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.]
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. DALTON
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100, and I wish to give the Government notice that we intend to press this Amendment to a Division.
I do not think any Member can, to-day, take either pleasure or pride in speaking on the subject of foreign affairs. I believe that there are few members of the Committee who do not feel personally humiliated by the events on which comment will be made to-day, and I do not think that the Foreign Secretary in his speech at Leamington on Saturday accurately reflected the feelings of the country. He said:We have nothing to reproach ourselves with, nothing to apologise for.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The feeling of the country is ill reflected in the automatic cheers which come from behind the right hon. Gentleman. In the country I believe the feeling is that the people are ashamed of the Government. They are ashamed of the pass to which the policy of the Government has brought Abyssinia, has brought the League of Nations, and has brought this country itself in the eyes of the world. But before I proceed to discuss in more detail the Abyssinian debacle, since this is a debate in which all foreign affairs are in order, there are two other points on which I wish briefly to dwell.
I hope that in that intervention which we have been assured will come early in the Debate, the Foreign Secretary, 1714 while no doubt dealing principally with the Abyssinian affair and its implications, will tell us something about the communications which are passing or are about to pass with the German Government. We understand that all the best brains in the Cabinet have been cudgelling themselves as to the precise form, of the questions to be addressed to Herr Hitler, and we understand that the resulting questionnaire has either been despatched or will shortly be despatched to Berlin. The Press has informed us that it will not, at this stage, be published. None the less, I hope the Foreign Secretary will tell us something of the tenor of the questionnaire. I think the Committee is entitled to know on what lines the Government's collective mind is moving. I hope we shall have no more ambiguity and humbug in Europe. We have surely had too much in other continents. Therefore I think we are entitled to inquire, "What are you asking Herr Hitler in general outline?"
Deeply distressed and concerned, as we are at what has happened in Africa we cannot put Europe, particularly Central Europe, out of our minds, and there have been rumours of impending possible acts of violence towards Austria or Czechoslovakia which are persistent and plausible enough to disturb us. We are told by some that peace is safe, at least until after the Olympic Games, and I suppose that is something to be thankful for, but meanwhile German re-armament is proceeding rapidly, remorselessly, menacingly. That leads me to ask the Foreign Secretary, with further reference to Germany, whether, although finance is not specifically his function, he can add anything to the somewhat unsatisfactory replies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to questions asked by my hon. Friends here about credits to Germany. My hon. Friends the Members for North Tottenham. (Mr. R. C. Morrison) and Ardwick (Mr. J. Henderson) addressed questions on Thursday to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to stories which circulate very freely in the City of London that short term credits are being granted to German borrowers outside the standstill agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham asked:In view of the fact that such credit transactions procure additional foreign exchange resources enabling the German 1715 Government to increase its raw material imports for re-armament, whether he will discourage the granting of new credits to German borrowers?The Chancellor of the Exchequer said:I am not aware of any such credits, and no specific instances have ever been brought to my notice."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th April, 1936; col. 1090, Vol. 311.]On that, the "Financial News" has made this comment:This is yet another instance of the inadequacy of the existing links between Whitehall and the City.It is a curious thing that this should be a matter of daily talk in the City and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should remain unaware of it.
The pro-German tendencies of some financial magnates in the City are also notorious, and we on these benches shall not be wholly reassured as long as Mr. Montagu Norman remains Governor of the Bank of England, in frequent and friendly contact with Dr. Schacht. It is, indeed, said that Dr. Schacht is only kept on by Herr Hitler because of his excellent relations with Mr. Norman, and it would be reassuring to us if the Foreign Secretary could say something rather more definite than the Chancellor of the Exchequer was able to say, both as to the knowledge which the Government has of what is going on in the City of London with regard to these short-term credits and as to their determination to stop them. I repeat what I said on a previous occasion. If they have not the powers to stop them now, let them ask for additional powers, and we on these benches will put no obstacle in the way of those additional powers being granted.
The other point on which I wish briefly to touch before I reach Abyssinia is the question of the Egyptian negotiations. These appear to be proceeding slowly and painfully. If not, perhaps the Foreign Secretary will give us a little more information. Perhaps I had better put it in another way and say that these negotiations have not got very far yet. There has just been an election in Egypt and, like most elections in Egypt when they have been permitted to take place under normal conditions, this election has resulted in an overwhelming majority for the Wafd party, with whom, if there ever is to be a settlement with Egypt, that settlement must be made. I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he is doing all 1716 that is possible to promote and accelerate a friendly settlement by negotiation with the Egyptian Government—a settlement which has become even more urgent in view of events in Abyssinia, and in view of the fact that Italian armed forces have now approached and are strung along the Sudan frontier. It becomes more than ever an obvious truth that, unless we can put our relations with Egypt upon a friendly and co-operative footing, our whole position in Africa is gravely menaced.
I turn to Abyssinia. Those who have lately been abroad—and most of us meet people who have lately been abroad—bring back from almost every country the same impression. They bring back an impression that foreigners are, some of them contemptuous of this country and some of them puzzled by this country and by the policy of the Government. Some of them who are our friends are sad, some of them who are not our friends are delighted, at the recent course of events. I quote from a conversation which was reported to me. A foreigner who is friendly to this country said: "We are seeing the beginning of the decline and fall of the British Empire. It has had a long day—longer than most—but it seems now to be passing. The nerve of the British seems to be failing them, and their purposes are becoming confused." I quote also what a prominent Italian is reported to have said in conversation "There may be oil in Abyssinia or not—that is a small matter. There may be platinum in Abyssinia or not—that is a small matter. There may be fertile fields in Abyssinia for our peasants to till—that is a small matter. But to have conquered Abyssinia against the will of England, that is a great achievement."
The right hon. Gentleman opposite seemed for one brief and fleeting hour to have assumed the leadership of the peace cause at the League of Nations and then to have ignominiously surrendered it, and not only to have ignominiously surrendered it, but to have succeeded none the less in incurring for this country the bitter hatred of the Italian dictator, which in days to come, in certain contingencies, might cost us very dear indeed. [HON. MEMBERS: "How?"] Must I elaborate what I should have thought was obvious? Is it not clear that, with the enmity of Italy, our position in Egypt, our position in the Sudan, our position in 1717 Kenya, our position in the Red Sea, our power of passage through the Mediterranean, our communications with Australia, New Zealand, India, and with all the East—is it not clear that all these things are menaced in a new way and with a new force? Is it necessary to underline these points to Conservative Members, who are supposed to specialise on these problems? Is it not clear that the policy of the Government has created for the Committee of Imperial Defence some very hard, new problems which they will need to study very carefully indeed?
My indictment, and the indictment of my hon. Friends behind me, against the Government is in these terms and along these lines: We charge the Government with having been responsible for the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian war. [Laughter.] I shall give reasons for that charge before I sit down. We charge the Government with the responsibility for a war which they could have prevented had they acted differently. We charge them with having failed to carry out their obligations under the Covenant of the League, and notably under Article 16. We charge them with having encouraged the Abyssinians to resist, in the belief that the League would help them; and we charge them with having left the Abyssinians to their fate, having given them no effective help of any kind, but, on the contrary, having helped Signor Mussolini to destroy them by supplying him with indispensable elements in the war which has lately been moving so rapidly in his favour. We charge the Government with having joined with others in supplying, or permitting the supply of, oil to the Italian forces, oil which was indispensable to the use which they made of poison gas in the later phases of the campaign; and we charge the Government more particularly with having made money out of these abominations by reason of the Government's own holding in the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the dividends on which have shown an upward tendency and are brought into the Chancellor's balance-sheet as part of the public revenue. We charge the Government further with having discredited the League of Nations and the whole idea of collective security, and we charge them with having betrayed the trust of millions of electors who were foolish enough to vote for them at the last Election in the 1718 belief that they were going effectively to support a League of Nations policy.
Hon. Members on the other side of the Committee greeted with a spirit of incredulity the first charge that I made, that the Government are responsible for the outbreak of the Italo-Abyssinian war. I should like to be able to convince them, and I will try. I will recite as briefly as I can some salient facts in the story of this affair from the incident at Walwal which occurred in November and December of 1934 and which was the first evidence to the outer world that Abyssinian-Italian relations were seriously troubled, carrying the story on to the present time. The Walwal incident occurred at the end of 1934, and it should have been a danger signal to the Government that something was seriously wrong. Signor Mussolini made a diplomatic approach to the Government on 29th January, 1935, proposing in effect a deal between his Government and the Government of this country for the partition, or for a large measure of partition, of Abyssinia into spheres of influence and so forth.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
He did not say that.
§ Mr. DALTON
The right hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity of telling the House exactly what he did say. If my narrative is in any respects at variance with the right hon. Gentleman's picture of events, no doubt he will tell us when he rises to reply. It is not denied that on 29th January, 1935, Signor Mussolini made an approach, through his Ambassador here, to the Foreign Office. I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary is going to refresh his memory by asking one of the officials under the Gallery to produce what was said. [HON. MEMBERS "Do not be rude!" and "He cannot help it."] I am trying at this stage to give an account of events which have taken place, and there ought not to be any ground for dispute with regard to the greater part of them. If there is ground for dispute, I have no doubt that my hon. Friends will listen with not less patience than hon. Members opposite are displaying now, in later stages of the Debate to the other side of the story.
On 29th January, 1935, Signor Mussolini made an approach to the Foreign 1719 Office here—that is not disputed—and the Foreign Secretary will give us his own version in due course, but what is generally believed is that on that occasion Signor Mussolini made certain proposals for the alteration of the régime in. Abyssinia, and perhaps, since the substance of these proposals is disputed, I may quote from the "Morning Post" of 17th September, 1935. Signor Mussolini gave an interview to the "Morning Post" on that date, which was, of course, before the outbreak of the war, and he spoke as follows:I had the British Government informed by the Italian Ambassador in London that the Italian Government invited the British Government to consider specific agreements for a harmonious development of Italian and British interests in Ethiopia"—,That means, I presume, spheres of influence. He went on:I was ready to table my case. I wanted to do that, but your Ministry of Foreign Affairs answered evasively. In face of that silence, there was only one way left, and I took it.Thus Signor Mussolini to the "Morning Post." What is at any rate clear is that on 29th January, 1935, these proposals were made, and the British Government did not then say that peace must be preserved and that in the event of Signor Mussolini breaking the peace the British Government would stand by the Covenant of the League in order to restrain him. What appears to have happened is that on Signor Mussolini having made this approach, the Maffey Committee was appointed, which subsequently presented the famous Maffey report. The Maffey report was made to the Government in June, 1935, and it consisted, as we understand—and it has not been denied by the Government—of a lengthy explanation of why it did not matter, from the point of view of British Imperial interests, whether or not Signor Mussolini occupied the whole of Abyssinia, or at any rate the greater part of it.
The summary of the conclusions of the Maffey report was that British interests would not be adversely affected even if Signor Mussolini occupied Abyssinia except in so far as he obtained the control of Lake Tsana and the sources of the Blue Nile. It is evident, I think, from the fact that the Maffey Committee was appointed and that they reported in the 1720 sense that is notorlous, that when the British Government were approached in January, 1935, by Signor Mussolini what was present in their mind was not the maintenance of the integrity and independence of Abyssinia, which it was their duty to safeguard under the Covenant, but whether or not in the event of Signor Mussolini occupying Abyssinia British Imperial interests would be harmfully affected.
In June, having received the Maffey report, the present Foreign Secretary went to Rome. He will again correct me if I am wrong, but what is understood to have occurred is that in effect he offered Signor Mussolini the possibility of acquiring certain parts of Abyssinia under the Anglo-French-Italian Treaty of 1906, and it was suggested that to sweeten the pill for Abyssinia they should be offered a certain outlet to the sea at Zeila—a concession which es cited great concern in certain quarters in this House, but which excited only contempt in Signor Mussolini. This was the first instalment of the subsequently famous "corridor for camels" in the Hoare-Laval proposals. Signor Mussolini was apparently not attracted.
In the interval, however, between the approach by Signor Mussolini to the Foreign Office in January and the visit of the present Foreign Secretary to Rome in June, there had been a conference at Stresa. When that conference assembled the Maffey Committee had not reported, and therefore British Imperial interests had not been clearly defined. Therefore the present Lord President of the Council, then Prime Minister, and the present Home Secretary, then Foreign Secretary, when they went out to Stresa, discussed with Signor Mussolini for some days a number of problems, but it appears did not discuss at all the question of Abyssinia. If I am wrong the Lord President will correct me. In these diplomatic talks they discussed Herr Hitler, they formed the so-called Stresa front, and they passed a Resolution, curiously limited in its terms, which said that they were all three devoted, the French also, to the maintenance of peace in Europe. Only in Europe! But it has been admitted, and I take the silence of the Lord President of the Council to be yet one more admission, that they never mentioned Abyssinia, throughout the whole course of these discussions. That 1721 is admitted. I say that that was one of the most criminal blunders in the whole course of British diplomacy in these disastrous years since the summer of 1931, because evidently Signor Mussolini was expecting that this subject would be raised. He said so himself. I have his words here:I was prepared to state my case but it was never raised.Only peace in Europe, only the maintenance of peace in Europe, was the concern of these discussions. And is Signor Mussolini to be blamed? I think he has a certain grievance against the British Government. Is he to be blamed for having assumed that if this opportunity for a straight talk about Abyssinia was let pass, that was as good as a hint that the British Government would not take too seriously a subsequent demand to do what he wanted to do in Abyssinia? Indeed I think that not only did the British Government lead Abyssinia up the garden path, but it also led Signor Mussolini up the garden path, and I think that he has a legitimate ground of complaint in regard to the silence at Stresa.
Time passed on. In September, a certain change having taken place in the tenure of the Foreign Office here, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) went out to Geneva and made a brave speech which was welcomed in many other countries as well as in this country, and in many sections of political opinion here. We thought that there had been a real change for the better; we thought that at last the National Government, under the new direction at the Foreign Office, was going to pursue a bold and straightforward League of Nations policy. But, apart from being a brave speech, it was a valuable electioneering speech. I am not speaking of motive but of effect. It was a very valuable electioneering speech, and it gathered in very large numbers of votes for National Government candidates at the election which shortly followed, votes which those candidates would never have got if the present Home Secretary, with his disastrous record, had still been at the Foreign Office, votes which were given to the National Government candidates because the electors believed that the new broom was going to sweep clean.
1722 Then in October came the Italian aggression and Italy was unanimously designated the aggressor by the Council of the League. Another brave speech was made by the present Foreign Secretary, a very brave speech. But the brave actions did not follow. Article 16 was never applied. Little bits of it were applied piecemeal and cautiously. Under Article 16 it was the duty of this country, in conjunction with others,immediately to subject it (Italy) to the severance of all trade or financial relations"—Not just a few of them—the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the Covenant-breaking State, and the prevention of all financial, commercial, or personal intercourse between the nationals of the Covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State.That was never done. If it had been done, it is quite certain that Signor Mussolini would not stand to-day where he does stand in Abyssinia; it is certain that Abyssinia would not to-day be in the dust, and that Marshal Badoglio would not have ridden into Addis Ababa on a white horse, because the success of the Italian campaign has been unquestionably due to the supply by League members of indispensable necessaries for the carrying on of the war in the fashion on which the Italians have carried it on.
There are two excuses given by the right hon. Gentleman why this country has broken its Treaty obligations under Article 16. One excuse is that in 1921 the League of Nations Assembly passed certain resolutions modifying Article 16. The other excuse is that the French would not play and various other countries would not play. With reference to the first excuse, based upon the Assembly resolutions of 1921. I have read those resolutions and I cannot find any justification for the view that they absolve this country or any other country, a member of the League, from carrying out straightforwardly the injunctions of Article 16. Indeed I quote from the 1921 resolution these words:The fulfilment of their duties under Article 16 is required from members of the League by the express terms of the Covenant, and they cannot neglect them without breach of their Treaty obligations.
§ Mr. DALTON
I will read it if the right hon. Gentleman will pass me the reference that he has in his possession.
§ Mr. DALTON
I am not anxious to evade the point. Here is the. quotation:It is the duty of each member of the League to decide for himself whether a breach of the Covenant has been committed.Perhaps the Foreign Secretary will say whether he had any difficulty in deciding. Did not the whole Council of the League unanimously decide that there had been a breach? I fail to see what the reading of the previous sentence does to assist the right hon. Gentleman.It is the duty of each member of the League to decide for itself whether a breach of the Covenant has been committed,and they all so decided.The fulfilment of their duties under Article 16 is required from members of the League by the express terms of the Covenant, and they cannot neglect them without breach of their Treaty obligations.The National Government did neglect them. It has broken its Treaty obligations, by continuing the supply during all these months of war of oil, of iron and steel, and continuing in some cases even a supply of coal, although the cessation of coal exports was to some extent brought about earlier by the lack of credit of the Italian Government and its failure to pay for what supplies which it had had before. But the point is perfectly clear; Article 16 was not carried out, and this resolution of 1921 does not afford any cover, as has sometimes been alleged by the right hon. Gentleman, for the failure of the Government to carry out its Treaty obligations. Therefore I say that the resolutions of 1921 do not save him from this reproach.
Is the Government saved by the excuse that other countries would not do their part? Did the right hon. Gentleman ever publicly propose, in any of these discussions at Geneva, any extension of sanctions which was publicly resisted or objected to by other States? No. Every time a public proposal was made it went through. The opposition was the opposition of hotel bedroom diplomacy. What the right hon. Gentleman said to M. Laval and he to him in the secrecy of Geneva hotels, we do not know, but I am confident of this, and many good 1724 judges not associated with my party are equally confident, that if the right hon. Gentleman had come to the front and boldly proposed that all trade should be severed, both ways, imports and exports, shipping and all the rest of it, France would not have dared, even under M. Laval, publicly to resist. Whenever you have pressed the French in public they have had to give way. The right hon. Gentleman knows that. So far as the carrying out of the obligations of the Covenant is concerned, if once they were publicly to refuse in a public debate in front of the Press and the world, then indeed France could never hope again to call on the assistance of this country for the maintenance of the Covenant in any other part of the world.
These are surely the very elements of the diplomatic situation, which the right hon. Gentleman must have appreciated. The fact that other Governments, it was alleged, would not go with us, could have been brought to the test. But it was never brought to the test by the right hon. Gentleman coming out and saying that Britain would keep her word, would carry out Article 16 and would sever all trade relations with Ita1y, straightaway, and that she would institute a complete boycott of this aggressor State. I say, therefore, that the failure to impose a complete embargo and a complete boycott is a responsibility of His Majesty's Government. They were only pretending, they were only giving an appearance of taking the lead at Geneva. Then, when the struggle had hardly started, they withdrew their lead.
To continue the narrative, in December, 1935, we had the proposals associated with the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea and M. Laval. The explosions evoked in this country by those proposals was such that the right hon. Gentleman was compelled to retreat to the position he now occupies. At the time when the Debate on those events took place, I expressed surprise that some of his colleagues had not retreated with him, because they appeared to us not less responsible for these proposals, in effect if not in actual form. It is worth noting now, because some people are saying what a pity it is that these proposals were not taken advantage of at the time, but they were not only repudiated by public opinion in this country, but they 1725 were also repudiated most contemptuously by Signor Mussolini in a speech he made about that time.
§ Mr. DALTON
The speech is on record. Signor Mussolini made a speech in the Pontine Marshes in the town of Pontinia. I have not it here, as I did not suppose I would be challenged, but if the right hon. Gentleman will look up the Debate that took place in the House at the time, he will find that it was referred to and quoted. Speaking immediately after the proposals were given to the world, he contemptuously rejected them. These proposals were not only rejected overwhelmingly in this country, and struck a heavy blow at our prestige in the United States, but it is my belief that there was never any prospect that they would be accepted by Signor Mussolini himself. That point, however, is not essential to the main line of my argument. In December, 1935, this attempt was made, but it did not succeed, and, in the judgment of most of us, it should not have succeeded. From that time on the war continued. Fur a long time it was inconclusive and the Italians made little progress. It was only when Signor Mussolini resorted to the use of aircraft on a great scale, and particularly to the dropping of poison gas in addition to other bombs, that the war began to go rapidly in his favour. It has been a humiliation to reflect, as we have read the military communiques from day to day, that undoubtedly a number of the aeroplanes which have been dropping poison gas in contravention of the 1925 Convention have been flying on British oil. There can be no question of that, and each of us has an individual responsibility for what has occurred. It was gas that finally destroyed the Abyssinian resistance. The right hon. Gentleman does not regard this as a small matter. At the meeting of the Committee of Thirteen at Geneva in April, he said:We must remember that both parties have signed the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which prohibits absolutely the use of gas. The employment by the Italian airmen of poison gas raises the question whether any international conventions are of any value whatever.This is, indeed, one very grave aspect of this tragic affair. I quote again the words of the right hon. Gentleman, for he put it very well: 1726If such a Convention could be torn up. would not people ask what was the value of any international instrument, and how could they have confidence that their own folk would not be burned, blinded, and done to death in agony hereafter?What confidence indeed? The fact that these horrible incidents have occurred and that we have a special responsibility for them, because we have supplied the oil without which they could not on this scale have been accomplished—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Let us clearly define the grounds of disagreement. Is it in dispute that British oil has been going in great quantities to Abyssinia? Will any hon. Gentleman deny that? Not one, If it has been going in great quantities to Abyssinia, is it not clear that a considerable part of the oil which has been used to drive the aeroplanes that dropped the poison gas was coming from British owned and controlled sources? Is it not the fact that the principal British owned and controlled source, namely, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, is a company for which the British Government has a very particular responsibility having directors on the board and a large holding of shares? In view of this, can it be denied that we have a very special responsibility for the abominations which have been committed upon the Abyssinians? There can be no dispute about that. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will say, when he speaks later, what action, if any, he has been moved by these events to contemplate.
I wish to say a word at this stage about the attitude of our Dominions. We were very pleased to see that Mr. Bruce, speaking as a delegate of Australia at the same meeting as that where the right hon. Gentleman used the words I have just quoted, said:The exercise of pressure"—he was referring to economic and financial pressure—must go on. Otherwise, a fatal blow would be struck at the collective system and an atmosphere of despair would be created throughout the world.I read in to-day's Press that opinion in South Africa is not less emphatic. The "Cape Times" and the "Cape Argus" are quoted as arguing that the League must continue to enforce sanctions until its authority has been sustained. I quote these things by way of illustrating opinion in the Dominions. All Governments in this country have hoped and 1727 worked, the first and second Labour Governments among the rest, for full cooperation between the Dominion Governments and our own in foreign affairs. We can claim that in large measure we achieved it. It is clear that at the present time the Dominions, as illustrated by the statements I have quoted—and others could be quoted to support them—have not lost faith in the possibility of making the League of Nations a reality and making collective security mean something. I mention this before I ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what the Government are going to do and what they are going to say at the Council of the League on Monday next. What are they going to propose?
The issue with which the Council of the League will have to deal is not a narrow issue between defeated Abyssinia and victorious Italy. It is an issue between the League of Nations as a whole, including this country, including the British Dominions, and including peace-loving States in all the continents, and a declared aggressor State which, starting with an overwhelming superiority of armaments and ending by a breach of conventions solemnly entered into not to use the most barbarous weapons that science has made possible, has for the moment won, in conditions of great inequality, notable victories. What do the Government propose to do next? What is the next step? It is not for an Opposition to indicate policy. We have indicated ours often enough and, owing to the fact that many simple voters believed that there was not much difference between the policy we advocated and the policy which the Government advocated, the Government got their majority.
Now we ask what the Government are going to do next. I express the view, on behalf of my hon. Friends, that there is at this stage of the affair no justification whatever for recognising the victory of Italy by the removal of sanctions which have been imposed upon her by the judgment of the League of Nations practically unanimously. I do not believe that the conscience of democracy in this and other countries would tolerate such a procedure. We cannot accept, if there is to be any future hope of enforcing international law and substituting law for force, a dictated aggressor's peace. Therefore, I say that, in the judgment of my hon.
1728 Friends, the economic and financial sanctions should continue. Indeed, there is a strong case even now for increasing them by the inclusion of oil and other commodities in the forbidden list. The economic and financial situation of Italy is not enviable. It is well enough for crowds in a capital city to cheer distant victories, but Italy may have second thoughts in months to come. We should look a little ahead in this matter, and our chief purpose should be to vindicate the seriously shaken authority of the collective system.
I would mention to the right hon. Gentleman a fear that some of us have that he will try to use the French excuse again. At the Council he may meet M. Flandin and other representatives of the present French Government, but let him take note, merely as a matter of plain fact, that their political authority has gone. There has been an election in France, the results of which have gladdened the hearts of my hon. Friends and have, I think, gladdened the hearts of friends of France and of friends of the League and of peace throughout the world. The result of the election is to create a new majority in the French Chamber which, by its declarations, is devoted to the support of the League of Nations and to close co-operation with this country. That has been put in the forefront of the declarations of the Peoples' Front. Therefore, let not the right hon. Gentleman sell out to a French Government which is only a caretaker Government pending the formation of a Government supported by a majority in the Chamber.
