§ [THIRD DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [3rd November]:
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as followeth:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Miss Horsbrugh.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Mr. Eden)
My first sentence would be to express thanks, both to the House and to the hon. Gentleman who is spokesman for the Opposition on this occasion, for the arrangement which has been come to and which permits of the Government's spokesman opening this discussion. I believe that, in the ordinary exchanges of Parliamentary Debate, it is held to be to the advantage of the Government to hear first the questions and, maybe, the criticism, which is directed against them, in order that they might prepare a reply. In the circumstances of the present international situation, it seemed to the Government that the stage should be somewhat differently set, and that the issues were in themselves so serious that it would be to the general advantage of the House if the representative of the Government were to open the discussion this afternoon with a general statement of the international situation and of the Government's policy.
I think we must all of us be acutely conscious of the anxieties of the present international situation; indeed, it is difficult for anyone to escape their constant summons. Not only are international events freely commented upon, which could be all to the good, but it has now become almost a habit for statements of international policy to be made, not through diplomatic channels or even by personal contact at Geneva, but from the public rostrum, in tones which are 276 certainly not subdued, and to audiences which resemble, as nearly as it can be arranged, world proportions. It is no part of my intention to imitate that practice, nevertheless I think it is desirable that the view of this Government and this country should be stated, and stated plainly, and there is no more fitting place for such a statement than this House of Commons, which is at once the authority for our actions and the embodiment of the methods we prefer. Now may I state in frank terms the outlines of our policy, our view of the international situation and the policy which we accordingly intend to pursue? In doing that, I shall not retraverse the ground of past controversies; that has been done a great many times. I think that all sections of the House to-day will agree that, with the manifold and urgent anxieties that confront us in the international situation, it is to the present and the future that we must direct our attention.
Will the House allow me one other introductory observation? All must have noticed in the last year the factor in international events that speed has become. That is a phenomenon of our modern life that is going to be always with us. The lightning of events is accompanied almost simultaneously by the thunder of their repercussion. It is not always easy for us, in this peaceful island, to keep pace with the restless movement and the dynamic of events elsewhere. For that reason we must always be prepared to take stock of our ideas and of our policy, if we are to keep pace with events and to make our best contribution.
Despite those factors, it is true to say that there are certain guiding principles which must determine British foreign policy. The first and most important of these is in relation to the League of Nations. It is fashionable at this time in some quarters to sneer at the League. We do not join in that practice. On the contrary, it is our hope and our intention to prove that those sneers are unjustified. At the same time, we must not make the mistake of believing that what we want to exist in the world does exist simply because we want it. The League is not to-day the instrument which all of us would like to see it. To pretend that it is, or even, if I may say so, to present that the fact that it is not is due 277 only to the lukewarmness of His Majesty's Government, is to live in a fool's paradise; or to believe that the only use for a stick is to beat the Government of this country. That may be a good use, but I suggest that it should not be an exclusive one, and that there may be others who deserve it more. Equally it is our duty in the present conditions to rid our thoughts of the unreal and of what is no longer in accord with the international situation, however unpalatable the consequent facts we have to face may be.
In the first instance I would like to put to the House certain fundamental realities in the present international situation. It is real to believe that the principles for which the League stands are the best yet devised for the regulation of international affairs. It is real to recognise that some nations do not at present share that view. It is real to recognise that until they do, the authority of the League cannot be complete, though it can yet be important—and it is our duty to make it as important as is possible. It is real, I suggest to the House, and not inconsistent with what I have just said, to make it plain that this country will be second to none in the defence of its legitimate interests as a nation. It is also real to say that the defence of those interests is in no way directed against the legitimate interests of any other nations. Having said that, we have only dealt with one side of our task. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said some time ago that it is one thing to state one's faith and intention and that it is another to act so as to turn that faith and intention into practice. Let me turn to the action side of our belief.
I will not recapitulate to the House this afternoon the detailed proposals which I, on the authority of His Majesty's Government, put before the League Assembly last year. Those proposals did not affect the fundamental structure of the League but they did aim at two main purposes and two important main purposes, about which I would like to say a word. The first objective we had in mind was to enable the League to take action at the earliest possible moment in any given dispute. For that reason we favoured the modification of the present unanimity rule because that rule may 278 prevent the Council taking action under Article 11 previous to the actual outbreak of hostilities. Any one nation before then can stop the action being taken. We had, during the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, plenty of evidence that the existence of the unanimity rule had its effect upon the course of nations' conduct. There is another reason why we wish to see that rule amended. If it were carried out, it would be possible for all nations to state clearly their views in any given dispute at an early date. That in its turn has two advantages. The first is that if a would-be aggressor sees the extent and the reality of the efforts that the nations are prepared to make, then the most important part of the League's action—the preventive part—can be effective. If, on the other hand, the League is not prepared to take action, then it is much better that everybody concerned should know it. Therefore, we favour the amendment of that rule because we think it approaches the structure of the League to the realities of the situation.
The second of our main proposed changes was to deal with the other side of the League's activities, which has been the cause—we have got to face it—of the defection of one or two members in the past. The charge against the League is that it is devoted solely to the maintenance of the status quo. The Covenant itself realises, by Article XIX, the impracticability of the rigid maintenance for all time of the status quo, and it is for the committee which the League has now set up, which meets next month, and on which we shall be represented, to consider this aspect of the League's future also. We believe that those suggestions which we have put forward have met with a considerable measure of approval, and will be of service to the reconstruction of the League's authority.
But parallel with that work there is another aspect of the endeavours of His Majesty's Government about which I wish to say something—the efforts which have been made towards and the present prospects of a meeting of the Five Power Conference. The House will perhaps recollect that, when we last discussed this matter in July, we had just concluded a meeting of three Powers here in London—Belgium, France and ourselves—as the outcome of which an invitation had been addressed both to Germany and to Italy, the other two Powers, to 279 attend a meeting. Shortly after the House rose, that invitation was accepted by Germany and Italy. Our first duty in consequence of that was to prepare the ground for the task of the Conference, which has been set out in the communiqué that we agreed upon in London. It consists, in the first place, of the negotiation of a new agreement to take the place of Locarno, and it will be followed by other matters affecting European peace which, in the words of the communiqué, "necessarily come under discussion."
As soon as that acceptance was received, it fell to us to act as something of a means of exchange between the nations in relation to the Conference. It fell to us to make an examination of the prospects of the Conference, and, more particularly, of certain questions in respect of which preparation was essential before the Conference met if it is to have any chance of success. As the result of that work, in the middle of September we addressed Notes to the four other Powers setting out what we considered were the main points, and also stating our own views upon each of them. The views of all five of the Powers are now known. In the last week or two we have been studying and collating these replies, and only yesterday we communicated afresh with the other four Governments on the subject.
I know that the House will not expect me to give a detailed account of the negotiations, but I would like to be allowed to give a general appreciation of the prospects as I see them. The exchanges up to date have revealed certain important divergencies. None of these divergencies, as a matter of fact, was in the nature of a surprise to us, and, though they are very formidable, they are not necessarily insuperable. Within a very short time now we should be in a position to appreciate accurately what are the chances of success for the Conference. So far as we are concerned, I can give the House this assurance, that we shall continue to do what lies in our power to bring about the success of this meeting, but I add this rider, that we consider this meeting to be quite as much in the interests of the other Powers concerned as it is in our own.
280 Having spoken of those two subjects, I want to turn to our relations with certain foreign Powers, and to say something about each of them. I am going to do that, not with a view to swelling the torrent of international polemics, much as I may be tempted to do so, and I think we could do so. I can imagine no two better dialecticians, if we came to the point, than my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). However, that is not my purpose this afternoon, but to seek to contribute something to the appeasement of international relations.
I will begin with our near neighbours across the Channel. Our relations with the French Government at this time are, I am happy to say, both close and cordial. Indeed, I think it would be difficult to recall a time when they were better. Perhaps it is natural that, in the disturbed world of to-day, the two great democracies of Western Europe should be drawn together; it is certainly natural that in such conditions they should find many points of policy in common. But there is nothing exclusive in that friendship on the part of either of us. We have both of us made it clear that we are not only willing but desirous to secure the co-operation of others. It is sometimes forgotten how considerable a step forward was taken by the communiqué issued at the end of the Three Power Conference in London; no document could have more clearly indicated a readiness to open a new chapter. We can, happily for the present disturbed state of the world, look forward, I am sure, with confidence to continued close co-operation between the French Government and ourselves. What I have said of France applies equally in the case of Belgium, and in connection with that country I would like also to add, in relation to the recent statement of Belgian policy, that we have received assurances that Belgium stands by her existing obligations.
I come now to Germany. There have been repeated declarations in Germany of a desire for closer Anglo-German friendship. That desire is generally reciprocated in this country. There are, however, two conditions which are inevitably attached to any friendship which this 281 country can proffer to any other country, whether France, Germany, or any other. Those are that such friendship cannot be exclusive, and that such friendship cannot be directed against anyone else. In speaking of Germany, I must comment on a tendency which has been noticeable there lately to put the blame on this country for Germany's economic difficulties. That is a doctrine which we cannot for a moment accept, nor is it in accordance with the facts. It would be possible for me this afternoon to detail to the House at some length the degree to which this country has tried to cooperate with Germany since the War in the economic and financial spheres. It is a fact, for example, that we alone, without mentioning the United States of America, have lent to Germany in one way and another since the War an almost equivalent figure to the amount we have received from her by way of reparations. So far as our own trade relations with Germany are concerned, the House will recall the very important Anglo-German Payments Agreement of 1934, which still operates, and which preserves a normal ratio between this country and Germany at the figure of 55 to 100; that is to say, we buy £100 worth of goods from Germany for every £55 worth of our goods that she buys, and we thus leave £45 at the disposal of Germany for the purpose of buying raw materials and foodstuffs and for meeting her financial obligations. I make bold to say that there is no other country with whom Germany has so favourable an agreement.
Much more important than this aspect of the question, or than any arguments of this character, is the central problem which we have to face, namely, the possibility of securing an increase in the volume of world trade, which will involve an increase in Germany's exports as in those of everyone else. In that connection I want to say something about the hopeful line of approach which was contained in the recent Three Power Currency Declaration, and notably the reference in that declaration to the possibility of action being taken without delay to relax, and as soon as possible to abolish, the present system of quota and exchange control. This is the point to which I wish to draw the attention of 282 the House. The co-operation of other nations, including Germany, was specifically invited in this programme, and we should be only too glad if Germany saw fit to take her part in this programme. In so far as her economic difficulties arise out of international restrictions of an economic and financial character, and not out of decisions taken by her to deal with her own internal difficulties, we should always be glad to consider with sympathy any methods which appeared likely to 'contribute towards their easement. We desire Germany's co-operation in the economic as well as in the political sphere, and there can be no question on our part of the encirclement of Germany in either.
I turn now to Italy. It is necessary to recall that the deterioration in our relations with Italy was due to our endeavour to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant to which we had set our name. There never has been, so far as concerns this country, an Anglo-Italian quarrel. That has been said by many people on many occasions before; I repeat it and emphasise it further, because, until it is recognised in Italy as being the truth, our relations will suffer from misunderstanding. The differences that have existed between us and Italy have been due to our differing—I regret to note, still differing—conceptions of the methods by which the world should order its international affairs. In his speech at Milan on 1st November Signor Mussolini included a general review of Italy's relations with foreign countries And the League of Nations, and he made some important observations about relations with this country on which the House may expect me to dwell. These observations related mainly to the future relations of the two countries in the Mediterranean. Describing our own interests in that sea, Signor Mussolini is reported to have said:This sea is for Great Britain only a route, one of the many routes, I should say a short cut, by which she reaches more quickly her outlying territories.It will be as well that I should say at once that the implication that that freedom to come and go in the Mediterranean is for this country a convenience rather than a vital interest is one which does not fully describe our interests. For us the Mediterranean is not a short cut but 283 a main arterial road. We do not challenge Signor Mussolini's words that for Italythe Mediterranean is her very life,but we affirm that freedom of communication in these waters is also a vital interest, in a full sense of the word, to the British Commonwealth of Nations. In years gone by the interests of the two countries in the Mediterranean have been complementary rather than divergent. On the part of His Majesty's Government there is every desire that those relations should be preserved in the future. Consequently we take note of, and welcome, the assurance that Signor Mussolini gives that Italy does not mean to threaten this route nor propose to interrupt it. Nor do we. Our position is the same. I repeat the assurance that we have no desire to threaten, or intention to attack, any Italian interest in the Mediterranean. In these conditions it should, in our view, be possible for each country to continue to maintain its vital interests in the Mediterranean not only without conflict with each other but even with mutual advantage.
I turn to another important distant part of the world, the Far East. Relations between Japan and China were, not long ago, such as to give rise to some anxiety, but I am happy to say that there have been definite indications lately of a distinct easing of the tension. Discussions have been proceeding at Nanking between the two Governments on questions outstanding between them. There appears to be ground for hoping that a revival of the former tense situation will be avoided. His Majesty's Government earnestly trust that this will be the case and that a solution of the matters under discussion will be reached which will put relations between the two countries on a stable and friendly footing. I make no apology for thus showing the interest of His Majesty's Government in the course of these negotiations, although we are not directly engaged in them. In the Far East, where there are so many important and long-established British interests, we cannot afford to watch events with detachment. On that account, and because of our desire to see peace established and maintained throughout the world, we wish well to these negotiations.
Having given some outline of the international situation and of its salient features, I want to say a word or two 284 more about the position of our own country and our own Government. The picture that I have given to the House, though admittedly incomplete, shows an international situation serious enough. I am not myself a believer in the inevitability of catastrophe, but I am a believer in this, that the future peace of Europe very largely depends on the part that we play. In this connection I was glad to note the interpretation placed by an important German newspaper on the Gracious Speech. It is there interpreted as this country's resolve once again to take the lead. That is precisely our intention. What is it that we wish to take the lead to secure? European settlement, firmly and securely based, is a vital British interest. We shall obtain no such settlement, we shall not be able to give the restored authority to the League which we seek to give, and are determined to do our utmost to give, unless we possess strength both of purpose and of arms. We shall obtain no such European settlement and no such restored authority to the League without it. Our re-equipment has to be all-embracing. I have always been one—the House has heard it, I am afraid, to weariness—who believes that there will never be enduring peace in the world unless there is an arms agreement, and that the nations will not enjoy the standard of living which should be theirs until such an agreement has been reached. We have the spectacle already in the world of some nations who are beginning to sacrifice the standard of living to the standard of arms.
To-day I have another duty. I have to tell the House in plain language the picture of international armaments as it is viewed from the windows of the Foreign Office. It is this. Almost every nation in the world—every nation in Europe—is re-arming steadily, vigorously or feverishly. Degrees differ, but all are re-arming. Once again marching men have become a common feature of the landscape in many countries of the world. To that is added the new menace of great squadrons in the air. These things may be the token of man's folly —personally I think they are—but the question that this House has to face is, In such conditions what must this country do? I suggest to all Members of the House two things. First, try to- 285 lead the world back into the paths of peace through toleration, the observance of an international order, and respect and support for such an order. In the second place re-equip ourselves—rearm. In conditions such as exist to-day —I say this with a full sense of my responsibility—the strength of the armaments of this country is of paramount importance to the preservation of peace. It is almost a platitude that the stronger Britain is to-day the greater is the certainty of peace. If there are any in the House who do not believe it, I would only ask them to communicate with their own friends, the people who share their own point of view, in the other countries of Europe, more particularly the smaller countries, and they will get the same answer—"Get on with it quickly." If Britain shows strength and unity, there will be peace.
In the programme that I have outlined there are three main elements that I seek to put to the House, for all of which I should like to get the endorsement of the House. The three elements for which we have to strive are, first, the strengthening of the authority of the League, to which I give the House the undertaking that this Government will devote every endeavour. Because there has been one failure it is not a reason to say that the world must turn its back on an endeavour which is the only alternative to catastrophe and chaos. If you want fully to appreciate how grim the alternative is, you have only to read the speeches of those who do not like the League. The second is the negotiation of a European settlement and the third is the re-equipment of our own nation. We embark on that task not so much in a spirit of depression at the extent of our difficulty as in a spirit of determination to accomplish that task. In that determination we ask for the support of this House and the support of a united nation.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ Mr. DALTON
The speech to which we have listened has been marked by all the qualities which most distinguish the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, namely clarity, elegance, firmness and a conciliatory spirit. If we could stop there it may be that we should be tolerably content, but it is an unfortunate experience that there is not always a follow-through in action appropriate to the speeches that 286 the right hon. Gentleman makes from that Box from time to time. It may be that it is not his fault. It may be that he composes his own speeches and his colleagues interfere with the follow-through in policy. However that may be, we have been disappointed before when the right hon. Gentleman has spoken bravely, clearly and firmly and afterwards, under pressure from his colleagues, has weakened. It is right that that should be plainly stated at the start of this discussion. We are not yet confident, in spite of this speech, that His Majesty's Government have found a foreign policy. There were some gaps in the right hon. Gentleman's statement and we cannot yet be convinced, simply on the strength of a good speech, and not the first good speech that he has made, that we are now going to have better results in action than we have had on some previous occasions.
The right hon. Gentleman followed, in part of his speech to-day, what I may describe as a Continental rather than a British model, but none the worse for that, in so far as he discussed successively various countries and our relationships with them. I think that that procedure does make for clarity. None the less I wish he had not stopped short at the Eastern frontiers of Germany. What about our relations—they are just as important, I think, as are our relations with little Belgium to which he devoted a sentence or two—with Poland and the Soviet Union? That stoppage at the Eastern frontiers of Germany disturbed me, and I think it will have disturbed some of my hon. Friends. There is too much talk of Locarno talks in the west of Europe, and too little talk of Eastern Europe. He occasionally spoke of a "European settlement"—that was the phrase he used—but the emphasis all through was upon this Western Zone. It is what I once ventured to call the distinction between major obligations incurred in the West, and minor obligations incurred in Europe as a whole, to keep the peace. I found that a little disturbing, and I will come back to it in a moment.
May I turn aside for a sentence or two and touch very briefly upon two parts of the world of which I thought that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would have spoken but did not—Iraq and Egypt. Some of us would have liked to hear a 287 little more about the situation in Iraq. I know that an answer was given yesterday to a Parlimentary question, but some of us are rather disquieted by what is going on there. I do not know whether it will be possible later in this Debate on foreign affairs for something more to be said about the outlook in Iraq. I am very glad that His Majesty's Ambassador in Iraq is in Bagdad and is staying there —and has not moved down to Basra—even though bombs are flying about. I think that we have made a better show in Bagdad than in Madrid. I am not blaming the Ambassador in Madrid. He was on leave and did not go back, and I know that that it is the fault of His Majesty's Government and not of the Ambassador. But I congratulate them upon the fact that Sir Archibald Clark Kerr is in Bagdad and is remaining there in spite of personal dangers and risks. T think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that we are very fortunate that he is there, because I regard him as one of the most active and vigorous, and, in the best sense, one of the most unconventional of our diplomats.
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman emitted Egypt because there will be a Debate on the ratification of the treaty later, and we shall look forward to developing our views on that occasion. In passing, I will just say that the treaty which the right hon. Gentleman has negotiated is suspiciously like the treaty which the late Arthur Henderson endeavoured to negotiate, and did negotiate, except so far as the Sudan was concerned, but at that time he was violently attacked by the party opposite. I should like to know what has made them change their views and come now to support a treaty curiously like that which the Labour Government tried to put through, but which then they violently resisted. But we will wait for that until we come to the later Debate.
On the Locarno talks, to come back to the west of Europe, the right hon. Gentleman was not very explicit. He said that serious divergencies had been revealed, and I can well believe it. I do not think that we have yet had an answer to the interesting letter which he sent to Berlin last May, except a bare acknowledgment of the receipt which came some months late. I do not 288 know whether, on a later occasion—I do not press him for it now—he will give us rather more information about those serious divergencies unless indeed they can be healed up quickly. I come back here to the point which I made just now. My hon. Friends on these benches have never been greatly enamoured of a too great fixation on western Europe and the Locarno zone. I will add another reason for that, a very realistic reason, which will fit in with what the right hon. Gentleman said about rearmament, though I warn him I am not going to say anything upon British rearmament to-day. That will fit better into the Debate which is to take place next week. But if you are thinking only of the west of Europe, you may, if things go very ill or if something awkward happens, find yourself in a situation of two against two, with the fifth running away. If you are limiting your view to the Locarno zone the margin of strength in your favour may be terribly narrow; it may even be negative. I wish to try to encourage the right hon. Gentleman to integrate the east of Europe with the west by offering him an argument on the plane of armaments, though I am not going to discuss armaments to-day. You want to make sure, if trouble comes—we hope that it will not come—that you will have an overwhelming balance on your side, and you cannot get that in the west of Europe alone. You can only get it if you call in the east to redress the balance of the west, which may be seriously tilted against you.
