§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
We are about to rise for the Christmas vacation and we find a world very little in accord with the peaceful traditions of the season. We have war raging in Spain and in the Far East. There are grave incidents and grave controversies. Since we last discussed foreign affairs there have been a good many happenings. There have been important conversations. There have been the Hitler-Halifax conversations. There has been a series of visits to the Continent—[Interruption.]—yes, and I have been to Spain. There have been important visits. We have had important visits from French Ministers and from foreign monarchs. A leading Power, Italy, has left the League of Nations. There are matters which give rise to grave anxiety to-day, and it is right that we should have a statement of Government policy. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to give the people of this country some hope. I believe that there is a need for a general review of the situation. I notice that one of the Government papers even wanted to make the Prime Minister's speech for him. That is quite unnecessary. A leading article in the "Times" sets out that there is no real need for a Debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.] Yes, there is need for a Debate, because there are grave differences in this House on questions of foreign affairs. Reference has been made to previous periods in our history when there was general agreement on foreign affairs between the two sides of the House, but that does not exist to-day.
The actual events occurring in the world are important, but I want specially to stress the general trend of events, and to ask whither this country is going. I want to ask whether we are being steered to a port and, if so, what port, or whether we are drifting. The wars in Spain and in the Far East are only symptoms of very unstable world conditions. Last week we called attention in this House to the plight of the distressed areas as being grave problems in themselves, but as symptomatic of an unstable economic system. We were dealing with the symptoms and not with the disease. On that occasion we got a cheap and flippant 1794 debating reply from the Secretary of State for Scotland which was quite unworthy of the right hon. Gentleman and of the gravity of the subject which we were discussing. I do not think that the Prime Minister will give us a mere debating speech this afternoon.
Let us glance at the main features. The Government have again and again declared that the League of Nations is the foundation stone of Government policy. We have now had Italy leaving the League. The United States have never belonged to it. Three great Powers have now left the League of Nations, and thereby have renounced the obligation not to use force as an instrument of policy. All those three States are, in varying degrees, engaged in aggression. They have all chosen the method of force, or the threat of force. I do not regret in the least Italy's departure from the League. Her presence had become a weakness, and not a source of strength, but the renunciation by three great Powers of the League of Nations and of the Covenant means that there is no peace in the world. The British philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, long ago:The nature of war consists not in actual fighting but in the known disposition during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary.When the League of Nations was at its full strength there was an assurance to the contrary. Ever since the invasion of Manchuria in 1931, we have, in the sense in which Hobbes used the term, been in a state of war. That is a matter of the gravest importance to this country and to the British Empire, because the preservation of world peace is the first interest of this country and of the British Empire. I say the peace of the world, and not merely the peace of the country or of the British Empire. It is the maintenance of peace throughout the world that is of importance to us. We cannot disregard war in any part of the world.
I want to draw the attention of the Government to one particular example of war mentality that we have to face, and that is the world-wide propaganda that is going on. I remember that when I first came to this House we had constant complaints, which I think were justified, of propaganda on the part of the Comintern. It was said then that that kind of propaganda was destructive of the comity 1795 of nations, and whenever anybody was making terms with the new Government of Russia we took the line that that kind of thing was wrong. We have that kind of thing in a far higher degree to-day from the States which are engaged in aggression. It is directed against Democracy, against the League, against the ideal of peace, and against this country and the British Empire. I stress that point to hon. Members who are specially concerned with regard to the British Empire.
Let me take the first point. There is broadcasting. We have already raised, by questions in the House, the matter of hostile broadcasting throughout the Near East in which this country is constantly misrepresented. That is a very serious matter. Propaganda was one of the new weapons discovered during the last War, but it has never been used in this intensity and on such a widespread scale as it is to-day deliberately against this country and the Empire. We are making very belated efforts at counteracting that, not by counter-propaganda but by reasonable setting out of the truth. Secondly, I would refer to the cinema. I have had very disturbing reports of the kind of propaganda that is going on in countries, say, in South America, where numbers of news-reels are given. In those news-reels there is nothing to the credit of this country. The only things that are recorded are those which are thought to be to the discredit of this country. Everything about this country is given a twist. It has gone so far that even British residents abroad tend to ask themselves what is happening to the old country. All they hear about is Mosley rows.
The next thing to which I would refer is the question of Press services. I doubt whether we get a good Press abroad. I believe that enormous sums are being spent by some countries on the patronage of the Press. Sometimes they give a good cheap Press service to newspapers abroad, but the news is given a tendentious twist always against this country. I doubt very much whether some of our Embassies abroad are properly equipped to deal with this type of thing, especially if they have the kind of old idea: "Never mind; we stand aloof. We hardly know the Press representatives. We are quite content to stand in 1796 our rectitude." I do not believe that you can meet that sort of propaganda by a passive and aloof attitude of that kind. There is the question of propaganda literature of which floods are sent out on behalf of various aggressive States. Beyond that, is the widespread network of organisation. Every now and again you see it at work in various countries. Anyone who has read the reports of the activities of the Germans in Spain long before this rebellion broke out will see the kind of thing that is happening. One has only to read of what is happening in other countries. This is the new technique of aggression, the poisoning of people's minds, and there is a constant attack being delivered. It is a form of warfare that attacks this country, attacks democracy, attacks all the ideals for which this country stands. I say that it requires the very careful consideration of our Government and very definite action to counteract it. I do not want to stoop to such methods, but we ought to take every legitimate step to see that our case is not prejudiced. One of the great supports of this country is the good will of the smaller peoples of the world.
I now turn to the question of the other side of active aggression. You have the Sino-Japanese War. War has not been declared. That is another example of modern technique. The Japanese do not declare war; in fact they say that they are invading China for China's good. You have here a new imperialism. You had Manchukuo. Then you had the invasion of Jehol, and now the invasion of enormous areas of China, pursued with revolting cruelty. I wonder whether there is any apologist on behalf of Japan here to-day? This thing has been going on for a number of years. It started in 1931. I cannot help recalling that Mr. J. L. Garvin of the "Observer" denounced the curious pacifists who complained of the invasion of Manchukuo, and with all his pontifical authority assured us that the invasion of Manchukuo did not mean anything like the invasion of China, but was the pursuit of perfectly legitimate aims on behalf of Japan. Those comforting assurances have now failed. Indeed everything is overshadowed by the scale of the situation in the Far East. Its gravity and unpleasantness cannot be exceeded. I do not think there will be to-day any apologist for Japan. If you talk with 1797 representative Japanese they are naturally pro-Japanese and do not speak against their own country. After complaining of the anti-Japanese attitude of the Chinese Government they fall back on the excuse put up by any ordinary criminal. They say, "It was just our economic needs that compelled us to take that which did not belong to us." They have now come into conflict with the interests of other nations. They have shown a complete disregard of international law. They have fired on British ships and American ships. They kill our nationals. They have a complete disregard of what the Government consider are British interests. They threaten a blockade of the Chinese coast. There is a sinister resemblance between these attacks on British and American shipping and the attacks on Russian shipping which preceded the invasion of Manchukuo. After trying it on the Yalu they are trying it on the Yangtse, to see what will be the result. They are, in effect, entirely disregarding the interests of anyone else in China. They behave as if they were General Franco, and as if British commerce were merely on a par with Spanish women and children. They have dealt with British ships as Mussolini has dealt with those of the Spanish Government.
There is a grave situation in China. Hong Kong may be cut off from the mainland; Shanghai may be left derelict. The Government are clearly alarmed. They have sent stiff Notes to Japan, but they are meeting the results of their own past actions. They and the other States acquiesced in the wrong done to China. They have acted under the idea that if Japan was allowed a certain amount of latitude she would respect the interests of European Powers, and that Japan's aims were very limited. I think that Japan wants the hegemony of the Far East. British imperialist interests are threatened. But the Government do not realise that peace justice and the rule of law for all is the real British interest. British commercial interests are now in jeopardy because the British Government did not realise in time that they could be protected only as long as we were protecting the interests of the whole world. The Manchurian failure started the process that has gone so far. My point is that the Government have always tended to give too narrow a view to what are really British interests. The true British 1798 interests are the preservation of peace, the support of international law and of democracy. The British Empire can survive in the world only in so far as it serves greater interests than our own. It survived in the past through good will, but propaganda and a short-sighted foreign policy are destroying its foundations.
I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to say something to us on the Far East situation. I am not pressing him at all. I know that the situation is very difficult. But it is not a matter for us alone. It is a League matter. It is also a matter in which the United States of America are vitally concerned. Every one of us always hopes that we may have the greatest amount of co-operation with the United States. May I here say how deeply we deplore the loss of Mr. Bingham, who did so much to help to a better understanding. It is a serious thing that British ships and American ships, British men and American men, are attacked. But this is only incidental to the great crime of the unprovoked aggression on China. I was a little alarmed when the Foreign Secretary, in his Note of 15th December, said that a repetition of these incidents must impair the relationship between this country and Japan. He rather assumed that the relationship was unimpaired by the attacks on China.
I do not think we shall find that the rest of world opinion will get excited over British rights and wrongs. But it is concerned with the foundations of peace. I believe that the League has the right and the duty to support China in her fight against aggression. They can supply her with arms; they can deny supplies to Japan. No one is suggesting that war should be made on Japan. But this pressure can be brought to bear. The United States have similar interests, and I would rather like to see parallel action on her part. I hope that there will be full consultations with the United States and with the League Powers. If action had been taken earlier Japan might well have been stopped already. If we had realised that the attack on China was ultimately an attack on the British Empire because it was an attack on the rule of law for which we stand, we might have brought pressure to bear quite a long time ago.
I turn again to the question of Spain. Here again we have had a disregard of 1799 international right and the same triangle that is operating in propaganda against the British Empire, which attacks China, is encouraging and supporting General Franco. Non-intervention had no basis whatever in law and justice. It had a basis only in expediency. If that expediency has failed to materialise it is time that it was abolished. I see nothing now but a continuance of this one-sided non-intervention, while delay continues, negotiation continues everlastingly over every single point. You will get delays, whether with regard to the withdrawal of volunteers or anything else, so long as all the time you leave a situation which is to the advantage of the aggressors in Spain. I have tried to see what I could in Spain. I believe that there is a wonderful fight being put up there by a heroic people who are being attacked by aggressors from outside. I believe there are signs that throughout Spain there is growing resentment against being made the battlefield for these aggressors. We have never asked that there should be intervention by arms by this country. What we do ask is justice for the Spanish Government.
I do not believe that General Franco will break through the great army that opposes him. But there is danger in the food situation. There is no effective blockade in the technical sense, but there is a hampering of shipping by Franco's forces, backed by the forces of foreign Powers. Can the Government tell us anything with regard to the concentration of Italian war vessels in Spanish waters at points where it is suggested attacks might be made by land? I have very little faith in anything that is done under the Italian flag. There is no effective blockade, but there are Admiralty orders and warnings that seem often to assist a blockade. The First Lord of the Admiralty paid me a handsome compliment the other day. He said I was worth two batteries of machine guns to the Spanish Government. The tragedy is that the right hon. Gentleman is worth a fleet to General Franco. That was seen at Bilbao. I do not want it to be seen at Barcelona.
I am not very satisfied with the position of the diplomatic agents, the trade agents. I do not know what the Duke of Alba's commercial qualifications are. I know that Sir Robert Hodgson is a 1800 first-class diplomat. It does not look like a question merely of sending trade agents; it looks much more like the opening of diplomatic relations prior to recognition. I believe that here again the Government have been backing the wrong horse. If they had taken their stand on international law this Spanish contest would have ended. I believe that British Imperial interests have been sacrificed by a short-sighted policy. The Government will say that they have been holding the scales evenly, but they have not been holding the scales evenly. I do not believe that anyone who has observed the conditions of non-intervention will agree that they have. I think they have been playing the game of our enemies. Here we come to a question which divides the House. It is, fundamentally, what are the interests of this country, and what do we stand for? Our position is that we are prepared to stand for the rule of law and for international justice. We believe that by that we are serving British interests in the best possible way. The Government will only stand firm when it is immediate British interests that are affected. By doing that they have weakened that world support which this country, the British Commonwealth and the British Empire need, and I think they have divided this country.
The day of the Pax Britannica has gone with the change in weapons and in the position all over the world. But the ideal of the Pax Britannica can be carried out through the League. This moment, when Italy is leaving the League, is not a time for suggesting that therefore the League must be scrapped; it is a time for strengthening the League. We do not want to dissolve the League of Nations. The question is, what can the League do when it is shorn of three great Powers? I would say that the strength of the League is not merely in its physical force; the strength of the League is in the ideal that is in the minds of people all over the world, the ideal of peace, even among the peoples who cannot speak for themselves because they are under dictators. That is the reason why, in the attack on this country, there is also a definite attack upon the League.
It may be suggested that we are asking the Government to line up against the triangle of the dictatorship Powers, but we are asking for no such thing. What we are asking is that the Government shall 1801 work with other countries. We must lay down some kind of basis. Before there can be anything like disarmament, there must be moral disarmament. Before you come to friendly terms with people, there must be a cessation of war propaganda, and there must be a real basis for settlement. There have been conversations, recently and none of us on this side raised any objection whatever to those conversations between this country and the ruler of Germany; but I want to ask what is the basis of those conversations. I do not believe that a manoeuvre on the balance of power is going to bring us peace. I do not believe that a short-term programme of trying to get peace for a few years in exchange for a few concessions is going to get us out of the war atmosphere. I should have thought that the lesson of the last few years was abundantly plain, that treaties are no good at all unless there is the will to carry them out.
I understand that the question of colonies was discussed. We on this side do not believe that colonies can be treated as counters in a game of diplomatic bargaining. We hold that colonies should first and foremost be administered in the interests of the people who live there. When we hear colonial claims put forward by what are called the hungry Powers, we have to remember that, if that claim is valid for Germany, it is equally valid for Poland, for Czechoslovakia, for Austria, or for Switzerland, and that no dividing up of colonies, whether our own or anyone else's, is going to lead to a real settlement. In the same way, disarmament depends on security. Our settlement of outstanding questions depends on disarmament of the mind, and on proper provision for the utilisation of the economic forces that will be released by disarmament. That can only be done by international effort.
There are elements in the world to-day which make another world war possible—propaganda, rival Imperialisms, great armaments. One thing is certain, and that is that another war will bring no country any real gain. One other thing is certain. If there were to be another war, there would have to be another peace settlement. We want the peace settlement without the war. We have set forth our views as to how that settle- 1802 ment can be accomplished. We believe that we have to hold fast by League ideals and to strengthen the League. We believe that security must be obtained through collective security by building up the strength of the world to repel aggression. We believe that you can get disarmament, not as a result of security alone, but only on a basis of justice, and we do not think that the Treaty of Versailles was the last word in justice. We are now at a stage when much of that Treaty had been torn up. It is surely time that we tried to get a new settlement. With regard to colonial territories, we do not believe in a re-dividing up. We believe that all colonies of all Powers should be held on the principle of a Mandate, first for the peoples of those territories, and, secondly, for the whole world. If we look broadly at this question, we see the immense scope that there is for world development and world prosperity.
The real way to deal with the dictators is not to think that you can attack them by war; the real way is to show that there is another and a better method, that the method of force will not succeed, that we do not intend to yield to the method of force, but that their aims can be secured by a peaceful co-operation of all the great States of the world. I believe that to-day the dictators are sitting less easily in the saddle than they were. There is a good deal of discontent in Italy, in Germany and in Japan—[HON. MEMBERS: "And Russia."] There is a failure to give to the peoples what they want. But a dictatorship thrives on fear. A dictator is able to say to his people, "Look how we are surrounded. There is danger on this side; there is danger on that side." If we want peace, we must get rid of that fear. I want the Government to consider whether it is not time that this country gave a lead for a new start. There will be another meeting of the League in January. To-day, as I see it, we are drifting into a dangerous situation. I do not think that that dangerous situation can be averted by any subtle diplomacy, by any playing with counters. I think it means a new start and a great appeal, which I should like this country to make.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
This Debate on foreign affairs is taking place at the urgent request of the Opposi- 1803 tion. We have not thought it right to refuse to accede to that request, but I must express my own personal regret that is has been thought necessary to have another public discussion on foreign affairs. It is so difficult to say anything that can do good, and so easy to say much that might do harm. A china shop is not the best or the safest place for a fencing match, and if, in my reply to the right hon. Gentleman, I am not altogether as informative as he would like me to be, it must be remembered that, even if the Opposition do not feel any responsibility for the safety of the crockery, certainly His Majesty's Government do. It is our responsibility.
The right hon. Gentleman stated at the beginning of his speech that there was a profound difference of view between the Opposition and the supporters of the Government on foreign affairs, but I think that in listening to his speech the House must have been surprised, after that exordium, to find how much he had to say with which the House itself was in general agreement. In particular, if I may say so, His Majesty's Government fully realise what the right hon. Gentleman said about the new methods of propaganda which have sprung up in recent years. They fully realise that the old stand-upon-your-dignity methods are no longer applicable to modern conditions, and that, in the rough-and-tumble of international relations which we see to-day, it is absolutely necessary that we should take measures to protect ourselves from constant misrepresentation. The objectives which the right hon. Gentleman put before us are, I think, broadly speaking, common to us all. It is only when one comes to the methods of achieving those objectives that I am bound to say I found the right hon. Gentleman's speech singularly lacking in constructive ideas. Nor could I perceive what was the particular course which the right hon. Gentleman would have had us take in the past, unless it was to go to war with any Power with whom we disagreed.
With these preliminary observations, I will now endeavour to make a brief survey of foreign affairs as they affect this country, and, first of all, I would like to take this opportunity of saying how glad we were to have the opportunity of welcoming here the King of the Belgians upon his recent visit to this country as the 1804 guest of His Majesty. I believe that all who had the honour of coming into contact with His Majesty were deeply impressed with his sincerity and his ability, and I feel sure that his visit will have done much, not only to increase the personal respect and admiration which we feel for His Majesty, but also to draw closer the ties of friendship which have so long existed between our two countries.
The right hon. Gentleman has made some allusions to the various international conversations which have recently taken place, and I would like to touch upon those, and to begin with the visit of the Lord President of the Council to Germany. I have already told the House that the conversations which took place between the Lord President and the German Chancellor and various prominent Germans were of a confidential character, and I am sure that hon. Members would not wish me to say anything which might be considered as a breach of the understanding upon which those conversations took place, but I may perhaps make one or two general observations which would supplement what has already been said upon this subject. It was never the expectation or the intention of His Majesty's Government that those conversations should produce immediate results. They were conversations, and not negotiations, and, therefore, in the course of them no proposals were made, no pledges were given, no bargains were struck. What we had in mind as our object, and what we achieved, was to establish a personal contact between a member of His Majesty's Government and the German Chancellor, and to arrive, if possible, at a clearer understanding on both sides of the policy and outlook of the two Governments.
