Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn." —[Captain Margesson.]
§ 11.56 a.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
I desire to call the attention of the House to the recent massacre in Addis Ababa. In doing so, may I at once say that I am in no sense actuated by any feelings of ill-will towards the Italian nation, whose culture and historical traditions this country has always greatly admired. But those feelings of admiration do not in any sense diminish the horror and revulsion with which the news of these atrocities has been received. It is no exaggeration to say that public opinion in this country has been profoundly shocked, more especially by reason of the fact that such excesses should be perpetrated by a Christian country. We cannot accept the doctrine that Christianity should be expounded to a backward nation by the use of the bayonet and the bomb.
What are the facts? On 19th February bombs were thrown in Addis Ababa at Marshal Graziani the Viceroy which, fortunately, resulted only in the wounding of a number of officials, including the Marshal himself. On 21st February we first received information of what had happened from the Rome correspondent of the "Times." He reported:The capital is reported to be calm. Inquiries by the authorities who are trying to trace those responsible for the outrage show it is said that the episode was one of 'common delinquency.' The police have already taken into custody 2,000 natives and the military Advocate-General has begun his examination of suspects. Those alleged to be guilty will, in conformity with instructions from Rome, be tried immediately. Squads of Fascists have been searching several suspected quarters of the capital. Thirty thousand white troops are now garrisoned in the town.On 23rd February there was again a report in the "Times" emanating from Rome. Hon. Members will observe that both these reports emanated from Rome. It is interesting to observe that, at any rate as far as my information goes, there were no foreign news correspondents in Addis Ababa at the material times. On 3104 24th February the "Times" has the following report from its Rome correspondent:The reaction of the Italian military authorities in Addis Ababa to the recent bomb-throwing has been swift, and all natives found carrying arms, or with arms in their huts are stated to have been shot. Their number is not given but of the 2,000 who were arrested after the attempt several hundreds who have been able to prove their innocence are reported to have been released, and the men still in custody are being questioned as quickly as possible.If that had been the actual position, I doubt very much whether anyone in this House could have taken exception to the measures adopted, as stated in those two newspaper reports. No one on this side or on the other side of the House would have anything but the strongest condemnation for those people who throw bombs, because in 99 cases out of 100 the chief victims are innocent people. But on 2nd March the Paris correspondent of the "Daily Herald" sent news which threw an entirely different light on the question of what had actually happened in Addis Ababa. According to the "Daily Herald" report:As soon as Graziani fell wounded the Italian authorities closed the gates of the enclosure where the attack took place. Then a body of infantry was moved up. Through the gaps of the railings, they shot down every Abyssinian in sight.On 3rd March the "Times" published a further report dealing with Addis Ababa, this time from its Paris correspondent, not from its Rome correspondent. What did this "Times" report say?There is reason to believe that the Italian reprisals in Addis Ababa after the attempt on Marshal Graziani were carried out with a savagery almost beyond description. For three days after the attempted assassination of the Marshal every able-bodied Italian in the place appears to have been encouraged to slaughter natives. With rifles, pistols, bombs, knives and clubs, served out for the occasion, gangs of Blackshirts and workmen went through the native quarters killing every man, woman and child they came across. Others, with flame-throwers and tins of petrol, fired the flimsy huts and houses and shot down those who tried to escape. Immediately after the bomb was thrown at Marshal Graziani, Italian troops surrounded the area and every Abyssinian within the circle was killed…. As has already been reported, some 2,000 natives were arrested. The majority were shot. Then the Italian militiamen and workmen were called up, served with weapons and told to do what they liked with the natives. The number of victims in this massed slaughter is stated to be about 6,000.3105 On 6th March the "News Chronicle" reported:Immediately after the attempt, the Blackshirts, acting under official orders, surrounded the district and massacred the 1,500 natives found therein.Then on 13th March the "Times" published the following account stated to be from a well-informed correspondent:The Blackshirt Labour Corps seems to have been mostly responsible for the general massacre that started immediately and lasted throughout the night. By dark the centre of Addis Ababa was surrounded by a ring of fire from the burning native quarters, and the sound of rifle and machine-gun fire was continuous. Contrary to earlier reports, there was no systematic search and arrest of those found with arms or ammunition. It is said that Marshal Graziani is enraged"—and well he may be—at the action of the Blackshirts and other Italians concerned in the affair, which reflects on the control, or lack of it, of the military authorities.Then, on 24th March, this week, the "Manchester Guardian" published a report from another correspondent, who states that he was present in Addis Ababa at the time, to this effect:Every Abyssinian man was shot on sight. Thousands of native houses were set on fire, and as the inhabitants tried to flee they were shot or clubbed to death. In some cases no discrimination was made between men and women, and many women were killed.It may be argued that all these reports are merely newspaper reports and reports that may be at second-hand, because, as I have already indicated, newspaper correspondents, except those belonging to Italy, are not to be found in Addis Ababa at the present time, but I have received, on very reliable authority, information as to what was reported by the American representative in Addis Ababa. It is to the effect that he gave refuge in the American compound to 700 Abyssinians, that they remained there for three days, and that at the end of the third day the American representative received assurances from the Italian authorities that those 700 Abyssinians would receive proper treatment and that their lives would be spared. Accordingly, after receiving that assurance, those 700 Abyssinians left the compound, whereupon every one of them was butchered, like so many cattle. I should like to ask the Minister whether the Foreign Office has received any information as to what the American Minister reported. Then, according to the "Spectator" of 12th 3106 March, a very well-known correspondent, Mr. Spears, who has served the "Times" for a good many years, makes himself responsible for the statement that the French representative in Addis Ababa has reported to the French Foreign Office as follows:6,000 Abyssinians were killed with flame-throwers, grenades, machine guns, rifles, and the flashing, romantic knives. They spared neither man nor woman.Again I would like to ask the Minister whether the Foreign Office has any information with regard to this report, which is alleged to have emanated from the French representative in Addis Ababa and which has been published, I believe, in the French newspapers. Thirdly, we have some confirmation from our own Foreign Office, because the question was raised in this House, and the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State made this reply:While it will be realised that precise details are in the circumstances difficult to obtain, my right hon. Friend has received information tending to show that, following the attempted assassination of Marshal Graziani, scenes of grave disorder occurred in Addis Ababa, in the course of which reprisals of a severe character were taken by the Italian soldiery, resulting in a large number of deaths and extensive destruction of property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March, 1937; col. 778; Vol. 321.]I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether it is not possible to give the House some further details amplifying the general statement which he made in the House some little time ago. It may be argued that the evidence before the House it not conclusive. May I answer that by pointing out, first, that the Italian Government have never issued any official denial of these reports, secondly, that at least a prima facie case has been established, and, thirdly, that if there be any doubts as to what happened in Addis Ababa it is very easy to determine the actual circumstances. The Emperor of Abyssinia has asked the League to send a Commission of Investigation. The Government should support that request when it comes before the League Council. There is ample precedent. We have the precedent of the Lytton Commission, which in the early part of 1932 was sent to Manchuria in order to investigate the position in that country.
There is on old saying that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. If all these accounts are false, Italy will emerge much stronger, so far as its moral 3107 position is concerned. If, on the other hand, these accounts are true, then Italy will stand, and will rightly deserve to stand, condemned at the bar of mankind. It is quite evident, if these accounts be true, that the Italians in Addis Ababa lost their heads. After all, they are holding down this nation by brute force. The massacres which have taken place afford only another example of the dangerous situation which may arise when force and fear walk hand in hind.
The question may be asked, "Is it our concern?" My reply to that is that both Italy and Abyssinia at the present time are members of the League of Nations. The League cannot escape its responsibility. Even Italy recognises that fact. On 26th June last year, the day on which, to use the picturesque language of Signor Mussolini, "the white flag of surrender" was hoisted by the sanctionist States, Italy submitted to the Council a memorandum, and I would crave the indulgence of the House while I quote extracts from that document.
In that document Italy referred tothe need of the Abyssinian population to be directed towards such forms of civilisation and of economic, social, and cultural progress as they have been unable to obtain by their own means.I wonder what the comment of the Abyssinians would be, if they were allowed to make any, on that statement. Then the memorandum went on to state thatItaly proposed to carry out this work of civilisation according to the principles of the Covenant of the League of Nations and of other international deeds which set forth the duties and tasks of the civilising Powers.Then it went on to say that Italywould consider it an honour to inform the League of Nations of the progress achieved.I do not know whether the League of Nations has received any report from Italy as to the progress of its civilising mission in Addis Ababa. I very much doubt whether any report has been received as to the events in Addis Ababa, but is it not the case that this Memorandum is an acknowledgment on the part of Italy of the interest that the League of Nations rightly holds in Abyssinia? The League has, therefore, a duty to take action, and, as in the Manchuria question, I submit that the League should send a committee of investigation. If 3108 Italy refuses to co-operate, if she refuses to permit this committee of investigation, then the League should at least exercise its functions in expressing the moral indignation of the 50 nations represented at Geneva at these barbarous atrocities. I would go further and submit that any refusal on the part of Italy would render her membership of the Council of the League an even greater farce than it has been in the last 12 months.
These massacres raise important issues. First of all, unless they are condemned by the white races they will leave an impression on the minds of the black races that the white nations are not only prepared to acquiesce in barbarous atrocities, but that then are also indifferent to anything which concerns the lives and the welfare of the black races, and I suggest that that may well have the most serious repercussions on the future relations between the black and the white races, especially those in Africa. Secondly, it must be made clear that such barbarities are fundamentally opposed to our conception of a civilisation based on Christian principles; thirdly, that this country at any rate will record its protest and condemnation of these massacres. Forty years ago Gladstone protested against the Armenian atrocities, and I commend his example to the Government. I am reminded that he condemned also the Bulgarian atrocities 20 years before. Gladstone said:There are states of affairs in which human sympathy refuses to be confined by the rules of international law.These events in Abyssinia are such another state of affairs. I hope we shall show the world that this country is still capable of human sympathy and still possesses sufficient moral courage to take its stand against these forms of oppression and tyranny.
Before I sit down I wish to make one observation with regard to the position in Spain. The present situation is becoming more and more unsatisfactory. The fact that yesterday the French Government found it necessary to draw the attention of the British and the German Governments to the dangers that may well arise in the near future, as far as the Mediterranean is concerned, if Italy persisted in despatching troops to take part in the Spanish civil war, justifies me in referring to this as a matter of great urgency. I sincerely trust that Count 3109 Grandi was not committing his Government when he stated that the Italian combatants now in Spain—I use the word "combatants" as a neutral word, in order to avoid disputes as to what is and what is not a volunteer—would not be removed until the end of the civil war. Any such refusal, in my opinion, would strike at the very foundations of the principle of non-intervention.
As regards the charge which has been made that there are units of the Italian Army serving with General Franco's forces, I would remind the House that whatever one's views may be on that terrible tragedy, the Spanish Government, the legitimate Spanish Government, has formally informed the British Government that there are divisions of the Italian Army in Spain. I suggest that this question must be cleared up. It is vital to the peace of Europe. It is a question of fact. Either there are Italian divisions in Spain or there are not. They cannot be phantom soldiers. If Italy takes the view that they are not Italian divisions in Spain why should she be afraid of any commission of investigation? I therefore strongly support the proposal that a commission of investigation should be dispatched to Spain, as far as I am concerned to both sides of the line. Let us ascertain the facts, as to how many foreign combatants are in Spain, and first of all whether there are organised divisions of the Italian Army serving on the side of General Franco. War is like a contagious disease: it easily spreads. I submit that it is the bounden duty of all nations, no matter what questions of prestige may be involved, to do everything possible and to oppose nothing that will enable us to preserve the peace of the world.
§ 12.21 p.m.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) has rendered a great service in bringing this matter before the House and the country, and indeed the world, in the very clear and effective documented way in which he has. At the same time it is a matter which must excite acute feelings outside this country, and it is only right that we should say that Italy is a country with a great and historic past and I hope an equally great and historic future, and that we do not come here to make these accusations to-day in a sense of self- 3110 righteousness, suggesting that we and other countries have nothing in the past to regret. It is only right to say that there is no country in the world which has not got certain episodes in its past which it would much sooner forget altogether; but I think that the Italian Government when they carefully think over this matter and go thoroughly into it will feel that an episode has occurred which is unworthy of their high traditions and prestige, and that they will desire to do everything in their power to prevent anything of the sort happening again.
Without going into the matter fully, as my hon. Friend has done, I think the situation is well summed up in the final words of a letter that was addressed to the "Times" a day or two ago by some of the most distinguished leaders of thought in various spheres in this country. It was in these words:We, therefore, wish to record our conviction that such unspeakably cruel and unjustifiable excesses are not only a stain on the honour of the people responsible for them, but a menace to white rule in Africa and to the future of Christian civilisation.I support the proposal that when the matter comes before the League of Nations His Majesty's Government should give their support to the possibility of an inquiry taking place into the actual facts and doing all they can to persuade the Italian Government that such action would be in their own best interests and in accordance with the promise that they have made. One matter which affects this question is the amount of anti-British propaganda that is continually going on from both Berlin and Rome. I understand that from Rome propaganda is continually being put out in Arabic, English, Chinese, Japanese, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Hindustani. The Government ought to consider seriously obtaining exact information as to the nature of this propaganda and, if they think it necessary, to make arrangements that statements of fact should be made available through the B.B.C. to the different countries of the world where our case must not go by default.
With regard to the question of Spain, we all realise that a grave crisis has arisen through the events of the last few days. I am inclined to welcome those events because they have brought us into a sphere of reality, they have stripped all 3111 pretence at last, I hope, from the farce of non-intervention that has been going on for so many months. You cannot cooperate with non-co-operators. You cannot work or play with people who will not recognise the rules, and both Germany and Italy have made quite clear in various events during the past few months and years what their policy is. They desire to be judges in their own case. They definitely refuse all international co-operation for the purposes of peace. They are advocates of power politics, and they are going to do all they can to get by the force of their right arms all that they can in the world.
There is a direct conflict between the policy, quite clearly understood, of those two countries and, I suppose, Japan, and the policy of the greater part of the rest of the world, certainly of the States with whom we are most closely associated and of the loyal members of the League. It is a conflict that has to be decided some day and in some way. It may be said that if criticisms are made in this House the dictators may be angry, but we cannot restrain the strong feelings that exist here because of any consideration of that kind. There are large numbers of people all over this country who are also feeling very angry. The people are the dictators here, and they are entitled to express their views just as strongly and as firmly as any individuals in any other country. There is a growing tide of indignation at the flagrant breaches of the Non-Intervention Pact that has been going on with greater clarity day by day. I welcome the firm and clear words used by the Soviet Ambassador at the Non-Intervention Committee yesterday. I think that he expressed what is the opinion of most people when he said:All these facts justify us in regarding the action of the Italian Government in the Iberian Peninsular at the present time as one of the most flagrant cases of foreign intervention ever known in history, and in fact, taking into account the magnitude of the forces employed, it is something akin to an Italian military invasion of a foreign country, an invasion which is a flagrant military aggression against a foreign country as understood by international law and the Covenant of the League of Nations.He went on to refer to the desirability of some form of inquiry. I hope that an inquiry will be pressed, that it will take place, and that the Government will do 3112 all they can to support it. If that line of approach is not thought the most suitable, I hope that the question can be dealt with, not through the Non-Intervention Committee, but through the appropriate machinery of the League of Nations. I hope that it will be taken up under Article 10, for there has been a flagrant breach of that Article, which undertakes to preserve the territorial integrity of a State. I hope we shall make it clear that we are willing to cooperate to the full with all States which will loyally co-operate with us—and there are plenty of them and quite enough in all parts of the world—in order to stop this sort of thing going on. Firm action and firm words were quite enough in the case of the attempted German landing in Spanish Morocco to make it promptly disappear from the picture, and I feel sure that if firm words are used now we shall have an end to the invasion of Spain that is going on.