Therefore I say that you cannot leave Poland out from the circle of the friends of peace, nor Czechoslovakia nor Yugoslavia, and last of all, and materially the most powerful of all the Slav States, the Soviet Union. You cannot and should not leave them out, and should not even talk as though you were thinking of leaving them out, as the right hon. Gentleman gave a suspicion that he was doing to-day. In order to press home this point I will quote from the very gallant "Times" correspondent in Berlin. I suppose that he lives a riskier life there than the German Ambassador will live in London. The "Times" correspondent in Berlin, in that paper of the 3rd November, reports thus:The French suspicion … that Germany sees an opportunity for trying to engineer an isolated Western Pact, leaving Eastern 289 Europe as a Nazi-Bolshevist battleground, would seem reasonably well founded.…The stronger Germany becomes, the more frankly—indeed, impatiently—is it admitted that expansion eastwards, as advocated by Herr Hitler in 'Mein Kampf,' is regarded as natural and a vital necessity for Germany. Why … should the Western Powers want to prevent it? What business need it be of England's if Germany swallowed up 'Czechoslovakia? ….The idea that indefinite German expansion and incalculable disturbance in Eastern and Central Europe might cause justifiable uneasiness elsewhere is simply not understood as against the urgency of Germany's 'vital needs.' As for fear of a triumphant and swollen Germany becoming again a menace in the West, it was dismissed not long ago by a distinguished ex-democrat with the question why, after all, the Germans and the British, two virile peoples, should not share world dominion between them.Are there no cheers for that last sentence from over the way? I will show in a moment why I put that question. There has been a lot of destructive and disruptive Nazi propaganda running not among hon. Gentlemen opposite and in the papers which they read. It is one of the dangers to peace and understanding at this moment that the minds of a large section of our people are being debauched by Fascist propaganda of one kind or another, conducted at great expense and without scruple. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to believe me when I say that I am not endeavouring to score points or to indicate preferences for this regime or that, but if you are to confront any would-be disturbers of the peace with a combination of force so overwhelming as to make them change their mind and keep the peace, you must bring Eastern Europe into the picture, and it must come in with both feet. I could quote—it would, I think, be unnecessary to quote it at length—a very definite statement on the subject to which my hon. Friends are committed by a vote of our conference at Edinburgh, repeating what we have said on many previous occasions.It is urgently necessary to form in Europe "—I give merely the governing sentence—"within the framework of the League of Nations a strong group of peaceful States firmly pledged to non-aggression and to mutual assistance against any aggressor.It appears to us that Europe is at the same time both the largest and the smallest practicable area for the organisation of such a stand against aggression. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about economic questions. There again, if he 290 will pardon me saying so, we have heard of these amiable intentions before. I do not want to use a harsh word; I was going to say platitudes. But we have heard all this about the need for economic improvement and economic cooperation before. I understand that some commission is being set up to examine, with rather wide terms of reference, the question of access to certain raw materials. I think that is the phrase that he has used. We should like to know what is intended to be done along that line? When is the committee to meet, and is there any intention to push forward this inquiry with greater vigour than was the case in certain other inquiries? And what does it all amount to? So far as his reference to the Currency Agreement is concerned, we on these benches attach great importance and value to that, and are very glad that the French and American Governments and our own Government have come to this agreement for the stabilisation of Exchange rates. We are very glad that as a last resort our French friends took the course they did, which we judged to be both in accord with good economics, and in the best interests of France herself, and devalued the franc and came off the old Gold Standard.
That leads me to this point: I hope that there is not going to be any attempt by the Government—the right hon. Gentleman mentioned this question, so he must excuse this economic postscript, which perhaps ought more properly to be addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in connection with this matter, to reintroduce a fixed and rigid relationship between the pound sterling and gold. I hope that we are not going back by any subterfuge to the old Gold Standard of ill fame. We put it out through the front door in 1931, and I hope that it is not going to come climbing back through the back window in 1936 or 1937. If there is any such intention, then indeed the enthusiasm of my friends on these benches for this agreement will be greatly chilled.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assure us that any relationship that is to be set up between gold and any of these currencies is going to be strictly provisional and can be departed from without notice or explanation if it is judged to conflict with our national requirements and of British trade and employment. If it is attempted to put us 291 back on the cross of gold, we shall resist the operation. We have always felt strongly on this side, more strongly than hon. Gentlemen opposite, that these economic questions are fundamental, and that you will never get a proper settlement of international relationships without going very deeply into the present economic arrangements and making very large changes in them. I will leave it there for the moment. We shall no doubt hear more about it later on.
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that the trouble with the totalitarian States is not wholly economic, but that it is partly mental. You must take account of that. And that being so, it is very disconcerting that the totalitarian States seem at the moment to have got the initiative. Their spokesmen make harsher speeches than the right hon. Gentleman and they proceed more swiftly to action, as is in the case of Spain most recently. What is very disturbing is the way in which it appears—and I promised I would develop this point with which I challenged hon. Members opposite—that among many supporters of the Government and even among some Members of the Government there is a curious blinding of the eyes, and that their political and class prejudices more and more obscure their view of true British national and Imperial interests. It is a peculiar situation and it is increasingly evident.
It began in the Far East. I should have thought that it was clear that it was not in the interests of this country or in the interests of peace that Japan should get away with her aggression. One would have thought that loyalty to the League and loyalty to British interests would have combined to make it clear that Japanese aggression in China should not be encouraged. Not so. The predominant sympathy of hon. Members opposite was on the side of Japan against China. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) excelled himself on this subject, and so did others. Undoubtedly, the action taken by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, now the Home Secretary, was not whole-heartedly pro-League, and therefore not altogether anti-Japanese. Then we had the Italo-Abyssinian affair 292 which, as the Foreign Secretary quite rightly said, was not so much a matter between that country and Italy, but a question between Italy and the collective authority of the League. There, again, British interests in the narrow sense, and British purposes in the broad sense, including the need for strengthening and vindicating the League, all required us to make a stand unhesitatingly against Italy. But there was a mass of pro-Italian sympathy among supporters of the Government which resulted in attenuated sanctions and in making difficult the path of the right hon. Gentleman at Geneva. It held him up when at Geneva he wanted to go faster. There was much activity going on in this country at that time favourable to Italy, unfavourable to the League, and by implication unfavourable to British interests. Just as the great Conservative party was quite willing to see British interests in the Far East jeopardised by the continuance of Japanese aggression into China, with the consequent loss of British markets in the Far East, so in the same way British Conservatives were apparently not at all dismayed, nor indignant, nor prepared to resist or oppose the setting up of a new and real frontier along the eastern boundary of the Sudan, alongside of what used to be Abyssinia, with the consequent strengthening of Italian power to invade British territories by land, as well as to attack us in the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal or the Red Sea.
As another illustration of this Conservative blindness to British interests let me take Spain. If there be one thing clearer than another it is that a Spain under Fascist influence will not be beneficial to British interests. Thought of Soviet Spain frightens some people. They are terrified of it, the Sunday Press in particular. Poor Mr. Garvin is so upset that I thought he would not be much longer with us. It is the vision of a Soviet Spain, a Communist Spain that frightens them, yet anyone, like the right hon. Gentleman, who has in his possession concrete information about the Spanish situation, knows that a Soviet Spain is an old wives' tale. Whatever we may say about Communism—I do not regard it as important in relation to this country—it is not the kind of creed that would take root in a country such as 293 Spain. It is a ridiculous bogy, but it was used in order to persuade the supporters of the right hon. Gentleman that it would not much matter if the Fascists won in Spain, indeed that it would be a good thing. The Italians and the Germans got away with it. They acted much more promptly than the right hon. Gentleman. They supplied arms in the early stages. They took steps to make the result certain. They have been constantly arming the rebels, and if General Franco and his people win they will win in deep debt to two States which, to put it mildly, look less like non-aggressors than any other States in Europe.
What about some simple geography? It must be very interesting for the right hon. Gentleman in the Cabinet to be ringed around by previous Foreign Secretaries and to hear stories of all the interesting things they have done in the past. I was going to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is really satisfied that General Franco has not signed away the Balearic Isles or Ceuta, threatening our position at Gibraltar, or the Canary Islands perhaps—places very suitable for the setting up of naval bases, which in the case of the Canaries or other islands in the Atlantic might seriously interfere with our alternative route to the Cape if we lost the Mediterranean route. These geographical considerations are not unimportant. If we lose command of the Mediterranean route, and, more than that, of the routes across the Atlantic, the food lines to this country from Canada and from South America and the United States, what then? Are not these enormously dangerous geographical possibilities, and can anyone who looks at the map visualise them without feeling some concern?
Is it not clear that the one kind of Government that we do not want in Spain, from the point of view of British interests, is a Spain which is either so weak that she has to hand over these vantage points to those who have assisted her, the Fascist States, or a Spain which is so strong from the support she has got from these people that she is prepared to take the initiative in turning over these places to very different uses from those to which they have been put up to date? I give this example of the Spanish War as a further example of the way in which the supporters of the pre- 294 sent Government—not all of them but large numbers of them—and large numbers of journals which circulate among them, have subordinated British national interests to their own political and class prejudices. It is not safe to have in power in this country a Government so blinded by class interest and prejudice that it forgets British national interests altogether.
Finally, let me refer to the barrage of propaganda which is being put down in favour of Germany and against the Soviet Union. The Press is full of it. It is designed, in the words used by the correspondent of the "Times" in Berlin, to create the impression, not that Germany will never strike East—that would be too much even for the gullibility of some people in this country—but that, if she does strike East, what does it matter to us? Tales are being put about to the effect that Germany is monstrously menaced by the Soviet Union, the terrible Red Army and the terrifying Red air fleet. Reference has already been made to-day to the observations of a distinguished diplomat, made before he set foot in his office, on the station platform at Victoria, telling us that Communism was our greatest danger; a statement which, even if it were true, which it is not, was very unfortunate, coming from such a person. I know that Dr. Goebbels and General Goering have been kind enough to use in regard to Press comments on their utterances in this country, such epithets as "insulting" and "impertinent." Do not let us have a one-way traffic in these epithets, which I would apply to what Herr Von Ribbentrop said on the station platform.
It is not true that it is Communism which is the menace here. No one who had five minutes friendly conversation with the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) could believe that Communism, which he alone represents here, is any menace to us in this House or in this country. There are not in this country many Communists. We in the Labour party know how to deal with them in so far as they try to impinge upon our political organisation, and we know perhaps more about their negligible strength than hon. Members on the other side. It is not these things that are a menace. It is other things which are the menace. In conclusion I am going to say a few 295 words about a real potential menace to this country, which has been impudently planted on British soil, namely, the menace of Fascism. We are asking the right hon. Gentleman to be firm in relation to the Fascist menace abroad. It is essential that we should pass out of the phase in which democrats talk while dictators plunge as well as talk. We should have some assurance that following the wholly admirable speech of the right hon. Gentleman there is going to be much more effective action, and a much more coherent plan than in the past, uniting the forces of those nations which undoubtedly prefer peace to war and who stand behind the principle of a collective peace.
The right hon. Gentleman, freshly returned from Moscow a little while ago, declared, and I agree with his declaration, that whatever we may say about the Soviet Government—this is the substance of what he said, and if it is incorrect perhaps he will correct me—having been over there and having seen something of their problems he was sure that they had quite enough to do to develop their own State, and that they were as peacefully inclined as any State in the world at that time. He paid tribute to the pacific character of the Soviet Government, a tribute which was well deserved then and I think is well deserved now, but would not be deserved by same of the countries in Europe who are talking a lot about the menace that the Soviet Union is to them.
Abroad, Fascism is a menace, but here it is only a nuisance. It is only a political bad smell that can be dispelled by the strong wind of public opinion, backed up by appropriate legislation. The Fascist nuisance over here is a by-product of international politics. It would never have been thought of, it would never have been attempted and it would never have been heavily subsidised from abroad, as we suspect it is, but for its growth elsewhere. Fascism here as elsewhere has sinister motives in view—to smash trade unionism, to break the co-operative movement, to break the souls and bodies of gallant men in their thousands and to destroy democracy. Unless this hideous movement had taken that sinister form abroad we should never have heard of 296 this miserable imitation here. I will quote some trenchant words:We have lost the good old British spirit and instead we have black-shirted buffoons making a cheap imitation of ice-cream sellers.Who said that? None other than the Fuhrer himself—Sir Oswald Mosley, when he was wooing the electors of Smethwick in 1926. At that time he was a great friend of the Lord President of the Council. The right hon. Gentleman was most intimate with him and trusted him. They travelled together all round Europe. Join Mosley and see the world. I associate myself with those words:Black-shirted buffoons making a cheap imitation of ice-cream sellers.He was a Labour candidate then. He had been a Conservative candidate before. He has been through our hands and through yours, and we are both glad to be rid of him. I hope now that the Government will put their thumb on this movement. It is time that the Government put its thumb, not on all the petty little followers, the people who march around in their black shirts, but the Government should put their thumb on the Fuhrer, on the Duce, himself. I ask the Government to tell us—we attach the utmost importance to knowing—whether this movement is receiving any assistance from Berlin, or Nuremberg or Rome. [An HON. MEMBER: "Or from Moscow."] He would not be eligible for money from Moscow. Moscow money, as far as it goes, is pitiably mis-spent. But I am not at all satisfied that, unless it is stopped now, this Fascist money may not be spent to a very good purpose from their point of view but to a very bad purpose from the point of view of the decencies of British public life. I hope that the Government will tell us all they know about the sources of supply of this man Mosley. We know that he is a rich man, but he is not rich enough to pay for all the activities of these Black-shirts, their meetings and their propaganda, their special trains and their uniforms. We would like to know whether anything is coming from Berlin or Rome so far as the Government have any knowledge. These are the most likely places from which it would come. Our suspicions are not allayed by observing that after one of these provocative marches through the East End of London Sir Oswald Mosley hastened by aeroplane 297 to Berlin and was reported to have had conversations with Dr. Goebbels on methods of propaganda. We are deeply suspicious of the foreign affiliations of this movement and we wish to be enlightened.
There are many hon. Members of Jewish birth on the other side of the House and the Liberal party would have a larger proportion than any other if its numbers were larger. We can all unite on this, that these anti-Jewish demonstrations are disgusting and un-English and that they should be stopped. It is the stock-in-trade of these people. They have learnt this from Berlin. In this respect the civilisation of Rome stands much higher than the civilisation of Germany. In Rome the Jews are hardly distinguished from other Italians. I pay that tribute to Signor Mussolini. They have learnt this business from Germany, from Streicher and his like. I think there will be no doubt of this, that any action to put a stop to this abomination will be taken by a united Parliament. The pretence is that some Jews have done well out of the Gentiles. That is true; and some Gentiles have done well out of their fellow Gentiles, but, if it is the contention that the Jews have done well out of the Gentiles—and that is the allegation—why do not they break windows in Park Lane and go and throw stones at the windows of certain acceptance houses in the City of London, instead of going into the poor streets in the East End? The whole thing is palpably insincere. I say that the British Jew is a far better British citizen than the British Fascist. A British Fascist is almost a contradiction in terms, and I hope that the Government will without delay bring in a Bill to stop these disgusting malpractices.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
We have listened to a speech from the Foreign Secretary which showed all his qualities of expression and grace. Many of the sentiments he used were wholly admirable, and in so far as the right hon. Gentleman is striving and working to carry into practice the proposals he has put forward in his speech, to make the League of Nations more effective, he will have the wholehearted support of hon. Members on these Benches. I hope we shall find that it works out in the way the right hon. 298 Gentleman has indicated, although recent experience has not been too happy in that direction. The Foreign Secretary used firm and wise language with regard to Germany and Italy, and I hope it will be carefully considered there. He made a reference to the Conference of the Powers who signed the Treaty of Locarno, but did not throw very much light upon that matter. The whole point there is that whatever agreement may be come to it must not be a means of allowing Germany to make an attack unrestricted upon Russia or upon Czechoslovakia. If it facilitates that in any respect it would be one of the most vital blunders that could be perpetrated.
We on these benches have voted for the Government's rearmament programme in the belief that we must as a great country play our part in collective security, but at the same time we are profoundly distrustful of the purposes for which the Government may be going to use the arms. We are wholly unconvinced that they have any real belief in the system of collective security. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the Government giving a lead. I was glad to hear it. I hope it will be a lead in the right direction. We have had experience of leads in both directions during the last 12 months, and, therefore, I hope the lead will be on the excellent line indicated by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. We are not frank with ourselves unless we clearly recognise that the collective system of the League of Nations has in fact ceased to exist. There is no longer any faith in it. The Powers are no longer prepared to base the safety of their country upon it. Since the episode of Abyssinia all confidence has gone. We had the humiliating situation in Danzig. There is a reference in the Gracious Speech to a small measure for improving the fire brigade organisations of this country. The Government are destroying the greatest fire brigade in the world, the League of Nations, which could put out all international conflagrations.
I note with the greatest regret a difference in the situation of the right hon. Gentleman a year ago and to-night. A year ago he was the idol of millions in this country, and all over the world. There has been a great change to-day. He has the personal good will of all his 299 friends who wish him success in his work. They desired that his influence would lead the whole Cabinet forward in the direction in which I think he most sincerely desired them to go; but at the moment I do not like the policy of this other Eden. It is not leading us to any demi-paradise, or anywhere near it, but in a very different direction. I have referred to the collapse of the collective system. Let me give one quotation from a speech made by the Foreign Secretary of Belgium, M. Spaak, on 18th October. He said:Remember Abyssinia. It was also believed that by basing her defence on the policy of collective security she would be safe. Do you want that to happen to us?There is a sauve qui peut process going on among all the smaller powers trying to find some other shelter than the shelter of the League which has been denied them.
I would only make one brief reference to another matter upon which some new light has recently been thrown—the question of Manchuria. Has the Foreign Secretary any comment to make upon a statement in a book written by Mr. Stimson, the American Secretary of State, in which he says that in February, 1932, he suggested to the then Foreign Secretary on behalf of the United States that economic sanctions should be imposed on Japan, under the Nine-Powers Treaty for the common defence in the Far East, and that he found an unwillingness on the part of the then Foreign Secretary and the British Government to consider the matter seriously at all. He says that he formed the opinion from the lack of response he received that the British Government were not interested in the matter at all. We have always been told that the United States would not co-operate with us; that we could get nothing out of them. That is in direct contradiction to this statement, and I think the matter should be cleared up in justice to the British Government.
Now we have the Spanish situation, which is most humiliating for this country. It shows that we are under the direction of the dictators at the present time. We dare not insist on the proper carrying out of international law. The Spanish situation is really another stage in the fast developing European war, as 300 I see it. I think that the policy of nonintervention pursued by the Government was the only policy open to them at the time, but, in fact, it has not been a policy of non-intervention, and the Government are to blame for not tackling the question much more seriously at an earlier stage and pressing at the very beginning for the sending out of commissions to the various ports to find out exactly what was going on. If the right hon. Gentleman were able to say that he had urged that very strongly and had met with rebuffs from the other countries, then he would have made out a case, but until he can say that, I think he is open to considerable criticism for the feeble manner in which that particular matter was handled.
There is one point, which was raised in the House the other day, on which we have to make up our minds. What are we to do in future civil wars which may be manipulated and organised from outside? What, for instance, will be our attitude if there is a civil war in Germany, in Italy, or perhaps in Russia? Is there to be non-intervention or are we to allow one side or the other to receive arms? We have had no clear lead on that matter. I always like to be constructive, and I will make a suggestion which may perhaps be worthy of consideration. Assuming that there is a world order which is functioning at all, I believe the right policy would be to apply to any country in which a civil war broke out economic sanctions of an extensive kind, and to say to that country that we intend to continue those economic sanctions until there exists in it and evolves out of the dispute a government, whether constituted democratically or dictatorially, willing to co-operate loyally in the collective system and submit without the slightest hesitation any disputes in which it may be involved to a third-party judgment. I believe there is something to be said in favour of dealing with the matter on those lines.
It seems to me that we are getting into a position in which the last shreds of the collective system are disappearing altogether. What is the position with regard to the Locarno conversations? It seems very improbable that anything will come out of them. The point to which I wish particularly to direct attention, and about which I would ask the Minister who replies to say something, is our 301 position with regard to Russia. Are we still going to co-operate in the collective system with Russia? When he returned from Moscow, the Foreign Secretary said that he regarded co-operation with Russia on those lines as a vital part of the foreign policy of this country. I will quote from a speech made by the Home Secretary which quite clearly indicates that we have abandoned any question of cooperating with Russia. If this speech is misinterpreted perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he speaks, will be good enough to say so. On 6th October, speaking in his constituency, the Home Secretary said:Germany is threatening Russia, and Russia is threatening Germany. Let us keep out.That may be the right policy, but the point is that up to now the Government's foreign policy has been based on the theory that we would go to the assistance of Germany or Russia, whichever was attacked. There is a widespread suspicion in this country that the Government are dropping all co-operation, in the sanctions sense, with Russia. Is that true or not? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) dealt with this question in a most admirable speech which he made in Paris the other day. He said:I am asked the question 'Which would I be with, Germany or Russia, if they were in dispute?'and he gave the most admirable, sensible and obvious reply from a collective point of view:I would be against the aggressor.Is that the answer of the Government? It is very important for the whole world to know. May I venture respectfully to say how much many of us admire the lead which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping is giving at the present time in regard to the League of Nations and the collective system? He has brought a fearless reality into the matter, and all of us who believe in the system wish him all possible success in his efforts to make it a reality in the life and practice of the Government of this country.
I would like now to make a passing reference to the very unfortunate introductory interview given by the new German Ambassador when he arrived. I think he must realise already that it was a faux pas and that it would be much 302 wiser for him to stick to the ordinary, quiet, diplomatic methods. If he eschewed propaganda and adopted the ordinary methods, he would be far more likely to cultivate that good will and understanding between this country and Germany which I am sure everybody desires to see.
With regard to the question of the remnants of the collective system, I wish the Government would tell us exactly what are our definite commitments. Are we left simply with the defence of Belgium, or are we also going to protect France? Are we committed to our old ally, Portugal? Have we to send troops there if it is necessary? It is clear that under the Government's policy the British Empire is quite indefensible. I know we have heard very beautiful words to-day on that subject, but in a world in which we have to rely on ourselves alone—for that is what we are coming to—the British Empire and the Mediterranean will not be safe, and our possessions in the Far East will fall an easy prey to those who may desire to take them. I hope the Government will realise before it is too late that our only security is to go back to the full collective system. The Prime Minister, in his speech on Thursday last, and the Foreign Secretary to-day, made remarks about a divided nation and about unity. What is the good of pretending that we are not a deeply divided nation on the question of foreign policy? Of course we are—it may be a fatally divided nation. That need not necessarily be so, but it is so at the moment.
§ Mr. BAXTER
The hon. Member must not confuse a divided Parliament with a divided nation. I do not think there is much division in the nation.