There is one last point on which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will say something. We have been disturbed by the words used by the Prime Minister when speaking to a League of Nations Union deputation. It is reported that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary emphasised that the Government would have to take stock of the position of the League of Nations in the light of the apparent failure of collective action in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. The question of the reform of the Covenant, it was stated, would need very careful consideration. Will the right hon. Gentleman elaborate that a little when he speaks? The apparent failure of collective action is predominantly due to the failure of 1729 His Majesty's Government to play their part—
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
Does the hon. Gentleman think that His Majesty's Government ought to have gone to war by themselves?
§ Mr. DALTON
I do not suggest any such thing. If my hon. Friend had listened, as I am sure he did, to what I said at an earlier stage, he would know that what I argued was that His Majesty's Government ought to have gone in fully, wholeheartedly and openly for a complete economic and financial boycott of Italy at the opening of hostilities. My argument has been that they failed to do that, failed even to propose it. I know that my hon. Friend would never wish to misrepresent anything that came from this side, and I hope, in view of the care with which I tried to state clearly what our position is, that we shall no more be accused of having proposed that this country should go to war with Italy either alone or in conjunction with others. I hope that will not be repeated, because it is not true.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
The whole case which the hon. Gentleman made was that this country, independently, should have gone on increasing sanctions against Italy, and if necessary have gone to war.
§ Mr. DALTON
If the hon. Gentleman is really in doubt as to what I said, perhaps he will be so kind as to look it up in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, because I have nothing to add to what I said. We are not going to be sidetracked on to questions of what the Labour party might or might not have proposed. We are not the Government, and the responsibility rests on the benches opposite. What are they going to do? What have they in contemplation with regard to the so-called reform of the League? Reform of the League may mean many things, some of which might be good and some bad. So far as I and my hon. Friends behind me are concerned, we are in favour of any reform of the League which will strengthen the power of the League to keep peace, and we are against any so-called reform of the League which will weaken the power of the League to keep peace, or which will 1730 be an attempt at evasion by this country of its existing treaty obligations under the Covenant.
I warn the right hon. Gentleman that in this country, as he knows, the support of the idea of the League has gone very deep and is held almost with the fervour of a religious belief by many sections of opinion, including some supporters of the party opposite. If he should create the impression by his acts, or even by his words, that he is proposing to contract out of League of Nations' obligations, I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he will create in this country such fissures, such divisions and such dissensions with regard to international policy that, greatly though our prestige has already been reduced and lowered by the policy of the Government, the situation would be rendered even more desperate by the dissensions which would be created by any such development, and this country would be rendered utterly impotent to play any consistent or effective part in the councils of the world.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Mr. EDEN
I should like at the outset to congratulate the hon. Gentleman upon the skill with which he presented a gross misstatement of historical events. So anxious was he to prove that the war in Abyssinia, the action of the aggressor, was a fault of this Government, that he ignored cheerfully three or four vital months in his survey, and presented certain facts with a background which has no relation, I am afraid, to the truth. Last October I am afraid that I wearied the House with a very full and long account, which I backed with quotations, and which has been supported by the circulation of certain documents, stating step by step the action which His Majesty's Government have taken in this dispute.
§ Mr. EDEN,
Only a week ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to a debate, drew the attention of the House to that full account. If the hon. Gentleman. who is determined to come here to 1731 condemn His Majesty's Government, and in some cases to justify the aggressor at the expense of His Majesty's Government—
§ Mr. EDEN
—if he wanted to do that, and if he has any sense of responsibility in a democracy in dealing with these affairs, I think lie might have been fair enough even to read the account which I gave to the House last October. Since he has not, and since we are dealing with matters which affect, not the reputation of the Government or of the hon. Member, still less my own, but the good name of our own country, I propose to deal faithfully, even though it be at length, and though I had no notice, with the detailed charges which the hon. Gentleman has made.
May I begin, before I turn to the controversy, by giving the House some of the most recent information which I have received from Addis Ababa itself, and which I think the Committee would like to have? I think the Committee will share the great satisfaction which the Government have felt over the splendid work that has been performed during the recent grave emergency in Addis Ababa by the British Legation guard of Indian Infantry, under the command of Major Charter. It is not too much to say that those troops have saved a large number of foreign lives. In no single case was an appeal addressed to the British Legation guard in vain. Not only did they protect some 2,000 refugees of 23 different nationalities in the Legation itself, repelling at least one attack by rioting tribesmen against the compound, but they were able to send detachments to help other foreign missions and individuals imperilled by the mob. I should like to add that the Belgian Government have to-day conveyed their thanks to His Majesty's Government for the assistance given to the Belgian Legation by a Sikh detachment. I would only say further that I am confident that when the full history of the recent crisis comes to be known Major Charter and the officers and men under his command will have been found worthily to have upheld the highest traditions of the Indian Army. I would also like, on behalf, I am sure, of the whole Committee, to express our 1732 deep regret at the death of Dr. Melly at a moment when he was attending the wounded in the streets of Addis Ababa.
Now I come to the main subject of this Debate. The hon. Gentleman raised one or two other questions, but in view of the importance of his main charges I will confine myself to the Abyssinian dispute and the European situation. The other points will be replied to later in the Debate. The situation which we—and not only we, but every country which is a member of the League—have to face to-day is both difficult and disappointing. I will state at once to the House my view as to the manner in which we should meet this situation. It is by frankly facing the facts. My chief complaint against the hon. Gentleman is that at no time did he make any attempt to do so. What is the first accusation, an accusation which was made also by the Leader of the Opposition when appealing to the electors of Peckham? The accusation is that we have let the League clown. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"] I am very glad to hear that I have stated it rightly. Let us examine the accusation. What is the League? It is not some abstract symbol. It is the nations, together, who are members of the League. There are at present in the League, unfortunately, only three great Powers other than Italy—there was no mention of that by the hon. Gentleman—and only two great Powers who are Mediterranean Powers—ourselves and France. Therefore, inevitably, upon us two must have fallen in this dispute the major responsibility and the major risk.
It is said that we have let the League down. Is it the suggestion that we have let France down? The suggestion has only to be made for it to be seen how fantastic it is in the light of the course of this dispute, as it is known to everybody. The truth is that throughout this dispute—both in the negotiations, about which I will say a word in a minute, and since war broke out—we ourselves have taken the lead. That may or may not have been right—there may be two views as to that—but as to the fact that we took the lead surely there can be no question at all. I am not asking the hon. Gentleman to believe me, I am not asking him to have any faith in what I tell him, but if he is in doubt as to whether we took the lead or not, if he has any doubt whether 1733 his speech was a tissue of mis-statements he has only to read what the Italian papers say about this country. When they say we took the lead they say what is true; where they are wrong is when they misrepresent the motives which moved us to take that lead.
I will give one example of the hon. Gentleman's mis-statements. He talked about oil. He made a great case, a great plea, that these terrible sufferings in Abyssinia were due to our supply of oil. If that were true how terrible a charge it would be upon His Majesty's Government. But what are the facts? Before this dispute began, if I remember aright, the percentage of oil supplied by British companies was about 13 per cent. I think last year it was 4 per cent. If that supply had been stopped, what difference would it have made to the course of the dispute? But, of course, that is not the whole point. The point is that throughout we have said that our action in this dispute would be collective. Does the hon. Gentleman complain because we have followed the collective course? Actually we are the only Government, so far as I am aware, to have stated publicly at Geneva that it considered an oil sanction should be put on. Why does the hon. Gentleman lay the blame for the fact that oil is still going to Abyssinia upon His Majesty's Government?
I take one other example. The hon. Gentleman complained that I had not fulfilled my responsibilities, and so forth. I wonder whether he took the trouble, during the last meeting of the Council, to read his own "Daily Herald." He says that even now you could get more sanctions imposed, but this is what the "Daily Herald" said during the last meeting of the Council, before the Abyssinian resistance collapsed:That Mr. Eden would have proposed new sanctions had there been any real hope of success is clear. But, to do him justice, he has had an uphill task and, in the circumstances, has been lucky to secure the reaffirmation of existing sanctions.The correspondent of the "Daily Herald" at Geneva was a little fairer than the hon. Gentleman this afternoon.
§ Mr. DALTON
I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to reply to a charge somewhat different from that which I made. My complaint against the right hon. Gentleman primarily is that, at the 1734 beginning of this war, he did not come out boldly and publicly, and propose, in open Council and full Assembly of the League, the complete stoppage of oil.
§ Mr. EDEN
That is not what the hon. Gentleman said, but I am prepared to deal with that charge. The Committee will, I hope, forgive me if my speech is a little longer, in consequence. May I meet the charge? I do not believe that in any country in the world, or in any part of any country in the world, except on the benches opposite, there is the least doubt that His Majesty's Government have taken the lead throughout this dispute. No other country thinks otherwise. It may be asked why we took that lead. His Majesty's Government made their point of view quite clear in the famous speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) last September, when he said:In conformity with its precise and explicit obligations, the League stands, and my country stands with it, for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirely, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.That speech was approved from one end of the country to the other, by all sections of opinion and by almost every organ of the Press. After that it is quite evident that it was our duty to take the lead, and we did so.
I come to the question of the sanctions that were imposed. The hon. Gentleman sought to argue that the 1921 Resolutions did not modify Article 16; I wonder why he thinks that the 1921 Resolutions were passed at all, if they did not modify Article 16. The origin of those Resolutions is a perfectly simple one. When Article 16 was drafted it was thought that the League would be universal. The 1921 Resolutions were passed by the Assembly and were an agreed method for the application of Article 16. It is plain from these Resolutions—they are very long, there are 20 of them—that it was realised that the literal fulfilment of Article 16 was not practicable when the United States of America was not a member. Accordingly what was contemplated was that as it was not possible to decide in advance what steps should be taken because the League was not universal. When a case arose, decision was to be taken as to joint action.
1735 It is therefore laid down in Article 14 of these Resolutions that in cases of prolonged application of economic sanctions and pressure, the stringency should be steadily increased. I would ask the Committee to note, for instance, that the cutting off of the food supplies of the civil population was to be regarded as an extremely drastic measure only to be applied if other measures available were clearly inadequate. Those were the 1921 Resolutions by which we were governed and yet the hon. Gentleman complained that we did not go beyond the Resolutions and apply that sanction at once from the very beginning.
§ Mr. EDEN
The hon. Gentleman did not say oil; he said that we should stop all trade with Italy. I think it is fair to ask hon. Members that when they are attacking His Majesty's Government they should take the trouble to inform themselves of the machinery which we are working. Let me take the next charge. We began with certain sanctions with a deliberate purpose. The League did not merely say: "What are we going to do if we apply this sanction or that? "We deliberately began with those sanctions which the action of a limited League could make reasonably effective. We took those commodities over which we had control. That was surely a wise and reasonable thing to do. The weakness of these sanctions, and we always knew it and I have never denied it, was that they could not be immediately effective. The League knew that perfectly well when it imposed them. There was only one sanction that could be immediately effective, and that sanction was to deny to Italy the use of the Suez Canal. That sanction must inevitably have entailed military action; there is no doubt of it. That military action must, in my judgment, inevitably have led to war. The Committee have to face that situation. We imposed sanctions that would not be immediately effective, and we knew it; but if the war had lasted a year they would certainly have played their part in the final settlement. The only additional sanction that could have been immediately effective would have been the closing of the Canal. Do hon. Gentlemen say that we should have done that?
§ Mr. EDEN
I make no complaint that the hon. Gentleman does not want to answer. I will answer for him. I appeal to the Committee to follow this argument, because it is important. There are only two answers the hon. Gentleman can give; either "no" or "yes." Let us suppose he answers, "No, he does not want to close the Canal with the inevitable result of war." I tell him that there is then no foundation for his criticism. There was, in fact, no immediately effective sanction that could have been taken but that. If the hon. Gentleman answers "Yes, he would have closed the Canal," how utterly illogical is the position of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they vote against all Estimates for the provision of armaments—[Interruption]—and when they denounce the Budget of my right hon. Friend as a war Budget. The truth is that while hon. Gentlemen opposite profess to support the League with horse, foot, and artillery, they really only mean to support it with threats, insults and perorations.
If hon. Gentlemen wish to take military action I must warn them that you cannot close the Canal with paper boats. I must make clear that if His Majesty's Government, in the course of this dispute, have not pressed for military sanctions, it is due to their horror of war and not to a fear of the ultimate outcome of it. I would like for a moment to suppose that the question which the hon. Gentleman does not like to answer is answered in the affirmative and that we had decided to advocate the closing of the Canal. Even the hon. Gentleman, I suppose, would not ask us to do that alone. I would ask the Committee to consider for a moment the legal position. Article I of the Suez Canal Convention states clearly that:The Suez Maritime Canal shall always be free and open in time of war as in time of peace to every vessel of commerce or of war without distinction of flag.It is clear from that, I think the Committee will agree, that the Canal could not have been closed except by League action.
I ask hon. Gentlemen, fairly, and not with partisanship, to put to themselves 1737 this question: In view of the attitude of many Governments, the attitude revealed in their own "Daily Herald," towards sanctions, do they really believe that a unanimous League Resolution could have been passed to close the Canal? I am absolutely convinced that there was never the least hope of it. [HON. MEMBERS: "You did not give them a chance."] Did hon. Members want to give them a chance? I think that many of us appreciate what would be the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite as the most critical phase of this dispute recedes. Perhaps, later on, they will say quite willingly that they would have closed the Canal. Theirs will be an ex post facto, or if you will, retrospective courage. I believe that if hon. Gentlemen were on these benches they would not have followed a course very different from our own.
§ Mr. EDEN
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observation. I would like to deal with the charge of the hon. Gentleman that before this dispute began we took no steps to stop it. Far from that, judging from his own account, we were doing our best to promote it. How on earth that could be supposed to be in our interests must pass the comprehension of any one. The hon. Gentleman said that he would give us a catalogue of dates; he did no such thing. He dealt with the WalWal incident, Signor Mussolini's message to us, and with Stresa, and then he carefully skipped to the outbreak of war. The WalWal incident took place on 5th December, 1934. Within five days of that incident, representations were made by His Majesty's Government, both in Rome and in Addis Ababa, emphasising the need for a definite settlement of that issue.
We continued those representations up to the meeting of the Council in January. At that meeting of the Council it was the representative of His Majesty's Government who bore—it is hardly an exaggeration to say—the whole burden of negotiation. He strove hard to bring the matter within the ambit of the League, which the Italian Government resisted and it was as the outcome of our efforts that letters were written that January by the representative of Italy and the repre- 1738 sentative of Abyssinia which resulted in the procedure of conciliation being set going. But for our intervention that would not have happened, and that was a first step of some importance. From the very first, His Majesty's Government were active, almost alone, to try to bring about a settlement.
The hon. Gentleman talked about Signor Mussolini's proposals to the Foreign Office in January, but Signor Mussolini made no proposals to the Foreign Office. He reported to us the outcome of his discussions with M. Laval, and he said he would like an exchange of views with us about Abyssinia. The House knows—and there is nothing to be ashamed of in this—that there are certain rights which this country has in Abyssinia, in relation to Lake Tsana and other matters. When we received that information, we set up an inter-departmental committee to investigate these matters. There was, of course, no shadow of suggestion at any time that in doing that there was anything improper, and still less was there any suggestion that we were condoning an aggression. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman really thinks that that is what we did in setting up the inter-departmental committee to meet a perfectly legitimate question of that kind.
Throughout February we were engaged in making representations on the subject of the negotiations, which were not going too well. We made representations to Signor Mussolini in Rome, and made clear to him at that time the anxiety with which we viewed the situation, and we recalled to him in February the responsibilities which we, as a member of the Council, had in the matter. I have not the least doubt that we were the first Government to do anything of that kind, and I am sure that there is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's contention that we were dilatory in that respect. Throughout February and the whole of March efforts were made to get conciliation going, and actually we did get conciliation going in the end, and that conciliation had just begun at the time of Stresa. The hon. Gentleman says that Signor Mussolini was quite prepared to raise the matter at Stresa. Why, then, did he not raise it? I put our position so far as His Majesty's Government were concerned.
1739 There were the Wal-Wal incidents, which were being discussed at last, as a result of our efforts, through the process of conciliation which the Italo-Abyssinian Treaty itself laid down, and the progress of that conciliation came up for review at the May Council; and it was at the May Council—which, I noticed, the hon. Gentleman did not even mention—that we had the most difficult negotiations of any that we had in the whole of that dispute. There we struggled our hardest to get the matter kept under the League. But for those efforts, as likely as not the Council would not have met between May and September. If the hon. Gentleman doubts that, let him turn up his "Daily Herald" files and see. We did our utmost to keep the matter before the League, and in that we were not supported by other great Powers. I feel that I am justified in trying to show this Committee—and I could go on doing so in immense detail—that at every step our endeavour was to keep the matter within the League. It may be argued that it would have been much wiser not to bring the League into it—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That is a doctrine which you cannot accept if you have signed the Covenant of the League. We did our utmost to bring the matter within the League, and for that the hon. Gentleman certainly has no right to criticise us at all.
I will deal with one other argument in this connection. It is often said that we ought to have acted sooner under Article XI, and suggested repressive action then. The answer to that is that there is no general obligation on members of the League so to act under Article XI, and, though it may be argued that had repressive action been taken earlier the results would have been better, I am confident that in fact no proposal for such action before hostilities had broken out would have received any measure of support.
I have attempted to justify the attempts of the Government to fulfil their obligations, and I have attempted to state our reasons for refusing to take isolated action. Yet we have to face the facts, and we shall face them. We have to admit the failure of the League in this, and we have to admit our own disappointment; and it may surprise the hon. Gentleman if I tell 1740 him that my disappointment is at least as great as his. Where I differ from him is that I say that, if success is collective, failure must be collective, too. Without doubt a blow has been struck at the structure of the League and the conception of collective security. We must face these facts frankly, and not be afraid to learn the lesson that must be derived from that experience. Having decided upon our course in the light of events, we must tell the world the course that we propose to follow. We must tell them what we will do, and what we will not do—for there is nothing more dangerous than a foreign policy based on unreality.
What of the immediate future? It is clear that the League must go on; in a modern world it is absolutely indispensable to the organisation of international affairs. That is clear. Something else is clear—that there must also be a stocktaking; and that stocktaking should, in the view of the Government, be undertaken by the League, thoroughly, not hurriedly. Each Government, each member of the League—and they all have their responsibilities—must carefully consider for itself the conclusions to be drawn from the last seven months, and must make known their views to the League, and that body as a whole must decide on its future course of action when the time comes. These matters require deep and careful consideration, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, on reflection, would not ask me to-day to pronounce from this Box the lessons to be learned from the last seven months. When the time comes, His Majesty's Government will be perfectly ready to state their views.
We propose to engage at once upon the consideration of the problems involved, and for that purpose, of course, we shall enter into consultation with the Dominions. We have, I maintain, sought at a time of great difficulty to fulfil our obligations—our signed obligations. His Majesty's Government have gone to the furthest length to which the League was prepared collectively to go. We have taken the lead ourselves. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but there is no shred of evident, to show that the League would have gone any further; there has never been a single proposal to take action which His Majesty's Government have not supported. Yet we have 1741 to admit that the action of the League has neither stopped the outbreak of war nor arrested it once it had begun. At the most it has made the prosecution of war more difficult and more costly. It is in the light of this that examination must take place. The world is going to be faced with formidable questions; the League is going to be faced with formidable questions. Can we anticipate that in the future more vigorous League action will be possible than in this dispute? Are the nations likely to be willing to take, under the Covenant, graver risks than they have been prepared to take hitherto? Is it possible so to organise League action that it can be preventive rather than repressive? These are some—only some—of the questions which we have to face, and which the League will have to face. They are steeped in difficulty, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will approach them in a spirit of realism and of constructive statesmanship.
The hon. Gentleman asked me what the policy of the Government would be at the meeting of the Council on Monday. I think the Committee will agree that in present conditions it is not unreasonable that I should ask, as I have asked heretofore, that some measure of confidence should be placed in the representative of the Government on this occasion. The action to be taken must be collective action, and we will play our part in that action. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about us?"] You will criticise and refuse to answer, as usual. I want now to turn a few moments to very important matters in connection with Western Europe—
§ Mr. DALTON
Is the right hon. Gentleman not prepared to make any statement in the British House of Commons, a few days before this important Council meeting, as to what policy he, on behalf of the Government of this country, will follow?
§ Mr. EDEN
My attitude is not in the least unreasonable. The hon. Gentleman may remember that before a previous League meeting I was pressed very strongly to state my view about oil sanctions, and hon. Gentlemen, from what I said, came to a wrong conclusion. At a moment of this delicacy and of this difficulty, I think it is reasonable for the Government to ask for a free hand in this 1742 matter. The Government will continue to pursue their policy under the Covenant, as they have done, at this next meeting of the Council.
I now turn to Western Europe. The Committee will perhaps recollect that, when we last discussed this matter, just before Easter, I told the Committee that the Government were then engaged in considering the German Memorandum. We have proceeded further with that consideration, and, since the Committee last met, there has been a meeting of the Locarno Powers at Geneva. The result of that meeting was set out in a, communiqué, and I would draw the attention of the Committee to three of the most important points in it. In the first place, the Powers expressed their regret that. Germany had not made a contribution in respect of the temporary period such as to re-establish the confidence indispensable to the opening of the general negotiations proposed by the German Chancellor. The second point, to which we also attach great importance, is the statement in the communiqué that all opportunities of conciliation must be explored, and that, therefore, His Majesty's Government should get into touch with the' German Government to elucidate a certain number of points in the German Memorandum. The third point was that we should meet, again during the forthcoming Council session.
The hon. Gentleman asked me if I could give him information about these questions, but I think that the Committee, on reflection, will not really wish me to do so. I want these negotiations to have the best possible chance of success, and I would ask the hon. Gentleman to consider whether I should really be serving the interests of the negotiations if I were to state here the questions we are proposing to ask, before they have even reached the German Chancellor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Surely, the reason is clear to everyone. It is because, as a mere act of courtesy, the German Chancellor is entitled to the first receipt of questions addressed to him. I am not communicating these questions to any other Government before they go to the German Government, and I am anxious that they should be in the hands of the German Chancellor before they are in the hands of anybody else.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman says now that they have not been submitted to other Governments and, therefore, they are not a collective interrogation. They are purely questions addressed by the British Government to the German Government?
§ Mr. EDEN
That is a very fair question. We have discussed some points in which other Governments are interested, but the questions that we are putting are put on our sole authority and our sole responsibility. They have not been submitted to anybody. I hope it will be possible for His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin to see either the Chancellor or the Foreign Minister to-morrow for the purpose of giving him these questions. I must emphasise that our objective in these negotiations is the same as it has been from the beginning. We want to make of a period of crisis a period of opportunity. The unilateral denunciation of the Locarno Treaty was a shock to the structure of security in Europe. It is our task to rebuild it. We have already made a certain contribution, and we do not apologise for that contribution. We propose to go on with our task, than which we believe there is none more urgent.
I cannot pretend to have made a survey of the field of foreign affairs. We are beset with other problems and other difficulties, besides those that I have touched on, at the Foreign Office at present. We are determined to do our utmost to resolve them. I do not think that we in this Committee should blind ourselves to the perils of the present time or to the active rearmament that is taking place everywhere. In fact some nations seem to be rearming to the exclusion of almost everything else in their national economy. Our course is clear, if difficult. It is to pursue by every possible means the solution of our problems, to take every opportunity to promote international agreement but at the same time to persist in our own rearmament which has now become an indispensable element in the solution of our ills. Whatever the future of the world organisation, His Majesty's Government have clearly got a great part to play. They can only do that effectively in an armed world if they have the means at their disposal.
1744 I will make one final plea. The Government welcomes—I hope we have not shown ourselves unduly sensitive to it—constructive criticism. We do not pretend for a moment to be impeccable, or to have made no mistakes, but we think it reasonable in foreign affairs to appeal for some restraint from purely partisan criticism, which does make the conduct of this country's foreign policy more difficult in the face of nations where no partisans are permits ed. My plea, then, is for the maximum of national unity. I make it, not selfishly or in fear of criticism, but because if democracies are to survive they must be enabled to act as far as possible with equal advantage in this, at present, the most important sphere of all. Only thus can we hope to do justice to our trust in these most anxious times.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I should like to begin my speech by paying my compliments to the Secretary of State on the characteristically eloquent and effective fighting speech that he has just delivered, but I do not think either that he has disposed of the powerful criticisms that were brought against the policy of the Government by tile hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate or that he has allayed the anxieties that are undoubtedly disturbing public opinion in this country. On two important issues of policy he has felt bound to ask the indulgence of the Committee and to beg them not to press him for information. I agree with him that it would be impossible for him to divulge to us this questionnaire which he has addressed to the German Government. I will riot, therefore, ask him any questions about it at this stage. I would only say I hope, on the one hand, they will be searching questions which will go to the root of the doubts which are quite honestly entertained by many people who are friendly to Germany and wish to see her equality of status recognised but who cannot but feel doubtful about some aspects of the proposals that have been made by Herr Hitler and are only too anxious to have their doubts set at rest if they can be honestly and frankly set at rest.
On the other hand, I feel confident that this questionnaire will be couched in friendly terms, and that it will be 1745 made clear to Germany that they are questions addressed to her by friends who want to see her taking her place in the League of Nations, and will make it clear that she comes there as a firm upholder of the principles of the League. I am sure the Noble Lord will make it clear that these questions are not put to Germany in the spirit of one who is laying traps and posing difficult questions merely to put her in the wrong. I hope it will be made clear—I am sure it can be—that they are put in a spirit of friendliness and with a full desire to obtain German co-operation, if it can be obtained, on the basis of the principles of the League of Nations.