I think I may say that we now have a fairly definite idea of the problems which, in the view of the German Government, have to be solved if we are to arrive at that condition of European affairs which we all desire, and in which nations might look upon one another with a desire to co-operate instead of regarding each other with suspicion and resentment. If we are to arrive at any such condition as that, obviously it cannot be achieved by a bargain between two particular countries. This is rather to be considered, as we did consider it, as a first step towards a general effort to arrive at what has sometimes been called a general settlement, to 1805 arrive at a position, in fact, when reasonable grievances may be removed, when suspicions may be laid aside, and when confidence may again be restored. That obviously postulates that all those who take part in such an effort must make their contribution towards the common end, but, on the other hand, I think it must be clear that conclusions cannot be hurried or forced, that there must lie before us a certain period of time during which further study and exploration of these problems must take place, and that what has happened so far is only the preliminary to a more extended but, I hope, a more fruitful future.
I do not think any greater service could be rendered to the cause of peace than by the exercise of restraint and toleration by the Press of both countries, whether they are presenting their account of current events or whether they are commenting upon policies and upon personalities. The power of the Press for good or for evil in international relations is very great, and a judicious use of that power, accompanied by a full sense of responsibility, may have far-reaching effects in creating an atmosphere favourable for the purposes at which we are aiming.
Perhaps in this connection I might say one word about the mission which last March was entrusted to M. Van Zeeland by the French and British Governments. As the House is aware, M. Van Zeeland has made inquiries in a number of different countries as to the possibility of measures which might improve the general international economic situation and which might, by reducing barriers, once more stimulate the flow of international trade. I have some reason to suppose that his report is now nearly ready for presentation to the two Governments, and I should like to express my gratitude and appreciation of the public spirit shown by M. Van Zeeland in undertaking this work in the midst of all his other preoccupations and in personally giving his attention and his great ability to this important subject. But I would just like to add this observation, that, of course, all that M. Van Zeeland can do is to give us the benefit of any suggestions which he may make as the result of his investigations, but that the final decision as to whether or not those suggestions can be adopted must rest with 1806 the Governments concerned. Moreover, I do not think it is possible entirely to separate economic from political conditions. You may have a solution which is perfect from the economic point of view, but it may be of little avail if there is no disposition to examine it favourably and to try and adopt it. Therefore, while undoubtedly the economic problem must always be an important factor in any endeavour to bring about a better state of things in Europe, it is much more likely to receive favourable consideration if it has been preceded by some easing of political tension beforehand.
Hon. Members will recall that soon after the visit of the Lord President to Germany, we had the pleasure of receiving a visit here from the French Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. I gave the House at the time a very full account of the conversations and of the happy result of that conference, and, therefore, I need not recapitulate it, but I may say again that the harmony which was proved to exist between the two Governments upon all the important issues which we discussed was, and is, a source of deep satisfaction to His Majesty's Government. Subsequently, M. Delbos, owing to the courteous initiative of the German Foreign Minister, had an opportunity of a brief but useful exchange of views with Baron Von Neurath in Berlin on his way out to visit a number of European capitals.
There is just one other point that I would like to make before I leave the question of these conversations, although perhaps it is really unnecessary. I should like to say that in these conversations there has been no attempt, either on the one hand to break up or to weaken friendships and understandings already arrived at, or, on the other hand to set up blocs and groups of Powers in opposition to one another. We believe that, although different countries have different methods of managing their own affairs, there is something which is common to them all, and that is the natural desire to improve their own condition; and since we believe that the fulfilment of that desire can only be achieved by the help of others and by a real understanding and effort to meet others' needs, we conceive that any effort that we can make to promote harmony and to remove legitimate causes of grievances among the nations may well 1807 bring its own reward hereafter, if it should prove to have been a contribution to the general welfare of the world.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
Before the Prime Minister leaves this point, with the statement issued after the French visit, is he going to say anything else about the very summarised details then given to the House, and may we take it that if we put questions later to-night to the Foreign Secretary, we may get far more information than we have had so far?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not think I can promise that the right hon. Gentleman will get far more information than what I consider is the rather full information already given, but perhaps he will put his questions, and then my right hon. Friend will see how far it is possible to meet him.
Now I will pass to the question of Spain, on which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was very critical of the actions of the Government. The record of the Opposition in the matter of Spain has not been altogether a happy one. The House will recollect that in July last, when the policy of non-intervention was in some considerable jeopardy, owing to the failure on the part of the nations concerned to agree upon the crucial points of belligerent rights and the withdrawal of volunteers, His Majesty's Government were invited by the other Powers to try and put an end to the deadlock by preparing some kind of compromise plan, but as soon as we had produced that plan, before even the Governments which had asked us to prepare it had had any opportunity of saying what they thought about it, the Opposition demanded the Adjournment of the House in order that they might condemn it and demand its withdrawal. The House did not agree with the Opposition on that occasion. What has happened since? The right hon. Gentleman described the policy of non-intervention as one dictated by expediency, and he said that the expediency had failed. He does not seem to have followed the actual circumstances of the case. What does he mean by expediency? If he means that the policy of non-intervention was designed to prevent the conflict spreading beyond the borders of Spain—and I agree that that was the object of the policy—then, so far from failing, it has been a complete success.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
The right hon. Gentleman is making a charge against a party. Was not the object of nonintervention to stop intervention?
§ The Prime Minister
The policy was designed with the object of confining the conflict to Spain. Although our plan, as we expected, had a mixed reception at first, and although a number of nations made reservations and others said that they did not like it at all, yet by degrees, one by one, the reservations have been withdrawn, until to-day the plan put forward by the British Government has been accepted by every other Government, from Italy on the one side right away to Soviet Russia on the other. That has been the basis of our appeal to the two parties in Spain and if, as we hope, it will prove to be possible very soon now to send out the Mission to Spain, that Mission will go out on the basis of the British Government's plan.
The right hon. Gentleman said that all that his party demanded was justice for the Government of Spain. Is it not perfectly clear to the House that his interpretation of justice for the Government of Spain means intervention on one side? That is the difference between the policy of the Government and the policy of the Opposition, that under cover of international law the Opposition desire to intervene on one side, whereas His Majesty's Government have tried to keep the balance even between both sides, and to back neither. I think we may fairly claim that during the past six months there has been a perceptible lessening of the tension in Europe. I put that down largely to the fact that the Spanish situation has become less acute. We may also claim that the policy of His Majesty's Government has played a most important part in averting a possible conflict outside Spain.
One reason, no doubt, why we have been hearing less about Spain is that it has been eclipsed in our attention by the distressing events in the Far East. I am not proposing now to enter upon any discussion of the origin of what has now become a major war in everything but name. Whatever may be the true history of the matter, whether the Japanese have forced a war upon China or whether, as Japanese apologists seem to indicate, Japan was forced to defend herself against 1809 aggression by China, whatever may be the truth, it certainly is a fact that no attempt has ever been made by Japan to seek a settlement by peaceful means. The Brussels Conference was called of the Powers which had signed the Nine-Power Treaty, together with certain other Powers which had important interests in the Far East, but Japan refused to attend. She refused even to enter into informal discussions outside the Conference. The result of that was that the Conference failed to achieve the purpose for which it had been convened, namely, to find some method of ending the war by peaceful means. That result was unfortunate, but it was not disgraceful to the Conference.
There was only one way in which the conflict could have been brought to an end, as it proved, and that was not by peace, but by force. There was no mention of force in the Nine-Power Treaty, which provided the machinery, not taken advantage of by Japan, for consultation if a situation should arise which threatened peace. Coercion would not have obtained the support of any member of the Brussels Conference. Although the outcome of the Conference was so disappointing to the friends of peace, there was one feature of it, at any rate, from which we may draw some satisfaction, and that was that throughout we found ourselves in complete and harmonious agreement with the delegation of the United States of America on all the matters we discussed.
Hon. Members are familiar with the latest developments in China, including the attack upon British ships in the Yangtse. They are aware of the repeated representations which we have made to the Japanese Government and the text of the Note we sent to them after the last incident had happened. What we are now doing is to await proof of the determination and the ability of the Japanese Government to prevent a recurrence of these incidents. From the beginning we have constantly offered our services with a view to trying to find some means of bringing this conflict to an end. We are still anxious to serve the cause of peace by any honourable means that are open to us, but it must not be thought that our desire for peace and our patience under repeated provocation means that we are either indifferent to our international obligations, or that we are forgetful of our duty to protect British interests. It is 1810 now for the Japanese Government to show that they, in their turn, are not unmindful of the rights and interests of foreigners, and that their assurances and apologies mean something more than words.
The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the League of Nations and to the effect upon the League of the notice that has been given by Italy to terminate her membership. This notice, which cannot, of course, become operative for two years, does not make any real difference in the situation. There has been no Italian delegation to the League since May, 1936, and for more than a year no Italian has taken part in any committee or other organ of the League. Therefore, this public announcement makes no change in the facts of the situation; it merely emphasises this point, that in its present condition the League is unable to discharge some of the functions with which it was invested when it was first created. Such a situation must necessarily cause great concern to all those who, like His Majesty's Government, still believe in those ideals of international co-operation which were present to the minds of the founders of the League. In spite of any anxiety which we may have, the League can still play a part in world affairs, and it will do so all the more effectively the more willing it is frankly to face the realities of the situation. We have in the League an organisation that has proved itself in many ways, and that can continue its beneficent work in many other spheres. It can be of service to those who, like ourselves, wish to avail themselves of its services, and it will offer its services in no spirit of partisanship. We shall continue to give it our warmest support, believing that it can still afford the nucleus for the better and more comprehensive organisation which we believe is necessary for the maintenance of peace.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he trusted I could give the House a message of hope. He did not paint a very optimistic picture of the situation of the world. He pointed out that there were present to-day in the situation all the elements which might conduce to another war. If we are to take his view that British commercial interests can only be protected by us if we protect all the interests of the world, and if we are to constitute ourselves in that way the policeman of the world—[Interruption.] 1811 How are we to protect the interests of the world if we are not the policeman of the world?
§ Mr. Attlee
It was precisely the object of the establishment of the League that the preservation of peace was a common interest of the world, and my point is that the right hon. Gentleman's Government has departed from that because it has always considered only the narrow Imperialist interest and not the world interest. He would be in a far better position to-day if it had realised that long ago.
§ The Prime Minister
That seems to me to be only a repetition of the view that it is the duty of this country to protect interests all over the world, quite apart—
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, in company with others. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Will the hon. Members who say "Hear, hear," tell us how we are to get others alongside us? Are they completely blind and deaf to what has taken place? Have they forgotten the efforts we have made to get other countries alongside us? This seems to me to show once again that the Opposition are living in an unreal world. They are trying to put upon a mutilated League duties which it is not able to perform as it is constituted at present, and they are trying to throw upon this Government the onus of what is not the fault of this Government, but is the inevitable accompaniment of the present constitution of the League. We are not unmindful—we never have been in this country—of the abstract principles of justice, liberty and freedom, for which we stand in this country and the British Empire. But, although hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about our acting in concert with others, it takes two, at least, to bring about a concert, and we cannot act alone and stand up for these principles in all parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman does, in fact, ask us to do that, because if the League fails hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite always say, "It is entirely the fault of His Majesty's Government." I should give the House no hope if I thought that that was all we had to depend on. When the right hon. Gentleman wants to know 1812 whether we are drifting or steering towards a port, I say, "We are not drifting; we have a definite objective in front of us." That objective is a general settlement of the grievances of the world without war. We believe that the right way to go about that is not to issue threats, but to try to establish those personal contacts to which I have already alluded, and that only by friendly, frank discussion between the nations can we hope to arrive at a situation when once more we shall be able to remove anxiety from our minds.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I do not share the regret which the Prime Minister expressed at the beginning of his speech that the Opposition asked for the subject of foreign affairs to be discussed to-day. The right hon. Gentleman said that it was difficult for hon. Members to speak without doing harm, but if that is true I think we must all agree, including the Prime Minister himself, that it was an achievement which the Leader of the Opposition managed to perform. I do not believe that anyone could say that the speech he delivered—although I am far from agreeing with all that he said—will do harm; in fact, it struck me that a phrase at the beginning of the Prime Minister's speech might do a great deal more harm when he turned to the benches opposite and accused hon. Members of wanting war.
§ The Prime Minister
I did not accuse them of wanting war, but I said that the policy which was advocated by the Opposition was, in my judgment, likely to lead to war.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
My own impression was that the words were not quite so guarded; but I agree that it is very difficult for me to recollect exactly what words he used, and possibly the Prime Minister's recollection may not be exact. It is a pity that the Prime Minister should use words which may give foreign countries the impression—and words have been used—if not by the Prime Minister to-day, by other Ministers at other times—which have been deliberately intended to give to the country and the world the impression that the Labour party in this country, representing, as it does, a great block of opinion in this country, is a warmongering party. I do not believe that is true, and I do not think it should be 1813 said. I agree that there are difficulties in having such a Debate as this, and a great many of the difficulties are thrown upon the unfortunate Minister who has to reply. I do not believe, quite frankly, that the things that the Opposition say on these occasions do very much harm, but what more often do harm are the things that Ministers are provoked into saying in reply.
If we were not to have this Debate, what would be the alternative? Would there be complete silence; would nobody say anything at all; would there not be speeches in the country; would there not be inspired interviews and articles in the newspapers, and would not the impressions that those articles would make on public opinion in this country and other countries be at least as detrimental to the public interest and to the smooth running of international affairs as a Debate in this House? For my own part I believe that the proper place to discuss these issues is the House of Commons. Obviously, this country is not content to run the dangers inherent in the present international situation without having these discussions and obtaining information and, if I may say so, with respect to a party to which I do not belong, the Opposition have done a public service in asking for this Debate to-day.
I agree that the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition show that there is a large measure of agreement on a number of important issues in this House: the importance of this growth of foreign propaganda; that Colonies are not to be used for mere counters; support for the policy of entering into conversations with Germany, such as those which have been undertaken by Lord Halifax with Hitler; condemnation on all sides of Japanese aggression in China—on all of these there has been expressed a unity of opinion which I cannot help thinking must be a help, and not a hindrance, to the Government. If we have differences of opinion, let us express them frankly, and I believe the frank expression of those differences on other issues will only tend to emphasise the support we give to the Government on those issues on which we are in agreement with them.
If, indeed, we look to the past; if, indeed, we consider how we have been brought into the present situation, then we shall have to express grave condem- 1814 nation of the Government's policy. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister referred at one point in his speech to the difficulties of the past. He said, "What would the Opposition have done?" Later on, towards the end, he taunted the Opposition with wishing to be the policeman of the world, and when the Opposition replied, "With others," he said, "Where are we to get the others? Where are we to find the people who will help us now?" Is not that the condemnation of the Government's policy? It is true, it has left us almost without a friend, with the exception of that firm and loyal and true friend, France. It is true, our position is gravely weakened as compared with five or six years ago, and when the Prime Minister referred to the League of Nations as a nucleus out of which a better order might be built, he showed where the weakness has been created.
In 1935, we had 50 nations around us who were prepared to exchange guarantees with us for protection against any retaliation by the aggressor in the Mediterranean. Four of them gave us reciprocal guarantees. The United States Government was moving towards regulating exports of oil in order to bring pressure on Italy. That was the support we had in those days, but the Government, in the Hoare-Laval negotiations, threw it away. They stabbed the League in the back. It is from that moment that the difficulties of this country have increased and the world situation has deteriorated. For my part, I believe that if the Government will only give in January a firm lead to the League, they will be able to rally those nations which are falling away from the League and are no longer giving it that firm support that they gave it in the Abyssinian crisis only three or four years ago.
Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to Spain. He said that non-intervention has been successful because the war has not spread outside Spain. But nonintervention has failed, because, as hon. Gentlemen pointed out, it has not prevented intervention. I supported the nonintervention plan, but I said that there ought to be a time limit, and if it were not working at the end of that period, the normal practice should be resumed, and the Spanish Government allowed to buy arms from all over the world. Negotiations are dragging on, and is there a single Member in this House who will 1815 take it upon himself to prophesy that negotiations will finish before the war? Not one. The Government should take a firmer line over the negotiations in Spain.
I do not want to detain the House very long, and I want to refer mainly to-day to the serious situation in the Far East. I want—to use a vulgar expression—to come down to brass tacks and consider, not only principles, but, as the Prime Minister said, methods. I do not want to be unduly controversial. It is a very serious situation, and we realise the heavy responsibility which rests upon the Government; and the last thing we want to do is to say anything that will make the task of the Foreign Secretary more difficult. I will only say one controversial thing at the beginning of my remarks, and that is, that if the Prime Minister taunts the Opposition with pursuing policies which may lead to war, we reply that we are gravely apprehensive that this policy of drift may well bring us to the brink of war. If discretion is the better part of valour, it seems to us that we have reached a point in the steady deterioration in world affairs when a little valour might be a useful ingredient in the flabby discretion of the Government's foreign policy.
If we look at the situation in the Far East, it seems to me that there are four main lines of policy from which we have to choose. One would be to clear out of China altogether. That is the policy which in the present situation the pacifists must advocate; but I will spend no time on it, because no responsible British Government could ever adopt it. The second would be to reach an understanding with Japan in harmony with their present policy towards China, but not only would that policy be contrary to our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations and to our Nine-Power Treaty obligations, and injurious to British interests and prestige, but it would also make impossible that close understanding with the United States of America on which all parties in this House have set their hearts. For that and other reasons, it would be unacceptable to public opinion in this country and in the Dominions. It seems, therefore, unnecessary to discuss it further.
There remain two further choices—one, what I understand to be His Majesty's 1816 Government's policy, of neutrality in the struggle between China and Japan while endeavouring to secure respect for British interests in China; and the other policy, which I advocated in our last Debate on this subject, of the fulfilment of our obligations to the Chinese under the Nine-Power Treaty. In advocating that policy I recognised frankly then, and I still do, that such a policy would involve economic pressure on Japan. If I may say so with respect to the Leader of the Opposition, this is the point where I thought his speech was least convincing, because if we are to undertake a policy of economic pressure upon Japan, we must realise the probability that, if that pressure is to be effective, it will provoke retaliation unless we are prepared with such a force as will make the prospects of the success of that retaliation hopeless.
Therefore, it would be fatal, and I would almost say criminal, to embark upon such a policy without having adequate forces at our command. Force would be used only in the last resort, but if we embark upon it we must not allow ourselves again, as in the Abyssinian dispute, to be deterred from making our policy effective by a threat of war from the aggressor. It would, therefore, be necessary to have on the spot adequate means of resisting armed retaliation. Moreover, I recognised in that Debate, and I still do, that if the Nine Powers, or the majority of them, were to act together in upholding the Nine-Power Treaty, the United States of America would have to take the lead, but I added that His Majesty's Government ought to declare that we are willing to play our part in this effort to uphold the sanctity of treaties and the authority of the law of nations against aggression.