§ Mr. MANDER
That is a matter of opinion. I have been at some pains to find out the facts concerning the position of our young people of military age, to whom it is desired to appeal with regard to recruiting. As far as I can ascertain, they are divided into three classes. There are those who say they will fight whenever they are called upon to do so by King and country. There are those who say they will not fight in any circumstances. Then there are those who say that they do not want to fight, but if it is for something worth while—the League of Nations, which will give security and 303 peace to the world—they are quite prepared to do so. The policy of the Government—and I know what I am saying—is driving large numbers of enthusiastic supporters of the collective system—who would fight for it—into the ranks of those who say that they will not fight in any circumstances. I do not agree with that particular point of view, but that is what the Government are doing. The Peace Pledge Union have an organisation all over the country; and they have considerably over 100,000 pledged supporters of military age. There you have undoubtedly a movement that may seriously imperil all the armaments and all the efforts that the Government are making in case of war.
The last point I wish to make is a constructive one: What can we do now to get national unity? I believe the position is clearly indicated. First of all, we ought not to say. "Would you fight for Danzig or for Czechoslovakia?" Naturally, if that question were put to anybody, he would say that he would certainly not do so; but if the question were put in the following way, "Would you fight for the only known system which would keep your country, on a long view, out of war?" the answer would most certainly be "Yes." The right thing would be for the Government to call a special meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, and to say that, after reviewing the whole subject again, they have come to the conclusion that there is no alternative to the League system, that sooner or later it is bound to be accepted, that they are determined to throw the whole of their force and their weight into putting it into effective operation at the present time, that nothing will stand in the way and that we will go to the bitter end. I wonder whether the policy so admirably stated in the Assembly of the League in September of last year—a statement on which very largely the Government won the general election—is still true. That statement was:His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom will stand with the League for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety, and particularly steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.That was a very good statement, but I would like to quote from another docu- 304 ment which was sent to the League of Nations recently by a Government—the name of which I will give afterwards, in order that the statement may be considered on its merits—in which all hon. Members have a great deal of interest and with which they have much sympathy. That document was sent to the League in connection with proposals for the reform of the Covenant, and I venture to say that if the ideas which I shall now read were adopted by the Government, in accordance with the extract from the speech which I have just quoted, the whole situation would be revolutionised. The document reads:We believe that the Covenant has never yet been fully applied and that it cannot be characterised as an ineffective instrument until it has been so applied. We are prepared to take our collective share in the application against any future aggressor of the full economic sanctions contemplated by Article XVI, and we are prepared, to the extent of our power, to join in the collective application of force against any future aggressor. We believe that the sanctions contemplated in the present Covenant will be ineffective in the future, as they have been in the past, unless they are made immediate and automatic, unless economic sanctions take the form of the complete boycott contemplated by Article XVI, unless any sanctions that may be applied are supported by the certainty that the members of the League applying the sanctions are able and, if necessary, prepared to use force against force.The last part of the statement reads:It is our belief that the Covenant, as it is or in a strengthened form, would in itself be sufficient to prevent war if the world realised that the nations undertaking to apply the Covenant actually would do so in fact.Those expressions are not from some resolution passed by the League of Nations Union, although from their terms they might well be. It is not some very small Government. It is the Government of the most English and the most loyal of all the British Dominions, the Government of New Zealand. I say that a policy of that kind alone can bring unity and strength. I hope we shall stand in this matter as a united Empire. So we shall yet save ourselves and the world.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I shall not apologise to the House for trying to bring it back to the consideration of some measures other than those of force in this matter. I am not going to argue the purely pacifist position to-night. I want to make 305 an appeal to the Government, and especially to the Foreign Secretary, and to ask whether the time has not arrived to consider some means by which the problems of Europe and the world can be dealt with, other than the methods which have been pursued up to the present. No hon. or right hon. Gentleman in this House will deny that up to the present all the systems that have been tried, whether the system of pacts between individual nations or the collective system of the League of Nations, have failed. I am not of those who wish to apportion blame to one side or the other. I am of opinion that these things have failed because they did not and could not apply to the conditions which have arisen.
The position in France during the Abyssinian dispute was such that everyone who had studied the question knew that in the end, whatever other Governments did, it would not be possible for the French Government to take any action but the action which they did take. The difficulties which arose in regard to the Sino-Japanese dispute were such that even had the Governments which are said to have had the right to interfere, proposed to take any action, it is extremely doubtful whether there was any Power in a position at that time to take action. With regard to the Spanish situation, whatever blame attaches to any of the Governments, every one of them—Russia, ourselves and the others—dread an extension of that conflict. They dread it for a perfectly simple reason. If it did spread and a European war ensued, the greatest champion of democracy as against Fascism admits that such a war would end in European collapse. That is not said only by me and people like me, because I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has himself said something very similar to it.
It is sometimes argued that if we could get this business fought out at this moment and not allow the Germans and Italians another year, we might succeed. I think that is a false idea, and altogether a false principle. I ask hon. Members whether any of them have ever sat down and considered this question. Supposing we go to war once more, this time to conquer Fascism and put the dictators in their places, does any one consider that, even if we had a partial success, the two or three nations concerned, whatever they 306 were, would be finally and ultimately crushed, or that you would by that means secure anything like permanent peace in Europe and the world? When I listen to stories about Italian ambitions in the Mediterranean and of the danger to the sea routes of our country and of the world, I ask myself at what particular point in the development of things has France, or Great Britain, or America, each with great sea power, stopped the free passage of merchantmen and passenger ships along these sea routes? They are open to everybody. Why do we talk of our rights in the Mediterranean? It is to safeguard our route in time of war.
I want to bring the House up against something else which is involved in this question. Whatever may be the merits in the controversy regarding sea power and air power, whether control of the sea is of the same use as formerly having regard to the development of aerial power, I am not concerned at this moment to argue, and in any case I have not the ability to argue. But this is true—that air routes are now of just as much importance as the waterways of the world. It is possible that one of these days we shall be called upon to safeguard some particular base, in some particular part of the world because we consider it absolutely necessary to do so for the safety of our control of the routes to our Dominions and possessions across the world. I think the time has come when in international affairs as in home affairs we ought to start considering these matters in the light of the fact that we are living in a world which differs entirely from any world which has gone before. We are living under conditions which are new and the effects of which are largely I believe still unknown. No one can tell us anything about the immediate or the ultimate developments of aerial power or of any of the other scientific inventions which have been, introduced since the Great War.
We ask ourselves why the nations are arming. Perhaps in this matter my Friends on the benches above the Gangway may disagree with me, but I do not believe in the doctrine that any individual nation can be, as Burke put it, indicted. I do not believe that the Germans, the Italians, the French are any worse or any better than other 307 people including ourselves. I can remember hearing in this House the same language used with regard to Russian Ambassadors in this country as is now being used with regard to the German Ambassador. Over and over again my blood has boiled because I thought we ought not to speak in that way. But I have lived long enough to know that when feelings run high—and all our feelings run high against Fascism as it is practised anywhere in the world—our language is never what it ought to be. But what I wish to emphasise is this. Anybody who imagines that the working people of this country or of France are going to be lined up, Fascists on the one side and Communists on the other, is making a very great mistake indeed. I do not believe that that is the fundamental issue to-day.
The fundamental issues to-day, as I see them, are mainly economic. They are partly territorial it is true, but whenever territorial questions come in, economic conditions come in also. What distresses me about the Foreign Secretary and the Government and this House generally is that we go on discussing armaments and the fear of war but never yet in any Debate that we have had have we paid attention to the fundamental causes of war—the one thing which we ought to be considering. If a plague existed in the world and we were likely to be smitten by it, we would not be talking about the effects but of how to get rid of that plague. We are living in a time when it ought to be possible to look at the world in a manner which was not possible 20 or 30 or 50 years ago. We now know that there is room enough in the world for everybody. We now know that there are raw materials enough for everybody. We now know that there is productive power in the world sufficient to give mankind everywhere, if properly organised, a decent standard of life. There never was a period when that could be said as it can be said to-day. Yet the only thing we discuss is how we are going to destroy it and how we are going, as Ministers have said, to establish barbarism.
I am entitled to say to this House that I know of my own knowledge that if there was a man younger than myself with the zeal to go through this country and to go through the world and to appeal to the peoples to force or at least to persuade 308 their Governments to meet for once, not to discuss disarmament in the ordinary sense, but to discuss frankly with one another why they want to arm and why there is a danger of war, there would be an immediate response. In the old days we did not know enough to be able to share the world. But I would point out to the House that to-day everyone who cherishes the doctrine of democracy is very glad to know the result of the election in the United States. But what has rallied people to Mr. Roosevelt? I know I may be told that they have armed too, but this, more than anything else, has rallied people to him, that in America they know that he is working for a unification of the whole of the American States, Southern and Northern, and one day probably Canada as well, to weld them all into an economic unity. Those 48 States at present sink their national sovereignty and do not impose tariffs one against the other. They also sink their national sovereignty and give up the right to go to war against one another. Now Mr. Roosevelt is negotiating, and he hopes to spread that right across the continent.
I know the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, in the book that he has written, has told us a great deal about the past history of Europe and the outcome of that history, but we are living now in this new world, and surely there is going to be some man, some younger man, who will stand out to the world and challenge the Governments of the world on this one issue. You say to us that another war, another great devastating war, will leave the world in ruins. You wonder that young men do not rush to the colours to fight the barbarism, and that is what you are telling them. Surely to God in this House or somewhere in the world there will be found people who will say, "Let us halt this and call Mr. Hitler, call Mr. Mussolini, call Stalin, call the leaders of the nations, somewhere in the world, in the centre, and let them look, as Mr. Roosevelt said in a speech, straight into one another's eyes and say to each other, 'The world is going to ruin. We are the men who are at the head of affairs, and surely we are not going to allow it, but can at least make one great final effort to avert the catastrophe.'"
This is not sickly sentiment; it is realism much more than war. It is ask- 309 ing that the power of the world shall be used for peace and not for war, for the construction of the means of peace. It is said that these men will not listen. Let us at least clear ourselves. Let us put the challenge to them that we are prepared, not to hand out territory, not to share again the plunder of the world in that way, but let us say to them that we are willing to join in setting up whatever commissions are necessary to consider how best we can use the undeveloped parts of the world, how best we can utilise and organise the markets of the world. Millions of people in the world die every year of starvation. There are markets for much more than we could produce under present conditions, and my appeal to the Government and to the House is once more that we should ask either the United States, Russia, or France, or that at any rate we should let it be known that our country is willing to take the lead in calling a conference at which these questions shall be discussed. They never have been yet.
What we have been doing is like we used to do with disease, discussing how to deal with effects, not with causes, and I am pleading this afternoon once more, amid all this welter of words about this arming and that arming, amid all the discussion about the iniquity of this Government and that Government, that some Government shall fling out the challenge, and I want it to be our Government, before this catastrophe happens. In my bones I do not believe it will happen, I do not believe that the people will allow it to happen, but before there is a danger of its happening, let these men who have the power of life and death in their hands be challenged to sit at a table and tell the world in clear language what they want, and let the rest of the world who possess everything tell what sacrifices they will make for peace and not for war.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The fervour and the passion of the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) not only commend themselves to the House, but what he wishes above all things in the world to achieve is also the object which, I think, we ought to have in view, Government, Opposition, private Members, Liberals, and Conservatives alike. What 310 is that object? We desire above all things to avert and prevent this coming war, if it be indeed coming, to stave it off. That is the object, and I believe the Foreign Secretary was well advised and right to choose an occasion like this, the Debate on the Address, to make a clear and cool survey of the European scene and place the House in possession of the outlook of the Government at the present moment. In the main there is a very great measure of agreement between us. There is complete agreement as to what we want. Differences will only arise as to how we are to achieve that purpose. Whether the kind of appeal which the right hon. Gentleman has just made, addressed to Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini, and Comrade Stalin would in fact lead to the melting of those stern hearts, I cannot tell—[An HON. MEMBER: "Why not try?"] Well, you have only a certain amount of influence, and it is a great mistake not to direct it to the very best and most useful channel. And may I point out that there is in existence a body, which I hope the right hon. Gentleman has not forgotten, called the League of Nations.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman omits to mention one thing. I want America in this, and I want the other Powers in, and I do not think we can get the discussion that I want unless they are there, and everyone knows that they are not members of the League at present. Therefore, you must call them to a new sort of conference, similar to the Disarmament Conference.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I am bound to say that I think that at this juncture we should be wasting our breath and wasting our influence if we passed by the League of Nations, the existing machinery which has been erected with so much pain and trouble in the world, which has enlisted behind it an enormous body of support. If we went out vaguely with some appeal of that character, which really would amount to very little more than that Great Britain was prepared to give away a large number of colonies, if that would satisfy the hunger of certain nations, it appears to me that the right hon. Gentleman might easily find that he had led his countrymen up a path which would lead to nothing but vexation and disappointment on all sides, and that he had meanwhile discarded a high road, 311 upon which an enormous amount of human effort, and benevolent effort, has been expended. The most important thing, it seems to me, in regard to British policy is for us to have a plan and to stick to it. The repeated chops and changes, hot fits and cold fits, with which even the last melancholy 12 months have acquainted us, these have sensibly diminished our influence and augmented the dangers which menace us and others. No one can look out upon the surface of the world without profound anxiety, not only because of the causes of unrest, but because of the unfavourable regards which are turned in our direction from many countries. No one can do that without feeling that at every stage events have darkened and turned against us. You can hardly think of anything that has happened in the last year that has not made our position one of greater anxiety. One has to note every week something happening which seems to tell against our view and against our influence in the world which we rightly cherish.
That is why I plead for a plan, and I think there is a plan which is open to us. It is the same plan that nearly all the Members who were elected talked about at the General Election and gained votes for urging, namely, the plan of standing by the Covenant of the League of Nations and trying to gather together, under the authority of the Covenant, the largest possible number of well-armed, peace-seeking Powers in order to overawe, and if necessary to restrain, a potential aggressor, whoever he may be. Why, Sir, a very great number of our people have given their faith to this conception of the reign of law in Europe, and if possible in the world. But when we speak of the reign of law we must mean a reign of law supported by adequate and, if possible, by overwhelming force. The days of saving money on armaments have gone by. They may well return in happier conditions, but in this grim year 1936, and still more in its ominous successor, our aim, our task, is not to reduce armaments. It is something even more intense, even more vital, namely, to prevent war, if war can be staved off. Horrible war, blasting in its devastation the prosperity of the world, can only be—I submit it with all respect to the House—prevented by the mar- 312 shalling of preponderant forces, sustained by world opinion, as a deterrent to any aggressor who breaks the peace.
I welcome the speech of the Foreign Secretary. I think we ought to play, not only because it is our duty, but also because it is for our safety, a manly and a resolute part in this. I believe we should run more risks by standing out of what is called collective security than by coming in and trying to make a reality of what has hitherto proved only a sham. I do not see what we lose by making a new and vehement effort, and I interpret the speech of the Foreign Secretary in that sense, that -he intended to make a new and resolute effort. I do not see what we lose. If we succeed, then we shall have borne our part in preventing a renewal of Armageddon. If our exertions are not supported in proportionate measure by others, if we are not backed up by a very large number of countries, great and small, then, of course, collective security will be shown to be a fraud, and the League of Nations will be proved to be nothing but an idle dream.
Even if that happens, I do not see how our affairs will be worsened from the bad position in which they now stand. There will still remain the two Parliamentary democracies of the Western world, the two great nations whose thought and action have shaped its destiny and cleared the path of progress. These two nations, Great Britain and the French Republic, will still, if everything else fail, remain possessed of very considerable means of common defence. Together they will be very dangerous to attack. Together they will be very hard to destroy. It seems highly probable, therefore, that even if we fail in re-establishing a decent tolerable life for the whole European family, which is our first endeavour, we shall nevertheless he so much considered that the fury of an aggressor will not fall upon us or, if it should we shall be able to survive and ride out the storm as we have ridden out others in the past. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that platitudes, smooth words, timid policies offer to-day a path to safety. Only by a firm adherence to righteous principles sustained by all the necessary instrumentalities, to use a famous American expression, can the dangers which close in so steadily upon us and upon the peace of Europe be 313 warded off and overcome. That they can be overcome must be our hope and our faith.
It will be said, of course, that these words lead in one direction. "What you really mean," it will be said, "is the gathering together under the aegis of the League of Nations of what amounts to a grand defensive alliance against Germany." Germany, we are assured, is a most peace-loving country. It is true they are scraping together a few weapons, but that, we are told, is only because of the terror in which they dwell of a Russian Bolshevik invasion. Night and day the fear, we are told, of the aggression of Soviet Russia rests upon Germany. If that be their trouble it can easily be healed. Let them come into the system of collective security, and if Russia is the aggressor and the invader, then all Europe will give to Germany guarantees that they will not go down unaided. They have only to ask for guarantees for the defence of the soil of Germany, and they will find them forthcoming in the fullest measure from many nations, both powerful and small alike.
What, then, is this talk about encirclement? It is all nonsense. There is nothing that we ask for ourselves under collective security that we will not willingly concede, nay, earnestly proffer, to Germany. Let her join the club, and make her great contribution and share its amenities and immunities. Let me make it clear that those who are devoted and sincere supporters of the Covenant of the League of Nations do not confine their position to an armed and combined defence of the status quo. We contemplate machinery for the redress of legitimate grievances between nations, and we must contemplate that if a grievance is shown to be justified it shall be corrected even in the despite of nations who would be unwilling to make the sacrifice. Four years ago—I do not know whether the House can go back so far, for nowadays memories are so happily short—I ventured to submit to the House the doctrine that the redress of the grievances of the vanquished should precede the disarmament of the victors. Those days are gone. We have fooled them all away.
Now under infinitely harder circumstances the same issue presents itself in a somewhat different form. One desires 314 to see among the nations who were the victors a certain association of strength in order that they may reach a position where they can discuss on even terms the redress of grievances. It is said that there must not be a front against any nation, or against Germany. All I can say is that unless there is a front there will be no settlement. Unless there is a front against potential aggression there will be no settlement. All the nations of Europe will just be driven helter-skelter across the diplomatic chess board until the limits of retreat are exhausted, and then out of desperation, perhaps in some most unlikely quarter, the explosion of war will take place, probably under conditions not very favourable to those who have been engaged in this long retreat. I believe that the next 12 months may be our last chance of averting a European conflict and of preventing that conflict from darkening into a world war.
I rejoice that the Foreign Secretary has this afternoon told us in unmistakable terms that he will make one more effort at Geneva to establish the reign of law backed by adequate force. Because these efforts have failed in the past, as he says himself, there is no reason why they should fail in the end. That is why I say that we must have a plan, a theme. We must have a cause and all necessary subordinations of pique, prejudice or pride must be made to that general theme. If this policy is openly proclaimed and frankly avowed, the people in this island will not be the last to understand it or the least willing to take measures to sustain it. We shall be no longer drifting about, hither and thither. Now, as the evils of the time unfold and one sinister event after another crops up, every section of public opinion represented in the nation, every section of public opinion represented, I have no doubt, in the Cabinet has its day, has its expedient. Something happens here to favour the Nazi regime, and those who are its opponents then raise their voices. Something happens on the other side, and another set of gentlemen find their ideas apparently receiving some confirmation from the course of events. To be governed in your foreign policy by the ups and downs of events in times like these causes the greatest misfortune.
315 Without a theme boldly proclaimed on which the great majority of the nation is united, which commands the assent of many classes and parties—without that there will be no means of finding our way through these extraordinary dangers. Look back on the past 12 months and see the varieties of policy to which not only the Government but this House has given vehement expression. It is not only for ourselves that it is a serious peril. It baffles friends; it fans the wrath of foes. It makes the remaining authority and influence of Britain a positive embarrassment to Europe instead of being the main anchor, as it should be, of honesty, courage and stability. With a plan, with a theme and with a cause to which we adhere, even though circumstances run counter to it for a time, you will bring other people to conform to your movement. You have no chance of doing it while we are drifting this way and that.
With such a plan minor difficulties cease to count. We could with combined strength speak with a united voice, and these minor daily affairs and distractions could no longer disturb us. The principles would be proclaimed of submission to international law, of resolve to enforce international law, of determination to secure the means to enforce it and of appealing to other similarly minded to join hands with us. Such a policy may well inspire the conscience of the British Empire, and may yet command the action of the world. That is why I am most grateful to the Foreign Secretary. I think that he has acted in the only way in which he could possibly act in proclaiming his intention not to cast aside the Covenant of the League, not to lose heart at this critical moment, but to make a renewed effort adequate to the seriousness of the time in order to establish, in defiance of past experience, in spite of disappointments, the principle of collective security against aggression without which we cannot see how a future conflict is to be prevented.
There are some practical points, however, to which I would crave the permission of the House to refer because they are difficult points, and it is no use talking about a subject if you avoid the difficult points. Take this question of collective security. The phrase has come to be derided now. People point to what happened in Abyssinia, and so forth, and 316 then they say, "Are we not in Great Britain likely to commit ourselves to an enormous extension of our liabilities and dangers?" I hold that the doctrine of collective security must mean that no one is in until enough are in. It seems to me good sense. If other Powers and small Powers are not going to do their part, they must take their fate. Some of the small countries have enormous colonial possessions, great empires almost. If there is to be a stampede among them to join the martial dictators, the Western democracies can do nothing to save them, still less to save their possessions.
So, when I suggest we ought to pledge our faith to collective security, I mean in these troublous times such as we are enduring that the nations adhering to the Covenant should have by far the greater force and make all preparations to make that force effective. The idea that Great Britain should multiply her risks indefinitely without receiving in return accessions of combined strength which will be capable of holding an aggressor to parley, or, if all fail, to form a solid defensive front, that is certainly not a policy of sense or reason. We have not yet got this security. Let us labour to get it, and do not let us despair too early or repent too soon. I cannot see how the practice of this policy during the present year and in the future can deprive us in the slightest degree of any security we enjoy at the present moment. On the contrary, it may invest the action of Britain with a unity and a harmony which will go far to add to our strength abroad and go far to facilitate our task of putting our defences in order at home.