In the interest of this country and of world peace it is desirable that the Spanish Government should be successful in this civil war. I agree that there are foreigners fighting on both sides—there is no doubt about that—but on the Government side the number is substantially less than on Franco's side. They are people whom no one has compelled to go. They have gone, perhaps out of adventure in the first place, but out of a real belief in the cause for which they are fighting. That certainly applies to the Germans and Italians who have gone to join the Spanish Government, and so it is with the nationals of other countries, too. They are filled with a passionate desire to help the cause of the Spanish Government, even at the sacrifice of their own lives. There are a certain number of technical experts from Russia and other countries who went there after the first few months of the Non-Intervention Agreement and have rendered immense service to that cause, and, I believe, to the cause of this country. On the rebel side there is a much larger assemblage of forces. There are the regular armed forces of Germany and Italy who have been compelled to go there against their will. That is perfectly clear from the evidence with regard to the unfortunate Italian peasants who thought they were going to Abyssinia and suddenly found themselves landed in the front line on the Madrid Front. Therefore, there is the greatest possible con- 3113 trast between the forces on the two sides. In the action that has recently taken place on the Madrid front, it was Italians who defeated Italians, because the Italians who went freely for a cause defeated the Italian Fascists who were compelled to go there and had no desire to be there at all.
Why is this invasion of Spain taking place? Is it for the cause of religion? Is it in order to protect Christianity? Is Herr Hitler interested in Christianity? Is he desirous of helping the Catholic Church? He has certainly shown no signs of doing so in his own country. No, Sir, the object of the invasion of Spain is to set up on the other side of the Pyrenees a Fascist State threatening our Imperial routes and the French routes, and if it succeeds there it will be repeated elsewhere with greater confidence and greater success. It is the new technique which is now being tried out, and the way the issue goes is of immense importance to the whole world and to the people of this country. There is only one thing that can stop it, and that is the possession of, and the willingness to use, superior force by the pacific States. The Government are playing their part undoubtedly in supplying our quota of the superior force. Is it equally clear that they are doing their part to make all countries understand that there is a willingness to use it? No. That is the whole danger in the world at the present time, and I cannot make it clearer than by quoting from a dispatch of the Berlin correspondent of the "Times" on 10th March in which he uses these words:It is still made as plain as ever that any idea of extending a Western agreement eastwards would meet with firm resistance Ly the Germans, and that the most disconcerting element in the present situation is the increased uncertainty about British policy in the event of an outbreak of hostilities in Eastern Europe.There is the danger point in the world at the present time—the uncertainty whether this country, with its great forces, is really going to act in defence of the cause of right. It is realy pathetic to see how some of the small countries in the south-east and north-east of Europe are applauding British rearmament, in the hope that it is going to help them; but is it? That is the whole point. Nobody knows what the Government are going to do outside of the very small area of Belgium and France, and I do not believe 3114 they could render any greater service to the cause of peace than by making it clear now that our arms will be used in accordance with the Covenant and Annex F to the Treaty of Locarno, which they have only recently reaffirmed as being their policy—that our arms will be used loyally and effectively in co-operation with other States against "any aggressor"—those are the words—"having regard to the military situation and the geographical position." I believe that along those lines alone can the Government prevent the people of this land from being, in the long run, drawn once more into the horrors of a conflict as great as, or greater than that of 1914.
§ Mr. Annesley Somerville
The hon. Member has expressed the wish that the arms of this country should be used in conjunction with those of other States. Will he kindly tell us which other States?
§ Mr. Mander
I believe that if the Government were to make a declaration of that kind and ask which other States were willing to co-operate with them, they would—provided they made it clear that they meant to go through to the bitter end at all costs, and not to turn back half way—find that they could rely upon France, Belgium, Russia, Holland, Poland, the Baltic States, the Little Entente (Yugoslavia, Rumania and Czechoslovakia), most of the Balkan States and Turkey, and probably others, too. They could assemble an overwhelming mass of power.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Captain Harold Balfour
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) began his remarks with a protest against propaganda which is being broadcast from Rome and Berlin. It seems to me that we in this House cannot make a protest, or ask the Government to protest, against propaganda sent out from those capitals when at the same time the hon. Member asserts, as he asserted later in his speech, the absolute right of this House and of all citizens in this country to say exactly what they like about the rule of other countries. I agree entirely with the hon. Member that we should be able to say exactly what we like, but he cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. Mander
May I make it clear that what I was suggesting was not that propaganda should be avoided, but that we should make an effective reply?
§ Captain Balfour
The hon. Member wants to see a propaganda race in Europe, whereas I think most hon. Members would agree that propaganda is one of the modern weapons which has probably caused more ill-feeling in this world than any other post-war development, that is, propaganda twisted to particular purposes. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) made a speech to-day to which, I think, nobody could take exception, but in one phrase he remarked that he had no sympathy with bomb-throwers because 99 times out of zoo the victims are innocent people. But that remark would be interpreted in propaganda in Europe as an admission that he had condoned the throwing of bombs by the Abyssinians as a means of attack against the Italians, and only regretted it because, unfortunately, the bombs might hit the wrong target. I know that the hon. Member did not mean any such thing, but I put it forward only as an instance of the dangers of modern propaganda twisted by people who say that the end justifies the means. That is why I, personally, take exception to the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East, that there should be counterblasts of propaganda, one country against another, throughout the whole world.
§ Mr. Mander
The hon. and gallant Member is still hardly doing me justice. I said that what we wanted was not propaganda but the statement of the real facts.
§ Captain Balfour
Exactly, but what we regard as statements of real facts are so often taken as propaganda by other people. When I knew that the hon. Member was going to raise this subject I felt, like most other Members, tremendously in sympathy with what he wished to say about the horrors of these massacres, but we cannot deny that in a majority of cases our protests in this House lose effectiveness because on every side we are swayed to some extent in our protests by our particular political inclinations. One has only to look at the Order Paper at Question Time to see that among Members on one side of the House there is always an inclination to put forward instances of excesses committed by one opposing faction in the civil war in Spain, and among Members on the other side an inclination to promote the interests of the side with which they are particularly in 3116 sympathy. That is only human. What I should like to see would be a self-denying ordinance in this House under which not a single question regarding excesses by General Franco's armies should be put from the Opposition side, and no questions which would tend to bring discredit on the Spanish Government put from the Government side. That might be a very good way of leavening the tendency to express our protests, as part of our particular inclinations.
§ Mr. Attlee
Does that mean that it is known that the British Government are on the side of General Franco?
§ Captain Balfour
No, Sir, but the right hon. Gentleman knows full well that his own supporters have not put any questions about excesses on the Spanish Government side, although everybody knows that they have taken place, just as excesses have undoubtedly occurred on General Franco's side. I regard the interjection by the Leader of the Opposition as a typical example—one in which he was trying to give political support to the Government side and condemning General Franco's in a Debate in which we are discussing excesses which the House as a whole condemns whole-heartedly, no matter by whom they are committed.
§ Mr. Attlee
I merely emphasised the hon. and gallant Gentleman's own suggestion. He proposed that all the questions with regard to excesses by the Spanish Government should be put from this side and that all those alleged against General Franco should be put from that side. I wanted to know whether the implication was not therefore that the entire Government side supported General Franco, and whether he spoke for the Government.
§ Captain Balfour
I spoke as a humble back bencher, and I was only trying by fancy to think of a self-balancing governor which might have a very good effect when we are asking questions about excesses which all parties in the House condemn. We are liable to slide over excesses alleged against the side towards which we have a political inclination and to condemn wholeheartedly offences on the side with which we do not agree. Look at Soviet Russia; undoubtedly there have been great excesses there in the past, but in past Debates one finds precious little condemnation of those excesses in the speeches from the Opposition side. 3117 On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have expressed complete condemnation of excesses carried out in some of the dictator countries. One could say the same about our side of the House. This is one of the few free Parliaments left in the world, and as such we have something to guard. We can interpret the views of the people of our country whom we represent in a way that other European countries cannot, at present. I hazard a guess that if only other countries had the opportunity which we now enjoy, whatever their political views might be or whatever the way in which those views might be expressed, there would not be the strain and tension which exist in Europe at the present time.
In this wholehearted condemnation of excesses which occur in various countries in Europe at present, we should not allow political bias to creep in. While I heartily support the protest of the hon. Member for Kingswinford, I hope that we shall have an equal denunciation of the excesses made by other factions, irrespective of political party. In that way we shall show, I believe, how we are revolted by excesses, whether committed by Dictators of the Right or Dictators of the Left. By keeping clear of political propagandist protests, this Parliament will, I suggest, reinforce once more what the hon. Member for Kingswinford so eloquently said has been the great strength of this country in relation to the rest of the world, the freedom to speak with a conscience which is not checked and hampered by political Dictators, but which enjoys liberties which others do not possess.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson
I intervene to support what was said by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on the subject of propaganda. I should not have risen had it not been for what was said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour). He spoke in such a manner as to confuse the mind of the House in regard to the suggestions made by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. The question of propaganda is one to which we should devote a very great amount of attention, and about which we require much more information than we at present possess. Those who have recently been abroad will have been appalled at the broadcasts to which the 3118 hon. Member referred, and at the effects which such broadcasts have throughout the Islamic world, and even among the African peoples. It is important to remember that, as a nation, we are not good at propaganda. Our Foreign Office is an extremely incompetent propagandist, and I trust it will always remain so. The power and influence of our Foreign Office in the world are based upon a regard for truth, while propaganda is based upon a disregard for truth. We have had occasion, naturally, at moments of grave crisis, to resort to propaganda; but at such times we have called in one of our Press Lords to assist.
The essential thing that we can and must do is to convince foreign nations of our own standards of judgment and of our theories of civilisation. Instead of putting propaganda out on the wireless, in broadsheets, in foreign newspapers and in other ways, consisting of garbled versions of our own policies and denunciations of the policies of other countries, we should concentrate what money we have upon establishing abroad a sound respect for the English system of education. We should back wherever we can the excellent English schools which exist in places like Egypt and Turkey. I agree as to the dangers of German and Italian propaganda; but I would point out that while it can to some extent be countered by publishing statements of fact we can do more good by creating a habit of mind through grants to British schools and institutions abroad. Instead of taking a leaf from the book of Italians, Russians or Germans we should use our own methods, and be prepared to devote to them infinitely more money than we are devoting at the present time.
§ 12.52 p.m.
I am in warm accord with what has just been said on the subject of propaganda, both in the good and in the bad senses of the word. I suggest that nearly every word has its convex and concave side and that propaganda is merely a term used by those who disagree to describe what those who use the propaganda think to be legitimate information. Let me revert to the original subject with which this Debate began, the terrible massacres at Addis Ababa. I shall not say much about them because the subject was so admirably dealt with by the hon. Member 3119 for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) and by my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander).
Our protests against those massacres are not merely the voice of humanity but of a section of humanity with special responsibilities. After all, those massacres would never have happened if we had not encouraged the Abyssinians to rely solely upon the League of Nations; had prevented her from arming herself and had then left her completely in the lurch. The moral of it is the danger of yielding too easily to violent men. If we had taken a firm stand against Signor Mussolini when his aggression was first planned, and before he finally committed himself, that aggression would never have taken place and Abyssinia would still be free and independent and the last surviving ancient Christian State in Africa. Therefore, we have a special responsibility in the matter.
Are we not in danger of committing the same kind of mistake in relation to countries for which we have the same obligation in honour, as we had towards Abyssinia, as a member of the League, but which concern our own vital interests much more closely? Europe is asking what England really means. Nations that feel themselves threatened are continually told that our policy is based on the Covenant of the League under which we intend to fulfil our obligations, but that does not clear up the question as to what we should do in certain obvious and much-dreaded contingencies. The most obvious contingency is that which has been referred to in other Debates in this House, the fear that Czechoslovakia may be attacked by Germany, either directly or through the new Hitler-Mussolini method of indirect aggression which we see in practice in Spain.
We have made repeated efforts to draw the Government upon that subject, but we have been met only with vague generalisation such as that made by the Foreign Secretary at Leamington and Bradford, such as that we cannot be secure in a Western glasshouse or disinterest ourselves from what happens in the rest of Europe, which are generally accompanied by firm reminders that there is no obligation under the League of Nations to apply military sanctions against aggression, except in the case of 3120 those countries with whom we have special alliances. That kind of thing does not reassure those who feel themselves threatened, especially the smaller countries, nor will it be likely to deter any potential aggressor. The threatened countries would be less uneasy if the Government were as certain in affirming that they intended to carry out the financial and economic sanctions which are admitted to be automatic under Article 16 of the Covenant, as they have been firm in reaffirming that there are no automatic military sanctions. If the countries knew, for example, that there would be a complete economic blockade of an aggressor country and that if economic sanctions were challenged by war, that we should resist to the end and not collapse, as we did in Abyssinia, they might feel reassured. The countries are all wondering whether their fate is to be the same as that of Abyssinia, whether if they are attacked there will be some lip-service paid to the League, perhaps tardy and ineffective sanctions, and then complete collapse and a victory of the aggressor.
I want to say a few words about the effect of this uncertainty about some of the smaller European countries, especially the three countries of the Little Entente which I have lately had an opportunity of visiting in the company of the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl). We hear much less about Rumania and Yugoslavia than we have recently heard about Czechoslovakia, but these three countries in the Little Entente are our national allies. All three have special claims on us. Czechoslovakia is a country which we helped to bring into existence, partly as a reward for the service it did for the allies during the War, when its leaders and those soldiers taken prisoners in Russia refused to play the Austro-Hungarian game, and the prisoners were formed into an army corps which fought its way out of Russia in order that they might fight for their country's independence. We are sometimes asked whether this country would be willing to fight for Czechoslovakia if it were attacked. Might we not ask rather whether it would be decent to abandon this country, the last free enlightened democracy left in Central Europe? Also, would it be safe? Let those who believe in power politics remember Bismarck's dictum: 3121He who is master of Bohemia is master of Europe.The position of the other two countries is a little different. But they, too, are our former allies; they too are surrounded by envious neighbours—made envious largely by their enlarged boundaries which we helped to draw. Whether those boundaries were drawn well or ill is not the question. It was largely ourselves that drew them. Whatever we may regret about what happened after the Great War, we shall have no need to regret or depart from the principle then laid down —that if any country has a grievance either over a boundary or any other question, that country must seek a remedy at the Council of the League, through free negotiation and appeal to third party judgment and not seek a remedy by the sword. The danger now is that in default of just that kind of assurance that we could give them these smaller threatened countries might seek friends elsewhere. They might feel that their natural allies, ourselves and France, were likely to abandon them. Several hon. Members have spoken against Nazi propaganda against this country. Perhaps more dangerous is the incessant, insidious Nazi propaganda in favour of Nazi and Fascist ideals and principles of government in Central Europe. It is difficult for us to realise the extent of this propaganda. It is a monster with a hundred heads, a hundred feet and a hundred arms.