But when we come to the question of the Government's policy next week at Geneva, I greatly regret that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to give us more information. After all, this is the day on which the Cabinet has met and the Secretary of State used two phrases which are really inconsistent with each other. Perhaps the Noble Lord will be able to clear up the obvious irreconcilability in the meanings of the two phrases. The only indication that the right hon. Gentleman gave us of the policy of the Government next week at Geneva was that it would continue to pursue its policy under the Covenant of the League of Nations. On the other hand, he had said, a few sentences before that, "We have to face the fact that the League has failed." If the League has failed, if the policy that the Government has been pursuing hitherto has failed, what is the good of pursuing it any further? Indeed my submission to the Committee, and my sincere contention, is that the League has not yet failed. The issue is not yet decided between the League of Nations and Italy. The League has indeed failed to protect Abyssinia, and we all feel a deep sense of humiliation at the sufferings that Abyssinia has undergone at the hands of an aggressor.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am much relieved to have that assurance and I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I was referring to the shame that we all feel at the ravages of which 1746 Abyssinia has been the victim; but there is one bright page in this black chapter, and I am glad to associate my friends and myself with the tribute that the. Secretary of State paid to the detachment, of the Indian Army which has been acting, so courageously as the Legation guard at Addis Ababa. But it will be long before public opinion will forgive the Governments mainly responsible for this humiliation and for the abandonment of Abyssinia, except for inadequate sanctions, to the ruthless military aggression of Italy, an aggression which has been marked by deeds of barbaric violence and, most horrible of all, by the use of that vile and fiendish weapon, gas.
For my own part, I think it would be unfair to attribute—I have never attributed and do not now attribute—the sole responsibility for these calamities to His Majesty's Government. A heavy responsibility rests upon other Governments, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) has drawn attention, in a powerful interview that he gave to a French newspaper, to the heavy responsibility that rests upon the French Government. But the French are at present in process of changing their Government, and the parties that are against the League and against effective use of economic sanctions have been decisively defeated. Those parties, that covered the hoardings in the Paris streets with maps of Russia with the Ukraine marked on them and inquiries why Germany should not be allowed to go in and take it for herself if she wanted it, have received a heavy blow at the election, and the parties which made it clear to the electorate that they stood firmly by the League have been returned to power, and it would be a tragedy if, at the moment when France is swinging towards the League, the British Government were to swing away from it.
But, for the reason that the French Government is in process of being changed, and also because of the fact that it is only the British Government which is responsible to this Committee, it has to begin, as the hon. Member who opened the Debate began, by considering our own Government's share of the responsibility for what has happened and why it happened. There are three explanations to which widespread currency is being given but which will not stand 1747 critical examination. The first is that economic sanctions have been tried and failed. The facts are that only sanctions with very limited application have been imposed. Our own Government, and experts at Geneva, have testified that even these sanctions, which have been so lamentably slow in their effect, are having an increasing effect upon the economic life and power of Italy. On the other hand, the sanctions which were likely to be effective and were agreed upon in November were not imposed because of the threats of the Italian Dictator.
I am not going to follow the hon. Member who opened the Debate into the very important question, which we shall have to discuss on a future occasion, of the effect of the 1921 Resolutions of the Assembly upon the proper interpretation of the obligations of States Members of the League under Article XVI of the Covenant. I do not want to do that now, because I want to shorten my speech, as I know that other hon. Members are anxious to speak. For the practical purposes of this Debate I think that it is sufficient to point out that, if the oil sanction had been imposed in December, Italian aggression would have been brought to an end before now. The experts who met in Geneva in February said that then, even after the Italian Government had been accumulating oil for the three months since the oil sanction had been decided upon in principle in November, oil sanctions would be effective in 2½ months.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Oil sanctions would be effective in 2½ months. That was the report of the experts at Geneva. If the Noble Lord wants to interrupt I will gladly give way.
Does that mean an embargo? Does it mean that oil is to be cut off from Italy by every nation in the world?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Of course it means that. That was the oil sanction. It was agreed upon in principle. Let me point out to the hon. and gallant Member who interrupts me that when this 1748 oil sanction was mooted it was frequently said by the opponents of effective sanctions, Rumania will never agree to it, and Mexico will back out." And yet it is those very countries, small countries as they are, who have been in the forefront at Geneva in demanding the application of the oil sanction.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I really cannot give way again to the hon. and gallant Member, but I will gladly answer that question. It is quite clear that if that oil sanction had been imposed when it was first Adopted in principle by the Committee. of Eighteen at Geneva, it would have received warm support in the United States of America. What the action of the Government would have been it is impossible, of course, for us to say now, because the Government never had to declare its policy; but it was quite clear at that time that the Government of the United States was moving in Congress to get powers which would have enabled ii to give effective co-operation to the League in enforcing the oil sanction. Therefore, that was the sanction which would have ensured victory for the League against the aggressor.
I am coming to the closing of the Suez Canal. I know that the Government are always very anxious to put that question to us, but I am not going to avoid it. I am coming to it. It is not true for the right hon. Gentleman to say that there was no other sanction which could be effective except the closing of the Suez Canal. I firmly believe that if oil sanctions were imposed in November when they had been adopted in principle and certainly if supported by a shipping embargo and iron And steel sanctions in addition, they would have been effective long before now in bringing Italian aggression to an end But what happened? In this case a veto was conceded by the Government and by the Powers at Geneva to the aggressor on the choice of sanctions, and their failure to save Abyssinia only proves that Signor Mussolini exercised his veto judiciously.
The second explanation is that sanctions, or at any rate effective sanctions, mean war. They will mean war only if there is such weakness of 1749 military force on the part of the League Powers that the aggressor can defy the League Powers with impunity. It is often said, when we discuss the Suez Canal—and I have no doubt that it is an honest opinion, as in the case of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Kensington (Sir W. Davison) who interrupted the hon. Member who opened the Debate— that those of us who speak like this advocate unilateral action, or Britain going to war with Italy or Britain acting as the policeman of the world. I have never done so, and I have never heard the hon. Member who opened the Debate do so. It is certainly not a policy which we on these benches advocate. Indeed; the right hon. Gentleman himself has made it clear that it would not be possible to advocate the closing of the Suez Canal unilaterally. The right hon. Gentleman himself has made it clear, as we all know, that we could not close the Suez Canal without the unanimous vote of the Council of the League of Nations.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
If the hon. Baronet will forgive me I will deal with that point presently. It is not the point with which I am dealing now. It is the misrepresentation which is made about those of us who believe in the League and advocate League action to close the Suez Canal, that we are in favour of war and of the British Empire acting as the policeman of the world. That is not true, and, as the right hon. Gentleman made clear, it could not be true. As a matter of fact the British Empire has no power to act in the manner suggested. It is said that the League would not have acted in that way. I say that the British Government should have turned to the Council of the League and the Committee of Eighteen and challenged the Powers there publicly and openly. Did they want Italian aggression to triumph over the League or were they prepared to take the action necessary to stop it? If they had been ready to take that action they would have been able to employ such force that it would have been mad and hopeless for Italy to attempt to defy it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
In this case we could have supported any sanctions we 1750 chose to impose with overwhelming force. The third explanation of the League's failure to save Abyssinia which is being given currency at the present time is because it is not universal. If the League included the United States of America—and Germany, if she is prepared to accept the principles of the League—it would be far more effective for all world purposes than without those Powers. But the argument is irrelevant to the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia because in that case irresistible military force is at the disposal of the League. What has been lacking in this case is not material force, and the gibes of the right hon. Gentleman about voting against armaments have left my withers unwrung because I have supported the Government in all naval and military measures necessary to withstand the Italian aggression. The gibes of hon. Gentlemen on that subject have no relevance to the situation with which we were confronted in the Mediterranean. What we have been lacking in is not material but moral force.
The whole responsibility does not rest upon the Government, but they must bear a share of it. The destruction of Abyssinia is a tragedy but it is no surprise to those of us who, in debate after debate in the House of Commons, have foreseen this catastrophe and have begged the Government to realise that the action which they were taking was wholly inadequate to avert it. In debate after debate in recent months we have warned the Government of the inevitable result of their half-heartedness. The aggressor has pursued his designs with resolute will while the Government have been feebly protesting and looking forward not with determination to the triumph of the League but to the possibility of failure. "We took the lead," says the right hon. Gentleman to-day in replying to the hon. Member who opened the debate. We took the lead, but only intermittently. Time after time the conclusion of the speeches of the Government representative at Geneva has been "We are prepared to go as far as anybody else will." Do not we remember the speech made during the famous debate in this House in December, when the right hon. Gentleman said that when he went to Geneva he would present the Hoare-Laval proposals to the League Council and would 1751 make no complaint if they turned them down. Is that taking the lead, at the crisis at the turning point in the whole of this dispute? Time after time we have protested against the use of such phrases by the Prime Minister. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not here to take part in this Debate, for I feel that a very heavy responsibility rests upon him throughout the development of the whole of this situation. Time after time we have protested against his use of such phrases as "Three parties to this dispute," as though Italy and Abyssinia were on a level with the League of Nations, and to the phrase which the Prime Minister has often used "If the League fails." Can you imagine Signor Mussolini saying: "If the Italian Army fails." If he said that sort of thing he would not be in Addis Ababa now. We have protested against the description of the policy of the Government as an experiment—an experiment which might be tried and then dropped if it did not succeed. It could only be made to succeed if action was animated by faith and was pursued with tenacity.
The right hon. Baronet said, "Can you imagine Signor Mussolini saying 'If the Italian Army fails?'" and he spoke of the Prime Minister saying, "If the League fails," but surely he cannot compare the Prime Minister with Mussolini. The Prime Minister does not control the League, but Mussolini controls the Italians.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is quite true, but if you are trying to give a lead to the League of Nations are you likely to succeed if you always seem to be envisaging the possibility of failure? Are you likely to succeed if it seems that your heart is not in it and that you are not determined to see it through, and are not absolutely resolved to take all risks in your own country and making your own policy clear to the people of your country? If there is in fact a fatal dualism to which your own supporters in the House of Commons are drawing attention, as I shall presently quote, are these things likely to animate the League and to make it a coherent whole? The only way in which you can lead men to victory is by showing faith, determination and tenacity in pursuing 1752 your objective. It is because Mussolini has shown those qualities that his troops have reached Addis Ababa to-day, and it is because the League has been destitute of these qualities that Abyssinia has been ravaged.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman really think that the fact of knowing that the other great Power, France, was not whole-hearted in doing this made the position of the Prime Minister much harder?
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Perhaps the Noble Lady was not here it the beginning of my speech, when I referred to the interview which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham gave to a French newspaper on the need of greater loyalty to the League on the part of France. But I say that if there were people who were hanging back, that was not the way to rally those people. The only way to rally them to the support of the League was by showing faith and determination. I am going to explain, if the Noble Lady can wait a few minutes, the fatal dualism in the Government's policy.
Most of all we protested against the fatal betrayal of the League's case in the Hoare-Laval negotiations. We failed to save Abyssinia because the Government have wobbled and vacillated while the aggressor was pursuing his nefarious designs with fixed determination and resolute will. The Government have lacked that will. I would like to ask, at this stage, the question which I had hoped it would not be necessary to ask. I ask the Noble Lord whether he cannot, after consultation with his right hon. Friends, give us a, little more information at the end of the Debate as to what the Government are going to say next week in Geneva? We feel that we ought to know that. There is another question which I had intended to ask but in regard to which the hon. Member who opened the Debate has anticipated me and to which he received no reply from the Secretary of State. Are we going to give loans to Italy or is it absolutely clear that we are not going to give any assistance in the position in which she is at present?
1753 The "Times," in a leading article on Monday last said, and here I am coming back to the point on which the Noble Lady pulled me up:For this deplorable situation there is already some. … disposition to condemn the British Government, on the one hand for having failed to go to war single-handed with Italy for the protection of a fellow member of the League, and on the other hand for having played too prominent a part in the endeavour to make collective action by the League a reality. Those two charges obviously cancel out each other.The charge about going to war single-handed is, as I have already shown, not true. If the charge were to be stated in terms which are fair and true it would be, that the Government are being criticised now for not having given a strong enough lead to the League of Nations, and on the other hand for having played too prominent a part in making collective action by the League a reality. It is not true that those charges cancel out each other. On the contrary, they reinforce each other. If the Government lacked the means to see their policy through they ought never to have allowed their Foreign Secretary to make the speech which the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) made at Geneva last September, and still less should they have chosen that speech as the platform on which to make an appeal to the electors of this country at the last General Election. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), speaking on 24th February last, said:The Government gave specific pledges"—Here I am interpolating two words which I think express his meaning:against war, on which, alone, some of us were prepared to support them at the Election, and on which they got millions of votes, but they also said things which encouraged the sanctionists to believe that the Government might go as far as any other country was willing to go. That sort of ambiguity can be sustained in an Election. It cannot be sustained when you are brought face to face with a concrete issue." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th February, 1936; col. 100, Vol. 309.]If there is that kind of ambiguity, I would say to the Noble Lady that you cannot rally doubtful members of the League to support of your policy. Whatever the Government decide to do, let there be no more of this dualism. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said that the League must go on, 1754 and that there will be a stock-taking. We are very anxious to know what the Government are going to do in this stocktaking. In this dark international situation we need more than ever a clear policy and one which will be tenaciously held to.
Let us make no mistake about it. Italy has now won, for the time being at any rate, a commanding position in the Near East. If, as we are told, she intends to enlist Abyssinians in her armies, who will set bounds to the ambitions of the Italian dictator in East Africa, in the Red Sea and in the basins of the Nile? He has defied 50 nations, flouted Great Britain and is in a fair way to proving that aggression can be made to pay. The greater part of our Fleet and a large part of our Air Force is tied to the Mediterranean, while dangers threaten nearer home. To quote the striking words of the hon. Member who opened the Debate, German rearmament is proceeding rapidly, remorselessly, menacingly. In the Far East the Japanese military party is steadily increasing its control over Japanese policy. What measure of rearmament should we require if we were effectively to guard against all these dangers in isolation? That is a situation which cannot continue.
We must no longer try to get the best of both worlds but we must make a definite choice, even if it be unpopular with some part of the electorate or with some portions of the Government supporters. We must make a choice between oblivion of the past and cordial friendship in the future between Italy and this country, implying financial help to Italy in restoring her economy and developing her new territory or the policy of compelling Italy, by the maintenance and intensification of sanctions, to submit to a peace dictated by the League. The adoption of the first policy would mean a frank recognition that the League policy on which the Government appealed to the Nation at the last Election lies in ruins. It would be strenuously opposed by all on this side of the House, and I should regard it as an outrage upon the conscience of the country; but do not let us have any more half measures with Signor Mussolini. If the Government in their wisdom and on their responsibility decide to abandon the 1755 League policy, let them brush our opposition aside and appeal boldly to the country in support of their new policy, which would be the old policy of power politics, and we will meet them in the country openly on that issue.
I hope, however, that even at the eleventh hour they will steel themselves for a supreme effort in defence of the League and of the new world order which it represents. Abyssinia lies prostrate, but Italy, too, is becoming increasingly exhausted by her efforts and by the pressure of sanctions. She has already lost half her gold reserve since military operations started, and her trade has dwindled. The League resources are immense and overwhelming in relation to those of Italy. There will be no peace in the world while aggression pays. There will be no peace for the freedom-loving nations in trying to shirk the issue between the League and militarism. We in Britain can find no safety except in the League of Nations. Some say, make the Rhine our frontier, but refuse to be drawn into any commitments by France or Belgium or any other country in the East of Europe. But suppose France and Belgium go to war on account of commitments in other countries and are defeated. Our Rhine frontier disappears. Are we then to go to war alone to restore it? The only hope of averting the catastrophe of war is for the peace-loving nations to make common cause against aggression. It is a strenuous work, to which the Government ought to set their hands.
One subject which will form a topic in our future debates on foreign policy was alluded to briefly by the Secretary of State, and that is the reform of the League. The criterion of reform must be whether it will strengthen or weaken the League as a bulwark against aggression. The miserable course of events last year, when we were compelled impotently to watch the Italian preparations for invading Abyssinia, because the vote of the Italian Government was sufficient to prevent measures being taken under Article XI of the Covenant which was designed to prevent war, shows the direction in which the Covenant of the League is in need of amendment.
On the issues raised by the Italian aggression the verdict of world opinion 1756 has been passed. Woe betide the Government if in feebleness and irresolution they now allow that verdict to be set aside at the bidding of the aggressor. The immediate issue now is whether the League is to survive. Abyssinia may be conquered, but, conquest cannot deprive Abyssinia of her rights as a member of the League. The Government's duty is to declare unequivocally that they will insist that sanctions should be maintained against Italy and intensified until the Italian Government will agree to terms imposed by the League, and such terms should clearly show that the rule of law is a reality and that aggression is a crime which in the modern world will not be allowed to pay.
§ 5.55 p.m.
In rising to address the Committee I ask for that indulgence which is always given so generously to those who speak in this House for the first time. During the short period that I have been a Member of the House we have had many Debates on foreign affairs. The brief intervals between those Debates have often been the occasions for dramatic events of great moment in the international field. This afternoon the Debate takes place at a time which is possibly more critical than any other since the War. The failure of the League to prevent the military conquest of Abyssinia, recent events in the Rhineland and other matters are forcing nations to reconsider in the light of experience the whole basis of their future foreign policy, and it is no less a question than that which will be settled by the events of the next few months. I think we are all agreed that the result of the League's intervention in Abyssinia proves two things, first, that collective action of a. certain scope is feasible, provided that a courageous lead be given, and, secondly, that the collective action taken in this. particular instance has proved disastrously ineffective. Probably we all feel very much as the writer of Ecclesiastes felt when he wrote:If the serpent bile before it be charmed, then is there no advantage with the charmer.I think we are all agreed so far, but at that point agreement ceases and there is wide divergence of view as to the deductions to be drawn not only among different sections of opinion in this country but as between different foreign countries.
1757 I should like to say a few words about one or two of those foreign countries. It is a commonplace to say that the French attitude towards the League of Nations has always been fundamentally different from our own. Recently we have seen the French Government pursuing two quite incompatible policies. They have been trying on the one hand not to violate the letter of the Covenant and at the same time to maintain the so-called Stresa front, with an anxious eye on the integrity of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Shortly there will be a new Parliament in France, but it does not appear that there will be as a. result a new French foreign policy. Then we have the Little Entente, which has hitherto regarded the League as its guarantee of independent existence. But some or all the members of that Little Entente might well regard a rearmed Germany outside the League as a more politic friend than a League which can be successfully defied by a determined nation. Then we have Austria and Hungary which have recently formed a political arrangement with Italy on lines very similar to that between these Members of the Little Entente. There is Russia, who may well fear the possibility of simultaneous wars on her far eastern and European frontiers, who has recently made a pact with France and is interfering more and more with the affairs of Central Europe in a way that may well cause uneasiness; but whose ultimate objects remain inscrutable. Then we have Germany, whose rearmament is dominating the whole situation in Central Europe because of uncertainty as regards her intentions. In short, we are in a position very much like that which existed in the years before 1914—we have the rising level of armaments, the fear of encirclement which is not confined to one country, the talk about the need for expansion, the formation of a nucleus of two armed camps, hesitations in some countries as to which camp they should join, and on top of all that the occupation by Italy of Addis Ababa. I do not need to catalogue our anxieties any further, but we all feel that the post-War edifice is cracking and we may be tempted to wonder whether we are not witnessing the first grumblings of an earthquake which will bring the building in ruins about us, and which is quite indifferent to the efforts of man to check its activities.
1758 But we must take a less fatalistic view than that. First of all, we must recognise that events are forcing a reconsideration of the basis of foreign policy in other countries. In this country we are beginning to get a good deal of talking not only in this House but outside about the reform of the League of Nations. Unfortunately, that phrase has no defined meaning, and as a result we are in danger of finding ourselves engaged in a vigorous controversy both in this country and between foreign countries at precisely the moment when what is wanted is not a dissipation of energy through disagreement, but a concentration of energy on a clear and widely accepted policy. It we are to avoid that danger we must first of all make up our mind what we want. Secondly, we must make up our mind what we can obtain, and only when, we have answered not one but both these questions can we decide what policy we can best pursue.
In the first place, what do we want? Some say that it is dangerous folly to continue membership of a League which has proved itself a failure. I am not one of those, and I welcome very much the whole-hearted statement of the Foreign Secretary that the League must go on. The vital need of mankind to-day is to build up international law and order, and I am very glad to feel that the forces behind that ideal in this country, although they are tempered with disillusion, remain tremendous. It is not only a vague ideal, it is the moral basis of a policy of absolutely practical significance to the peace of this country and of the Empire. It is clear that the need for the principles on which the League of Nations was founded are not less but greater to-day than they were then. We can have only a temporary and unstable peace unless we make these principles a, reality more potent than the forces of destruction which are, apparently, threatening the world. But even among those who agree that the League must go on there are wide differences of opinion as to the question of League reform. It is true that there is no serious dispute about certain aspects of the League's work: its method of regular conferences, its work of conciliation and mediation, the non-political work of the Secretariat, and other bodies, whose value has been developing year after year.
1759 When we talk about a reform of the League what is meant is the League as a system of collective security. Here you have the widest difference of opinion. On the one hand, you have those who would remove the sanctions Articles from the Covenant and reduce the League to a mere debating assembly and, on the other hand, you have those who say that the Covenant is too elastic, too loose, and that we must fill up the gaps in the Covenant by such devices as the Geneva Protocol. Of course you have every shade of opinion between these two extremes. If you adopt the former policy, if you renounce specifically the idea of force, at any rate in the background, behind the law you risk abolishing the League as an instrument of peace. If there is no League alliance against an aggressor, it is quite intelligible and understandable that nations should form themselves into groups both with nations inside the League and with Powers outside the League, and you are back at once in the old position of two camps, whose dangers are only too well known. On the other hand, I think that the experience of the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia has shown the weakness of the Protocol idea. The result of having a Protocol in force is the same as if you have no sanctions at all. If you set the pace too fast many countries drop out, and the collective principle is lost.
The question is, can we find a middle course without the disadvantages of these extremes? Many suggestions no doubt will be put forward in the near future, and it is not for me to dogmatise now on any such complicated question, about which discussions are only just beginning; but, in any case, risks are bound to be involved. The dispute between Italy and Abyssinia has taught us something of the nature of these risks. German rearmament has made many nations less inclined to run these risks. That is one of the fundamental difficulties of the present situation. Nevertheless, it may be possible to work out some system under which you may have universal obligations which are useful, but which are not so heavy as to make their fulfilment unreliable and, on the top of that, you might be able to make arrangements for regional mutual assistance involving automatic military action for those 1760 nations most nearly concerned. In Europe you may be able to start working towards an arrangement of that kind from the discussions which I understand are to take place on the French and German proposals. You may have to recognise that the area in which League influence is effective is limited and, lastly, you must never lose sight of the fact that the closest possible association with the United States of America is always vital to this country. I am well aware of the tentative nature of these proposals and I do not under-rate the difficulties which will confront the Government in working out some system of the kind we want to see.
My point in raising this question is this: If we want collective security, and to my mind we do want it, we must not make the mistake of thinking that, we have got it now. We have first to make up our mind what we ourselves mean by the phrase, and then we have to find out what other nations understand by it, too. As regards ourselves, we have to make up our mind what we are ready to fight for and what we are not ready to fight for, and also what contribution we are prepared to make to collective security. If we have to take risks, let us take them with open eyes and know what we are in for. Other nations must also state what contribution they are prepared to make. We must know that, and we must make it clear that only on a basis of reciprocity are we prepared to undertake obligations. Therefore, in my view we must make every conceivable effort to establish a system of collective security that is both collective and secure, but we must be prepared to recognise that the arrangements we may arrive at may not be sufficiently collective or sufficiently effective, and, if so, we must be prepared to recognise that fact and its consequences.
The greatest danger to-day is to pay lip-service to a League, whose members are not prepared to make it a reality. Collective insecurity is no better than individual insecurity. I hope we shall succeed in getting some measure of collective security which will give a feeling of security in the near future. If we do that let us realise that it will only be a breathing space; but an indispensable opportunity for considering the roots of the trouble. If we get that chance we 1761 must use it to examine the underlying economic problems, the problems of populations, armaments and, above all, that most difficult problem, the psychological problem of national prestige and ambition. It may be that the forces against us are too great, but it is only in this way that we can hope to get rid of fear and insecurity, and attain to the British ideal of the League, which is that it should not be so much a system for restraining enemies as a method of working with friends.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
The Committee I am sure, will allow me to express our congratulations to the hon. Member who has just spoken. I am sorry that the Foreign Secretary should have reaffirmed his faith in large armaments, although it is true that he connected his reaffirmation with our responsibilities as a member of the League of Nations. As far as I know, however, there is nothing in the Covenant of the League of Nations which calls upon this country to increase its armaments. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) placed his signature some years ago at the foot of a note which was sent by the various Locarno Powers to Germany, in which they stated their interpretation of the effect of Article 16 so far as military sanctions were concerned. From that note I find that the view taken by the Conservative party of that date, according to the interpretation placed upon Article 16 was that:The obligations resulting from the said Article on members of the League must be understood to mean that each State member of the League is bound to co-operate loyally and effectively in support of the Covenant in resistance to any act of aggression to an extent which is compatible with its military situation and takes its geographical position into account.