My right hon. Friend found it impossible to avoid speaking of particular countries. He spoke about Italy. What ought to be our policy towards Italy? At any rate we can see what it ought not to be. It ought not to be a policy of nagging. Very serious antagonism existed betwen Great Britain, doing her part as a member of the League of Nations, and Italy, over the conquest of Abyssinia. In that antagonism we have not succeeded. We have been humiliated, but we have not been dishonoured. However we may have been guided we are not regarded either as knaves or cowards. That would be a very grave mistake. Friends of mine tell me that the Italian dictator has repeatedly said that he both 317 understands and respects the British point of view. He has also made public a statement of certain submissions which Italy will make to the League of Nations about the character of Italian rule in Abyssinia. I do not know whether those have been departed from or not, or whether they still apply. It seems to me that any statements of that kind are of value and importance.
The relations between Great Britain and Italy in the Mediterranean have always been those of special amity. For more than 200 years we have held naval command of the Mediterranean. I cannot conceive that the time has come when we should abandon it. Therefore, we could never enter into any convention which limited the naval or air forces we found it necessary to place in the Mediterranean, and, as a matter of fact, the attempt to make such a limitation is physically impossible. Nothing can possibly prevent the stronger navy from, in a few days, placing any force it may desire and which it can spare from home waters in the Mediterranean. My right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I gathered from his statement that he had no idea of making any convention limiting our right to defend our interests in the Mediterranean as we may think fit. But surely the corollary of that is that the naval Powers in the Mediterranean should reciprocally bind themselves not to molest each other's sea communications, to give each other reassurances about their respective communications. The molestation of communications is, of course, as great an onslaught upon a country—in these circumstances, in the Mediterranean—as an invasion across her land frontier would be. It seems to me that if it were possible to have relations with all the Mediterranean Powers which gave a greater feeling of the freedom and security of the Mediterranean, a feeling that it was, as it were, an area which was not to be disturbed by the storms of war, there would be another very great and essential step forward to the securing of world peace and also, it might well be, to the reinforced action of the League of Nations.
There was one country which my right hon. Friend did not mention in his survey. I think he was wise, in his position, not to mention it on this occasion, 318 but private Members cannot close their eyes to the fact that there is such a thing in the modern world as Soviet Russia. There never was any question so baffling as the attitude which the Liberal democracies of the West should adopt towards Soviet Russia at the present time. I certainly agree with what has been said, I think by the right hon. Gentleman, that certainly Britain and France are not going to be lined up in a Nazi crusade against Communism. We shall show ourselves capable of dealing with our own Communists in our own way. We have, it is true, no fewer than one representative of the Communists in the House of Commons, and I really do not feel that we require the mobilised strength of the mighty, armed dictatorships in order to establish tolerable working relations with him. But Russia is in very great peril. She has to consider dangers from the East as well as from the West. Mighty military nations glare at Soviet Russia, and it is most surprising that a State thus threatened should act with such insensate folly. Why, but for Russia and but for the Russian Communist propaganda and intrigues which for more than six months racked Spain before the outbreak, the Spanish horror need never have occurred. Spain might be a constitutional republic, adjusting its internal stresses by ordinary Parliamentary processes, but the importation of the most skilled agitators, Bela Kun and others—
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
After all, I do not want, to argue with the fountain head; but, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there is practically no doubt that an enormous influence in creating revolutionary conditions in Spain was the most imprudent and improvident action of Soviet Russia. I say that it would be quite impossible for the free nations of the western world to interest themselves in the fate of Russia, let alone make incursions on her behalf, if she continues to present herself in this guise. It would be a crime to call upon French or British soldiers, or upon the good peoples of these two countries, to go to the aid of such a Russia. Why, it would be worse than a crime; it would be an act of supreme futility. But there is another Russia, which seems to be growing 319 stronger as the years pass, which only wishes to be left alone in peace, which only wishes to be allowed to live whatever kind of life it can work out for itself. Such a Russia has its rights in the comity of nations, if, by foolish conduct, those rights are not destroyed, and I agree with what was said by the spokesman of the Opposition that such a Russia would be an indispensable element in the equipoise of peace both in the West and in the East. But we have not such a Russia at the present moment, and therefore, I think, my right hon. Friend was well advised not to bring the subject of Russia into his official statement, while everything is so obscure, so double-faced, so transitional in that enormous country.
I have ventured to offer these remarks at this juncture in the Session, but I do not wish to detain the House any longer. To sum up, let me say, with the freedom which a private Member enjoys, that we ought to aim at a pact assuring the peace and freedom of the Mediterranean and encouraging neighbourly and helpful relations between the great Mediterranean Powers. Secondly, we must await with patience, however strained, developments which are taking place in Russia in the hope that she may play a part in preserving the general peace. Above all, we must use our full strength and influence to rebuild the League of Nations, to make it strong enough to hold a potential aggressor in restraint by armed strength, and thereafter to labour faithfully to mitigate just and real grievances which, if unremedied, are likely to lead to a renewal of the quarrels, the crimes and the miseries of mankind.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
As I listened to the first part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman I found myself in agreement with him for, perhaps, the first time since I entered this Parliament, but I must take strong exception to his reference to Russia and his attempt to separate the sheep from the goats. The right hon. Gentleman seems to forget that Russia is a member of the League of Nations, and is therefore entitled to all the advantages of the system of collective security of which he so eloquently stressed his support at the commencement of his speech. But who can take exception to 320 the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that our immediate concern is the prevention of war? Wherever one goes, and no matter with whom one talks, whether in this or any other country, one finds the word "war" on the lips of all. Is it any exaggeration to say that our civilisation seems to be drifting in the direction of war? Even in Geneva, where I was last month during the sittings of the Assembly, I was almost appalled at the fatalism which seemed to characterise a good many of the delegates there. Therefore, I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has at last become a convinced supporter of the collective system and, if I may say so without offence, I think the cause which he now supports so effectively might have been very much stronger if we had had the advantage of his brilliant gifts, say, ten years ago.
The right hon. Gentleman told us tonight that the one hope was a strong collective system supported by a preponderance of force sufficient to overcome any possible aggressor. There was never greater need for this system than there is to-day. Only two or three days ago Signor Mussolini made a speech which must be accepted as a challenge to that system. He told his audience in Milan that collective security does not exist, never existed and never will exist. He is a brave man to be dogmatic on matters of this kind, but, then, dictators have no one to say nay to them, and they are liable to get very dogmatic. But that statement is a challenge to every man or woman who believes in the system of collective security. He even went further, saying that as far as they were concerned the League might tranquilly perish. That is all the more reason why we should do everything possible, and why the Government, as I hope they will, should do everything possible, to prove to Signor Mussolini that he is wrong.
While I am a convinced supporter of the collective system, and while I disagree to some extent with the views of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), I certainly agree with him that merely to establish machinery at Geneva, no matter how efficient or effective that machinery may be, without at the same time attempting to eradicate the grievances or to solve the problems, political, social and economic which confront the world to-day, is not going to stabilise world 321 peace. That, I feel, must be so. I would endorse what was said by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the possibility of some sort of world conference to be organised by the League of Nations, if necessary to be held at Geneva, but not necessarily to be held there. The World Economic Conference was organised by the League, but was held in London. I should have thought that there was something to be said for the suggestion made with regard to America. The United States of America is much more detached from many of the controversies which affect the nations in Europe—I think too detached. It has failed to face up to its responsibilities as a great world State. But President Roosevelt is a man who has not been personally concerned with any of the European problems. He is at the head of a very powerful nation, and I wonder whether it would seem absurd if I were to suggest that the Government should consider in conjunction with other Governments advocating the calling of a world conference to include those States which are members of the League and those which are outside and, if President Roosevelt would accept the position, to be presided over by him. It should deal with three great major classes of problems—political, including territorial; economic, including the question of markets and raw materials; and, thirdly, the question of armaments, or, as I would prefer to call it, disarmament. Maybe my suggestion does not sound very practical to the Foreign Secretary, but I put it forward in the hope that it will receive his consideration.
I should now like to deal, if I may follow the example of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), with a few practical points that arise in the Debate to-night. I hope the Foreign Secretary will not take the view that I am making a habit of paying him compliments. I should like, at any rate, to say that I think his speech to-day was clothed with admirable sentiments. But that is not sufficient, and when I look at the King's Speech I find that that part of it which refers to the League of Nations is rather naked by comparison. I find that the Government are content to say in the Address:The policy of my Government continues to be based upon membership of the League of Nations.322 I do not quarrel with that, but I think that the words which were used a year ago were much more colourful and were clothed with more admirable sentiment. The Government said a year ago:My Government's foreign policy will, as heretofore, be based on a firm support of the League of Nations.It was based not merely on membership but firm support.They will remain prepared to fulfil, in co-operation with other members of the League, the obligations of the Covenant.I do not want to make too much of a debating point, but I am wondering why it is at this juncture, when the League is facing, perhaps, a greater crisis than a year ago, the Government are content to use this rather cold language, whereas a year ago they used language which would be much more likely to receive the approval of both sides of this House.
We have to face up to the fact that the collective system has received a severe set-back during the last 18 months. I notice in the Address that the Government have already made known at Geneva their proposals for the improved working and wider authority of the League, and I listened with great interest to the speech which the Foreign Secretary delivered in the Assembly. I remember two of his chief points were that in his opinion two essential elements were (1) the question of the League's machinery, and (2) the will to work that machinery. He went on to say that in his opinion the second is without doubt infinitely the more important. I, for one, would entirely agree with him. In testing whether the League is effective the question of whether it has been properly worked is of supreme importance. There I find myself in strong disagreement with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because in his famous "midsummer madness" speech he made this statement:It is no use for us to shut our eyes to reality.I quite agree.The fact remains that the policy of collective security based on sanctions has been tried out and failed.Apparently, members belonging to the Government parties agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is that the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the system of 323 collective security has been tried out and failed?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
The hon. Member must not pick out some words and leave out others. I. put in qualifications.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I was not present when the right hon. Gentleman delivered his speech, but I took this quotation from the verbatim report published in the "Daily Telegraph" the following day.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member misunderstands me. May I make it quite clear why it is I was objecting to the last alleged quotation of the hon. Member? In summarising what I said just now be left out the essential words "based on sanctions."
§ Mr. HENDERSON
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, he will find that he has done me an injustice.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The first time the hon. Gentleman quoted me he quoted me correctly. The second time he left out those words "based on sanctions."
§ Mr. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman agrees that when I read out the quotation I read it correctly, and then I made my comments. I will read it again, and the House will know whether I have read it correctly. This is what he said:It is no use for us to shut our eyes to reality. The fact remains that the policy of collective security based on sanctions has been tried out and failed.Does the Foreign Secretary take that view? I very much doubt it. Whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has thought better of that point of view or not, apparently there are Members who support him who still take that view. Then we are told that the Government party is absolutely united on this question I How can it be argued that the collective system based on sanctions has been tried out and failed in the light of the circumstances existing at the time the policy was tried out? I have here a cutting from "Le Temps" of yesterday's date. The writer is a well known Parisian journalist, Jacques Bardoux. If I may be allowed to translate it for the 324 benefit of hon. Members, he makes this statement: He is referring to the French Government. He says they have not published the secret letters exchanged between the Duce and M. Laval on the evening of the Rome agreement; they have done more—they have allowed themselves to be accused of having, in exchanging these letters, helped to prepare the war operations, failed in their obligations to Geneva, torn up the Tripartite Treaty of 1906—which reserved certain rights to the English and the French—and guaranteed the independence of Abyssinia. He goes on to say that so far from these secret letters preparing military operations, M. Laval only foresaw an economic penetration. Later on he says that in refusing to conform to the request of the Duce not to publish these secret lettersour diplomacy was suspected and attacked. It has done more. It has rendered possible if not the juridical at least the moral annexation of Abyssinia.It may be, he says, that it is entirely untrue that any secret letters were exchanged between M. Laval and Signor Mussolini. That is a statement which has appeared in "Le Temps" and I would like the Foreign Secretary, if it is untrue, to be good enough perhaps to say so to the House. If it is true, it means that as from January, 1935, so far as France, one of the most powerful nations in the League, was concerned, the system of collective security was paralysed before even one soldier had been sent from Rome to Abyssinia. Then we are told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that it is the system based on sanctions which has failed. I say that the collective system has not been tried, and that it has not been effective because of treason from within, and not because of the weakness of the system itself.
The hon. Member has just pointed out that it was due to the action of France that it failed.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am not suggesting it was due to any other Government. I am suggesting that it was not the working of the system itself.
Did not the late Foreign Secretary state that the oil sanction was not put on because if it had been put on it would have been, so effective that Mussolini would have declared war? That is not trying out sanctions.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I am not seeking to put the whole of the blame on the shoulders of the Government. I am answering the criticism made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the system based on sanctions had been tried out and failed. My criticism is that the system has not been properly tried out, and that we must look elsewhere for reasons why it failed. The same thing applies to the application of sanctions. The Foreign Secretary knows that sanctions were imposed in October, 1935, and that no further sanctions were imposed subsequent to that date; there was no embargo on steel, coal or oil, or upon a dozen other essential commodities, sanctions upon which might well have brought Italy to its knees.
There are one or two other points, which were raised by the Foreign Secretary in his speech at Geneva. Most people would agree with the suggestions that he made with regard to Article 11, but the weakness will still remain. Unless there is the will to operate it, textual amendments to the Covenant will not be worth the paper they are written on. I can only hope, so far as our own country is concerned, that the accusation will never be made that we have failed in that respect. The Foreign Secretary stated that the Government intended to pursue a policy of regional pacts, provided they were consistent with the Covenant. Those were the words which were used. What does that mean? Does it mean that the specific obligations which may be incurred in a regional pact are merely to be consistent with the general obligations incurred under the Covenant, in the sense that they are not to be antagonistic to those general obligations, or are they to be substituted for those general obligations? That is a very important point. If they are to be substituted, it means that the nations who are parties to the particular regional pact—say a western regional pact—will be obliged to go to the aid of one another in the event of aggression. In the event of a breach of the Covenant as the result of aggression against a nation which is outside that regional pact, there will be no obligation to go to their military assistance. I should like the Foreign Secretary to explain which of those two interpretations is the interpretation of the Government.
326 The right hon. Gentleman caused rather a stir in the Assembly by his reference to the need for making use of Article 19. No sincere supporter of the collective system would disagree with his view that we must not use the League of Nations to maintain the status quo; at the same time, some countries are very apprehensive because they believe that Article 19 may be used in order, so to speak, to buy off a potential aggressor. I feel convinced that that is not the intention of His Majesty's Government, but I would like to submit for the consideration of the Foreign Secretary the desirability, if this Article is to be implemented, of first of all excluding from its advantages any nation which is not a member of the League; secondly, that no recommendation be made by the Assembly of the League until after a fact-finding commission has been appointed in order to make a thorough investigation of the facts and to report to the Assembly. Otherwise grave injustice may result.
May I say, in conclusion, that I associate myself with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley? Most of us feel that we are drifting to some sort of catastrophe without being able in any way to avert it. I am not going to suggest at this late stage that His Majesty's Government, who have made up their mind as to what they consider is the right thing to do, should retrace their steps, even if they would, so far as armaments are concerned; but would it not be possible as a complementary policy? The Government have stated in this House, as the right hon. Gentleman made clear at Geneva, that the British nation is going to defend Democracy, and that it is going to make itself sufficiently strong to prevent any potential aggressor from depriving our nation of its liberties. Assuming that it is necessary and essential to have strong armaments for the time being, is it not equally, or even more, important to strain every nerve, putting on one side any question of amour propre and national dignity, in an attempt to bring about a final settlement of some of the problems which may land us into a European, if not into a world, war?
I realise, as my right hon. Friend has said, that, speaking in this House, it seems out of place to take any line which savours of the sentimental. This place prides itself on facing the realities of a 327 position. The Foreign Secretary, like my right hon. Friend, or myself, or any other Member of the House who concerns himself with international affairs, realises how desperately important it is to do, or to try to do, something to stave off this catastrophe. It may not be possible, and if it be not possible and if it becomes necessary for those nations who belong to the League and desire peace to combine together to resist the aggression of other nations, they should do so, although I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman has no intention of following any policy of exclusion. I will never accept any policy which seeks to keep out any nation from the League of Nations, provided that nation is prepared to accept the terms of membership. I have no desire to separate the sheep from the goats. When we are dealing with international affairs we should have no concern with what is happening inside a particular country. It does not mean that we approve of what is going on in there, but it is no concern of ours. If we are to have a system of collective security worth anything, it must be a free and voluntary co-operation of all nations, whatever may be their form of government. Only along those lines may we hope to stabilise world peace, as we all desire.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
I think that the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) has joined the ranks of those individuals who always propose a conference to deal with any difficult question.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
May I ask the hon. Member what is the alternative way to settle a dispute? There are two methods, as I understand the position. One is to talk and the other is to use force. Does the hon. Gentleman rule out the method of talk?
§ Mr. EMRYS-EVANS
Oh, no, I do not, but I remember that there have been many conferences. I remember also that there is a League of Nations. It is no good proposing conferences here and there. The hon. Member is like those who, when they find a difficult question, say, "Let us refer it to a Royal Commission, which will quiet the opponents and will satisfy the supporters for a time." The hon. Member for Bishop 328 Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who spoke for the Opposition, tried to do the very thing which we should avoid; he tried to bring in the class issue, dividing hon. Members into supporters of two different systems. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs went down to deeper foundations when he said that this country was going to reassert British leadership in the world. I think the House was grateful to him for that assertion in these difficult times.
We have not been altogether without some kind of reassertion of the initiative on the part of the democratic and constitutional Powers, during the months in which the House has not been sitting. The Three-Power Agreement was arrived at on the initiative of the United States, France and ourselves secretly, and was brought before the world swiftly, to the great surprise of the Dictators, who think they have a monopoly of Saturday afternoon surprises. That Agreement is important from an economic point of view. It has, however, an ever deeper political significance, showing the confidence, the sympathy and the solidarity which exist among those three great Powers. The Secretary of State is also to be congratulated upon having concluded the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which is a stabilising force in the Near East.
Though there are grounds for congratulation there is no ground for complacency. All through the last three months the rearmament of Germany has been going forward steadily day by day. The re-introduction of two-year service is another milestone on the road towards the militarisation of Germany. On the diplomatic, or if we may call it so, the political, side, the Nuremberg speech has shown clearly the tendencies of German policy. We have heard a great deal in the post-war years of secret diplomacy and of open diplomacy, but the Nuremberg speech was an example of diplomacy by shouting. It is an attempt to divide Europe into two geographical camps and also into supporters of two different creeds, that of Nazi-ism and of Communism. Threats were hurled not only at Russia but at this country, when Herr Hitler made a demand for colonies. The peace of the world would be served by being firm and resolute, for hesitation is misinterpreted in Berlin. Those who read the speeches of General Goering 329 and Doctor Goebbels should pay particular attention to one section of the speech of General Goering, in which he used these words:Never again shall a foreign hand take us by the throat. We shall break the fingers of that hand, finger by finger, until the German throat is free.The fingers of that hand were, according to General Goering, the fingers of the British hand. It is no wonder that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), writing yesterday in the "Daily Telegraph," pointed out that Germany had decided that this country now should be treated as Public Enemy No. 1. We have come to the end of the period in which Germany could tear up the Treaty of Versailles and throw the bits in our face, and I hope we have come to the end of the time when our Notes will be thrown into the German waste-paper basket. It was, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who made a reference to the view, quoted in the despatch of the "Times" correspondent in Berlin on Tuesday, in which he said that the Germans felt that the dominion of the world should be divided between Germany and the British Empire. It is not, and never has been, our policy to dominate the world. We have always been ready to live on good terms with our friends and neighbours. If such a policy had appealed to us, let us think for a moment what the result would have been on our kinsmen across the Atlantic. Could anyone entertain the idea of our dominating the United States of America?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping also referred to Russia and his views were very pertinent at the present time, when it is essential that we should face the difficulties of that particular situation. He said that there are two Russias. There is Communist Russia, to which people of all parties in this country are opposed, and which supports a system which could never be fitted into the structure of this country. On the other hand, there is a national Russia, a country of vast resources, a country which, under the previous rule of the Tsars, frequently came into contact with British interests in the Near East, Persia and Afghanistan. For many years now we have not felt that pressure 330 but we felt it throughout the greater part of the 19th century and in the early years of this century. At present there is no military menace or cause for anxiety as regards our interests in Asia from that direction. Soviet Russia on the national side has become a stabilising influence in the Far East, and it seems to me that there is no reason why these harmonious relations should be in any way interrupted. It is not in the British interest that we should enter into any anti-Russian crusade at the bidding of Herr Hitler. The immediate dangers in Europe arise from German ambitions, and those dangers threaten all her neighbours. I trust that, in dealing with this problem, we shall be strictly realist and quite unprejudiced, and ask ourselves the question, when we think of Russia: Where do our own interests lie?
The defeat that has been suffered by the League of Nations was referred to by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) but that defeat, in my view, was not suffered so much over Abyssinia as over the Rhineland. You cannot blow hot over Abyssinia and cold over the Rhineland; foreign policy cannot be kept in water-tight compartments. It was the Anglo-French disagreement which gave Herr Hitler his opportunity, and the fact that pacifist opinion was timid and fearful over the Rhineland and warlike over Abyssinia is no reason why we should now feel that the League of Nations is in ruins. We should consider what are its limitations. Signor Mussolini has told us that he would like to see it die tranquilly; we must, and I believe we shall, see that it lives. The fact that it exists makes a profound difference so far as the present situation is concerned, as compared with that which existed in 1914. The League is able, if it can do nothing else, to focus international opinion. If we had been able to focus international opinion in 1914, I believe that the War might have been over very much more quickly, and that the Powers of the world might have been drawn in on to the right side at an earlier stage. The fact that Italy's action in Abyssinia has been condemned by the League will remain, whatever subsequent action may be taken. We shall never abandon the League. There is one thing which the country should realise, and that is that the League of Nations is not the League of Nations 331 Union. The League of Nations Union has very often been one of the most ruthless enemies of the League of Nations. It is, to our, interest that the League should survive and grow stronger.
