. I believe that this country, indeed, I am sure that this country, if ever threatened by anyone or by any combination of Powers in a way that they could understand to be a threat, would spring to arms as one man. I have never had any doubt about that, but I think that they may yet want a good deal of education before they will freely consent to take upon themselves all the obligations that might come upon them in fulfilling the Covenant in all circumstances. I hope they may educate them. I hope that the League of Nations will be able to make collective security a reality, but there are real difficulties about it. The Committee may remember that I said, both in my broadcast and in many speeches, that with the experience I have learnt I would not be responsible for sanctions again until this country had given us authority to strengthen our arms. The right hon. Gentleman may call that cowardice. Frankly, I do not. I think that it is what one owes as trustee for the people, but if there be war in this country, I mean war nearer than the Mediterranean, they will pay for it on the first night with their lives. That is why the Government, and I believe this House, as a whole, believe—nothing will make me believe that in their hearts hon. Members opposite see any less than I do—in the necessity for protecting our shores against air attack. Nothing will make me believe that. That is where the first blow may come some day if sanctions are applied against an aggressor. The man who puts sanctions on or allows this country to do so, unless he has done all in his power to see that his people can be defended at home, is not fit to carry the responsibility of governing his country.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
Did the Government demand these precautions to which the right hon. Gentleman refers when they did impose sanctions in September?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I said in the light of my experience. I wish to say a word or two about the totalitarian States in Europe, because I regard it as of the first importance in Europe that Germany, France and ourselves should work for peace throughout all Europe side by side, as the Foreign Secretary said earlier. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Russia?"] I want just to point this out to the Committee. I know perfectly well how many hon. Members opposite feel about the Nazi régime. I know that there are many Members in this Committee who regard with some disfavour a régime which lies further East. But let us look for a moment at what is the cause of this régime in Germany, and let us, in passing, draw a lesson from it ourselves. Germany lost the War, she paid a great price in the peace treaties, and she was left with very inconsiderable armaments, and we all hoped that disarmament was coming in Europe. I need not here go into the various reasons that made those conferences fail and how the countries of Europe lagged, but we do know that during those unhappy years which that country went through after the War she was very near to a state of revolution. The German is naturally a law-abiding man, and he had a glimpse into the abyss when Communism in Germany raised its head, and Communism was a creed of violence and force.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Wait a minute. It was beaten ultimately by another creed of violence and force, and you have that great people who during many years have seen the régime that would, and the régime that did found itself on force, and what wonder that the idea of force, not an alien idea to the Teuton, should seem to dominate very much that mentality to-day. Yet Herr Hitler has told us that he wishes for peace, and if a man tells me that, as I have said in this House before, I wish to try it out. I come back to what I said a few months ago. I cannot see exactly now when or how the next opportunity may come, but, as the Foreign Secretary said, we are hoping to bring the French, the Germans and ourselves into conference for the better security of the peace of Europe. The part that Germany can play for good or for evil in Europe is 1239 immense, and if we believe the opportunity is presented, let us do what we can to use it for good. I do not wish to stand much longer between the Committee and private Members. There will be further opportunities on Tuesday of debating these matters. I would only say that the view represented by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon commands the unanimous support of the Government, and that we believe that our method is not a method that will kill the League. We believe that to allow sanctions to go on, and ultimately, as we imagine, to peter out, would be a far harder task for the League to surmount than to face up boldly to failure. Time may prove that we are wrong. People may say that we are acting from cowardice, but I do not think that it is necessarily a mark of cowardice to take action which we know will be repugnant to large sections of our people. We take it because in the present state of Europe we honestly believe and are firmly convinced that it is the wiser of the two courses, and the one most conducive to peace. It is the peace of Europe that has been our daily and nightly care and anxiety all these many months, and will continue to be so.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
I do not rise for the purpose of making a speech, but to say one or two things that must be said after the speech of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Member for Horsham and Worthing (Earl Winterton) suggested the other day that the House of Commons was becoming like a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon meeting, with an address by the vicar. That is what we have had from the Prime Minister this afternoon—a dissertation about strategy, a few airy nothings about peace, and no attempt to answer to the people of this country for the position in which his Government has placed this country. He has been challenged, but he has made no reply.