§ Sir AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member will permit me to remind him that that was a note addressed to a disarmed Germany.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
The right hon. Member will also permit me to remind him that it was a note signed by the various Locarno Powers to Germany regarding Article 16 of the Covenant and the interpretation placed upon it by the signatories of the obligations resulting from their adherence to the Covenant. I 1762 am suggesting to the House that the Conservative Government of that day took the view that the degree of assistance which might have to be supplied by this country under the Covenant of the League of Nations depended upon its military situation; and its military situation, there is no ambiguity about the phrase, means according to the strength of the armed forces it has at the particular time. Hon. Members opposite and the Government accuse hon. Members on this side of being inconsistent because when they seek to increase their armed forces in order to enable them to carry out their obligations under the Covenant, we say that they must not do so and at the same time we say that they must carry out their obligations under the Covenant. The reason why this country has been compelled to face up to the question of rearmament is not merely because Germany has rearmed. We are at any rate, entitled to ask why Germany has rearmed. Germany waited 15 years before she commenced rearming. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) told the House the other day that his information was that German rearmament first started in 1933.
Why did Germany begin to rearm? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham knows perfectly well that at the very beginning of the Disarmament Conference the German representatives, headed at that time by Dr. Bruning, stressed their desire for equality of rights. By this they meant that a great, powerful nation of 70,000,000 people had been compelled to disarm by the Treaty of Versailles, they resented and resisted that compulsory disarmament, and they intended to rearm up to the level consonant with their position as a great Power unless the other Powers of the world carried out their undertaking, contained in the Treaty of Versailles and reiterated in Article 8 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, to disarm down to the level of Germany. Germany put forward her request at the early meetings of the Disarmament Conference. Nothing was done, and eventually, in July, 1932, Germany left the Conference. In December, 1932, there was the agreement at Lausanne, where the representatives of our Government and the French, Italian and United States Governments put their signatures to a 1763 formula which agreed to grant to Germany equality of rights in a régime of security. That was the phrase used. As I pointed out to the House a few days ago, Germany has taken equality of rights without asking anybody's permission because unfortunately as a result of the policy of the other European Governments towards Dr. Bruning's Government, the hands of the Nazi leaders were strengthened, the consequence being that Dr. Bruning was brought down and eventually Hitler took his place.
I would like to say to those who accuse hon. Members on this side of being inconsistent that there is nothing inconsistent at all in our attitude. We are prepared to accept any degree of armaments in a system of pooled security provided the League of Nations, through its Council and Assembly, states that such is the quota to be provided by this country. The Government, on the other hand, have not consulted any of the other States Members of the League; they are seeking in the name of collective security to follow a policy which, in my humble opinion, is the very antithesis of the system of collective security. The greater the national arms the greater the degree of collective insecurity, and no system of collective security will ever flourish unless there is multilateral disarmament—I do not suggest that disarmament by one country will have the slightest effect. Until the world realises that mere lip service to the system of collective security is insufficient and until we assess the strength of our armed forces in relation to the armed forces of all the other States Members, we shall never get the security about which we talk so much.
This afternoon the Foreign Secretary, when dealing with the question of sanctions against Italy, chided hon. Gentlemen on these benches with having asked for the whole of the sanctions to be imposed at once, and he said that Resolution 14, which was passed in 1921, provided that only when there was prolonged economic pressure should measures of increasing stringency be taken. That, he argued, was a clear indication that, so far as the League of Nations was concerned, there ought not to be applied at once every means of economic pressure. The Government cannot have it both ways. If the Resolution of 1921 justifies a policy of progress- 1764 sive application of sanctions, why have we not had that policy of progressive application of sanctions? We have had prolonged application for seven months. The Government take the credit, because, they say, they took the lead at Geneva, and everybody knows it. What have they taken the lead in doing? In October of last year, when sanctions were first imposed, they may have taken the lead, but no sanctions have been imposed since that time, and there have been no measures of increasing stringency so far as economic pressure is concerned. I suggest to the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary that he might explain to the House why it is that Resolution 14 has not been implemented by the Council of the League of Nations. The other day I asked whether there is some country which in private has blocked the activities of the Foreign Secretary. If that be the case, why not accept the advice of an hon. Member who spoke from these benches? He said that at a public meeting of the Council of the League of Nations the Government should make definite and concrete proposals for further economic sanctions and let the world see which countries refuse to carry out their responsibilities under the Covenant of the League.
Outside this House—I am not sure whether it is the case inside the House—people are saying that it is all over, that Abyssinia has been defeated, that the war is at an end and that therefore we should finish with sanctions. That is a wrong position. The League of Nations is not concerned merely with assisting Abyssinia. If I may give a simple illustration, I will refer to the police officer who goes to the assistance of a man who is being attacked by a robber. The police officer is not concerned only with protecting the citizen from attack, but he goes further; he arrests the robber, takes him to the police station, and in due course the criminal is tried and presumably convicted. What is the moral of that? It is that the responsibility of the policeman is not merely to save the citizen from physical injury. He is there as the representative of law and order, and his purpose is to enforce the rule of law against the robber. There is no difference between that position and the position of Italy. Italy has been declared the violator of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Covenant is the 1765 code of international law which was established after the termination of the Great War as a code which was to regulate the relations between the various countries of the world, to permit of the peaceful settlement of disputes, and to bring together the resources and power of all States members against any nation committing a breach of the peace. Therefore, I suggest to the House that we are faced with the following position at the present time. The League is seeking to protect its Covenant. It has to do so admittedly because of Italy's aggression against Abyssinia; but the League is concerned with protecting its Covenant, and consequentliy the question is whether the violator of the Covenant is to be the victor or whether the League of Nations is to be the victor.
I suggest to the Foreign Secretary that this is not the time to reverse the engine. Whether or not the Foreign Secretary is right in saying that other countries will not agree to an extension of sanctions, I hope he will never be a party to reversing the engine. Speaking for myself, I have a great deal of sympathy with the Foreign Secretary. In my opinion his position was made impossible from the time he entered the Foreign Office, so far as this particular question was concerned, by the conduct of his predecessor in subscribing to terms which would have meant handing over a large part of Abyssinia to a country which the whole world had declared to be a brutal aggressor. I believe that the moral effect of the Hoare-Laval episode was sufficient to make the right hon. Gentleman's position very difficult.I would, however, point out to him that 46 nations have given a general guarantee of mutual assistance and that four nations have given a specific guarantee. He knows that so far as the Mediterranean is concerned, Turkey, Greece, France and Yugoslavia have given a specific guarantee. I have not the quotation with me, but I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the Government take the view that those guarantees were adequate for the purpose. In their White Paper, they stated that they were satisfied with the specific guarantees given by those four countries. In addition to that, 40 other countries have given the required guarantee under paragraph 3 of Article 16 of the Covenant.
1766 What is the Government worrying about? What is the Council of the League of Nations worrying about? Is it suggested that Italy is in a position to resist indefinitely the full economic pressure of 46 or 50 nations? I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if even the present degree of economic pressure were maintained for a further period of time it might well be that Italy would have to ask for terms. Whether that be so or not, I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that there is nothing to prevent the Council of the League withdrawing the ambassadors of the various countries concerned. I will even go further and ask him to consider again the possibility of applying Article 16 and of expelling Italy from the League of Nations. That may seem a very strong act of policy, but I hope we are not going to turn the League of Nations into a League of humbugs. Is the position to be that Italy, which has been declared the violator of the international code of law embodied in the Covenant of the League of Nations, is to be allowed to resume her seat at the Council table of the League and judge other countries which may be inclined to follow the same line of action? Let us, at any rate, refuse to put ourselves into that position.
I hope that even at this late stage the right hon. Gentleman will next week seek to implement the Resolution of 1921, behind which he sought to protect himself this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman was not present when I referred to Resolution 14, which, as he knows, deals with prolonged economic pressure requiring measures of increasing stringency. I hope that if that Resolution was his justification for not taking further action in October, it will equally justify further action seven months after the outbreak of hostilities. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to Geneva next week in order to concern himself merely with the revision of the Covenant of the League. We have not arrived at that stage yet. There is still this cleavage between Italy on the one hand and the League of Nations on the other hand. Any action short of compelling Italy to realise her responsibilities under the Covenant or alternatively expelling her from the League of Nations means the defeat of the League, the defeat of 52 nations. I cannot for one moment conceive that 1767 the right hon. Gentleman really takes the view that that is the result of any weakness in the Covenant of the League of Nations. He knows perfectly well that the weakness rests with those who are seeking to apply the Covenant—not necessarily this Government but all the Governments concerned. I am afraid that pressure will be brought to hear upon the right hon. Gentleman from his own side, with a view to extracting the teeth from the Covenant. That is not a policy which will bring about world peace. Either each country safeguards itself, or we must have a system of collective security in which all nations take their responsibility. Every nation, except Austria and Hungary, has accepted that responsibility even though it may be only in a partial way. What is required is not a weakening but a strengthening of the Covenant, and if the right hon. Gentleman goes back to Geneva with the determination to take all the risks of peace in an attempt to show conclusively to Italy that unlawful aggression does not pay, he will have the support of every Member on this side of the House.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN.
I should like first to offer my congratulations also to the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) on the very interesting maiden speech which he delivered a few minutes ago. Those of us who had the good fortune to hear him will look forward to his second appearance as a speaker here with added interest, and hope that it will not be too long delayed. I must say a preliminary word about the observations of the hon. Gentleman opposite on the Note of the Locarno Powers to Germany. The hon. Gentleman adduced that Note in support of an argument that our obligations to the League depended, not on our position in the world as a great Power, but on the military strength which at any moment we possessed—in other words, that, if we reduced our military and naval forces sufficiently, we could retain all the benefits of insurance by others without making any contribution ourselves. The Note will not bear that construction.
The Germans pleaded that they were, at that time, a disarmed nation forbidden to have any aircraft, any of the heavier 1768 types of artillery and strictly and narrowly limited as to the number of their men. The Locarno Powers, following a Resolution of the Assembly of the League, gave them an assurance that, in their view, the military contribution which in case of need any Power could be expected to render to the League, must have relation to the military strength which it enjoyed. But that was not meant to be an excuse for those who were prepared to reduce their forces so as to throw the whole burden upon others. Anyone who has the idea that this country can play its part in the League or give any support or reality to the League if it does not recognise that its contribution has to be on the scale of a great Power, with a permanent seat on the Council, a Power which is the centre of a great Empire and one of the greatest Powers of the world—anyone who holds that idea is living in a fool's paradise, as I am afraid too many people are at the present time.
It is indeed with the greatest reluctance and after grave hesitation that I rise to take part in this Debate. I am not interested in the party polemics of the speech of the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. They were adequately, and more than adequately, dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. If that were all that was at stake, I should not have asked the indulgence of the Committee, but I cannot reconcile it with my conception of the duty which I owe to the House or to the country, that I should leave it to be supposed that I could support the sort of policy which seems to be indicated by the speeches which we have heard from both sides of the Gangway on the opposite side of the Committee. I think my position was stated as plainly as anyone could state it at the beginning of this Parliament. I was willing to go to all lengths within the collectivity of the League. But I always profoundly doubted whether—and I said so in an earlier speech and before this controversy—with a League from which, in the first place, some of the greatest nations, both industrial and agricultural, have excluded themselves, economic sanctions could be expected to play that decisive part in any case whatever which it was thought they might play when the Covenant was framed, and when it was hoped and believed that in a short time every great nation of the 1769 world would be a member. But even if economic sanctions could be used successfully, when there was general agreement among the great Powers to restrain or to deter a small Power it is, in my opinion, quite clear that the threat of economic sanctions, however high you put it, however broad you make it, will not deter a great Power which has deliberately decided upon an act of aggression. Nothing will deter such a Power except the massing of overwhelming force against it.
It was for that reason that I said in the early days of this struggle that for myself I had counted the cost and that I was prepared to go to all lengths with other Powers, even to the use of military force. I think if the other Powers had been prepared to act, if everybody in this country had spoken as I spoke then and had given the Government the assurance that they would support them if they proposed such a policy—and if other countries had agreed—I think the course of history would have been very different. I think you might have prevented the struggle, or, at any rate, brought it to a rapid decision. But the circumstances have wholly and profoundly changed since then. I ask what was the purpose of sanctions? Not in this case to attempt to prevent an aggression but to prevent the aggression succeeding. They have failed. They were to bring the war to an end and to stop bloodshed. The failed to bring the war to an end. It has been brought to an end by military means, by the complete subjugation of Abyssinia and the flight of the Emperor. To propose at this moment to continue sanctions is a policy of equal danger and futility, and I think it is right that those who urge such a policy on the Government should not fence with the plain question but should answer it.
The hon. Member who spoke last proposed an additional sanction—the withdrawal of Ambassadors. Does he really think that would alter Signor Mussolini's policy, which has rallied to him as never before the whole of Italy? The hon. Member also proposed to expel Italy from the League. I think it is one of the most remarkable things in Signor Mussolini's policy that, in spite of the action taken by the League against him, he has not given notice that Italy will withdraw. Even in defying the League he has given 1770 expression to a desire for future co-operation and, in my opinion, not only would the expulsion of Italy from the League be as futile as the withdrawal of our Ambassadors, but it would weaken the League instead of strengthening it, and prevent it being made, what we may yet hope to make it. Not only would sanctions at this stage be futile, but I say that they would be dangerous, and I want to ask the hon. Gentlemen opposite and others who press this policy on the Government: Have they reckoned the cost and are they prepared for the price they will have to pay?
There is a proverb about getting butter out of a dog's mouth. It may be if naval action had been taken very early in the war that it would have been sufficient and that Italy would have negotiated, but nobody had the right to urge that policy on the Government who was not prepared for the consequences and who, if Signor Mussolini was prepared to fight, was not prepared to call upon our own people for the sacrifices which would be involved. We hear a great deal about the backwardness of other countries. These sanctionist gentlemen in our own country think that they can employ sanctions, either without risk or at risk only to the professional sailors of the Fleet. In any other country such a step would mean conscription, or rather, as they already have conscription, it would mean the mobilisation of the men in the Reserve.
I think hon. Members would not be in such a hurry to make a recommendation of this kind if their constituents were going to be called up to-morrow as a result of their policy. Are they prepared for that action which might conceivably have succeeded at the beginning and which I was prepared to advocate at the beginning if other countries acted with us? That was essential, or it is not a collective system. I was prepared to act at that time. I think it might have been successful without war, but I am quite certain that it would result in war if you tried it to-morrow. No man who is not prepared to tell his countrymen that it is their duty to take part in such a war should play about in this way with the demand for sanctions. When once you put on sanctions, the issue of peace and war passes from your hands into those of the other party, and he would 1771 be a rash man to-day who would venture to predict that Italy, flushed with victory, proud of her achievement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Proud?"]—proud of her achievement, flushed with victory—would surrender to any threat or any force that you could bring against her. And, as I say, what are you to do it for? In order to get some kind of platonic satisfaction? You will not save a drop of blood in Abyssinia. You cannot restore the old Government. It has fallen to pieces. There is no Government existing there now, with the flight of the Emperor. You will not stop the shedding of blood. You cannot rebuild Abyssinia as it was. You extend the conflict, if you fight, not for peace, but for revenge. I cannot take the responsibility of supporting a policy of that kind or of allowing His Majesty's Government to suppose that the speeches of the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) represent the unanimous opinion of the House.
The hon. Member for Winchester, in the thoughtful speech which he made, said there were two schools of thought, at the two extremes, one of which would, as a result of what has happened in these last months, abolish all the sanctions of Article 16 and thus draw the teeth of the League or, to use his own words, reduce it to a debating assembly, and, at the other extreme, those who would try to fill up all the gaps, tighten up all the obligations, and extend them to every contingency which might arise. The hon. Member himself suggested that there was a middle course, and I think it is that middle way which we must take. He said, and said truly, that if you force the pace too much, if you set too fast a pace, so many nations drop out that you break the League. If you universalise all your obligations, without making any distinction among them, you place a task upon each country which it is beyond the human power, the human endurance, of any country to fulfil. You cannot make the same contribution to collective peace, or expect the same contribution from others, in every possible conflict throughout the world. I am quite certain that the Government are right in trying to underpin the League by a series of regional pacts of guarantee. We have an immense 1772 superstructure, but we have at the present time a very insecure foundation, and if you ask too much—well, I hope we shall not promise more than we are ready to perform, though I am not quite sure that there are not a lot of people who are prepared to make promises the consequences of which they have not thought out for a moment and which they would in fact find themselves quite incapable of fulfilling.
But it is to the future that we have to look. As to the past, what we hoped to do in Abyssinia, the enforcement of the rule of law which: we hoped to secure by the action of the League in this war, has failed, but it is out of failure that big men reap their successes, and it is out of the failure and the weakness disclosed in this struggle that the League ought to-morrow to set itself to work to frame a more solid structure, resting upon a securer foundation. A real effort must be made—the Government are making it—to get Germany back again, to get other countries back again, to secure in the different regions where peace may be broken shock troops which at any rate will take the first brunt of the attack, which can hold the fort while the League comes to their assistance and the great community of nations does what it can. They must consider too whether the Covenant of the League does not need amendment in order to enable the Council or the Assembly of the League to act earlier, to take decisions before the catastrophe has befallen. That and other problems they will have to face.
What has been the net result of the effort of the League in this case? The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland spoke of dangers nearer home. There are great sections of English opinion very ready to criticise France and very ready to throw on her the whole onus of this failure. Our duties to the League may all be equal, but the risks to particular countries, the sacrifices which they are called upon to make, are very unequally distributed. In this struggle we have borne so large a part that our whole future position in the Mediterranean may be altered. We may have new problems to confront which have never troubled us before. What happened when we asked France, with her Italian frontier now disarmed, in perfect trustfulness on both sides, to mobilise troops again on that border, to 1773 employ all sanctions even to war? She replied, in spite of her imminent danger, when all her thoughts were turned to another question, that if Italy attacked us, she would stand by us and come to our protection.
Meanwhile the demilitarisation of the Rhineland has gone by the board. I wonder how many Members of this House, how many people outside, can realise what that threat means not merely to excited politicians in Paris, but to the French peasant in his hovel, to the mother who feels that once again the danger, the peril, has come near, that once again her children will be mowed down by the scythe of war. It is true that danger has come nearer in Europe because Europe, or so much of Europe, has been occupied with Abyssinia. It is true that any prolongation of this situation brings the peril of Europe daily nearer and nearer, to us as to others, and to ask this country to take measures which would engage all its forces in the far Eastern Mediterranean while this peril comes closer and closer home is, I think, to lose all touch with realities and to sacrifice your country to the vanity of a position which you have taken up and which you are not prepared to re-judge on the basis of new facts. I cannot take that responsibility. I have spoken with profound reluctance. I have spoken under the urge of what has seemed to me to be a duty which I could not escape.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
The party which I represent in this House took up a very definite position in connection with this matter, and pointed out that we had no faith in the League of Nations. We stood alone in this House, occupying what was a somewhat difficult position because of the unanimous view of all the other parties in the House as to the importance of the League of Nations and as to what the League of Nations would be able to do with regard to the assistance of the Abyssinian people. I do not take part in this discussion to say, "We told you so," but I believe that it is important to point out the responsibility that rests upon the Members of this House with regard to the present position in Abyssinia. When the Hoare-Laval question was before the House, the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down took a 1774 very definite position critical of the situation into which the Government had allowed themselves to get. I wonder whether to-day he does not realise that evidently the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), who was Foreign Secretary then, was taking a much wiser view than the view of those who uttered the words of criticism of the right hon. Member for Chelsea on that occasion.
The position is infinitely worse to-day so far as the Abyssinian people are concerned. Yet when the position is so much worse, when there has been done what the late Foreign Secretary suggested had been at the basis of the agreement to which he came, those who criticised on that occasion, because it appeared that the proposals meant the reward of the aggressor, are now taking the position—at least those on the Government side of the House, and I think the Government also— "Well, it is just too bad, but we cannot help it now." This is a most humiliating position for the Government of this country, and for all those people who have put their confidence in the League and have declared that economic sanctions would gradually make things right for the people in Abyssinia, and have persuaded the people of Abyssinia to go on with the struggle in the assurance that Britain was behind them, and that with the aid of other nations things would come right. It is not good enough now to suggest that future policy is to be the under-pinning of the League in order that on a future occasion it may be different. It is necessary for this House to face the situation that has developed.
The realistic conclusion from these events is that the League of Nations has been an absolute failure, and that no underpinning can make the League a suitable instrument for giving peace and security to the world. We have to face this question, and not raise false hopes in the minds of peoples and governments with regard to this instrument. It cannot do it. It is a collection of people with different competitive interests, a collection of governments that represent many conflicting interests, and the League of Nations can never be the instrument of peace in the world. If peoples continue to put their faith in this instrument there will be similar tragedies in future. We had a failure of the League 1775 in connection with China. Japan was the aggressor, and the League proved impotent in providing any protection or security for the people in China against the aggression of Japanese imperialism. Again, here a small people has been sacrificed to a strong nation. The League has turned out to be a miserable pretence, a great hypocrisy which has been responsible for the slaughter of tens of thousands of Abyssinian people. They put their trust in the British Government, and in the French Government, and today their country is in the hands of the aggressor nation.
It is obvious that this Government will not be able to take any material steps to alter the fait accompli, to change Mussolini's decision regarding what is to be done in Abyssinia. Nothing that the Government can do in future will be of any consequence in making things better for the people of Abyssinia. I am amazed at the way in which hon. Members refuse to face the facts. The one thing to do with the League is to bury it. It is a corpse. It has failed on every occasion when it has been up against any real problem. It is an impossible instrument, and deludes people into putting their faith in it when they should be seeking for a real instrument for world peace. What the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said with regard to sanctions was well said, that the people who stand for a policy of sanctions have to face all the responsibility with regard to that policy. Of all the hon. Members of this House there is only one, I think, that I have really heard declare unequivocally in connection with the policy of sanctions, and that was the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). At the beginning he was prepared to face the consequences, to go on with the policy of sanctions, to apply them fully and make them efficient. He was willing to go to war if necessary to make those sanctions effective.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I cannot answer that question for the hon. Member, but I believe he is an honest man, and if the country had gone to war in pursuit of this policy of sanctions he would have 1776 been behind the Government, ready to give every assistance and take whatever part was suitable for him in carrying out that policy. Some of the Members of his party, on the other hand, did baulk at the consequences of sanctions, but always there was this idea that sanctions did not mean war, that somehow or other sanctions would be able to bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion without involving war. I have addressed a good many public meetings in connection with this dispute, and when I declared against the policy of sanctions and said that effective sanctions must involve war, people often came to me afterwards and told me that I had misunderstood the position, that sanctions were really for peace, that by applying sanctions you got peace, and that they did not bring war. But sanctions have not brought us peace, and they never were effective sanctions.
The Government have a great responsibility in connection. with the present situation. Hon. Members above the Gangway pressed the policy of sanctions on the Government again and again. The Government replied to that with the question whether they would still press that policy if those sanctions were to lead to war. The Government always asked Members of the Labour party, "How far would you be prepared to go? Would you press it as far as war? "The Members of the Labour party, as to-day, always evaded the question. When the question was put to them to-day with regard to the maintenance of sanctions and the taking of steps to prevent Italian imperialism from reaping the fruits of its victory, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said, "It is not for me to say what I would do in the circumstances." I do not believe in connection with matters like peace and war, in connection with the great issues involved in a question like this, that this form of Parliamentary evasion is a decent and suitable way of dealing with the question. When a categorical question is put in that form, the responsibility is on the spokesman of the Opposition to indicate definitely how far they are prepared to go with regard to this policy of sanctions.
While the Opposition have taken this line, the Government have also taken an absolutely wrong line. They have helped 1777 the Opposition in fooling the country into believing that they really were going to do something for the Abyssinian people by the imposition of sanctions which they should have known could not materially change the issue unless they were prepared to make the sanctions effective by making them military sanctions. That is my charge against the Government. I hope that out of the present circumstances, and the way in which it has been shown that the League of Nations is an impossible means of making for peace in the world, that the working class movement in this country and other countries will lose all faith in the League and give up all their loyalty to the policy involved in collaboration with the capitalist Governments of the world for the maintenance of peace. The working-class will seek for a working-class peace policy by directing their movement to the struggle against imperialism, by setting itself to capture the power in their own countries, and by changing the economic system from the present system of competition and capitalism.