I cannot help thinking, from some of the speeches that we have heard, especially from hon. Members opposite, that there is a good deal of defeatism in this country to-day. There are those who speak as if war was inevitable, but I refuse to accept that view. There are those who are always running to Moscow on the one hand or to Berlin and Rome on the other for their ideas, quite forgetting that there are three faiths in the world—there is the belief in constitutional government, in freedom, and in liberty which we hold. Our system of constitutional government has seen many tyrannies rise and fall, and I believe it will see more rise and fall if we can get rid of the defeatism which surrounds us at the present time. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has given us a lead to-day. The times are far too dangerous to amble along; the Government should be frank, not only with this House but with the nation and the world, and should lead and mould public opinion. I am convinced that the victory for peace will be won not at Geneva or in any foreign capital, but on the platforms of this country, and that our strength as it grows will only be effective if it has a resolute and united nation behind it.
§ 7.40 p.m.
Like the hon. Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. EmrysEvans), I feel that the Foreign Secretary has given us a lead, and, with the hon. Member, I rejoice in that lead, but I could wish that the path along which the right hon. Gentleman led had been a little more clearly marked out. We are all very glad to know that the policy of the Government continues to be based upon membership of the League of Nations, and that the Government desire to see the League strengthened for its work in the peaceful settlement of international disputes and are co-operating at Geneva for that end. We do, however, miss something in these assurances. We should have liked, as the hon. Member opposite has remarked, the note to be struck that was struck in the King's 332 Speech last year, and we should like to know definitely whether the Foreign Secretary can assure us that the Government's policy continues to be based on fidelity to all the obligations which membership of the League entails. Could the right hon. Gentleman repeat the statement made by his predecessor on 11th September of last year, 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 entirety, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression. 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.We have seen little since of that principle of universal persistence. We feel sure, from a note in the Foreign Secretary's voice when he spoke of the League, that, if he could follow the promptings of his own intellect and conscience, he would be able to give us that assurance, but the question is whether his colleagues will let him. Is the statement of last year still the policy of His Majesty's Government? Unless that ambiguity is cleared up, it is inevitable that the policy of the Government will continue to be interpreted in this country and abroad in the way that is indicated by certain expressions which are becoming more and more outspoken in nearly all the large organs which are usually taken to represent conservative opinion. In the "Times," the "Sunday Times," the "Observer" and the "Morning Post," day by day more and more outspokenly a policy is being adumbrated which can be crudely summarised as follows: Let us, for fear we should shock those sensitive people who still believe in the League, who signed the Peace Ballot, who belong to the League of Nations Union, pay lip service to the League, but let us, in a spirit of realism, hasten to make clear in all diplomatic circles that in fact we have completely abandoned all intention of supporting a general policy of collective security; that, far from proposing in future to offer a steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression, we intend to limit our defence in future in the first place to the British Empire,' and, secondly to. 333 France and the Low Countries if these are attacked; and, further, that even in the case of France she can expect no assistance from us if she is drawn into war in fulfilment of her obligations to Russia or any other country—that we intend, in fact, to disinterest ourselves in the fate of Europe, in the fate of China, in the fate of democracy, except so far as an attack on any one of these directly menaces our own security and our Imperial interests.
If there is any Member present who thinks that I have exaggerated, and that that is not the policy that is being more and more outspokenly pressed upon the British people by organs which are likely to be taken as representing the attitude of His Majesty's Government, I shall be glad to furnish him with certain extracts which I think would convince him. We have not any right at present to assume that that is the attitude of His Majesty's Government, or that it is the attitude of the majority of Members of this House, but it is essential, I suggest, that it should be perfectly clearly stated whether it is or not. Whether the policy is endorsed by the Government or not, the motives behind it are clear. Those who advocate it are inspired by two fears. This is clearly brought out in the articles to which I have referred. There is the fear of Germany's armaments, and there is the fear of Russia's economic ideas, which are all the more dreaded because they are beginning to succeed; and the happy thought has occurred to those who are advocating this policy: Why not make these two fears neutralise each other by encouraging Germany to attack Russia? If these two terrible great Powers are locked in deadly conflict, whatever the result, at least Germany will be diverted for the time from pressing for her lost colonies. Granted that, since it is obvious, that this policy would almost certainly involve the destruction of Czechoslovakia, one of the few free prosperous democracies still remaining in Central Europe, granted that the other smaller States bordering on Italy and Germany are bound to fall under the domination of one of the Fascist Powers and become Fascist themselves, employing all those hideous methods of persecution to which they seem to subject their minorities, granted that this policy must mean deadly peril to France, the ally 334 whom we are pledged to defend, all that, it would seem, in the eyes of those who are defending this policy is a price worth paying if only they can encompass the weakening of Russia and security for ourselves during a few more years. The fear is that that policy will be taken to be the policy of the Government unless it is clearly shown that it is not, and I do not think either the Gracious Speech or the speech of the Foreign Secretary, though it may have convinced some of us who listened to it, will convince the public. It was too guarded and too ambiguous in its terms.
It is, after all, a well known method of Governments, when they are proposing a change of front which betrays their election pledges, to try out their new policy through inspired leaders and speeches which can be conveniently disavowed if the reactions that they produce on the public are unsatisfactory. It is a very ignoble policy' for a nation with traditions like ours. One sometimes wonders that it should be put forward from these sources, because is it not an extraordinarily short-sighted policy even from the point of view of its promoters? If Italy and Germany succeed in obtaining a hegemony over Eastern and Central Europe, how long will even our Empire be secure? The Berlin correspondent of the "Times" has been extraordinarily frank about this. According to him Herr Hitler and. Herr Ribbentrop have been making efforts to check the-exuberance of their more rash colleagues who have rattled the sabre in our faces in demanding the return of the lost colonies, not because they have abandoned the demand but because, in the words of the "Times" correspondent, the aim is one which will be attained as a matter of course when Germany has consolidated her position as a world Power on a Central and Eastern European basis. In other words when Germany has become too powerful to resist, when our selfish policy has left us without a friend in Europe, when a Fascist dictatorship has been established at the Western gate of the Mediterranean, in Spain, and very close to the Eastern gate of the Mediterranean in Abyssinia, these other apples will be ripe to fall into Herr Hitler's lap.
We have no right to suppose that this is the policy of the Government. I do not say it is, but I am asking that doubt 335 should be cleared up: If our policy is still based on membership of the League, let us know exactly what that means. After all, Italy is still a member of the League which she has successfully defied and openly despises. Abyssinia and Spain are members of the League. What has their membership been worth to them? If Czechoslovakia is going to be attacked in the same way, perhaps by the new technique of Fascist aggression, stirring up rebellion from within, will the fact that our policy is based on membership of the League be of much help to her, or to Russia, who is also a member of the League? Surely these menaced countries have a right to ask, "Stands England where she did?"
I anticipate the reply that I shall receive from some Members of the House. They will say, as one hon. Member has in fact practically said, that of course England does not stand where she did 14 months ago. The hon. Member to whom I refer quoted the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the policy of collective security through sanctions had been conclusively tried out and had conclusively failed. I suggest that that statement is demonstrably false. The League failed, not because it had not the power to carry out the policy of collective security through sanctions, but because it had not the will. The late Foreign Secretary in the speech he made at the time of his resignation made the position quite plain. When it was clear that the sanctions that had been enforced against Italy were not doing their work quickly enough; when it became clear that the only sanction that would be sufficiently powerful was the oil sanction and Mussolini threatened to resist that with war, he immediately felt obliged to sound a retreat.
§ Mr. EMMOTT
The reason given by the right hon. Gentleman on that occasion was that he feared the disruption of the League.
I think he gave us no reason to believe that, if Great Britain had sounded a clear note that we were going to carry out a policy of really effective sanctions, the rest of the League would not follow. The spirit in which collective security was then being enforced has been repeatedly brought home 336 to us. The present Home Secretary also said the truth was that the Government were not prepared to risk a single British ship for Abyssinia, nor apparently in defence of Britain's honour, the League's honour, nor for the future of collective security. If it is in that spirit that the Government are going to interpret collective security and membership of the League, by all means let it be made perfectly clear lest we are led into another betrayal. If we are determined to have peace at any price, even at the price of sacrificing the world's security on the altar of our own security, let us say so, but whether we shall secure peace even for ourselves permanently by a policy of continually truckling to dictators, yielding step by step, many of us doubt.
I am glad the Foreign Secretary recognised that it is not too late, in spite of the failure of last year, to make another stand for collective security. The League is still strong enough, and the surviving members of the League are strong enough, if they stand together. If France, Great Britain, Russia and the smaller democracies really hold together and reaffirm the bold policy that was announced last year, meaning it this time, making preparations for it, and giving full notice of their intention to carry it out, I believe that policy could be made a success. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), who seconded the Address, said that the nation at least knew its mind on three points. The nation wanted peace; it wanted to hold what it had got; and it did not want dictatorship in any guise. Indeed the nation wants peace, but the peace ballot showed the interpretation which the nation itself put on the quest for peace. The uprising of indignation at the Hoare-Laval proposals showed that the nation still cares for honour and freedom and fidelity to its pledged word and the security of smaller nations, as well as for peace.
Is it really true that this nation cares so much to cling to every tittle of our colonial possessions and that it is going to put that aim before all these others? Where is the proof of it 7 I do not think so badly of my fellow-countrymen and women as that. As for dictatorship, indeed the nation does not want that, either for itself or for the other smaller nations which, largely inspired by our traditions and our example, have set their feet on the path of ordered freedom, 337 progress and democracy. But while the nation abhors dictators it cries out for leaders. What happened yesterday in America is a symbol of how a nation will rally round a man when they once find a strong leader. A year ago there were many in this country who looked upon the Foreign Secretary as a likely leader. I believe if he had resigned office then rather than consent to the betrayal of Abyssinia, he would be the greatest and the most popular man in England, and indeed in the world, to-day—the man on whom the eyes of all those who care for peace would be set. For reasons which seemed good to him he did otherwise, and we are still waiting for that leader. If we had among us such a man as Gladstone or Charles James Fox, I believe that in a crisis like this he would set himself at the head of a bold movement to make collective security through the League a reality, and he would not do it merely by occasionally dropping sporadic, pious opinions, but would carry on a campaign which would sweep the country and create a movement of all those right-minded people who care for peace, it is true, not only for ourselves but for a distracted Europe and a distracted world.
I believe that could be done. I believe the right hon. Gentleman, if he could carry the Government with him, could do it, but the skies are darkening rapidly and in a few months it may be too late. At least let us know exactly what the Government does and does not stand for. Let it put a little more content into those general phrases of belief in the League and the hope of making it stronger which we heard so gladly from the right hon. Gentleman to-day, but which we find it strangely difficult to interpret into concrete proposals.
§ 7.57 p.m.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I regret that I was unable to hear the Foreign Secretary's speech, but I am very glad to know that he has told the House that he is going to make another effort to make the League function. I find, however, the paragraph in which the Gracious Speech deals with this question somewhat indefinite. I find nothing at all about strengthening the authority of the League but merely something about giving it a wider authority. I am sure we are all at one in wishing to see Italy retain effective membership of the 338 League, or shall I say return to effective membership? We should all welcome Germany back to the League, but most of us regard as an absolutely essential principle of the League the principle of collective security through a, system of mutual assistance for the victim of unprovoked aggression. When there is mention of widening the authority of the League, we therefore cannot but ask ourselves whether the heads of these two great countries would be ready to enter a League in which that principle would be effectively maintained. In the Blue Book which the Government published last April Herr Hitler showed his disinclination to enter the pact of mutual assistance between France and Soviet Russia or the proposed pact for general mutual assistance in the East of Europe, and Signor Mussolini has quite recently spoken with considerable contempt of collective security. I cannot, therefore, help feeling that if the Government put the widening of the League as their first and main object, they may find themselves obliged to discard the absolutely vital principle of mutual assistance.
I have listened with close attention and great appreciation to all the speeches my right hon. Friend has made in these last very anxious months, but he will perhaps forgive me if I recall to him that on the 27th July he spoke not only of widening the League, but of strengthening it. I listened with great satisfaction to the word "strengthening." I also with great satisfaction heard him say that he felt that we could not disinterest ourselves from what happened in Europe east or south of the Rhine. I think he indicated in another part of his speech that he did not feel prepared to recommend that we should assume the same obligations to Europe in general that the Government have shown themselves prepared to assume for France and Belgium. Yet the statement that we could not disinterest ourselves in Europe generally I understood as meaning that they wished to continue anyhow for Europe some form of obligation, probably an obligation to impose financial and economic sanctions, no doubt subject to the proviso that the victim of aggression and any countries that had entered into any special pact with the victim should do everything possible by military action to thwart the aggressor's aims.
339 I am perfectly ready to agree with Members of this House on these benches who feel that we cannot in present circumstances continue to be bound by obligations which may involve us in war all over the world. I have to admit, of course, that that is a whittling down of the obligations which this country undertook when we entered the League in 1920, but I think that we have no alternative in present circumstances. But I do feel that it is vital that we should endeavour to make the principle of mutual assistance effective anyhow in Europe. Europe is the hub of the world. It is the Continent in which are situated the centres of all the great colonial empires of the world, and it is also the part of the world in which are the greatest dangers. If you can keep the peace in Europe, you will keep the peace over a great part of the world at any rate, and if you can keep this country safe, it will mean the safety of the British Empire as a whole, because we are the nerve-centre of the Empire. But it is vital to keep alive, and to make as thoroughly practical and efficient as we can, the principle of mutual assistance by some general obligation under the League, coupled with special regional pacts, in which neighbouring nations would be obliged to give each other military assistance if attacked.
My right hon. Friend, I hope, will forgive me when I say that I do not think his speech at Geneva, if I have read a full report of it, quite bore out what he said in his speech on 27th July. He again spoke there of widening the authority of the League, but nothing was said about strengthening it other than by widening its authority and by trying to get other countries to be more precise as to what they would do. No doubt it is a necessary step to be sure of what others would do. At the same time, no indication was given that we ourselves were ready to commit ourselves to anything beyond the Rhine frontier. Indeed, my right hon. Friend, in his speech, speaking of the Amendment he proposed to Article 11, with which I am in thorough agreement, said:It seems to us all-important that the members of the Council should, in any dispute, clearly express their views at an early stage and should be asked to indicate the measures that they would be prepared to take to give effect to them.340 I cannot help feeling, with all due respect to my right hon. Friend, that that seems to offer the prospect of discussions, uncertainty, delay, possibly intrigue, and even threats directed at members of the League. Any system of that kind would be a poor alternative as a preventive of war compared with the knowledge beforehand on the part of a potential aggressor that, if he struck at another country, he would have to meet superior power and superior natural resources. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) dealt with the importance of the massing together, if possible, of superior power, with an eloquence which I cannot possibly emulate, but he did not touch on the question of natural resources which I believe to be one of very great importance.
Sir Thomas Holland, principal of Edinburgh University, who is a distinguished and experienced mineralogist, has pointed out that in order to wage a successful war of any length it is necessary that a country should possess not only a vast quantity, but a vast variety of minerals, and that every year the discoveries of mineralogists add to the number of minerals which are essential to the successful waging of war. He has gone on to point out that with the exception of the United States of America, which is not likely to be an aggressive nation, no one nation in the world possesses within its frontiers anything like a sufficient quantity or variety of the minerals necessary for war. Therefore, in a system of collective security, any potential aggressor should know that if he struck he would meet not only superior military forces, but infinitely superior mineral resources, and this should be a deterrent of very considerable value.
I therefore plead with my right hon. Friend that the Government should regard the keeping alive and making more effective the principle of mutual assistance against aggression as of even greater value than attempting to widen the membership of the League, and that they should make that their first endeavour and not their second. If any nation or government is of the character to contemplate aggression in these days, I can imagine no restraint so likely to be effective as this.
341 It is only right to remind the House that there is every reason to believe that if the British Government in July, 1914, had made it clear that, if Germany attacked France or Belgium, she would also have to reckon with us, there would have been no war. That seems to point to the tremendous value of it being known beforehand what forces and natural resources would have to be met, and not leaving it to discussion after the difficulty has begun. Moreover I now say to my hon. Friends in this House, who, I think, are inclined to doubt whether collective security can be made an effective reality and who therefore would, I believe, desire to see the League have no powers but merely exist for conciliatory purposes, that if they believe in a League existing for conciliation only, how do they reconcile that fact with what I believe is the general desire on these benches for a regional pact in the west of Europe, under which we, the French, the Belgians and the Germans, if they came in, would be bound to go to each other's military assistance at once? If people show a desire for a pact of this kind in Western Europe, it seems to make it extremely doubtful whether a League existing for conciliation only could be of —ery much use in restraining a powerful aggressor, and only a powerful nation would attempt aggression in these days.
I also feel bound to point out, to those of my hon. Friends who have these doubts about continuing any European system of obligation, that there is a great danger that a system of regional pacts only, without any general European obligations, might end by locking up the different regions in Europe in watertight compartments and make it impossible for a nation in one region to come to the assistance of a nation in another if it were attacked. In this connection we cannot ignore the policy of all-round aggression stated so frankly by Herr Hitler in his book "Mein Kampf." It is true that it was written before Herr Hitler got into power, and if he had allowed the book to get dusty on his shelves I should not think of referring to it. Other statesmen have done this with the books they wrote many years before they assumed the responsibilities of office—
Duchess of ATHOLL
I do not wish to suggest any names. Most of us learn to be wiser as we grow older, and in that case we generally have the wisdom to let our youthful follies disappear and be forgotten. That is not the case here. That book is only 10 years old and since Herr Hitler has come into power it has been published and republished in full in Germany. Editions have come out this year and the circulation of the book has been enormous. More—the book has been officially praised by Herr Hitler's Press and pressed on the German people by official instruction. Last Christmas, for instance, industrialists were required to give a copy of the book to each employe, and we know that newly-married couples only last April were required to receive a copy on their wedding day at the public expense. As long as that continues, it is impossible to ignore the possibility that this may still be the policy of Herr Hitler's Government, and I submit that this policy, if it were carried out, is one of such all-round aggression that Europe as a whole has a common interest in doing everything possible to prevent it being carried into effect.
To keep alive and make effective the principle of mutual assistance against aggression is therefore not only the greatest service we can render to the peace of Europe but also to the German people, most of whom do not, I believe, for the moment want to be the instruments for carrying out the policy of "Mein Kampf."
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping spoke of Soviet Russia as the cause of the trouble in Spain. No doubt there has been a good deal of Communist propaganda there, though I am told on very good authority that the extreme elements in that country tend more towards Anarchism than towards Communism. I am not learned in the ways of these parties, but my information is that Anarchists do not look to Moscow for their guidance. Therefore, I think that it is possible that there has been some exaggeration of the extent of Communist intrigue and agitation in Russia. It is also only fair to say that I have it on good authority that there was a great deal of Nazi propaganda in Spain before the outbreak of the insurrection. I should however, like to say to my right hon. Friend that I too feel that if Russia is 343 desiring whole-hearted co-operation with other Members of the League of Nations she has not played her cards in the last two months very happily, and I join with him in the expression of the hope that she will do everything possible to facilitate loyal co-operation with her through the League of Nations, of which after all she has been a member for the last two years.
Finally, this continued co-operation in mutual assistance in Europe against aggression seems to me an obligation of honour as well as an obligation which has the best chance of preventing war. Russia is not the only country that is threatened by a policy such as that outlined in "Mein Kampf." Some of the small countries in the East of Europe are directly threatened by it. There is Rumania, which fought with the Allies during the War and suffered severely in the struggle. Czechoslovakia also fought with the Allies. The independence and integrity of both those countries are guaranteed under the Covenant, but my right hon. Friend at Geneva intimated that the Government are ready to accept Herr Hitler's demand that the Covenant should be separated from the Treaty of Versailles. If the League carries out that intention it seems to me that these two countries may well feel that they have lost, at any rate for the moment, a guarantee of great value.
It may be that there is room for adjustment of boundary between Rumania and Hungary. If there be compact areas in Rumania or anywhere else which clearly desire to return to another country, I cannot imagine that the House of Commons or the Houses of Parliament as a whole would place difficulties in the way, but, subject to some such adjustment, are we ready to leave Roumania without any guarantee of her independence, supposing the Covenant is separated from the Treaty of Versailles? Is that quite an honourable course to pursue towards a country that fought for us and suffered for the Allied cause? And what about Czechoslovakia? She not only fought very gallantly for the Allies but she had to turn against her Rulers in order to do so. That is not an easy thing to do. I have been told that there were Czech wounded soldiers who shot themselves on the battlefield to save themselves from the fate that 344 awaited them if they fell into the hands of the Austrians, because in the eyes of the Austrians they were rebels and not prisoners of war. Under the Peace Treaties Czechoslovakia was rewarded by being set up as an independent State. Are we unwilling to incur any obligation to endeavour to secure her continued independence?
If we are not ready to continue some obligation which will help to save these countries from being the victims of possible aggression, we shall be even more deserving of reproach than if in 1914 we had repudiated our obligation of 80 years before to Belgium. That was an obligation of which many of us had never heard, and it was an obligation that was not incurred on account of any service that Belgium had rendered to this country. And if we were to immobilise ourselves, so to speak, behind the Rhine frontier, and refuse to continue to incur any obligation towards Czechoslovakia, I feel that this might sooner or later well bring a retribution similar to the retribution which would have overtaken us in 1914 had we refused to honour our obligation to Belgium and sat by, doing nothing to help her.