It plays upon a few of the best motives in human nature and upon all the worst. It appeals to youth, with its cloudy ideals, its love of the mother country, the boyish love of marching and secret societies and uniforms. It appeals to the trading classes by continuous economic penetration, and by playing on their fear of Communism. It acts in that way like a gang of burglars who, to distract attention from the one who has entered the house, call "thief" after a harmless passer-by. It appeals to the militarists and great landowners in every country, by holding out to them hopes of more power and influence than they could obtain under any democratic regime. Worst of all, it appeals to the basest of all human instincts, that instinct of sadism, that love of cruelty and torture, oppression and persecution for their own sakes, bestialities that we Europeans thought belonged to a dead 3122 past until Nazism and Fascism brought them to life again.
We have no direct responsibility for what happens in Italy or Germany, but we have a much greater responsibility for what happens in these smaller States which we helped to create. We have a responsibility under the Covenant of the League to preserve the integrity of the frontiers of these States, unless and until these frontiers are changed by peaceful negotiations. We have a corresponding responsibility for the welfare of the racial and religious minorities in those countries, many of whom are in a position of great danger. We guaranteed the rights of those minorities in the Treaty of St. Germaine, and, so if their frontiers are threatened or if their minorities are oppressed, in neither case shall we be able to say that it is no matter of ours. It is very much our concern unless we are prepared, like the dictatorships that we criticise, to allow treaties and covenants to be treated like so many scraps of paper. What are we doing to discharge these responsibilities? In the matter of cultural propaganda, almost nothing. We profess great devotion to our own ideals of free and ordered progress, of democracy through a Parliament really responsible to the people, of a free Press and equal rights for all citizens.
How much are we doing to propagate these ideals abroad? Under the cover of that much overworked cliche that we shall take no part in any way of rival doctrine, what we are actually doing is to allow these doctrines, or the worst of them, to spread themselves uncontroverted and unchecked. It is not so much that we allow the Devil to have all the best tunes, but we clear out and leave him to play his own hideous orchestra just as he pleases, because we are too lazy or too stingy to see that those who want to hear our own better music have the opportunity of listening to it. It is true that there is an admirable British Council which was set up two years ago under the chairmanship of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). We came across many traces of its work in the three countries of the Little Entente. It is doing most valuable work in spreading British culture and British ideals; but with what resources? Merely a trivial grant of a few thousand pounds—
—it was much less than that until this year—and certain resources from generous benefactors. Compare that with the sums which the great dictatorships are spending. Italy is spending on culture propaganda at least £1,000,000 per annum. In Germany the sum is more concealed, but it must largely exceed £1,000,000 per annum, to say nothing of the much greater amounts and the infinite trouble that are being spent to develop commercial relationships in every possible way. Would it not be well worth our while, even from the meanest point of view, to spend more money and more effort in developing friendly relations with these mid-European countries? The benefits would not be one-sided. There is, I believe, much that we could teach them, because, after all, they are new countries struggling with new problems, even when they represent old civilisations. But we have also a good deal to learn from them. For example, Rumania is a country with enormous potential wealth and an extremely rich and varied peasant art showing all the traces of a deep-rooted ancient civilisation and great artistic talent. Have we nothing to learn from a country like that? It is much the same with our old ally during the War, Yugoslavia. Suppose that these countries, obsessed by all this Nazi and Fascist propaganda, do adopt totalitarian doctrines, with all their hideous accompaniment of suppression of liberty and oppression of minorities, and do seek friendships leading them into alliances which may prove extremely dangerous in the unfortunate event of a European conflict. If it does come, whom shall we have to blame but ourselves if those countries, feeling that they are deserted by their natural allies, by their old friends, feeling that it is a habit of democracies to desert their own and that only dictatorships protect their own, seek protection where they think it is most likely to be found?
These countries need two things—friendship and sympathy, and, above all, security. If they know that, so long as they are faithful to their obligations under the League, to their obligations to their fellow States in the League, and to their own minorities under the Treaty of St. Germain, we shall be faithful too, there will be far less danger that, if the day 3124 of war ever does come, we shall find them ranged on the wrong side. They hold key positions; we cannot afford to neglect them; we have no right to neglect them. It is all very well to agitate about the misfortunes that have happened to Abyssinia, and that are happening to democratic government in Spain, when it is too late to do anything. Let us see that with regard to these other countries we do not wait till it is too late. Let us maintain our friendships; let us maintain our alliances; let us hold out, so far as we can, a friendly hand where it is needed; and, above all, let those smaller nations have reason to feel that, when they subscribe to the Covenant of the League, they are taking part in a real system of collective security, and have no need to seek outside it any other alliances.
§ 1.10 p.m.
Duchess of Atholl
I think there is nothing in the very interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) with which I am not in warm agreement, except possibly a slightly suspicious reference to landowners and their supposed aims and objects. As I said the other day, I fear that there is some uncertainty as to how far the Government will be prepared to carry out the implications of Annex F of Locarno in the event of aggression in Europe, and that uncertainty tends to create still greater uncertainty in other countries as to the value of the League. I believe that nothing would do more to preserve the peace of Europe than a clear statement by our Government that we shall carry out the implications of Annex F in the event of any aggression in Europe or in any other part of the world in which we have special interests, provided that the victim and any countries specially bound to it are offering full resistance and that the victim has made adequate praparation beforehand for such an unhappy contingency.
I wish now to say with what very deep concern I have heard the clear account given by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) of the tragic happenings in Addis Ababa. I think we are entitled to believe, from what my Noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State said a week or two ago, that there has been a massacre there of a terrible kind. I speak as one who was prepared to support the Hoare-Laval proposals for 3125 several reasons. The chief of them was that the weakness of our Army and Air Force at that time would have necessarily weakened the action that the League could take, but another reason was that I believed that Italian rule over a part of Abyssinia would anyhow ensure that the Abyssinians would be free from the curse of slavery and slave-raiding—circumstances which made me feel very doubtful as to whether Abyssinia was really worthy of being a member of the League. I wish now to say that what I have heard from the official statement quoted by the hon. Member for Kingswinford makes me feel that Italian rule is something infinitely worse than even Abyssinian rule with its many shortcomings, and I warmly support the proposal that the League should be asked to make an inquiry.
With regard to the question of Spain, we had a Debate on that subject only a week ago. On the Second Reading of the Merchant Shipping (Spanish Frontiers Observation) Bill, my Noble Friend assured us that he regarded the question of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Spain as an urgent one, and I understood that all the pressure of the Government would be used to secure that withdrawal. He also told us that he had no evidence that Italian troops had been landed in Spain since 20th February. We have now heard of the refusal of the Italian representative on the Non-Intervention Committee to consider the question of the withdrawal of Italian troops and, if that is the deliberate policy of his Government, it constitutes a very grave position. I earnestly hope that that is not the last word of the Italian Government on the subject. At the same time, I cannot feel very hopeful in the matter in view of the tone of the speech made by Signor Mussolini a day or two ago. We have also learnt that the French Government has reason to believe that Italian troops have been landed in Spain since 20th February.
I said last week that another circumstance which had come to light, namely, the statements of Italian prisoners that whole Italian divisions with their divisional commanders were there, constituted a new circumstance in this story of, as I regard it, aggression in Spain, and I expressed the view that the League might well be asked to consider this case of aggression. I understand that the Spanish Government since then has appealed to 3126 the League. It seems to me that such an appeal will be fully justified unless there can be immediate acceptance of the principle of withdrawal and evidence that it is being carried out. If this appeal comes before the League, I earnestly hope that our Government will support it. I do not believe that an appeal to the League necessarily means a spread of this unhappy conflict. I believe that no great keenness is shown about this intervention in Germany. We have had evidence that it is very unpopular there, and we have not had evidence lately of any increase in the number of German troops. I do not feel convinced either that Italian intervention in Spain to-day is very popular in Italy, and it seems to me that if the League, with us and the French and the Russians, were to take a firm stand and say, "This must cease and these troops must go back," the moral effect would be very great. If it did not succeed, it seems to me that an international blockade might achieve its aim without the conflict spreading. But if the worst came to the worst and the conflict did spread, I feel that it is only honest and right to say that I believe the aggressor Powers would have to meet superior military forces and greatly superior natural resources—and on natural resources depends ultimately the issue of any war—and, above all, I believe they would have to meet a morale infinitely superior to that of the aggressors.
If anyone asks me why I say that, I point to the spirit animating the International Brigade in Spain. They have shown that they realise that they are fighting for liberty and democracy against a force which means death to both, and they have shown a spirit infinitely superior to anything of which we have heard in the troops which have been imported into Spain. On the other hand, if nothing is done, if Italy is allowed to refuse or to delay the withdrawal of her troops, if we take no notice of Signor Mussolini's words, all that makes me doubt even more than I doubted last week whether the control scheme that has been agreed to here can be really effective; and, if German and Italian warships are allowed to bombard the Catalonian coast, as I believe in some measure they have already done, in spite of the gallantry of the International Brigade and the fine spirit shown by the Spanish forces, it seems possible that General Franco may win. 3127 In that case the League will not only have proved itself powerless in a difficult situation, but it will have been ignored by the countries which ostensibly stand by it and want to make it stronger. We shall have another Fascist State in existence, another military dictatorship, which will be dependent for its success largely on help given it from outside. It seems to me, therefore, that the prospect of letting things drift brings before us not merely the possibility but the likelihood that before long we may have to take part in a war fought in circumstances exposing our communications in the Mediterranean, our communications with the Cape, and our trade routes generally to the greatest peril they have ever known. That is a contingency which we must always have before our eyes in considering this terribly grave and anxious Spanish situation.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I believe that, in the perhaps unavoidable absence of a section of the Conservative party which normally seems to me to be more vocal than rational, we have heard from the Noble Lady uninterruptedly the true mind of the nation on this Spanish question. This Debate is remarkable. It is the first in which no one has challenged up to now by speech, and no one has challenged by interruption, the fact that German and Italian intervention in Spain is of an entirely different character from the support that has been given to the Spanish Government from various outside sources. Usually assertions that Italians and Germans were fighting on the side of Franco have been met from the other side of the House by a barrage of cries of "Russia." Where are those cries today? As long as it was possible for the brigade of hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite to shelter behind the official ignorance of His Majesty's Government they maintained their bombardment. Where are they? Where is the hon. and gallant Member for Peebles (Captain Ramsay)? Where are the hon. Members for Mid Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), Central Newcastle (Mr. Denville) and Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft)? It is unfortunate that in one way or another they have been prevented from coming to the House now that the facts have become so abundantly clear that they could not possibly, even by interjection, have denied 3128 what we have known and asserted all along and what the Russian Ambassador has asserted to-day, that this is a new method of foreign invasion. I am glad to support my hon. Friend the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), who has said that the position to-day has become crystal clear. I think there has been another change in the situation.
§ Mr. Emmott
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that what, I suppose, must be described as the Government of Valencia have derived no assistance from Russia?
§ Mr. Acland
I am very loath to have to go into it at length, but, as I have been challenged, may I briefly give my views? Before the outbreak of war, there were certainly foreigners conducting propaganda both for Communist and for Fascist ideologists. Immediately on the outbreak of the revolution armed forces of Italy, who had received their instructions two days before the Revolution broke out, flew by aeroplane to render armed assistance to the rebels. It was that intervention by the Fascists which was a direct breach of all international law, as it then existed, which caused the French, with our co-operation, or, may be, with our encouragement, to propose non-intervention. I claim that the Russians observed the Non-Intervention Agreement for months, while the Fascists wholly disregarded it. The Fascists poured arms and ammunition into Spain for Franco, while the Russians sent nothing, and that went on for weeks and for months.
I have not the actual date in my mind, but it was in October that the Russians said—and who can blame them—that they could tolerate that state of affairs no longer. It was then, as I admit, that they sent material and a limited number of technicians. But did they ever send a single armed infantry unit? I have asked the Government this question. It is almost futile and useless to ask the Government for information on this matter, because they know so little. In the first Debate on the Spanish Non-Intervention Agreement, which took place in this House at the end of the Summer Recess in October, the Foreign Secretary used these words in talking of the origin of the Non-intervention Agreement. I am quoting them from memory, but I think they will he found to be correct. He said, "Within a few days of 3129 the outbreak of the struggle, it became apparent that armed intervention from outside was going to take place, and was already taking place." On that he justified the Non-Intervention Agreement. He had information of what was happening upon those first few days to justify the Non-Intervention Agreement, but since then he has had almost no information whatever. I asked him whether there had ever been any information of a unit of 25 or more Russians arriving in Spain? No information whatever. Whereas we have frequently had, even in this House, quite official information of Italians running up to thousands arriving in definitely organised brigades. Therefore, I am justified in saying that the fact is now established, and there was no one in this House, until I was challenged, who had interrupted or dare deny that the Italian-German intervention in this dispute is of an infinitely different character from the assistance that the Spanish Government have received from outside sources.
There is another feature of the struggle upon which there has been a very great change in the last few days. Until the last few days, the Italian dictators had mainly to face the British Foreign Secretary; to-day they have to face the Spanish People's Army, and that is a very different affair. Until recently the Fascist powers went calmly on their way, and they succeeded unless we, the non-Fascist Powers, and particularly ourselves and France, were prepared to do something which might, in certain circumstances, precipitate a conflict; and as we always failed to do anything of that kind, the Fascists, up to quite recently, seemed to be having it all their own way. Now they have met the Spanish People's Army, and the position to-day is much more serious. To-day it is Mussolini who has to choose, probably within the next week or so, between facing defeat and taking some further action which may risk and precipitate a conflict. In which way is he going to decide? Can we do anything to induce him to decide in the direction of accepting defeat rather than pressing further into inevitable European chaos? It was for that reason that I put a question on the Paper about the possible use of poison gas in Spain. This is a question which is concerning many people.
