§ Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I was asking the Government for a specific undertaking that Parliament shall be called together before the Government embark on any new policy which would render imminent the granting of belligerent rights to General Franco. The Government have put forward their proposals to the Non-Intervention Committee in which they make the granting of belligerent rights dependent upon the substantial withdrawal of foreign nationals. The granting of belligerent rights should not be made without a substantial withdrawal of foreign nationals and it is only right that the House should be called together to consider the dangerous situation which would, we believe, be created by this recognition of aggression. I would ask the Government whether the time has not arrived when the whole of this matter should be dealt with authoritatively by the League. It is not realised the extent to which everything in the way of international law, everything in the way of treaties and covenants, has now gone by the board. If the Non-Intervention Agreement breaks down, there is no cloak for open aggression. This civil war, which gets worse and worse every week, has been going on for more than a year, and it is time that the other States of Europe and, indeed, of the world should realise that action must be taken if very great evils are not to result. I am afraid that if this Spanish ulcer continues very much longer it may destroy the peace of the world. The device of non-interven- 3538 tion has definitely broke down, and the matter should go before the League where it can be dealt with more fully and with greater hope of peace.
With regard to the situation in the Far East, one gathers from the papers to-day that the situation is far worse than when it was last reported to us in this House. There has been serious bombing of Tientsin, and it looks like breaking out into war. We have to realise that this trouble began from an incident for which, I believe, the Japanese troops—I do not say the Government—were wholly responsible. Japanese troops on the Peking-Hankow railway were in a place where they had no right to be under the Boxer Treaty. The Chinese Government have all the time gone to the very limits in the endeavour to bring about a solution. They have taken a perfectly correct attitude, and are willing to submit to any means of bringing about peace, but every effort they have made has been met by more aggression. One must frankly recognise that this is a continuation of a process which began six years ago. It is only another attack on the integrity of China.
What action do the Government propose to take? If these things are allowed to continue without anything being done, it means the abrogation of all treaties and of the Covenant itself. I should like to ask whether the Nine-Power Treaty is still held to be valid. It secures the integrity of China, and the United States of America, as well as other League Powers, are parties to it. Treaties, pacts and covenants are useless if in any crisis they are ignored. Here, again, it is time for the League to take notice of what is occurring in the Far East. I belive that the tendency now is for aggressive States to bank on the unreadiness of the rest of the world to take any action whatever. I think that these adventures are often pressed by particular sections, and that in the case of Japanese aggression there are elements in the Government who realise the dangers, but they are pressed on by the military party, the military men on the spot. The fact that these things pass without any effective protest encourages and gives power to the more reckless elements in all those States, and unless there is a greater feeling of respect for international law, and unless there is a feeling that the world will not sit by and see 3539 innocent States suffering from aggression, it will be a continued incitement to these gambling and adventurous elements, and will weaken the position of all those elements, whether in Japan, Italy, Germany or other States, who are against this kind of aggression. I ask, therefore, whether we may have a statement from the Foreign Secretary about non-intervention, the position in China, and with regard to this House being called in the event of any change in policy.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby
I would like to reply to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I could not help being rather interested in that part of his speech where he referred to the moral approval which he alleged the Government were giving to the rebels in Spain—
§ Mr. Attlee
I actually said that the grant of belligerent rights would be moral approval, and I also referred to the moral approval given by certain Members, whom I do not see here to-day, who sit on that side of the House.
§ Mr. Boothby
One of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman was so much opposed to granting belligerent rights to General Franco was because of the moral approval it might seem to give him. This country has frequently given moral approval to rebels in many parts of the world, and whether we approve of it must depend on whether we belong to the Left or the Right. If the rebels were fighting against tyranny, I do not think we should find nearly such whole-hearted opposition to moral approval on the part of the Opposition. There are some hon. Members on this side of the House who take a much too pro-Franco view, but the view one takes depends on how one is made. From the speeches of hon. Members opposite one would think that His Majesty's Government have no plan, and no foreign policy except to drift aimlessly along. I submit that that is not true.
I find it difficult on many occasions to support whole-heartedly, in every one of its aspects, the policy of His Majesty's Government, but there is one side of their policy which I do whole-heartedly support, and that is their foreign policy. I think it is admirable, and I feel that the country thinks so, too. I have been told on very good authority that the one thing 3540 which has won by-election after by-election for the Government has been their foreign policy. To listen to hon. Members opposite one might think that it was the one black spot, or the worst black spot, in the Government's policy; but when you listen to the people who go about the country and face the electors you hear from them, and I believe it to be true, that it is the greatest bull point for the Government. It is up to some of us occasionally to approve of the Government's policy and to say so. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will contradict me if I misinterpret him, but his policy seems to be a negative policy to start off with, although there is an underlying positive policy also, the negative policy being the one which has necessarily to be put into action in the present state of affairs. The negative policy is to keep this country out of war, and that is what the country wants above all else. The positive policy is to support, as far as is practicable and possible at an admittedly very difficult time, the framework of the League of Nations, and the principles which underlie it, of collective security and the substitution of international law for aggression and force. Those principles have been repeatedly stated in the country and this House by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and particularly in a notable speech which he made some time ago at Leamington. From the principles which were laid down there I do not think the Government have since departed.
Will the hon. Member give us a single instance where the Government have given support even to the framework of the League of Nations?
§ Mr. Boothby
We have announced over and over again our support of it, in co-operation with France. I would ask my hon. Friend what she would do? Would she go to war on behalf of the League of Nations? We have acted in the closest co-operation, at every stage of one of the most difficult periods in foreign affairs through which we have ever passed, with the country which in the main supports, with us, the League of Nations, and that is France. I do not think there is any practical policy to keep the League framework in existence at present except close co-operation with France.
I will not interrupt for more than one minute and I will not do 3541 it again. The hon. Member has challenged me to say what I would do. I would make it clear to the whole world that any case of unprovoked aggression would be resisted by the whole strength of the League.
§ Mr. Boothby
If the hon. Lady's policy had been carried into action we should have been at war long ago, and I doubt whether we should have been supported by other States, even supported by France and I know that we should not have been supported by the British people. [Interruption]. An hon. Member says, with a cheerful smile, that they would have supported us, as though he himself wished for war. That is the attitude of hon. Members opposite, and I would respectfully suggest that the reason why they are failing so badly in political life is because they keep on giving the impression that they want to drive us into war. The Government have convinced the electors that they are not going to have us driven into war if they can prevent it. That is the issue which divides us at the present time. No country at the present moment will go to war except in self-defence. I challenge hon. Members opposite to contradict that. Here, again, I submit that the policy of the Government is a perfectly logical one. We have military commitments in the West alone, concerning Belgium, Holland and France, where our self-interest is directly at stake. We have said that we will go to war if those countries are attacked. That is a greater military commitment than this country has ever undertaken before. Hon. Members opposite want us to go beyond that, but I do not think we can afford to do so. The only aspect of our foreign policy at the moment which gives me and my hon. Friends on this side anxiety is that the weapons which the right hon. Gentleman requires to carry through an effective foreign policy, or a constructive policy of any kind, may not be quickly enough placed in his hands; and some of our anxieties on that point were not allayed by the debate we had the other day.
§ Mr. Boothby
No, because if hon. Members have any logic left they will agree that the stronger the democratic Powers which support the League of Nations 3542 are, the less likelihood there is of war. I think hon. Members opposite admit that, or have they got to the stage when they recommend that we, France, Russia and all the small nations which support the League should disarm and leave Europe free for Italy and Germany? I suggest that it is absolutely essential, if we are to keep the League in being at all, that the countries supporting it, and particularly the great Powers, should be as strongly armed as possible. I thought that at least was common ground between hon. Members on the opposite side of the House and ourselves. At the same time we should make it clear, as I submit the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear, that we do not disinterest ourselves in Central Europe or in the Far East, or in other parts of the world—that we do not and will not approve of aggression in any way. But what hon. Members opposite seem to wish us to do is to pledge ourselves to go to war immediately in the event of aggression in any part of the world. I do not think we can get the people of this country to approve of such a policy, nor do I think it is a practicable one. Here is the real issue. We are pledged to go to war at once if France, or any part of the British Empire, or Belgium, or Holland, should be attacked; and that is enough for the moment. We cannot do more. While I urge that we should make it absolutely clear that we are not disinterested in Czechoslovakia or any of the Central European Powers, or in the Far East, at the same time we cannot take on further military commitments.
§ Mr. Mander
The hon. Member says we should make it clear that we are not disinterested in Czechoslovakia. What precisely does that mean? What would he do to help?
§ Mr. Boothby
I mean that in the event of an unprovoked attack on Czechoslovakia we should at once call into action the machinery of the League. I am perfectly prepared to support a policy of sanctions. My right hon. Friend has over and over again expressed the belief in the principle of regional pacts within the League, and it seems to me that if we are to get any effective or coherent action in foreign affairs there must be successive grades or phases of action, or you will never get anybody to approve any action at all. Where I distrust the views of 3543 hon. Members opposite is that I am not prepared in every case to declare war the next day on an aggressor Power in Central Europe. Hon. Members opposite talk continually as though they were anxious to make us do that. For months past they have been trying to make us take action with regard to Spain which would have inevitably landed us in war. Nobody suggests that because the times are dangerous and even terrible and certainly very disheartening, that you should abandon ultimate objectives. The only issue between us is that the Opposition are always inciting us to adopt what we believe would be a reckless policy in the existing stage of the world, which would very likely involve us in war. That course we are determined not to take. Take the case of Spain. What did the right hon. Gentleman opposite demand? Action. He and his friends are always demanding more and more action; but there comes a point when action inevitably becomes military action, if you are too vehement and adopt a policy leaning towards one side or the other. My right hon. Friend has pursued a policy of compromise in this matter in the most difficult circumstances possible. The Leader of the Opposition did demand action with regard to Spain and he cannot deny it.
§ Mr. Attlee
I do not know what the hon. Member means by "action." All I asked was that the Foreign Secretary should not take action without coming to this House.