I hope that the working-class of this country and other countries will learn the lesson that the one way in which the workers will be able to escape another great world war and tragedy such as has happened to the Abyssinian people is by building up a working-class movement that will engage in a struggle with the ruling class. If in every one of the countries there were a working-class movement that was challenging Governments and the economic system in each country, the Governments would not be able to go to war in face of the danger of the overthrow of their economic systems. The British Government stand in a humiliating position, and I appeal to my hon. Friends above the Gangway to give up their faith in this false god, this rotten idol, the League of Nations, and to adopt a peace policy built upon the power of the working-class engaged in a vast struggle for the overthrow of imperialism.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
The House of Commons has seldom heard a more resounding denunciation of the League of Nations than we have just heard from the hon. Member. We had to wait a long time before we heard what he was proposing in order to try and maintain the peace of the world. I am sure that he is 1778 as genuinely in favour of peace against war as any other Member, but I am afraid that, if we have to rely upon international Socialism and the destruction of the capitalist system to end war, it will be too long a time to wait for those who are really anxious to bring peace in our time. I do not think that any words which can be used would be too strong to deal with the present lamentable situation which has arisen in Europe. My hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), in the remarks he made a short time ago, seemed to bring the House of Commons back to the reality of the position. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State began his speech by saying that this was a time to speak plainly and that there was no good mincing words or trying to baulk the difficulties of the situation. When we look at the position as it is to-day, we cannot get away from the fact that the League of Nations, as at present constituted, has undoubtedly failed. It is—to use, perhaps, rather strong language—not going too far to say that it is doomed, damned and dead as it has hitherto been constituted.
§ Sir H. O'NEILL
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait a moment until I have developed my argument. I said, "the League of Nations as it has hitherto been constituted." At the General Election I supported the League of Nations as it was then constituted, because I believed it was possible for it to do something. I am now convinced that in the greatest crisis it has ever had to face it has proved incapable of accomplishing what it set out to accomplish. The hon. Member may or may not believe me when I say that I have been a consistent supporter of the League of Nations ever since the end of the Great War. I have been a member, and still am, of the League of Nations Union; in fact, I am president of the branch of that Union in a large provincial centre. I am most anxious to see a system in Europe which will have a real chance of accomplishing peace.
If we look back on history, it is impossible to get over the fact that what really made the present League of Nations 1779 an impossibility was the defection in its early stages of the United States. The United States were more responsible for the inception of the idea of the League of Nations than any other nation. Not only that, but at the end of the War they entered into a Three-Power Pact guaranteeing France against aggression, and the original conception of the League of Nations largely depended upon the maintenance of that Pact, but the United States left it. Then came other defections—Japan and Germany—so that when difficulties came, the League, as constituted, proved utterly incapable of dealing with them. You cannot have successful collective security unless those who champion it are prepared in the last resort to use force to maintain it. I do not think that that can be denied or argued in any quarter by the strongest supporter of the League of Nations. In view of what has happened, however, we now know that the nations of the world are not prepared to go to the extreme of using force in order to maintain the principle of collective security. That is definitely proved.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham referred to the attitude of France in these recent months. He drew a rather appealing picture of the difficulties of French Government, and he commended the way in which they have done their best to support the League, but I am afraid that the general attitude of this country is that during the difficulties of the last few months France has not played up to her obligations as a member of the League. We, the British Empire, have literally been the only people who have been prepared to stand by the Covenant of the League of Nations with all its obligations. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), in what was a strong party speech, charged the Government with not having lived up to their obligations in support of the Covenant. In my view, this country has nothing with which to reproach itself with regard to the attitude which it has taken, except perhaps in one respect. I agree with the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) that, in snaking the Abyssinian people think that the League could help them, we did undoubtedly deceive them. They have been led on and on to the present catastrophe, in spite of the fact that we 1780 rather gave them to understand that they might be saved through the action of the League of Nations. At the very start of all this trouble there was the difficulty of allowing them to get arms, yet Italy was pouring munitions and men into Abyssinia. In that respect our Government, no doubt believing that the League could effect a settlement, led the Abyssinians to believe that they could be helped.
As a result of what has happened, I certainly agree with the hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench that our prestige has been very much shattered in the world. It obviously has, and I am sure the Foreign Secretary would be the last person to deny that British prestige has very seriously suffered and been very much affected by the lamentable state of affairs which has arisen. Half the world is laughing at us, and the other half is mildly sympathetic. The chief lesson that we have to learn from all this sorry business is that it is no use undertaking commitments of this kind unless we are strong enough to back up our policy with adequate force. That is the one pre-eminent lesson which, it seems to me, arises out of this most unfortunate situation. We know now that the Government, by their policy of very necessary rearmament, are leading the country in the direction in which that will be accomplished.
The future is indeed dark and threatening in the international sphere. One is almost brought back to think of those menacing days before the opening of the Great War, but it may be possible even yet to retrieve the situation, and I would make these suggestions as a way in which it should be met. I First, I think that it should be made clear beyond any question of doubt that this country is not going on supporting the old League of Nations. It is finished; it is done; it has failed; it is dead. We have to look ahead, we must be sensible people in a practical world. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that it is the policy of the Government that the League must continue. I agree—a League, but not the old League, which has failed. He went on to say that it would be the Government's policy to take stock of the situation, which obviously meant enter into discussions with the other Powers of the world with a view to fashioning a new 1781 and better and more effective League of Nations. In any case I think we have to guarantee France and Belgium. Some people say that Britain should clear out of Europe altogether. We cannot do it in this modern world; it is utterly impossible, and our geographical position completely confirms that view. Then we should help both France and Germany, as of course we shall do and are doing, to come, if possible, to a lasting arrangement; and we have to find out the conditions under which Germany would join a reconstituted League of Nations and try to bring that about—a newer and a better League with, if possible, the Powers that matter in it. Above all, we have to cultivate the unity and strength of the British Empire. The independent nations of the British Empire, united and strong, will constitute one of the greatest factors for peace in the world that you can possibly visualise, and in all our policy we should above everything concentrate on our own Empire.
I most heartily endorse and agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said about the futility and the danger of trying now to continue sanctions against Italy. Let us recognise the failure that has taken place, admit it and do our best to try to repair the damage as quickly as possible. If you go in for continuing or accentuating sanctions now you will, as my right hon. Friend very truly said, lead the country into war. I noticed the other day that the League of Nations Union was advocating a policy under which the Government was to urge upon the League of Nations at Geneva next week a policy of closing the Suez Canal. Nobody can know better than the League of Nations Union that there would not be the remotest chance of such a policy being accepted by the nations of the League, and if it was carried out it would have to be carried out by ourselves, and ourselves alone. No, sanctions now had better be dropped. They will lead only to difficulties. The League, the old League, has, by universal agreement, failed. When the Foreign Secretary goes to Geneva next week he will receive, I believe, the support, the prayers and the good will of all responsible people in this country, and they will look to him to lead this nation and, indeed, the nations of the world, back into the paths of peace, 1782 and if he does so he will have carried out one of the greatest accomplishments ever performed by any Foreign Secretary of Britain.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. BULL
As this is the first time I have addressed this House I should like to ask for that indulgence which I have found that hon. Members have always shown a willingness to give to new Members at this most unfortunate moment in their lives. I have been tempted to speak to-day partly because I heard the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) ask the Prime Minister yesterday whether there would be any chance for back-benchers to join in this Debate, and I do hope at all events to please him, as I do not think I can be much farther back than I am here. I had also wanted to speak to-day because I think that I have seen as much of the world as most other hon. Members, and the more I have seen of the world the more convinced I am of what we have all said and know, and that is how lucky we are to live here. I think we should realise that on our foreign policy may ultimately depend our standard of living, our social services and all those things which we in this country prize so highly.
There are many different opinions in the world as to how best to secure peace, and I believe that in most countries it is thought that if reason instead of force is to prevail in the world it will be largely owing to the leadership of Great Britain. Also, I have not found in any other country, or rather in any country which could conceivably be called peace-loving, any opinion that the cause of peace in the world would be better served if Great Britain were weak. The Leader of the Opposition said in May, 1935, that defence depends on foreign policy. In all humility it would seem to me a much more satisfactory way of putting it to say that foreign policy does, or at least should to some extent, depend on defence. It is obviously unsafe for this country alone not to be adequately armed in the world to-day. What on earth is the use of having the finest social services in the world if we are not able and prepared and willing to defend our trade routes, upon which the social services must ultimately depend? I think we are all pacifists here to this extent, that we all 1783 ardently desire peace; but it is not just a question of preserving peace for the next 24 hours, but, rather, of trying to secure a lasting peace for the world. If the Opposition or, for that matter, any one on this side of the House, would give us a formula for collective security, or, indeed, for security of any sort for a great Empire, without expense, they would certainly be doing an inestimable service to the taxpayers of this country.
With regard to the present dispute between Italy and Abyssinia, I do not think that the country will suffer at the hands of world opinion for the policy which the Government has pursued, but we have, I think, gone so far in the cause of peace and justice, as we saw it, that we must be careful that this does not lead to isolation. The policy which the Government pursued was obviously one with which the vast majority of the country agreed, and the Government cannot therefore be blamed now. I should like to say that as a new Member I have very much admired the restraint which has been shown by all sections of political opinion in this House when this quarrel has been discussed. I have heard to-day that it has taught us many lessons, but I think the main lesson it has taught us here is that we can, in a democracy, still attain to some unanimity of opinion on a matter of vital national and Imperial importance without resort to the lead strings of dictatorship.
At this stage in the quarrel I do not think that anyone could possibly accuse Great Britain of only paying attention to international obligations when it was to her interest to do so. After all, Lake Tana, of which we have heard so much, is now in the hands of Italy, and still we are not at war with that country. I do not, however, think that any Abyssinian atrocities made the use of poison gas justifiable. I would go so far as to say that I do not think it will be shown that the use of poison gas was a good thing even from the point of view of expediency itself; and I certainly do not think that it will redound to the credit of Italy or to the credit of European civilisation in the rest of the world. In 1783 Pitt said:Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.1784 I think that statement still holds true. In spite of Italy's apparent success in Abyssinia, it is important that other nations in the world should realise that public opinion in this country is still unalterably opposed to acts of aggression in any form. However, in the words of Woodrow Wilson, "the thing to do now is to supply light and not heat." As has been several times said to-day, in the present unfortunate gate of the world the foreign policy of any great nation, if it is to be resolute and to make itself felt, must definitely have adequate defence forces behind it. It is no good to throw stones at a strong man standing on a pile of rocks unless you have just as good a supply beside you as he has, or unless you are prepared and ready and able to run away. It is not likely—at least I think we have realised it now—that other nations will come to the help of the British Empire if it is in danger, or if it is attacked, unless we are able and ready to do something for ourselves and something to help those who come to help us. It is not a question of picking an enemy; we want to make quite certain that we do not have one, and in my humble opinion that is the best way to do so. We are not arming against any one, but we must remember that all nations are envious of our position today. That in itself is a dangerous position.
I do not wish to make an attack upon any country, but since I have been in this House I have heard a great deal about dictatorship and dictators. I have heard about only two dictators. In my travels I have found that there are in point of fact three dictators. The other one lives in Russia, but we never hear about him. I agree with hon. Members opposite that the menace from Russia is not a war of aggression. I think the actual words were that Russia is a peace-loving nation. I agree with them. The reason is that Russia has many internal problems to settle, and it is possible that a war for her, whether she won or lost, would mean the end of the regime. The danger from Russia is rather the weakening of other countries by subversive propaganda advocating a policy with which Russia finished a long time ago. I have also found that Russia is an excellent place for those at the top. At least, that was my impression.
1785 And now to consider the future. The people of this country are tired of the threat of war, tired of a state of affairs in the world where, in the words of John Gal sworthy,there is such mutual fear that no country dare be generous.Collective security is obviously the best way out, but it must in the future be truly collective, and not, as in the immediate past, through lack of support from other nations, become a mere policy of pin-pricks. I do not agree that the League of Nations should be jettisoned. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say that something will be done to develop it, perhaps on slightly different lines—if I interpreted correctly what he said. This dispute has also shown the attitude of other great nations of the world to war as an instrument of policy, but the Prime Minister has told us that any form of sanctions must hit us harder in volume than any other nation. I suggest also that the risk of war holds greater dangers for us than for any other nation in the world. We have more to lose: our social services, standard of living, Empire and Democracy, things which all other countries do not possess, or, if they do, not to the same extent.
Above all, let us remember in the future that the continued greatness of this country depends upon the continuance of the Empire, and in deciding what our foreign policy will be the welfare of the Empire, considered as a whole, should be uppermost in the minds of all of us. If we do this, and if we can reach some form of agreement with the United States we shall do more for the peace of the world than all the Treaties that have been signed so far have done. Let us hope that such an agreement will not be too late for us, or for them, or for the rest of the world. I would finally thank hon. Members for their courtesy and indulgence. If I have given any offence to hon. Members opposite I will promise to offend again in the near future, so that we may exchange compliments on equal ground.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I would like to compliment the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) upon his speech and to say how courageous he was to take part in a 1786 Debate such as this. A Debate upon foreign policy is the hardest of all, and for the hon. Member to tackle it as he has done to-day shows that he is not lacking in courage. I agree largely with many of the things he said. We want in this House an hon. Member to speak out and say just what he feels. Hon. Members appreciate that. I hope that the hon. Member will address us again when he gets the chance.
This is the second time in my experience in this House that I have spoken upon foreign policy. The last occasion was a few months ago, and was upon the Italian question. I urged the then Foreign Secretary not to be lacking in courage if he wanted support from this House for a challenge to Italy. I said he could call the House together and put his case before us, and that I was sure he would get our support. I could see what was going to happen. Since then things have drifted on until we hardly know where we are. We have heard two speeches which will rank as historical, one from the Opposition Front Bench and the other from the Government Front Bench. We have criticised, through our leading speaker, the policy of the Government in not taking a courageous line of action in the early days of the formation of the League. If we had been strong in our policy, and had told the other nations what the League meant, I do not think we should be where we are at the present time. For instance, in the affair of China and Japan, will any hon. Member on the opposite side say that we took a courageous line in dealing with Japan? No one would say that, and that is one of the matters from which we are suffering.
The next point was when we allowed this Italian man, Mussolini, to go along as he has done. We urged Abyssinia that if they took a stand we would come to their help. I do not think it would have helped matters if we had not said that. Italy would have gone on just the same, and smashed through. It is something on our shoulders. We should have been more courageous than we have been. In reply to that speech, the Foreign Secretary showed more sign of feeling than I have ever seen his show. I am told that the evening papers say: "Foreign Secretary angry." He showed a display of feeling which proved that he had been roused by what was said 1787 from this Front Bench. He did not like the challenge that we had made. If he can prove that the Government have taken the lead, in their policy, which they ought to have taken, I can promise him that I shall be in hearty support of the Government, but we are not satisfied on that point. He put a pertinent question to us and to the party, and the party did not reply to it. It was whether we would have closed the Suez Canal and, if so, whether we would have taken the consequences. At the commencement of the war I would not have agreed to close the Suez Canal, but later on, after we were satisfied that Italy had used poison gas and had broken all the conventions of the modern world, I would have said unhesitatingly: "Yes, close the Suez Canal and take the consequences."
§ Mr. TINKER
I am an individual Member of the House of Commons. I am expressing my own personal views, which must be treated as personal. I have not got an important position upon the Front Bench. When I get there I shall speak for the party. At the moment I am speaking what I feel in this matter, although the hon. and gallant Gentleman can take it from me that many of my hon. Friends think the same way as myself. I should have closed the Suez Canal and have taken all the consequences. It would have given a lead.
§ Mr. TINKER
Yes, put it that way. I should have given a lead to other nations. I should have said: "I am closing the Suez Canal, and I hope you will help us to defend it." Where are we getting Hon. Members talk about sanctions. In applying sanctions we arouse the man, against whom sanctions are applied, to retaliate in whatever way he can. If he can use poison gas, he will. When that comes, what are you going to do? We do not want war. If we have applied sanctions and tried to starve him out, and he retaliates, are you not driving him to war? I must follow to the logical conclusion the sanctions policy, applied rigorously. The nation against whom we apply sanctions 1788 will strike back, if it has the power to do so. When it does so, I think it would be right to follow what has been already done in applying the sanctions. There is no hesitation on my part, and I say to the Foreign Secretary that I would have closed the Suez Canal, after the use of poison gas, and I would have taken the consequences.
It is no use saying to the poor Abyssinians "You are being treated awfully," and then be afraid to go to the far end. I dare say I shall be asked: "Do you say we want more armaments?" I say "Yes, it follows in sequence." That is where I stand. I am convinced of that. With other hon. Members I attended a meeting upstairs a fortnight ago. Two people who have been with the Red Cross in Abyssinia reported to Members of the House of Commons what they had seen. I wish they could have spoken to this House of the atrocities perpetrated by Italians upon the Abyssinians. No one with a spark of manhood could have been satisfied until something was done to protect the Abyssinians. It was deplorable to listen to the statements made about the use of poison gas, yet we come here and talk about what ought to be done without having the courage to do it.
We have criticised the Government because they have not taken us into their confidence. Every time we have dealt with this matter of Abyssinia or the League of Nations we have asked the Government to tell us what they are going to do. Government spokesmen have replied, "We cannot tell you. We must put our statement before the League before we can tell hon. Members here." When we ask them for what they have done, we are told: "We cannot tell you what happened in the inner circle." Nobody actually knows whether Britain has given a lead or not in these matters. Our chief spokesman asked the Foreign Secretary this afternoon to tell us what Britain's policy would be at the League meeting next week. In view of what has happened, and the lack of confidence in the Government, one would have expected the Foreign Secretary to say: "There have been so many blunders in the past, and our actions have been so misconstrued, that I have no hesitation in telling the House of Commons what we are going to do at the next meeting of the League." We have made so many 1789 mistakes that for him to tell us what he intends to put before the League next week would surely do us no harm at all. It would give the world the knowledge of what Britain intends to do. Not only that, it would carry the whole House of Commons with the Foreign Secretary in an effective way of dealing with League of Nations problems.
What is going to happen to-day? The Debate will be wound up, and we shall have no knowledge of what the Government intend to do. We shall read next week about an ineffective League of Nations, and we shall be led to believe that the Government and their supporters have done all that they could, but that others will not rally round them; but all the time we are not taken into the confidence of the Government. The Foreign Secretary asks us to drop partisanship and act as true citizens of the nation. We will willingly do that if the Government will only take us into their confidence and tell us what they intend to do. I think we are entitled to be told. We are led to believe that the Government have some settled policy to put before the League of Nations. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am assuming that they have; I give them credit for having some settled policy. They have heard hon. Members say that they have not; let them remove that impression by telling us what their policy is, and taking us into their confidence.
I ask the supporters of the Government to believe that we on these benches are just as keenly interested in the safety of Britain and the welfare of the League of Nations as anyone on the benches opposite. We criticise the Government because we feel that they are not using the drive that they ought to use in connection with the League of Nations. If they will reassure us by letting us know their plans to-night, they will, I believe, have behind them a united House of Commons. As it is, we shall go into the Lobby against them to-night, because they will not tell us their case. If they would do that, they could go to the League of Nations as the representatives of a united Parliament, to tell them what we intend to do.
We all believe in the League of Nations; to my mind it is the only effective means of stopping war; but it does require that the leading nation of the 1790 world should give a lead to the League of Nations. It includes only three great Powers, Italy, France and Britain. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Russia?"] Yes, I will bring in Russia. Italy has broken her bond. France is on the fence, not knowing which way to turn—afraid of Germany, and wanting Italy as a friend in case Germany should attack her. One can see her point of view. When I was in France during the Great War, I remember looking from the trenches at the ruined church tower of St. Eloi, and asking what was the cause of its condition. I was told that it was one of the remains of 1870. Therefore, I can visualise the feeling of France with regard to Germany. For the moment Italy is not effective, which leaves France and Britain as the only two powerful nations in the League. All the other nations are smaller nations, who are awaiting a decisive lead from this country. If that lead is given and put into effect, I think it will make the League of Nations really worth something, but, if the Government fail to take us into their confidence and let us know what they intend to do next week, they must expect the severe criticism that comes on every occasion from these benches.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am sure the Committee will have listened with interest to the sincere speech of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), but how dangerous were the words that he uttered. That was the reason why I asked him whether he was speaking for his party or for himself. None of the Members on the benches around him seemed desirous of associating themselves with him, so I hope his view was a completely independent one. He used arguments which have been used very frequently by hon. Members on those benches, and almost in his concluding words he urged upon the Government that the League policy should be dictated from this House, and that we should tell the League what we intended to do. In a moment or two I will refer to that attitude of mind, which seems to have been quite disastrous to the fortunes of the League of Nations. He went through the whole paraphernalia of the next election platform of the Socialist party. He reminded us that some eight months ago he rose in his place in this Chamber 1791 and told the Foreign Secretary, "If only you will call the whole House of Commons together and take action against Italy, the House will give you full support." The hon. Member deliberately said that that was his policy, but there again he is urging this country to take warlike action apart altogether from the collective system of the League. He cannot have it both ways. If he means that, he cannot mean that he really believes that the collective nations of the League are prepared to provide ships, aeroplanes and so on to take collective action.
The hon. Member made another interesting statement. He was not prepared to close the Suez Canal on account of the action of Italy in breaking the Covenant, but he is prepared to close the Suez Canal on account of the fact that Italy has been using poison gas. Perhaps I have seen more of poison gas than anyone else in this House. I lived in a gas mask for four consecutive days and nights, and was hardly alive at the end of it; and I have seen thousands of men struggling for their breath and existence. Therefore, I appreciate the feeling of the hon. Member, who has probably seen the same sort of thing. But does he mean that, apart altogether from the Covenant, hon. Members on those benches are prepared to go to war if any nation breaks the laws of war? If so, we are getting on. Again, the hon. Member asked why we did not act in the case of Japan. Really, when one looks at the attitude of mind of hon. Members on those benches, it would appear that any hon. Gentleman who is still young enough—thank God, I am not—will be able to wear so many medals in the days to come that he will be able to pin them, not only all along his breast, but round his back as well. The fact remains that to talk airily in this war-minded way is to delude the people of this country, and I do not think it is fair to the general body of citizens in Great Britain that we should in this way threaten great and powerful nations, from Italy to the Far East, with individual action by this country—for that is what it comes to—without really understanding what the cost is.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I have heard of Lord Palmerston. Lord Palmerston never uttered a threat unless he was prepared with the force to put behind his diplomacy, of which force, thanks to the persistent pacifist attitude of hon. Members on the Labour benches and others in this country during the last 20 years, we have deprived ourselves, and that is why we are suffering a certain degree of humiliation to-day. I do not want to deal with any of the other points in the hon. Member's speech, beyond saying that it is extremely easy for anyone this evening to get up in this Chamber and make most damaging criticisms against the Government because of events in the world over very few of which His Majesty's Government can have had any possible control whatsoever, but I do not know that that is really going to help towards the peace of the world, and certainly it is not going to help our country to a true understanding.
I want to endeavour to put before the Committee views which I believe are held by a large number of people of Conservative opinions who up to the present time have kept quiet, from a patriotic desire not to embarrass those who are conducting our foreign affairs. I believe that the remarkable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain)—although, perhaps, I am and always have been rather more to the Right than he is, and have never quite shared all his hopes—I believe that his speech this evening represented the views of 95 out of every 100 back-bench Conservatives in this House. It was a sincere speech from a man who had great hopes and has done much, but has found that other countries were not prepared to come up to the standard which he set before the world.
When the crisis arose it may not have been, perhaps, a wise policy, but it was obviously a correct policy for the Government to adopt in common with the League nations, to concur in a, decision which meant the imposition of financial and economic ostracism upon Italy. As in the case of an individual, when a nation takes action of which you most strongly disapprove, and is guilty of conduct which you deplore, you can withhold your custom, and you can certainly refuse to lend them money. That was the policy which the Government adopted, and it 1793 was the policy of a large number of member States of the League. But I submit that a great blunder was committed in threatening further action. To have gone one inch beyond that policy, or to have followed the suggestion, made so airily this afternoon, of closing the Suez Canal and blockading Italy, would, it has always seemed to me, have been absolute madness. I told my constituents at the Election that, while I believed in the policy of ostracism, I would not be a party to any policy which might lead us into war —I know too much about war for that; and I believe that the whole opinion of the people of this country was utterly opposed to any adventure that would lead us into war.
§ Mr. TINKER
If the economic sanctions so aroused the State concerned that it declared war for that reason, would not the hon. and gallant Gentleman then consider that he had been the means of bringing about a war?
§ Sir H. CROFT
I am grateful to the hon. Member for his interruption. I have always thought that this policy was dangerous, but, at the same time, I do not think that Italy could have founded a casus belli on the ground of our imposing sanctions by not being prepared to treat her in the normal way, or by not lending her money, and I do not think she would go to war on that account. But if we had said that we would starve her population, cut off her ports, blockade her and starve her out of any possibility of national existence, under those conditions any country would fight, and no country would have been quicker to take that attitude than the country of the hon. Gentleman, who would be the very first, on such an occasion, to support it.
The deadliest blow delivered against the League of Nations ideal was dealt by responsible people in this country, who, by their rash words and by their threats on the platform and in the Press, have made England appear to be the sole enemy of Italy. I say this very sincerely, because I think it has had unfortunate reactions on the Government. It seems to me that it destroys the whole spirit of the League of Nations. If the League of Nations is ever to be a success, it must be because it expresses the spontaneous will of all the nations, but the 1794 school of thought in this country to which I have referred has been all the time endeavouring to coerce His Majesty's Government to go in front of the League, and to coerce the League in turn to take a course of action in which it was obvious from the start, practically none of the member States of the League was prepared to join.