If Mussolini intends to go on, how will he go on? Is it to be assumed that he will throw good troops after bad? Is 3130 he not more likely to take some different line? Gas served him rather well in Abyssinia. It has been reported that gas masks have been captured from the fleeing Italian troops. It has been reported from their prisoners that there are chemical companies attached to the Italian units. Of course, there has been no official representative of the British Foreign Office who has seen these gas masks or interrogated these prisoners, but are not the reports sufficiently definite for us to do something now to indicate to Mussolini that we will not tolerate that kind of extension of his activities? What do we stand to lose? If no gas is used, the most we shall have done will have been to send out four or five observers. We shall have to pay their fares and maintenance, and they will come back with nothing lost. But if gas is used, are we going to be too late, and receive the kind of answers from that Box that we have had on almost every other subject, that the Government have no official information, and that, as far as they can make out, a certain amount of gas seems to be used by both sides in roughly equal quantities, and that, therefore, the Government are not able to take any action? Why not get down to it now, so that, in this not impossible event, we shall have information?
How should we go about it? We are often being asked by hon. Members opposite what we would do in certain circumstances, and in what different manner we would handle this crisis. May I offer a purely personal point of view of what I believe should be done? We should go to the Non-Intervention Committee and say that this may happen, and that we desire to have accurate, impartial, unbiased and authoritative information on this question, if it does happen. We would propose that observers be sent from the countries concerned, from Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and Portugal. We should probably be met by obstruction. We should be told that both parties to the war would have to agree. That is not necessary. You need only your observers on one side of the line to see in which way the gas is moving. Therefore, it would not be necessary to wait for Franco's agreement. What should we do if the Italians or Germans did not agree? It seems to me that throughout the negotiations for non-intervention we have put a premium on obstruction. We have always let it be 3131 understood that unless the Germans or the Italians agreed nothing would be done. The better line would have been to let it be known that unless they agreed to take their share in what had to be done we would do it with the co-operation of such countries as were willing to cooperate.
§ Mr. Crossley
Does the hon. Member assume that the Government side in Spain would therefore accept these observers? In the case of the Non-Intervention Agreement it has been the Government side in Spain that has definitely prevented it.
§ Mr. Acland
I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts), who has a far greater knowledge of this matter than I have, that that is not so.
§ Mr. Acland
I am very sorry not to be equipped with the facts and figures to go into that in the same way that I was able to go into the challenge as to the arrival of foreign troops in Spain. In view of the history of the backers, on the two sides it seems to me that gas is much more to be feared by the Spanish Government than by Franco. Therefore, we cannot expect that the Government would refuse to agree to observers. My further point would be that we should indicate that if the Germans and Italians are not willing to send observers we will send six of our own and that we shall be happy to withdraw one any time that they feel inclined to send one. I hope that this matter will receive consideration.
Let me say a few words in regard to the case of Mr. Claude Cockburn, which was mentioned at Question Time. What is the Government's answer? They refused him his passport, to penalise him—is there any doubt of that—because he has committed a crime. Why? I have never heard of such a thing. If a man has committed a crime he ought to be prosecuted. Has anybody ever gone to the Passport Office and asked for a passport and been told: "You are not going to have a passport, because yesterday afternoon you exceeded the 30-miles speed limit." Is not that precisely the same sort of case? If a man has com- 3132 miffed a crime he should be prosecuted and dealt with by legal machinery. It is wrong to use the executive power at your own caprice to penalise a man for a crime which you are unable to prove against him. In general, we regard it as a farce to interfere with a few heroes of the international brigade, while we are allowing thousands of Italians to march in and take their part in the struggle.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Astor
The hon. Member who opened the Debate referred to the Lytton Commission, as a reason for sending a commission of inquiry to Addis Ababa to inquire into the recent lamentable and regrettable incidents which took place. I was at the time a member of the Secretariat of the League attached to the Lytton Commission, and I can assure the hon. Member that there is really no applicable precedent between that situation and the present one. In the first place; the Lytton Commission was invited by both sides. Both sides asked for the Commission, and both sides gave the Commission their most active cooperation. That Commission was working not on the basis of trying to find guilty parties here and there, but on the basis of Article II of the Covenant. Its object was purely that of conciliation, not of apportioning praise or blame, but to try to find an agreed solution for a very difficult problem.
That is an entirely different task from that of going to a country, which is virtually a non-member of the League, in regard to a question on which it has defied the League, and expect the Commission to be given full co-operation. We must realise that that is an impracticable proposition. It is right that this country should make its moral feelings absolutely clear in regard to outrages in whatever part of the world they happen, but it is most important that we should keep a proper perspective. It is not only that Dictators use the heavy hand. I can remember the French bombardment of Damascus in Syria. I can remember certain action by the Chinese at Gunsu, by the Japanese in Manchuria and certain reprisals which took place in Ireland. I can also remember wholesale massacres by the ruling Amhari race in Abyssinia on certain of their subject races. To ask the League to make an inquiry in this case is really trying to revive an issue which has been decided for better or ill.
Does the hon. Member really suggest that any of the other excesses to which he has alluded were in any way parallel to the massacre of 7,000 men, women and children, spread over four days, by a professedly Christian nation, which professes to have conquered a subject people and has promised to administer them in the spirit of the Covenant of the League?
§ Mr. Astor
It is very hard to give exact parallels of the number of people killed here and there, but surely the principle is the same whether you are killing 12, 20 or 100 people. The attempt to send out a commission of inquiry could not be effective without the active consent and co-operation of both sides. If in the end the Italian Government were declared formally guilty and they were then asked to make some reparation or leave Abyssinia altogether, it seems to me to be entirely out of the range of practicability. Our feelings about these matters, wherever they may occur, had much better be temperately expressed than by attempts to bring in a League commission of inquiry which is obviously impractical and unsuitable in this case.
The same thing applies, to some extent, to the proposal to send a so-called facts-finding commission to Spain. They could be of no earthly use to anybody unless they had the active co-operation of both sides, but perhaps not in the case of gas, which might be another matter. With regard to withdrawal, the fact that one side may have organised disciplined units might increase the difficulty of getting simultaneous withdrawal on both sides. It may be all very well to get people out in units, but it is far harder to get out a large number of people who often are of very indefinite nationality. A large number of men in the international column have been refugees, some of them without passports from their own country. That increases the difficulty. Before we cause a crisis over withdrawal, we ought to get the present system of preventing more foreigners from going to Spain working properly. If we could do that, it would be a valuable step forward. It would be a great mistake, and we might lose all prospects of keeping more foreigners out of Spain, if at the moment we were to try to have withdrawn those who are there already. I think the Government have shown great wisdom in this matter.
3134 It seems to be assumed that a military dictatorship in Spain would be against the interests of this country. I do not think we are likely to see a Fascist dictatorship there. That would need a large Fascist party, and there is not one in Spain; there is a large number of small parties who rather disagree with one another. However, we have in the past had experience of a military dictatorship in Spain under the Marquis Primo de Riviera, and I do not think anybody would say that any British interests suffered during his dictatorship. Certainly our commercial interests suffered far more under succeeding Governments.
Duchess of Atholl
Primo de Riviera did not owe his position in any way to help which he had received from outside, and General Franco would.
§ Mr. Astor
The Noble Lady anticipates a point I was about to make. Her observation is true, but one thing which most newspaper reports claim is that there has been great friction betwen General Franco and some of his supporters. The Germans have been withdrawing more and more from active participation. There is every indication that the greatest desire of General Franco is to be a nationalist dictator and not to form part of any international Fascist system. I do not think the dangers in that respect are as great as some hon. Members perhaps believe. I would like to say a few words in reply to the speech made by the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). She suggested that we should make it clear immediately that British military forces may be engaged anywhere. As has been pointed out, that goes beyond the terms of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and would be an addition to our present obligations under the Covenant.
I do not want the hon. Member to misunderstand me. I did not suggest that we should do anything beyond the terms of our obligations under the League. Those obligations are to provide financial and economic sanctions automatically, and military sanctions in accordance with political and geographical considerations, as far as our military strength permits, and where necessary. I do not ask for anything more than that, and I think it would be enough.
§ Mr. Astor
The hon. Lady has made a most important proviso, and has given us an important means of escape. Surely the point is that there is a large number of people in this country who do not share her view. There is a large number of people who do not want to get mixed up in what may be a quarrel in Eastern Europe. It is conceivable that one might at the beginning of a war raise enthusiasm for fighting in a quarrel which was not our own, but it would be hard to keep the nation united in a modern war, when the soldiers knew that their wives and children were suffering, were being bombed and perhaps gassed. They would come to realise that the quarrel was one the merits of which they were uncertain and in which they felt that their vital interests were not at stake.
Surely the grave danger is that we may too easily raise hopes and undertake commitments which the people of the country will not feel like honouring when the time comes. There is no doubt that during the crisis over the Rhineland the popular feeling of the country, in spite of the Treaty of Locarno, was against our getting involved, and it is that deep strain of pacifism, the desire to keep out of quarrels, that animates the common people of the country which is one of the limiting factors in this question of expanding our commitments. Nothing could be more cruel than to lead a small nation up the garden path, and in the end to give it no effective help. As a member of the secretariat of the Lytton Commission, I saw that. I hope that until we are sure that the overwhelming majority of the nation is prepared, and has shown by co-operation in the Territorials and in recruiting that it is prepared, to consider the possibility of such action, the Government are most wise in keeping our certain commitments limited.
The hon. Member seemed to direct his argument against mine. Does he not think that the people of this country would be as willing to fight to defend democratic countries such as Czechoslavakia, against aggression as they would be to fight to keep every inch of our Colonial possessions in Africa and to defend the Colonies of Portugal, as they would under the present agreement?
§ Mr. Astor
I think that one of the few things proved by history is that an invasion of our own territory will cause our 3136 people to fight. One of the justifications of the British Empire is that we can protect the subject nations from invasion by systems different from our own. I hope the hon. Lady, who unfortunately lacks a constituency which she can visit in the same way as other hon. Members, will devote her holiday to making researches among the common people. There is one aspect of the matter raised by what I might call the feminine united front on which I am in complete agreement. It is very necessary that we should be more active in countering foreign propaganda, from wherever it may emanate, when it is directed against us. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), who spoke of the news department of the Foreign Office, did it an injustice. Having worked on a newspaper, I can assure him that the position has probably changed since he was in the Foreign Office. They are most accurate in putting the British point of view both to British and to foreign newspapers. What is needed is that our embassies abroad should be instructed and encouraged to do the same thing. They should assist British correspondents abroad and foreign journalists to appreciate our point of view, and should give the facts without propaganda, as the news department of the Foreign Office does so admirably in London. I am sure that any expenditure which the Government may make on British schools abroad and on other cultural activities will receive the support of all sections of the House.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Commander Fletcher
I gather from the Government Press this morning that it might be unwelcome if this Debate stressed certain points or took a certain line. That is an old familiar story to me by now. While an international situation is boiling up, every warning which is issued from these benches is pooh-poohed by the Government Press, and every expression of opinion from these benches is brushed aside, but when the crisis which we have foreshadowed materialises we are told that it would be very inappropriate for us to "point the moral, or adorn the tale." However, I intend to say nothing whatever of a provocative nature or to use any provocative language. The head of the Italian Government is obviously at the present moment feeling the pressure of events very severely. His last speech indicated that he was speaking under the stress of emotion, of anger and 3137 of strain, and when any man is in that condition it is far better, whatever one may think about him or his actions, to let him settle down.
There are three things which I think, ought to be said on this occasion. First, I think it should be known that a large section of opinion is not impressed by bluff, and is prepared to take action in defence of international law, and in defence of the sanctity of treaties. Secondly, I feel that a protest against these massacres is essential on account of our position as a Colonial Power. In the third place, it is necessary to make it clear that good relations between this country and Italy can only exist if Italian propaganda against this country and Italian designs on our Mediterranean position cease. As regards the first point, I think the bluff about Abyssinia could have been called long before it became dangerous. I think similarly there is a great deal of bluff about the position in Spain. Let us examine the conditions. Italy is deeply involved in Abyssinia at present. I understand she is maintaining 400,000 troops and labourers there, and the expenditure on the enterprise is costing her £100,000,000 per annum, and that without reference to any capital expenditure which she may be contemplating. During the Abyssinian adventure, according to calculations which I have seen, she used up 80 per cent. of her war stocks which will take her two years to replace. If the head of the Government says that his efforts for peace rest upon the points of 8,000,000 bayonets, I can only say that I understand that he could not equip more than 1,500,000 men at the present moment. In view of those facts I think there is a large element of bluff about the attitude which he is taking in regard to Spain.
May I also point out this fact? We on these benches are always being asked: "Would you fight for Abyssinia, would you fight about Spain, would you fight about Czechoslovakia? "That, to my mind, is not the question. The question is," Are we prepared to fight for international law and for the respect of Treaties? "If we are not, then it is back to the jungle and good-bye to our Commonwealth. What about respect for Treaties? Italy has broken no less than six Treaties in the course of the last two or three years—the Tripartite Treaty of 1906 guaranteeing the integrity of Abys- 3138 sinia; the Convention of the South American States in 1933 against the acquisition of territory by force; the Covenant of the League; the Geneva Protocol of 1925 against the use of asphixiating gas; the Italo-Abyssinian Treaty of 1928 guaranteeing, will it be believed, constant peace and perpetual friendship; and the Kellogg Pact for the renunciation of war. Here are six signatures which have been dishonoured, and yet the President of the Board of Trade the other night was talking about good faith in regard to Italy and the work of the Non-Intervention Committee. In face of these six dishonoured signatures, why are we invited to attach importance to the Anglo-Italian Mediterranean Agreement which has been so ironically called "a gentleman's agreement"?
Then there is the question of British prestige. British prestige in the Far East and in Africa has been severely damaged by the events in Abyssinia. I can say, as a naval officer, that our naval position in the Mediterranean, our communications with the Far East, and from the Cape to Cairo, are all seriously threatened by what has taken place. We might become dependent upon oil from the Middle East if supplies from America broke down, and Italy is now in a favourable position to attack the tankers bringing it. The route to India, the strategic position in Egypt and the Sudan—all these are seriously in jeopardy because of the events in Abyssinia and Spain. When I hear the line which is taken sometimes by hon. Gentlemen opposite I can only conclude that British Imperialists hate the League of Nations far more than they love the British Empire.
A word about the massacres. These massacres in Addis Ababa are not a new feature in Italian colonial rule. They followed a bomb attack upon Marshal Graziani. As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) said, we all deplore the crime but there was a time when Marshal Graziani enjoyed the nickname of "The Hyena of Libya." In 1911 Italy occupied Tripoli and they celebrated the occupation by a five days orgy of murder. I only mention one detail of those massacres. An Italian officer who was in charge of the firing squads was an enthusiastic photographer, and he never allowed the order to fire to 3139 be given until he had the victims properly focussed so that he might add to his collection of photographs. During those five days in Tripoli 4,000 Arabs were slaughtered without any possible plea of military necessity. Curiously enough, as an example of the whirligig of time, the present head of the Italian Government, then an obscure agitator, carried on a vigorous campaign against the occupation of Tripoli. Now he has had his own and bigger massacres in Addis Ababa.