§ Mr. Boothby
I understood that he told my right hon. Friend to go straight to the League of Nations and raise the issue, and get the League to take some action or other in the matter. My right hon. Friend has spent the last two or three months, while the Opposition have made it as difficult for him as possible, doing his very best by methods of compromise to keep us and many other people out of the Spanish conflict. If, as seems quite possible, his last proposals are not acceptable, and the Non-Intervention Committee breaks down, it may be necessary for us to give belligerent rights to both sides and to allow arms to go freely into Spain on both sides. If my right hon. Friend cannot get an understanding between the Russian point of view at the one extreme and the Italian point at the other, and the Committee breaks down and arms are 3544 allowed to flow into Spain to both sides by the removal of control from the frontiers, that need not necessarily involve a European conflict.
But as long as it is possible to keep the Non-Intervention Committee going, to get the representatives of the different competing and conflicting Powers in Spain round a table to talk, and to get any sort of agreement, and some attempt made to withdraw volunteers so as to prevent further intervention and promote neutrality, it ought to be tried until the last moment. If the efforts of my right hon. Friend, which have been fully justified and very heroic, to achieve some compromise and keep the Non-Intervention Committee going in some form or another, fail, and we have to allow arms into Spain, I do not think it is inevitable that we shall now have a European War.
With regard to the Far East, the Leader of the Opposition himself realises that there is another difficult situation. I do not see that any action, apart from action with the United States of America, will achieve anything. If we act in that area we must do so in the closest co-operation with the United States. It is no good dragging the poor, emaciated League of Nations into action again in this sphere. It tried to tackle it and got a pretty bad knock over Manchuria. If we were to invoke the League of Nations to intervene in the dispute between China and Japan, we might impose such a strain upon it as to bring it to the breaking point. The only chance of successful mediation and intervention in Far Eastern affairs is by Great Britain and the United States working together. We cannot tell whether my right hon. Friend can attain that end. Unfortunately, the United States may invoke the Neutrality Act. Under this Act. an aggressor can marshal all his supplies. and then when the Act comes into force no fresh arms can be supplied to either side. The aggressor is thus favoured. But if we can act in this matter in co-operation with the United States, so much the better. At least, the relations between this country and the United States have never been so good.
I am afraid that strong feelings are apt to be aroused on this subject of foreign policy. We are all entitled to hold our views, and I am sure that we hold them sincerely. A passage in a speech by 3545 Professor Crew, of Edinburgh, delivered about two years ago, has always remained in my memory, because it illustrates so well the problem which confronts the Government and the Foreign Secretary to-day in Europe. He said:Science has put matches into the hands of a lot of grubby, mischievous little boys"—
§ Mr. Boothby
—" who with them have set the world alight in a blaze of misery and hate, whereas they ought to have been used to light the candle that stands upon the altar of truth.I would remind hon. Members that my right hon. Friend has unfortunately to deal with a lot of very grubby and very mischievous little boys of different sorts and kinds. I will not indicate more clearly who they may be, but they are very recalcitrant; and, unfortunately, there are a lot of those grubby and mischievous boys in the world to-day. And there may be occasions when they will have to be dealt with quite sharply. But there is also the chance of leading them into better paths.
My right hon. Friend has not had any very spectacular successes—some great conference that has brought off wonderful paper results—during the period of his administration of the Foreign Office. But he has given this country peace at a time of incomparable difficulty. We cannot know from what dangers we have been saved, or the shoals which have been avoided, and that is one of the great difficulties of the administration of foreign affairs. All I can say is that, for my part, I congratulate him upon having kept this country at peace: and I believe that the vast majority of his fellow-countrymen do the same.
§ 12.41 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I congratulate the Government upon having secured at least one whole-hearted supporter of their policy. I never before knew of one who approved everything that they had done. The hon. Gentleman approves of their having organised a protest by the League of Nations against aggression in Manchuria, he approves of our refusal to co-operate with the United States in dealing with that situation—
Mr. Lloyd George
Then there is one thing of which the hon. Gentleman does not approve in the policy of the Government. Mr. Simpson himself has published the actual dispatch that was sent and the reply of one of the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman in which he refused to co-operate. I am very glad to hear that there is, at any rate, one thing of which the hon. Gentleman does not approve, but he approves of their withdrawing that protest and not acting upon it. He approves of our denouncing the aggression of Italy in Abyssinia, of our organising 40 or 50 nations to declare sanctions and of our withdrawing from that position. There never was a more thorough supporter. If they go to the right or the left, or if they go right down the centre—or do not go at all—he approves. If they turn their backs, he approves of that. That is the kind of supporter to have, and I congratulate the Government upon him. I felicitate with the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman says that the right hon. Gentleman has kept this country out of war and that this is the way to do it; frankly, I do not think it is. I am not now seeking to make a party point. I am just reminding the House of what anybody of experience would tell them—that the best way of ensuring peace is not for a great country like this to give an impression that whatever happens or does not happen, whatever other countries do or refuse to do, there is no point at which we should make a stand. The moment that is known, there are very astute men in command of these dictatorship Powers in Europe who will make a note of it. I once again repeat what I have said before, that nothing weakens a Foreign Minister more than the constant reiteration of the question: "Would you go to war? Would you fight?"—which means that you would not. It means that the great majority of hon. Members behind the right hon. Gentleman are willing that he should protest; that he should go to the League of Nations and make nice speeches there and pass resolutions of pious opinion upon the subject; but they will not allow him to make a real stand if the others defy him. 3547 The moment it is known that we will never go to Geneva to make a protest against anything except the two or three things which have been mentioned and which involve directly the rights of this country, we are, as a member of the League of Nations, of no use; we are only Great Britain standing alone. I could understand an isolationist saying that. I could understand him saying, "Do not let us interfere unless somehow or other it impinges directly upon our interests." That is the point of view of the United States of America, but it never was ours. The whole basis of the League of Nations is a federation of 40 or 50 countries that will combine the whole of their resources and power to prevent aggression—not merely to prevent a particular aggression that interferes with our selfish interests, but aggression that will interfere with the integrity, the liberty, the independence of other nations, and with international right. International right goes completely. It is a policy of "Am I my brother's keeper?" It is not the policy of a government; it is the policy of Cain. I know of nothing that has been more disastrous to the League of Nations than something for which the right hon. Gentleman is not personally responsible, but for which his predecessor was responsible. He talks about governments, and he says—
§ Mr. Boothby
Does the right hon. Gentleman acquit the French Government of all blame in the Abyssinian episode? Why does he put all the blame on the British Government?
Mr. Lloyd George
I have never done that, but at present I am in the British Parliament, and not in the French Chamber of Deputies. I have been sent here to represent a constituency, and I have told my constituents exactly what my views are. I am entitled, therefore, to criticise this Government. I am entitled as an individual, as a foreigner, to criticise other countries, but the Government of our own country I am not merely entitled to criticise, but it is my duty to my constituents to criticise the Government if I think they are wrong. I am not going to dwell on the weaknesses of the French, German and other Governments, but I wish to deal with the Government of our own country.
There is no doubt at all that the League of Nations for the time being is dis- 3548 credited. It has lost authority. That is largely because of a policy for which the right hon. Gentleman is not altogether responsible, but for which his predecessors are responsible. Manchuria was, I think, almost a fatal blow. What was left after Manchuria was, I think, completely destroyed by our action on the question of Abyssinia. The right hon. Gentleman, the last time he spoke, said that the League was still alive; that it was neither dead nor moribund. What is it? Perchance it is sleeping. You are not going to refer China to it; that is the answer we had yesterday. You are not going to refer Spain to it. These are the only two wars that are going on at the present moment. Neither of these is to be referred to the League of Nations, and the League of Nations will not be allowed to interfere. Perchance it is sleeping, or it is on a journey, and in that journey it has left Abyssinia in the lurch. Where has it gone? It is obviously not travelling towards Peking, and it is obviously not facing towards Spain. Where is it? It is all very well to say that we are believers in the League of Nations, but, as far as I can see from the drift of the times, from speeches delivered by Ministers and from articles in the Press supporting Ministers, the only function which is in front of the League of Nations when it meets in September is to retreat from our position with regard to Abyssinia, and to acknowledge the aggression which the League denounced two or three years ago. Unless the speech of the Secretary of State for War means that, what does it mean? To-day there is an article in the "Daily Mail" which indicates that possibility. It is incredible that anything of the kind could possibly happen.
I have been drawn from the theme on which I intended to speak by the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). I rather wanted to ask a few questions, in addition to those which have been put by my right hon. Friend about what is likely to happen during the two or three months that this House is not sitting, if the Non-Intervention Pact breaks down, as I think it must. I do not think it will work; I think it has been a complete failure. We are the only people who stood by our bargain honourably. We signed the Pact, and, in accordance with the honour of this land, 3549 we stood by it. Even if we swear to our own hurt, we abide by it. I congratulate the Government upon doing what every honest Briton would do in these circumstances. But we stand alone. What guarantee is there that, if you sign another Pact, anybody else will abide by it? Let us recognise the realities of the situation. There are four Powers there, and they do not trust each other, whatever they sign. When they enter into a bargain, there is not one of them that believes that the others will keep it, and what they are each afraid of is that, if they keep it, the others will break the bargain and equip one party with troops and material to such an extent that the position will become irretrievable. They hear that one of these Powers has sent troops, has sent guns, has sent aeroplanes. It is very likely that it may be exaggerated; very often it is. It is sometimes possibly a rumour which has arisen out of something which occurred before. It may be a ship without either munitions or troops. But they say, "They have done it before." Thus they send men and materials.
And there is a justification for the distrust. There is a battle being fought at this hour, a terrible battle, or at any rate they are resting before a battle. There are hundreds of thousands of men on both sides armed with every modern weapon of destruction, fierce fighting, scores of thousands of troops, powerful equipment coming from countries whose representatives at the Foreign Office here appended their signatures on behalf of those countries undertaking not to send a single man or a single gun or a single aeroplane. They say, "Let us have another pact." The doctrine of the scrap of paper is paramount in Europe to-day, and the Prime Minister wants to make another arrangement with some of them for a western pact. At the present moment the pact of non-intervention is operating very unequally, very unfairly. I am not charging the Foreign Secretary with having that on his mind. It is owing to conditions over which he certainly has no control.