Then, again, the same individuals, in defiance of the whole conception of the League, have insisted all the time and endeavoured to coerce and goad the Government into being the leader of the League. If there is to be a leader of the League, the whole idea of the League of Nations ceases to exist. It becomes once more a group of nations under a dominant Power. It has been a wrong policy to try to drive the Government in this direction. These gentlemen are very sincere. No one will criticise their sincerity. But they appear to regard the League of Nations as the puppet of this country to be manipulated by an organisation of people who have no responsibility for policy here, and who for years have been engaged in a fierce propaganda for disarmament, followed by a still fiercer propaganda for war without arms. I have no criticism of the Government's policy in that they acted with the League. Whether it was wise ever to have given the League these powers is another matter. My criticism of the Government is that they have allowed this school of thought, which did not support them at the election except with very few exceptions, to coerce and stampede them along a line of policy which had the disastrous effect of rallying the whole of the Italian people behind Mussolini. I say with deliberation that the people who voted for the Peace Ballot, organised by the same people, in overwhelming numbers believed that when they were casting that vote they were casting a vote really for peace, and that not 5 per cent. of them imagined that the promoters of the Peace Ballot within a very short time would be urging the country to close the Suez Canal and to enter into a blockade, and take other military actions.
Again, when the Hoare-Laval proposals came before the House, the same school of thought took precisely the same kind of action. They endeavoured to fan public opinion all in a hurry on this subject and, after all, when the Foreign Secretary, with a full sense of the realities, made 1795 that final attempt to save Abyssinia, we found the same school of fierce fanatics pressing views upon the Government, and they did succeed apparently in stampeding the Government into a complete reversal of policy in about 48 hours. We were told in powerful national organs, a few days after these proposals first appeared, of every Member of the House receiving thousands of letters and hundreds of telegrams. I made it my business to ask over 40 Members of the House on that very afternoon how many letters and telegrams they had received. I do not know if the Committee will believe this possible, but in a dozen cases they had received no communications whatever, and in others two or three. One man said he had been overwhelmed with correspondence. I said, "Have you kept it?" He said, "Yes." I said, "Will you go home and see how many letters you have received?" and he rang me up to say that there were a dozen. In my constituency, where there is a stronger branch of the League of Nations Union than in any other constituency, I received a telegram from them, I received six letters urging me to oppose this betrayal of policy and I received three letters asking me to make peace on a basis of realism before it was too late. I hope the Prime Minister will believe this from one who watches political thought, and has done so for 30 years. I believe a great deal too much importance has been attached to these extreme pacifists during the last four or five years.
I want to say what is the moral of the state of affairs in which we find ourselves. Do not be so grossly unfair as to criticise the Government all the time on this subject. Everyone knows that, right or wrong, it is the only Government in the world that has made any attempt to pursue this policy. The moral seems to me to be that the National Government should no longer make itself the tool of these international cranks, but should remember its great national name and look more and more to the British Empire as its salvation in the days to come; secondly, that those fraudulent words "collective security" should be removed from the political dictionary. It gives everyone who does not understand these questions a sort of warm feeling inside to say you have collective security and 50 nations behind you. We heard 1796 to-day how the Greeks, the Turks, the Albanians, and the Yugoslavs were prepared to sail their fleets alongside ours in the Mediterranean. Why delude the people into the belief that there is any machinery as yet in the League of Nations that is going to contribute a single ship, aircraft or man? You know it is not true, so why continue to say there is collective security when no such thing exists? The reason why this country stands in the position it does is that through all the ages statesmen have been frank and truthful with the people. Do not let us continue this fraud of pretending that there is any machinery in the League of Nations which will give added security to the people of this country and let us get back to that real Conservative ideal that your diplomacy has to depend on your strength, and that we have no real hope that, when another country does wrong, there is a martial glint in the eyes of the Portuguese, the Albanians and the other small worthy Powers in the world. They have not the determination to shed a single drop of blood. Let us rely on our own strength. Let us build up the unity of the Empire. Let us make friends with every country in the world where we can. Let us stand by our western commitments, but for Heaven's sake get rid of this positive danger that we, practically alone, will have to take the leading part as the spearhead of international will in every quarrel that takes place in any part of the world.
If we are realists, we shall understand that the Italian adventure has come to a conclusion. I am the last to condone the attitude of Italy from the start in this affair. I regret it exceedingly. Here we are in Africa. We are now to have a huge, new frontier with Italy. Is it not far better that, without in any way condoning her attitude we should make it plain that, provided Abyssinia is to be developed for peaceful purposes, we will endeavour not to make things difficult, not to go on trying to bring her to bankruptcy and make her the sick man of Europe, but try to be neighbourly with her in the days to come. It seems to me that two vital points should be made clear to Italy, that if we are prepared to endeavour to forgive, in spite of everything that has happened. in a neighbourly manner we must have an absolute assurance that Abyssinia is not to be used for 1797 the militarisation of the people, but that the country will be developed in trust for the natives—[Interruption.] I am not afraid of losing the Sudan. This country is perfectly capable of taking care of itself against any possible aggression in that direction, and it will not be attempted.
Now is the time to speak frankly. We have to recognise a fait accompli. Make it clear that you are prepared to be neighbourly, but that it must depend upon the spirit and temper in which Abyssinia is to be developed in the days to come and that the head waters of the. Nile will be preserved. [Interruption.] You want war. I am a man of peace, because I know as much about war as the hon. Member. Now is the time to face facts. If you adopt a policy something like this, I believe it may lead towards a more peaceful feeling in the whole of Europe, but if you neglect to face realities, if you go on nagging and attempting to bring Italy completely to ruin, you are putting your country on top of a volcano, and God knows how great the peril may not be. I hope, therefore, we shall be wise and face facts as they are, and endeavour to build up afresh on wisdom, and that we shall in future adopt only such measures and such words, in our dealing with foreign countries, as we know we are capable of fulfilling, and that we shall not make idle threats that will start a new cause, but try to make friends with all the great Powers of the world and bring peace between them.
§ 8.26 p. m.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
I feel very much the grave responsibility which attaches to any hon. Member who takes part in this Debate upon the very grave and serious subject with which we are concerned. This Debate far transcends the narrow lines of party criticism, but at the same time criticism there must be. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary have both acknowledged the immunity from criticism which they have enjoyed during the events which have led up to the present situation. But now we are face to face with what is, in effect, the complete breakdown of our foreign policy, and if any one should think that these words are too strong, I say they are confirmed by the speech to-night of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West 1798 Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). If a former British Foreign Secretary is reduced to making such a completely defeatist speech as that to which we listened from the right hon. Gentleman, I can only say that we are indeed confronted with the breakdown of British foreign policy.
I recall in a previous debate upon foreign policy that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about bluffing and about waving an unloaded revolver, and said that before we took risks we must be sure that our weapons would shoot. I would remind the Committee that the Prime Minister has said that you cannot have a sanction which is not in itself an act of war. To-day we have heard the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary assure the House that he has been foremost in giving the lead in the applications of sanctions to Italy, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us that the Foreign Secretary has done all this without being sure that the League guns will shoot. If that is so, I ask who has been bluffing? In the Debates on the Budget the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer rebuked Members of the Labour party for constantly bringing matters relating to foreign affairs into their Budget speeches. In my opinion it was our duty to do so, since to-day we are confronted with a breakdown in our foreign policy for which there is literally no precedent since the loss of the American colonies and the humiliations of those days.
We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a previous debate to read the debate of October, 1935. That is always a safe thing to say when in difficulties as few Members have time to read old debates, but I have done so, and in one or two particulars I should like to comment upon the speech of the Foreign Secretary to-day. The burden of his defence was very largely that until May, 1935, in the matter of the Italian-Ethiopian dispute, we had no knowledge of anything except the Wal-Wal incident, and that until May, 1935, that was the only matter of which our Government had knowledge or with which they were called upon to deal. He said that until May, 1935, the Government thought that there was no threat to Ethiopia and there was nothing but the dispute about Wal-Wal in 1799 question. What about the speeches of Signor Mussolini before that date? Had our Intelligence Services nothing to tell the Government of the preparations that were going on in 1934. Were there no reports from the Suez Canal authorities as to the nature of Italian shipments and traffic through the Canal? Had our Government no knowledge whatever of what the French Prime Minister went to Rome about in January, 1935? In view of those facts, and they are facts, is the Foreign Secretary still prepared to say, that until May, 1935, the Government had no knowledge of anything but the frontier incident of Wal-Wal.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, in replying to questions as to why this matter was not taken up at Stresa, said that this subject was not on the Agenda Paper there because the dispute was entirely confined to this minor frontier incident. But as the right hon. Gentleman has also told the House that prior to Stresa France had disinterested herself economically in Ethiopia and had received a valuable quid pro quo for doing so, are we to be told that at Stresa there was nothing but a minor frontier incident in dispute? If it was only a minor frontier incident, for what did France disinterest herself economically in Ethiopia? If the Foreign Secretary knew nothing more than that until May, 1935, he must have received a very rude awakening when he visited Rome in June, 1935. He was not then Foreign Secretary. That was at the time when we had a Foreign Secretary and the right hon. Gentleman was Minister for League of Nations Affairs. The position always reminded me of the two kings of Barataria in the Gondoliers. At that time the present Foreign Secretary was the king who sang "The privilege and pleasure which I treasure beyond measure is to run on little errands for the Secretary of State." He went on one of those errands to Rome in 1935, when perhaps for the first time in his life he met a complete realist in Signor Mussolini who, if I am informed correctly, informed him that he intended to make the word "Abyssinia" a geographical expression and nothing else.
When the present situation in Ethiopia and the failure of the policy of sanctions have been referred to to-day, I have 1800 heard rather encouraging cheers from the opposite side, as if hon Members felt that that was something upon which this country should congratulate itself. They consider that this troublesome business about Ethiopia has taken up so much of our time and has become such a bore that they are really glad that the whole thing has come to an end, as they imagine. I wonder whether they stop to consider what very unpleasant possibilities for this country are contained in the news from Ethiopia. Have they stopped to think about the very formidable air base now established on the flank of our route to the Far East? Are they congratulating themselves upon the new neighbour which this country has acquired in Africa? Do they think that our future negotiations with the Government of Egypt will be facilitated by the establishment of this new Power in Ethiopia? We have made, by our handling of this business, an enemy of Italy. Is that going to facilitate our future position in the Mediterranean? Do those who are so glad to think that this war, as they hope, at an end, view with equanimity the formation, the arming, training and equipping of a large black army by Italy? Do they ever stop to think of these considerations, so fraught with peril for this country, when they are cheering the news that we have had to listen to in the last few days? If so, I beg them to reflect a little more before they cheer.
Let me turn to the real crux of the situation at this moment. We have not only the Ethiopian question to consider. The great anxiety lying ahead of this country at the present time is the negotiations with Germany, which have been postponed over the French elections, but which will have to be resumed at some not far distant date. Are we to go into those negotiations with the same team as has been responsible for the present complete breakdown of our foreign policy? The ruler of Germany is a more formidable figure than the ruler of Italy and commands more formidable human and material resources. We have yet to carry out negotiations with him. Are the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who have led us to this utter ruin, this complete breakdown of our foreign policy, which we are contemplating this evening, to be the right hon.
1801 Gentlemen who are to negotiate on behalf of this country with Germany when the time comes? The Prime Minister tried one policy about Ethiopia, with the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) as the Foreign Secretary. It was a complete failure. He has tried another policy, with the present Foreign Secretary, and that has broken down too. Yet these same gentlemen are to conduct the difficult and delicate negotiations with the German Government. If hon. Members opposite do not go so far as to agree that a Government of a new political outlook is necessary at this moment, I believe that many of them in their heart of hearts will agree that a reconstruction of the existing Government is necessary in order to evolve a coherent, logical basis for our future foreign policy. In this connection I would say that at this juncture, when our foreign policy has to be reconstructed, when a new basis for that foreign policy has to be evolved and laid down, it is of the utmost importance that the Dominion Prime Ministers should be at once called into consultation to shape that foreign policy, so that when we go forward with these negotiations with Germany, we may know exactly where the Dominions stand, and what they are prepared to do in any eventuality that arises. There is no immediate hurry about the negotiations with Germany. There is time for us to consult the Dominions.
France can be told that she can wait. She has brought the present situation entirely upon herself, and she can fairly be told to wait while we consult the Dominions. In saying that, I recognise the necessity that we in this country should keep in step with France. It is still a vital principle of our foreign policy that the Channel ports must be in the possession of either a weak or a friendly naval Power. Therefore, I recognise that we must keep in step with France. But in thinking of that country and of the difficulties that we have encountered on account of her vacillations and delays during the past year, I am reminded of the sorely tried Arab who invoked Allah the all-merciful about his wife and said:What is this creature you have made, whom I can neither live with, nor without?In asking for a reconstruction of the Government, for the development of a 1802 firm basis for our foreign policy, I submit that we must develop in that policy a technique which will enable democratic governments to stand up to the dictatorships. We think that democratic government is the best form of government, but at the present time we are forced to admit that the dictators are winning all along the line. Therefore, democracy must develop a technique that will enable it to stand up to the dictators. We need not suppose that the ruler of Italy is going to be gorged with the meal that he has made of Ethiopia. We need not think that the ruler of Germany will be satisfied when he has refortified the German Rhineland. Appetite grows with eating, and the three hungry countries to-day, Japan, Germany and Italy, which are living under dictatorships, are the three countries that want the things that we have got. Therefore, we have in self defence to develop a foreign policy and a technique of government which will enable us to stand up to the dictators.
As regards the immediate situation with which we are confronted—the flight of the Emperor, the breakdown of his Government in Ethiopia—I wonder what the Government are proposing to do. The Emperor is in flight, after putting his trust 100 per cent. in the League of Nations and contributing £100,000 to its funds. Having trusted to the promises which he received from white Governments, it is tragic and humiliating to think that his faith and his trust have been betrayed. May I here quote a remark made by the Foreign Secretary in the last Debate that we had on foreign affairs. He said:This tragic war may be found to have played an important part in establishing a lasting peace."—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 6th April, 1936; col. 2514, Vol. 310.]Another war to end war. What a consolation it must be to the Ethiopians at this moment reeling under the impact of mustard gas, to think that their sacrifices have not been in vain, because out of them the white Governments may yet establish a lasting peace.
I apologise for having detained the Committee perhaps unduly long, but I should like to ask the Government whether they still abide by some of the statements that they have made in connection with this matter. The Foreign 1803 Secretary has told us that an indispensable condition of a settlement of the Italo-Ethiopian dispute is that the terms of settlement shall be consistent with the Covenant of the League. He has told us that this is a vital test of the efficacy of the League. Do the Government still stand by that statement? We have been told from the Front Bench opposite that when peace terms come to be negotiated between Italy and Ethiopia, those terms must be acceptable to Italy, Ethiopia and the League. Is that still the policy of His Majesty's Government? If so, can we be told to-night how exactly they propose to implement that policy and how they propose to go about it to see that the terms of the settlement are acceptable to the League?
I conclude by urging once again that at least a reconstruction of the Government should take place, so that our foreign policy may be placed upon some coherent, logical basis. I believe that that foreign policy must centre round the League, and I hope with all my heart that the new foreign policy, when we see it, will be one which will command the agreement and support of my hon. Friends on this side of the House. I could hope for nothing more than that, because nothing could be of greater import for the future of this country and the world. We used to hear a great deal about the continuity of foreign policy. I hope that the Government will establish the foreign policy of this country upon such a basis that when the time comes for my hon. Friends on this side of the House to take over the reins of government, they will be able to continue that foreign policy without doing violence to our beliefs and principles. But whatever may be the development of British foreign policy in the days to come, it must centre round the League. We must not give that up. If the Government cannot see eye to eye with us in that matter and put before us a foreign policy which has the League as its sheet anchor, we shall go to the country and rally to our side all those powerful forces behind the League which exist in this country.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
The hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) has expressed the hope that the foreign policy 1804 of this country would be developed in accord with the views of his own party. If our foreign policy find accord with the electors of the country we shall be content, but if their foreign policy was such as to accord with the views expressed by the hon. and gallant Member or of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) and other Members of the Opposition, it would ruin their party once more at the polls.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
May I remind the hon. and gallant Member that before the Government went to the country last November they took care to secure the assent of the Labour party for their foreign policy and fought a successful election upon it?
§ Captain BALFOUR
I cannot possibly agree with the hon. and gallant Member for I should say that it was some sections of the Labour party which ranged themselves behind the main proposals of the National Government in regard to foreign policy and so increased their strength at the polls, but the Labour party are so divided on this question that the country does not know really where they stand.
§ Lieut.-Commander FLETCHER
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must consult with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as to which comes first, the cart or the horse.
§ Captain BALFOUR
The hon. and gallant. Member forgets that I have had the Trade Union Congress in my constituency and quite contradictory views were enunciated upon our foreign policy. Sir Walter Citrine said that the Labour party might have to go to war, whereas the right hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. T. Johnston) said that that was a stupid policy, because it meant that the Labour party could not possibly vote against the armament requirements which the National Government would ask for. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said that no one could take any pleasure or pride in speaking in the Debate to-day. I cannot agree with the hon. Member. May I be pardoned a personal reference. I feel particularly proud to be able to take part in the Debate because 68 years ago my great grandfather, Lord Napier, marched as a conqueror into Abyssinia. When his objects were achieved he withdrew. The inhabitants were not persecuted, and Lord 1805 Napier and his troops left behind a legacy such as British expeditionary forces have always left in all parts of the world, a legacy of fairness and justice. To-day Abyssinia is again conquered, but this time ravaged by gas and bomb, with all the brutalities of modern warfare, with ruin and pillage throughout the country. Every one must have a feeling of humiliation when we remember that in 1924 we returned to the Empress of Ethiopia the Crown which was captured by Lord Napier from King Theodore as a token of good will between ourselves and that country.
Now Abyssinia has looked to this country as one of those who would help her in her hour of trial, and she has looked with little success. But the admission of a feeling of humiliation in relation to the position of European countries and Abyssinia need not in any way divert us from taking a realistic view of the actual situation and of the policy which should be pursued. As the Foreign Secretary has said, we have to take stock of the situation. We do not know what the Government's policy is going to be on the 11th May at Geneva, and I think it is right in the circumstances, that we should not be told what the policy may be. But the situation has passed beyond the point of government policy. I think it has passed now into the realm of the responsibility of each individual Member as to where he stands in relation to his constituency and the pledges upon which he was returned at the last Election. Many of us at the last Election were pledged to support and believed in the principle of collective security under the League of Nations. I thoroughly agree with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) that events have shattered that belief. The present position has been reached not because this country has not done enough, which is the accusation of hon. Members opposite, but rather, broadly speaking because we have tried to do too much. The fault lies in having attempted to do too much.
There has been too much idealism on the part of this country and the public, and on the part of the Government, and, indeed, on the part of some European Governments as to what the nations of Europe to-day are ready to accept. The fault has been in having created machinery for the League before public 1806 opinion in this country or abroad was ready and willing to face the ultimate obligations of what that machinery might entail; before public opinion in this or other countries was willing to face the result of the final product of the grinding of the wheels of that machinery. It must ultimately mean that we are to be involved in any dispute in any part of the world, even if we were not directly concerned. It is a grand ideal, but at the present time the public opinion of the world—and it may be deplorable, but we have to face facts as they are—is not yet ready for such a state of affairs. In the unknown future and to some unstated degree I am convinced that a system of collective security will come about as the result of one or two causes. It will be the result of either peaceful education, which is the desire of all, or as the result of the lessons and shocks of another war through the lag between willingness and the needs of a situation. Meanwhile, I support the views which have been expressed by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham.
It is better to admit three things: First, the failure of sanctions as applied. They cannot have any decisive result; and they cannot now lead to any positive decision. All they can do is to continue to aggravate the situation and bring the system of collective security into greater disrepute than it was before. They have no prospect of having any decisive effect. Therefore, I submit that it is better frankly to admit failure; and, secondly, to start again with a reformed League machinery, trying to learn from the lessons of the past and building up that machinery only to the extent that public opinion in this country and other countries is willing to go. It may be that we shall have to exclude wide military obligations such as are now contained in Article XVI of the Covenant. Thirdly, I think we come back to that to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham referred, namely, a system of regional pacts within the structure of the League, each regional pact being carefully weighed and agreed, and developed in so far only as public opinion in this country and the other countries concerned is willing to go. That may be a balance of power policy, but it is also a balance of right that we are so able to achieve. Unfortunately, public opinion in the different countries is not 1807 yet prepared to see its safety and resources jeopardised for the sake of right some 4,000 or 5,000 miles away where it is not intimately concerned. It may be that people ought to be so concerned, but I believe our duty in this House is to develop these things under democracy only so far as public opinion will allow.
We may have been too hopeful and too forward, but I believe that when in the future we look back on these days we shall believe that the failure was worth while, because from every failure, if one has the intention to go forward, nothing but good and increased knowledge can come. I believe that if we had over again the same circumstances that we have had during the last two years the Government would not be doing wrong if they did the same things over again. We have two national characteristics. The first is a form of liability to overdevelopment of idealism, and the second is the quality of commonsense. The first of these characteristics has possibly led us too far too quickly, and I believe the second of them will now come into play, and that the two combined will bring us into a state in which we shall look upon the debates of these days and say that His Majesty's Government, in their wisdom, were working out a sound policy, not going beyond that which the House of Commons and public opinion would support, and that in doing this the Government were representing the best interests of this country and, still further, the best interests of peace.
§ 8.59 p.m.
I will detain the Committee only for a few minutes. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has told us that in this matter Great Britain has taken the lead, and I think that is a claim we can all admit. But taking the lead creates the greater responsibility, and in that connection I wish to express in a few words the questions which are forming themselves in the minds of thousands of men and women in this country who are indifferent to the party dog-fight but who are intensely sensitive to their country's honour. The questions are the following, and they concern the past in the first place. If the responsibility for taking the lead devolved upon His Majesty's 1808 Government, why was that lead not announced earlier? If the late Foreign Secretary had made his speech of 11th September, 1935, nine months, six months or even three months sooner, would it not have stopped the war? And must we not learn the lesson for the future of not again being too late in making a clear declaration of policy? We are also asking, when we consider our responsibility to Abyssinia, why, when the Foreign Secretary and His Majesty's Government recognised that the best that they were likely to be able to obtain generally, from the nations of the League, was a very partial imposition of sanctions, did they impose an embargo on arms to Abyssinia three months before the outbreak of war, so that Abyssinia could not provide herself the protection which the League failed to provide for her? Then we ask ourselves why the proposal for an oil sanction was again deferred until November, and even then not pressed? The Noble Lord suggested the other night that it was because there was non-co-operation on the part of America. What further steps could President Roosevelt have taken that he did not take to make clear that virtually, although not nominally, he was prepared to co-operate with the League in the imposition of an oil sanction, if the League had shown the way, by restricting oil to the normal exports? But the past is, after all, not what matters, and our minds are concentrated on the future. I wish to say here that. I feel that the right hon. Gentleman has given less information than this House is entitled to expect as to the policy he intends to adopt at the meeting of the League Council next week. At the last meeting of the League Council he said:Governments must prepare to shoulder the responsibilities and clearly to state the policy which they are prepared to pursue.Obviously, if a policy is to be collective it cannot be predetermined, but has this House not a right to know a little more as to what are the Government's intentions? The assembled governments on the occasion to which I have just referred must have held their breath to hear more from the Foreign Secretary, but all that they were told was that the Government wereready and willing to consider, together with their fellow Members of the League 1809 the imposition of any further economic sanctions that may be considered necessary and effective.Considered necessary and effective by whom? To whom was the initiative left of proposing what could and should be done? Is the same thing to happen next week? Is the representative of His Majesty's Government going to leave it to perhaps Haiti, Denmark, or Holland, or other small States Members of the League to propose a definite policy, and if the Government have formed, as we are bound to believe they have formed, general opinions as to what is possible and practicable, is this House not entitled to be given some idea as to what are those general lines of policy?
Is the way to be made as easy or as hard as possible for the transgressor? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) spoke as though those of us who plead for a policy of maintained and intensified sanctions were asking that the entrance of the Suez Canal should even now be blocked. I have not heard one hon. Member who has so far spoken in the Debate suggest that that is possible in the present circumstances. But are we to understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham thinks that if even the present sanctions were maintained they would be the cause of war; that if those economic and financial sanctions were strengthened as far as possible, Italy would make that a cause for war? What public opinion in this country profoundly resents, I believe, is the idea that because Italy has triumphed she must be allowed to take her place at the Council table of the League as though nothing had happened; that with hands still red with the blood of innocent civilians who have been slaughtered with bombs and poison gas in open defiance of the League she should be invited to co-operate in future with the League in providing means of defence against other aggressors and safeguards against other violations of international law.
If that be the policy of His Majesty's Government; if everything is to be wiped out; if she is to be made to feel that we are only anxious to regain her forfeited friendship—that will be a profound shock to public opinion in this country. There are some sacrifices which 1810 the men and women of this country are willing to make. But they are deeply sensitive on the point of national honour. If the League, in future, is to consist of a number of regional pacts between little groups of countries, where is support to be found for it from the people of this country or from the small nations in the League who may be left out of or taken into these pacts, or from the coloured peoples of our own Empire? Are the Government going to disregard the warning given by General Smuts the other day? France and Germany, perhaps, can afford to turn their eyes only to what is happening in Europe but can this country, as the leader of the greatest coloured Empire in the world, afford to do so?