We propose to put on the Order Paper a Vote of Censure on the Government for the whole course of their foreign policy. What is the good of the Prime Minister telling us of a number of considerations that ought to have been in the minds of the Government before they went on this adventure? He says it was 1240 an experiment and it has failed. It is an experiment that has blackened the name of this country in every part of the world. It is not surprising that neither the Prime Minister nor the Foreign Secretary has one word to say of the dupes slaughtered because they trusted his word. You had a Bing and his people. Your Government refused them arms. You left them to fight the battle of the League. You left them to be conquered by the aggressor, and when they were beaten and ran away you have not a word of pity for them. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members denying that. I get letter after letter from Conservatives saying that they voted for and trusted the Prime Minister, and now they cannot hold up their heads for shame.
That is one side only. The other side is that the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have nothing to offer a world that is asking for peace. You do not get peace by running away, by shaking like a jelly at every dictator who shakes his fist at you. It is no good saying we are only retreating to stand again, that we will reconstruct the League. The right hon. Gentleman has killed the League and collective security. He has never honestly tried to make an effort. The Prime Minister had a great chance when this Abyssinian matter first came on of uniting all the people of this country to stand fast behind the League. We know now that we cannot trust a National Government so-called, a Conservative Government, to stand by the League. They have no principles. All they ask is for arms and arms and arms, and yet the Prime Minister says he is afraid that no one will be able to use them. He will not get anyone to use them, for the Government is not piling up arms for peace, but is leading this country back to the blood-stained tragedy of 1914, in a way that is unworthy of this country.
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
A great majority of the Members of the House have been supporters of the League of Nations and the policy advanced by the League of Nations Union. It is with a feeling of the greatest humiliation that many of us who supported the policy announced in the speech last September of the present First Lord of the Admiralty have listened 1241 to the speeches in this Debate. It seems to me that the major criticism we have heard in the Liberal and Labour speeches this afternoon is vitiated by this all-important fact. They have arraigned the Government for having allowed the triumph of the gangster, as they put it, for having allowed the triumph of force over law, for not having enforced law against aggression, but they have consistently denied the policeman his truncheon.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Not only is that not true of the party to which I belong, but I remember a speech which the Noble Lord delivered in his own constituency saying that it was not the Liberal and Labour parties that must be blamed for the weakness of our defences, but the National Government.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I do not withdraw from that opinion. Those of us who have pressed the Government in the past to increase our armaments are entitled to reproach them with any weakness with which this country is confronted to-day. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to do so. The only reason why the right hon. Member is not responsible for this state of affairs is that he was in opposition and not in office. The armaments of this country would be a great deal weaker than they are if he had been; otherwise the speeches he has been making during the last two years have not been sincere. I do not think that I have heard him discuss the question of armaments without reproaching this Government for having armed excessively. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members who have done everything they could to prevent the policeman having an adequate truncheon, to complain that the gangster has triumphed.
I do not wish to misrepresent the attitude of hon. Members opposite, and I am anxious not to raise a party atmosphere, because this is a great national and international tragedy on which I believe a great many Members of all parties have suffered a terrible disappointment, and on which we have fundamentally common aims, although we may differ as to methods. The thing we should try to do is to see what can be done to repair that disappointment. I agree with very much that has been 1242 said from the benches opposite this afternoon. This country has cut a sorry and pitiable spectacle during the last few months. Surely the fundamental cause is that we have not had armaments sufficient to enable us to play that role in Europe which the Government of this country elected to play. If the gangster nations—if you like to use that expression—are going to be heavily armed, how will the authority of the League prevail? What is the use of collective insecurity? What is the use of the peaceful nations of the world getting together if they have not the forces between them to enforce the decisions of the League?