Owing to the fact that Italy is very much nearer Spain than Russia and that Italy has got the Balearic Islands, which give her a special advantage, there is no doubt at all that both in troops and in material the insurgents have got an 3550 overwhelming advantage, and that is due to the Pact of Non-Intervention. I have been reading a book which I commend to those who would like to know what is really happening and has happened in Spain. It is written by the most distinguished of all the modern Spanish writers, Senor Ramón Sender. It has been translated by a very learned Oxford Professor, Sir Peter Chalmers Mitchell. It is beautifully written. The author gives an account of what happened there. If the right hon. Gentleman would peruse it I think he would find it a very substantial contribution. Now that he may have a holiday he may find it worth while to look at it. The author gives an account of the first few days of the fighting when there were no rifles, no artillery, no anti-aircraft guns, and those on the Government side had to fight Italian tanks.
Even the great defence of Madrid by the international brigade was done entirely by rifle fire. They had no artillery and no anti-aircraft guns. It is a perfect marvel to me why Franco never got into Madrid. Just see what has happened. This shows how unfairly it operates. Franco has these advantages now. Italy and Germany want to utilise and exploit them to the full. He has got command of the sea. That is why they are fighting for recognition of belligerent rights. The "Times" admits that to-day. It says that it would be an advantage. But the Government had two advantages at the beginning. One was that they had cash, they had gold, they had enough money to buy equipment. Franco had the trained men, the trained officers and he had most of the equipment for the Army. Those were his advantages. The advantages which the Government had were these. They had no trained men, they had practically no trained officers they could depend upon, and they had no equipment, but they had cash which would have enabled them to buy and they had for the time command of the sea.
At that moment non-intervention came in and they could not buy. I am thinking of the British Parliament which represents a tradition of fair and open dealing between people when we pretend to hold the balance evenly. It has acted unfairly. There is an overwhelming superiority now in material on the Franco side. They have dealt unfairly and that is why they would prefer that the things should come 3551 to an end. This is what I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Is it worth while spinning out this tragic farce which is worrying the public? Is it worth while spinning it out? Hadn't you better bring it to an end? I do not see how these people can agree. I will just point out one or two considerations which I think the right hon. Gentleman must have in his mind. It all depends on the withdrawal of volunteers. Does he really think he can possibly work that out?
In the first place there will be no agreement about figures. You will be told that there are 100,000 or 120,000 Italians and Germans on Franco's side and that there are only about 12,000 volunteers on the Government side. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think he can get agreement between Italy, Germany, France, Russia and ourselves as to the figures? If not how is he going to work it? Is he going to work it proportionately? Is he going to say that for every thousand returned to their respective countries by Franco, the Spanish Government will also send away a thousand? What is the good of that? If it happens that Franco is right and the figures he gives are approximately right, supposing he sends back 20,000 and 20,000 are sent back from the other side, there will still be large numbers left of the volunteers of Italy and Germany. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Volunteers!"] I do not want to beg the question—of foreign troops on both sides, that is what I mean. Then comes the second question. Suppose you seek an agreement about that. You will not get it, for they will never accept each other's figures. It would take too long if you were to send independent men there to examine the camps and find out how many there were who were non-Spanish. You would never arrive at the figure and the figure would, therefore, never be agreed to.
You would then come to the next question, and that is material and far more important. From everything that I can gather, both Franco and the Government at present have a sufficient number of Spanish toops fairly well trained, with considerable experience of war. They have plenty of Spanish infantry, and there was a time when the Spanish infantry were the finest in Europe. There is no doubt that they are first-rate material. Their whole history from the days of 3552 Hannibal will demonstrate that they are magnificent fighting men. Franco says, "I have 500,000." The others say, "We have 500,000"—probably that is approximately correct—trained, experienced men. But one side has a great superiority in technical details, and in modern warfare that is decisive. If you get most of the guns and aeroplanes on one side, even if you have perfect equality as far as trained infantry are concerned, there remains an advantage undoubtedly, and non-intervention, even if it succeeds, means stabilising that superiority. There is no proposal that any guns or aeroplanes should be restored. There is only a proviso that no more shall come in. At the present moment the advantage is on one side. You will stabilise that advantage. That is not fair.
I agree with the hon. Member. It is a Spanish quarrel. Let them fight it out amongst themselves, but do not let us have an interference which operates unequally and unfairly between the parties. The experience that we have had for nearly 12 months shows that it operates now overwhelmingly on the side of the insurgents against the Government. Therefore, why not bring it to an end? The right hon. Gentleman's proposal is that there shall be recognition of Franco, or rather a concession of belligerent rights to him when reasonable progress has been made. What does that mean? What is the definition? How long will it take? You may depend upon it that, if the process begins, there will he quarrels and disputes at every stage as to whether it has been carried out fairly and equitably between the parties, and there will be another breakdown. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make up his mind and leave them alone, declare neutrality, and give both parties the same right of purchase. That does not necessarily mean belligerent rights if you simply said "Buy your stuff wherever you can get it." Belligerent rights mean another thing, which affects us. The first only affects the contestants. The second affects us.
Belligerent rights would give Franco authority to stop and search our ships, to capture our ships, arid, if they refuse to stop, to sink them. Are we really prepared to do that? I think we ought to know. Someone said to me the other day that belligerent rights were conceded to the Confederacy in the American civil 3553 war, but they were conceded purely as a concession not to the Confederates but to the Government. The Government could not declare a blockade unless belligerent rights were given to the Confederacy, because you cannot declare a blockade against your own ports and against your own citizens, and therefore the Government, in order to establish a legal blockade of the southern ports, had to get us and France to concede belligerent rights, and then the blockade became legalised. That is a totally different situation. We were then helping the recognised Government of the day. An argument that I have heard very often is that the majority of the votes in Spain were against the Government. That has happened in this country many a time, and the Government were elected. That was particularly the case in the election of Lincoln. He was a minority President. There were three candidates and he had a minority vote, but he was elected. He was the recognised head of the State. That is the only way in which you can choose a President. He was the President although he was a President representing a minority of votes. But we recognised it as a Government and treated it accordingly, and we ought to have done the same in Spain.
I would urge further the point made by the Leader of the Opposition. The recognition of belligerent rights is a matter of such importance to us, to our trade, to our shipping, to the possibility of what may happen to our sailors, that it ought not to be conceded without summoning Parliament in order to obtain its sanction. I am glad to see the Prime Minister present, because the Foreign Secretary, naturally, could not answer that question, I hope we shall get an assurance from the Prime Minister that, if there are circumstances that drive him to the conclusion that belligerent rights ought to be conceded, Parliament should be summoned in order that the matter may be submitted to us for the judgment of Parliament as a whole, because it affects the shipping of this country. It is not merely giving an advantage to Franco. It is putting our trade at a disadvantage. You can sink upon the high seas if you suspect that a ship is carrying any contraband to a Spanish port. That is a very serious power to give to an insurgent.
Mr. Lloyd George
This is such an important point. If there was any interruption by anyone on the Front Bench I should be willing to give way, and no one is more ready to give way than I am, as a rule, but on this occasion I must insist. [Interruption.] If there is any answer of that kind it can be given by the Government. At any rate, if the ship proceeds notwithstanding the fact that you fire across the bows—
Mr. Lloyd George
Is that the only point? Then I am thoroughly justified in not giving way. Of course, they first of all give a warning. They do not sink a ship on suspicion. The first thing they do is to try to stop it, but, if the ship proceeds notwithstanding that, she may be sunk. I do not think we ought to give power to an insurgent chief to sink our ships, which may be passing along the coast of Spain, maybe not bound for Spain, but for some other port, or along the Bay of Biscay, or in the Mediterranean, the most important and the busiest sea traffic that you possibly can get for your shipping. I hope that we shall get a definite assurance from the Prime Minister, at any rate that, whatever happens, nothing of that kind will occur. I hope that an assurance will also be given that there should be no recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia without the matter first of all being submitted to the judgment of the House.
The Government should give us some definite assurance that they are not going to leave the Gibraltar position where it is at the present moment. I think that it is a very serious thing. Conceive of a Labour Government in power, with a civil war in Spain, say, at a date when we were not on as good terms with Russia as we are even now, if the Russians had fortified the Straits of Gibraltar on both sides, and had guns planted there which would have enabled them to block the Mediterranean against our traffic, what would have been said by hon. Gentlemen opposite? Would they have stood it for one moment? I have read all the answers which have been given. I know something about guns and their power, and I am amazed that the House of Commons should accept those answers. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Defence—that is not the right 3555 term, but it is the same thing—does not make any difficulty about it. He treated it with great equanimity. It is extraordinary. I am one of those who did not take part in criticising, although I never knew why he was put there, except that I remember the explanation that was given of the reason why Lord Cranworth was made Lord Chancellor, when there was a very much abler and more brilliant lawyer available at the time. The question was put, "Why was Cranworth made Lord Chancellor instead of Bethell?", and the answer was, "There is only one answer, that it is so much better to be good than to be clever." [Interruption.] Anyhow, it was said, and it is quite true to say that somebody, even an that side, certainly knew far more about defence than the right hon. Gentleman, because he knew nothing about it.
I hope that that is not the kind of answer that is going to be given. It is a very formidable position. An hon. Gentleman complained that I criticised France. I am amazed, if I may be permitted to say it in this Assembly, that France should have stood what happened. I cannot apprehend it. Do you mean to tell me that if Clemenceau had been there he would have allowed the sea power which is in alliance with a confederacy of Fascist Germany and hostile Italy to lay hold of islands and fortify those islands, cut off the communications between France and her North African Colonies, with all that Empire, and close up the Straits of Gibraltar? It is inconceivable to me why France should not have acted. She seems to be waking up at the present moment, but we are not. I cannot say that I am not a believer in an immediate war, and I should be still less a believer in it if I could see a Government that was prepared to make a stand at any point against these military dictatorships. At any rate, there is this fact, which those who have been in office must realise thoroughly, and in fact it is the very basis of their policy of rearmament, that if Powers in Europe know that they are in a powerful strategic position, powerful enough to defeat you owing to strategic opportunities which they have got, when the conflict may arise, they will make use of that power to the very last ounce when they come to negotiate.