Those are questions which countless men and women are asking themselves to-day. I am sure many other hon. Members have had the same experience, but I find that there is hardly a post which does not bring to me a sheaf of letters from men and women, constituents of mine, whose names and whose party politics I do not know, and who write as though this was something that cuts them to the quick. They express themselves as being ashamed of themselves and of the Government and they are waiting, as a last hope, to see what the meetings of next week will bring forth. I ask the right hon. Gentleman or the Noble Lord to give us some kind of assurance as to the line of policy which the Government are going to adopt and to assure us that, at any rate, it will be in accord with their former declarations. It is not only a question of Abyssinia being lost. A much greater thing may be lost. The whole future of collective security and of international law and order may be lost if no steps are taken to bring home to Italy that in the long run aggression does not pay.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BERNAYS
I agree entirely with what has been said by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) about the condition of public opinion on this question. It is profoundly disturbed and shocked by what has happened. I suppose it is the greatest humiliation we have suffered since Smyrna in 1922. But surely if we face the question we must realise that every party has to bear a share of the responsibility for what has happened. What 1811 my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said about the unreality of this policy of sanctions is perfectly true. I was fortunate enough to have been at Geneva when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) gave that magnificent lead to the world, but few of us realised at the time the implications of that speech. We thought we were going to enjoy all the moral fervour of a crusade without any of the dangers and discomforts. The logical postscript to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was surely a declaration that behind that speech was the pledge that Great Britain would throw in the whole of the resources of her Army, Navy and Air Force against an aggressor. But what did we do We all went off to our constituencies—Members of every party—and told our constituents that in no circumstance would we support military sanctions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall be interested to hear that any Leader of the Opposition made a declaration in favour of military sanctions. The proviso to which I have just referred made all our protestations that aggression would not pay mere humbug, and Signor Mussolini knew that they were humbug. We heard from the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) that the Dominions are very concerned about what has happened. We are entitled to ask what the Dominions have done to assist the policy of sanctions. Only this week we heard at Question Time that South Africa is actually paying a subsidy to Italian ships.
It is exactly the same with French public opinion. Hon. Members opposite say that their hearts are gladdened by the results of the French elections. If they had listened to some of the speeches made from the Left at the French elections they would not pitch their hopes so high. There is not a French leader of the Left who has made any declaration that he is in favour of military sanctions, and we know from the past history of French Governments that the more they change the more they are the same thing. Surely this is the real and essential issue in this matter—that a dictator who is not afraid to lose his head will always win against politicians who are afraid to lose their seats. That applies to all parties.
There is a disposition, which I think very unkind, to blame my right hon.
1812 Friend the Foreign Secretary for what has happened. But he did not create the conditions which followed the Hoare-Laval proposals. He inherited them and, with immense courage and inexhaustible patience, he has battled with them. They have temporarily beaten him, but they would have beaten anyone, and I say, deliberately, with the memory of the Hoare-Laval proposals in mind, that if he had been in control from the first and able to handle foreign affairs from the first, in the masterly way in which he has handled them during the last few months, and if he had been backed from the first by an enthusiastic and united Cabinet, it might well be that we should not be suffering this humiliation to-day. It is natural that the Opposition should strive to make the utmost party capital possible out of the present situation, but I think my right hon. Friend exploded their oil ship this afternoon. Their main complaint is that we have not given a lead. What sort of lead would they like? They have never answered that interjection of my right hon. Friend—would they or would they not close the Suez Canal?
As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is not Signor Mussolini's view that we have not taken the lead. He talked about 50 nations led by one and can anyone who knows the circumstances at Geneva doubt that, if we had not given a lead, there would have been no sanctions at all. It is said that our prestige has suffered more than that of any other country. Why has not the prestige of France equally suffered? Of course it is only ours because we have given the lead. Hon. Members opposite as well as the Government are in the dock on this issue. What did they do to introduce a spirit of realism in the electorate at the last Election? At that Election they relied for victory on two contradictory slogans— "Disarm" and "Stop the war with strong action."
The confusion of the appeal of the Labour Opposition was well illustrated in the City of Bristol, in which place my constituency is. In Central Bristol, on one side of me, I had a Labour candidate who was in favour of economic sanctions; in East Bristol the Labour candidate was against all sanctions; and in my own constituency I had a Labour candidate who was in favour of economic sanctions as long as they did not apply to food. That confusion of mind and of appeal was 1813 typical of them throughout the whole country. The only question on which the Opposition were united was that a vote for the National Government was a vote for war. That was the inspiring message given to the country by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), and in order to drive home this point with greater force to the electorate, at any rate in Bristol, they placarded the hoardings with posters, in admirable taste, depicting Flanders poppies on war graves, and underneath, the slogan "Election Crosses or Wooden Crosses?" That was helpful was it not? That was calculated to produce a spirit of realism on this vital question!
The Covenant of the League will never rule the world as long as men are not prepared in the last resort to fight for it and even to die for it. It is because Herr Hitler knew that we were not prepared to die for the treaty that he invaded the demilitarised zone. It is the same reason that drove Signor Mussolini, in spite of all the warnings, to the action that he has taken in extinguishing with every fiendish weapon of modern civilisation the independence of Abyssinia. Is it really an occasion for surprise that the Dictators do not take us very seriously? Here is the Opposition, one day bankrupting their vocabulary in abuse of Mussolini, but when it comes to paying even for reconditioning the Mediterranean Fleet they suddenly remember the Pacifist vote and shamble off into the "No" Lobby. I wonder what value Herr Hitler attaches to our enthusiasm for the Covenant when he reads that the Pacifist propaganda in this country is so widespread that it is difficult even to recruit for our tiny professional Army and that the fiercest objection is raised by the party opposite to any proposals that the attractions of life in the Forces should be laid before the unemployed. The Dictators have kicked the League and found it, not granite, but paper, and for that the party opposite must bear a substantial share of responsibility.
What is to happen now? I do not want to sound the note of party polemics to the end. [An HON. MEMBER: "Carry on!"]. I hope that afterwards a, Member of the party opposite will carry on and answer some of the things that I have said. The failure of this experiment in collective security concerns far more 1814 than the fate of the Government or the future of the Opposition. The great majority of us, in whatever quarter of the House we are sitting, have passionately hoped and believed in the League as the one system that would substitute for the rule of force the rule of law in international relationships. To-day we see all our efforts smashed before our eyes, and it is, I suggest, our urgent part, immediately, to do what we can to piece things together again.
I have usually found myself in agreement with the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), and I listened with great attention to the forceful plea that he made this evening, but I did not agree with him. I do not think that the time has come immediately to lift economic sanctions. Why should we take them off now? The right hon. Gentleman said, as far as I could understand him, that if we kept them on, it would mean war. Why should it mean war now any more than it has meant war in the last six months? After all, Signor Mussolini is not in a comfortable position. With whom is he to negotiate in Abyssinia? He is very much in the position of Bismarck after the capture of Paris. There is no effective Government, and there is no immediate prospect of one, and it will be very many months, possibly years, before Mussolini will be able to withdraw any substantial proportion of his troops from Abyssinia.
In the meantime the threat on Italy's European frontier becomes more menacing with very month of German rearmament. After all, that is where her danger lies. Just as in the War we could capture Mesopotamia, Palestine, and the German Colonies, and they were no compensations if we lost the Channel ports, so now, in the case of Italy, the subjugation of Abyssinia is no recompense to Italy for the occupation of Austria, and Black Shirts in Addis Ababa are no compensation for Brown Shirts on the Brenner Front. Italy is in desperate need of the League's protection. She wants the Stresa front reconstructed, she wants money, she wants too the removal of sanctions. These have become even more burdensome with the passage of time. One can see that in the Italian propaganda, which is becoming increasingly vitriolic. Mussolini must realise that the position will be far more unbearable now that victory is won than 1815 it was before, and it will not be so easy for him now to say that sacrifice is necessary to sustain the gallant troops. The people of Italy will be tempted to say, "We have won our great victory, and still there is hunger and want. Need we win so many victories?"
There is still a chance, if Mussolini is compelled to negotiate peace within the framework of the League, that something can be saved out of the wreck, and I do say, in answer to the very powerful speech of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, that surely it is an argument that needs consideration that sanctions can still be a most powerful bargaining weapon. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), in a most vigorous speech on the eve of the Election, defined his policy on sanctions as "All the way with all the lot," and I suggest that our policy with regard to sanctions now should be "As many sanctions as we can for as long as we can." To raise sanctions at this moment, to sit down with Signor Mussolini, who has broken every law of God and man, and try to reconstruct the Stresa front and make a joint attempt with him to consider action against an aggressor, is, to my mind, unthinkable. It would be an outrage upon the conception of the public law in Europe, and that conception could not survive.
It is difficult to propound a policy in these uncertain days with any feeling of confidence. I believe that it was Geothe who said that to be uncertain was to be uncomfortable, but to be certain was ridiculous, and at the cost of being ridiculous I am going to propound as briefly as I can a policy with regard to the future. The fate of Abyssinia shows clearly that the countries of the League will not operate military sanctions except when their own interests are in grave and immediate peril. Let Great Britain state that fact at Geneva plainly. Let us decide where it is that we are prepared to intervene with swift and slashing force, and let other nations do the same.
I would like to see the creation of what I might call a Channel State, consisting of Holland, Belgium, France and ourselves, united by firm guarantees of military action against any invading nation declared an aggressor under the Covenant of the League. I am bound to 1816 confess that in cases of aggression outside that area, in view of what has happened, we ought to limit ourselves to economic and general sanctions. In other words, we have got to inaugurate a policy of a sliding scale of guarantees, but, above all, whatever our policy is, let the Government tell the country plainly what the policy is, what it is that they propose to do for our safety. The most dangerous confusion exists in the minds of the electors. I have seen it in the last few days at Peckham. Hecklers at meetings of all parties have be en shouting at one and the same time for the closing of the Suez Canal and wholesale disarmament. And the ordinary thinking man, too, is completely bewildered about what is the end of British foreign policy. To him it seems like a map in the "Hunting of the Snark."
War will be prevented only on one condition—that the British Government state, without a shadow of peradventure, in what circumstances and conditions they will go to war. That is the only language, unfortunately, which dictators understand. Let the Government state its policy and stand by it. There has been a slight tendency in the past in the record of the Government to alter or modify their action according to victory or defeat at a chance by-election. The Cabinet of this country are the Government, and not the electors at a by-election. Let them carry out a clear-cut policy. If the country does not like it, it can reject it and put in the party opposite at the next General Election, and see how they like that. But while the Government are in power let them at least use their power for the honour and safety of the people who gave them their support in such generous measure six months ago. Our people have never yet failed to respond to a lead. The shape of things to come depends on the extent to which the British Government at this moment are prepared to give that lead.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. FOOT
There is one part of the speech of my hon. Friend opposite with which I, and also I think my hon. Friends in this part of the Committee, entirely agree, and that is the appeal which he made to the Foreign Secretary for the steadfast maintenance of the present sanctions until a settlement is 1817 achieved within the framework of the League. He began his speech by paying a great tribute to the Foreign Secretary. It is the fervent hope of those who sit in this part of the Committee that when the news comes from Geneva on Monday next we shall find that that tribute has been justified. There have been references to the amazing and deplorable speech made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). I am sorry that he is not in his place. I gather that the right hon. Gentleman, far from having further sanctions, would destroy the existing sanctions, and he pointed the finger of scorn at hon. Members here because of the line we were taking.
The Committee will remember clearly the debates which took place on this subject last July. Last July it was the right hon. Gentleman who took the lead in advocating a policy of sanctions. I well remember the speech, a speech which helped to change the trend of policy in this country, which did more than anything else to affect the mind of the Government at that time, a speech which the right hon. Gentleman delivered on 11th July last year, when he said that this Abyssinian business was a test case for the League and that if the League failed Abyssinia then the League was a broken reed on which no nation could rely. Whoever could say "Drop sanctions now" it does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman who led us in that policy in July. Even last December, when we were discussing the Hoare-Laval plan, when sanctions had come into operation, the right hon. Gentleman came and took part in our deliberations, and he did not say one word of protest or warning to the House at that time.
But it has been staggering in this Debate to hear some of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, and to realise how lightly they are prepared to abandon the enterprise to which the League has set its hand and to which they themselves set their hands at the time of the Election. That was not the spirit in which we entered on this matter last September. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs quoted from the famous speech of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) on 11th September. He quoted the famous words: 1818In conformity with its precise and explicit obligations, the League stands, and my country stands with it, for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had read out the sentence which follows. It has some bearing on the present situation. I am not suggesting that he deliberately left it out. The speech went on:The attitude of the British nation in the last few weeks has clearly demonstrated the fact that this is no variable and unreliable sentiment, but a principle of international conduct to which they and their Government hold with firm, enduring and universal persistence.That statement was made on behalf of this country last September. I am not going to weary the Committee with quotations from speeches that were made by the leaders of the National Government during the General Election. One has only to look at, for instance, the speech which the Prime Minister made to the Peace Society in October, or at the broadcast of the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President of the Council, or at the utterances of almost any Minister during the election, to see the tremendous emphasis that was being placed upon this support of the collective peace system. Do they not realise at this time that we entered into this matter for better or for worse? Did they not contemplate that it was possible that the Italians might reach Addis Ababa?
It is rather difficult to understand the view that hon. Members have. Apparently, they regard a system of collective security as a sort of obstacle race in which certain obstacles and difficulties are put in the way of the aggressor; if he can get over them in a given time, he is given a prize amid the plaudits of the onlookers. The attitude which hon. Members have taken up today amounts to this, that they are proposing to reward Mussolini for the use of poison gas in Abyssinia. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Hon. Members were prepared to keep on economic sanctions as long as the Abyssinian resistance continued. The Abyssinian resistance was broken down, and it was only broken down by the use of poison gas. Therefore, there are hon. Members on that side 1819 of the House who would still be upholding sanctions if poison gas had not been used. So I say that to call off sanctions at this moment is not only to condone a breach of the Covenant, but to condone a breach of the Protocol of 1925 and the use of gas warfare. The right hon. Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill) said that the Government had nothing to reproach themselves with, and the Foreign Secretary used a similar phrase on Saturday of last week.
The case that most of us, and the case that the average man who thinks about these things, would make against the Government simply comes under these heads. Before the Abyssinian dispute arose nobody knew what their attitude was towards collective security. We have the Prime Minister who, in November of one year, says that a system of collective security is perfectly impracticable, and in the spring of the next year says that the League of Nations is the sheet anchor of British policy. We have a diversity of utterances from different Members of the same Government, a diversity that persisted even up to August last, as can be seen if the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman are compared with the speeches that were made during that summer by Lord Londonderry. We have the arms embargo of Abyssinia, which prevented it, in spite of the appeals it made, from purchasing arms for its own defence when everybody knew that Italian aggression was imminent. Finally, there was the supreme disaster of the Hoare-Laval Plan, which destroyed once and for all any prospect that the United States might co-operate in sanctions against the aggressor. There has been a good deal said in this Debate about the future of the collective system. May I give the House a quotation from the address of the Prime Minister to the Peace Society last October? He said:We mean nothing by the League if we are not prepared in the end, and after grave and careful trial, to take action to enforce its judgment.That seems to me to go to the root of the whole matter. A League which cannot employ sanctions in the last resort is perfectly useless as an instrument for preserving peace. I know that there is a general idea that sanctions mean war. We reject that idea because we say that 1820 it is not sanctions that mean war, but uncertainty about sanctions. Sanctions do not mean war if they are certain to follow on an act of aggression. Mussolini went ahead with his preparations in Abyssinia because he did not know for certain that the League would act, and how could he know, because until the 11th September we did not know it ourselves?
I would ask hon. Members opposite, even if they are not prepared to support the Covenant of the League, to which so many of them appealed in November last, that they might at any rate learn something from the history of their own party. They might perhaps cast their minds back to the time when Lord Beaconsfield went to the Congress of Berlin and came back with "peace with honour." That is not a phrase which we are likely to hear from the present Government. At that time we had a situation in which Russia had successfully invaded the Balkans and was in possession, through her armies, of a large part of the Balkans, just as Italy is in possession of a large part of Abyssinia to-day. The Treaty of San Stefano was signed between Russia and Turkey, but, in spite of that and of all the military victories of that time, it was found possible to compel the Russian Government to withdraw from that Treaty and from the position she had taken up. Why was that? It was because they knew perfectly well that if they went any further, that if they were not prepared to make a settlement that could be approved by the Powers of Europe in conference, they would then meet with the immediate resistance of Great Britain, supported by Austria and France.
I am not saying that the aim which Lord Beaconsfield had in view at Berlin was necessarily a laudable one. I am drawing the attention of the House to the method, and to the that they were able to achieve what they wanted because, even though sanctions would not have been overwhelming in that case, the sanctions were certain and no one had any doubt that they would follow if the aggressor in that case was not prepared to make the settlement which could be approved by the other countries of Europe. It seems to us on these benches that what the Committee is deciding, and what the Foreign Secretary will have to 1821 decide on Monday, is something much more important than the question simply of sanctions on Italy or of the future of Abyssinia, more important even than the issues that were raised a litle while ago by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher) as to the effect in Africa and on our own position in Africa if an Italian State is built up in Abyssinia. Once again now, as in September, the issue to be decided is between law and anarchy in international affairs. There are some of us left in this House who are prepared to give the same answer to that question that we gave when we were before the electors in November last year.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
The speech to which we have just listened is one that was answered effectively in anticipation by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in his very spirited reply, and was answered no less ably and effectively in the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Bristol (Mr. Bernays). If, however, we come to the realities of the situation, the Committee and the country are really very much less concerned with the defence of the Government against those who would have had them get into a far worse mess than that with which we are faced, than with the question why they have brought us into the present difficult and, indeed, humiliating situation, and how we are to disentangle ourselves from it. I shall be told that this was the inevitable result of our inescapable obligations under the Covenant.
I shall not dream of wearying the Committee by recapitulating the case I made out last October to show that the view of the Covenant taken by the present Government last summer is one which was rejected when we rejected the Geneva Protocol 11 years ago, and was consistently rejected by Conservative Governments and by the present Government up to the spring of last year. The policy they took up with regard to Abyssinia and Italy was a new policy. I do not say that that is necessarily a wrong policy. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) said that he was prepared to go all out with other nations up to and including war. I venture to say that I might have been ready to do the same if I had 1822 thought there was the faintest chance of other nations agreeing with us in such a course. But, to me, there stood out like the Rock of Gibraltar the fact that France could not afford, in view of the danger that faced her nearer home, to break with Italy over this issue. Surely, that was a fact that must have been known to the Government, and must have made it plain to them from the outset that their policy had only the faintest chance of succeeding.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary spoke of taking stock. Let us take stock quite frankly, unpleasant though the process may be. What has this policy achieved in these last seven months? Let us admit it: we have betrayed Abyssinia. The wretched Abyssinians would have done better if they had never heard of Geneva, or had never listened to the brave speeches of my right hon. Friend. I know that our intentions were good, we wished to be loyal to the League, we wished to show our hatred of aggression and injustice. But what is the good of the best of intentions if facts are not faced beforehand? What is the good of encouraging people with promises which you are not able to fulfil and see through to the end? If our good intentions have failed to avert the hell of war in Abyssinia, let us make quite sure that they have not been paving the way towards the hell of war in Europe.
Apart from what has happened to Abyssinia, what has resulted? We have earned the enmity of Italy, which may have very profound repercussions upon the whole of our future policy. I am afraid we have incurred her disdain by having failed. It is all very well to say that this is not our quarrel with Italy. If it is a just quarrel, why should we be ashamed of saying it is ours? It is no less our quarrel because we endeavoured, and with some success, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, to lead other nations into that quarrel. It is no less our failure because we failed to bring those other nations to the point to which we were prepared to go with them but not prepared to go single-handed. Meanwhile, at every step through the progress of this policy we were undermining the fabric of peace in Europe, breaking up the combination which alone could afford any reasonable prospect of meeting some 1823 of the dangers that threaten Europe to-day.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), when he heard the roar of the Niagara towards which we were drifting, had the courage to steer for the shore. What is more, he convinced the Prime Minister that his action was right and necessary, and in the interests of Abyssinia, at any rate, it was the last chance that that unhappy country had. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister showed a few days later that a breeze in this House counted more with him than the deadly and imminent storm in Europe. The result of that fatal error on his part was not slow in showing itself. At the very next intensification of sanctions Herr Hitler tore up the Locarno Treaty, to which he had pledged himself less than a year before, and marched into the Rhineland. May I remind the House that it was only the self-restraint of France that at that moment prevented a European conflagration. [Interruption.] I confess I have very little patience with the way in which France is continually criticised and run down in this House. In a position of immense difficulty France has endeavoured both to meet her obligations towards the League and to pay some regard to the future of Europe.
I venture to say that as long as this sanctions' issue remains, the danger of some untoward trouble in Europe not only remains but grows from month to month. That is why I should like to associate myself with my right hon. Friend (Sir A. Chamberlain) in suggesting that the time has come to call off sanctions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pointed out, very rightly, that in this matter we have taken the lead all through. It is our moral responsibility, if this policy has failed, to take the lead in putting an end to it. What is the good of carrying it on? Who is there in Abyssinia on whose behalf we can exercise our intervention? I doubt whether the Abyssinians themselves would be grateful for any further intervention. Are we to keep it on, as my right hon. Friend said, for mere revenge? That is not practical politics. Believe me, sanctions are dead and I would ask, Is their mouldering carcase, like the Ancient Mariner's albatross, to be hung round our necks for ever?
1824 What is more, we have to face not only the issue of these sanctions but of the whole conception of a League built up on coercion when you can never get the members of it sufficiently united to make that coercion effective. On that question I confess we got very little lead from the Foreign Secretary. He assured us that it would be studied and ultimately settled by the League as a whole. Surely, by now, we have had enough experience to come to decisions of our own. At any rate the decision which seems to me perfectly clear is that while the League should go on and is undoubtedly an instrument of immense value provided—to use the words of General Smuts—it is kept as "the conference table of the nations" and the attempt is not made to make it "an international war office," the only League that has any chance of being universal, that will increase instead of diminishing its membership, the only League with a moral authority which will steadily grow, is a League which is based not upon coercion but upon conciliation. Hon. Members opposite have always taken the view in their industrial disputes that committees of conciliation are more likely to help than anything in the nature of compulsory arbitration. That is equally true in international affairs. Whenever the Covenant and Article 16 have been invoked, as in the Far Eastern case, they have only led the aggressors to harden their hearts.
The Prime Minister spoke the other day of making the Covenant the law of the world. Of what world? Not the world we live in. In that world, let me remind the Committee that the Covenant proved unenforceable long before this Italian case—in the case of Vilna, in the case of Corfu, in the case of Georgia, of Manchuria, as also in the case of Bolivia and Paraguay. The Italian case was the easiest instance of where it might have been applied. What possibility is there of applying it against Germany, Russia, Japan or the United States? The issue is one with regard to which we ought to be honest with ourselves. I do not believe that, given nations as they are, affected each by their own interests, their fears and their suspicions, you could ever, under the existing machinery of the League, get them united in any practical action, either to avert an aggression beforehand or to punish it after it had taken place. The idea of trying to tighten up 1825 the machinery of the League by a new Geneva Protocol will not be of any use. We have been through all that before.
The answer which we gave as a Government 11 years ago, the answer which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham gave to Geneva, was that universal commitments to prevent war anywhere and everywhere through economic sanctions mean that if those sanctions are to be successful they must lead to war, and was a policy which we could not endorse. We must limit our obligations, undertake definite commitments only for some definite aim, and in reference to some definite peril. That was the policy of Locarno, and that is the policy to which in one form or another we must go back. The ultimate expansion of regional groupings into a general European economic system advocated in the French reply is, no doubt, a goal which is well worth working for as a parallel to our own British Empire system. We can only attain that goal step by step. We must have some measure of confidence first, and the first step, I repeat, in restoring confidence in Europe is to put an end to the running sore of sanctions against Italy. When you have done that, you can begin to deal with practical policy.
In that policy I should like to see this country as detached as possible in European affairs. But I do realise that we shall have to take some part, and I would join in the appeal that the Government should say precisely what that part is to be. It must be a limited part and a clearly defined part. We must convince our own people at home that such obligations as we undertake on the Continent, limited obligations, will not increase the probability of our being drawn into a war in Europe, but are a definite insurance against that possibility. On those conditions we may get the British public to understand, to support and to make good the Government's policy, which I hope will not be a party policy, but a national policy. Before we can arrive at such a policy we must clear the ground of the debris of the present policy of make-believe and of indefinite commitments as to which we never know whether we shall be called upon to fulfil them or not. Let us base our policy first and foremost upon our own security and that 1826 of our own Empire, and then upon making such reasonable contribution as our resources will allow towards the common peace of the world.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will not at this stage make up his mind that in the Abyssinian dispute we have yet played our last card. The Italian position is not necessarily as strong as it appears at the present time, particularly her economic position. It is well known that she has lost half her exports in the last year and almost half her imports, and that her gold supply has been exhausted in the last six months. That process is accelerating. The position is not lost until the last moment, and for that reason nothing strikes one more about the position of Europe now than that it is like a kaleidoscope. It can change in a night. I can imagine sudden changes in the European situation. Changes in Austria may take place in a night which would make Italy very glad to liquidate this Abyssinian adventure on any terms that she could get.