The case about these reprisals has been put in great detail, and there are only one or two points which I would like to emphasise. According to the reports that we have had, no systematic search for arms was carried out by the Italians, and the slaughter was indiscriminate. I want to stress the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford that rifles and pistols were served out for the occasion. Militiamen and workmen were called up and served out with these weapons, which shows how deliberately the proceedings were taken. Here is another point. Bodies were piled in a heap, soaked with petrol, and burned. This is a peculiar outrage upon Ethiopian religious feelings. I see that the dead are put at between 3,000 and 5,000, and among them were 200 former cadets of the military school who were rounded up and machine-gunned. These excesses lasted two days, and it took three days to restore order, which shows how deliberate was their initiation and how ineffective was the control, if any was attempted. Commenting on these reprisals, the Archbishop of York said:This country is in danger of becoming case-hardened, and the national conscience should be aroused about these singular and terrible outrages.He was amazed that there was no protest from the whole civilised world. The Archbishop of York is very lucky so far, because he seems to have escaped comment in the Italian Press, but the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, when speaking of these deplorable and tragic reprisals, expressed his good will to Italy, has been called "a sinister and sanguinary anti-Italian." The Dean of Winchester, who has spoken about this reign of savagery in Libya, Abyssinia, and Spain, and has described the Italian people as in process of being corrupted by Mussolini, has been called in the 3140 Italian Press "another pig" In view of our position as a Colonial Power, we have a big responsibility to make an effective protest. How can we go on advocating white civilisation to natives unless we make a protest? How are our missionaries going to persuade the natives to accept Christian principles if there is no protest? Let us remember the words of a South African statesman, Mr. Te Water:The long memory of Black Africa never forgets and never forgive.We cannot afford to be identified with such unspeakable bestiality and brutality, for, as a former British Minister for the Colonies said:Our position in regard to the coloured races is one of trusteeship,and we must emphasise that point by our protest. In concluding my remarks on these massacres, may I refer to three particularly brutal murders. There was, first of all, the murder of Ras Desta, a brave man of high rank who fought bravely and chivalrously for his country and was murdered, without trial; then there was the murder of the three sons of another chief, Ras Kassa, who were also executed without any reason whatsoever being given; and, finally, in these last days, we have been horrified to hear of the murder of the two sons of Dr. Martin, the Ethiopian representative in this country. I am sure there are many here who would wish to express their deep sympathy to Dr. Martin, who has behaved with such dignity and courtesy and such courage in very trying times. I am doubtful whether the Government will lend themselves to any protest, but I think that, as a result of this Debate, it will be clearly seen that the sense of the House is one of protest, and I can only say, for myself, that the massacres at Addis Ababa will enable me to contemplate the absence of an Italian delegation from the Coronation with considerable equanimity.
I turn to the question of Italian propaganda. The head of the Italian Government, speaking at Tripoli on the 18th of this month, appealed to Great Britain and France to stop suspecting Italy. If he wishes Great Britain to stop suspecting Italy, I suggest that he might call off his campaign of propaganda and of statements calculated to foment discontent with British rule among the coloured races. The Memorandum issued by the authorities in Libya when the head of the 3141 Italian Government arrived there, we were very glad to hear in this House yesterday, has been withdrawn, but that Memorandum, to which I called attention by a question in this House, attributed the overthrow of the Government in Iraq to the machinations of the British and spoke of the Arabs in Palestine as being victims of cruel repression. This propaganda is unceasing. Italian wireless propaganda all over the Near Past, from Morocco right away to the Persian Gulf, is carried on every night in Italian and in Arabic, but it does not stop there. Look at the enormous sums being spent by Italy in Palestine and Syria on hospitals and schools in rivalry to British institutions. What are these hospitals and schools maintained for except for the purposes of Italianisation by working on the gratitude of those they benefit?
Take another instance—cheap holidays in Italy. Students from Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Tunis and Morocco are given four weeks' holiday in Italy for a charge of from £2to £3, and while there they are thoroughly doped about Italian grandeur and civilisation as compared with French and British decadence. Hundreds of students go on these holidays to Italy and return to their native countries as Italian propagandists. Cinemas and news reels are all pressed into the same service. Then there is Mecca. Some 2,000 Mohammedans from Ethiopia, and more from Somaliland, Libya and Tripoli have been sent on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and the Italian Government have paid every penny of their expenses. That is another very subtle and ingenious form of propaganda—Press, lectures, books, all these are pressed into the service of Italian propaganda. During the Sanctions period the whole Arab Press in Palestine was violently pro-Italian, and nearly the whole of the Syrian Press is receiving Italian money. All this propaganda is to the same end, that Britain is on the run and that the British Empire is going to break up. It is propaganda which defames Britain in every field of our activities with abusive and even obscene caricatures, systematically inflaming Italian public opinion against this country. I venture to read to the House a short extract from the "Corriere della Sera" of 12th March, which illustrates which I mean. Referring to the speeches in the House of Commons about Italy, the paper says: 3142On account of their ferocity, British public opinion is kept in the dark about British Colonial methods. There is the case of the recent events at Risib, a mercantile caravan centre of English Somaliland, halfway between Berbera and the frontier of Ethiopia. An English official occupying the post of Resident, after a violent altercation with native chiefs about the payment of tribute, was seriously wounded and soon afterwards succumbed to his wounds. Immediately after his death 150 chiefs and notables were shot without trial and in addition aeroplanes went up and, discharged ten tons of explosives upon Resib, and the villages for a radius for 50 kilometres round, totally destroying the villages and extending the massacre to whole tribes, including some who were completely ignorant of the cause of the reprisals, Neither must we forget the butchery of dense crowds of Sudanese youths, school-boys, for having taken part in anti-English demonstrations.The article concludes, with amazing hypocrisy:The sanctions applied by the Italian Government (in Addis Ababa) were necessary and just and so carried out that every culprit might be identified and punished, in view of the absolute necessity that nothing should disturb the pacific evolution of the gigantic work of reconstruction that has been initiated.That is a specimen of the calculated, lying propaganda that is being carried on in the Italian Press at the present moment. I venture to commend to the attention of the Noble Lord that particular issue of the "Corriere della Sera." We are told that the Italians are a very decent people, but that since Fascism was introduced they have gone mad. That may be true, but I can only say that if they are a decent people they seem to be very easily corrupted. They are being corrupted at the present moment by being told tales of glory and by being encouraged to bully. It has been said "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" At present the Italians are losing their souls and not even gaining the whole world. They are gaining some sand and rock and scrub, and they are earning the execration and contempt of civilisation.
I believe that the venture in Italy of this dictator will fail. I do not agree with the Prime Minister that a democracy must be two years behind a dictatorship. In everything that matters, in decency, freedom, pity, mercy, justice, forbearance, humanity, we are seven centuries ahead of this dictatorship although we have a Prime Minister who tells us that we are two years behind. A dictatorship goes back to the Dark Ages for its technique 3143 while a democracy is always moving ahead. I do not think we ought to lose our nerve about these dictatorships. I have just been reading Mr. Guadella's "The Last zoo Years" and he points out that in 1848 Europe was littered with dictators. I doubt if any hon. Member who is listening to me could give the name of one of those dictators who were laying down the law in 1848. I believe that dictatorships are engaged in fighting a losing battle because they are fighting against, amongst other things, two of the strongest emotions in human nature. One of those is the desire for happiness. I hear that in Italy one of the chief complaints of the people is that there is no real happiness under the present system. The second emotion is the desire for intellectual freedom and in the long run you cannot bottle up that desire. The desire for truth and for expression of the works of the intellect will eventually burst all bonds. For those reasons alone I believe that the dictators who afflict Europe to-day will fail as the dictators who afflicted Europe in 1848 failed. Having that in mind, I would say do not let our foreign policy be dictated by mere motives of expediency. Let it be based on something better, on fundamental and external principles of right and wrong. Let us stand for decency and not be afraid to make our protest in this House against these massacres in Addis Ababa.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott
Many of the expressions which have just been used by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher), although of course they are none too harsh if the truth is as he asserted and as was previously asserted by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), are nevertheless only justified if there is indisputable proof of the truth of those assertions. I propose not to follow the hon. Member in the line he has taken, or to treat this matter in any detail. I content myself with the observation that so far we have heard from the Government no authoritative view of the actual truth of this matter, and I should like respectfully to urge upon the House that it should withhold judgment upon the question until it has heard from the Government an authoritative expression of its opinion upon it.
3144 I cannot help thinking that the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton approaches these problems from a point of view which is unfortunately influenced by a constitutional dislike of dictatorship. In fact, dislike is far too mild a term to employ. Hatred, I think, would be a more proper word. I am always a good deal surprised by the virulence of the hostility which is exhibited by hon. Members of the Opposition to Government by dictatorship. They all argue as it the parliamentary system to which we are accustomed, a system which is well suited to our genius and is firmly rooted in the history of our race, is a system that is suited to the genius, the history and the contemporary conditions of Latin peoples. That, I believe, is not the truth. The parliamentary system never took root in Italy. It functioned, so far as it functioned at all, with great inefficiency and with a good deal of corruption. I do not think that any student of Italian affairs, simply comparing the two forms of Government, would assert that democracy in itself is any better suited to the conditions of Italian life than dictatorship. It is interesting, by the way, to observe that the development which has taken place is simply an illustration of the principle long ago asserted by Aristotle that in the natural sequence of governments tyranny succeeds to democracy.
The hon. Member in the course of his observations asserted that we could have disposed of what he described as the "bluff" of the Italian dictator in Spain. I see no reason to suppose that any activity in which the Italian Government as a Government is engaged partakes of the nature of what the hon. Member called bluff. And it seemed to me that he weakened his argument by coupling that observation with the observation that we could have called the Italian bluff in Abyssinia if we had acted in time. Surely if one thing is certain it is that the action upon which the Italian Government embarked in Abyssinia was not bluff. I make this comment upon his argument because it is an argument which has been frequently employed, and the comment is worth while. He is always accusing His Majesty's Government and, in fact, all the members of the League, of failure to act in time to prevent the Italian war in Abyssinia. The truth of the whole matter was that, conformably with the covenant of the League, no action could 3145 be taken before the moment that it was taken. Earlier action would have been inconsistent with the Covenant.
§ Mr. Emmott
That is another matter. No action could specifically have been taken in conformity with the provisions of the Covenant before it actually was taken.
I rise for another purpose, and I hope the House will allow me to execute it to the best of my ability. I came unprepared with material, and not intending to intervene in this Debate, but I listened to one or two speeches, notably that of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland), which seemed to me to demand and deserve an answer. If my answer is defective in information and, indeed, in argument, I can only ask the House to pardon these deficiencies, which are perhaps necessarily involved in the absence of documentary information. The hon. Member made a speech dealing with intervention in Spain which seemed to me to set in an entirely false light the opinion which is held by many Members of the party to which I belong, a speech which seemed to reveal an entire failure to comprehend the view that many of us take upon the Spanish question, and for these reasons to demand an answer.
He challenged certain hon. Members in absentia and asked why they were not here. Where, he asked, were the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) and others whom he named? Where were the habitual asserters of Russian intervention in Spain? He invited the House to conclude that the view which hon. Friends of mine and I had previously expressed on this question had now proved to be totally false, and that we could no longer sustain the position we had always taken up, that the action taken by General Franco is not only intelligible but one deserving of the sympathies of those who care for the cause of constitutional government. I could not remain silent under the hon. Member's challenge, although argument by way of interjection and interruption is notoriously unsatisfactory. He seemed to think that, because some hon. Members were not present and that there were no interjections in the speeches of hon. Members who had preceded him on the 3146 same side of the House, we had entirely abandoned the view on this question that we have always expressed. But that is not so, and I should like to say a few words upon the general question which he raised in the interesting, lucid and detailed argument which he addressed to the House.
In dealing with the question of intervention by Italians and Germans in Spain, he sought to draw a distinction between the two kinds of intervention. When I interrupted him to ask whether he denied that the Government of Valencia had, in fact, received assistance, whatever its value might be, from Russia, he replied by saying in effect that that might be so, but that the facts and dates showed that intervention by Italians had preceded any intervention on the part of Russia. I wholly dissent from that interpretation of the facts. The hon. Member draws the line at the wrong place. His chronology ends too soon. The first date he mentioned was one very soon before the outbreak of General Franco's movement. But we must take the historical analysis of the situation further back. If the hon. Member had done so, he must have disclosed to the House that for years preparations have been continuing to establish in Spain a condition of affairs which must inevitably lead to a Communist revolution.
Duchess of Atholl
Is my hon. Friend not aware also that after the outbreak of the civil war no fewer than 4,000 Nazi documents were found in a headquarters at Barcelona, showing that from 1930 there had been continuous and comprehensive propaganda, and latterly the introduction of arms and so on, backed by a great deal of money, proving that there was considerable activity on both sides?
§ Mr. Emmott
The Noble Lady is always well documented, and I must confess that I am not aware of the particular circumstance to which she alludes. But even if it is established, it merely shows that a movement was on foot and was proceeding for a long period, which we may call a Right movement (in the continental sense) and which was a reply to the movement of the Left inspired by the Communist International, which it was designed to combat and defeat. Anyone who has made a study of this question knows that for years preparations inspired by the Communist International had been made to establish in Spain a condition of affairs 3147 which would lead in time to revolution. I speak again from recollection when I say that hon. Members will find, if they examine the records, that, bringing the relation of facts nearer to the outbreak of the revolution in Spain, in the autumn of 1935, at the seventh or eighth Congress of the Communist International marching orders were given to the Spanish Communists upon which it was intended they should proceed in the coming months with a view to establishing those conditions which are precedent to the establishment of Communism. It was Dimitroff, of Reichstag trial fame, who on that occasion expounded in terms the precise and specific instructions upon which the Spanish Communists should proceed. So when the hon. Member for Barnstaple says that at such and such a date so many Italians or Germans came to Spain, and it was not until afterwards that any assistance was sent to Spain by Russia, he must carry his historical analysis far further back. He must inquire what was the process, slow it may be and silent, but relentless and deadly, of the destruction of the authority of government which had been proceeding in Spain over a long period of years and was accelerated, aggravated and accentuated in the last months of 1935 and in the early months of 1936. Then he will find the explanation of the events against which he and his friends now protest so much.
I do not think it is a waste of time to insist upon this view in this House, because so many Debates have taken place in which the view which is held, I know, by many members of the Conservative party has failed to find expression, of at least adequate expression, and I am certain that for that reason the view of England upon this whole matter is very much misunderstood upon the Continent of Europe. The essence of the movement led by General Franco is this: The unification of Spain and the restoration of the authority of government. What was it that happened immediately after the elections which were held in Spain in February, 1936? Events immediately began, and continued throughout the months of the summer, which showed that the authority of the Government in Madrid was subject to a process of continuous undermining and destruction. Everything that happened went to prove that process. It was shown 3148 that the Government of Madrid did not in fact possess authority. It failed to perform the first function of government.