I was struck by one expression in the speech of the Foreign Secretary, when he said that one of the reasons for the failure of sanctions was that the Italians won the war a great deal more quickly than all the military experts had prophesied. That meant that those who were imposing the policy of sanctions were not really looking to sanctions to defeat the gangster, they were looking to the Abyssinians and the weather so to delay the war and drag it out that ultimately sanctions would begin to operate. But what an admission of the futility and weakness of economic sanctions. The lesson to be drawn surely is that if the League decides to act against individual nations it must come to an act of war. There must be the employment of the policeman's truncheon against the gangster. Policemen do not deal with gangsters by sitting outside the house and preventing the baker calling. They have to deal with them by more forcible and speedy methods, and that is the only way in which the authority of the League of Nations can be exercised. If there is that force behind the League in armaments, then the League will have the same authority that the policeman has in dealing with criminals. His prestige and the fact that he is known to be armed will, in many cases, prevent fighting. But unless there is that force behind the League, that power of armaments in the hands of those nations who are loyal supporters of peace, then the authority of the League can never be what nearly every Member of this House wants it to be.
That is where I think we are entitled to criticise the Government. They have 1243 led this country into this position because they have too long delayed the rearming of Britain. They have committed that mistake in spite of the gravest warnings, which they have belittled and denied during the past three years until about a year ago. When the history of this episode comes to be written it will be seen that the parting of the ways in regard to disarmament occured about 1933 or 1934. In that time it became clear to more candid and well-informed observers that the ideal of disarmament had definitely failed, at any rate for the time being, but the Government unfortunately refused to look facts in the face. Too long they clung to the hope that there was still some method of getting general disarmament, and all the while the armaments of Italy and Germany were daily contributing towards the situation that has now developed. It is no use the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) talking as if there was not deadly peril in the continuance of sanctions. We know that we are sitting on a powder magazine at the present time. We know the state of Europe. We have drifted into that position. The terrible tragedy is that this country is found in a position so ill-prepared, that the League of Nations is dishonoured, the League of Nations is weakened, and the prestige of this country is lowered, all because we did not grasp time by the forelock and prepare to carry out the old doctrine, in which so many of us were brought up, that if you want peace you must prepare for war.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. PRICE
The Noble Lord made great play of the necessity of the policeman possessing a truncheon for use in international disputes. He laid stress on the point that the League of Nations, if it is to restore order as the international policeman, must be in possession of that truncheon. He criticised us on these benches for not supporting the Government in trying to restore the defence forces of the country. I deny that we on this side of the House are neglectful of the need for international force, or international organisation, and the possession of all the means necessary to enable the League to maintain order. The reports of our conference at Brighton last year clearly show that in our opinion the League of Nations must have sufficient 1244 force to carry out its duties under the Covenant, and I challenge the Noble Lord or anyone else to point to any vote that we have given in this Parliament which proves that we are neglectful of our national needs in regard to defence. I would remind the Noble Lord of the fact that when the Naval Estimates, the Supplementary Naval Estimates and the Air Estimates have been before the House we have not voted against the Government. We have moved Amendments, as we are entitled to do, to reduce the Votes by £100 or £500, to call attention to certain things in the policy of the Government, but we have not voted against the Estimates as such. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is not that the Parliamentary method of moving a reduction?"] Yes, but it does not signify that we vote against the whole Estimate. No one can show that we have at any time voted against the Estimates or the Supplementary Estimates, as such. We have called attention to the fact that had the Government's policy been different the Estimates would not have come before the House in that particular form. I protest strongly against the attitude of hon. Members opposite who every time a Debate of this sort takes place accuse my hon. Friends on these benches of demanding a policy which would lead to War and yet voting against the Service Estimates. In actual fact none of them can prove that we have done anything of the kind.
The Noble Lord also hinted that we are faced with the present position because we are so weak that we are unable to stand up to the Italian dictator. If it is really true that we are unable to defend ourselves in the event of the Italian dictator taking steps to attack us if sanctions are continued, it was the height of criminal folly to have sent the Mediterranean Fleet to the Near East, where they might have been bottled up and sunk. I cannot believe the argument of the Noble Lord that the position is so serious as that. What is the position of Italy? She has half a million troops tied up in the Red Sea and sanctions are sapping her economic position, yet the British Empire is unable to stand up to the Italian dictator because the Noble Lord and his friends are frightened of the implication of what further action by the League of Nations might mean.