Let me frankly concede that the Government did so, but, unfortunately, without result, and the Brussels Conference was a miserable fiasco, discouraging to all except those who take a diabolical delight in the breakdown of every effort to uphold law and reason against force in the world. I ask His Majesty's Government to make another and a bolder effort before they turn their back upon this policy. Let them make it clear to the United States not only that they will stand by them in every effort which they may make to defend the sanctity of the Nine-Power Treaty, but let them give the United States Government an undertaking 1817 and tell them exactly what contribution His Majesty's Government are prepared to make to the common effort if the United States Government take the lead.
Such is the policy which I advocate—a stand based on international law and justice, but meanwhile the outrages on the Yangtse River and the loss of British lives and property, as well as other deplorable incidents, such as the Japanese victory march through the International Zone at Shanghai and interference with the Chinese Customs—all these incidents have raised a different question from that of defending the independence and integrity of China under the Nine-Power Treaty and the Covenant of the League. They have raised the question of protecting British lives, property and legitimate national interests in China. It is a different question from that of upholding the Nine-Power Treaty, and it needs different but not less decisive treatment, if the damage to British interests and prestige—not only in China—and the even greater dangers inherent in a vacillating policy are to be avoided.
When the Government sneer at the Opposition for being prepared to stand up for abstract conceptions of justice and freedom but not being prepared to defend British interests, I ask, What are the Government going to do to defend British interests in the situation which is now developing in the Far East? I would ask the House to consider the size and importance of our interests in China. It is no mere question of the profits of a few capitalist adventurers. It touches the livelihood of scores of thousands of our fellow-countrymen. Our total trade with China for the first nine months of this year amounted to £12,000,000, excluding Hong Kong and Manchuria, and the leased territories of China. Our investments in China amount altogether to something like £240,000,000. Our invisible exports in the shape of interest on loans, earnings of shipping—40 per cent. of the trade of China is carried in British ships—insurance, banking, and profits of private firms with immense investments in real estate are enormous. Then there is the trade of the ports of Shanghai and Hong Kong. They rank fifth and sixth among the ports of the world. There is not a port in Europe except Rotterdam, not one in Britain except London, not one on the continent of the United States of America except 1818 New York, and not one in Asia, except Kobe, which has a trade equal to the trade of Hong Kong and Shanghai. All these sources yield important sums to the British Exchequer, and give employment to British workpeople. The loss of our interests in China would spell increased burdens for taxpayers, increased unemployment and lower standards of living for our people.
Let us make no doubt about it. The respect that the militarists of Japan will show for British interests will be in direct ratio to our capacity and resolve to defend them. If the resolve of His Majesty's Government is to be measured by the few ships that we now have in Chinese waters, our position will be progressively undermined by Japanese encroachment, with consequences which will extend far and wide throughout Asia and the Empire. No doubt, if the Japanese win in their struggle with China and if we still have no greater means of defence on the spot than we have now, they will keep an open door in China for British merchants, but across it will be written the word "exit." The officers and men of the British Army and Navy have done wonders in recent weeks in maintaining the traditions of their services and the prestige of their country, but their resources are meagre, and vague threats are no substitute for calm and deliberate action. The Leader of the Opposition, in his speech at the opening of the Debate, referred to a speech which was made by the First Lord of the Admiralty at Pimlico, and in the course of it the First Lord said thatany country which underrates the strength of the British Navy will be making a mistake which may prove fatal to their happiness.It reminded me of King Lear:I will do such things—What they are yet I know not; but they shall bethe terrors of the earth.No doubt the halls of Pimlico quaked at the fall of this thunderbolt. Still it was a remark which, if it were necessary to make it at all, was quite a fitting one to come from the First Lord. The First Lord was also reported as referring to the incidents on the Yangtse, and here I want to be quite fair to him, because I understand that he has been misreported. But this report has been in the newspapers, and I know that it has 1819 misled other people beside myself, and I therefore do not wish to attribute to the First Lord responsibility for what was reported, because I understand that he disclaims it. It has appeared in the newspapers as though a Minister of the Government had said that the Japanese have expressed their deep regret in unqualified terms, and as if he thought that we should accept their full apology. I am very glad to know that the First Lord did not say that, because if that were the policy of the Government, I can imagine none more likely to encourage Japanese militarists to underestimate the strength of the British Navy, with results no less fatal to the happiness of our own people than to theirs. If we want to impress Japanese militarists with the strength of the British Navy we must find a better means than by bombast. It is not the strength of Ulysses' bow that foreign nations doubt, but the capacity of right hon. Gentlemen to bend it.
In reply to a question yesterday, the Secretary of State said that the attitude of His Majesty's Government towards any threat to Hong Kong had been made plain. Yes, in words but not in that language which alone the militarists of other nations understand. Not the use of force—I am not advocating that at the moment, but I suggest the movement of ships to a position from which, if British interests were directly attacked, they would be available for defence. Such a movement would be in no way inconsistent with the policy of neutrality of His Majesty's Government in the struggle between China and Japan. It would commit His Majesty's Government to no intervention, military or economic, in that struggle. It would be undertaken only on the basis of the closest co-operation between ourselves and the Government of France, both in European and in Far Eastern waters. Fortunately, the firm and loyal friendship between ourselves and France makes it feasible. Granted such co-operation, French and British interests, both in Europe and in the Far East, could be effectively protected, and would, therefore, be respected. Without it militarists and dictators will go on kicking the democracies from pillar to post until at last they go too far, and we shall suddenly find ourselves on the brink of the catastrophe of war.
1820 In such a policy involving no departure from our neutrality in the struggle between China and Japan, and limited to the protection of British interests in the Far East, we should have no right to call for the co-operation of the United States of America. Those of us who, above all things, want to see Britain working with the United States of America in defence of law and freedom against force and aggression, must never make the mistake of asking the United States of America to come and help us in defending purely British interests. If the Government have to confine their policy within those limits, they must rely on their own strength. Nevertheless so long as close consultation is proceeding, and the Secretary of State has assured us that such consultation is proceeding, between our Government and the United States, there could be no misunderstanding in the United States of our motives; and it might well be that, once our determination to act on our own responsibility became apparent, the United States might on its own responsibility decide to act on parallel lines for the protection of its own interests. They might be encouraged to go further and take that lead which alone could put American and British action on the higher ground of principle, the sanctity of treaties and the maintenance of the authority of law in the relations between nations.
I am sure that there is no policy more ardently desired by this House as a whole than close understanding, friendship and co-operation between ourselves and the great American Republic. Public opinion outside this House and in the Press is equally united. Yet those who will the end, must will the means. It is sad to see the apostles of isolation pressing their suit upon the American people, for nothing is more certain than that America will never co-operate in a policy for the protection of British Imperial interests. American public opinion is still averse from American co-operation with the League of Nations, because they regard it as a European institution through which they might be drawn into European quarrels, but they honour its ideals and respect those who defend them. The loyalty of Britain or any other European nation to the League wins their sympathy and treachery to the League incurs their disgust.
1821 Nor can supporters of General Franco help those who are endeavouring to win American friendship, for nothing is clearer than the hatred of American opinion for Fascism in all its forms, and their devotion to democracy. The only lines upon which our two nations can work together are, on the one hand, a resolute defence of the sanctity of treaties and the substitution of the rule of law for the anarchy of power politics, and, on the other hand, the pursuit of peace through trade and economic disarmament. Let me quote one passage from a speech of Mr. Cordell Hull; it is indeed the burden of a whole series of his speeches.An adequate revival of international trade will be the most powerful single force for easing political tension and averting the dangers of war.So strongly do I believe this that I welcome the reference which the Prime Minister made, necessarily somewhat short and vague, to the work of Mr. Van Zeeland. If we want peace in Europe let us start by restoring the prosperity of the peoples of Europe by reducing the barriers to trade between the Danubian countries, and give full scope to the economic interests of Germany and Italy without insisting on our rights under the most-favoured-nation Clause. If we want economic co-operation with the United States of America do not let the Federation of British Industries wreck it, or the Ottawa Agreements block it. If we want the open door in China let us reopen the door in the British Colonial Empire. Let us break the shackles of Ottawa and Protection and march forward freely with the United States towards the goal of peace.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I should have preferred not to take part in the Debate, which is concerned more particularly with Spain and China, but I want to deal with one aspect of the international question. There are two personal things I want to say if the House will allow me. I have been gently asked once or twice by friendly hon. Members how it is that I have gone about the world in the fashion I have, and who has paid the piper? I was invited to go to America to lecture on peace, to help the peace campaign, in company with the hon. Member for West Bermondsey (Dr. Salter). As I had personal relationships with certain American statesmen before the War and since, I asked 1822 the late Mr. Bingham if he would make it possible for me to have an interview with President Roosevelt. I should like to join in expressing my own deep regret at the passing of Mr. Bingham. Not only was he a firm friend of Britain but he was also a very fine representative of the United States and I think we have all suffered a great loss by his death.
After seeing President Roosevelt I thought I would like to see M. Blum in Paris, and Mr. Van Zeeland in Belgium. I needed no introduction to M. Blum, but my friend, Mr. Vandevelde made it possible for me to meet Mr. Van Zeeland. After that I went to the Scandinavian countries, and in response to a challenge made very properly by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) I went to see Herr Hitler. The right hon. Member suggested I should go there and preach my peace doctrines. I am glad to say that I did so.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I have been in much tighter places in my own country. Later on I also saw Signor Mussolini, and, finally, I went to the South-East of Europe. As to the money. First of all the Government have had nothing whatever to do with paying my expenses or looking after me except those arrangements which the Government make for any other member of this House when he goes abroad. The Foreign Secretary was kind enough to let it be known to the Ministers and Ambassadors that I was going, and they have been, as they always are, most helpful and courteous in every way. But the money comes out of the pockets of good Quakers, good Methodists, good Tories, good Liberals, good Labourites and good Socialist people generally. Neither I nor my colleague wants any fee or has been paid any fee. I get my salary here whether I am in attendance or not, and with a little money otherwise I do not need money in that way. I think now I can leave the personal part alone. I should not have raised it but for the fact that it has been raised with me privately.
I am not one of those travellers who go for 24 hours into a country and then come back and pose as an authority on the affairs of that country and its relationships with other countries. The point I want to emphasise is, that I have 1823 not found—I can only say what my intelligence, such as it is, enables me to say—anywhere on the Continent a single person, either a first-class statesman or any other person, who in any way has led me to suppose that they want or desire war in any circumstances. I have heard hon. Members in this House say over and over again that as the result of another war there would be neither victors nor vanquished. I do not think Herr Hitler will think I am betraying his confidence when I say that almost the first words of our conversation was on that particular point, and I have never heard it said to me more emphatically than by Herr Hitler, that another war would mean neither victors nor vanquished but the ruin of everybody.
I know that many of my friends feel that I ought to have taken no notice of that, that Herr Hitler said this to please a rather woolly-headed pacifist. I do not believe it. Neither do I believe that Signor Mussolini is in a different position. Both these men want something for their country, and I should like to know when our statesmen have not wanted something for our country. In some period or another of our history they have gone in a disinterested fashion all round the world. I know perfectly well that the German Government and its Fuhrer desire a very great deal from the world, but I am equally confident that they are not in a position, nor is the Italian Government, to stand up to the united forces of the world. But the fundamental thing is that they are as convinced as any other people in the world that another war means collapse and ruin for everybody.
Therefore, on my lost journey to the smaller States I tried to understand the position of these small countries created out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and out of the old Russian, Austrian and German participation of Poland. I tried to understand what their present position and alignment might be. From the public statements which they allowed my friends and myself to publish it is quite evident that they are looking not to another war but to economic changes. The division of Europe after the War smashed up a certain amount of economic unity in South-Eastern Europe and established political States, terribly nationalist, but 1824 containing in their borders minorities of other races. The difficulties of administering these countries now constitute as great a problem as any facing any country in the world. I marvel that peace within these territories is preserved as much as it is. It was difficult in Ireland, with the tiny minorities there, but in a country such as Czechoslovakia, with its minority of 3,000,000 Germans, whose part of the territory was most heavily hit by the slump in the years following 1929, and the industries of which are of such a character that it is difficult for them to be put on their feet again, no matter what form of government there was, whether it was Fascist, Democratic or Monarchial, it would have been very difficult for it to have done anything that would have saved that economic situation. Great credit is due to the Czechoslovak Government for the efforts it has made, and is still making, to deal with that situation.
I do not ask that the British Government should give financial help, for I am not in favour of one nation or another nation alone giving financial assistance, but I would like Europe to raise a loan to assist these distressed areas of the territories that came under new Governments after the War. From reports that have come to me from an Englishman who is investigating the conditions in the territory occupied by the German minority in Czechoslovakia, I am convinced that one thing that is needed there most of all is some effort to establish new industries, which can be done only by capital being put into the country. That is true of Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria. A Government cannot spend money on armaments, as the Governments of these small countries feel bound to spend money on armaments, and at the same time start a country on new lines. When we are discussing war and peace, one must agree that if this danger-point in Europe is to be properly dealt with, it must be in cooperation with other nations and with help from those who are able to give it, in order that these countries may re-establish their economic life.
It is a terrible thing to go to Poland and to feel what a tremendous problem faces the Government of that country. It is all very well to talk about collective security, and to blame some of these nations for not having been over-enthusiastic about 1825 sanctions; but some Poles, not Government men, who could speak English, told me of the conditions which prevailed in that territory during the War, when millions of men marched backwards and forwards over it. The Poles live in daily dread of that happening again, so that the Polish Government, surrounded by powerful neighbours, is extremely anxious to get good relations with its big neighbours and its small neighbours. But the fundamental thing in Poland is that there are masses of people who are unable to get their daily bread. The root of the problem is how that position is to be remedied and how the masses in Poland are to be lifted out of the slough of despond. I have not spoken to a single person outside this country who has not been convinced that Fascism grows out of the hopelessness and despair of people who are unable to get their livelihood. I wish the House would try to visualise Europe in the same way that it visualises our depressed areas. Is it not a fact that our depressed areas would very soon turn away from my hon. Friends and myself if we were not able to give them a little hope? Is it not true that we have had to sacrifice, as it were, our theories in supporting no end of palliative measures in order to keep hope alive in our people? The same applies to these parts of Europe, especially to Poland.
I wish now to say a word or two about Hungary and Austria. The people of Austria explain their territory as being a body, without arms and without legs, without any means of living, except the heart. They appeal in a most pathetic manner for the preservation of their life as a nation, and also for more economic help from the rest of the world. I think no one who goes to Vienna, which I have just visited for the first time, can fail to realise what depths of feeling there must be in every Austrian when he walks about that beautiful city. He must feel that everything has been torn from him. Let no one imagine that I want a rehabilitation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but I think that those who made the Peace Treaties might have remembered that there was a federation of people, willingly or unwillingly brought together under certain economic conditions, and that to smash up those economic conditions and leave that tiny fragment of territory with that great city on its hands, was an economic crime.
1826 I am sure that some day something will have to be done to remedy that state of affairs. I do not mean that Austria should be thrown into the arms of Herr-Hitler or Signor Mussolini. As I came back to this country, a friend of mine, the Reverend Henry Carter, said, "Surely Europe can do something for these people; one might create in that city of Vienna a great cultural centre for the world and help by that means to give some hope to the people of that city and country." If one goes out of the city into the outlying districts, if one goes into parts of Hungary or into that part which was taken from Hungary and included in Czechoslovakia, one finds there terrible poverty and want, and terrible discontent. As to what ought to be done, I think the only thing is, as far as possible, to give up for the time being this talk of those who believe that war must take place in certain circumstances, and for a week or two to devote our minds—I am not clever enough to be able to produce a scheme—to trying to find out how we can get an international scheme to assist these nations to get on their feet, to deal with their depressed areas and to rehabilitate the general life of their people. According to the League of Nations, the world spends on armaments £7,000,000 a day. Could we not put three months amount of that money at the disposal of an international commission which would try to revive economic life in those countries?
They are trying to do it themselves. The Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, Dr. Hodza, has produced a scheme for a Danubian federation, which he is trying to get accepted. They are trying hard, and I believe they will succeed, to get a new agreement with Hungary. They already have arrangements with other nations. I believe that if they could get help, they would be able to go very much farther. In that connection, I want also to say that somehow it must be brought home to the German Chancellor and the German Government, and to the Italian Prime Minister and Government, that when these nations try to make agreements with one another, it is not in order to shut out the Germans or Italians or anybody else, but to make a start on the line of a new economic life for their country and also, as they hope, for Europe generally. The fact is that Europe and the world are living under entirely new conditions. Not only did the treaties 1827 create all that disunity and disorder, but the world has become nationalistic, and side by side with increased productivity there has come all this business of quotas, tariffs and hindrances to exchange. I do not agree that the old Liberal method of Free Trade can now operate, for it cannot, but some new conception of co-operation must be brought into being. I think that one way by which that could be done would be for international help to be given to these countries.
I want now to say a few words about the Jews. Anybody who listens to the stories about the Jews, either from Governments or from Jews themselves, must feel appalled at the position that is rapidly being created for that race throughout Europe. It is really an appalling situation. It has nothing to do with Hitler or Mussolini. [Interruption.] I knew of persecution and pogroms in Poland long before Hitler was born. The problem in Poland has an economic basis. There is an increasing population, there has been practically no emigration since the War, and the whole country is terribly destitute of the means of life. I have tried to think of what could be done. I know of nothing, except to help to develop Poland more widely than it has been developed, and also to open up some new part of the world where not only Jews can go, but where Poles also can go. To say that there is no room in the world for people seems to me to be quite ridiculous. I am not sure how many more people Polish territory can absorb, not in a profitable manner, but in a living manner. I should have thought that while Governments were discussing these questions, the richer Jews throughout the world might have done something more to help to mitigate the situation.
I visited schools, and saw children the same as I know them around my own home; and I could not help feeling how horrible it is that, as they grow up, they will in the higher schools be separated, the Poles being placed on one side and the Jews on the other. Into what sort of life will these children grow? I think there you have the cause of the disorders and the riots between Jews and Gentiles in Poland. It is economic. It is because the people are unable to get a living. The idea of placing Polish children in separate classes is due entirely to the fact that the Polish parents think that otherwise 1828 their children would not get a good chance in the upper strata of employment. It is pretty terrible and I do not see any way out except by providing more employment in Poland or in some other part of the world.
I am a pacifist, as everyone knows, but I have tried very hard in this House and outside to show that merely declaring myself against war is not enough for me. I and my friends here advocated, and most of my friends here before I left the Front Bench took the view, that instead of armaments we ought to have that peace conference, of which I think the right hon. Gentleman spoke, before war breaks out. I want to make an appeal for it to-night. I was not quite pleased with the Prime Minister's reference to Mr. Van Zeeland's report. No one knows what is in it, but I do not think you can settle the political question until you have settled the economic question. I do not believe that you can begin to have disarmament until the nations feel that they are getting economic justice and I am strengthened in that view and pleased to be strengthened in it by the letter from the King of the Belgians published last July. It is something to have a King on your side occasionally. He laid it down in that letter that the real causes of war were economic and I maintain that that is the case and that until the nations settle down to discuss the economic causes of war there is no hope in the world of disarmament and peace. Men's minds will not be diverted from war if they feel that they are suffering under injustice.