In 1914, honour and safety pointed to the same path. It was a path that was long, terrible and painful, but we won through it. I believe to-day that honour and safety again direct us to the same path, but with this difference, that we are still at the stage of discussion, of meetings of statesmen to negotiate, and therefore we still have a chance to-day, which we had not on the 3rd August, 1914, of at one and the same time fulfilling an obligation of honour and of averting a great calamity. I therefore most earnestly beg that the Government will regard it as their first endeavour to keep alive and to strengthen the principle of mutual assistance within the League, at any rate for Europe.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. PRICE
It is most interesting to know that all the speeches that have been delivered so far have shown loyalty to the principle of collective security under the League of Nations, but if we were to have regard to the opinion expressed in large sections of the Press we should get a very different idea. I have been very pleased to hear the Noble Lady. She is one of those on the back benches be- 345 hind the Government who are evidently keen supporters of the principle of collective security under the League of Nations. While the Foreign Secretary was speaking I could not help saying to myself: "It is an excellent speech, one can applaud every word of it, but can he get his words across? What is the support that he has among the ranks of those behind the Government?" Judging by the remarks that so far have fallen from supporters of the Government it seems that the answer is very satisfactory, but I cannot help feeling that there is a large body of opinion which is expressed outside this House which does not take the line which we have heard to-night.
It is a disturbing fact also that in the constituencies one gets this sort of expression of feeling: "Terrible as are the things which are going on in Europe, we must keep out of it at all costs." I feel it necessary that this House, as the great sounding-board of public opinion in a democratic country, should take the lead and bring public opinion to see that by cowardice and by running away from obligations in Europe we are not going, in the long run, to keep ourselves out of war and to maintain peace. Therefore, I welcome what has happened to-night and the speeches we have heard so far, and I hope that up to 11 o'clock we shall hear speeches of the same kind. I know that there are minorities on both sides of the House. Perhaps those who have spoken on the Government side may have to convert their minorities in the same way that some of my friends on this side may have to do a little converting in regard to some of those who take the view in our party that the League of Nations can only be successful if it is robbed of its right to apply sanctions.
I listened with much interest to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), as we always do, and while I agree with many of the things that he said, I cannot agree that by reducing the League to a position of impotence, and by withholding from it the right to apply sanctions and if necessary force to maintain international obligations, we are thereby going to establish the basis of world peace. There is a great deal in what he said about the need for getting the nations of the world together, and, if necessary, for the League of Nations itself to take the initiative and get those 346 nations who are not in the League, including the United States of America, into some kind of a conference to deal with economic questions. I agree with him that economic questions are at the root of our difficulties.
What has happened in the last 24 hours in the United States of America is most heartening. It shows that someone with a great magnetic personality like President Roosevelt can, in a democratic State, get greater political power and authority than all the dictators put together. I am certain that what has happened in the 48 States of the Union will have a great effect throughout the world. We can now look forward to the Government of the United States playing some role in reducing international anarchy to some kind of international order. I know the difficulties which rulers of the United States have in dealing with their public opinion. They have to tread very cautiously having regard to the traditions of isolation and aloofness from Europe, but I believe that what has happened now will bring the United States nearer to the rest of the world, and make her realise that after all she is a part of the world.
I was glad to hear the Noble Lady who spoke last refer to what is going on in Spain, and I think she was quite right in saying that the interference of Communism in Spain is a matter of relatively small importance. This was the one serious defect in the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—otherwise a roost admirable speech. He made the grave error of taking up the idea which is rampant in the anti-League and anti-collective-security Press that Russia is the cause of all the trouble in Spain. The situation there, as I view it, is that the Communists have always been a small number in Spain, and are now only playing a small role. The one thing with which the Government forces have to deal there is a small, but very powerful number of anarchists. In Russia, in the early stages, they had a similar difficulty. I was at one time the only Englishman in Russia during the early stages of the revolution, and I know that the Russian Communists were fighting the anarchists with just the same bitterness as they fought against the Whites. The attempt to establish a central government in the early phases of a revolutionary state was one of the most important land- 347 marks in the history of that revolution. The same thing is going on in Spain today. Whether they will succeed we cannot say. The problem of the Spanish Government, if it ultimately defeats the rebels, will be to set up an organised central government, and to say that it is the Communist propaganda which is causing anarchy in Spain shows great ignorance, which, to me, marred the speech of the right hon. Member for Epping.
Russia to-day is settling down. A rather respectable State capitalism dominates the economic field, and, most important of all, she has a planned system of economy, both interesting as an experiment and valuable to the world. I have no doubt that the Communist Internationale is a tremendous difficulty in the way of this plan, and in the way of the policies of Stalin. It is in fact a burden and a liability. No doubt, like all great political organisations, vested interests have been built up, and possibly it is very difficult to get rid of them. But the significance of the terrible events of last August, when the trial of the supporters of Trotsky took place in Moscow, ending in the judicial murder of the leaders of the party—although one may condemn the method employed—is that it shows that the authority in Moscow to-day is an authority which repudiates the theory of the world revolution. Trotsky and his supporters are still the old guard which stands by the theory of world revolution, and they resent the idea that Russia can be organised as a Socialist State without carrying on a propaganda to convert the rest of the world to the same theory. Everything points to the fact that the general tendency of Russia is to confine her economic theories to her own borders, and that, as far as foreign policy is concerned, to be an honest member of the League of Nations, because she knows only too well that peace is her first consideration, and that she cannot carry through her economic plan unless she has organised peace and will not suffer from aggression. It is all the more unnecessary, therefore, for the German Ambassador, arriving in this country two days ago, to take upon himself, with the authority of his lords and masters, the role of freeing this country—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I do not know whether the hon. Member was in the House at the time when Mr. Speaker ruled that hon. Members must not criticise the actions of an Ambassador.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think the Ruling went beyond that. An Ambassador is in the same position as the head of a foreign State, and his actions may not be criticised.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Are we to understand that if an Ambassador of a foreign State makes an incursion into our internal affairs, as is alleged to have been done in this case, we are not entitled to discuss it?
§ Mr. PRICE
My only reason for referring to this matter is that I resent very much, as we all do, the recent interference of a foreign Ambassador in the internal affairs of this country. I will leave it at that, but I am sure that we shall watch very carefully the actions of any Ambassador, and shall not tolerate any interference in our internal affairs. We have seen abroad the disastrous effects of that kind of thing, and at least we are going to see that our democratic institutions in this country develop in the way we think fit. That is the only reason I raised the point.
I would like now to say how very glad I was to note, in the speech of the Foreign Secretary, that he seems to think we must have some extension of our obligations in Europe. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to confine himself entirely to the Western seaboard. Although he did not refer to the Soviet Union, I detected throughout his speech a recognition that our interests and obligations cannot rest entirely with a Western Locarno. It is obvious that attempts 'are being made in Germany today to divide the democratic States of Europe one from the other, and to divide both of them from Soviet Russia. I think those attempts will not succeed. In the long run, it must appear to all 349 Members of the House that the German general staff has probably learned its lesson; it does not want to fight on two fronts, East and West; it wants to fight on one front first and take its so-called enemies in turn. That is the danger. If we allow that sort of thing to influence us, we shall be giving a free hand to Herr Hitler in Eastern Europe, and what will be our fate if his coup in the East conies off? We have to hang together, or we are indeed in danger of hanging separately.
In conclusion, I would like to say a word or two about the economic situation. I was glad to hear the Foreign Secretary refer to the need for international economic co-operation and the treaties we have with Germany at the present time. It is most important that, while making a firm and strong stand against the Fascist States, we should at the same time make it clear that we do not wish to surround them or make it difficult for them to develop economically. The main trouble from which Germany suffers, as far as her internal economy is concerned, is her crazy policy of self-sufficiency—autarchy, as it is called—her clinging to the gold standard, and her whole method of internal economy. That, of course, is not entirely confined to Germany. The French republic has only recently left the gold standard. If one studies, as I have during the last day or two, the trade returns of the main countries of Europe for the last three years, it will be seen that the imports and exports of all the countries that are on the gold standard have been gradually declining, while in the case of those countries that left the gold standard, they have been steadily increasing. If, however, we can do anything to allay the feelings of Germany by making it clear to her that we are not out to surround her or to make her trade difficult, we shall do a good thing.
Here it is important for us to consider our foreign economic policy, which has so far been based almost entirely upon the Ottawa Agreements. How far is it wise to leave the position as it is to-day? The Ottawa Agreements seem to me to have value from one point of view only: they tend to create an area of low tariffs, but unfortunately only in a very restricted portion of the world. I am not one of those who think that we can have low tariffs only in the British 350 Commonwealth. We must extend the area of low tariffs. With a Liberal Government in Canada, with a democratic president in the United States for the coming four years, and seeing that Canada and the United States have already signed an agreement tending towards lower tariffs and the possibility of greater economic understanding between the two countries, cannot the Government of this country take steps to extend the area of low tariffs by widening the area of the Ottawa Agreements, thereby contributing towards the pacification of Europe by making it clear to the Fascist States that we are not out to hinder their trade or subject them to any kind of economic encirclement?
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. HANNAH
In one of the greatest documents in the world—George Washington's farewell address—the aged statesman, in giving up his place, bade his people cultivate 'equal good will with all the nations of the world. I feel very strongly indeed that we are in a position now when that is more applicable even than it was at the end of the eighteenth century. There are dangers all around of new groupings of the nations, and we feel more and more the tremendous need of new ideals. It seems to me that if we want the good will of all the nations of the world, we must try definitely to help other people, and look at things to some extent from their point of view. It is now rather more than 100 years ago that the United States tried a great experiment, that of settling emancipated slaves on Liberian soil on the coast of Africa. That experiment has been a terrible failure, and if the present conditions in Liberia were well known they would attract almost as much attention as the conditions in Spain. It seems to me that it would be worth our while, I do not say to come to any conclusion, but to explore the possibilities as to whether it might not be possible to get Germany back into the League of Nations by giving her the mandate for looking after Liberia and bringing some sort of law and order to a land in utter chaos at the present time.
Let nobody imagine that we can compress Germany into a bottle like Djinn in the Arabian Nights. It is perfectly true—there is no doubt about it—that Germany's colonies were, to a very large extent, a mere ornamental appendage. They were of very little practical value. 351 I visited Dar es Salaam during the time when it was a German capital, and it was said that the trade could be very briefly summarised: imports—German beer; exports—broken bottles, empty bottles to go back to be refilled. There was never a time when the German colonies were of any real value to her from the practical point of view, but they were a symbol of Empire and a symbol that Germany particularly valued. It was impossible not to be rather struck, travelling in Germany in pre-war days, by the way in which they painted maps of the world, with their own colonies painted red, in every large railway station of the Empire.
I have no sympathy for Germany, except in one respect—as an antiquary I do feel that Germany is doing better work in preserving her ancient buildings than certain other Powers. But as an admirable speaker on the other side said, it is impossible for us, in regulating our foreign affairs, to be responsible for the policies of foreign nations. It is no concern of ours what form of government those nations wish to have. I was in Germany for a few days last summer, purely on archaeology bent, and I was impressed with the real good will which the German people evidently feel towards this country. I feel that we should be mad to throw away that asset in the international relations of the world at the present time.
A great deal has been said about the League of Nations and collective security and all that kind of thing, and I agree with it most enthusastically. I am vicepresident of my local branch of the League of Nations Union. Last week I took the chair at a meeting at which Lord Cecil of Chelwood spoke on the League at East Grinstead and next week I am to address a meeting for the League in Clackmannanshire. Nevertheless I feel that there is a real danger lest the League may become a bad lightning conductor. If the League is to bring us into every trouble that arises in Europe, we must look at it with profound suspicion. We cannot guarantee every frontier in the world. It is desirable next year when all the members of our world-wide brotherhood of States are assembled here, that we should take counsel with other Britons from beyond the seas as to the best lines on which 352 this League might be reconstructed. But I do not feel for one moment that the League, as we tried to make it a few years ago, can ever again fulfil the functions which we are all so anxious to see carried out.
One cannot help remembering that solemn period in European history when at the Council of Clermont the First Crusade was proclaimed and it seemed indeed to the Christian warriors as they put on the Cross that they were taking arms in the highest cause that any man could possibly take up. We all know the terrible scandals that followed—the sack of Constantinople and the ruin of Christianity in the East. We cannot possibly be sure that if we light great wars in trying to defend the Covenant of the League we may not have the same experience as the Crusaders of old. I felt the force of the remarks made by my honoured colleague in the representation of Wolverhampton to the effect that there is a danger of this country being definitely split in its foreign policy. There would be a considerable amount of support for what would, in effect, be a treaty with Germany and her allied or friendly Powers. There would be a considerable amount of support for what in practice might become a league with France. But we want none of those things and I feel that if another war should come, in which our interests are not concerned, British blood should not be spilled in other people's wars. That, to me, is a yet holier principle than others which have been set up in this House this afternoon.
The League of Nations must be reconstructed in a way that will bring together the nations of Europe by helping, as far as is possible, to satisfy the ambitions of each. We realise that there is a very strong case for certain nations in Europe who feel that they have not what is absolutely necessary if they are to play their part, as they desire, in future years. I think we all remember the story of Holland in the seventeenth century—how she was a great Power which built up great dominions in distant parts, how she published more books than all the rest of Europe combined during the seventeenth century. Holland nevertheless became a secondary Power as a result of purely economic forces. I hold no brief 353 for any Fascist or Nazi power, but we must try to look at things from their point of view and see whether we cannot —perhaps by sitting round the table and discussing the view points of each—help them, without war, to get what they feel so strongly they must have. There can be no peace if we merely establish a League against nations who look at things from points of view which differ from our own. We must remember that there is another grouping of the nations, corresponding very much to the groupings which we ordinarily know. There are the nations which have and the nations which have not, from the territorial point of view, what they feel they need. So I hope that in collusion with our Dominions at Coronation time we may manage to reconstruct this League on lines that will give Europe and the world new eras of peace, not by forming a front against any nation at all but by trying sympathetically to find out whether we cannot, somehow or other, help each nation to get, at any rate to some extent, what it feels it ought to have.
I am sure we all agree with what the honoured Leader of the House said that every month gained without a war is a real benefit and is carrying us nearer our goal. The fires of nationalism in Europe at present are blazing up so high that they must burn themselves out before long. I do not think there is any doubt whatever that we must come to a time in Europe when conditions will be better. We all feel, I am sure, that any considerable change, as things are, must be in the direction of improvement. Perhaps these new forms of government that we dislike have come to stay, perhaps not. I would not for a moment barter for the efficiency that autocracy can give, all that democracy has meant to us and especially that extraordinary delightful relationship which, since being elected to this House, I have found to exist between a Member and his constituents. I think all hon. Members will bear me out when I say that apart from our closest family relationships it is the sweetest thing on earth. These dictatorships are building anew in Europe. What the end will be we cannot say. But may we not with all the memories of 800 years declare "Dictators come and dictators go, but we go on for ever."
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. PILKINGTON
I think we all agree with the aims which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) has expounded, though we may differ over the methods. I think that the Prime Minister has shown his customary Hair in selecting this date, 5th November, for a Debate upon foreign affairs. The gunpowder may be a little farther away than it was 330 years ago, but there is very much more of it.
While listening to the speech of the Foreign Secretary, I was sorry he did not refer to one particular subject on which I want to say a few words, because I think it has a bearing upon the central problem which we are discussing to-day, the future of Europe. I refer to the question of Danzig. So many hon. Members of this House visited Danzig during the Recess that it almost seemed like a home from home, and although the impressions that hon. Members got from Danzig may have been different, I think that upon two points, at any rate, there will be general agreement. The first is that if there is any likelihood of a solution of the Danzig problem being found through co-operation and good will, then the present High Commissioner, Mr. Lester, is the man to do it. And I think the second point of agreement would be that there is, in fact, no such likelihood. For this reason: that in the Free State so-called—of Danzig the Nazi minority are determined to get their way at all costs. They are ready to use force. They have already, in fact, used force. They have torn up the Constitution which was guaranteed by the League. They waited to see what the League would do; the League did nothing. They then proceeded with the next step; they have now imprisoned the Opposition—not perhaps a bad thing in principle, but not always an expedient one. And still the League has done nothing.
In that small State to-day there is being erected on a small scale exactly the same farce which is being enacted in the rest of Europe. Until every League State is prepared to fight for one League State, the gangster nation which is prepared to fight, and to use force, will get away with it every time. It may be asked what, in the circumstances, can be done in Danzig. Well, this can be done: If the League is to get back the ground that it has lost, it can accede to the request of the Oppo- 355 sition in Danzig to hold new, and free, elections. That request is still lying on the table at Geneva unanswered. I suggest that the League should accede to it. It can see that new elections are held, and it can ensure that they will be free elections by the presence of the same sort of force as was used in the Saar two years ago. That force will have to remain in Danzig so long as there is any danger of Nazi violence. I suggest that if the League says this thing shall be, the League can ensure that it is so. It will need courage and determination on the part of the League States, but I suggest that it is about time the League members showed some courage and determination, qualities which, whatever we may think in other respects, we cannot deny to the totalitarian States. The alternative to some such action on the part of the League is to allow Danzig to become yet another milestone on the retreat of the League before the aggressive march of the dictators.
Now I should like to pass to what is the core of the European problem, and that is the struggle between the two ideals in Europe to-day, the collective ideal, on the one hand, of the League of Nations and, on the other hand, the super-Nationalist, Fascist ideal of Hitler and Mussolini, and, in this country, of Lord Beaverbrook and Lady Houston. The latest phase of this problem began on 7th March when the German Government tore up Locarno, treating it as yet another scrap of paper—one more item in the long record of how Germany keeps faith with her neighbours. I think that that action of 7th March will prove to have been the greatest mistake which Hitler has made, because at one blow it destroyed all the potential good will which there was towards him in this country. Until then people had had a certain amount of sympathy for what they believed he stood for, but after that, he was regarded as but the latest manifestation of that spirit of blood and iron which apparently prevents Germany from living in peace with her neighbours—until she has first of all conquered them. That action of 7th March gave yet one more impetus to the mad race of armaments in Europe. It was stated at the time, or soon after, by M. Paul Renaud, in France, that it was but another indication of the relentless unfolding of the policy of "Mein Kampf," 356 to which the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) has already referred. That book, "Mein Kampf"—and it is a thing we ought not to forget—is being relentlessly drilled into every one of the 65,000,000 Germans who can read. They have this book continually before them, and I think it is no bad thing if we occasionally refresh our minds with some of the things which "Mein Kampf" says. I have three sentences here, and although I know it is very often unfair to quote a thing outside of its context, I think no one could put any context to these three sentences which can give them any meaning other than the apparent one. It is said, on page 708 of the German edition of "Mein Kampf":Let us make up our minds that we shall never win back the lost territories by solemn invocation of the Lord or by pious hopes based on the League of Nations, but only by force of arms—by bloody struggle.On page 766 we read:The justification of this foreign policy will be acknowledged when, after 100 years, 250,000,000 Germans will be living on this Continent.Finally, on page 315, it says:Anyone w ho really and sincerely would desire the victory of the Pacifist idea should back, by every means, the conquest of the world by Germans.So much for one of the protagonists of this super-Nationalist, Fascist idea. I will only quote one thing from what the other chief protagonist, Signor Mussolini, has said, because it has already been referred to. A few months ago he referred to what lie described as the "absurdity of perpetual peace," which was, he said, alien alike to the doctrine and temperament of the Italian people. A little later he spoke of the early demise of the League, which, he said, he would view with equanimity.
The other side of this struggle is the policy of co-operation and the policy of the League of Nations. We believe that not only the civilisation, but the very survival, of Europe depend on the continuation of that policy. His Majesty's Government have been attacked because they have not succeeded already in solving the problems of Europe, in putting together the pieces of the jig-saw puzzle which make up the present state of Europe. Even in speeches to-day various acts of the Government have been criticised, but those who attack the 357 Government ignore, either deliberately or unconsciously, the fact that to-day there are pieces in this jig-saw puzzle which will not and cannot fit into the completed picture. Until it is possible to fit these pieces in, one can only de plore the fact that we are at the moment unable to do so.
Until we can get every nation to accept the full implications of the Covenant we have to fall back on the next best thing, which is a system of regional security. We can make a beginning in the West. The Government have issued invitations to four other nations to come together in a conference to draw up a. Western pact which will replace Locarno. The Foreign Secretary told us to-day that the invitations have been accepted. They have been accepted rather tardily, but, at any rate, they have been accepted. The Foreign Secretary spoke of certain divergencies of opinion, between the states, and one is forced to the suspicion, partly from what one has read in the Press, that Germany and Italy may be making conditions, not so much for their coming to the conference, but conditions without the fulfilment of which they will prevent the actual formation of any Western pact. The conditions which one suspects they are trying to lay down are on the part of Germany, that she shall be given what amounts, to put it bluntly, to a free hand for aggression in the East, and, on the part of Italy, the recognition of her conquest of Abyssinia. These are two things which I believe no Government of this country would ever accept. It is no question of recognising the actual fact of the conquest of Abyssinia, but in diplomatic language recognition implied approval, and that is a thing that no Government of this country could possibly give.
Now I would like to ask the Government how long we are to allow these dictators to shilly-shally before our demands. How long are they to call the tune in Europe? We are asking them no favour that we are not prepared to return. We are suggesting a pact for mutual security from which they will get quite as much as we shall. If these dictators will not come into this agreement, then let them stay out. The Foreign Secretary said on a previous occasion that the thing he would most deplore was the formation in Europe of two mutually hostile blocs. It is a thing that we should all deplore, but if certain of the nations of Europe 358 deliberately organise themselves into one bloc which lived in hostility with its neighbours, I suggest that the nations outside must in self-defence organise themselves into another bloc. A private Member can speak with more freedom than a Member sitting on the Front Government Bench, and I say that if Germany, Italy, Austria and Hungary-Ire forming such a bloc which will live in hostility towards its neighbours, it would be the height of folly for other peace-loving nations of the world not to organise themselves into some sort of protective alliance against those Governments which have deliberately led their blindly-trusting people into a deliberate renunciation of the pursuit of peace. We ought to give these dictators a time-limit either to come into the community of nations or to stay out. If they stay out, let us and the rest of Europe organise ourselves accordingly. If they come in, let them show proof of their sincerity. We will welcome them if they come in sincerely, but we have no use for an olive branch which is offered as Signor Mussolini has suggested before a forest of bayonets.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
I find it very difficult to reconcile the first sentence in the King's Speech with the facts as we see them around us. If the statement be true that our relations with foreign Powers continue to be friendly, we must ask ourselves what is the reason for the big increase in military expenditure? If it be true, why is it necessary to be so much concerned about defence? Does anyone, either in the House or the country, or elsewhere, believe that that statement is strictly true? It hardly accords with the speech which the Foreign Secretary has made to-day. In view of what is happening in regard to-armaments, is it likely that such a statement will inspire confidence or respect for the Government or for Parliament or for this country? We may well ask what impression such a statement, coupled with our preparations, will make upon the minds of foreign Powers. An hon. Member opposite referred to the need of trying to look at matters from their point of view. If we do that, I am sure that they will find great difficulty in reconciling the statement that relations with foreign Powers are friendly with the 359 preparations that are being made in armaments. There can be no doubt that an extremely bad effect must be produced. It is said that on one occasion Aristotle was asked what those who told lies gained by it, and he replied, "When they speak the truth they are not to be believed."