3556 I cannot understand it. It is not a question of whether you are for Franco or whether you are against him. Some of us are naturally inclined towards the Right, and some are more inclined towards the Left. But it is more than that. I urge the Government, because it is they and they alone who will have the supreme charge of the interests of this country not to-day, but a very doubtful to-morrow, for which others are preparing. I beg of them not to accept the statements of the Minister of Defence as if they were the last words on the blocking of the Straits of Gibraltar, but to act.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I am somewhat reluctant to intervene at any length in this Debate, because there are a number of other subjects which hon. Members wish to raise, and because I am conscious that during the past few months I have taken up perhaps more than my fair share of the time of this House. The right hon. Gentleman has made certain statements and has put certain questions, as the Opposition has done earlier in this Debate, with which I feel it my duty to deal at once. The right hon. Gentleman said that it is a very dangerous thing to create an impression in the world that, whatever happens, the Government of this country will take no action. I agree with him entirely that that would be a very dangerous impression to create, but I would say to him that we have never said anything of the kind. On the contrary, we have said exactly the opposite. Even in the last few days, and in the last few weeks, I must remind the House, we have said, in perfectly definite terms, the importance which we attach to the Mediterranean as the main arterial road to British Colonies. I do not want to refer again to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, which I made in the country some little time ago, and in which, with the full approval of the Government, I set out what action would be taken. I really cannot say that in the light of that, people are going about the world thinking that there is no limit to the action they can take, and that in no circumstances would this country take any step to check that action. I claim on the contrary, that in conditions where, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, the League was in conditions of admitted 3557 difficulty, we have contributed what we could to the restoration of international stability by stating quite clearly the action that we would take and the circumstances in which we would take it.
Mr. Lloyd George
Take the question of the fortifications of the Straits in such a way as to create a menace. It is an absolutely new development. It has never been done before. I mean the fortifications at Algeciras. Does that mean that the Government will take action in regard to that, or that they are going to be content simply with a remonstrance?
§ Mr. Eden
The situation was explained as it was the other day. The right hon. Gentleman must remember that the picture that he has painted is not an accurate one. He must know, for instance, that Ceuta has been heavily fortified for a long time. As regards the actual local situation, my right hon. Friend gave a full account. I am not giving a pledge myself to the House as to what steps we might or might not take, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are as much alive to this question as he can be, and we are just as conscious of what our rights and privileges in these matters may be. I say quite frankly that the maintenance of those essential rights of ours is not helped by creating an atmosphere as to the existence of conditions when those conditions do not exist.
Let me say, in regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the Mediterranean, what our position is there. I have stated what we consider to be the privileges that we are entitled to enjoy there and which we refuse to none other, and that in the Mediterranean there shall be a right of way for all. We intend to maintain our right of way and we willingly admit that others have an equal right. That position has been made abundantly clear and that position this country will maintain, and I have no doubt the French Government will maintain it also.
With regard to the situation in Spain, the right hon. Gentleman spoke a great deal about the question of belligerent rights and about our scheme. With regard to our scheme, I have already explained that it stands or falls as a whole. We will not agree to any major modifications which would upset its balance. Therefore, if that scheme is accepted the anxieties of the right hon. Gentleman, the Leader of the Opposition, can be allayed, 3558 because it will mean that belligerent rights will not be granted except under the conditions laid down in the scheme. Before I contemplate failure I should like for a moment to deal with one or two comments which the right hon. Gentleman made in connection with non-intervention. I must repeat that it is the Government's intention to go on with non-intervention so long as the nations of Europe as a whole are prepared and wish to do so. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite approach this question from the point of view that General Franco's supporters are only a few mutinous officers and that therefore the whole result of the civil war must be due to the fact that intervention has been much more on one side than the other. But in reality there have been fluctuations.
In the early stages General Franco obtained from abroad a great deal of material which was of inestimable assistance to him. On the other hand, it must be remembered that Madrid was saved by the International Brigade, a truly remarkable military feat. But do not disguise the fact that it was a feat by people who were not Spaniards. If you take the figures of the last general election you will find that the country was more or less evenly divided between the Government and the Opposition. If there is a lesson to be learnt in Spain this year it is surely this, that the intervention which there has been on both sides has not been decisive and, despite intervention, the balance in Spain has remained very much as it was at the last general election.
Hon. Members opposite look upon the policy of non-intervention as if it was some exclusively British policy, as if I was responsible for all sorts of strange devices to keep it in being and to force a reluctant Europe to accept it, and to prevent the League which is longing for the job from doing it. I see no signs of that desire. If they want to do it, then so far as the Government of this country is concerned they are welcome to it. If there is any other capital, be it Moscow, Berlin or Rome, which would like to be the centre of the Non-Intervention Committee, they are very welcome to it. The truth is that other people want to go on with this policy. In the last few days the French Government have made it clear that they want to go on with this policy. The whole tenor of their answer shows that. Of course, they want im- 3559 provement. They want control, and they want volunteers withdrawn, as does the right hon. Gentleman. So do we. But they do not want to give up the policy if they can possibly help it.
I do not want to detain the House, but a very remarkable speech was made by M. Blum, the Leader of the Socialist Party in France, at the Socialist Conference in Marseilles, and I only wish the right hon. Gentleman had been present to hear it. He said:I will take on my shoulders entire responsibility.That is, for the policy which is being pursued:Our policy, it is widely said, has been shown up by what has happened. Admittedly many forecasts and many hopes have been belied by events. But for a year we have avoided war. Europe has passed through a formidable crisis without an armed conflict. I mean without a general war. It is said: 'War would not have broken out in any case'.After reviewing the international situation in August and September, M. Blum went on to say:Without the so-called lie of non-intervention what would the 'Deutschland' and 'Leipzig' incidents have led to? Call nonintervention a lie, a fiction if you like, but the fact remains that it has helped to stop a general war. I am told I have only increased the dangers of war in the future. But the fact is that time has not been working against us, and if to-day there are grave dangers, we are in a different position from that of last year, and that thanks to this so-called fiction. France is now united, agreement with Great Britain is complete, the international situation has changed, international opinion has changed.Finally, he said:As regards the increased danger of war in the future, I will not accept this line of argument; the party will never accept it It is the sort of argument used to justify a preventive war.That is absolutely true.
Before I answer the questions about the future, may I deal with the alternatives, because I do think there is still much confused thinking about the alternatives which face us if this policy breaks down. The right hon. Gentleman talked, and I admit the force of what he had to say on the subject of neutrality. He said that we should deal with the situation by a policy of neutrality. In the last debate he said in effect: "Let us deal with these things as they have been dealt with 3560 before. Neutrality is the right policy." Where I part company with him is that a declaration of neutrality necessarily involves the existence of belligerent rights. There is no such thing as a policy of neutrality which is not accompanied by the treating of both sides equally. That was true of the Balkan wars and others, where we declared a policy of neutrality. There are many people who know a great deal about international law who say that from the beginning we ought to have declared neutrality. That would have allowed us to sell arms, but it would also have involved the granting of belligerent rights. It may be that that is a wise policy to pursue. What is not a possible policy, and what is a non-existent policy, is to say that you are neutral and not grant the belligerent rights which form part of your policy of neutrality.
The right hon. Gentleman's position is that the scheme is not working, that it is a farce and that it is far better to make a clean cut and declare neutrality. I say that that involves belligerent rights, and every student of international law bears me out. It is a possible policy; and we have never denied it. But I would like to point out what that policy would not achieve, besides resulting in a more dangerous situation for Europe because the flow of arms and men would be quite uncontrolled. The policy of the right hon. Gentleman would not achieve the withdrawal of a single foreigner from Spain. All those who are there would remain. But that is not all. The right hon. Gentleman said that these Powers are not keeping non-intervention; that they come to the Foreign Office, sign a paper, and then go away and pay no attention to their word. If these Powers are not to be trusted to observe non-intervention, on which there are some checks, why is it supposed that they are going to observe a mere declaration of neutrality when you remove all the checks? If you are going to make a declaration of neutrality, grant belligerent rights and remove all these checks, how are you going to stop breaches of what we call non-intervention, that is foreign aid being given in large quantities in materials, and, what is more important, in men? I do not often quote the Soviets in my support, but there was a paragraph in the "Isvestia" which struck me as being rather a remarkable confession coming from that quarter. 3561Whatever the naval control was, with all its screaming failures and faults, it did create some difficulties for the interventionists. It was a definite obstacle preventing them from supplying their own and Franco's troops with arms.That is what the Soviet Government think. If that goes and we are left with a declaration of neutrality I fail to see how that will be observed any better than the present system is observed.
There is another course, and I hope I am not misrepresenting the Party opposite. There is a difference between them and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. There are three courses possible—the one we have followed, the one the right hon. Gentleman has described, and the third course which has been advocated in the past by bon. Gentlemen opposite and which I think is still their position. It is that we should withdraw from non-intervention and sell arms only to the legitimate Government of Spain, as they describe it. Observe what that means. It would not be accompanied by the grant of belligerent rights. It means this, that our ships taking arms to Spain, only to one side in Spain, are protected right up to Spanish territorial waters. Whatever else that may be it is not neutrality. And it is not non-intervention. Hon. Members opposite are quite frank about it. They want to help the Government to win, to make sure, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) said, that Franco does not win. That may be a reasonable desire, but I do not think their policy would effect the object which hon. Members have in mind. If arms could be sent by sea from here they could easily be out-weighted by arms sent by other countries to the other side. If hon. Members opposite want what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said, to make sure that Franco does not win, there is only one way of doing that, and that is by the active participation by this country in Spain with all the consequences which would follow. You have to face that chain of events. That is not a policy which either the Government or the country have any intention for one moment of following.