Let us who are talking about British interests not forget that we own about one-third of the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "A quarter."] I think if you measure it up, you will not find much difference between my figure and yours. Is it not the fact that if you look at the map you find that Russia owns a great chunk; that the United States with the Southern American governments, own a continent, and that there is our own country with our Dominions and India and so on? What is left? There is China and a relatively tiny bit of Africa. Surely it is time for us to recognise these circumstances. I am not asking, and the Leader of the Opposition did not ask, for a division of the world over again. What I am asking for is an effort at economic 1829 unity in the world, and I want it to start in Europe, with our assistance. The days of purely Imperialist economic or military domination are passing away and this British Empire and British people, if they are to last, must now begin to understand that what is needed is sharing the world for use, for trade and for industry and in every way.
We have taught nearly all the other nations what they know about trade and industry and so forth. We cannot possibly hope that we shall continue to be able to hold ourselves aloof and apart from the rest. Although hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may think that this is just a sort of ideal dream, people on the Continent and in America, by the thousand, are thinking that way. They are not satisfied to be told that Great Britain and America will defend their national interests. What they demand is not collective security by force of arms, but collective security through collective justice and equity between the nations of the world. I, for one, whoever else does not approve, most heartily approve of the Government's policy in approaching the German Government and any other government, to make a start, not because I think that conversations between Germany and Great Britain and France and America will settle this question, but because I believe they will begin to make a path towards a settlement for the whole of the world.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
The right hon. Gentleman to whose speech we have listened with such a general measure of sympathy, has no need to offer explanations to the House as to the conditions under which he made his pilgrimages about Europe and the United States. We have known him for a long time in this House and everyone knows that he is a man who takes very much less out of life than he puts into it. I have no doubt whatever that his statements to various high personages who, naturally, were glad to see him as a representative of the British working-class movement, did a lot of good, and at any rate they cannot possibly do any harm.
I must say that my right hon. Friend, if he will allow me to call him so, puts on his rose-coloured spectacles when he looks at all these problems. That is, no doubt, a very wise thing to do, but in the 1830 account which he has given he did not convey to me any really acute realisation of the facts as they are. He is not very particular when he is engaged on a mission of peace and goodwill about such things as the difference between a third and a quarter. As a matter of fact I believe it to be the case, although I have not verified the figures, that at the present time His Majesty's Dominions comprise a quarter of the land surface of the globe, but that is not engrossed by this very arrogant people who live in these islands. I also believe, though again I have not looked up the figures, that approximately a quarter of the world's population live in that quarter of the globe which is comprised in the British Empire and so they are fairly well spaced out even from that point of view.
Then I could not feel that my right hon. Friend dealt with the great evils of racial and religious intolerance in terms of that indignation which I am sure the sight of those evils excited in his generous heart. After all, it is a horrible thing that a race of people should be attempted to be blotted out of the society in which they have been born, that from their earliest years little children should be segregated and that they should be exposed to scorn and odium. It is very painful. Moreover, it is not only in regard to Jews that there is intolerance. Religious opinions, Protestant and Catholic alike, are subject to a prejudice of which we fondly hoped and were brought up to believe, the nineteenth century had rid the world. I only hope that my right hon. Friend will continue his peregrinations from time to time, and I am absolutely certain that he will do nothing but try to make the best of the British people to foreign countries, and come home and make the best of foreign countries to us.
The Prime Minister said he regretted that this Debate had taken place, but I do not think he has had much cause to regret it. Of course, it is the business of an Opposition to oppose. Lord Randolph Churchill said the business of an Opposition was to oppose everything, propose nothing and turn out the Government. If, he added, by any unfortunate combination of circumstances, the Opposition was occasionally forced to support the Government, that support should invariably be given with a kick and not with a caress. Of course there naturally will be differences, but what 1831 struck me about this Debate has been the very great measure, I was going to say, of underlying unity, but not only of underlying unity, of openly expressed unity, which has characterised the speeches from all parts of the House. There are differences about this horrible Spanish civil war, but more and more I think we all feel that, in some way or other, the influence of Britain must be made continuously effective to bring about some mode of life, some way of living between these two sides who have torn their Motherland in pieces. Apart from that, there is an extremely wide measure of agreement between speakers representing the various parties. But do not let us flatter ourselves too much about that, because the reason why there is so much agreement and why we can afford so little faction in these matters, is not that we like each other a great deal more or that we are in a much more benevolent frame of mind than former Parliaments. It is due to an increasing realisation of extremely unpleasant and disquieting facts which compel us, wherever we sit, to look at the dangers and difficulties increasingly from a common point of view.
I should not like to speak on this occasion, when we are about to separate for Christmas, without making an acknowledgment on my own part and personally to the Opposition, and especially to the great trade unions, of the great assistance which they have given to the strength and unity of the country and to the measures which are being taken to put it in a proper state of defence. I would touch on a few matters which are relevant to our discussion, but not at all for the purpose of injecting controversy or of inflaming passions.
I must candidly confess that I was personally anxious about Lord Halifax's visit to Germany. We had invited Baron von Neurath over here, he accepted, and at the last moment was unable to come. We renewed our invitation, but he did not renew his acceptance. It is unusual for a great Power in circumstances like that to proffer a mission or a visit, however it arose, of a very important Minister, a visit which could only acquire world-wide significance; but still, I agree with what my right hon. Friend who has just spoken would say, that diplomacy is meant to 1832 keep peoples in a good temper, and we must not be too touchy about points of diplomatic etiquette. If the only significance of diplomacy is to give occasions for people to take offence with one another, the less we have of it the better. We are strong enough, and we have a history which enables us to say that we do not see offence where none is meant. We can lay down the proposition that the Angel of Peace is unsnubbable. There is a great advantage in convincing everybody, not only in this country but abroad, that we are really very earnest indeed for peace and that we are not looking for petty causes of quarrel or seeking to find means for attitudinising in this direction or that. On the contrary, we should continue to persevere in face of rebuffs, in order to maintain and improve easy, friendly relations with all countries, and especially with Germany.
Then I think a visit of this kind had a valuable educative effect. When we are asked sometimes whether we will grasp the proffered hand of German friendship, I think we should all answer "Yes," but at the same time one wants to know what happens after that. Of course, if it is simply peace and good will that everybody in these islands wants, I would say that there is a great desire to repair the injuries of the past that have entered into German and English minds and hearts. Very often when these conversations begin they go very nicely for a certain time, and then it appears that what the Germans want is that peace and good will should be translated forthwith into tangible and solid immediate benefits which they are to receive. Very often it is suggested that we should promise to do something, or give something, or, what is perhaps even more difficult, to stand by and see something or other done that may not be desirable. Then, when the conversations reach that point, they become more halting and embarrassed. That is why they should have a valuable educative effect.
We really must remember how very sharp the European situation is at the present time. The Prime Minister warned us rightly not to think of having blocs formed this way or that way. I agree, but the facts must not be ignored. There are at present several very important countries of secondary rank in size whose decision is hanging in the balance whether they should join the dictator totalitarian Powers or whether they should stand by 1833 the Covenant of the League of Nations. It is not merely a question of international affiliations; it is also a question of the internal regime to be adopted in those countries. These countries all over Europe look to Great Britain, not to fight their battles—for we plainly cannot undertake to do that—but to keep the flag flying in the interests of peace, freedom, democracy and parliamentary government. If it were thought that we were making terms for ourselves at the expense either of small nations or of large conceptions which are dear, not only to many nations, but to millions of people in every nation, I think that a knell of despair would resound through many parts of Europe.
It was for this reason that Lord Halifax's journey caused widespread commotion, as everyone saw, in all sorts of countries to whom we have no commitments other than the commitments involved in the Covenant of the League; but His Majesty's Government very wisely and promptly redressed the balance and restored the equilibrium of Europe by the great cordiality with which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary welcomed the chief Ministers of the French Republic, and also by the consolidation of British and French policy which, if we may judge from the published communiqué, resulted from these extremely valuable conversations. If we take the Halifax visit and the visit of the French Ministers to this country together, as we ought to do, it seems to me quite clear that the final result is not only any improvement in the understanding between Great Britain and Germany that may have resulted, but a reaffirmation of British and French solidarity for mutual safety and for the discharge of our duties under the Covenant. Therefore, it seems to me that we have no reason to be dissatisfied with what happened.
I attach the greatest significance to the relations which we have with France. Those relations are founded upon the power of the French Army and the power of the British Fleet. They are also founded on the known and proved desire of both these countries to keep out of war and, to the best of their ability, to help others to keep out of war. Any separation between France and Great Britain would bring danger very near to both. I do not pretend that I do not feel anxious. I do feel very anxious this 1834 Christmas time, but I comfort and fortify myself with the conviction that France and Britain together, with all their worldwide connections, in spite of their tardiness in making air preparations, constitute so vast and formidable a body that they will very likely be left alone undisturbed, at any rate for some time to come. After all, we must move in these affairs, not from sentiment to sentiment, but from one stepping-stone of practical security to another. If we are able to open a brighter prospect to the world—and that is our only object and our only interest—we must nevertheless have a perfectly defined scaffolding by which we can climb up to reach our object.
We have heard that since Lord Halifax's return the Government of Germany have raised questions connected with the restoration of war conquests. By this they mean conquests made from Germany and her allies in the late War. We are not called upon to express any opinion upon this until a specific request is formally made to us, but if and when that request is made, it would seem that the answer is very obvious. Of course, we should say that we are ready to discuss in a friendly spirit the restoration of war conquests, provided every other country, or the bulk of the countries that made such conquests, are ready to join with us and discuss the situation on equal terms. If my memory serves me right, the French made important war conquests, and so did Rumania and Belgium. Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia owe their national existence—which I trust they may long preserve—to war conquests in which British, French and, let us not forget, Russian soldiers played their part, and all of which are confirmed by the much abused Treaty of Versailles and the much more justly abused Treaty of Trianon. Italy, which could hardly have won the war by itself, gained great territorial advantages in the Tyrol and the Adriatic. I am told that some of the Italian conquests by no means correspond any more to the wishes of the local population than we are assured some of the Germans in Czechoslovakia relish the form of Government under which they have to live. The Islands of the Dodecanese, which were taken partly from Turkey and partly from Greece, are very important islands from the strategic point of view, and these are war conquests of Italy. Lastly, Japan has acquired under the 1835 mandate of the League of Nations, with an undertaking not to fortify them, islands in the Pacific whose ultimate destiny is probably more important to the United States than it is to Great Britain.
If this question of the restoration of War conquests is to be raised, and if sacrifices are to be made to lay the ghost of hatreds arising out of the late War, I say that these sacrifices should be made all round, and that all the Powers who profited in territory by the victory of the Allies should be prepared to consolidate their victory by sharing in and contributing to any measure of appeasement which may be agreed upon to those who were defeated. There must be no singling out of Great Britain to be the only Power to be invited to make these sacrifices. We have heard a lot about the return of the former German colonies. I do not know in any definite way what the real intentions of His Majesty's Government are, and I am certainly not asking for any immediate declaration, but I should like to say that, though there are a very large number of people in this country who would be willing to make sacrifices to meet German wishes about the colonies if they could be assured that it meant genuine lasting peace to Europe, none of them would yield one scrap of territory just to keep the Nazi kettle boiling. I therefore welcome very much the declarations we have heard at different times, and renewed this afternoon by the Prime Minister, to the effect that there is no question whatever of any isolated retrocession of colonial war conquests; that we could only discuss such matters in company with our former Allies; that we should only approach the many difficulties involved if it were part of a general return by Europe to the old standards of tolerance and the final healing of outstanding quarrels; and, above all, leading in the end to an all-round reduction of armaments.
There are other matters besides these on which, I think, His Majesty's Government, and in particular the Foreign Secretary, deserve the compliments of this House as well as, no doubt, the compliments of the season, and one is the Nyon Conference. I have not heard that mentioned here to-day, but it surely ought not to be too soon forgotten. Let me recall the very ugly situation which 1836 existed before the Nyon Conference. Eight or nine pirate submarines were loose in the Mediterranean, sinking ships from one end of it to the other, and leaving the crews to drown in the most atrocious inhumanity. All of a sudden Great Britain and France decided that these outrages must be stopped, and stopped if necessary by armed force. Anyone could feel, although it was not expressed in words, the stiffening and surge of resolution which accompanied the summoning of that Conference.
That was a great responsibility for our Foreign Secretary to take, but supported by his colleagues, and supported by his chief, and supported also, though we were not in Session, by the undoubted good will and the approbation of the House of Commons, he was able to take it, and the results were most satisfactory. From that moment not a single torpedo has been fired by any submarine in the Mediterranean at any ship carrying any cargo under any flag. I think the success of these measures should be recognised even by those who criticise the course which the Government have pursued, but I must pay my tribute to Signor Mussolini, who joined the common exertions of the Mediterranean Powers, and whose prestige and authority—by the mere terror of his name—quelled the wicked depredations of these pirates. Since the days of Caesar himself there has been no more salutary clearance of pirates from the Mediterranean.
But giving honour where honour is due, I still feel that our Foreign Secretary had a good deal to do with it, and the House as a whole feels a sympathy for him. There is not one of us, however ambitious or self-confident, who would like to bear his load from day to day, a load which, if he will pardon me, anyone can see has aged him faster than the passage of the years. The House of Commons is always generous to its servants and its fellow Members, and therefore I have been very glad to find in these last few weeks that the statements which have been made on behalf of the Government make it perfectly clear that there never has been any truth whatever in those rumours that the Prime Minister was pursuing one policy and the Foreign Secretary another. We could not afford in the present situation to have any serious divergencies of opinion in foreign affairs between the 1837 principal Ministers in the Government, and we cannot afford to carry our differences about foreign affairs, even on the Floor of the House, very much further than they have been carried to-day.
There is one matter to which I must refer before I sit down, because it is a matter which, if not handled in the right spirit, might lead to differences in foreign affairs, and might lead to a wide divergence of public opinion. We have heard it said that the fact that Italy has left the League of Nations is a death blow to the League. I think we ought to be able to get over that. We have been told both by the Leader of the Opposition and by the head of the Government why it probably is not quite so bad as it sounds. It reminds me of the old story of the boy who was asked, "Is your father a Christian?" The boy replied, "Yes, sir, but he has not been doing much at it lately." I do not see why the League should be weakened by the departure of a country which has, to put it as politely as I possibly can, broken every engagement into which it has entered, and whose spokesmen have rejoiced in mocking and insulting every principle on which the League is founded. The one small service which Signor Mussolini had left to render to the League was to leave it. On the contrary I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the League may be strengthened. We all remember the case of the man who recovered from the bite.
It is of the utmost consequence to the unity of British national action that the policy of adhering to the Covenant of the League of Nations shall not be weakened or whittled away. I read a letter in the "Times" a few days ago, a letter which, I feared, might be the prelude to one of those interesting correspondences where sometimes one thinks one side has got the better of the other, not always as a result of the arguments deployed. But I read this letter, in which the gentleman showed that these ideas of preventing war by international courts and by reasonable discussion had been tried over and over again. He said they had been tried after Marlborough had defeated Louis XIV, and after Europe had defeated Napoleon, but, he said, they had always failed. If that is true it is a very melancholy fact, but what was astonishing was the crazy glee with which the writer hailed such lapses. 1838 I was told the other day, though I have not verified it, of a quotation from Carlyle in which he describes the laugh of the hyena on being assured that, after all, the world is only carrion.
I look upon the League as a great addition to the strength and to the safety of our country, and I appeal to some of my hon. Friends who, I know, do not quite take that view to bear with me for a few moments upon this. Since when can we afford to ignore the moral forces involved in the public opinion of the world? Moral force is, unhappily, no substitute for armed force, but it is a very great reinforcement, and it is just that kind of reinforcement which may avoid and prevent the use of armed force altogether. For five years I have been asking the House and the Government to make armaments—guns, aeroplanes, munitions—but I am quite sure that British armaments alone will never protect us in the times through which we may have to pass.
By adhering to the Covenant of the League we secure the good will of all the nations of the world who do not seek profit by acts of wrongful and violent aggression. We secure a measure of unity at home among all classes and all parties, which is indispensable to the efficiency of our foreign policy as well as to the progress of our defensive preparations. We consecrate and legitimise every alliance and regional pact which may be formed for mutual protection, and I believe that strict adherence to the Covenant of the League and to the Pact which bears the name of a venerable American statesman, Mr. Kellogg, now in our thoughts, will—I agree with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Liberal party—win for us a very great measure of sympathy in the United States. That sympathy may have an effect upon the interpretation put upon the laws of neutrality which, in certain circumstances, might be of enormous practical consequence to us. Can we be sure even that in the dictator countries these principles do not find an echo in many hearts. Can we be sure that even the dictators themselves may not, from one reason or another, respond to some extent to them? Nothing could be more improvident or more imprudent than for the western democracies to strip themselves of this great addition to their means of self-preservation, or to blot out 1839 from the eyes of their peoples ideals which embody the larger hopes of mankind.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
The right hon. Gentleman stated that he thought the Foreign Secretary deserved the compliments of the House as well as perhaps the compliments of the season, but I am afraid if I were to join in those compliments I should bring down upon my innocent head the wrath of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour), whose very interesting article some of us read yesterday. I am particularly glad to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in the view that he could see no reason why this Debate should not take place to-night. We are told that in the days before the War, which the right hon. Gentleman will remember better than some of us, it was not the custom either to put questions on foreign affairs or to have debates on foreign affairs, and yet that policy did not prevent the outbreak of the worst war that has ever afflicted mankind, and I believe that to-day the present generation of public opinion is not prepared to allow this or any other Government to carry on the foreign affairs of this country without being subjected to the spotlight of public criticism which should emanate from those whose duty it is, under the constitution of this country, to form the Opposition parties.
But I was particularly interested in the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and, if I may be allowed to say so, I believe that there are many Members who may not agree entirely with his view who, at any rate, will agree with me that his contribution itself was very much to the credit of this Debate. After all, it is perhaps no new discovery to realise that some of the countries which were carved out by the Treaty of Versailles have only managed to eke out a very meagre existence during the last 15 or 18 years, and I believe that it was the condition in which many of those small countries found themselves, and find themselves to-day, which was the origin of the policy laid down by the late Aristide Briand when he advocated a United States of Europe. He was 1840 principally concerned with the conception of economic collaboration between the various countries forming the Continent of Europe, and I believe that if his policy prove practicable, as one day it may well be, that will be one of the methods by which we may hope to remedy the misfortunes which these various nations suffer at the present time.