The first function of government is to preserve the lives and property of its citizens: and that the Government of Madrid showed itself incapable of doing in the summer of 1936. All over the country committees of workmen took the law into their own hands, levied illegal taxes and established conditions of disorder. Crimes of arson and murder, and a great multitude of lesser but still serious crimes, were committed all over the country, and it was apparent to anyone who knew Spain that the whole authority of government was being undermined and must, if the process were continued, be inevitably destroyed. It was essentially to restore the authority of government as well as to assert the principle of the unification of Spain that General Franco instituted the movement he did in the summer of 1936. If these things are not the essental truth of the matter how is it that men like Lerroux and Zamora support the movement of General Franco? I have no doubt the hon. Member for Barnstaple has read the article in the "Journal de Genève," written by President Zamora, who was President of the Republic at the time of the last election, and has also read the article in the French paper "L' Illustration" by Senor Lerroux only a few weeks ago. Men of such indubitably republican and liberal sentiments as those could not publicly profess their support of the movement of General Franco unless they were assured that the view which I have presented to the House is the truth, unless they were assured that General Franco and his men are truly fighting for the unification of Spain and the restoration of the authority of government. That is the one circumstance which places the sympathies of many of my hon. Friends and myself on the side of General Franco and those who follow him.
I am not forgetful of the consequences which may flow from the course of the movement led by General Franco. I am not at all forgetful of the importance of the considerations urged by the Noble Lady the Member for Perth and Kinross. I quite understand the seriousness of the issues that are raised by the fact that since the institution of the Right move- 3149 ment many influences have come in infinitely to complicate the original picture, but the argument is not at all so plain as the Noble Lady would have us believe. She has addressed to the House an argument which seems to assume that it must do damage to our Imperial interests if a Government such as is intended by General Franco is actually established in Spain; but why need that be so? She calls it a Fascist Government. My hon. Friend the Member for East Fulham (Mr. W. Astor) has shown the House that there is no reason to suppose that in the true understanding of the term the Government established by General Franco will be a Fascist Government.
Duchess of Atholl
Surely it is quite clear that if General Franco should gain the victory in Spain he would owe it very largely to the assistance he has had from Germany and Italy, and even if this does not mean that he may find himself obliged to transfer to either of those countries some of the outlying possessions of Spain, such as the Balearic Islands, or the Canaries, where there are Germans in considerable numbers, does it not seem obvious that it may be impossible for him to refuse to those countries the use of Spanish ports in the event of war? I ask my hon. Friend to consider what that might not mean to our vital communications if, unhappily, war came.
§ Mr. Emmott
I fully realise the importance of those considerations and full weight must be given to them in any estimate of the whole position, but we must consider the argument in its separate parts, and all I was doing was to protest against the condemnation which the Noble Lady and many other hon. Members attempt to fasten upon the Government of General Franco by the description of it as a Fascist Government. One has to remember that no more in Spain than in Italy has the Parliamentary system worked well. It worked in Spain as it worked in Italy with inefficiency and with a good deal of corruption. Many Spaniards, even of the most Liberal tendencies, have declared their view that whatever system of Government survived in Spain in the future it would not be a Parliamentary system of the nature of that with which we are all familiar.
§ Mr. Emmott
In the historical process, institutions may take a form which is 3150 very different from the original. I fully understand the extremely important argument of the Noble Lady, but I would suggest that she consider the alternative. What would have happened if a Government had been established in the Iberian Peninsula which owed its origin and—I do not like to use the word "idealogical"—its political inspiration to the Communist International? Let the Noble Lady contemplate the establishment of a Government founded upon international principles of that character. General Franco's movement is essentially national. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Certainly. It is a national movement in the sense that it aims at the unification of Spain and the restoration of the authority of Government. The establishment of a Government owing its inspiration and existence to the Communist International—
Duchess of Atholl
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us to what extent Communists go to make up the Government of Spain? There is evidence, even from Franco's side, that the Anarchists in Spain outnumber the Communists and Socialists together. I therefore do not believe that the victory for this Government would mean a Government that would necessarily be Communist.
§ Mr. Emmott
By her reference to the anarchists I suppose the Noble Lady is referring to the Anarcho-Syndicalists who are united in the organisation which is known by the initials C.N.T. The members of that union have adopted what is really a system of Communism. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, certainly. It may be a libertarian kind of Communism, but it is certainly a type of Communism. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Their leader is Senor Caballero.
§ Mr. Emmott
Hon. Members think that matters are to be determined by such labels. Socialism in Spain is not understood in the sense in which it is understood here. He is not a Socialist in the sense in which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is a Socialist. On the contrary, he stands at the very extreme wing of the Left movement. Has he earned the title of "the Spanish Lenin" for nothing? Did he not, before the last election, issue a manifesto in which he stated that the establishment 3151 of the Popular Front was merely a stepping stone to the dictatorship of the proletariat?
I have endeavoured, however imperfectly, to express this point of view in the Debate. The speech made by the hon. Member for Barnstaple was important from many points of view, and not least because he sought to make it appear from the absence of many hon. Members to-day and from the absence of interjections in speeches made by himself and his hon. Friends, that the view which he and his friends perpetually expound upon the issues in the Spanish conflict is held by the English people as a whole, and indeed is the best English opinion.
§ Mr. Acland
As the hon. Member is purporting to answer what I said, perhaps I might be allowed to tell him what I did say. I did not say that no argument could be advanced to justify General Franco. I appreciate that it may be argued that when a Government is, to some extent, losing control because of the illegal activities of subversive bodies of the Left or Right, it is the duty of any man, in order to strengthen the authority of that Government, to bring military force against that Government. I quite understand that that can be argued, but I was not arguing in that way. I was contending that nobody had disputed that the military assistance which General Franco had received was of an entirely different order from the military assistance given to the Spanish Government. I do not think that point has been challenged by any hon. Member or answered by the hon. Gentleman. He is answering a point which I did not make.
§ Mr. Emmott
I appreciated the argument which the hon. Gentleman previously addressed to the House, and I appreciate the meaning of his interruption. He did assert, and I think I can go so far as to say that he proved, a difference in kind in the intervention that has been practised by one side and by the other, but that does not conclude the matter by any means. It may be that there is a difference in kind, and indeed that difference is implicit in my argument. I intended to say in clear though general terms that the Russian intervention was very different from the military 3152 assistance which has recently been granted to General Franco by his foreign supporters. That was my own position. I have attempted to show the real nature of the action that had been taken under the inspiration of the Communist International over a long period of time. And when once a condition of affairs has been established which must inevitably undermine and eventually destroy the authority of government, and which is designed to that one end only, the destruction of the authority of the Government, those who are determined to resist such a process must use whatever weapon is ready to their hands. It must be so.
But let the House, if it dwells upon these matters of the facts and dates of intervention and the nature of intervention, observe that the hon. Member has not told the whole of the story. The material assistance—not merely that of technicians and the like—that was afforded to the Government of Madrid was of no unimportant order. I remember very well the time, in the autumn of last year, when General Franco was at the gates of Madrid, and when the fall of Madrid was anticipated at any moment. If my memory serves me rightly, even the "Times" newspaper published headlines upon its chief news page, on a certain date, which declared that the fall of Madrid was imminent. and was only a matter of hours. What was it that saved Madrid, and saved the Government of Senor Caballero? It was the intervention of the International brigades, and the assistance of the aeroplanes, and the material equipment, which was afforded to the Government of Senor Cabellero by Russia and which then came into action for the first time. The hon. Member is not in a position to argue that the assistance of Russia came at a later date, and was not of the same nature as the intervention which had been practised by other parties in the dispute. I will leave the matter there.
I intervened in this Debate for the sole purpose of attempting to give the House an idea of the fundamental reasons why some of my hon. Friends and myself take the view that we do. It should not be difficult to understand why many of us give our real sympathies to those who, we sincerely believe, are fighting for the unification of Spain and the restoration of the authority of government.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The hon. Member who has just sat down belongs to the great order of crypto-Fascists. He is right in saying that they have a great majority of the Conservative party in their pocket, but the arguments with which he has supported his case are not so lucid to the House as to his opponents. We know that all this talk about being in favour of liberty and justice in England but that such is not suitable for other countries, is so much eyewash; if they had the chance they would try to use us in the name of national unity just as General Franco is using the Spaniards and as Mussolini is using the Italians and Hitler is using the Germans. The fact is that the fault lies in a completely different conception of the cultural development of this country and of progress throughout the world. It is true that everyone is not entitled to liberty, though everyone is entitled to justice. It is true that certain people, for instance, children and savage races, are not yet fit for liberty, but the question is: Do we want to make those people fit for liberty; do we really want to see progress of mankind along liberalising lines, or do we want to retain and preserve authority, for example, of the Church or of dictatorships, drilling men's minds, coercing them into a unity and restricting liberty?
What is the foundation of liberty? It is that people should do what they like and learn that in doing what they like not to interfere with the liberty of others. So only can we help to preserve the only possible atmosphere for progress in mankind. Mankind is continuously moving forward from the animal to the sublime. Our progress can only continue in an atmosphere of liberty. You must have the opportunity for doing wrong before you can learn to do what is right. You must have the choice in your own hand. Why is it that we in this country are far more libertarian than other countries? Let us look abroad for a moment. The German is essentially an authoritarian. The Italian is essentially an authoritarian. They have for so long done what they have been told that they think the only safety lies in doing it. We are different, and we are right because human progress can only flourish in the atmosphere of freedom.
Now I want to turn for a few minutes to the massacres at Addis Ababa, for 3154 these are associated in a way with what I have been saying. This horrible and disgusting affair can be discussed under three heads. There is massacre of propaganda, there is massacre in history, and there is also massacre as an infection. It is from these points of view that we should consider what is going on, not only in Addis Ababa, but what has been increasing since the Great War came to an end. There is no doubt about it that the Italians did not butcher these 6,000 men, women and children in Addis Ababa from fear. It was essentially in the Italian mind, propaganda. It is possible that it may have been useful propaganda in the sense that among a certain kind of people, among, for example, children and savage races frightful punishment of that sort might cow these people and produce that docility required by a dictator. But it was essentially propaganda. It was not done through fear or the lust of cruelty, but through a desire to "give 'em a lesson."
But what I want the House to consider is, that the propaganda which may possibly have succeeded with the Ethiopians has the reverse effect upon everybody else in Africa and upon all civilised races. I do not know very much about the people of Africa, but I am quite certain that whatever may have been its effect on the people in Abyssinia, the reaction among other coloured peoples, among the educated natives in South Africa and among the natives of Kenya and Uganda and further afield among the coloured people in America and the West Indies is going to be most damaging, not only to Italy, but to us as well unless we can make an adequate protest and get that protest firmly fixed in the minds of all our fellow-subjects throughout the Empire. We have to think what may happen. The coloured people may say, "Now we know what the Whites are, and we know perfectly well that we of the Black races will be butchered, men, women and children by these fiends of the Christian races." There will be that kind of idea all over Asia too. We remember Tamerlane, who came into Baghdad and built a pyramid of skulls there. But those were pagan days. The atrocities in Abyssinia will be remembered just as long as the terrible massacre of Baghdad is remembered. You may cow a small people, but you build a permanent barrier between the Whites and the 3155 Blacks. It is a question of the effect of that propaganda on England and America and other civilised countries. It is a realisation of this that has made the Duce so angry at the present time. It is not that he does not approve of massacre, but that he sees that it has been bad policy.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I am afraid we must realise that it has taken place. After all, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford gave that terrible information from the American Embassy and the French representative there—unfortunately we have no one there—and I do not think there is any getting away from it. What I am anxious for is that the reaction of the world to it should show that, as propaganda, massacre is out of date and that it is bad policy.
That brings me to massacre in history. We saw that the Duce the other day, by way of defending himself, said that England was quite as bad, that we were a set of hypocrites, that we had done exactly the same thing, and now we sneer at him. I do not say that throughout the whole of English history we have always been saints, but I say without fear of contradiction that never at any time in our history has there been any blot upon our nation such as Addis Ababa. There never has been a time when we have massacred the Africans. The nearest approach to it—and I am almost an expert in massacres, because I have always been put up to speak about them—the nearest approach to it in recent times was the shooting of the Indians in the Jalianwallah Bagh. But, in the first place, in that case English men and women had been murdered by the mob—it was not the same mob—and the number was not anything like 6,000, and did not include women and children. I think that one woman was hit who was in a house, and not in the mob. The British Government disapproved of it, and the man who sanctioned the shooting was sacked.
That, surely, is a completely different thing from a three days' massacre, by people who had arms served out to them, of men, women and children, and I think that, if hon. Members will cast their minds back, they will find it very difficult to find a parallel to that. It is often said by Irishmen that the sack of Drogheda 3156 was as bad as anything that ever happened in the world. We sacked Drogheda and put the garrison to the sword; 2,500 men were killed, and some hundreds transported; but it was only men, and only people with arms. It is not the same thing as massacring unarmed people. Really, the only parallel to this was that which preceded Drogheda, the massacre of the Protestants in 1b41 by the Catholics in Ireland. That was more on this scale, but it certainly was not done under Government orders. You may look through the whole of English history, with all the tyrannies that we have committed, without finding any case where women have been killed, where children have been killed and where they have been unarmed.
You have to go a long way back in any country's history to find what we see to-day. Throughout the Great War there was never a massacre to compare with this. We made a great deal of fuss about a dozen or so unfortunate French peasants who were shot at Dinant, but what is that compared with this: The Great War was a war of gentlemen compared with what is going on now. During the whole of the nineteenth century, which is so jeered at, was there anything so abominable as this? You have to go back to the great wars of religion to find anything comparable to it. When Tilly sacked Magdeburg they murdered 6,000 Protestant men, women and children. After the sack and massacre of Magdeburg the Pope, Urban VIII, had the decency to reprobate it. Have we had any such reprobation from the Pope to-day? You have to go back to the massacre of the Albigenses; you have to go back to the Roman Empire itself before you find this reproduction of medieval savagery. Massacre in history is being brought up to date with a vengeance.
Now let me consider massacre as infection, because this affair at Addis Ababa by no means stands alone. Not one voice in Italy has been raised against it for it is the fashion. See what happened at the taking of Toledo; when the "friendly" troops of the hon. Members below the Gangway took Toledo they made straight for the hospital and shot the wounded there. That sort of thing has happened before in other countries but it remained for someone in England to write to the "Times" and the "Times" to publish a letter from a man who had lived in England for years, Marquis Merry del 3157 Val, to justify the shooting of wounded in hospital. What about the massacre of the people of Badajos? Perhaps they had or had had arms, but they were driven into the bull ring and shot down with machine guns. Take the taking of Malaga. I had a letter to-day from someone who was there. Three hundred men and women were shot down. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the other side?"] I have the figures for the other side too.The Reds have shot six and about 24 others have been sent to Malaga and shot there.
§ Sir W. Wayland
I contradict the right hon. Gentleman. The stories that we have are from independent witnesses, and especially one, a very well known American journalist.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I should like to see it. I dare say they are some of these British subjects with Spanish names who have been rescued by British ships. These massacres are growing, and as long as they are approved by hon. Members such as those two hon. Gentlemen, they will go on growing.