We would like to-know whether it is true that our relations with foreign Powers are friendly, and why, if it be true, we are obliged to make preparations which indicate a totally different state of affairs The reputation of this country has grown up round the belief that an Englishman's word is his bond, and that his honesty is to be relied upon. When we have a statement which is contradictory to the actions which are being taken, we cannot expect that that reputation will be maintained. We certainly owe it to those who have been largely responsible in the past for the building up of that reputation to see that everything is done that can be done to keep it unsullied. One of the greatest thinkers that this country has known, the late J. H. Huxley, was referring to the great advances made in various directions during his lifetime, and went on to say:There is no alleviation for the sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and action, and the resolute facing of the world as it is, when the garment of make-believe by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off.I think we are bound to admit that there are at present a great many ugly features in many parts of the world, and that we do desire, as we ought to desire, to see those uglier features stripped off. We are not going to do that in any direction unless we take Huxley's advice that the sufferings of mankind call for veracity of thought and action. Certainly, there is as much need for us to consider that thought as there was in his day, in order to see what can be done towards stripping off those ugly features; but we shall never do that if we are in the position of making a statement which is entirely contrary to the facts. We need to consider what real respect for this country, which we all desire to maintain, really calls for; and in the words of the Noble Lady who spoke a short time ago we should in all things endeavour to make it perfectly clear what we mean and 360 not be saying one thing and meaning another.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. LOFTUS
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs remarked at the commencement of his speech that he hoped it would make for the appeasement of international relations. I think even the most insignificant back-bencher, speaking here or in the country, should remember that, and say no word to intensify the and the international hate which exist in Europe to-day. I am appalled at the deterioration we see in international affairs during the last two or three years. Month by month the deterioration increases, and I think we should ask ourselves whether any word we have said has added a tiny jet of flame to that furnace of hatred which is threatening to destroy Europe to-day. The Secretary of State said, in another phrase, that we must rid our minds of unreality, or, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer might phrase it, we must face reality, or as the last speaker has said, face veracity. When I look back to the period after the Armistice, or look back even three or four years, I feel that there has been a steady deterioration in this House in the way in which we look on the possibility of war. Four or five years ago we discussed war as if it were impossible; now we discuss it almost with a pre-war mentality, not with a post-war mentality. We must try to get down to the fundamental realities which are producing the situation in Europe to-day, we must have done with easy phrases, with slogans that mislead our people and that are driving us forward to-day.
I suggest that we are wrong to regard peace itself as a primary objective. If we do that we shall fall into danger just the same as an individual who concentrating his mind on the preservation of his health, thinking of nothing but his health, will in a year s time become an invalid. If we regard peace as an end in itself we shall not ensure peace. Peace should be a by-product of a healthy international order. That is the essential thing to remember. Work for your healthy international order and you secure peace. Among other phrases I have heard to-day was that about massing overwhelming strength against an aggressor. I only 361 once intervened in the discussion of foreign affairs in this House, and that was for eight or nine minutes some 18 months ago, and then I said that unless we got down to the real, fundamental causes of war we should inevitably have the drawing together of nations suffering the same defects, and that they would form themselves into a league against the League. We should have League and anti-League arming and arming and arming, and one day the anti-League would be strong enough to challenge the League with confidence. To-day we see the beginnings of the anti-League in Germany, drawn first to Japan, next to Italy, incorporating Austria and Hungary, and possibly Bulgaria. We must not talk of collective security except we face the reality that unless we can draw in some of the coalition now being established against the League we cannot get overwhelming force ready on the spot to curb a possible aggressor—three first class Powers with satellite Powers as well.
There is another thing which, I think, should be said, although it is an unpopular thing to say. In many speeches in this country we talk of foreign nations as if they alone were sinners and we were absolutely without sin. There is a savour of self-righteousness about us when we condemn the misdeeds of foreign people. It is right that we should have condemned the use by Italy of poison gas, in breach of her treaty, because it probably killed women and children. Yes, but when we do it let us remember that we were guilty of an infinitely greater cruelty when we kept up the blockade of Austria and Germany after the Armistice—an utterly helpless and hopeless Austria, with all the misery which was caused to the women and children of that country. It is right that we should condemn the misdeeds of foreign Governments, outrages and murders, perhaps, instigated, at any rate connived at, for foreign Governments; but let us remember that 14 years ago in Ireland in the era of the Black-and-Tans, our Government was not guiltless of conniving at outrage and meeting outrage by counter-outrage.
The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has spoken and a Member of his own party rather hinted that it was a sentimental speech. I 362 felt that he alone among all the speakers I have heard was getting into touch with realities. I feel that we have to face the economic facts. I was pleased that the Secretary of State said there is a Committee now working to implement Article 19 of the Covenant. I hope that Committee will produce speedy results, but the tragedy is that all the world knew that the Treaties of Peace required revision but that nothing has been done till now to implement Article 19. You had Germany under liberal, democratic, moderate governments coming to the League and asking for revision and for help, and nothing was done, until, in her despair, she established this spartan unity of state and demanded and took revision. That is the tragedy of the postwar world. There is an economic case to be made not only for Germany but for Italy and for Japan. We have been in danger too much of talking as if international law and international justice were synonymous. They are not. International law consists in the main of treaties imposed by victorious powers on utterly helpless Powers. Can anyone believe that is justice? Of course not.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Dr. Dalton) pointed out that Germany would not be helped by any such scheme as a return to the pre-war international gold standard. I agree, but since recent events in America he may put aside the fear of that possibility. The Secretary of State said that we have made a generous commercial arrangement with Germany —for every £55 Germany sells us we buy from her £100. Germany has a visible favourable balance of trade with us of nearly 50 per cent. That sounds exceptionally fair, but is it a correct interpretation of the position? Is it not the fact that as long as Germany has a large favourable balance of trade with Great Britain she has an unfavourable balance of trade with the British Empire as a whole? I believe that Germany sells to Australia goods to the value of £1,500,000, and she buys from Australia goods worth over £6,000,000 a year. That comes to us in the form of German goods, and helps to meet some of the interest due from Australia here. I agree with the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley that the economic question is fundamental, that we have to tackle it, and above all that we must not adopt the method of saying that other nations must 363 make sacrifices but When it comes to our own, "No." There are great dangers looming ahead in the world and we must be prepared to play our part. I hear speeches by Members of the Opposition attacking the regime in Germany. The words and phrases are almost identical with those used by Conservative Members many years ago in attacking the regime in Russia. There are many features of the two regimes in common.
I would beg hon. Members opposite not to dismiss the regime in Germany as a capitalist conspiracy. It is something much bigger and deeper than that. All over the world to-day—in Russia, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Persia—men are seeking new ways of life. Men have discovered that the ideas of the 19th century have failed. Various nations, in their own ways, with a great mixture of good and evil, are seeking new ways of life. There has been much said about propaganda; there have been accusations of Nazi propaganda by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, and of Russian propaganda by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I wish to attack neither side. There probably is propaganda going on. Certainly there has been Russian propaganda in Spain, and there may be Russian propaganda in this country. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said at a Labour meeting that the Communist party in this country was controlled, organised and financed from a foreign country. The essential first step to try to establish peace in Europe is to get nations to agree to stop propaganda in other countries. Right hon. Gentlemen who have any influence in Russia or Germany should try to see that that is stopped. It is the first essential step.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I do not wish on this occasion to refer to any criticisms which we have made in the past on the conduct of foreign affairs by His Majesty's Government, or to make any attempt to assess what share of the responsibility may be theirs for the lamentable deterioration in the state of public order and the prospect of peace in Europe. We have to take the situation as we find it, and it is the duty of us all to see what we can extract of good from a situation that is grim and threatening. 364 The race in armaments is without parallel in its intensity, and the only thing which prevents it from being carried on with even greater intensity is the fact that in some countries in which rearmament is proceeding the limitations of physical and industrial capacity have already been reached. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken referred to the evils and difficulties arising from propaganda. When the League of Nations was founded it was founded on the assumption that the States Members would respect their sovereignty national. An entirely different situation exists to-day. There have sprung up, with great intensity in recent years, dogmas and creeds, competing in character, which recognise no frontiers at all. Each is trying to create an atmosphere in favour of its own belief. That aggravates the situation enormously, and creates difficulties from which it is very difficult for us to extricate ourselves.
In one of his recent speeches, the Prime Minister made a very wise observation with regard to the difficulties of democracies in facing such situations as those with which they are confronted at the present time. My hon. Friends and right hon. Friends welcome the speech which was made by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to-day. We recognise in it an attempt to restore moral authority to the democratic and peace-loving countries. We have too often seen, in recent years, the democracies following—I might almost say lurching—in the wake of the others, in succeeding crises. They have sometimes conceded to force or to a threat of force, and at some other times to a fait accompli, and made concession to force which they refused to reason and discussion. If I might be acquitted of any intention to patronise, I would say that every Member of the House feels a great sympathy with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the burden of responsibility which he has to carry at the present time, in a situation which calls for the exercise not only of courage but of tolerance, coolness and restraint, and for a courtesy which must be extraordinarily difficult to display towards those who, by their words and sometimes by deeds, have made it difficult to preserve in negotiation the ordinary qualities of courtesy, restraint and 365 patience. I hope that everything said here to-day will help him in the course which he is pursuing.
We have had a characteristic speech from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who has a great advantage over many of us in that he has to speak only for himself and not for a body such as the Cabinet, whose opinions might not be identical upon any point of view. He always knows exactly what he means, and there is no ambiguity as to the steps which he would take to carry out his policy. He has the further advantage of his unrivalled gift of exposition in placing his views before the House. To-day lie appeared here, and laid before the House a plan. He said that it was a great thing to have a plan and to stick to it. I am entirely in agreement with him, but, so far as I could follow what he said, there seemed no essential difference between the plan which he advocated and that which was laid before the House by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Let me add that the plan is one which, in so far as it is to restore moral authority and leadership to the democratic Powers, would command the support of the great majority in this House. I would say to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that I believe that the policy which he has put forward to-day will, if he adheres to it, command the overwhelming support of the majority of the people of the country, as long as he holds his distinguished office. I believe that he would still have the opinion of the people of this country behind him if, while still adhering to that policy, he saw fit, for any reason, to vacate the office which he now holds.
I would like to comment upon the plan which was laid before the House by the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping put forward a plan which was concerned chiefly with the marshalling of the democratic forces and the establishment of a system, not of alliances but of collective security based upon the Covenant of the League, which will present an irresistible front to any Power which might desire to bring about any kind of aggression. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), following the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, seemed to me to be in some 366 doubt as to what was in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman when he defined his scheme. He seemed to suggest that there was still a possibility that the right hon. Gentleman was open for a Western pact, and of there being carried out a suggestion, which has appeared in some of the journals of this country, relating to a deal in the west while we might say that we were no longer concerned with what might happen in the east of Europe. I may be wrong, but I did not understand the right hon. Gentleman to speak in that sense when he said that our friendships could not be exclusive and that they were not directed against anybody. I did not understand him to mean that he would make any reservation whatever in regard to any member of the League of Nations, or to any State in Europe which might come into the League. I hope I am right in so understanding.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was concerned chiefly with arrangements of a military or quasi-military character. In the present circumstances, a great deal of importance is attached by some countries to matters purely of prestige. I feel that one step which might be taken, and which I would like to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, is that the International Labour Office and the Court of International Justice should be detached by Protocol, or whatever may be the convenient means, from the Peace Treaty of Versailles. We must base any new attempt upon unqualified equality in all respects among the various countries who are Members of the League. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland made one or two inquiries with regard to the nature of the steps to be taken at Geneva to deal with some of the economic forces behind the strife which is taking place to-day. Such reflection as I have been able to give to this matter has led me to the conclusion that we can never hope for an abiding peace in the world until all the countries of the world have a common reason and a common incentive for keeping that peace. I do not think it can be said at the present time that that state of things exists, and I should like to ask what is the nature of the steps which have been taken at Geneva to deal with the economic aspects of the matter.
367 I agree with the view that there should be fact-finding commissions and expert inquiries to ascertain exactly what is the substance and importance of the various economic claims which are put forward. What is the substance of the claims with regard to access to raw materials and with regard to markets? There are claims with regard to colonies, but we do not know what they mean or what they are, and still less do we know whether there would be any substance in them if the other matters to which I have referred were explored and the facts ascertained. Such an inquiry might cover a great number of other questions dealing with population and the like. God forbid that we should have a world conference on these subjects, but in the first instance there should be a fact-finding expert inquiry, and the various countries should be asked to state, in the light of the facts, what changes they would like to be brought about by discussion and agreement.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the speeches which have been made by Dr. Goebbels and General Goering. He spoke with a charming restraint in regard to those utterances, but I think that, if I had found myself speaking where Dr. Goebbels and General Goering were speaking, I might have reminded the right hon. Gentleman that there have been other speeches made. For instance, in September, 1935, the present First Lord of the Admiralty said at Geneva:Abundant supplies of raw materials appear to give peculiar advantages to the countries possessing them.In July of this year the Foreign Secretary himself, speaking in this House, said that the Government were fully prepared and would be glad to discuss the subject at some international conference under the auspices of the League of Nations, and that at such a conference it would be entirely right to discuss such problems as that of wider guarantees for access to colonial raw materials and the obstacles in the path of such access; while the month before last, at the meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, he stated that this was a matter for impartial expert inquiry. There appears to be agreement on the matter. Some of these speeches were made 12 months and more ago, and those who are concerned about the matter, which is a very im- 368 portant one in the present aspect of international affairs, are entitled to ask what has been done, or, if nothing has been done, what it is proposed to do to give effect to these promises which have been made by those who have represented this country.
A new opportunity has arisen from the tripartite agreement with regard to stabilisation of the exchanges. It is a very remarkable agreement, because this is the first time since the War that any countries have come to an agreement on the question of exchange stabilisation. I think the Minister of Agriculture was quite right when he said at Geneva that it was a signal opportunity for opening up a movement for the greater relaxation and freedom of international trade. I recall that M. Bastide, the French Minister of Commerce, said that they were prepared to go to any length with us in working together for the abolition of those restrictions on trade which have been by common consent one of the worst things for this country. Unless we can do something in that direction, we shall still have our depressed areas suffering in the way that distresses every one of us. I think the time has now come when the great imperial countries which hold political control over large portions of the earth's surface—and the fact that they hold political control is often too readily assumed to mean that they also hold economic control in those countries—have to ask themselves whether to maintain these imperial and colonial possessions on the basis of privilege and preference is compatible with the maintenance of the peace of the world. That is a very serious question. The reflection I have given to it leads me to the conclusion that it might at some time make all the difference between the issues of peace and of war. It goes to the very root of economic justice.
These are some of the reflections which have struck me with regard to the important Debate which is now drawing to its close. I think, if I may say so, that there has been a great deal of agreement in all quarters of the House, and that, if there had never been a speech made before on the same lines as that of the Foreign Secretary to-day, we should be going away from this House quite confident. But we have to make the effort. I agree entirely with the right hon. 369 Gentleman the Member for Epping that there is still a great opportunity for the democratic forces of Europe. They require leadership. They have had no leadership comparable with that of the autocratic Powers. We hope that the speech we have heard to-day is the foundation of a new policy which may be the beginning of leading Europe again out of the morass.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Before I follow the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) on the subject which has occupied our attention for most of to-day, I hope that, as this is a general Debate, I may be forgiven if I make just one reference to a matter which is of special concern to my own part of the country, and which has been brought forcibly to the attention of the country, and particularly of London, in the last few days. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) presented a petition in this House yesterday calling attention to the distress of that area, and, in reply to a question addressed to him, the First Lord of the Admiralty said that a private company had arrived at an agreement with another private concern the effect of which was that there was not to be erected in Jarrow for a space of years any competitive concern of that character. I ventured to ask the Prime Minister, in a supplementary question, whether he thought it was in accordance with the public good that a private company should be able in these days to barter away the livelihood of a community to please its own sweet self. Of course, I did not expect the right hon. Gentleman to make any reply to that question, but I wanted to make the point. The right hon. Gentleman knows, as others know, that there are many Jarrows in the country at the moment. Indeed the mining valleys of South Wales almost constitute one expansive Jarrow. I deplore more than I can say the apparent complacency of the Government in regard to this problem. My colleagues and I go to our constituencies and the thing that appals us is the decay of hope in these areas. When there is decay of hope, clearly the situation is becoming somewhat desperate.
Hon. Members have been talking with proper pride of the fact that this is a democratic country. I invite them to 370 answer this question. Is it democracy that a company should be able to pass sentence of death upon a community in this way? Merthyr has been thus sentenced. A similar thing was threatened in regard to Llanelly last year. I ask the Prime Minister to look at this problem from a much larger point of view, whether with the trend of our modern industry, with the very close amalgamations and concentration of industry in limited areas, we are in point of fact keeping pace in the arrangements for dealing with those who become the victims of such amalgamations. That is our problem in South Wales in part, at any rate, and I should like to feel that the Government were paying a little more lively attention to the matter than is in fact the case. Suppose this country by some unfortunate chance were in peril and you sent your recruiting agents to these areas to invite these young men to rally to the defence of the country in danger. What is your answer going to be if they turn round and say, "What did you do when our homes were in danger?" It is a very serious matter, but, believe me, there is a sense growing strongly in the minds and hearts of these people, especially the young ones, that they are not getting a fair and square deal from the State.
I pass from that to the discussion of the outstanding feature of the Debate as I see it. The last speaker said that in his judgment there was a considerable measure of agreement between the speakers in many parts of the House, and I think, broadly speaking, that is true. The one thing that emerges from the speeches in my judgment is that there is a general apprehension in all parts of the House concerning the future and the trend of events. I do not make this point really in a controversial spirit, but I direct attention to it to show how we have in fact changed. We have changed almost completely in the last five years. Perhaps I am right, perhaps I am wrong. Hon. Members opposite will probably disagree with me when I say that in the course of the last five years for some reason or other we have lost our leadership on the Continent. Take another contrast. Five years ago the Government which I supported was hounded out of office on the ground that there was extravagant expenditure of public money, yet the biggest single item that was charged against us as having been some- 371 what extravagant was the expenditure of round about £200,000,000 in providing public works for the unemployed. This year we are spending £200,000,000 upon armaments, and no one on the other side raises any objection. It may be justified or not. I merely show the contrast.
The thing that terrifies me in relation to this expenditure upon armaments is that, unless it is arrested somehow, we shall go on spending money to such a degree that we shall put our social services in pawn for a generation. I know that the Chancellor will be saying at the end of this period—if he does not say it, someone will put a Motion on the Paper to make him say it—that with our expenditure upon armaments and so on, our National Debt has become so great and our commitments so profound, that there must be economy. I am sure that next year he will plead for economy, and economy at all times means cutting down the social services. There may be peril, because the young generation to-day is not of a like mind with the young generation of 30 years ago. It expects nowadays from Parliament something by way of ameliorating the condition of the people, and, if the social services are arrested by reason of these commitments, the reaction upon the public mind 20 or 30 years hence may be very great indeed.
I turn now to the discussion of the pure foreign policy problem. The Foreign Secretary has declared to us that, for him and for the Government, support of the League of Nations remains the guiding principle in foreign affairs. I was not as impressed by that as I might be had he and his predecessors never made speeches of that sort before, because it has been declared over and over again that. that is the fundamental principle of the Government, but, unfortunately, the actual execution has not kept pace with the enunciation of principle. But he is right none the less, I think, in calling our attention to this fact. We have to make up our minds as to whether we accept the concept of a League of Nations as being fundamental for foreign policy or not, because, after all, no one can devise machinery completely to rid the world of disputes between nations. All we can do is to devise machinery for settlement of disputes if and when they arise. We have to determine whether we will settle 372 them by the arbitrament of force or the arbitrament of reason. When we speak of the League of Nations we sometimes forget what the world already owes to it in various ways. I was reading a pamphlet by a very acute thinker on international affairs the other day, and I will read a passage or two in relation to that particular point. It was written by Mr. H. N. Brailsford who, speaking of the League, says:It has, moreover, a distinguished record of social and humanitarian work.This is a list of the things which he attributes rightly to the League:It has succoured prisoners, found homes for refugees, brought hope to populations scourged with malaria, standardised the right to leisure and health of some groups of workers the world over, lifted some stricken countries out of bankruptcy, helped others to organise their transport and social services, penetrated the schools as a teacher of peace, and provided for our social thinking ample material based on exact research.Not a bad record, but he goes further.To settle in Greece, impoverished by a disastrous war, nearly a million broken and penniless refugees from Turkey, and so to do it that the productivity of this country was immensely enhanced—this was a remarkable, perhaps a unique feat of organisation. The fight against malaria, that ranged from the Balkans to China, and involved administrative, educational and economic problems of great complexity ranks high among the League's achievements.We are not talking about an organisation that is entirely untried, but of an organisation which, largely on humanitarian grounds and in the realms of social problems, has to its credit already a remarkable success. The tragedy is that we are not able to trust that same machine within the realm of political activity as we are in the realm of humanitarian and social activities. We are pledged—I suggest that all parties are pledged—never again to use the method of warfare as an instrument of national policy. It is not a recent pledge. Statesmen used these words during the last War: "Never again!" It was a promise to the living and a pledge to the dying, and none of us is absolved from it until that pledge is truly redeemed.