May I express my agreement, also, with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that economic factors are the principal causes of war? That is the case with regard to the past and, I believe with regard to the struggles that are taking place at the present time. I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary to give the House when he replies any information he can of what is taking place behind the scenes respecting the proposed economic conference. We have been told from time to time that no world economic conference can take place until the ground has been properly prepared. What is taking place? Is that ground being properly prepared? I wonder whether the Government have considered the proposal which recently emanated from the King of the Belgians for establishing a kind of independent world economic organisation. I take it that the King of the Belgians had in mind some kind of organisation dealing with matters such as world markets, raw materials, credits, emigration and so on, in the same way as the International Labour Office deals with industrial matters affecting various countries in the world.
I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House some idea of what is taking place, with a view to a very definite and determined attempt being made by the various Governments of the world to obtain some kind of solution of world economic problems. I would certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman to that extent. I do not agree 100 per cent. with him in his pacifist outlook. I believe that collective security, based upon the Covenant of the League of Nations, is the only conceivable way in which world peace can be maintained. At the same time I agree with his view that unless and until we make some attempt to grapple with economic problems that confront the world, even the Covenant of the League of Nations, backed by the determination of the members of the League to implement that 1841 Covenant, will not avoid world wars in the future.
I am not one of those who believe that war is in any way imminent, although I fear that the world is in danger of drifting into some kind of international crisis. As the Leader of the Opposition has already said, a new technique of aggression has been developed in recent years, and it only becomes necessary to have a declaration of war after the war is finished. I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley in welcoming, so far as Europe is concerned, the attempt of the Government to establish contact with the rulers of Germany. Any attempt to separate the sheep from the goats and to have the world divided into two or more camps based upon ideological differences would be absolutely fatal to the future welfare of the world. I am speaking for myself in welcoming a settlement, provided that it is based upon reason and justice, with any other country, no matter what form of government it may have.
What must give concern to everybody in the trend of international development during recent years is the callous disregard of great countries for their treaty obligations, whether under the Pact of Paris, the Kellogg Peace Pact, the Covenant of the League of Nations or the Nine-Power Treaty. We have had evidence that Japan and Italy have no intention, when it suits their purpose, of observing any obligations which they have incurred under those treaties. If such a state of affairs were to exist in any civilised community, and civilians were allowed to exhibit complete disregard of the laws of the country in which they lived; and if it were impossible for the police to enforce those laws, the result would be a condition of insecurity which would make life impossible for any decent-minded man and woman in the community. If that condition is to continue among the various nations of the world who, when it suits their purpose, are to commit breaches of their contractual obligations, it means, as the President of the United States said a few weeks ago, that we shall soon have a condition of international anarchy instead of international law and security.
With reference to the anti-Comintern Pact, I would ask one or two questions. There we see a Pact made by three powerful countries, two of whom have done 1842 more to destroy international law in recent years than all the countries combined. They are Japan and Italy. The third country is Germany. Are those countries seeking to divide the world upon an ideological basis? It is suggested, as the Minister knows, that there are secret military clauses in the Agreement. It may be that the Minister has no official knowledge of them, but I would like to ask him whether he has any information as to the existence of a military understanding among the three Powers associated in the anti-Comintern Pact. If so, the democracies of the world, whether they like it or not, may be forced, in order to preserve their own existence, to co-operate and combine together in defence of the rule of law and justice. If that be the case, I believe that even the United States will be willing to co-operate with the other democratic nations of the world.
I certainly agree with the Leader of the Liberal Opposition that it is useless to expect any co-operation from the United States of America, as long as that country believes that we are merely endeavouring to secure their assistance in defence of our Imperialistic interests. With other hon. Members on this side who have some knowledge of public opinion in America, I know that whenever one goes to the United States the first objection one meets to the League of Nations is that it is merely a catspaw of the British Government, and that any desire for co-operation with the United States is merely to secure the power and strength of that country behind the British Commonwealth. Some hon. Members may know that a work has just been published, and has a wide sale in the United States, entitled "England expects every American to do his duty." We know that that is nonsense and ridiculous and does not bear examination, but there are large sections of opinion in the United States which, rightly or wrongly, are extremely suspicious of the intentions and the policy of the British Government. I say "British Government" irrespective of any political party. Unless it can be made clear by a determined attitude that we have a sincere intention to accept our international obligations, apart altogether from what has been so often described by spokesmen on behalf of His Majesty's Government as vital British interests, it is useless to expect co-operation from the United States of America.
1843 I believe that we have more or less arrived at the position which was referred to by the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain in 1898, when it was suggested that the United States of America and the British Government should enter into a treaty of alliance. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain made this statement:The Americans do not want our alliance at this moment, and we do not want theirs at this moment.I believe that is just as true to-day as it was in 1898. He went on:Some Americans have said that there is a possibility in the future that Anglo-Saxon liberty and Anglo-Saxon interests may hereafter be menaced by a great combination of powers.It may well be that the anti-Comintern Pact is that menace. He added:I think such a thing is possible, and in this case … I hope that blood will be thicker than water.Once it is established that the Fascist Powers of the world are determined to expand and commit acts of aggression against not only China but any other democratic Power which seeks to stand in their way, the United States of America would, I believe, not only be compelled by the pressure of world opinion, but would be anxious to rally to the defence of democracy and freedom.
Many of us are becoming concerned at the conduct of Italy, irresponsible conduct but none the less full of dangerous possibilities. I believe that Signor Mussolini is carrying on a very subtle diplomatic game and is determined if he can, to compel the British Government to recognise his recent conquest of Abyssinia. Whether that be so or not, all hon. Members must be concerned at the attitude which is being developed by the Italian Government towards this country. First of all, there is the matter of propaganda, which was referred to in the earlier part of the Debate. Evidence has been adduced which makes it clear that most lying statements are being broadcast in the Far and Near East from Italian sources. They are statements which could not bear examination. Unfortunately it is always difficult to overtake a statement once it has been made. We know that more than 70,000 troops have been concentrated upon the Egyptian border. I would ask the Minister whether there is any truth in the statement that a number of German 1844 technicians are included in those forces. Whether that be true or not, from my own experience in that country six or seven weeks ago, I know that there is a feeling of great apprehension as the result of that concentration of Italian troops.
This continual output of poisonous propaganda seeking to poison the relationship between this country and those who live in Arabic countries such as Egypt, India and other parts of the world, cannot go on. I make this suggestion without any desire to cause unnecessary trouble. In May, 1927, the British Government broke off diplomatic relations with the Russian Government on the ground that the Russian Government was engaged in anti-British propaganda in this country and in other parts of the Empire. I do not suggest that His Majesty's Government should break off diplomatic relations with the Italian Government, but that there is a feeling that His Majesty's Government are more sensitive to anti-British propaganda when it emanates from Russian sources than when it emanates from Fascist countries I hope the Government will give some indication that they regard the present attitude of Italy very seriously, and are determined to take some kind of action to end such propaganda if possible.
I have said that I do not believe that war is imminent. At the same time, I believe that the international situation is becoming more and more serious, and is steadily deteriorating. We have only to cast our eyes to the Far East and to Spain to realise the danger of the position. China is slowly bleeding to death, and absolutely nothing is being done to assist her to resist Japanese aggression. I believe the countries of the world will have to make up their minds where they stand with regard to the League of Nations. It is no use blowing hot and cold over that or any other kind of international system. Governments which take the view that the Covenant of the League is not practical politics at present should in all fairness say so, so that the other countries of the world may realise that it is no use risking their national security by relying on the provisions of the Covenant.
I understand that the Council of the League next month will be considering the report of the Committee set up to deal with the application of the principles of 1845 the Covenant. There is a suggestion that some Members of the Government are in favour of the deletion of Article 16, having regard to the present international situation. I hope that that rumour is untrue. I hope that nothing will be done to emasculate the provisions of the Covenant. There is nothing wrong with it provided that the various nations will implement it and, if they will not, I would rather have the Covenant placed in cold storage than that by positive action the nations represented at Geneva, by taking away its vital clauses, should say to the whole civilised world that they do not believe collective action should be taken to resist the aggressor. I hope, therefore, that the Government in the next few months will make up their mind where they stand. Are they going to take all the risks involved in loyal adherence to the provisions of the Covenant, provided other nations do the same thing? Even if it is found that other nations are not prepared to do so, I hope the Government will have no responsibility at all for destroying the Covenant. It is the only hope of the civilised world, and I believe only by a passionate and loyal adherence to its provisions can we hope to stave off world catastrophe.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Tree
The hon. Member who has just sat down and the Leader of the Liberal Opposition have spoken at some length about America, and I should like to proceed further and deal specifically with this point. I do so with great diffidence, firstly because it is the first time I have taken part in a foreign affairs Debate; and, secondly, because I believe it to be a subject far better left alone. I would not refer to it were it not for the fact that there is a great deal of misunderstanding as to the amount of cooperation that we can expect from the United States. I believe it is safe to say that at no time have relations between ourselves and the United States been better. The old causes that led to friction in the past have very largely disappeared and in their place there is, as far as America is concerned, a vast amount of respect at the way in which we handle our problems. Furthermore, they understand our habits, our language and our institutions. But it must be remembered that in 1920 America definitely rejected co-operation and adopted isolation, and that has ever since been the 1846 basis of her foreign policy. But as world problems have increased and are increasing so that they include to-day not only Europe and Asia but the Continent of America as well, and the realisation becomes more and more apparent that the world is drawing closer and that what affects one Continent is bound to affect other Continents as well; so do the shouts of those who still cling to their old belief of isolationism get stronger and stronger, and they are to-day very vocal. The United States is, I repeat, exceedingly friendly to this country. She loathes dictatorships, and we both share the same form of democratic beliefs and institutions. Furthermore, she is prepared, as Mr. Cordell Hull has frequently said, to co-operate along certain lines of monetary and economic appeasement.
But do not let us make the mistake of thinking that she is prepared to go further and to co-operate in any course that is likely to bring her into danger of war. I believe the people of the United States would not tolerate that for a single moment. It may be that events will occur in the Far East, such as happened a week ago in the sinking of an American ship and the loss of American lives, and if that sort of thing goes on America may become inflamed with anger and may proceed to further steps, but I believe if she does that it will be to protect her own interests and not for the sake of common co-operation. America to-day is thinking in terms of rebuilding her economic self from the ruins in which she found herself in 1929. She is not thinking in terms of world appeasement. Over and above that there is no country in the world where governmental policy is controlled more by public opinion—far more than it is in this country. That, surely, was proved in 1920, and in my opinion was again proved following President Roosevelt's speech at Chicago in October.
That speech has been interpreted in many different ways. In my opinion it was designed to make the United States participation at Brussels not only actual but real, and what that Conference achieved is perhaps the best gauge of how far that speech sank into the consciousness of the American people. But there are speeches continually being made in the country—one was made by the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) 1847 in the House in October, and I heard another at a businessmen's dinner the other night—which I believe are false and misleading and do an immense amount of harm, the kind of speech which suggests that America is merely awaiting a lead from this country and is prepared to follow us in anything that we intend to do. I believe there is nothing more calculated to make Americans draw back than the feeling that we are asking them to pull the chestnuts out of the fire.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
My argument was that which was set forth in Mr. Stimson's speech, that it is possible for America to co-operate with the League of Nations, but it is extraordinarily difficult to co-operate with any other single nation in defence of that nation's interests.
§ Mr. Tree
I think the speech to which the hon. Member refers was better answered than I can answer it now by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he then was, on 6th November last year.
I must pass on to my next point. I happened to be going to America just at the time that the Palestine report was issued. I was naturally anxious to find out what effect that report would have in a country which has the largest Jewish population in the world, and I found, very much to my surprise, that they were very quiet, the Press was extremely moderate, and they were perfectly prepared to accept the report in principle. A day or two later there came out in the syndicated Hearst Press an article written by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) accusing the Government of cowardice and running away from its duty. It was a bitter attack on the report.
§ Mr. Tree
This is the passage:It was well said a few days ago by one of the ablest publicists of the day, who is by no means hostile to the existing British Government, that the Palestine report is 'a confession of failure wounding to our national pride.' That is the British view of this document. It is a lamentable admission that Britain has, owing to the feebleness, vacillation and pusillanimity of her administration, failed to carry through a mission entrusted to her by the leading nations of the world. 1848 It must necessarily lower British prestige, coming as it does after the fiascos of Manchuria, Abyssinia and Spanish non-intervention.
Miss Lloyd George
The hon. Member speaks as though no attack had ever been made upon the administration. Heavy strictures were made at Geneva on the administration of our Mandate in Palestine.
§ Mr. Tree
I should like to deal specifically with the effect that this had in the United States. There was an outburst in the Hearst Press. They used it to stir up deliberately anti-British propaganda. Further than that, they organised meetings in all the large cities in the United States where there were Jewish populations, and those meetings deteriorated into nothing more than anti-British attacks. It seems to me that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has every right to castigate the Government in this country if he feels that he should do so, but I think it is mischievous and highly dangerous to do so in a country with which we are trying to build up good relations. Those relations are of vital importance.
In conclusion, I want to touch on one other point, namely, the debts. I said a few minutes ago that all the old problems that used to cause friction between the two countries have now disappeared. I believe that to be true, but the problem of the debts is still outstanding, and at some time or another it will have to be faced. There is always danger, too, that it may be used to stir up in the United States a feeling against us, possibly at a time when we do not want to have feeling against us there. I quite realise that there are grave difficulties on both sides to be overcome, but I believe that, if those difficulties could be overcome, it would be a tremendous step forward, that it would remove the last source of possible outstanding trouble between the two countries, and that it would enormously heighten the high esteem in which we are held in the United States at the present time.
§ 7.17 p.m.
I do not pretend in any way to be an expert on foreign affairs, but that does not preclude me from being just as deeply concerned for world peace as all the right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken here this afternoon. 1849 There is just one thing that I should like to say to-day, and that is with regard to Spain, not only because I believe it to be the view held by the majority of my own constituents, but also because I believe it to be the view held by the majority of people throughout this country. Had a plebiscite been taken in this country at the beginning of the civil war, and everyone been asked what they thought was the most important part for us to play, there is no doubt that 100 per cent. of the people would have said, to do our uttermost to prevent the war from spreading outside of Spain itself. This has been the policy of His Majesty's Government, and, after a year and a half of civil warfare, we find that in this main objective we have succeeded; the war has not spread. I believe this is entirely due to the policy of non-intervention, a policy, it must be remembered, that was put forward in 1936 by France and wholeheartedly supported by ourselves. I think it is interesting and also important to remember that France, with a Popular Front Government and even with various changes of Ministers and Prime Ministers, has never wavered in her adherence to this policy. Hon. Members will probably recollect that M. Blum, in a speech as recently as last July, when he was addressing his party conference, re-emphasised his belief in the policy of non-intervention. He even went so far as to say thatperhaps the children of the present generation might one day learn from the governmental archives how close we had been to war during the past few weeks.I well know the objection raised by hon. Members that certain countries have not kept their part of the bargain. That is quite true, but to my mind it makes the success of having prevented the war from spreading more remarkable, and should make us very grateful to the Foreign Secretary, because he more than any other individual has, through quiet determination and patience, refused to be either ruffled or hustled in very trying circumstances.
I have listened at length—often, I might say, at great length—to people who have been to Spain, some to visit one side and some to visit the other, and I must admit that, interesting as they all are, if it were not for the names of places and the generals they mention, it would be hard to distinguish which side they 1850 had been visiting, so similar are their stories. One often finds in this world that, when outsiders come in and try to settle family quarrels, however good their intentions may be, it is usually the family who in the long run have to settle their own affairs, and those friends who have refused to take sides are in the end the most appreciated. I rather wonder how much real good is accomplished by visits of hon. Members of this House to Spain—I do not mean in educating themselves, for I am sure they have all learned a great deal, but in really assisting the Spaniards to bring their civil war to a conclusion. I firmly believe that, as the Foreign Secretary has often said in this House and outside, when the Spanish war is over the Spanish people will govern themselves and will not brook any foreign interference. That has been their history in past centuries, and I believe it will be their history in the future. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the policy of non-intervention, which has prevented the war from spreading outside Spain, is the one thing about this tragic conflict thoroughly understood and appreciated by the great majority of people up and down this country.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
Like the hon. Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) and the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Tree), I am making in the House this evening, not a maiden speech, but a maiden speech on foreign affairs. We have really had two Debates this evening, one a Debate on foreign policy, and the other a Debate on whether there should be a Debate on foreign policy. Before I speak on the first, I should like, if I may, to make my small contribution to the second of these discussions. As I listened to the remarks of the Prime Minister and the Leaders of both Opposition parties, I found myself feeling, in a manner perhaps appropriate to an independent Member, that there was a great deal of truth in the point of view expressed by all three. I believe, with the Prime Minister, that there is a special difficulty, and even some danger, about Debates on foreign policy in an international situation precisely like that which now confronts us. At the same time, I think that a real problem of procedure is presented, for which no simple solution is to be found by saying that the Opposition parties ought to give a blank cheque 1851 to the Government and an uncritical acceptance of everything that the Government may do over a long period in the sphere of foreign policy.
Undoubtedly special difficulties exist. Time after time, though not every time, I have listened carefully to Debates on foreign policy in this House, and have come to the conclusion, on the day after, that the net result had been to the disadvantage of all the parties concerned. From the point of view of the Government, it had given them and their supporters the feeling that in replying to criticisms they were rather unfairly handicapped by their very responsibility. On the other hand, it often happens that the Opposition find, on the day afterwards, that, so far from having made some impression on the Government's policy, they have only widened the gap between their own policy and that of the Government. Time after time this has happened, not through the fault of individuals, but almost inevitably from the circumstances of the case. While the Government are engaged, perhaps, in international negotiations in which they are attempting something between conciliation or concession on the one hand and resistance on the other, the Opposition press them to adopt a stronger and more resisting attitude; the Government reply, giving reasons why they are not prepared to adopt such an attitude; and the statement of their position, framed in such a way as to be an answer to their critics, almost inevitably, as read in foreign countries, gives an impression of an attitude weaker than in fact the attitude of the Government is, and the impression of a wider gap between the point of view of the Government and that of the Opposition than in fact exists. I think that this is likely to happen when there is a Debate on foreign affairs in an international situation of the kind that now exists, and it presents a real problem of procedure for the House.