§ Mr. Emmott
What business has the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to make such a statement? I have not said one word in to-day's Debate to justify him in attributing to me support of such things.
§ Mr. Emmott
On the political ground. I was not dealing with atrocities at all. On the contrary, at the beginning of my speech, I made it plain that I was not going to follow the line pursued by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Nuneaton (Lieut. - Commander Fletcher). The argument was a purely political one, and did not deal with the other matter.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I am afraid that Franco as a politician and as a soldier is difficult to distinguish. The important thing is, that we should all unite in deploring and denouncing massacres, which, before the War, we would not have tolerated.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
Toledo was bad, Badajoz was worse, and in Malaga Italian bombers and ships bombarded and machine-gunned 150,000 refugees. All these have accumulated, and now we have Addis Ababa. Perhaps the House will consider what the next is going to be. Massacres are infectious. There might be revolution on the other side in power, and revolution and counterrevolution may accentuate the possibility of massacre. But I am afraid that the next may be the gassing of the people of Spain by the armed troops of Italy. That is what we are up against now. That is why the Government may smile at the idea of any steps being taken by this British Government to stop that appalling atrocity. Every one of these things has been condemned, but nothing can be done. If, when your paid soldiers have failed to win, they should use gas, there could be no possible antidote in that land which is being invaded.
We have the position becoming more clear to-day. All this talk about volunteers is dropped. Since Count Grandi spoke yesterday, we know that the army of Italians in Spain is an official Italian Army, quite unlike any kind of assistance that Russia or France has sent to nationalist Spain. They are not under Franco's orders; they are under the orders of the Duce. Spain is invaded by Italian troops, and Spain appeals to the League. What is the attitude of the League going to be? What is our attitude towards this question? We have had many speeches to-day pointing out how important it is that we should make up our minds and speak with no uncertain voice. All the small nations in Europe are waiting for us to speak. What is our attitude going to be in association with the League of Nations? Wait and see? Every time you wait and see, and it is postponed, more of your possible friends become your probable enemies. Instead of saving this world from war, it is driving us nearer 3159 and nearer to war, by the realisation that we are supine and helpless.
Let me point out what appears in the` "Daily Herald" to-day. It seems to epitomise exactly not only the position of the Labour movement but what should be the position of everybody in the Government:The Labour movement is clearly right in its demands that the Government should make plain its readiness to support the Spanish Government in any request for action by the League of Nations.I am told by hon. Members opposite that that means heading for war. Heading for war! Weakness heads for war. Standing firmly together with your allies, such allies as you can collect, with the British Fleet as it is, is sufficient. If you are always going to be weak and not to stand up for your duties under the League, the time will come when you will have no friends when you attempt to stand up for yourself. That will be the end of the British Empire. The Government are playing a dangerous and a waiting game. It is not safe to keep on begging Mussolini to be reasonable, begging him to explain, submitting to every new advance. What will happen will be that in two or three weeks' time gas will be used in Spain to decide the issue, once for all. Then we shall have lost not merely our power but our chance of preserving peace.
§ 3.23 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I thank my hon. Friend for raising these questions this afternoon. I think the Italian situation is a grave one. It is full of very dangerous possibilities, and it is definitely a case where, first of all, the Government ought to make up their mind upon two or three very definite issues, and ought to take the country into their confidence. I do not believe that anything is to be gained by keeping away from the people of this country knowledge of the line of action the Government propose to take. I do not believe there is anything to be gained from the point of view of handling the Italian Prime Minister, the German Fuhrer or the situation in Abyssinia. Others have spoken quite clearly. I have never met Mussolini and can judge him only from the reports of his speeches and his actions. I think that one of the mistakes that we make is to assume that when he is boasting and apparently brag- 3160 ging he does not mean it. Up to the present whatever he has said, however extravagant it might appear at the time, he has proceeded promptly to put it into action, and he has done that again and again. He has taken the people of his country into his full confidence and has carried them along. I think there is a good deal to be gained from the example that he has set in that respect, so far as our people are concerned.
We have had declarations made from time to time and have pretended to put them into operation, but we have first of all delayed action beyond the point at which it is really useful. When we have taken action, it has been incomplete and inadequate, and even the inadequate action which we have taken has always been abandoned when we found that it would not answer the purpose, instead of taking other action to amend the deficiences of the first action. Mussolini, whatever may be his defects, has never made that mistake. We made all those mistakes in regard to Manchuria. We made all those mistakes in reference to Abyssinia. We made all those mistakes in reference to non-intervention in Spain. What is the result?—Our action in the case of Manchuria was a complete and utter fiasco. Our action with reference to Abyssinia was an unutterable humiliation. Everybody now knows that our action with reference to non-intervention in the Spanish war has been completely ineffective.
I am going to put three questions to the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I am sorry the Secretary of State is not here, but no doubt there are very good reasons for his not being present. I am not in the least deprecating the capacity of the Under-Secretary to give answers in respect of anything on which he has instructions, and, if he will allow me to say so, I have always found his answers very clear and straightforward. If he is not able to give answers to these questions, it will be because, not being a member of the Cabinet, he is not in a position to take any risks, because he knows what would be the consequences if he went beyond the instructions which he received. Therefore, the House is in a difficulty, but the difficulty of the House is not comparable with that with which the Under-Secretary is confronted.
There are three questions which I should certainly have asked the Secretary 3161 of State for Foreign Affairs if he had been here. The first is, Where do we stand in reference to the Locarno Treaty? This matter has gone on for a whole year. Definite proposals were put forward by Herr Hitler. I do not believe the country knows, I do not believe Herr Hitler knows, and I should be very surprised if the Government know what answer they are going to give in respect of those propositions. I am afraid it is not very fair of me to put that question to the Noble Lord, and if he says he is not in a position to answer it, I shall not complain, for I did not give notice that I was going to put the question. Therefore, if he says he cannot answer, I shall consider that, I will not say as a satisfactory answer, but as an answer which he is entitled to make. If the four great Western Powers of Europe could come to a working understanding, a new atmosphere altogether would be created.
Mr. Lloyd George
I was coming to that. I know the difficulty. The German leader says he is prepared to meet the Western Powers and to sign a definite treaty with them with regard to the frontiers between those various countries. Then comes undoubtedly the very vital issue mentioned by the hon. Member who interrupted me—What is going to happen in the East? I understand that Herr Hitler has given the answer very definitely that he will not enter into a treaty with Russia on the same conditions as those which he is prepared to negotiate in the West. The Government must, I think, accept his answer as being at any rate as far as he is prepared to go now. The question is, what are they prepared to do in the face of that situation? We ought to know. Personally, I say without any hesitation that I would come to an arrangement so far as Herr Hitler is prepared to go. As I understand from what has been published and the statements made by him, that he is prepared to sign a pact of non-aggression as regards the East, I should have thought myself, that it was worth while having a definite understanding on the West and entering into a pact of non-aggression as far as the East is concerned. That is definitely my view. I think that is as far as you could carry it at the present moment, but it carries it a very long way and if it works well, then ultimately you may 3162 carry it further. At any rate we should know where we are.
This has gone on for a whole year. It is not because the Powers do not know where each of them stands. It is because the Powers cannot make up their minds one way or the other. It is no use for this country to administer interrogatories to another great country as if it were a sort of county court action, where you have to put questions in order to ascertain where the other side is before you come to trial. That is an insult to a great country. We did not put interrogatories to Italy and there was far more reason, at any rate there was quite as much reason for putting interrogatories to Italy, because Italy would have said, "Let us meet and discuss it." I should very much like to know where we stand in that respect and I hope for an answer to that question, subject to what I said before, that if the hon. Gentleman says he is not prepared to answer in the absence of his chief, I shall only blame myself for not having given notice of the question.
Now I come to the two questions of which notice has already been given by my hon. and right hon. Friends behind me. Those are the two questions of Abyssinia and Spain. With regard to those, the peace of the world depends on the line we take. The continued influence of the British Empire in the councils of the world depends upon the answers we give and the action we take. We have taken the lead in recent years. We took the lead in Manchuria and we failed. We took the lead with regard to Ethiopia and we failed, and we were the first to back out of it. We have taken the lead with regard to non-intervention and nobody would claim that that has been a success. Does the hon. Gentleman or anybody in this House believe that if a country like this, the greatest Empire in the world, a country which stands in a very special position in reference to the world, a country which is not quite as much implicated as nations like France, Russia, Germany and Italy are in the disputes of Europe, except in so far as we are concerned with the peace of Europe—if a country like ours, I say, does not give a definite lead by which it stands, what becomes of the influence which it naturally possesses because of its enormous resources, because of the fact that in the Great War it was a 3163 decisive factor and because, on the whole, the nations of Europe feel that we are disinterested on this question? If the lead we give and the aim we take are not definite and clear, so that everybody feels that when the lead is given we mean to stand by it, our influence goes.
In regard to Abyssinia, have we completely abandoned every attempt to restore the independence of that country or, at the very worst, to secure good terms for its people under the very unfortunate conditions which have occurred? Then, as to the recent massacre, are we taking no action? Are we going to leave it to ministers of the Established Church and organisations which are more or less of other Churches to protest, to leave it to sympathising with humanitarian causes? Have the Government of this country nothing to say to it? At least, when the Armenian atrocities occurred, we did make a protest. Lord Salisbury protested very strongly. He did not take action for certain reasons at that time which I do not quite recall, but at any rate he made an emphatic protest, and to that extent I think we did for the time being arrest the horrible process of the Armenian massacres. But have we entered any protest here at all. Has there been a formal protest? I am putting the question now to the Noble Lord—Have we entered any protest of any sort or kind? Have we demanded an inquiry? We are one of the three leaders of the League of Nations. In Abyssinia we have taken the lead from the start, and I am not aware that we have abandoned it, because we led when we gave up sanctions. Have we taken any steps at all to move the League of Nations with a view to entering a great international protest against the most horrrible massacre that has ever occurred in modern times, certainly since the massacres by the Bashi Bazouks about 5o years ago? It is no use saying that you have no official information. I do not know whether you have anyone representing you there, at Addis Ababa.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Viscount Cranborne)
There is a consul.
Mr. Lloyd George
Very well. I should like to know whether the consul has sent any report upon the facts. The first information about the Bulgarian 3164 atrocities was reported here to the House of Commons as "merely coffee-house babble." I think that was the phrase used, but it turned out to be really an under-statement. Here you have the House horrified at what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswintord (Mr. A. Henderson) read out from the columns of the "Times"—the details of those brutal, horrid, and cowardly massacres. If I may say so, I was very glad to hear—I heard it for the first time—that Marshal Graziani had protested. I know nothing about his record in Tripoli, but I know something of his record in the Great War. He was a very gallant and a very fine soldier. He was the one great General who stood up in the rout at Caporetto and never flinched, and it was very largely due to his courage and calm that the situation was saved on the Grappa, which was one of the bastions there. It is exactly what I should have expected of him when he heard of these terrible outrages. He realised that they were not worthy of the great country which he had served so valiantly.
But surely we ought to have some word from the head of the Italian Government in regard to this. If he were to say, "Well, there was a panic, people lost their heads because of their feeling for General Graziani and there was an outburst of savagery, and I regret it "it would be a different matter. We ought to know. These things may go on. It is much easier to know what has happened at Addis Ababa than what may happen in the backwoods when he begins to, what is called, "clear up the country." We need the facts. What is going to happen in the mountains when there will be no consul to tell us what is going on? It is too late to save the lives of the thousands who were brutally butchered; it is not too late to save perhaps scores and hundreds of thousands of lives of men and women in the months that are to come. The massacre of Ras Desta is a thing which is without comparison, certainly in modern history, and I am not sure that there is quite a comparison in ancient history. Here is a gallant leader of his people fighting for the independence of a country which we still recognise. Fifty nations recognise Ethiopia as an independent land within the League of Nations. He stands for that country which has been independent for two or three thousand years, fights 3165 for it, is shot like a dog for doing so, and not a word of protest comes from the leading country' in the League of Nations. Shame!
Take the Boer War. I opposed the Boer War right through, and I had some unpleasant experiences. We annexed the Transvaal, and I think the Orange Free State, within, I think, about nine months of the war beginning, but they went on fighting. Suppose we had caught De Wet. Does anyone imagine that De Wet or Botha would have been put up against a wall and shot? The man who says that is insulting the British name. I remember perfectly well the case of General Scheepers. He was a native of Cape Colony, a British subject, and he was the son and the grandson and the great grandson of British subjects. He was shot because he was guilty of treason against the flag under which he was born. What was the result? Everybody felt here that it ought not to have been done. There was another General who was caught who was also born in Cape Colony, General Kritzinger. The feeling about General Scheepers was so strong on the part, I think, of the majority of the population of the country, that Lord Kitchener had to override the decision of the court martial and General Kritzinger was not shot. Does anyone imagine that anybody of the type of Ras Desta would have been shot by Great Britain? Not a man would say yes. Here we have this man, a man of great distinction, of very great position, who with his predecessors had governed in that area. I am not at all sure that they were not governing before Rome had ever been founded on its seven hills. Ras Desta is shot, and not a word of protest from one of the three leading countries in the League of Nations which acknowledges still the independence of Abyssinia.
I ask the Noble Lord whether there is no word he can forward from us, either to Mussolini or to the Council of the League of Nations, with regard to these massacres of women and unarmed men, with regard to these assassinations, murders of honoured leaders of a nation which is friendly to us, which has always been a friendly nation. I am asking questions which we are entitled to ask. I want to know whether any action of any sort or kind has been taken to protest in Rome, to move the League of Nations to protest with a view to preventing 3166 similar atrocities and outrages being perpetrated in future. Italy has not yet conquered Abyssinia. It took us three years to conquer the Transvaal with a. population of 200,000 or 300,000. It was country as difficult as this. There were 400,000 Italians trying to conquer Abyssinia; there were exactly the same number of troops in the Transvaal, and it took us three years. Ultimately Lord Kitchener, who was a very able man and in many ways a very wise man, came to the conclusion that it was better to come to decent terms. If we take action we may not secure the independence of Abyssinia, but we will protect hundreds of thousands of lives, we will avoid no end of misery, devastation and desolation there. We may secure honourable terms for them, even if they have to be under the Italian flag. What is still more important, we will preserve the honour of the British name, which we are not doing now.