There are people who argue that, before we can do very much, there must be reform of the League. I speak for myself in this matter, I do not necessarily commit my friends, but I do not think there is as much in this talk of League reform as may be imagined. I admit 373 there may be something to be said for abrogating the uniformity rule, and there may be something to be said against it also. There may be a case for removing the Covenant from the confines of the Versailles Treaty and making it a separate document. Indeed there is an immense amount to be said, and it is the strongest point that can be said against the League procedure since the War, namely, that it ought not to be used as an instrument for maintaining the status quo. But it is not in my judgment the failure of the terminology of the Covenant that matters. The tragedy is that there has been such an awful decline in honour among nations in the last few years, and unless nations can be trusted to honour their bond you can multiply covenants by the thousand and you will get no further forward. The right hon. Gentleman, I observe, wants to say at once that he is not a sinner. But we will see in a moment. This decline of honour among the nations is really 'an appalling fact that has been so significant in recent international affairs. No covenant or revised covenant can be of any use unless you can be sure that those who have signed it will adhere to it rigidly and honourably.
Let us look for a moment or two to see how this thing has emerged in recent years. Take the Far Eastern question. Honour demanded that Japan should follow a certain procedure with regard to China. Did she follow it? Did the other nations who are signatories to the Nine-Power Pact carry out their honourable undertaking? Of course not. They broke their honourable agreement. Italy had an honourable agreement with Abyssinia through the League to follow a certain course of procedure. Did she honour it? She broke it, and the other nations, many of them anyway, failed also to carry out honourably their obligations under the Covenant. Similarly Germany had entered into an agreement, under duress if you like, in regard to rearmament, but she broke it. The other nations who had imposed the disarmament terms in 1920 also entered into a promise that they would disarm, but they did not do so. It is the failure among nations to honour their own commitments that really matters, and however much Members may argue in favour of a change of the Covenant—and there may be a case for it—in the long run the 374 value of the Covenant depends upon the willingness of nations to act honourably by it.
The right hon. Gentleman invited us to place more faith and hope in the efficacy of the Five-Power Conference which the Government have attempted to convene. If as a result these Five Powers can arrive at some sort of agreement, good luck to the Government. I should not hesitate to express any disagreement, subject to one consideration. It is true that the right hon. Gentleman said that we must not be understood as being ready to enter into any agreement that may be deemed to be inimical to the interests of any other particular nations, France, Germany, or anyone else. He said that quite clearly and I must acknowledge that fact. None the less my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) was justified in calling attention to the omission from the right hon. Gentleman's statement of all reference to Russia in this matter. We do not raise this matter of Russia because of any presumed association of ourselves with Russia at all, nor of any idealogical association such as rests in the imagination of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Russia is a factor in European peace. Whether hon. Gentlemen opposite welcome it or not it is now the fact that Russia is a country of considerable significance in Europe. She might be an influence for good if she were taken with the other nations or became an influence for evil otherwise.
What we all want surely is to effect not a Western Locarno which even by implication might grant to Germany a free hand to do as she pleases eastwards, but rather a European settlement which shall be as far as possible all-embracing. It is a European settlement of that character alone that commends itself to us. We must recognise, and the right hon. Gentleman himself specifically recognised, that so far the attempts of the Government have been attended by failure, but we rejoice to hear that the Foreign Secretary proposes to try again. I admit that the task is difficult, no one will deny that it is difficult, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I say that the Government made their task more difficult by reason of their failure to be quite clear as to their objective. If their purpose and their actions coincided, it 375 would be easier for them to exercise more leadership in Europe than they now have.
If we are to try again, as we have been told is the case, we must frankly recognise one certain fact. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has once more called attention to it, and I hope that we shall continue to call attention to it until something is done. There may not be very much in the case that the Germans have put up from time to time in relation to raw materials and access to markets. It may be for the purpose of propaganda that they exaggerate the case, but so long as the belief is there that the raw materials problem and the access to markets problem work inimically against them, that is an impediment to co-operation between them and us. There was a promise made, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows, an explicit promise as I understood it, by the then Foreign Secretary at Geneva, that this question of raw materials and access to markets would be examined in a sympathetic spirit by the Government. I believe that even this can be over-exaggerated. Nevertheless, we must recognise that at the bottom of many of the international disputes there rests this economic issue. Most of our modern international disputes, in the long run, are grounded somewhere there, and if we are to make one more attempt to effect a reconciliation in Europe I hope that the Government will show their complete willingness to have this matter completely examined once again.
The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) pleaded with the Government that they should have a consistent plan. It would help enormously to clarify the international issue at this moment if the Government could convince Europe that they stand consistently, firmly, and courageously by the instrument that is called the League of Nations. The right hon. Member for Epping made certain suggestions. One was that he seemed very anxious to establish what he called a Mediterranean pact between ourselves and Italy. There can be no harm in settling even the Mediterranean problem in that way so long as any settlement does not tend in any way to limit the freedom of other nations of the world. We must preserve in these problems a real international outlook and spirit.
376 Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman was exceedingly anxious that we should develop proper relationships with the Russia he liked, but not with the Russia he disliked. In regard to Russia he made one or two observations which require refutation. He made a reference to the Spanish situation, and, as I thought, quite unnecessary to his argument, dragged in an accusation in relation to Russian propaganda in Spain before the rebellion broke out. I cannot tell and I do not pretend to argue whether the war in Spain was a result of Russian propaganda; all I can say is that even if it was conceded the right hon. Gentleman should have remembered also, on the other side, that there must have been for many months before the rebellion broke out very elaborate preparations made by the rebels against the duly appointed government. We naturally take the view which is sympathetic to the government of Spain, because to us it is the embodiment of the popular will, and, I repeat, it is a disastrous thing for Europe and for the world that members of the Conservative party in this House and outside, since they themselves live in a democratic State, should have given the impression, erroneous or otherwise, that they are anxious to see the antidemocratic forces successful in the present issue in Spain. If I were a Conservative looking at this problem simply from the standpoint of the British Empire and its well-being I should find it hard indeed to support those who urge the claims of the rebels as against the claims of the government in Spain.
A speech was delivered by Signor Mussolini a few days ago, a speech of some truculence it seems to me, and I wonder whether I have drawn the proper conclusions from it. I wonder whether that speech was conveniently made in advance of what he hoped would be a favourable termination of the hostilities in Spain, when he hopes to secure his share of the reward for his support, and he is warning the Government off in regard to any protests it might desire to make. If we get Italy situated nearer to the mouth of the Mediterranean than is the case now I wonder what justification Conservatives may have for looking upon that problem with such equanimity, having regard to the obvious menace it must present to our route through the Mediterranean to the Far East.
377 I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping many times in this House and enjoyed many of his speeches. With the exception of what I considered to be an unnecessary and erroneous reference to Russia, I am bound to say that this afternoon he presented a most potent and convincing argument in favour of that for which this party has always stood—collective security through the League of Nations. We are now being convinced by the march of events that this country must seek friends through the League, and provide for its friends, through the League, security in a collective sense. It is not possible for the nations to go on building national armaments in enormous aggregations, as is now the case, without in the long run some fool—perhaps not a government but some irresponsible fool—carrying a brand in his hand setting these powder magazines in various parts of the world ablaze. We must avert that. I believe the only safe way of averting it is by working together through the League, by making use of the League and by making the League the bulwark of the peace efforts of the world.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Several times, in listening to Debates upon foreign affairs in this House in recent months, I have heard regrets and even anxiety expressed at what seemed to be serious differences of opinion in the House as to the policy which this country ought to pursue, but I think those who have felt those fears must have listened to-day with relief to the general course of the discussion, which has indeed illustrated a striking measure of agreement in all parts of the House with the policy which was outlined by my right hon. Friend in his opening speech. Whether it be the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones), who has just addressed us, or the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), or my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—on every side there seems to be, although there are some differences on detail and on method, a consensus of opinion about the line which we ought to take; and if my ears did not deceive me, when I heard an hon. Member opposite quoting with ap- 378 proval my Noble Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl), I thought that indeed the lion was lying down with the lamb. I cannot help thinking that this happy measure of unanimity is largely due to the nature of the speech which was delivered by my right hon. Friend, a speech so clear in its outline, so decisive in its policy, so firm and yet so conciliatory in tone. Even the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) who followed him, though he did not actually express agreement, nevertheless did not express disagreement. When I noticed that whereas my right hon. Friend declared that he was going to devote his speech, not to the past but to the present and future, the hon. Member opposite dealt neither with the present nor the future, but almost entirely with the past, I reflected, having had some experience of his controversial methods, that it probably was because he saw no point in my right hon. Friend's speech on which he could usefully pick a quarrel.
The hon. Member did make one complaint, that my right hon. Friend, in spite of a fairly wide survey of the field, did not deal with every country in the world. He expressed some anxiety which he and other hon. Members opposite felt about developments in Iraq and asked whether any further information was to be given to the House on that subject. My right hon. Friend made a very full statement about Iraq in the House yesterday, and I do not think there is much that I can usefully add to what he said then. There is, however, one point which I might mention, and it is this. My right hon. Friend said yesterday that he had sent instructions to His Majesty's Ambassador to emphasise that one of the principal points upon which opinion outside would be watching the proceedings in Iraq would be concerned with the humanity of their treatment of minorities. I am glad to be able to say that, since then, the Iraqi Prime Minister, as we have heard, has told our Ambassador that His Majesty's Government could rest assured that the protection and welfare of minorities had from the first been included in the programme of his Government.
I do not propose to-night to go over again the old story of what happened in Manchukuo or over the earlier stages of the Italo-Abyssinian affair. But there 379 was one point raised by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on which it might be advisable to say a word. The hon. Member spoke of a book recently published by a distinguished American statesman, Mr. Stimson, in which, the hon. Member said, Mr. Stimson stated that in February, 1932, he had suggested to the then Foreign Secretary, now the Home Secretary, the imposition of sanctions upon Japan, and that he had found the Foreign Secretary and the British Government entirely unwilling to take any part in such a course. The hon. Member said that that was a matter which must be cleared up. I have not read the book in question. I am not, therefore, able to say whether the hon. Member quoted accurately the passage to which he referred. If he did, let me say this—that that passage does not accord with the facts as they are known to His Majesty's Government. In February, 1932, Mr. Stimson did make a communication proposing, not the imposition of sanctions upon Japan, but the invocation of the Nine-Power Treaty. In a letter which he wrote on 15th March, 1935, to Lord Lothian, after describing this démarehe and subsequent discussions, he said that on 16th February, 1932, he was informed by Mr. Atherton, the American Chargé at London, that the British Government would not go with him in the proposed invocation of the Nine-Power Pact, and thatwhatever they could do in supporting any such movement on my part could, be clone only in conjunction with the signatories of the League Covenant and as a part of League action.We were then able to show that the written answer which was handed to Mr. Atherton on 16th February, 1932, for transmission to Mr. Stimson stated definitely that the British Government were most anxious to co-operate with America, and that it was hoped that those of the League Powers who were signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty would also associate themselves with the American démarehe. Subsequently to that, Mr. Stimson himself abandoned his proposal for the invocation of the Nine-Power Treaty, and I think the hon. Member will therefore see that the account which I have now given, which is an account of the, facts as they actually 380 were, does not at all accord with the passage in the book to which he referred.
My right hon. Friend, in the course of his speech, stated that the policy of His Majesty's Government could be summarised under three heads—support of the League, a general European settlement, and the adequate equipment of this country in armaments. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) found something sinister in a difference of wording in the Gracious Speech from the Throne as compared with that Speech last year. I must confess that His Majesty's Ministers did not closely compare the two Speeches, but I would observe to him that when you do desire to make a repetition of the same idea in successive Speeches, it is sometimes as well not to repeat exactly the same words. They then rather tend to be regarded as an empty formula, not having any particular meaning. It would be wrong to suppose that, because the passage about the League of Nations was expressed in somewhat different terms from that in last year's Speech, that fact indicated any change of policy on the part of His Majesty's Government.
I think that the quotation which was read to us a little while ago by the hon. Member for Caerphilly as to the record of the League in matters other than those great matters which have so often engaged our attention was a useful reminder. It is a fact that the League has many functions, and that it has performed most valuable service to the countries of the world in a great variety of ways, and indeed I would say that if that was all that the League had ever done or attempted to do, then that alone would justify the continuance of the League and our support of it. But we know that that was not the major function for which the League was formed. The major function of the League was to try and preserve world peace, and it is in so far as it has failed to maintain world peace that its reputation and prestige have suffered so grievously. But if the League has not succeeded in carrying out the intentions of those who founded it, it does not follow from that that we should abandon the League or abandon the aims for which it was set up.
Surely the far more sensible thing must be either to decide that there is some other method of maintaining peace 381 that is better than any League, or, if we cannot find such a method, to try to find what are the faults which caused the failure of the League and to remove those faults so that the failure will not be repeated. As far as I know, there is only one practical alternative to the method of the League, and that is the method of alliances, and we all know what that means. I doubt if there is any Member of this House who would advocate to-day that we should turn our backs on the League in order to return to the old system of alliances. The present Government in particular have made it clear over and over again that we set our faces against the division of Europe into opposing blocs of Powers knit together in alliances, endeavouring ourselves to hold the balance of power between them or to ally ourselves with one or other of those blocs.
We believe that that system has gone and is not likely to be revived and that, therefore, the one hope of Europe is to continue our endeavours to find a system of collective security which will establish and maintain peace, and which will not be subject to the faults which have been found in the system as it has worked up to now. The hon. Member for Kingswin-ford picked out a particular passage from the speech which I made last June and endeavoured to show that the meaning of that passage was that I took an exactly opposite view from that which I have been expressing, namely, that in my opinion the system of collective security had failed, and that we had to go to some other system. I am sure that the hon. Member did not intend to misrepresent me, but it would be misrepresentation to say either that I meant that or that those who were listening to me understood that I meant it. I am going to quote some further passages from this speech, because it is not fair to take a single sentence isolated from its context and to draw deductions from it which would be altered or qualified if other passages were taken with it. What was the complete sentence from which the hon. Member only quoted a part? I said:The fact remains that the policy of collective security based on sanctions has been tried out…and it has failed to prevent war, failed to stop war, failed to Save the victim of the aggression.382 That seems to me to be a mere simple statement of fact, and I can hardly imagine that the hon. Member would say that the system had succeeded in doing all of those things which I said it had not done.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is sure I had no desire to misrepresent him, and I am sure that he does not wish to misrepresent me. I was quoting from his speech the statement to which he has just referred supporting an argument that the League of Nations collective system has failed. My answer to that was that in so far as there had been failure it, was not due to ny inherent weakness in the system of collective security, but to the way in which it was applied—a very different thing.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I do not want to engage in an argument with the hon. Member, but I want to make clear what I said at the time. Perhaps I may, therefore, go on to read another passage which came very shortly after the one I have quoted—There is no reason why, because the policy of collective security, in the circumstances in which it was tried, has failed, we should therefore abandon the idea of the League and give up the ideals for which the League stands.Those statements were accompanied by the statement that it was time we faced up to realities. If I have a fault to find with some hon. Members opposite it is that even yet, as it seems to me, they are not willing to face up to realities. What is the position, what was the position, of a League crippled by the absence of some of the most powerful nations in the world, a League many members of which were either disarmed or insufficiently armed? We tried out the system of sanctions, short of military sanctions. [HON. MEMBERS: "No" and "Oil!"] Well I will say economic sanctions, if not all, were tried out until it became apparent that if we tried economic sanctions any further we were coming right up against the imminent risk of war. At that point the system broke down. [HON. MEMBERS: "You ran away!"] The system did actually break down. Collective security was compendiously described by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping when he said that the principle of collective security was that no one was in it unless—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
—unless enough were in it, not for one to go on if the rest were not prepared to share in the consequences which should fall upon all collectively. The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) said the other day that we had 50 nations behind us. Yes, but it is alongside of us that we want the nations, and not behind us. While I agree that a system of collective security might be successful in the circumstances which were contemplated by my right hon. Friend below the Gangway, when all the nations were adequately armed and all filled with the determination to carry things to the utmost in order to restrain an aggressor, I am bound to say that it seems to me that we are still a long way from that state of affairs. It may be that some day we shall arrive at a state of affairs when there is a strengthened and an increased League, a League filled with the determination, with the will to carry out obligations as one lion Member, I think the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East, said, to the bitter end, and that then we can safely resist aggression even though it means the use of force. But this is an imperfect world. The world is a long way from that ideal. What we have to work for if we are to preserve collective security, if we are to make it a reality, is, first of all, to try to strengthen the League and then to buttress it by some other system, an added system, which will help us to maintain peace in those portions of the world which are most subject to stress and strain. In that speech to which I have already referred I asked:Is it not also apparent from what has happened that in the presence of such a risk"—that is, the risk of war resulting from a policy of sanctions—nations cannot be relied upon to proceed to the last extremity of war unless their vital interests are threatened?That seems to be an inevitable deduction to draw from what took place, but might we not utilise the fact that every nation has some interests which are vital to it to make what has been described as regional pacts, entered into by the nations which are vitally interested in the regions covered by the pacts, because in that case we should be able to rely 384 on the nations acting up to their obligations, since they must do so in defence of their own interests? A question was asked during the Debate whether regional pacts were intended to be merely consistent with the terms of the Covenant, or were to be in substitution for the obligations of the Covenant. The latter alternative would be contrary to the ideas that His Majesty's Government entertain of the nature of regional pacts. There is this difference, however, between regional pacts and general obligations under the League; these general obligations do not necessarily imply the use of military sanctions, but the regional pact does imply the use of force. If you can strengthen the general obligations of the League by this much more rigid, binding agreement between nations interested in particular regions, in that way you are adding materially to the security of the world.
We have indicated that we mean to try to bring about a Western European Pact. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland seemed to regard that suggestion with a good deal of suspicion. If I understood him rightly his suspicion arose from the fear that we might enter into a Western European Pact and thereby entirely disinterest ourselves in the affairs of Eastern Europe. If that were our idea of a Western Pact I think I should agree, but he will remember that my right hon. Friend's second point was a general European settlement. It is true that we cannot disinterest ourselves in the peace of any part of the world, because a contest which arises in some remote corner may presently lead to a world war. That it is possible to enter into a Western European Pact without thereby disinteresting ourselves in the rest of the peace of the world is seen by the experience we have already had. The regional pact of Locarno did not mean that we told the world that anybody might do what they liked anywhere else.
It is true that a Western Pact does not in itself ensure the stability of the eastern frontiers of Germany. We should like to see an Eastern European Pact on the same lines as a Western European Pact. We should not ourselves be parties to such a pact, but that does not mean that we give a free hand to any other 385 country to do what it likes, and undertake that in no circumstances will we interfere. We keep in fact a free hand to consider the circumstances and the merits of the case, and we confine our actual obligations to those regional pacts which affect our interests. All regional pacts must be subject to our general obligations under the Covenant. They are not intended to be a substitute for them, but an addition to them, and I believe they can usefully play a great part in the attainment of general security.
Let me quote a few words from the communique issued after the Three-Power Conference in London last July, which bring out clearly our interests in the general subject of a European settlement. The communique says:The main purpose to which the efforts of all European nations must be directed is to consolidated peace by means of a general settlement.Such a settlement can only be achieved by the free co-operation of all the Powers concerned, and nothing would be more fatal to the hopes of such a settlement than the division, apparent or real, of Europe into opposing blocs.Lastly, the communique says:If progress can be made at this meeting, other matters affecting European peace will necessarily come under discussion. In such circumstances, it would be natural to look forward to the widening of the area of the discussion in such a manner as to facilitate, with the collaboration of the other interested Powers, the settlement of those problems the solution of which is essential to the peace of Europe.There is one other matter to which I want to make an allusion, because more than one speaker in the course of the Debate has spoken of the economic factors which enter into the general unrest. I agree that it is extraordinarily difficult to disentangle the various factors which enter into the general European unease, but undoubtedly economic factors pay a large part. In the consideration of them, it has been our endeavour to help, wherever we could, in facilitating the resumption of more normal economic and financial relations. The Three-Power Declaration on the de-valuation of the franc was an instance in point, and has, I think, been generally approved. It has been generally recognised as a first step, but only a step, in the direction of freeing international trade which, if it is to have its full effect, must be followed up 386 by further steps. There has never been any suggestion that this was a means of bringing back the Gold Standard by a back door. I have on more than one occasion stated my own view that, some day or other, we shall get back to an international Gold Standard, but before we do so conditions must be fulfilled which are not fulfilled at the present time. Until then I see no prospect of getting back to that standard.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead and other hon. Members made particular reference to the suggestion which was made by my right hon. and gallant Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, of an investigation into the subject of raw materials. I have been asked to say what is the position with regard to an inquiry being instituted. A resolution of the Assembly requested the League Council, when it thought fit, to appoint a committee to undertake the study of this question, and expressed the view that the participation in the work of the committee of nationals of the non-member as well as member States especially interested, would be desirable. It further suggested that the Council should give attention to this consideration in reaching its decision, and instructed the Secretary-General to communicate the resolution to the Governments of the non-member States. The Secretary-General of the League has accordingly communicated the resolution to the Governments of the non-member States, but, so far as we know, up to the present these States have not replied. The question will come up for consideration by the Council at its next meeting, which will take place in January. In considering the utility of appointing the proposed committee, the Council will, in accordance with the terms of the resolution, give consideration to the attitude adopted by non-member States to the proposed inquiry.
My time is up. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be very much encouraged and strengthened in the lead which this Government desires to give to the world in the task of establishing an enduring peace by the general measure of agreement that has been shown in this Debate.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.