Under existing practice, if there is a very grave crisis, it is the custom, I believe, for the Prime Minister privately to consult the Leaders of the Opposition parties, and obviously that procedure is appropriate for such a case as that. On the other hand, in a more normal situation it is appropriate, and, indeed, essential, that there should be criticism in this 1852 House of the main principles of policy over a longish period of time. But I think that, between these two situations, there is the kind of situation with which we are confronted at this moment, and, indeed, with which we were confronted on 21st October. In such a case it is extremely difficult on the one hand for Opposition Leaders to make their criticisms effectively without saying anything that will have a regrettable effect outside, and it is still more likely—and here I agree with the Leader of the Liberal party—that representatives of the Government, if they are to answer their critics in what seems during the course of the Debate to be the most effective way, may be provoked into a form of reply which, as read in foreign countries with whom they are engaged in serious negotiations, may have a very regrettably misleading effect.
It is not for a junior Member of the House to make a specific suggestion on procedure, but I would like to raise the question whether, for this intermediate class of case between the grave crisis, in which the Leaders of the Opposition parties are consulted privately, and the more normal situation in which a long-term discussion of the principles of policy over a period of years can properly be undertaken, that is at times when grave negotiations are occupying the whole of the main attention of the House and the country, some special procedure could be devised. It is clear at this moment that it is the situation in the Far East that occupies the main attention of the House and the country, and I would like, if I may, to turn to a few comments on that situation.
We all realise that our policy must be entwined with the policy of other countries, and, in particular, the United States of America, and that what we should do and what we can do must depend upon what other countries are prepared to do. I do not, however, propose to discuss either the policy of other countries or our own strategy and tactics in attempting to co-ordinate our policy with theirs. I have confidence that the Foreign Secretary is engaging in this task with the greatest care and skill, if one assumes the policy to which the Government are trying to give effect. I think the rest of us will not help his task by making comments on the procedure, so that on this side of the problem, that of securing co-operation and co-ordination with other 1853 countries, the best contribution that I can make is silence. I merely say, in passing, that I hope the right hon. Gentleman and the Government will be prepared to go as far as the United States of America in combined action, but I do not ask him now to make a statement, even on that, in public.
I think, however, I can properly make a few remarks on the issues that are involved in the Far East, and suggest a few considerations which I think ought to be taken into account by this Government and, I hope, by other Governments who are also interested in the East and with whom co-operation is essential if combined action is to be taken. First of all, I will put what I think should in this matter be put first, that is the tragedy of China herself. I have during the last six years twice visited China, under conditions which have enabled me to see intimately and at close quarters something of the reconstruction efforts of the past decade. I have seen the way in which, after the chaos and devastation that followed the revolution in 1911, there has during these years been a very real and a very remarkable effort to rebuild a new State in China and to establish the foundations upon which it might, almost for the first time, have been possible for China to gain the benefits of the Western industrialisation which has in the past, as translated into armaments, done so much to devastate and destroy her.
That attempt at reconstruction was succeeding. It would, I believe, have succeeded but for external interference. If it had succeeded, the results to the prosperity and happiness of the 400,000,000 people of China would gradually, and not so very slowly, have been immense, and those results would have radiated out beneficently throughout the world. That remarkable effort has now been shattered by the new blows which she has now received from Japan. And let us remember that Japan was instructed in her military art, equipped with her military strength, by the science which she has learned from the West, and that the earlier Chinese civilisation which had been in existence for thousands of years before the revolution of 1911, had been destroyed not so much by its own internal weaknesses as by the impact of the West, the impact of Western trade, and the impact of Western ideas. The tragedy of this second blow is this, that all that the West 1854 was bringing that might have been of inestimable benefit to China, in educational work, in the work of the Christian missionaries from America and elsewhere, and the industrial technique and equipment which would in time have enabled China to raise her standard of living—all that is likely to be lost. What will be left will be the worst of what the West has brought, made worse still by its transmission through this recently westernised Oriental country, Japan.
If Japan succeeds in her present attempt at domination, it will be true of the pioneers of our own race and other Western races who brought the West to the East that:The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.Instead of the new Chinese State which was being rebuilt, there will, if Japan is successful, be an alien domination; instead of the rebuilding of the economic system of China on the promising basis that had been established in the previous few years, we shall have a harsh economic exploitation; instead of the civilising work of educational establishments and of missionaries, we shall have, as we have seen in the parts of China which have been previously occupied by Japan, a deliberate extension of debauchery by the opium traffic. This I believe to be the perspective in which we should regard the tragedy of China—the most cultivated, the most humane, and the most pacific of civilisations that has ever endured in the world for a comparable length of time, first of all weakened and shattered by the impact of the West in the last century, and then, when it had started successfully rebuilding itself, again shattered by this second impact of its Western-taught neighbour. I believe that, if one considers the whole of the circumstances, this is one of the greatest historic tragedies of the world.
But this is only one aspect of Japanese policy. Japan is aiming not only at the domination of China, but at the hegemony of the East and the complete exclusion of the West. It will, I think, be a very salutary thing if the attacks on the "Panay" and other neutral ships open our eyes to this aspect of Japanese policy. It will be a very unfortunate thing if, by regarding them as merely isolated events, we fail to realise that they are expressions of an aspect of Japanese policy which is 1855 just as real as the other. Whether it be in one stage, or after a short interval, in two stages, Japan will attempt the realisation of the second part of her policy. We shall be deceiving ourselves if we think we have done anything very decisive if we merely prevent the immediate repetition of these attacks, as we may, and if we then think that by a complacent attitude, even if carried to the point of making ourselves almost accessories after the fact, we shall be able to buy more than a very short-lived immunity for the interests of the West, if Japan succeeds in completely dominating China. What matters in this illegal invasion of China is, I suggest, the illegal invasion of China and not the incidents, however serious they may be, with which it is accompanied. I suggest that when problems of the practicability or methods of combined action are being considered, it should be in that perspective that they should be regarded.
As to the possibility of combined action, I do not propose to make any specific recommendation as to the way in which, if I were in the Government's place, I should attempt to secure it. I do not know whether it will be possible to secure the co-operation necessary to put into operation any really effective restraint. I think, however, it is worth making one or two remarks as to this problem if the necessary co-operation is possible. In the first place, as was pointed out by Mr. Stimson, speaking with greater authority than any man not in actual office, Japan depends for the vital resources which she needs to conduct her campaign upon imports from the British Commonwealth of Nations, the United States of America, and a few other countries which on their lead would be likely to act with them. I would like, in the second place, to remark that while in any combined action likely to affect Japan's operations the risk of hostile retort must be contemplated, that risk is of course less in proportion to the range, number, and character of the countries whose co-operation is secured. If that co-operation included three of the greatest countries concerned and interested in this part of the world, I do not think that risk would be very great. But if the risk did mature—and here I would like to make one comment 1856 on the remarks of the Leader of the Liberal Opposition—I think that if there can be a combined economic pressure sufficient to give an assurance that in the end the policy desired by the co-operating countries will be achieved, it would be worth while applying that pressure, even though a local naval and military Japanese superiority should result in temporary local surrenders which could only be retrieved when the economic pressure had become fully effective. Perhaps I may in this connection quote more exactly the statement of Mr. Stimson to which I have just referred:The lamentable fact is that to-day the aggression of Japan is being actively assisted by the efforts of men of our own nation and men of the other great democracy in the world—the British Commonwealth of Nations.He proceeds to point out the very large proportion of the supplies of Japan which are essential to her operations and which are being obtained very largely from these countries, and then he says:The question that I should ask of the American and British peoples is: Does the safety of the American nation and the safety of the British Empire require that we go on helping Japan to exterminate … Chinese soldiers … and the civilian Chinese population?Those seem to me to be some of the considerations that ought to be borne in mind by countries considering the possibilities, the rewards as well as the risks, of effective combined action in this situation. I do not know whether that co-operation will be possible. I do not recommend that the Government should undertake the risk of unilateral action. I will not take the responsibility of suggesting the precise procedure or form of combined action. I would, however, urge that if, as events develop, there is the opportunity of combined action sufficient, even after some time and even with some risk, to re-establish the authority of law through collective international action, they will do their utmost to seize and utilise the opportunity.
If that is possible there is one further great advantage that would result from combined action in this sphere. In some way or another it is essential, unless we are to slip further down the slope, to reassert the authority of law and international action. I agree with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) about Nyon. But that will not carry us 1857 on for ever. We must soon begin to assert our authority again. If the conditions were such as to make combined action in the Far East practicable and effective, I think we should probably find that we had gone a long way towards finding the key of the problem of Europe as well as of the Far East.
I have ventured to place these considerations before the Foreign Secretary when he is, as I am sure he is, with the greatest care attempting to secure cooperation in a policy likely to help in bringing to an end this terrible tragedy of the Far East.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
In the course of his speech the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said, speaking of the Spanish Civil war, that if His Majesty's Government had supported the Spanish Government the war would have been over by now.
§ Captain McEwen
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, but that was the meaning I gathered from what he said. I suppose that what he means by the Non-intervention Agreement being fairly applied is that the Spanish Government should be able to obtain every sort of supply—arms, munitions, food and so on from wherever it likes.
§ Captain McEwen
I maintain that it does that already. Apart from that point, I do not agree that the war would have been over by now. What astonished me is not that the right hon. Gentleman takes that line, but that he should expect that we on this side of the House should agree with him. If the war had been over, is it to be supposed that we on this side would applaud, approve or welcome the victory of Left Wing forces not only in Spain but all over the world?
§ Miss Wilkinson
Are we to understand that hon. Members on the Government side of the House support rebels against duly constituted democratic Government?
§ Captain McEwen
I apologised for putting into the mouth of the Leader of the hon. Lady words which he denied having said, and I do not think that she ought 1858 to put into my mouth words that I have not said. I am not asking her to apologise, but I merely point out that it is not fair. I said nothing of the sort, but I do say that we can hardly be expected to applaud the victory of Left Wing elements not only in Spain but all over the world. Since when hon. Members of the party to which I have the honour to belong supported or applauded Anarchism, Communism or Socialism?
§ Captain McEwen
I am not talking about rebellion. I am talking about Anarchism, Communism or Socialism. I am not going to be led astray by the hon. Lady.
Duchess of Atholl
Does the hon. and gallant Member assert that our party does not support legally-elected and recognised Governments?
§ Captain McEwen
If I refuse to be led astray by one siren, I am not going to be led away by two. The three elements to which I have referred are, I am convinced, the very powers of darkness, wherein is to be found the root causes of the unrest in the world to-day. Neither can we be deceived by the benign appearance of the Leader of the Opposition and most of those who sit beside and behind him in this House. I do not suggest that they are the agents of destruction, but I do suggest that in the Trojan Horse policy of the real agents, the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are playing the passive and ignoble role of the horse.
For like reason I resent the anti-Comintern Pact and the anti-Communist Pact which has been adopted by those Powers now outside the League. Knowing as we do that a great proportion of that anti-Communist feeling is made up by what I would describe, for want of a better word, as eyewash, we are thereby tempted to overlook and under-estimate the reality of the danger, and also because Communism is in fact less of a menace to the Powers which are outside the League than to those who are inside. An enemy battering at the closed gate of a city is less to be feared than a subtle poison which permeates the whole human system. Therefore, I was delighted to hear the Foreign Secretary say—and it was repeated by the Prime Minister to-day—that in no circumstances are we going to allow ourselves to be drawn into any anti- 1859 Communist or anti-Fascist blocs. Nothing could be more deceptive than one or the other. On the one hand to line up with an anti-Communist front with Nazi Germany would hardly make for stability in Europe, because as an old Scotch proverb has it, "Hawks winna feight wi hawks."
§ Captain McEwen
The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is the last man to ask for an interpretation of that Scottish proverb. It means that hawks do not peck out the eyes of other hawks. To form up in an anti-Fascist democratic front which includes Soviet Russia is merely to speak in terms of the larger lunacy. It is precisely for these tendencies that I welcome the recent attempts of His Majesty's Government to improve relations, first with Italy, and subsequently with Germany. Nevertheless, I think it is a pity that the Government cannot be allowed to carry out its own policy without that somewhat trammeling aid of the "Times." This matter has already been referred to this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). It is a fact that the attitude recently taken on the part of that newspaper, especially in regard to the return of colonies to Germany, has done a great deal to create the feeling in Germany that they have only to press even the most preposterous demands, and press them with sufficient reiteration and loudness of voice, and they will be granted. It is a psychological question as regards Germany, but not specifically Nazi Germany. My belief is, and I have said it before, that the one fatal method of approach to any problem in dealing with the Germans is that any large element of concession is implicit from the beginning. What is the use, for example, as this newspaper did the other day, of comparing Lord Haldane's visit to Berlin in 1912 with Lord Halifax's visit recently, and mentioning the Anglo-German Naval Agreement but not mentioning the fact that the air is now a problem between us which Lord Haldane never had to consider? What could be less helpful than the leading article of 25th November which said:That mood owes something no doubt to the method of the coup de main which Germany, wholly without reason, has practised several times within the last few years.1860 By saying that, every breach of a treaty on the part of Germany since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles is justified. I think it will be agreed that were the positions reversed we should not have found a victorious Germany pursuing us with offers to buy us off with territory. We cannot, therefore, in justice complain that Germany to-day should find ample justification for her cherished belief that we as a nation are not only weak but are also becoming decadent.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker
I am afraid that the last speech affords some justification for what the Leader of the Opposition said about the influence of foreign propaganda. I should like later to deal at some length with the question of German propaganda in this country. Speakers on this side of the House have drawn attention to the fact that the economic factor plays a large part in bringing about war. I think it will be agreed in regard to the Nazi movement in Germany that the economic factor had a great deal to do with the origin of Nazism. But as regards the present demands of Germany, even if we could appease its economic needs, I do not think that we should be able to make peace secure, because the present German Government also wants certain political concessions.
It seems to me that Germany's grievances under the Treaty of Versailles have been largely settled and that the remaining grievances arising under that Treaty could be settled if the German Government wished to settle them in a peaceful way. Unfortunately the German Government do not wish to settle these differences in a peaceful way. Take the question of Colonial markets and access to raw materials. Both these difficulties could be settled peacefully if the German Government wished to do so, but they do not wish to do so, and that is why they will not go forward with negotiations on these subjects. The real demand of the German Government at the present time when they seek colonies is to get areas in which they can raise black troops for future wars. That is the political reason for the German drive for colonies.
Turning to Central Europe, economic considerations as well as, political considerations come in there. It is often said that German grievances in Central Europe are due to her loss of territory 1861 as a result of the War. But we have to remember that in a large part of Eastern Europe there was German rule although the territories concerned were outside the German Reich. In Estonia, Latvia, Bohemia, the Polish corridor and the Slovene regions of Yugoslavia there was a German governing class. As a result of the War there was a disappearance of this German ruling class in these areas and that fact is not forgotten by the present rulers of Germany. Many of those who have played an important part in Nazi Germany have come from these territories and from their former German ruling classes. We have, therefore, both economic and political motives behind the present German demand for hegemony. But I do not believe that economic concessions alone will satisfy the German demand. To dominate Eastern Europe they wish to get political control as well as economic control.
I should like to deal in some detail with the question of the Baltic States. These three States on the east side of the Baltic are a danger spot at the present time. The question of Memel has temporarily been allowed to fall into the background, but we never know when the German Government will act again in that district if the international situation is favourable. We have a special responsibility for these States, because it was the intervention of this country which allowed them to become independent after the War. As a result of our efforts, these three States have been created, and they have become peaceful and, on the whole, successful communities. It is well worth pointing out a very large part of the trade of these countries is with Great Britain. Last year over half of their exports were to this country and nearly 30 per cent. of their imports. This trade has grown rapidly in recent years. Lithuania, which is most threatened by German aggression, sent 49.7 per cent. of her exports to Great Britain and received 37.8 per cent. of her imports from our country in 1936.
Nearly all of this trade comes through the port of Memel, and consequently this country has a great interest in its political future. British imports going into Lithuania comprise very largely the goods which we are only too anxious to export, such as coal, herring, and cotton and woollen goods. This town is very small, having only about 38,000 inhabitants. 1862 Before the War it was a very unimportant frontier town; now it is the growing port of Lithuania. Great difficulties have been created in this port, because the German population have been encouraged by the German Government to try and stop the growth of the town by refusing to sell land. As the town grows a new population is coming in from Lithuania, and the Germans fear that in time the majority of the population will definitely become Lithuanian. Over that question of the expansion and growth of the town an incident may easily arise. Personally, I believe that when you have such a small town acting as the port for a large hinterland, it is much better united to that hinterland than under the rule of another country. It would be a great mistake to cut Memel off from Lithuania. I quite agree that Lithuania ought to respect the German minority along its coastline, but I do not think there is any case at all for transferring Memel to Germany. The strangling of Zara on the Adriatic when cut off from its hinterland provides a salutary lesson.
I would like now to deal with the question of foreign propaganda in this country. I have here a document which I will translate for the benefit of hon. Members. It is called, "The October Programme of the German Labour Front, Great Britain Group." Its postal address is, Heinz Juettner, 5, Cleveland Terrace, London, W.2. The document begins with a notice of a meeting on Friday, 1st October, at 8 p.m., at the Porchester Hall. It was only a harvest thanksgiving, but the notice says:The District Leader of the Foreign Organisation of the Nazi Party, E. W. Bohle, Berlin, will speak. The appearance of every member of the German Labour Front is a natural duty and everyone should get his tickets in time. German Labour Front badges are to be worn.Then follows a list of meetings of the National Socialist party:6th October, 8 p.m., Queen's Restaurant, Dalston, group London North; 15th October, 8.20 p.m., Porchester Hall, group Central London; 15th October, 8.15 p.m., 46, Eaton Rise, Ealing, group West London; 20th October 8 p.m., Queen's Restaurant, Dalston, group North London; 29th October, 8 p.m., Griffin Restaurant, Charing Cross, all London groups. Comrades take part in these meetings without further invitation. Membership cards are to be brought as credentials.Then there is a list of the meetings of the German Labour Front Professional Groups: 18633rd October, 4 p.m., 46, Eaton Rise, Ealing, group women employees; 8th October, 8 p.m., Tatler Tea Room, Brighton, Sussex sell; 9th October, 8 p.m., 46, Eaton Rise, Ealing, group technicians; 17th October, 4 p.m., 46, Eaton Rise, Ealing, group women employees; 21st October, 4 p.m., Benhill Street Adult School, Sutton, Surrey cell; 26th October, 8.30 p.m., 5, Cleveland Terrace, group catering profession; 27th October, 8 p.m., Westgate House, W.C.I, group tradesmen.Then it goes on to say:At the meetings (except Surrey) the Country Group Leader will speak on the Stuttgart Conference and principal questions of the German Labour Front. Afterwards discussion. Appearance of all Labour Front members in their own interests urgently necessary. Apologies for absence will only be accepted if sent in advance in writing.It seems to me that if there is a foreign political party organising itself in this country in that way, the Government of this country ought to be aware of the fact, and ought to do something to prevent it. It does not seem at all desirable to have foreign political parties organising themselves with this degree of detail and compulsion in this country. Much has been made of the foreign connections of the Communist party in this country, but no one could say that it is not composed in the mass of British citizens. I think it is time that the Government paid attention to this matter.