Let me answer the questions which have been put to me. So far as our scheme stands we shall not accept any major modification of it. If the scheme fails, what then? I confess that I find it very hard to see how non-intervention can be 3562 saved. I think we should reach a situation which the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs desires. We should regret a collapse of non-intervention. If that happens it would create an entirely new situation, one in which the frontiers would be open and all check on the supply of men and materials withdrawn. Would it be so serious a situation as to necessitate the immediate summoning of Parliament? That is a question which I cannot answer now any more than I can tell hon. Members what our policy would be at that time in circumstances which no one at present can visualise. It must clearly depend on the circumstances of the breakdown, and without a breakdown our plan stands. If there is a breakdown our action must depend on the circumstances, on the international situation, and on a number of other considerations which the House cannot know and which the Government do not know at the present time.
We have sought through a very difficult year to give the House all the information we could, speaking in the Debates whenever called upon to do so, and the House can be assured that the last thing we want to do is to withhold from it full information or full power of co-operation and criticism of our policy. We must not underrate the desire of European nations not to let non-intervention break down. The circumstances may not arise, but if they do then if it is the Government's view that the situation is so serious that Parliament must be summoned, the Government would ask Mr. Speaker to do so. Beyond that I cannot go in circumstances which must at present be purely hypothetical. It may be that the Spanish situation will undergo some change. I think it is more likely that it will not. The Government themselves contemplate no revolutionary change in their policy and will continue to work for the main objectives for which they have worked all along, that is the localising of this Spanish conflict and the maintenance of the peace of Europe.
Mr. Lloyd George
The question put by the Leader of the Opposition and myself was whether before belligerent rights are granted to the insurgents Parliament will be summoned. If the Government make up their mind to give belligerent rights will they summon Parliament and place the matter before them in order 3563 to obtain the sanction of Parliament for that proceeding?
§ Mr. Eden
It is impossible for the Government to give that pledge at the present time, but there is a pledge that I can give, that as far the present plan which is before the Committee is concerned, we do not propose to agree to any major modification of it. What will happen if the plan collapses does not only depend upon us, for we should have to consult with other Governments, and certainly with the French Government, on the policy to be pursued. It would be impossible for me to give a pledge now, and I do not think the House can really ask me to do so upon an entirely hypothetical situation. If my right hon. Friend thinks the situation is serious enough, he will ask Mr. Speaker to call Parliament together, but that is something of which the Government must be the judge, and nobody to-day can know what the circumstances will be.
§ Mr. Attlee
I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman to give a long description of what the Government would do in certain hypothetical conditions. I am asking only one question, and it is on the specific point of the granting of belligerent rights to General Franco without any of the conditions as laid down. It is obvious that the right hon. Gentleman will not get the conditions accepted if people think they can get belligerent rights without accepting those conditions. Therefore, it is obvious that if it were a question of giving belligerent rights apart from the conditions laid down, the House should be called together.
§ Mr. Eden
I do not think I can go beyond what I have said. I have made it absolutely clear that while this policy continues, that while our plan is before the Committee, we will not agree to any major modifications of it. I do not want to go into the future, and if the House asks for a further pledge in the present position, I do not think it would help us in our diplomacy.
Now, may I say a word about the Far East? I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition with regard to the seriousness of the situation there. I am afraid that since we met yesterday, it has deteriorated. The Government deeply deplore these events.
3564 We regret them the more because, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) said, quite rightly, in a Debate the other day, it seemed as though, at that time, the prospects for international co-operation in the Far East were better than they had ever been. All that appears to have gone for the time being. We continue to be convinced that, in the interests of all nations in the Far East, peace should be preserved, for each one of them would get far more benefit from a policy which tries to eliminate enmity and to co-operate in peaceful development, than any one of them would get from resort to force. As to what action we shall take, I have told the House that we maintain the closest contact with the United States Government and with the French Government. That will continue to be our policy. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, speaking in the Debate the other day, gave us some advice. He said:We should go in step with the United States, not rushing ahead of anything they are prepared to do, but being prepared to go as far and as fast as they."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1937; col 1812; Vol. 326.]I have no quarrel with that definition. In that sphere, as in others, our objective will be to do everything that lies in the power of a single Government to promote peace and concord between the nations.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I would like to make a few remarks in reply to the speech made by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby). It seems remarkable that we should have heard that speech from him when, unless he was very different from all the other members of his party and his leaders, he fought the General Election on a pledge to pursue a policy of steady and collective resistance to all acts of aggression. It seems to be remarkable that, having made that pledge, he should now almost glory in the abandonment of that policy by His Majesty's Government.
§ Mr. Acland
The hon. Member seemed to glory in the reversal of that policy by an act of the Government, which threw it away without attempting to get it. The hon. Member fought the election on a promise to get it, although at that time, 3565 if he is right now, he ought to have known that the Government could not get it. Did he fight an election by giving a pledge that he would get something which he knew he could not get?
§ Mr. Boothby
As the hon. Member is attacking me, perhaps I may be allowed to interrupt again. I could not possibly foretell the course of events in Abyssinia. For that course of events, I do not hold His Majesty's Government primarily responsible, but the French Government, which had not taken such action when the election was fought.
§ Mr. Acland
In that case the hon. Member was one of the dupes of his own leaders. When they fought the election, every fact was known. There was nothing known to the Government in December, 1935, which was not, or should not have been equally known in November, 1935. The attitude of the French Government was known, the amount of support we might get was known: and the attitude of Mussolini was known. The leaders and Members of the Conservative party gave their pledges to the electors, won their seats accordingly, and now almost glory in the fact that their policy has been abandoned. Fortunately for the traditions of continuity of foreign policy, which are supposed to run through British life while Governments come and Governments go, the Opposition, perhaps in a rather touching way, stands to-day precisely where we stood at the time of the General Election. We still believe that the only hope for world peace is that we should create a group of nations, of which this country would be one, perhaps the foremost, which would be open to all, which would be pledged to defend international justice wherever it might be menaced, and which would possess such an overwhelming preponderance of force that no nation would dare to come against it.
Diametrically opposed to that policy, the Government give promises to defend British Imperial and economic interests, and nothing else. I am amazed that the Leamington declaration of the Foreign Secretary has so frequently been quoted—I think, for instance, it was quoted by the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. H. G. Strauss) in the Debate on the situation at Bilbao—as being something which is in accordance with League policy. It is nothing of the kind. It is an assertion 3566 that we will fight for our own interests, for France, Belgium and Egypt, not because we like the colour of their eyes, but because the Suez Canal and the Channel Ports are part of our economic interests. It is a declaration that, as regards all the rest, we will not let it be known whether we will do anything or whether we will do nothing. That is the Leamington declaration, diametrically opposed to the Covenant of the League.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent what my right hon. Friend said in his speech at Leamington. If the hon. Member will turn to what my right hon. Friend said in the passage dealing with the Covenant of the League of Nations, he will find that my right hon. Friend was setting out the conditions in which the armed forces of this country would be used. He said that our armed forces would never be used contrary to the Covenant of the League. Whether they would be used or not would be decided at the time, and he made that reservation on account of the terms of the Covenant itself.
§ Mr. Acland
The declaration was in these terms:In addition, our armaments may be used in bringing help to the victim of aggression in any cases where, in our judgment, it would be proper under the provisions of the Covenant so to do. I use the word 'may' deliberately, because in such cases there is no automatic obligation to take military action.May I now quote from Annex F of the Locarno Treaty?Each State Member of the League is bound to co-operate loyally and effectively in support of the Covenant and in resistance to any act of aggression to the extent which is compatible with its military situation and takes its geographical position into account.It will be seen that both those declarations involve the possibility of the use of force with certain limitations. The limitation laid down in Annex F of the Locarno Treaty is:to the extent which is compatible with its military situation.But the limitation which is laid down in the Leamington declaration is the exact contrary, namely:If in our judgment it is proper so to do.We on this side would defend international justice in the belief that by so doing we can keep out of war. The policy of the party opposite is to defend British 3567 economic interests. Defending British economic interests is an admirable policy for keeping out of war, as long as the British Empire is stronger, strategically, than any group of nations that can come against it. Defending British economic interests, however, does not keep us out of war, but on the contrary plunges us into war, as soon as the inevitable happens—and if we go on as we are going now it may happen in a few years—and the British Empire becomes strategically weaker than some group of powers which may come against it. That is happening before our eyes.
In regard to the guns at Gibraltar we were told that a full answer had been given to the questions which we asked from this side. We asked: Are there guns which dominate the harbour and are there guns which dominate the Straits. Under pressure from all sides the Government spokesman would go no further than to say: "There are no guns which dominate the harbour." We take it, therefore, that there are guns which dominate the Straits. We had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) coming along here at this time of day to talk about Gibraltar. If the records are looked up it will be found that Members on this side of the House began to talk about Gibraltar as long ago as July of last year.
What astounds us is that a Government which pretends that its policy is one of defending British economic interests only, should try to carry out that policy in such an extraordinarily unintelligent and shortsighted way. We would not complain if the Government would pursue their own policy intelligently, but surely one of the supreme British interests has always been not to allow any nation or group of nations to secure a hegemony on the Continent of Europe. Leaving aside idealogies, which group of nations is trying to secure hegemony in Europe at the present time and is coming near to achieving it? It is the Fascist group, the Rome-Berlin axis, Italy and Germany. When a rebellion broke out in Spain the success of which was, manifestly, going to strengthen the Rome-Berlin axis—all this talk about the people resenting interference was simply part of the by-election lullaby which the Government sang throughout the country. I am not surprised that the short-term view of keeping 3568 the country out of trouble goes down well in the by-elections. Against that, the Government are hesitatingly and rather shortsightedly pursuing a policy which is diametrically opposed to the policy which they were elected to pursue.