The Foreign Secretary spoke some rather disturbing words about going to Geneva with a free hand, and I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) practically gave him his marching orders as to how that free hand should be used. I have never listened to a speech of such depression as that to which I listened from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He seemed to be abandoning not only Abyssinia but the League of Nations and the whole possibility of European peace. We are entitled to ask the Foreign Secretary to reply definitely to this question: Will this House have an opportunity of expressing its opinion before the sanctions policy is abandoned? We have the right to express our opinion, because the sanctions policy of the Government is unlike any other policy upon which they have ever embarked. That policy was a partnership. When the Government adopted that policy, after the speech of September and the General Election they asked for the support of the nation and they claimed the support of this side of the House. They have not, therefore, a free hand to do what they like, and they have 1827 no right, having asked the nation to support them, and having induced us, at great electoral disadvantage, to take part in that support, to imagine that this matter can be settled only by the wishes of their own supporters. This is a matter in which the whole Committee has the right to express an opinion, if necessary by a vote in the Division Lobbies.
I want to allude to one point which has arisen in the Debate, and which I wish to argue out. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) attacked the Government for not having fully carried out the whole policy of financial and economic sanctions. The Foreign Secretary answered that by referring to the question of closing the Suez Canal, but that is not the main point on which we attack the Government. Our point is that, if the Government had applied the oil sanction when it was originally proposed in November last—
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
If the Government, through the League of Nations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"] If the Government at the League of Nations had insisted publicly—[HON. MEMBERS: "They did!"]—I am speaking of November; I am not speaking of what the Government did about a month or six weeks ago. I am saying that, if in November last the Government had taken the same attitude with regard to oil sanctions that they took later, they would have had then a prospect of carrying the League with them. They never attempted it. If they had done that, then, at any rate, the position would have been that the blame could not have been laid on the Government. But there is every reason to believe that, if in November they had taken this action, there would have been a good prospect of carrying the League, and, if they had carried the League, the present humiliating position would not have arisen. May I explain why I say that? The Experts' Committee on Oil Sanctions met and reported, even in February, that, if oil sanctions had been adopted then, they would have brought the matter to an issue in 3½ months—
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Yes; I take note of what the right hon. Gentleman says. I assume that America would have cooperated with us. There is every reason to believe that, if we had acted in November, America would have co-operated with us. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The Prime Minister shakes his head. If the Committee will permit me, I will give the evidence upon which I base that statement. First of all, there is the evidence of the attitude of the American Administration. Mr. Cordell Hull at that time—I am speaking of November —stated that it was the view of the Administration that oil ought not to be exported from the United States. Mr. Ickes, the Minister for the Interior, called the oil companies together and said that in his opinion those companies ought to comply in the letter and in the spirit with the United States Government's efforts to prevent the furnishing of war material to either of the belligerents. I may say that the oil companies were willing to co-operate. I have here the statement of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the company which does most of the exports. It says that it had been willing to co-operate. Therefore, I say that in November the attitude of the United States Government and of the companies was favourable. What happened was that towards the end of November and December the whole matter began to be nebulous, and it began to be suspected that this country was not going to proceed with the policy on which the United States Administration had based its expectations. That is not disputed. I will read the reports on that point of the newspaper correspondents, who, I think, would be respected in this House, of the "Times," the "Daily Telegraph" and the "Morning Post." They all agree. I will take the "Daily Telegraph." This was on the 26th December. The correspondent wrote:Considerable dismay is apparent in American Press comments this evening at the news that the League has postponed consideration of the bar on oil shipments to Italy. There is a strong feeling that the United States, having already taken action to discourage oil exports to the belligerents, is now placed in an embarrassing position.Here is the report in the "Morning Post":While the American official world was formerly thoroughly sympathetic with the 1829 British attitude, it is now, in lack of any extenuating explanation, in a condition of suppressed irritation and bewilderment.Finally, the "Times" Washington correspondent said:Frankness demands the statement that little is left here of the earlier mood of hopefulness.Therefore, I say that these indications of the American attitude prove that we should probably have had a good chance, at that critical moment, of getting the support of the United States, if the Government had shown, on behalf of civilisation, the same resolution that Signor Mussolini has shown on behalf of his loathsome cause.
There is another point which has been raised during the Debate, and on which, I think, the Noble Lord rather anticipates that I shall ask him to make an explanation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) asked whether credits are being given on a generous scale in the City of London to Herr Hitler. This is not the question that was raised with regard to a loan to Germany. The rumours are that, quite apart from the Bank of England, the accepting houses are giving to Germany credits on a very extended scale, and, of course, it is the German foreign exchange that is one of the main difficulties in the way of German re-armament. The explanation is that these acceptance houses are, of course, the same houses that have over £40,000,000 tied up in Germany under the Standstill Agreement, and therefore this business, which is good business, and for the time being fairly safe business, is an obvious method of liquidating their losses, and at ordinary times this would be perfectly legitimate business. But is there unity of British policy in foreign affairs on this issue, because it is contrary to the policy of the Foreign Office, and it is contrary to British interests, that at this moment these generous credits should be supplied to Germany for the purpose of armaments when we have to undertake re-armament in our turn.
Now may I come to the issues which the Foreign Secretary raised at the close of his speech? The earlier part of the Debate has referred to Abyssinia, and the latter part to the general prospect of Europe and the future of the League of Nations. In dealing with the general future of Europe, the Foreign Secretary 1830 asked us to try to secure national unity. We were asked for national unity last September. We were asked for national unity at the Election on this issue. We gave the national unity. There has been national unity. But the result of the national unity has finally been this humiliating Debate in which we are now taking part. For the future the Foreign Secretary can obtain national unity on one condition only, and that is that he adopts a straightforward League of Nations policy. He will not attain national unity if he adopts a policy on lines that are being advised to him this very evening in various quarters of the Committee. He is going to embark upon the reconstruction of the League of Nations and I should like to make a preliminary contribution to this great undertaking. So far as the League of Nations needs reforming, the most important reforms are two. I think Article 16 needs to be more precise and definite. One of the reasons why this side of the Committee is always harping back to the Protocol is that, whatever criticisms you may make of it, it was precise and definite, and, above all things, I am sure now that British foreign policy in future must be definite in its aims and in its statements of what it will do.
I now come to deal with certain constructive suggestions that have been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham. He put forward certain alternative methods of securing peace. I think he called them guaranteed pacts—what are often called security pacts.
§ Sir A. CHAMBERLAIN
Not as an alternative to the League of Nations, but as the firmest basis on which you could construct the League of Nations.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
What I wish to point out is that, even when you take such proposals as guaranteed pacts, you find in the end that all your guaranteed pacts break down unless you have a powerful League of Nations behind them. One of the most important proposals for the future of Europe is going to be these security pacts. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with special interest on the matter, because these security pacts are really the heart of the proposals that have been put forward by Herr Hitler. Let me explain why I say that. The 1831 danger of Europe in the future is not so much the Western frontier of Germany, because Germany has mainly given up her ambitions in the West of Europe. The danger of Europe arises from the fact that Germany is surrounded by nations each of which contains a German minority—Poland, Czechoslovakia and so on—and, as we know, it is these minority issues, as has been shown in Memel, and Dantzig, which may at any time start a conflagration that will set the whole of Europe alight.
Herr Hitler proposes to deal with this particular problem by entering into a series of security pacts with these nations, including the nations to the South of Germany as well as those immediately touching her East. This is the point to which I call attention. A security pact is really meaningless unless it has a guarantor behind it. Locarno is a security pact. Why has Locarno got a meaning? Because this country is practically the guarantor behind it, an obligation which was seen only a few weeks ago when the Foreign Secretary practically said that if the Treaty were broken His Majesty's Government would have to go to war. The security pacts which Herr Hitler proposes, and which are probably the most important things in the structure of Europe, have no such guarantee behind them, and the only possible guarantee of those pacts is the League of Nations. Therefore, you come back to the fact that, even when you take this other proposal which is now coming before the world, the whole basis upon which it rests is that the League of Nations should be stronger in the future than it has been in the past. The right hon. Gentleman invited constructive criticism and I am endeavouring to give it.
I come to another argument upon a point which has obviously been very much in the minds of Members of the Committee this evening. There is clearly, as a result of recent events, reflected in many speeches a very considerable weakening in any belief in the League of Nations, and, in some of the speeches, a feeling almost of despair about its future. I do not think that that is by any means justified, and for this reason: You cannot tell what the prospects of the League of Nations are going to be by considering 1832 those prospects at the, moment or by considering them under any period which Europe has had to face under the conditions of the last 18 years. The fact is that the League of Nations has been linked up with, and founded upon, the Treaty of Versailles, which is now losing the moral backing of Europe. The League of Nations is founded upon a Treaty which is crumbling in front of our eyes and crumbling with the connivance of all parties and with the connivance of this country. When we made the AngloGerman Naval Treaty, we really took part in the breach of the Treaty of Versailles—
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
Under those conditions, when you have the League of Nations based upon a Treaty which it is impossible finally to maintain, you cannot decide or determine what its ultimate prospects might be. I gather that, if one summarises what the negotiations of the next few months are aiming at, we can say that what we are now aiming at is to liquidate the Treaty of Versailles. I do not regard that as a task necessarily of intolerable difficulty. The worst features of the Treaty of Versailles were the reparations clauses, and those have liquidated themselves. The territorial clauses were far more easily justified than the reparations clauses. Therefore, I believe that it is not a hopeless task. The easier part of the Treaty can be liquidated by arguments, discussion and consent. When the Treaty is liquidated and when you have a European situation which has not these difficulties and entanglements to deal with, you can discuss the League of Nations with altogether different prospects and possibilities for the future.
The League of Nations is more important to us now than ever. It is more important to us the nearer it approaches to our own fortunes. In Corfu it was not called in at all. In Manchuria it was mentioned but not called in. In Abyssinia it was more effective than in Manchuria, because 52 nations came to an agreement over sanctions. I predict that the kind of speeches made this evening will be found to be almost fanciful in a few years, because as the peril approaches nearer to us and as it approaches our own lives and fortunes we 1833 shall find more quickly than ever that the League of Nations is the best screen between us and the flames that we find beating on our face.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
The Debate in one respect has followed the course of many other foreign affairs Debates, in that it has covered a great deal of ground. It has dealt with affairs in many parts of the world, although it has been almost entirely concerned with the ItaloAbyssinian dispute, which was natural. Certain subjects were, however, mentioned and questions have been asked. It will perhaps be for the convenience of the Committee if, before I turn to the main theme of the Debate, I say a few words in regard to those questions. There were, in particular, two questions relating to Germany. One question was asked me by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) regarding the questions which were being put to the German Government. He wanted an assurance that those questions were not traps but were genuine. I can give him that assurance, categorically. There is nothing Machiavellian about them. There are certain uncertainties in the German Memorandum, and if you are going to begin a negotiation it is no good beginning it with uncertainties. The only object of the questions is to clear up those uncertainties.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) put a question to me, regarding credits for Germany, and I think the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) also put a similar question. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Keighley for his courtesy in giving me notice of his question, as otherwise I should not have been able to deal with it. As I understood him, the hon. Gentleman asked me about short-term credits by London accepting houses to Germany I take it that he referred only to short-term credits for commercial purposes. As the hon. Member knows, the general question of credits to Germany was dealt with by the Financial Secretary in this House on 22nd April last and by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 30th April. I can only repeat what my right hon. Friend said, namely, that no specific instances of any such case have yet been brought to the notice 1834 of His Majesty's Government. The matter, however, I can assure him, is present in the minds of the appropriate authorities, and there is no reason to believe that the banking community as a whole are acting other than in accordance with what, I am sure, is the general feeling of the House on all sides. I can say confidently that no such credits have been given on a. scale sufficient to produce the effect suggested by the hon. Member. I am afraid that I am not an expert on this subject, but I have given him such information as I have.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked a question as to the present situation with regard to the Egyptian negotiations. As he knows, they were resumed yesterday but have been adjourned for a week at the request of the leader of the Egyptian delegation as it is necessary for him to devote himself to matters concerning the internal situation of Egypt arising from the death of the King and on the recent elections. I hope they will be resumed very shortly, and we have no reason to suppose that they will not make 'satisfactory progress. As the hon. Member knows, these are preliminary negotiations. I cannot make any further statement at the moment.
I now turn to the main theme of the Debate—the subject of the ItaloAbyssinian dispute, which is causing so much anxiety not only to hon. Members opposite but to hon. Members on this side as well. In speaking on this subject to-night I feel a very deep responsibility. It is not an ordinary occasion, because so much is likely to happen. The course of events during the last few weeks in Ethiopia, we must all admit, will have an immense influence on the future, and may mark a turning point in the policy of this country and of other countries. It may be one of the landmarks of our lives. For 16 years we have been supporting a new system of law and order—this applies to hon. Members in all parts of the House—which was to take away, or we hoped would take away, the rule of power and replace it by the rule of law and order. Like other systems of law and order, whether national or international, it had behind it, as we believed, an effective sanction of force. That is the inevitable background of all systems of law. For the first time that sanction has been put into force to pro- 1835 tect the weak against the strong, which is the object of all systems of law and order, and it has failed to achieve its object. No one wishes to conceal or minimise the fact that it has failed. The Italian advance has continued and Ethiopia has been eaten up by the aggressor, who appears to have succeeded in his aggression.
Attempts have been made by hon. Members opposite, especially by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland in the Debate this evening, to fasten the whole of the blame for these melancholy occurrences on His Majesty's Government. I do not think somehow that that attempt will appeal to the House as a whole. I never heard a case more spoilt by over-statement than that of the hon. Gentleman. This idea of the League straining at the leash, anxious to put on more sanctions, and with difficulty restrained by His Majesty's Government, sounds very attractive to the Opposition I am sure, and it goes very well on platforms on May Day, but it has no connection at all with reality. It is not even believed by the Italians. The last time we had a Debate in this House on this subject, I had the impertinence to advise hon. Members oposite to read what is sometimes erroneously called the inspired Press of Italy on this subject. From their speeches to-day I am afraid they have not taken my advice, but I offer it again. If they follow it they will find that day by day, in manifestoes, in newspapers, and in broadcasts there are constant attacks upon this country because we have been in this dispute the leader of the League. Unlike hon. Gentlemen opposite, the Italian people regard Great Britain, in a picturesque phrase used by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), as the fugleman and bellwether of the flock of the League.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
On 11th July of last year I most strongly appealed to the Government not to take the position of becoming the fugleman and bellwether of the flock of the League.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
At any rate in the opinion of the Italian people, and perhaps of the right hon. Gentleman, too, the Government have during the last year been the fugleman and bellwether of the flock of 1836 the League. With regard to that the Italian people are perfectly right. Where they have been wrong is as to the motive which has led the British Government to take that position. The Italian people think we do it from Imperialist motives. They think we want a further slice of Africa. They think we are nervous about our Imperial interests. They think that we believe they are a threat to us in Africa and that we fear that threat. One might have thought that an accusation of this kind would have been dispelled entirely by the publication of the Maffey Report, which, for reasons best known to themselves, they saw fit to submit to the public. I noticed to-night that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland drew rather a strange deduction from the Maffey Report. He drew the deduction that we gave the information to Italy that she could have Abyssinia if she wanted. Of course, the deduction to be drawn from the Maffey Report was that we did not want Abyssinia ourselves. There was nothing in that report which gave the impression that we wished Abyssinia to be given to Italy. On the contrary, our view has been that Abyssinia is a Member of the League and is therefore entitled to the protection of the League. We wish it had been more effective. What is true, however, is that we never have had any personal motives in this particular dispute. We went into the dispute for one reason, that we signed the Covenant, that we are members of the League and that we are absolutely bound by our obligations under the League. That is the only reason why we went into the dispute. Those obligations were collective, and we attempted to the very best of our power to operate them collectively.
It is, I am certain, the opinion of hon. Members on this side, and it is, I believe, the opinion of the great majority of the country, that we have taken the lead and have done all that could be done, collectively, in the League, at this time. I recognise that that is not the view of hon. Gentlemen opposite. We have had to-day many criticisms of the conduct of the dispute by His Majesty's Government and the League. As to all the many points that have beer raised with regard to the past, hon. Gentlemen will forgive me if I do not go very fully into them. For one thing, they have been debated again and again in the House. Not a 1837 single point was put forward to-day which has not been put forward and answered before. It does not matter how often they were put forward before; they have always been answered and the Committee has quite made up its mind on which side it stands in regard to the conduct of the dispute by His Majesty's Government in so far as they were concerned in it. Nothing that I can say at the present time is, in the slightest degree, likely to alter anybody's view on those points.
There is, however, one point with which I propose to deal briefly and that is the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley with regard to oil. I understood him to say that there had been definite signs that the United States would have been prepared to co-operate last Autumn with the League in applying the oil sanction. He said that the sympathy of the Government and the people of the United States was with such action, but that it had been killed by the attitude of the League and the Hoare-Laval proposals. If that were true, one would expect to find that during those crucial months the oil exports to Italy had gone down, but that is not so. On the contrary, the figures show that they went up steadily during this period when the American people are said to have been sympathising so deeply with the Ethiopians. From January to October the export to Italy was 6 per cent. of the imports of Italy, and from October to December it went up to 17 per cent. or nearly three times as much. That was before the Hoare-Laval proposals, and before there could have been anything which, in the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, would legitimately have lessened the sympathy of the United States for the League. I do not think there is much in that argument. All our evidence shows that there was, at no time, a great probability of the United States co-operating, if the oil sanction had been applied. I am not arguing the question of whether it ought to have been put on or not. I am merely pointing out that, if it had been put on, it would have had to be put on by the League without the assistance of the United States.
We believe, and I think the country believes, that in this dispute, although success has not been achieved—indeed 1838 we are faced with a most lamentable tragedy and failure—the action of the Government was the greatest that could be taken in leading collective action. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said we had lost a great deal of prestige over this dispute, and that is perhaps the view of many hon. Gentlemen opposite. I hope it is not true, but, if it is true, why have we lost prestige and why has nobody else lost it? Because it is our policy, the policy of forward action by the League, that has failed to produce good results. It is not said that France or other nations have lost prestige. Why? Because they were not so wholehearted, perhaps, in this policy as we were. It is open to hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that our leadership has not produced success but, surely, it is foolish to say, in the light of all this evidence from all parts of the world of what people are saying, that we did not give any leadership at all. It is admitted by the Italians themselves, by observers in all parts of the world, and by practically everybody except hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I think it is not a very pretty sight to see them blackening the face of their own country to make a party holiday.
I understand it is suggested, that owing to the history of this dispute we ought to hang our heads in shame. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Well, I do not agree. I think we have every reason to be proud of our record in this dispute. What are the facts? We have spent our treasure, we have run great risks, not for any personal or national advantage, but just in support of a great principle in which we genuinely believe. There are worse things in this world than honourable failure, and I believe that our record, our leadership in this dispute, is in accordance with the highest traditions of our ancient and honourable history.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
Does the Noble Lord take the view that the Hoare-Laval proposals were consistent with that history?
I was discussing our whole record in this dispute, and I believe that my summing up of our attitude is a true summing up; but if we have not cause for shame—and I do not think we have—we have undoubtedly cause for bitter disappoint- 1839 ment, and that disappointment is shared by Englishmen of every party at the present time—bitter disappointment. We have supported this system because we have thought it would protect a weak nation against a strong, and it has failed to do so. Obviously it is necessary for us all to take stock of the position. I have been asked one or two questions. I have been asked, first of all whether I can, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, give some statement about what our immediate policy is to be in Geneva on 11th May. I see the House wishes to know, and I should like to make that statement, but for reasons which my right hon. Friend has already mentioned I cannot do so. Everybody knows that the situation is difficult and delicate and a situation that changes from day to day. It is quite impossible for His Majesty's Government to-night to make a declaration on the subject. They must, in the light of events, decide what can be done in the situation as it exists, and act upon it.
The hon. Member for Keighley asked what His Majesty's Government were going to decide at Geneva. That is a very common mistake on the other side of the House. They seem never to be able to distinguish between the League of Nations and His Majesty's Government. This particular decision which is to be taken is a collective decision, a decision which has to be taken by the representatives of over 50 nations. It is not the Government who are the sole deciders of policy. I therefore cannot make the statement for which they ask. I sympathise with their desire to get it, and I think it is very understandable, but they cannot get it under these circumstances, and no responsible Government at the present time would make a declaration of that kind.
I have also been asked whether there are any ideas yet with regard to proposals for the reform of the League. It is far too soon to give any definite proposals, but I would say this—and it must be obvious to everybody—that the future of the League is receiving the most careful consideration, and not only by Members of the Government. I do not suppose there is any hon. Gentleman opposite who is not thinking about the future of the League. It is held by 1840 some people in this country—I think my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) rather voiced that view—that the system of collective security cannot be effective unless in the ultimate event nations are willing to go to war, if they cannot achieve their purpose in any other way. Well, that is a point of view which obviously must be taken very seriously into consideration. When you take the present dispute there were many countries which would not have been willing to go to war. I do not believe that the people of this country would have been willing to go to war. I do not believe that hon. Members opposite would have been willing to go to war. I read the other day in the "Daily Herald" an account of a May-day meeting, and I found at the top in black type:Thousands Pledged to Peace. Dominant Note at May-Day Meetings.In the circumstances it is unkind, if not hypocritical, for hon. Members opposite to lecture the Government for a weak-kneed attitude. Another consideration which must be taken into account is that any system of collective security must be, within the limitations of its capabilities, universal. The people of this country will not support any system which is only meant to be used against one or two selected countries. If it is to be used at all, it must be used against all so far as it can be used. I have indicated one or two of the many considerations which must be borne in mind. There must be an examination and a stock-taking, not a post-mortem but a stock-taking, because the League of Nations is alive, and I believe will remain so. That stock-taking must take place in London and the other capitals and in Geneva. It must be exhaustive and relentless, and on that basis His Majesty's Government are fully willing to take part in the deliberations and see whether something cannot be done to make the League a more effective instrument. We must be realistic. In the past we have tended a to think of the League as too perfect, an instrument. It is a human instrument worked by human people, and it will not do everything. By recognising that we are much more likely to get effective results in the future.
There is one other thing I would say. While we must consider these things, I 1841 urge on hon. Members the importance of this country being really strong. I suggest to them that the present crisis is the supreme justification for making this country strong, for who shall say to-day that the rule of law in the world is omnipotent? There were many who hoped, among them hon. Members who remember the War, that the day of force was over, that we were coming to a golden age in which war would be replaced by arbitration and peaceful means. Can we say that now It seems to many of us that we are moving into an "iron age," where scraps of paper may be torn up and force the only thing that matters. In these circumstances what is the use of talking about collective security as if it was a magic incantation unless we have the armaments to make it a reality? There is only one way of obtaining collective or any other security, and that is that the forces of order should be stronger than the forces of disorder. At this moment the forces of disorder are not low.
It is no good blinking the fact that if we are to have a strong League we must have a strong Britain. That is the policy for which the Government stand and for which they will continue to stand, and it is the policy in which they believe. Let us have this examination into the future of the League and make it in every way we can a more effective instrument. Let us also make ourselves strong. Let the two processes go together. If we do that, whatever may be the future of the League, whether it continues in its present form or whether it is altered, modified and changed to suit the needs of the time and to respond to the lessons of this most unhappy dispute—whatever may happen to it, we shall have the means in this country to preserve those principles of liberty, of independence and of honour which are our heritage and our pride.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I certainly do not quarrel at all with the excellent speech of the Under-Secretary of State, but I would in the few minutes that remain like the House to cast its mind upon one other aspect of our affairs. This is a mournful occasion. We have encountered a great disaster. Let no one minimise the effect of this disaster to every one of our interests in every part of the world. The Under-Secretary of State spoke of our 1842 leadership and boasted of it. Adapting my phrase, which was used in the opposite sense, and without informing the Committee that it was my phrase, he said that we had been the bellwether and fugleman, that we had been the leader, but where have we led? To what conclusions have we led? Here I return to the question which I put at the end of Question Time to-day. I consider that the Prime Minister ought to have spoken in this Debate. After all, he is the man who has the power. He has had all the power, and you cannot have all the power without having responsibility. He changes his Foreign Secretaries as he thinks; sometimes he has had two at once. He has changed them and taken every decision. It seems to me that when he receives a deputation from the League of Nations Union and tells them, as we are assured by uncontradicted statements in every organ of the Press, that he feels bitterly humiliated—and we feel bitterly humiliated, too—we are entitled to ask, bitterly humiliated by whom? The idea of one man taking all the power to himself and not facing the realities of public discussion and debate in the House of Commons is one which has already produced grave injury to our affairs, and, if continued, must produce continued demoralisation.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
I want to take the opportunity of raising one important point. One of the Members for Birmingham said that France would not break with Italy. If that is so, it is because Britain betrayed France by making the Naval Pact with Germany. The policy of the Government is destroying any possibility of peace in Europe, and until we get rid of the Government, the peace of Europe will be menaced—
It being Eleven of the Clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.