I would like to draw attention also to an organisation called "The Link," which nominally exists for the purpose of promoting Anglo-German friendship, but in reality is a camouflaged Fascist organisation. The founders are Admiral Sir Barry Domville, and Professor A. P. Laurie, who is perhaps the most persistent pro-Fascist letter-writer to the newspapers in this country. I would like to quote some of the remarks of Sir Barry Domville when inaugurating a branch of "The Link" in Southend:Fascism might not be a system of government which suited this country but it suited Germany very well. We must not be on opposite sides to Germany in any future war. The Link was in touch with all big German organisations.On the question of Colonies he said that the British Government must face up to that issue whatever that might mean. I think that when you have an organisation like "The Link," with many distinguished people connected with it, carrying on propaganda on behalf of foreign countries here, the matter ought to be 1864 investigated by the Government. There are a number of important people aptly described by Low in a recent cartoon as "The Shiver Sisters," including the editor of the" Times," Lord Lothian, and the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), who are anxious at all times to do everything they can to persuade this country to yield to the wishes of the German Government. It is a great pity that we should have what used to be considered the leading organ in this country, the "Times," becoming an organ on behalf of a foreign government. That is the present position of that paper. I should also like to quote a remark made by Lady Londonderry, who is one of the keenest supporters of the Nazis in this country. In an article in a paper called the "Sunday Sun," she said:Hitler is a practical man but unused to diplomatic methods,which is a very nice way of apologising for the methods of a foreign dictator. I should like the Government, in replying to the Debate, to deal with this question of Nazi propaganda. All hon. Members, I think, will agree that it is undesirable to have a foreign government organising propaganda in this country, in this way, for their own ends.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think the Opposition to-day have some reason to complain. The fact that we had asked for this day to be taken for a Debate on international affairs was first complained of in the Press. The first real sign of objection I saw was in the "Sunday Times" and similar papers, but, in view of the Prime Minister's statement in opening the Debate to-day, it seems to me that those newspaper statements were duly inspired, and that the Government were anxious if possible to avoid a Debate of the kind we have been having. I see the hon. and gallant Member for Thanet (Captain Balfour) in his place. He delivered himself last night of a paid effusion in a well-known evening paper, in a manner which, I might say to him, is neither good humour nor good taste, again suggesting, not only to the House but to the world, that Debates of this kind, indeed all Parliamentary Debates, had better not be held, and suggesting that the kind of thing the Opposition say about international affairs is always what has been said before. The objection that all hon. Mem- 1865 bers of the House know what is coming ought surely to be directed by the hon. and gallant Member to Members like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who again and again stood up in this House and pleaded for a cause in which he believed, the cause of rearmament, and only after very dilatory treatment of the subject, according to the right hon. Member for Epping, was his policy adopted by the Government. If any hon. or right hon. Member of this House has any contribution to make on national policy which he believes to be right, then, because it is not accepted by the Government at first, that is no reason why he should not reiterate it.
§ Captain Harold Balfour
Since I am to be admonished by the right hon. Gentleman, what is his complaint? Is it that I forecast what he might say to-night, and so embarrassed him, or does he object to political criticism? If so, is it because it is political criticism in advance, or does he object to all political criticism?
§ Mr. Alexander
I think I have indicated why I object. I object to the tone of the article and to the box at the top of the article, which says:This innovation is only possible because by now every private Member knows what each speaker will say.The article was not in good taste, and it is wrong in principle, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, with his views on rearmament, or similar people should be entitled to press their point of view until they influence the Government. May I proceed to my next point? I thought there was a feeling in the House this afternoon that the opening statement of the Leader of the Opposition was comprehensive, restrained and obviously couched in language which, as far as it could be framed, would not be unhelpful, but the Prime Minister at the outset of his speech did his very best, it seemed to me, to upset that spirit entirely and used terms which were not only unfair to the Opposition, in regard to such serious things as a foreign crisis like that which we are facing to-day, but insulting. The words he actually used were that if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—and, I take it, his colleagues—were not responsible for 1866 the safety of the crockery, at least the Government were.
The suggestion was that we were raising the question of foreign affairs to-day in a spirit of complete irresponsibility. That was very unfair and very insulting, and on that point let me say this to the Prime Minister: Here we are two or three days before Christmas. We shall not be called together again until 1st February, but it may well be—I pray God that it may not be so—that events may happen in the Far East which will call for some particular action and maybe actual operations. I hope that it may not be so, and yet we are criticised just before breaking up, for asking for a Debate on the situation and the policy which has led to it or the policy which should be adopted to deal with it. That is entirely a wrong conception of what is due to a democratic electorate of this country who send their representatives to this House to speak for them.
The second complaint that I have against the Prime Minister, and it may also be said to apply to the leader in the "Times" this morning, is the repetition of a foul misrepresentation that the policy of the Labour party in these matters is always such as to lead to war. I have put it in rather more mild terms than the Prime Minister put it this afternoon. I took it down that there had come no constructive suggestion from the right hon. Leader of the Opposition, unless it was that we should go to war with any other country. I say again, because that also is repeated in the "Times" leader this morning, that it is exceedingly unjust to the Leader of the Opposition. If the policy of Labour in this country had been at any time in the direction of pressing for war or for war-mongering, or in the opposite direction to continuing to work for constructive peace, members of the party opposite might have had something to say about it. In fact, we have come to the present position in world affairs to-day, with all its imminent dangers, because of the continued rejection by Conservative and Coalition Governments since the War of Labour advice. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I expected many hon. Members would not agree with that statement. Some of them have not been associated with the elections the whole time, as I have been. I remember the election of 1918, when we 1867 fought against the suggestion that we must have a mandate to squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked. From that moment onwards Labour continued to warn this country that, if it pursued a policy of repression against our defeated enemies of the late War, it was bound to lead eventually to difficulties.
Since the inauguration of the League of Nations, at all stages Labour has stood for the principles of the Covenant, for collective security and for a reduction, wherever we could help to secure a reduction, in armaments and the dangers of war. To say that, because we ask the country to adhere to the policy of collective security in the Covenant, and to back the Covenant to the very last word, we are thus asking for war, is not only unfair to us, but it is an indication on behalf of every supporter of the Government who takes that line that they were false to their own election pledges in 1931. I have been interested to-night to listen to the remarks of the Prime Minister with regard to the present position of the League. I cannot help but feel that, if that is the spirit in which the Government are conducting matters of international difficulty in League circles, there is no wonder that things become worse and worse. I hope that that policy may stop. He seems to think that the League of Nations can never deal with real conciliation or restraint of the aggressor in any dispute between major nations. That is really the interpretation of the speech which he made to-night.
§ Mr. Alexander
It makes a difference, if the Prime Minister can say to me how it should be constituted. He was a Member of the Government which appealed to the electorate in October, 1935. What did they say? In the General Election Manifesto of the National Government in that month it was said that their attitude to the League was dictated by the conviction that collective action alone could save us from a return to the old system which resulted in the Great War. Lord 1868 Baldwin, who was Prime Minister at the time, pledged himself to strive always to bring the nations into agreement for an all-round reduction of armaments in a world where collective security had been made a sure protection against aggression. In the same election manifesto it was stated that the Covenant of the League was the keystone of the policy. The Prime Minister says, "Yes, but it all depends how the League is constituted." What is the change? In October, 1935, Italy was a member of the League. Germany and Japan were not members. Italy was already having sanctions operated against her by this Government and other Governments at the time that declaration was made. The Prime Minister has said from that Box to-night that it is no great help to the League to have Italy in; that the League have lost nothing by Italy going out. What is the difference in the strength of the League since the Prime Minister made his declaration at the election? What is the difference in the constitution? I want to know, because I am entitled to say that the charge that the Opposition is asking for war and striving for war, because we say that we support the League, is untrue, and the sooner it is withdrawn the better.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is a curious thing that when we ask the Government to support the League we are always met with the answer that that means war, and wherever it is commented upon in the country by hon. Members supporting the Government they always say that the Labour party in doing so wants war. We have a right to resent this, and to say that it is a foul misrepresentation of the purposes and policy of the Labour party. The sooner this is known in the House and in the country the sooner we shall get real unity behind a national policy working for constructive peace. It was very necessary to say this because in regard to the matter which is concerning us so much at the present time, the situation in the Far East, we do not feel that the Government have adequately used the machinery of collective security to meet the situation. As a result of Japanese aggression in China the Chinese appealed to the League about 13th September, invoking Articles 10, 11 and 17. It is true it was considered and referred to a sub-committee, and I am glad to 1869 know that a condemnatory resolution was finally passed by the committee and by the Assembly, but the real position is that there is no attempt apparently on the part of the League to put the further machinery of the. League into operation in assistance to the victim or in restraint of the aggressor.
That is the case we put against the Government, and I wish they could see that the more opportunities of vindicating not only the honour but the power of the League are allowed to slip, the weaker grows the position of the peace-loving nations and the stronger becomes the mood of the dictator nations. It is necessary to give a brief history of the matter if you are to convince the Government. I do not mean to go over all the details of the first move of Japan into Manchuria and the setting up subsequently in Manchukuo of a puppet State. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley on the 27th February, 1933, after the Government came back and waited for the report of the Lytton Commission, asked them as a Government to put into operation the full powers of the League to restrain an aggressor and vindicate the Covenant. What was the answer that was given? The Foreign Secretary, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:I am myself enough of a pacifist to take this view, that however we handle this matter I do not intend my own country to get into trouble about it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1933; col. 58, Vol. 275.]That apparently appears to be cheered from the Ministerial benches. That is the whole gravamen of our charge against the Cabinet. There are people all over the world today who distrust the word of the British Government in these matters because of that statement made in 1933. It has been put to me in the United States and on the Continent over and over again; how can we be expected to initiate co-operation in regard to the support of the Covenant if that is the measure of the support of the British people to the principles of the Covenant? Of course I have always said to these people that I do not believe the statement of the Foreign Secretary really represents the feeling of the British people towards the principles of the Covenant. It is a great pity that the Government are not vindicating to-day more strongly and more actively the principles of the Covenant.
1870 In regard to the Japanese position, it is necessary to bring before the House a little of more recent history. There was Manchuria, the Lytton Commission—not acted upon. When the Japanese discovered that the boundaries of Manchuria were not sufficiently wide incidents were created. The boundaries were widened. Then there was the move into Jehol and then into Chahar and then Hopei, and the setting up of the first real beginnings of the Chinese edition of puppet government. You get autonomous or semi-autonomous councils. Then you get the de-militarisation of the zone, and a withdrawal of the Chinese. The thing that has amazed me more than anything else during the last two or three years has been the almost complete patience of the Chinese in the face of these acts of aggression. You get an autonomous state, then a de-militarised zone, and that de-militarisation so used by the Japanese as to set up smuggling in defeat of the Customs revenue; the import and propagation of an increase in the drug traffic amongst the people and the establishment and promotion of an increasing number of brothels in that area.
When there is resentment on the part of the Chinese you get more incidents created until you come to the last situation which has arisen this year. You see arising the technique referred to by my hon. Friends. Japan seems to cast a fly to see what fish are rising. In the course of their operations you get the incident of the Russian gunboat which was sunk. No action was taken, and they go a further step forward. You have the attack on the British Ambassador's car. You make a strong verbal protest, and get a settlement which many people do not think to be adequate. Then there is another move forward. You get attacks in the Shanghai area on military and civilians. Nothing effective is done. They make another step forward, and now you have this last attack on the Yangtse, not only with the loss of life of men and ships of the United States but upon four British gunboats, the "Ladybird," the "Bee," the "Scarab" and the "Cricket." Although the Government have sent a strong Note there is every indication this week that the Japanese do not think anything is going to happen, and they are therefore now completing their operations by entering into Southern China. I understand that 6,000 men have been landed at Bias Bay; you have already had 1871 the bombing of the outskirts of Canton. Very soon, apparently, the whole of Hong Kong, an area of British territory, will be surrounded on the mainland by Japanese occupation. Within a very short time, apparently, there will be an almost regular line stretching from the North to the South, from Manchuria to Peiping, Nanking, Shanghai, right down to Kwantung, and the Japanese will have control over the whole of the maritime provinces of China and over the whole of the customs, unless something is done about it, and injury to British interests, as well as to the Chinese people, will be caused on the lines suggested by the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Liberal Opposition.
In these circunmstances, I think we are entitled to-day to ask what the Government are going to do about it. I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Government, made a protest to Tokyo with regard to the incidents affecting British shipping. While I would never be a party at any time to a policy which was not propertly mindful of British interests—I think we all want to have proper regard for British interests—that is not the first approach to the Chinese problem, neglect of which in the past has led to injury to British interests and British lives. I ask the Government what they intend to do about this? Will they not see that at this stage of Japanese development in China there comes a parting of the ways? Either the Government are going to allow the League to be completely subjugated, never to be used again in the case of large and major disputes, or they are going to use the Covenant of the League now in order to prevent much larger dangers that will arise to world peace if Japan is not checked in her aggression.
Japan, having occupied these territories, will no doubt proceed gradually to enrol and mobilise Chinese soldiers in the Japanese army. In a few years, if the position is allowed to go unchecked, we shall not be dealing merely with the present Japanese forces, because we shall have allowed Japan, with her present psychology and her military control, to organise China against the interests of world peace. The Japanese will do that ruthlessly, as they have done it in Manchuria, where, when there has been any attempt at mutiny on the part of the 1872 Manchurians enrolled in the Japanese army, the Japanese have in many cases slaughtered whole families of the men concerned, who were held behind the lines as hostages. I have no doubt that that ruthless policy will be pursued in the occupied territory of China, if it is allowed to go unchallenged, and that instead of having to deal with the gravity of the present situation, we shall be faced with a much graver and wider threat to world peace, and indeed to the whole British Commonwealth as a consequence. I beg the Government to consider the position from that point of view. It may be that the Foreign Secretary will ask, as he is entitled to ask, "How do you propose that we should act?" We have never hesitated to give our views in that respect.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
The London Naval Treaty, for instance. It is so very helpful now.
§ Mr. Alexander
If the Government will allow time, we can debate the London Naval Treaty in relation to collective security. As the hon. and gallant Baronet knows, if he speaks honestly about this matter, instead of the country being in a stronger position by waiting for the rearmament programme to finish, it will be in a weaker position than it would have been if the Government had been willing to back up collective security in 1935. If they had done that, we should be stronger relatively than we are now.
§ Sir R. Keyes
What does the right hon. Gentleman suggest should be done in the Far East now? Collective security would simply mean the collection in the Far East of the British Fleet, depleted by the London Naval Treaty.
§ Mr. Alexander
The hon. and gallant Baronet interrupted me before I had finished stating my case. If he will address the House on that subject at some time, I will answer him. As regards the London Naval Treaty, I proved in the House when I submitted it, and I have proved it outside the House, that on relative strength, as we approved it in 1930, we left the National Government with a greater security, relatively, in 1930 than there was in 1913. I will argue that at any time in terms of categories, of battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, large or small, or destroyers. We left the country stronger than it was in 1913. The hon. 1873 and gallant Baronet simply interrupted, but he did not make a case. He will have plenty of opportunities of doing so when the Naval Estimates are discussed, and I shall be glad to deal with his case category by category.
I come to the question of what action should be taken. It is true that there is a great deal of talk about the value that there would be in any possible co-operation between this country and the United States of America, but I agree with those who have said that it it not the best way to obtain the full support of the people of the United States of America to ask them to intervene in support of purely British or purely American interests. I think the best way to appeal even to the American nation is to appeal to it on the wide basis of collective security. [Interruption.] That may sound funny to hon. Members, but if they will read the speech made by the President of the United States at Chicago, on 5th October, or read the statement by Mr. Stimson which was quoted by the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter), they will see that there is a profound conviction on the part of the two opposite sides politically in the United States in favour of restoring the reign of law in international affairs in place of force. From that point of view, the strongest basis on which to approach the people of the United States is through the League of Nations.
We are not the only people who have interests in China; other people have interests there. This can be made the basis of a general appeal, through the League of Nations, for collective action. The Government have been lacking in that they have not given a proper lead on the occasion of these appeals to the League of Nations. The Foreign Secretary may disagree with that, but that is my view as to what has happened in the past. At this time, we are at the parting of the ways, when China may be subjugated and made the basis for further operations against the peace of the world. The Government now have an opportunity of saving the whole sphere of operations of the League. They ought to use the League, and they ought to see that the victim of Japanese aggression is assisted. I think, too, that they ought to see that China is able to get arms with which to defend herself. I hope that all the sympathetic help that can be given will be given 1874 by the Government in that respect, and that instead of placing an embargo on both sides, as they have done in the past, or of allowing both sides to continue to have it, I hope that they will give all the sympathetic help that can be given to China.
Unfortunately, I am bound to say, Japan is still drawing supplies of arms from this country. An answer was given to one of my hon. Friends to-day by the President of the Board of Trade to say that within the last three months, that is to say considerably later than the beginning of the last phase of the operations in China, licences had been issued for the export of arms to Japan from this country, and when a supplementary question was put to the right hon. Gentleman, he just pointed out that there was no embargo against the export of arms to Japan. When I consider the indignation in the country and the great mass meeting at the Albert Hall—[Laughter.] I observe with great interest that reception by hon. Members of a reference to a great meeting which was called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of your State Church, a Church which probably has more Members on the other side of the House than on this side, and to which many Members on this side have not the honour to belong. Is that the basis of the sneers of hon. Members opposite?
This is about China, from which you have been content in the past to collect your money, while sending your missionaries there to preach Jesus Christ to the people. Yet the Chinese have been subjected to the most horrible atrocities during this Japanese invasion and if the attitude of the supporters of the Government on this question is as indicated by hon. Members opposite then we shall know exactly what to say to our friends in the country about it. I would much rather that that was not the case. I would prefer to be able to say that the Government would act from now onwards, in giving real help to China by seeing that China gets arms and that Japan does not get any.
With regard to the question of preventing supplies to Japan, the hon. Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) said that he had no doubt—and I am sure he knows as an economist of experience—that the principal sources of supply to 1875 Japan were the United States and the British Commonwealth. I also have looked up figures with regard to raw materials and I agree with the hon. Member. I feel that the Government will not be doing all that they can do to safeguard the Covenant of the League if they do not propose to the League the actual operation of sanctions to prevent these materials from getting to Japan to help her in making this aggressive war upon China. If there is to be actual trouble about that, then I do not want to run away from the issue. If attacks are made upon you, because you exercise economic sanctions and if you have done that in agreement with the rest of the Members of the League, then you must stand together and not give up those economic sanctions and defend yourselves against attack.