May I now raise a particular point and ask what is going on both inside and immediately outside territorial waters on the north coast of Spain? I wish to repeat a question which I asked last week and which I thought was capable of a fairly easy answer, namely, whether instructions had been sent to British warships covering the case of a British merchant ship inside territorial waters which refuses to pay attention to a warning shot fired across its bows by an insurgent warship outside territorial waters, and is thereupon fired at by the insurgent warship. We got no answer to that question last week. I hope we shall get one now. I wish to make it clear that the answer to that question cannot. depend on legal rights. It cannot be a legal answer because there are only two or three possibilities. You can have two recognised governments fighting each other. You can have rebels versus government where belligerent rights have been granted, and admittedly the rebels in this instance are establishing many of the conditions under which belligerent rights might be granted, but with one exception they are establishing those conditions as a result of the material assistance from outside sources. That fact alone should be sufficient to deny them the grant of belligerent rights. It is their own fault that they have put themselves in a position in which belligerent rights cannot be granted to them, but, having done so, they must take the legal consequences when they fall into the only remaining category, namely, that of pirates. I am very ignorant on these matters, but I do not know any other category in which they can be placed.
There is a precedent on this question. When the Federalists at Cartagena in 1873 revolted against the Spanish Government at Madrid, seized the fleet, and hoisted the red flag, two ships within territorial waters bombarded the mainland and endangered British interests. A rebel ship was then captured inside territorial waters by British and German gunboats acting together, and this is the answer which the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs at that time gave to questions on that subject: 3569Her Majesty's Government informed the Admiralty that with respect to the Spanish ships of war denounced as pirates by a decree of the Government of Madrid, Her Majesty's Government consider that if such vessels commit any acts of piracy affecting British subjects or British interests they should be treated as pirates the decree of the Spanish Government having deprived them of the protection of their flag.That is the legal position, and therefore we are dealing with this not as a matter of law but as a matter of expediency. I am not now challenging the non-intervention policy and I am not using the word "expediency" in a derogatory sense. I want to point out the basis on which we have to deal with this question. In connection with the Bilbao incident and in other cases in these Debates, the possibilities have been divided strictly into two, the first being that of insurgent and merchant ships on the high seas, and second that of insurgent and merchant ships in territorial waters. The Government divided these two classes of possibilities sharply and said, "As to the former, we give protection; as to the second we do not. What was the basis of their decision? I quote what was said by the Foreign Secretary on 14th April:Surely the only possible criterion is whether or not certain action of ours constitutes intervention in the Spanish conflict.On the same occasion the right hon. Gentleman said:It can be argued—there are two if not more schools of thought among legal authorities on the question—that to take forcible action within Spanish territorial waters would amount to intervention."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 14th April, 1937; cols. 1137–1138, Vol. 322.]But the right hon. Gentleman was in doubt about it. He said "it could be argued" that to go inside Spanish Territorial waters would be intervention. On that ground it was decided that it would be wrong to go into territorial waters and interfere with whatever an insurgent ship might be tempted to do there. The present Home Secretary, then First Lord of the Admiralty, spoke in the same sense and I have a recent quotation from the present First Lord of the Admiralty who was asked:In view of the fact that General Franco does not enjoy belligerent rights how can it be held that he has any right to attempt to control British shipping inside or outside Spanish territorial waters?3570 The right hon. Gentleman said:The question that really arises is not what are the rights of the rebel ships"—That was very fortunate for the First Lord, because if he had had to deal with that question he would have found that they had no rights. He went on to say that the question which arose was:what right His Majesty's Government have to take any action inside territorial waters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1937; col. 1229, Vol. 326.]I quite agree. The basis of the case is that it would be intervention for any of the Powers to enter into Spanish territorial waters and there to interfere with what the insurgents chose to do. Now, in the case that I am putting, of insurgent ships standing on the high seas and threatening to interfere with or sink British ships in territorial waters, you get this position, that a ship with no other legal status than that of a pirate is making use of the high seas, at a point opposite to territorial waters which it would be unable to enter by reason of the shore batteries of the Government, to sink a British ship. Is it intervention—I quite agree that it is intervention to go into Spanish territorial waters—to say to these ships with no rights at all, "We will not grant the right to use the high seas to sink our shipping?" Now I will turn to the answer of the present Home Secretary, to which all questioners have been referred in the last two or three weeks:As has repeatedly been made clear to the House, as long as a British merchant ship remains on the high seas she would be protected by any British warship within call if she were fired upon or otherwise subjected to illegal interference by a Spanish warship. If, however, a British merchant ship enters Spanish territorial waters, she does so at her own risk.Those words can represent a retreat from Government policy as laid down up till then. If the words "enters Spanish territorial water … at her own risk" mean at the risk of something happening to her in those territorial waters, it would be inexpedient for a British ship to interfere. I go with the Government there, but the policy which the Home Secretary went on to state was:These conditions apply whether or not the Spanish warship is inside territorial waters.Now that is a complete change, a complete departure. It is something which cannot be justified on the basis which 3571 the Foreign Secretary has laid down as the one criterion, namely, whether it would be intervention. I think it was the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) who asked:If it is permissible for an insurgent warship, which itself is outside territorial limits to fire upon a British ship which is just inside territorial limits, will this not render the protection of the British Fleet worthless"?The Home Secretary replied, "No, Sir," and he added:I do not admit the right of the insurgent warship to sink or attack a British ship in conditions of that kind.Does that hold good? Is that the policy of the Government? Is that what the right hon. Gentleman really means, and if so, what is the meaning of the next words he uses, namely:Within territorial waters, as the hon. Members knows, the utmost that a hostile ship can do would he to take the other ship into possession."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1937; cols. 1925–6; Vol. 322.]What does that mean? We have tried to find out what that declaration means, and may I read some of the answers that we have received? The right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) asked:Suppose the Spanish insurgent ship is outside territorial waters and fires a shot at a British ship, what do our ships do then?The First Lord of the Admiralty replied:What I said remains the case, that the ship enters territorial waters at her own risk.Mr. BENN: So that our ships would not interfere with an insurgent ship which has attacked a British ship from outside territorial waters?Mr. COOPER: That is a hypothetical question.HON. MEMBERS: "No.Mr. COOPER: I made it perfectly plain that the protection of British ships does not, and never has extended to territorial waters. The question of whether an attack comes from inside or outside territorial waters is another point.Mr. BENN: I must press the right hon. Gentleman. It is not a hypothetical case. A case occurred during the last few days. What does the British Navy do when a rebel ship fires outside territorial waters at a British ship inside territorial waters?Mr. COOPER: If the enemy or the other side is in a position to capture a British ship inside territorial waters, and no other kind of attempt has been made, His Majesty Navy does not interfere?Mr. BENN: Would the right hon. Gentleman kindly direct his attention to the ques- 3572 tion that I asked. If, as recently happened, a rebel ship outside territorial waters fires at a British ship, what does the Navy do?Mr. COOPER: I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that that case had not arisen. A foreign ship has not fired at a British ship."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1937; col. 1232; Vol. 326.]One other question was asked by myself. It was:Does the right hen. Gentleman mean the House to understand that a British warship will stand by and watch a British ship being hit by shells in those circumstances. Is that so or not? Can he tell us?The First Lord of the Admiralty replied:The position of a British warship, if the circumstances described by the hon. Member … were to arise, would certainly be extremely unpleasant."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st July, 1937; cols. 2174–5: Vol. 326.]That is the answer of this strong, united, National Government that we are all to rely on to defend British economic and Imperial interests. It is the answer of a Government fundamentally unable to make up its mind. If a British ship enters Spanish territorial waters and an insurgent vessel, with no legal rights at all, anywhere, inside or outside territorial waters, fires a shot across the bows of the British ship, and the latter calmly carries on, and the insurgent ship then fires a shell which hits the British merchant ship, and clearly has the intention of firing further shells which will sink the British merchant ship, what does the British Navy do? Does it stand there and watch than happen? If the whole thing takes place inside Spanish territorial waters, I have said, and I say again, that I entirely understand that it is inexpedient, in view of Non-intervention Treaty, for our ships to go into what is virtually Spain, but if the insurgent ship is standing on the high seas, do we stand by and let it happen? On this last occasion will it be possible to have an answer to that question, "Yes" or "No"? Believe me, there are commanders of ships who will be very anxious to know exactly what will happen.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty (Mr. Shakespeare)
I do not think I need detain the House long. I am convinced that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) knows the answer to the question that he has put as well as does every other Member of the 3573 House. There has never been any doubt about the policy of His Majesty's Government or about the policy which has been pursued by the Naval authorities from the very start. Indeed, the hon. Member quoted an answer of the late First Lord of the Admiralty in which that right hon. Gentleman made it perfectly plain that any British ship going into Spanish territorial waters did so at its own risk, and that the position would be just the same whether the threats came from a Spanish cruiser inside or from one outside those territorial waters. There is no doubt about that. It is the location of the ship that is the governing consideration. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to ask what the Navy would do if a Spanish warship outside territorial waters is exercising control against a ship which has defied warnings—
§ Mr. Shakespeare
—which has not taken the advice given, and which decides that the risk is worth taking and tries to get in. There is no mystery about that. It is that case which is covered by the answer of the Prime Minister, who said that, although there were no belligerent rights on either side,we are not prepared to intervene by force to prevent an attack by either party on a British merchant ship which has voluntarily placed herself within Spanish jurisdiction by entering Spanish territorial waters, provided"—and this answers the hon. Gentleman—that the capture is made with due regard to the universally recognised rules of naval warfare, which prohibit such practices as firing on a merchant ship before she is properly warned.…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1937; col. 1760, Vol. 326.]There is no dispute about it, and, as far as I know, no case has occurred where a warning has not been given. Indeed, it was made plain to the Spanish warships that in such cases warning must first be given.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why there has been a total change from the policy pursued at Bilbao when, as the present Home Secretary, then the First Lord, said in answer to a question by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), which the hon. Gentleman has just quoted:We will not allow ships outside territorial waters to fire on ships inside territorial waters.3574 You now allow them to do so and to carry out the blockade by that means, although we have granted no belligerent rights.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
It is difficult to explain a change of policy when the hon. Gentleman has given the impression that the First Lord of the Admiralty said exactly the opposite of what he did say.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Perhaps I may re-read it to the House, and the House can judge for itself. This is what the First Lord said on 21st April:As long as a British merchant ship remains on the high seas she would be protected by any British warship within call if she were fired upon or otherwise subjected to illegal interference by a Spanish warship. If, however, a British merchant ship enters Spanish territorial waters she does so at her own risk. These conditions apply whether or not the Spanish warship is inside territorial waters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1937; cols. 1725–6, Vol. 322.]How can there, therefore, be a change of policy?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Will the hon. Gentleman notice what follows. The hon. Member for Kingswinford said:If it is permissible for an insurgent warship which itself is outside territorial limits to fire upon a British ship which is just inside territorial limits, will this not render the protection of the British Fleet worthless?Sir S. HOARE: No, Sir; I do not admit the right of the insurgent warship to sink or attack a British ship in conditions of that kind. Within territorial waters, as the hon. Member knows, the utmost that a hostile ship can do would be to take the other ship into possession."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st April, 1937; cols. 1725–6, Vol. 322.]That is the policy which has been changed, and that is why there is a blockade being carried on to-day by action taken on the high seas.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. It is clear that the reply of the First Lord which he has just quoted governed the case of control being exercised without warning being given. The question arose, what would the British Navy do if effective control was being exercised from outside territorial waters without the necessary warning being given, and it was that case to which the First Lord replied? The position is perfectly plain.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
At Bilbao there were cases where warning shots were fired and Spanish ships were told not to interfere.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
Only on the high seas. There was one case on the high seas, or perhaps two cases, where a Spanish warship sought to exercise control and our ships intervened. There has never been any doubt on the part of any one reading these questions, there has never been any doubt in the minds of the naval authorities in Spain who are carrying on a very difficult task, and no doubt so far as the Spanish warships or our merchant ships are concerned. All we say is that those who go inside territorial waters do so at their own risk and the blood is on their own heads.