1245 I speak as I do with the feeling of regret and bitterness which every one of us must experience at the present situation. We do not want to make party capital out of a situation like this. It is too terribly serious. There has been no more terrible disgrace to this country since the defeat at Yorktown, under George III and Lord North, when we lost the American Colonies. I only wish that it was not true that we have Lord Norths sitting to-day on the Government benches. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I would remind them that it was Charles James Fox and his associates in Opposition then—[Interruption.] A distinguished relative of mine wrote a history of Charles James Fox, and I think I know something about it. He expressed the folly of the British Government of that day, and we are trying to expose the folly of the British Government of to-day.
Is it altogether true that economic sanctions are a failure? Not knowing that I was going to speak I did not bring with me the facts which I possess, but all the evidence tends to show that the economic condition of Italy is rapidly deteriorating. Everyone knows, or should know if they have made a study of the economic position, that with the end of the War the problems of the Italian dictator are increasing rather than decreasing, He has to demobilise a portion of his army. His industries are now largely on a war basis. That means that the industries which are working to-day for war purposes will not be wanted, and they will have to turn to peace purposes, but they will find it difficult to carry on those industries in peace because of the pressure of economic sanctions. At the same time there will be hundreds of thousands of troops coming home for whom work will have to be found. Just at this time, the most critical of all, when we could have put pressure on the Italian dictator by means of sanctions, hon. Members opposite run away like rabbits into their holes and leave us confronted with a disaster as terrible as that of Yorktown, the result of which I am sure every progressively-minded person in every democratic country in Europe will be horrified to see.
There is one further point with which I should like to deal. I fear that the Government are really envisaging an 1246 entirely different constellation in Europe, something which is not based on the League of Nations nor on a combination of the democratic nations of Europe to preserve international law and order. I do not want to see a League of Nations with Hitlerite Germany and Mussolini's Italy there unless they are prepared to work in co-operation with other nations. I believe that the totalitarian States of Germany and Italy are incapable of working with the other nations of Europe.
§ Mr. PRICE
Russia is in a different position. Russia, because of her economic position and her desire economically to reconstruct herself, is extremely anxious for peace. Her reason may not be the same reason as ours, but she wants peace and for that reason she is loyally cooperating with us. The disturbers of peace to-day are Italy and Germany. The hon. and gallant Member knows that perfectly well. It is not Russia that is making the trouble. Russia does everything possible to keep the peace. She has had great provocation on the Siberian-Mongolian Frontier from Japan, but she has done everything to preserve peace. If the same provocation had been given to Hitler or Mussolini there would have been war long ago.
The Government have never been sincere about the League of Nations. What they are envisaging is the possibility of buying off Mussolini, settling him the Eastern Mediterranean and bringing him back to the Stresa front, using him as a make-weight against Hitlerite Germany. Their object is not merely to control Hitlerite Germany but to make peace in the West and to give Hitler a free hand to attack Russia in the East. That is what they really want. I do not apply that remark to all the hon. Members opposite, many of whom believe in the League and want to see it strong and effective. The Foreign Secretary was one of those, but I do not know what he thinks now. I wonder how he dared to come to the House and make the speech that he has delivered to-day. If he had only resigned he would have had behind him every one who really believes in the League of Nations.
The Government do not want to see a League of democratic nations co-operating 1247 among themselves to restrain the totalitarian aggressors. They think that they can buy off these aggressors one against the other, but these dictators are no fools. They will play us off one against the other. That is what they are doing. Every time we try to buy off Mussolini in the East, up will go his price. It is the same with Hitler. The danger of this policy is only too clear. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite do not see the danger and that even at this late hour they do not try to bring the League back to its proper position as an Assembly which would not only prevent the danger of war but the complete collapse of that international system of co-operation among the democratic nations which alone can preserve the civilisation of the world.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Sir George Penny.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.