That is my view of what you ought to do. If that is what the Prime Minister calls "the Labour party asking for war," then he is entitled to use it only on that basis. If we are to have sanctions, and if there is opposition to those sanctions which leads to some conflict, I am sure that if you have conflict in that way you will move much more quickly to a basis of ultimate world peace than if you let the position drift as it is drifting now. If it is allowed to drift we shall find perhaps within a very short time that our men are being asked to enrol in this country to fight, not for the general principle of world peace, but in some particular theatre of war here or there for the sole purpose of defending some local British interest. There will be a very different response from the people of this country to any such appeal, from the real nationwide support which you would get in favour of work for world peace. That is the case which we put to the Government with regard to Japan.
There are one or two questions which I hope the Foreign Secretary will answer before the close of the Debate. If that is not the view which the Government take, if they think that we ought not to act in this collective style, will the Foreign Secretary say what the Government's action would be if, within the next few weeks, Hong Kong is attacked? What will the attitude of the British Government be, if it is not a question of an attack caused by collective action but if there is an attack in the course of Japanese 1876 policy directed against British interests? I shall be interested to hear the answer to that question. There are one or two other points on which we wish to ask for an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman. Will he explain to us, if he can, what is the matter with the Admiralty instructions concerning shipping to Barcelona and Valencia? I have no doubt that the Foreign Secretary keeps in touch with these matters—at least he ought to do so. I have here two announcements issued by the Admiralty. The first is dated 16th December, which is headed:Mining intensified off Spain.It says:Mining in Spanish waters has been intensified and British vessels are warned that they enter Spanish territorial waters at considerable risk. Reports have been received that moored mines may exist to seaward, a distance of 10 miles.Then on 20th December the Admiralty issued the following statement:Some misapprehension appears to have arisen respecting a notice to mariners issued on 16th December.It explains further that it really had reference to a previous announcement. Then it says:The only recent information which has been received that mining in Spanish waters would be intensified is that which formed the subject of a special warning issued by the Spanish insurgent authorities on 7th November, namely, that mining in the approaches to the Spanish Government ports between Cape San Antonio and Cape Tortosa would be intensified.Therefore, the first warning from the Admiralty on 16th December practically said that mining had been intensified and the announcement on 20th December said it had not been intensified but that the Spanish insurgents had threatened that it might be. We are getting complaints and I dare say the Foreign Office have had complaints that in consequence of these misleading announcements, which tend to interfere with the free passage of ships under the British flag to these ports, you are not only restricting traffic but are unnecessarily putting up insurance freights for the ships which make the passage. We have had complaints about that sort of handicap being placed on assistance being given to the people who are living behind these Mediterranean ports and I hope the Foreign Secretary will be able to tell us the exact position.
1877 May we also ask about a subject on which the Prime Minister did not say very much, namely, the statement issued in respect of the visit of the French Premier and the French Foreign Secretary last month? A paragraph in the communique said:We are happy to note the common interest of the two Governments in the maintenance of peaceful conditions in those parts of Europe.That was in reference to Central and Eastern Europe. Are we to hear anything more about the kind of understanding which was come to with the French representatives, or as to what is the agreed policy in relation to Central and Eastern Europe? There is no doubt about the grave interest displayed all over Europe in Lord Halifax's visit to Berlin and in view of that interest and the great nervousness of people in countries like Czechoslovakia and Rumania and elsewhere, it seems to me that if a firm policy is now being undertaken, in conjunction with France, with regard to the settlement of Eastern Europe, it would be far better to tell the world what it is. It would reassure those countries to which the right hon Member for Epping referred this evening, which, he said, were not quite sure whether they were likely to come to the support of the collective system through the League or were likely to go in the direction of the policies which are adopted by the totalitarian States. It would be of great value if we could know what policy has been adopted in that direction. If any commitments have been made it should not be allowed to go on year after year until we know what the commitments are. We should not be in the position of having blank commitments such as we had to deal with in 1914.
We make no apology for raising this matter. Strongly as we disagree with the Government—and obviously we do—on many points of policy, we say that if they could at this time show themselves to be really pursuing a true League policy, moving towards world peace, avoiding the injustices to the Government of Spain, seeing that the Chinese people get a fair crack of the whip in order to be able to defend themselves and working to re-establish the League on the basis of world peace, then we would not ask for Debates and criticise them on their foreign outlook. Until they can show 1878 us that there is to be a move towards the security of the kind we feel is to be got in that direction, they must not complain if we ask from time to time to be able to state to the House what our policy is. I hope during the Christmas time that is coming there will be a better spirit in the world. I should like to see a change in the outlook of Japan, but I do not think that that is likely to be unless the peace-loving nations of the world will really act to restrain them.
§ Sir R. Keyes
What collective action does the right hon. Gentleman suggest should be taken in the Far East in order to enforce sanctions?
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will leave me to develop that point as the discussion proceeds. Two speakers in the course of this Debate were good enough to mention that one of the difficulties of a discussion such as this is that, while Members of the Opposition and, indeed, private Members in all parts of the House, can put their questions freely, the Minister who has to reply is in the position of the greatest embarrassment if he is to reply with the same freedom. I do not think it will be a surprise to the House if I say that in the present state of international affairs I cannot indulge in that appalling frankness which not very long ago I ventured to employ. To-night I have to be very circumspect in what I say, and although I will deal as fully as I can with the questions that have been put to me, I know that the House will make me some allowance.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Socialist party were charged from time to time from these benches with advocating a policy which was likely to lead to war when they championed the League and the Covenant. I do not think that that is the charge which is made against them. The charge, which has several times been made, is that in their policy towards the Spanish conflict they are pursuing a line which means intervention and, therefore, means war. That is a case which can very well be argued.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
Does not the right hon. Gentleman remember that after 1879 we had supported the line taken by the right hon. Gentleman, who is now Home Secretary, at Geneva in the Abyssinian crisis, in September, 1935, we were at the subsequent General Election, because we did take the same line, accused of desiring to land this country into war?
§ Mr. Eden
We have just had quotations from the right hon. Gentleman showing that that is the policy we were advocating. Even allowing full generosity for the inconsistencies of electioneering, I do not think that we would have gone so far as to say, "Because you are arguing as we are arguing you want war." We have had accusations hurled against us that the policy which we are pursuing, or, as hon. Gentlemen opposite prefer to put it, our lack of policy, is going to bring us into war. I do not think that it really lies with hon. Gentlemen to be supersensitive in these matters, because we have at least as much cause for complaint as they, and perhaps we can come to a treaty that each will not accuse the other of wishing to involve this country in war.
The right hon. Gentleman was, I thought, unfair to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about responsibility and irresponsibility. What my right hon. Friend meant, and what is unhappily and obviously true, is that there is for Government spokesmen on such an occasion as this a different rule of conduct from what there must be for those who have not the same responsibility. Only the other day the Leader of the Opposition said that he was a private Member, and it is true that there is not the same responsibility on a private Member as there is on a Member of the Government. The point which my right hon. Friend made perfectly fairly was that Government spokesmen, if called upon at frequent intervals to make statements on foreign policy, were placed in a difficult position in world conditions such as there are now. I have listened carefully to nearly all this Debate, and I have come to much the same conclusion as that to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) came earlier, and that is that there is really a very large measure of agreement on objectives. I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that our objectives are different. I do not think they are. I think that our objectives are exactly the same, but the differ- 1880 ence starts when we begin discussing how we are to seek to realise them.
Before I go into that, I would like to say one or two words in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), who asked questions about the Van Zeeland mission. I should be sorry if the right hon. Gentleman gleaned the impression that the Government were disinterested in that mission. That is not true at all. We, together with the French Government, asked M. Van Zeeland to undertake this work, and we attach great importance to it. The difficulty is that we have not yet received his conclusions and we do not know what his advice will be, but it is certainly true—and I can give this assurance—that His Majesty's Government will do their utmost to see that practical results follow from the work which M. Van Zeeland is now doing. I heard a discussion earlier this evening whether the economic question or the political question comes first, and whether we should try first to seek an economic solution, or whether we should first seek a political solution. For myself, I do not believe that could be a very important discussion, because I believe those two things are closely interdependent, that you will not get a permanent political solution unless you get an economic solution, and that you cannot get an economic one unless you can make great progress in the political sphere.
Before I come to the main argument of the Debate, will the House let me say a word on the subject of one aspect only of the Colonial question? I have seen it suggested in certain quarters that the Government of this country has some intention of trying to reach a settlement with Germany in the colonial field on the basis of a deal at the expense of other colonial Powers. I wish to take this opportunity to state publicly and categorically that nothing could be further from the intention of His Majesty's Government than to advance or to countenance any such proposal. I trust that no more will be heard of these suggestions, which are completely unfounded and very naturally resented in the countries concerned. In particular, it has been suggested that we are thinking of reviving certain pre-war negotiations in regard to Portuguese territories. In view of that, I 1881 want to make it quite clear that, so far as we are concerned, those pre-war proposals are dead, and we have not the least intention of endeavouring to revive them. Perhaps while I am saying that, I may add that, just as we are not seeking a solution of the Colonial problem at the expense of other Powers, so we are not seeking a solution of European difficulties at the expense of other Powers in Europe either. Such a policy could never be accepted for one instant by this House.
Now I come to the main charge which has been brought against us in this Debate both by the right hon. Member who has just spoken and the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. The charge is really this—that the Government have not cared about the rule of law, but only cared about selfish British interests, and as a consequence have allowed international authority to lapse. That, I understand, is the charge. I do not accept that charge, still less do I accept the statement which was imputed to us by, I think, the Leader of the Opposition that we only cared for selfish national interests So far as I know, nobody on this side of the House has ever said anything of the kind, and, indeed, I am going to call in evidence—I will ask hon. Gentlemen to attend to this argument, because I think it is important—the events of the last few years. Personally I hold strongly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said earlier this afternoon, that the rule of law and its maintenance are strong British interests. For what other reason except support of the rule of law do hon. Members opposite suppose that we took action—and the leading action—in the Abyssinian affair? Hon. Members opposite do not pretend that we were animated in that action by Imperial interests, or because we wanted to take some portion of Abyssinia, or that we had any particular interest in Abyssinia as Abyssinia at all. I know what was in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. He says, "That is all right—but the policy failed." I admit that the policy failed, but hon. Members opposite cannot accuse His Majesty's Government of caring only for Imperial interests unless they can show that the policy failed because while other countries wanted to do more, we were holding them back. If they can show 1882 that, their argument will be perfectly sound and fair; but they know quite well that the very reverse was the actual position. The hon. Member shakes his head at me. Does he think M. Laval was longing to put on more sanctions and that we stopped him?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The French had a general election in the month of April, 1935, in which they returned a Government pledged to the continuance of sanctions. Our Government proposed the taking-off of sanctions without consulting with the new French Government.
§ Mr. Eden
That was an action by two statesmen from two countries. My argument, which is a perfectly fair one, is that in that Abyssinian question it could not possibly be pretended by anybody that other countries were longing to do things which we would not do, and, therefore, it is not true to say that we, in particular, prevented international action being effective. I am going to take other examples. Take the Manchurian case. Complaint is made that in 1931 the rule of law was not upheld in that case, but what, is it suggested, ought to have been done then to uphold the rule of law? Is it suggested that sanctions ought to have been imposed? At that time nobody at Geneva, not one nation, made any such suggestion. As a matter of fact, the only action which was taken was action taken on our initiative, which resulted in the withdrawal of Japan from the League.
So I come to the present-day situation in the Far East. I am really not trying to make debating points, but to discover what it is we are supposed to be failing to do which is going to have this remarkable result for the world. We were told that in the Far East to-day we ought to be upholding the rule of law. Both the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken asked what we were doing to uphold the 1883 rule of law. Here I want to say something frankly in the same terms as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). If hon. Members opposite are advocating sanctions by the League—they have not said so, but I am supposing that is what they meant—if they think the League ought to impose sanctions in the present dispute in the Far East, I would remind them that there are two possible forms of sanctions—the ineffective, which are not worth putting on, and the effective, which means the risk, if not the certainty, of war. I say deliberately that nobody could contemplate any action of that kind in the Far East unless they are convinced that they have overwhelming force to back their policy.
Do right hon. Gentlemen opposite really think that the League of Nations to-day, with only two great naval Powers in it, ourselves and France, have got that overwhelming force? It must be perfectly clear to everyone that that overwhelming force does not exist. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Member allow me to develop my argument? Every nation at Geneva from the beginning of this dispute knows perfectly well that the very thought of action of any kind in the Far East must depend on the co-operation of other nations besides those who are actually members of the League at this time. I suggest that neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has given us any indication of the action they would have us take.
§ Mr. Alexander
I think I made my position quite clear—that I was in favour of preventing supplies going to Japan. I am going to say that if that involved an attack upon us—because we were withholding supplies from Japan—that we most certainly must stand up to it. I do not agree, on the strategic case, from a naval point of view at any rate, that that is impossible in the present circumstances. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) does not agree. I do not want to take up the time of the right hon. Gentleman, but I should be prepared to argue this with him at any time.
§ Mr. Eden
I have sought to put to the House the situation as I believe it to be. I must maintain that when it comes to 1884 actual definite statements, hon. Gentlemen opposite will not tell us what it is they would do. You must follow these things right through to the end. If a Government or a collection of Governments have made a mistake, is that a reason for advocating that they should repeat it?
§ Mr. Alexander
If that is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman towards our suggestion, we are entitled to ask what he means by the sternness of his note to Japan?
§ Mr. Eden
I am coming to our own policy in due course. Hon. Gentlemen are wrong when they say that the difficulties of the League are due to the fact that nations who have observed international law, like ourselves and the French and a number of others, have been unable to enforce it. I believe the much simpler reason to be that the League depends upon the acceptance by the general body of the great nations of the world, of the rule of law in some form, and that when you have, as you have to-day, Japan who clearly, by her action, does not accept that rule of law, and when you have Germany who, at any rate, will not join in the League to co-operate in enforcing that rule of law, and when you have the United States, who, though sympathetic to the rule of law, are not prepared to undertake commitments, all those factors must clearly have their effect upon the authority of the League. Those factors, and the fact that police work has failed, have resulted in the present weakness, but those are not reasons for abandoning the League.
I agree with every syllable which was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping on the subject of the League. I shall not weary hon. Members by repeating the case which he so very well made earlier to-day. I am convinced that there will be no assurance of lasting peace in the world until international order is generally accepted by the nations, and until some limitation of armaments forms part of that settlement. Meanwhile, we have to live in this period of acute unsettlement. The hon. Member for Kingswinford was right to remind us, as he did in a supplementary question the other day, that the League has no ideology but the ideology of peace, and that if we can maintain that principle and 1885 give it what support we can, we shall be doing what is possible to contribute to the solution of this world problem.
I do not want to debate at length this Spanish affair again to-night, because we have done that so often before. There is only one proposition on which I wish to present observations to the House. Hon. Gentlemen opposite maintain that the non-intervention policy has operated harshly on the Government forces in Spain. Frankly, hon. Gentlemen are such ardent partisans themselves that I do not believe they are able to judge of other people's impartiality. I shall give only one instance, because I do not wish to raise all this controversy to-night. The right hon. Gentleman complained to-day about the Admiralty, and particularly of their attitude at Bilbao. If he wished to tell the whole story he might also have recalled to the House that the only ships that went into the port of Bilbao during that prolonged siege were British ships—not French ships and not Russian ships, but only British merchant ships. Perhaps it would have given a fairer impression if he had recalled that fact. I am sure that the country as a whole endorses the non-intervention policy simply because it knows that it was conceived in the interests of European peace.
I have been convinced from the first that no one who intervened in this strife in Spain was going to benefit by that intervention. I see no reason to alter that opinion in any way, and if other nations insist upon burning their fingers in the Spanish furnace, that is no reason why we should do so. In that connection I would draw attention to a remarkable speech made in Paris lately by a statesman of international repute, well known to hon. Members opposite, M. Politis. He was vice-president of the Disarmament Conference and he said:There are many reasons to hope that there will be no war.First and foremost he draws attention to the close co-operation between Britain and France and says that that is a sure guarantee for European peace. Then he goes on:We have had proof of it during the last 18 months. Over the Spanish issue and over the acts of piracy in the Mediterranean we have on several occasions just avoided war. If we have escaped it we owe that to the patience and close collaboration of the British and French Governments.1886 If hon. Gentlemen will not believe it of us, perhaps they will accept it from that other partner in the combination.
Now I will come back to what is clearly our chief preoccupation at this juncture, and that is the situation in the Far East. We are faced with manifold problems of great complexity and gravity. The very gravity of them makes it difficult for me to speak as freely as I would like to-night. We have in the Far East, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, great interests which are certainly not incompatible with those of other nations there, and which we shall do our utmost to defend. In our view the present conflict is inevitably going to bring great impoverishment to the Far East and to other nations there, whatever their immediate military gains may be. That is the inevitable result of this recourse to arms. The procedure that was taking place before was already having results and would have produced a greater measure of prosperity to everybody in the Far East, including Japan.
In the present conditions there are three principles which, I think, must guide us in the Far East: the first, that we must do all that we honourably can to secure the restoration of peace; the second, that we must do our full share, with others, in the fulfilment of our international obligations; and the third, that we must protect our own interests and, of course, British territory. There is a very important aspect of this Far Eastern situation which is, perhaps, the only one today that one can view with satisfaction. It is the fact that we are constantly and daily in close consultation with the Government of the United States. Over and over again we have taken either parallel or similar action, and that in itself is an indication of the closeness of such collaboration. I cannot say more on that subject to-night, but I would say this. It would be wrong, with the world as it is to-day, if we were to deny our own authority or belittle the firmness and the significance of our friendships. This country is not without friends in the world to-day. Reference has been made to France and to the United States. It would be equally easy to make reference to that large group of countries, the Balkan Entente and the Little Entente, stretching from Turkey right through to Czechoslovakia, with each member of which we have close and intimate relations of friendship.
1887 To prove that it is only necessary to draw attention to the speeches of Turkish Ministers or to the very remarkable declaration of the Rumanian Prime Minister the other day that the first item on her list of objectives was a broader development of her relations with Great Britain. That is true, and those friendships—I could mention many more—are elements making for stability. Most important of all are the relations of the British Commonwealth of Nations with the United States. There is not, and there cannot be, any question of treaty or of entanglement, but there is a true community of outlook, and it is that which can prove an invaluable asset in the maintenance of peace, which is the first and greatest desire of the people of the British Commonwealth and the people of the United States alike. Therefore, my conclusion is that, although the difficulties are great, there is no cause for defeatism. This nation has weathered worse storms. W hear much of our armaments in these days. No doubt that is very right and proper, but there is something more important than armaments, and that is the spirit of the people behind the armaments, and in that respect no one should make the mistake of thinking that the spirit or the tenacity of the people of this country has in any way changed in recent years.
There is the policy that we must pursue, to be patient yet to be firm, to be conciliatory without being defeatist, and, above all, to continue to rearm because, paradoxical as it may sound, only in that way shall we get an arms agreement. That I believe to be the policy that the country would endorse, and it is that policy that we must continue to pursue.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.