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The last warning shot was fired when the "MacGregor" was outside territorial waters. The exchange of telegrams shows that the Spanish insurgents might easily have taken control of the "MacGregor".
§ Mr. Shakespeare
The right hon. Gentleman need not get excited about it. If the Spanish insurgent vessel tried to exercise effective control over a ship inside territorial waters according to the well known rules, we have nothing further to say about it.
§ 2.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott
Now that the hon. Gentleman has given complete satisfaction to the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) I propose to make a few remarks upon certain points that have been raised in the Debate by other hon. Members. I want first to make reference to an argument that was used by the right hon.
3576 Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). It has already been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, but I should like to add a word to what he said. In a passage of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks, which obviously indicated his sincere thoughts, the right hon. Gentleman urged the Government to abandon the present system of non-intervention. Declare neutrality, he said, and allow arms to be supplied to both sides. This passage has been the subject of comment by my right hon. Friend, but on account of the importance of the implications of the argument I beg leave to refer to the matter again. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to overlook the fact that the very conception of neutrality necessarily involves the concession of belligerent rights to both parties, and that it is impossible to permit the supply of arms to both sides without the concession of belligerent rights. I am not sure that the phrase "Non-Intervention" is not a little misleading, but if Non-Intervention were abandoned then the plain rule of international law would operate, and individuals—British citizens—would be permitted to supply arms at their own risk to the Government at Valencia, and to no one else. But the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs does not wish this, and, taking some account of reality, he urges the supply of arms not only to the Government at Valencia but to General Franco's forces. That however inevitably and necessarily involves, as cannot be too clearly insisted upon, the concession of belligerent rights.
In this part of his remarks the right hon. Member was arguing very strongly against the concession of belligerent rights, and he buttressed his argument by reference to the events which took place during the American Civil War. I believe the right hon. Gentleman was completely mistaken in the view that he presented to the House of those events. Attempting to find some support for his position in the circumstances of the American civil war he suggested—I did not take down his precise words, but I am sure that I do not misrepresent him—that our recognition of the Confederate States of America and our consequent concession of belligerent rights was in order to suit the convenience of the Government of the United States. His argument was that the real reason why we conceded 3577 belligerent rights to the Confederate States was to meet the convenience of President Lincoln's Government. I think it is worth while to make clear to the House what actually were the events of that time. The year was 1861 and on the 17th April—I quote from a standard work on international law:The President of the Southern States issued a Proclamation inviting applications for letters of marque and reprisal, and as at this period a large extent of coast was in the hands of the insurgents such an expectation of maritime hostilities might have been entertained as would have justified immediate recognition.So on 17th April this proclamation was issued by the President of the Southern States. The author of this work goes on to say that:The likelihood of maritime war was converted into a certainty by a Proclamation issued by President Lincoln on the 19th April, which declared the coast of the seceded States to be under blockade. Thus, when on the 14th May, a Proclamation of neutrality was issued by the British Government, twelve days after it had been received intelligence that the two American Proclamations had been put forth, the condition of affairs was—and so on. I will not continue the quotation further for there the learned author merely sets out the position as it then existed. But I insist that so far is it from being true that our recognition of the Confederate States was made to suit the convenience of the Government, that the Government of the United States actually made our recognition of belligerency the subject of reiterated complaints. They objected by every means at their disposal to our recognition of the Confederate States. Therefore, the foundation upon which the right hon. Gentleman attempted to base that part of his argument is quite unsubstantial.
The right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) quoted a passage from an authority on international law which suggested that the concession of belligerent rights would involve some kind of moral approval of the cause of one party in this conflict. That view is absolutely mistaken. The concession of belligerent rights is nothing more than the recognition of a state of fact, that recognition drawing after it certain legal consequences. It has nothing to do with any political or moral approval of the cause of either belligerent. Let me quote one or two passages which really set this whole question of the concession of belligerent rights 3578 in its clearest light. The right hon. Member for Limehouse and the hon. Member for Barnstaple referred to General Franco's forces as being in the position of pirates. Does not that language, applied to General Franco's forces, border upon absurdity?
§ Mr. Acland
I was merely saying that those forces must have the legal position of pirates, that there is no other legal category into which they can fall. Either they must be granted belligerent rights and recognised, and that has not been done because of the foreign assistance they are receiving, or they must be in the only other legal category, which is that of pirates. I admit that for practical purposes one may have to treat differently what is going on with reference to territorial waters, but I should be very interested to hear if there is any other halfway house into which they might fall legally.
§ Mr. Emmott
I do not profess to speak as one of those inconvenient persons known as experts on international law, and I am not prepared to give the hon. Member an authoritative legal exposition of the position. If I misunderstood his argument I regret it, but I did think that it went a little beyond the pure law of the matter. At all events I am certain that in the Debates of the last few months the argument has gone beyond pure law, and has impinged upon the general political and ethical aspects of the question. Now Mr. Hall, in his work on International Law, says this:As soon as a considerable population is arrayed in arms with the professed object of attaining political ends, it resembles a State too nearly for it to be possible to treat individuals belonging to such population as criminals.In 1861, when the question was raised in connection with the American Civil War, Lord John Russell referred to an earlier declaration by the British Government in which it was laid down thatThe character of belligerency was not so much a principle as a fact, that a certain degree of force and consistency acquired by any mass of population engaged in war entitled that population to be treated as a belligerent and, even if this title were questionable, rendered it the interest, well understood, of all civilised nations so to treat them.I hope the House will allow me to supplement those passages by another passage, which comes a little later and in which Mr. Hall refers to the circumstances 3579 which justify the concession of belligerent rights. Having discussed instances where no question of maritime warfare arises, he comes to the instance where maritime warfare may be involved. He says that in the case of maritime war the presumption of propriety lies in the direction of the concession of belligerent rights:No circumstances can be assumed as probable in which the interests of a foreign State possessed of a mercantile marine will not be affected, and it may recognise the insurgent community, without giving just cause for a suspicion of bad faith, so soon as a reasonable expectation of maritime hostilities exists—that passage is extremely relevant to our present situation—or so soon as acts are done at sea by one party or the other which would be acts of war if done between States, unless it is evidently probable that the independent life of the insurgent government will be so short that the existence of war may be expected to interfere with the interests of the foreign State in a merely transient and unimportant manner.When the situation is regarded in the light of those authoritative passages is it not, to put it mildly, the language of absurdity to describe as pirates, forces which control and contain within their allegiance 14,000,000 out of a population of 22,000,000, and which exercise jurisdiction over two-thirds of the territory of a State, and over its colonies?
There is one branch of the argument to which we listened to-day to which I wish to devote a few moments' critical attention. It has been repeatedly argued, and apparently assumed without detailed justification, that the system of non-intervention has been one-sided and has worked heavily against the Spanish Government. When the question is looked into more narrowly, it is seen that this is the direct contrary of the truth. The situation which exists at the moment works, in at least one respect, with great unfairness to General Franco. I am not now speaking as a partisan of General Franco but am attempting to state the actual position of affairs with all the fairness that I can. I mention two circumstances. Naval control is exercised at the present moment only in respect of territory under the jurisdiction of General Franco. Then, the whole of the coast under the jurisdiction of the Valencia Government, which was patrolled by the German and Italian navies, has for some time been open. Those are very formidable circumstances to set on the other 3580 side of the scale; and my submission is that they go very far in themselves alone to disprove the assertion that non-intervention has generally during the period of its operation worked with partiality towards General Franco and with unfairness to the Spanish Government.
But I think the matter goes further. I ask hon. Members to consider what is in fact involved in the refusal of belligerent rights. Refusing, as we have, belligerent rights to General Franco, we have afforded protection on the high seas to British ships. But is not that in itself an act of positive disadvantage and damage to General Franco's forces? It is, as he himself has asserted, a kind of intervention. He has complained on more than one occasion that the actual system of non-intervention, involving refusal of belligerent rights, has operated as a kind of intervention against him. I am not of course at all accusing His Majesty's Government of partiality against General Franco, I am insisting upon the inevitable effect of the operation of the system of non-intervention, and I ask hon. Members to consider the matter in this light. Where an authority has sea power, is not the refusal of belligerent rights an act of damage to that authority? Take the kind of instance which has been frequent in recent months: ships carrying food from various ports have attempted to make their way into ports in the North West region of Spain. If General Franco, who is superior at sea to the Government of Valencia, had been conceded belligerent rights, he would have been in a position to exercise the right of visit and search against those ships, but the present policy has prevented him from doing so. I assert with confidence that the refusal of belligerent rights to an authority which exercises sea power is an act of positive damage to that authority. It comes in fact to this. We have been involved by the system of non-intervention in a position in which we have done the work of the Valencia Navy, or rather the work which ought to have been done by the Valencia Navy—and we all know the reasons why the naval forces under the control of the Valencia Government are in their present state of weakness and insubordination. I ask hon. Members to examine the matter from this aspect in all sincerity, and to put to themselves the question whether the operation of the system of non-intervention and the refusal 3581 of belligerent rights does not work with unfairness, and with actual damage and disadvantage, to the authority that exercises sea power and has superiority at sea.
It has been stated very positively in this Debate that the whole system of nonintervention has definitely broken down. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse made that statement, and went on to demand that the matter should be entrusted for settlement to the League of Nations. But if the Governments concerned, and if the London Non-Intervention Committee, are unable to settle this most difficult and dangerous problem in a satisfactory manner, it is extremely unlikely that the League of Nations would be able to do so. I deny that the system of non-intervention has broken down. That positive statement supposes that the system has been of no effect at all. I deny that. The system of non-intervention has been effective in preventing the supply to either party in the Spanish conflict of large quantities of material and equipment which would otherwise have reached them. To a relative extent, the system of non-intervention has achieved success. Absolute success it has certainly not achieved. But this absolute statement that the system has broken down can mean only that the system has achieved no useful result. With that proposition I entirely disagree.
At this moment, however, it is certainly true that we have to contemplate the possibility of failure of agreement in the Committee upon the proposals which are before it. If that happens, if there is no agreement on the proposals submitted to the Governments by His Majesty's Government, we shall be faced, as the Foreign Secretary has said, with a new situation. What possibilities does the new situation contain? It contains, first, the possibility of substituting for the present system the old system of neutrality. That is the course which has been urged upon the Government to-day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who apparently desires the supply of arms to both sides, under the old system of neutrality. But is there not another possibility, a definite and practical possibility, as I think, in the new situation which may arise? Hitherto in this Debate it seems to have been assumed that if the system of non-inter- 3582 vention, that is to say, the policy of refusing to supply material to either side, is discontinued, it must be superseded by the old rule of neutrality, under which individuals would be free to supply arms to both sides in Spain at their own risk. Would it not be possible, however, to concede belligerent rights, adopting, of course, the policy of neutrality, but to combine that position with a continuance of our policy of refusing to supply arms and material to either party in the Spanish conflict? I do not see why that should not be possible, and, if there is to be any further intervention in the Debate on behalf of the Government, I should be very much obliged if we could be told whether there is any impossibility in that position, or any reason why it should not be adopted. Is it not possible to combine the system of neutrality, involving belligerent rights, with the refusal to supply arms to both parties in Spain? Is it not possible to combine that old, well recognised feature of international law with what I admit would be a new departure in it?
Finally, I am certain that the great majority of the House will agree with me when I say that we are prepared to leave to His Majesty's Government complete liberty to deal with the situation as it will develop in the next few weeks. We are prepared with the utmost confidence to entrust the Government with full liberty to meet each new development of the situation as it arises. We do not desire in any way to tie the hands of the Government, or to extract from them any pledge that in any particular circumstances they will summon Parliament to consider the policy which they have in mind. We gladly grant the Government full liberty to deal with any new situation that may arise, in the confident conviction that our affairs during the next few weeks will be managed with all that skill with which they have been managed in recent months.
§ 2.50 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I had intended this afternoon to draw attention to two points—first, the degree of virulent intensity to which foreign, and especially Italian, anti-British propaganda has grown; and, secondly, the damage which has been and is being done to our interests by foreign controlled and subsidised news agencies. As time presses, 3583 I propose to deal only with the second of these two points, and do so the more gladly because I understand that efforts are being made at the present moment to get our relations with Italy on a happier and more satisfactory footing and also that Italy has lately given some assurances with regard to propaganda, with special reference to the Report of the Palestine Commission.
I think there is abundant evidence to show that there is a real danger of our influence in world affairs being diminished because we are doing nothing to combat the situation that is being created by foreign countries subsidising their news agencies and news services, and so enabling them to pour out news coloured to their own purposes at a ridiculously low cost. To compete with this our news agencies ought to have access to cheap radio transmission or to cheap cable rates comparable with the charges for radio transmission. Apparently our news agencies are compelled to stick to cable communications because considerations of Imperial Defence are involved. Apparently we are reluctant to commit ourselves to radio because radio might be jammed in time of war, and there is, of course, a great deal of force in that contention; but countering hostile propaganda is equally a matter of Defence. Why must those concerned with disseminating British news be denied cheap radio transmission and be mulcted in order that these cable communications may be maintained? Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Argentina, Japan, China and the United States of America all provide cheap radio transmission for their own and in some cases for foreign news agencies. Some of these countries sell transmission virtually on a time basis, although the charges may be worked out so as to make it appear that they are based on wordage rather than on time. These countries are increasingly using the news services to forward their own domestic and foreign policies, and we in turn ought to set up machinery for putting our home, Commonwealth and foreign policies before the world.
There was a time when the British news services were supreme all over the international field, but to-day our news services are swamped by these subsidised foreign services. For instance, Reuters used to be supreme in North and South 3584 America, both for British and for foreign news, but now they have as competitors, Havas in France, D.N.B. in Germany, Stefani in Italy, and Tass in Russia, and these agencies flood Europe, the Near East, the Far East, Africa and South America with Government subsidised radio news services. As the Governments concerned subsidised these news services, they are, of course, able to compel them to put their home news in a favourable light, while news affecting other countries, especially our own, is tinctured and put forward in an unfavourable light.
Take the case of the Far East alone. Before the War, practically all the news reaching the Far East reached it through Reuters, to the great advantage of British trade and prestige. Now there are French and German news organisations competing which cannot possibly be run on a commercial basis and only survive because they are subsidised. These and similar services are deliberately used to the detriment of this country. In South America, United States agencies give subsidised services in great volume owing to the special rates conceded by the United States cable services. I should like to give one or two instances of the harm done in this way by these subsidised news agencies.
One is an instance of a statement issued in Japan that this country had agreed to allow Soviet Russia to build up a fleet equal to the Japanese Fleet. That was done for no other purpose than to make bad relations between ourselves and Japan. Then again I have a quotation from secret instructions which were issued by the German propaganda department to its agents abroad. These instructions are that they are "to throw discredit on news agencies which are hostile to Germany, and, above all, to damage as much as possible the relations between these hostile agencies and important foreign newspapers." The instructions given in regard to this are extremely clear. They say that "all disturbances created in the good relations existing between other States is indirectly to the advantage of Germany. All ousting of the news of foreign agencies is a great gain to Germany." Those are instructions issued by the official German Propaganda Department. Then again, during the period of these strained relations that we had with Italy over the Sanctions policy, 3585 a foreign news agency issued the following to the Japanese Press:London. The British General staff, it is understood, is more worried than ever over the state of Egypt, Malta and the Suez Canal, now encircled by Italian troops, while the Duce's fleet is mobilised for action within striking distance of the British Mediterranean Armada. With revolt fermenting in Palestine and discontent rife in Egypt, uneasiness is growing daily all over the Mediterranean and British soldiers, sailors and civilians stationed in the area are reported to he speculating as to what move Italy is planning to take next.That is a news item given out in order to convey an impression of British fear, timidity, weakness, perplexity and vaccilation. That is given out for the benefit of Chinese and Japanese readers. News items of that sort go out increasingly from foreign agencies. Are we really to believe that our prestige remains unaffected? These foreign services are tendentious. At the same time they are full, they are comprehensive, they are well compiled and well edited and cost only a fraction of the equivalent British services. They systematically decry and damage our interests and they make British presentation of foreign news difficult, inconspicious and ineffective. Let us look for a moment at the state of affairs in South America. The countries there are of vast importance to us, and to our trade in the future. The Prince of Wales called attention to this matter in 1931. He said:All news from England to Latin America is transmitted by non-British agencies. The Latin-American reader sees us and our affairs through spectacles which are neither ours nor those of his own country. I sincerely hope that some means can be found to increase the volume of purely British news in South America.Reuters responded to that appeal. They established a daily news service for South America in response to the appeal of the Prince of Wales. They persisted in it for three years in spite of making very heavy financial losses, but finally they had to give it up because of subsidised competing services. Thanks to French official facilities Havas is transmitting 15,000 words a day, including British news as seen through and distorted by French eyes. The only British news service in Brazil at the present moment is a partial one picked up from the air by one newspaper. All other foreign news in Brazil is received either through the 3586 United States of America or through France.
Naturally these agencies are not particularly interested in the British point of view or British news. I feel sure that it is time something was done to counter this state of affairs. British news is not only put into the background, but such news as does go through is, not too conspicuously but ingeniously, distorted to our discredit and to our harm. The Foreign Office and the Post Office and the B.B.C. and certain selected journalists who have knowledge of this subject and have foreign experience should, I think, get into conference on the matter and see what can be done. I feel that the Foreign Office should bestir itself to the danger of what is going on and should call in experts to study the matter and discuss what can be done in each area affected to nullify the poisonous effect of these new services.
Again, the Foreign Office persists in its old-fashioned ideas in the staffing of our Missions abroad. Some of the not very hard worked and certainly not overworked secretaries might with great advantage be replaced by what are prime necessities of modern international intercourse, viz., Press Attachés and Commercial Secretaries specially charged with watching propaganda. A vast amount of information lies available to the Foreign Office if they will only avail themselves of it and consult British journalists abroad on this subject. I feel reluctant to ask the Foreign Secretary to take into consideration yet one more matter when so much lies on his shoulders and when he must be looking forward to a holiday, at any rate from the Parliamentary side of his duties. I think the Spanish section in the Foreign Office especially must be looking forward to a holiday. They have been very hard worked and have had little if any leave and, I am sure, deserve warm commendation. But I suggest that this matter is one of real importance to the country and also of very great importance to our great and valuable Press and news agencies' interests. I hope, therefore, that it may receive some attention.