The Italians are very angry with us. They are not angry with the Noble Lord. Why should they be? I would rather have Italian anger than Italian contempt. That is what the Government have got, and earned it to the full. Nobody has earned more contempt than they have done in their action towards Ethiopia. They need not do more. They have won it. They need really do no more. Are not they going to do something to earn some respect for the British Government? We were told that we could not tackle the Italian Fleet. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] It was said over and over again. It was put about as the reason why we did not enforce a blockade. We were not ready. We have to spend £1,500,000,000 to get a navy fit to meet the Italians. At any rate the conditions are better now than they were then. We were told that we had not got the torpedoes and the necessary shells—after this Government had been in office for five years. At any rate there is no condition of that sort now to explain why we do not stand up to Signor Mussolini. He is not a bluffer, I agree. It is a great mistake to think he is a bluffer. He never talks without acting upon it. But he is no fool. He knows with whom he is dealing, and if he had known he was dealing with men who speak in the name of Britain and with the might of Britain behind them—as it would have been—he would not have talked like that. I 3167 hope the time is coming when we shall talk in a straightforward, fearless manner. There is no man who would respect us more than would Signor Mussolini if we did that, and he certainly does not do it now.
Take Spain. What are we doing there? The policy of non-intervention has been run from London. It has been run by our own Foreign Office here, and the result has been that there is practically an international conflict going on in Spain at the present moment. There are troops of practically every nation there. It is true that the only really organised formations are the Italians, but there are Russian aeroplanes and I have no doubt there are French, and there are Russian and French volunteers, although I was told that the volunteer force which saved Madrid in the first attack was an international force of about 1,900 and that there was not a single Russian in it. But it was an international force that did it. The Militia were beneath contempt at that time, though they have since become good soldiers. After the Italians had sent four divisions there, a great many Capronis, and a very considerable quantity of munitions; after the Germans had sent, I believe, technical units—I do not know how many soldiers they have sent there; and after the Russians had sent technical units, we decided that the position was getting very dangerous. So it is.
I cannot conceive anything which is so full of possibilities of trouble as the conflict in Spain. They will start fighting each other. There is a possibility of sinkings of ships; sinkings of British ships and French ships by Italian warships or by German warships, and the sinking of Italian ships and German ships by British and other ships. It is full of dangerous possibilities, when one remembers that there are problems in Europe which are left untouched, unsettled, just put into cold storage, as if they did not matter; although actually they are put somewhere where they are fermenting. It is not a wise thing not to bring the situation to an end.
What is going to happen now? The Italians had four organised divisions under their own leaders, their own generals, undoubtedly picked by the Italian Government. They constituted practically the whole of the force that was at- 3168 tacking the capital of a country. I am not one of those who treat the Italians' qualities with contempt. People do not fight well upon issues with which they are not very much concerned. The Italians are a peasant people, and the peasant will fight desperately for his own country, for his own soil and his native land—
Mr. Lloyd George
Yes, the Spaniards are doing the same—hut they will not fight in the same sort of way on a foreign soil, for a foreign soil. Therefore I am not one of those who sneer at Italian courage because, on this occasion, they did not display the same valour as they undoubtedly displayed on many occasions during the Great War. In spite of all that has been said, they lost 500,000 dead, and one must always remember that; but the spirit which enabled them to attack those mountains in Italy is not the spirit displayed now when they are attacking the sierras in Spain, because then they had their own quarrel, they had their own inspiration and their own patriotism. This is a borrowed one. Taking the evidence of Italian prisoners, they did not even know what the quarrel was about.
What are the Government doing now? I am going to put another question. I should like to know this: Have they approached France, Russia and Germany, as well as Italy, as to the attitude which is to be taken? No doubt at all Count Grandi is a very able man. He did not just lose his temper and talk his own opinions. He knew very well that he was representing the views of his Government. Anybody who reads the "Tribuna" and the extracts to-day in some of the English papers, will find exactly the same opinions expressed. Unless I am mistaken that is the organ of Signor Mussolini. At any rate, he would not allow any paper to express views unless they coincided with his view. They say exactly the same thing. There is no doubt that he may have blurted out the opinion of his Government, but it was the opinion of his Government.
Where do we stand? The French Government have taken not merely their own public but the German public and our public into their confidence. There 3169 is a remarkable report to-day in the "Times," in a telegram from Paris, which is clearly based on conversations with the Quai d'Orsay, in which the French Government state definitely that if the Italians stand by these, declarations there is no alternative but for them to open the frontiers, and to start the old business of sending volunteers and materials across the frontiers. It that begins again, it will be done on a much bigger scale. It will be done more openly, with much greater spirit, because what has happened recently has not strengthened the sympathies with the insurgents. The Addis Ababa outrages have excited deep and honest indignation throughout the world. There is another human element that comes in also. There was a disposition at the beginning to regard Franco as the champion of property, the champion of religion, a gallant figure, a first-class soldier fighting against great odds, and doing it most effectively. There is a general sense of disappointment and disgust, and among his own friends, at the poor show he has made, having regard to? the fact that he had all the conditions in his favour.
At the beginning he had the regular army on his side, he had the best troops, the Moorish legionaries, he had practically all the guns, and in addition he had support from Germany and Italy, and a mere rabble in front of him, unarmed, quarrelling among themselves—that is not new in the history of any political party; I do not think any party is free from it, not even the party to which I have the honour to belong, nor even the party behind me—anarchists, syndicalists, atheists, and a very few Communists. What are known as the Spanish Communists are anarchists, who are exactly the opposite of Communists. A Communist is a man entirely at the command of the commune; an anarchist takes orders from no one. An Englishman who had been living in Spain said to me the other day, "I will tell you how far it went. A battalion of Anarchists was ordered to go there ' and they said 'No, we don't like that, we will go there.'" It was enough to give an order to the Anarchists for them to do the opposite, and if the commander was shrewd, he would have ordered them to go to the place he did not want them to go to in order to get them to go where he did want them. General Franco 3170 had everything in his favour. For months and months he has been there with all the best troops at his disposal.
The way in which these artisans, who probably never handled a gun before, have become really first-class soldiers, as the Parliamentarians did in the Civil War —shop assistants, ordinary workmen, farmers from the Eastern Counties—the way in which they have become first-class soldiers is rather winning the appreciation of a people who, whatever they are, like to see good fighting, whether it is in a football match or on the battlefield. Therefore, there is a different situation to deal with, and General Franco is becoming more and more dependent upon what we call the foreign invader. If what appears in the Press is true—and that is the only information we can get as the basis of a question—if it is true that Signor Mussolini means to organise two more divisions and send them there, what are you going to do?
Apart altogether from the very important question of ensuring the peace of Europe and preventing this trouble from provoking and exciting quarrels among nations—because the issues between these parties in Spain, in a modified form, divide us all in every country—apart from that, we have an interest in the matter. M. Delbos has pointed it out. I am glad to see that M. Delbos has definitely stated that his interview with the German Ambassador was satisfactory. It is not quite Germany's interest; it is the interest of Italy. Signor Mussolini has never concealed from anyone what his ambition is. He wants to make himself the predominant power in the Mediterranean. He has practically established his authority in the Eastern Mediterranean; we would not face him. What is he doing in the west? If, with Italian troops, Spain is conquered and becomes a Fascist State, it will be a Fascist State supported by Italian mercenaries. The ports of Spain in the west will be under the control of Mussolini; Ceuta will be; the Straits of Gibraltar can be blocked. For France, with the Canary Islands on the west, if there were trouble it would be a very awkward thing to have Spanish ports as a hostile resort. With regard to the Balearic Islands, M. Delbos points out that that cuts the communications between France and North Africa. Supposing that the Triple Alliance had stood, and Italy had stood by her bond, what would have been the condition of 3171 France with those islands available German submarines?
I do not think the Government have given due weight, in their dealings for the last two or three years, to the great issues which involve British interests. It has been my duty within the last few weeks to look through a great many documents and letters written to me when I was Prime Minister by very distinguished statesmen. There was a very remarkable letter that I came across from Lord Milner. It was on the question whether we should give Italy British Somaliland. It is a very prophetic letter. He points out what the designs of Italy are. "Italy does not want British Somaliland. She wants Abyssinia. If she gets Abyssinia, realise what it means. She practically dominates the Sudan, she is a menace to Kenya and she is a danger to our communications with India. With her great population she can raise a huge army." She is beginning to do it. That is a warning almost from the tomb, from a great Imperial statesman. We are doing the same thing in Spain. We are allowing Mussolini to be in a position where he dominates our communications to India. We are doing the same thing with regard to our high road through the Mediterranean. What is the policy of the Government? They say they are a National Government. They represent the nation. What is the policy that they propose to stand by?
§ 4.13 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
Debates that take place on the Adjournment of the House before a Recess occupy rather a special purpose in our Parliamentary life. I have had to take part in a good many since I have been Tinder-Secretary. It is very seldom that general issues are raised. It is nearly always an opportunity for Members, especially private Members, to raise some particular limited issue which is at the moment preoccupying the public mind. On this occasion, of course, general issues have been raised. The Debate began with a very limited issue, though we shall all agree a very important one, but it has been broadened, especially by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), to become the fullest of full-dress foreign affairs Debates. I do not propose to answer on the main question of foreign policy. I think, for one thing, this is not the correct opportunity. I think the 3172 right hon. Gentleman really thought so himself because, with very great courtesy, he said, what was indeed true, that he had given no notice that he was going to speak, that he knew I was not a member of the Cabinet and that he did not expect an answer.
Mr. Lloyd George
I do not want the Noble Lord to exaggerate my courtesy. I said with regard to the first question to which I would refer, about the Locarno Treaty, that I had given no notice. If he says he cannot answer with regard to that, I have nothing more to say, but of the others, notice was given.
Mr. Lloyd George
It was in the papers. This is rather important. There have been very decisive discussions on the Motion for the Adjournment, including the Tariff question in the time of the late Mr. Chamberlain. It was in the newspapers that I read that there was to be a discussion on these two things.
§ Viscount Cranborne
I think that, perhaps, the right hon. Gentleman rather misunderstood me. With regard to the events at Addis Ababa and also with regard to Spain, I am fully prepared to answer. I only meant the general question he raised with regard to the Locarno Agreement. The main matter, outside the question initiated by the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson), is that of Spain, and perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House if I speak about that matter first. I do not think that, in any case, it would be regarded as an unsuitable subject for discussion to-day, because it has been brought very definitely before the public owing to the events which occurred in the Non-Intervention Committee on Tuesday. The House already knows the position as it stands. It was explained by my right hon. Friend in answer to a question yesterday, in which he referred the communique which had been published, and which says that these matters are at present under consideration by the Committee, and he said that he could not add anything at the moment.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs made a very considerable point with regard to the present situation. He referred to a report 3173 in the "Times" this morning, which, I understood him to say, he believed to have been inspired by the Quai d'Orsay, and which said that unless the Italian Government withdrew the troops from Spain a very serious situation would arise which might almost involve the French Government in withdrawing from the Non-Intervention Agreement altogether. That is what I understood him to say was the effect of it. I read that report also. I have seen it only in the "Times," and the impression I obtained was, that he was not quite correct, and he will correct me if I am wrong. It was reported that it was said in Paris that if more men were sent a serious situation would arise. If I am correct—and I think I am—that is a very different situation. All that I have seen is to the effect that at present the ban is being observed. I know that. a great many hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely believe that it is not being observed, but all I can say is that all our evidence at present is that it is being observed.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the Reuter report from Paris which asserts that M. Delbos declared that Italian regular troops have continued to arrive since 10th February, and their presence in the Peninsular is proved by irrefutable documents, such as photographs?
§ Viscount Cranborne
If that is so, perhaps M. Delbos will bring it to the notice of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman went on to ask whether what was said in the newspaper was true, that Signor Mussolini is at present organising two new divisions for despatch to Spain. I do not think there is any reason to suppose that. It may have been in the newspapers, but there are many things in the newspapers. I know of no reason at present to suppose that that is correct. On this assumption, the right hon. Gentleman built a very considerable attack on the British Government. He asked what we were going to do, and by the time he had finished he had almost asked what we had done in a situation which had already arisen. The situation has not arisen, and I see no reason to suppose that it is going to arise.
§ Viscount Cranborne
That is a completely hypothetical question. The right 3174 hon. Gentleman is far too old a bird to be caught in that way, and I hope that I am, too.
Mr. Lloyd George
This is rather important. It is very much better that the Government should make it clear beforehand what line they would take, rather than intervene after Mussolini has committed himself.
§ Viscount Cranborne
The right hon. Gentleman is not quite frank. What he is asking us to assume, before an agreement is made, is that it is going to be broken, and that in such an event all the other nations in the League are to take such and, such action. It is impossible to do that, and I am sure that nobody knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman. A question was raised by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) with regard to the possible reference of this question to the League of Nations. He said that if it was referred to the League of Nations he hoped His Majesty's Government would take the lead, or that they would take the lead in sending it to the League of Nations. If he had been in the House the other night, when I had the opportunity of replying to the Debate, he would have known that I replied to that particular point. I said that the actual reference to the League must be a matter for the Spanish Government, which was primarily concerned, but that if the matter was referred to the League I felt quite certain that all the members of the Council—I am sure that this is perfectly true, from past experience—would give it the most careful and objective consideration. It is a matter for the Spanish Government, if they so wish, to take the lead, and the members, including His Majesty's Government, will give any appeal which they make careful consideration.
I recognise, we all recognise, the anxiety which hon. Members in all parts of the House feel in regard to the present situation. It is a most anxious and disappointing situation. Hon. Members on this side fully share the disappointment of hon. Members opposite, but at the same time we must ask hon. Members opposite, on their part, to recognise the extraordinary delicacy of the situation. I do not think that is sufficiently recognised. Several hon. Members opposite have said: "Just put your point of view, 3175 and everything will be all right." That is not so. Here is a situation where rash and ill-considered action may make a bad situation infinitely worse. I, at any rate, whatever hon. Members opposite think, am not willing to assist in exacerbating an already difficult situation. Therefore, I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend said, but I can assure the House that His Majesty's Government are fully aware of the very serious nature of the situation and are keeping a constant watch on it with a view to finding some possible solution.
I should like to deal with one further question before I come to the main question of Addis Ababa, and that is the question of Italian propaganda, which was mentioned in two or three speeches. I think it was the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut. - Commander Fletcher) who referred to propaganda in the Near East. He referred also to the Anglo-Italian Agreement, and asked whether this propaganda was not a breach of that Agreement. The Anglo-Italian Agreement has in it a passage dealing in general terms with the question of propaganda. Under it the two partiesagree to use their best endeavours to discourage any activities liable to impair the good relations which it is the object of the present declaration to consolidate.Our experience since the Agreement was signed is that, if anything, there has been a slight change for the better. I will not put it any higher than that. I want to be perfectly frank. There appear still to be certain cases which give cause for anxiety, and we are keeping a very careful watch on those cases. We recognise full well that the question of propaganda in the Near East is a matter which must always be of special concern to this country. If we come across any proved and flagrant case of propaganda by any nation—this applies not merely to one or other nation, but to all nations—it is our firm intention to take it up.
The question of propaganda has also been approached by one or two hon. Members from a slightly different angle. They said not only that other people's propaganda was too active, but that our propaganda was not active enough. Probably that is true. Our propaganda is not as active as that of the dictatorship countries. I think we spend a good deal less money on it. I think our propaganda 3176 always will be less effective. It does not come naturally to the British people that we should do official propaganda as well as it is done by other countries; but it is untrue to say that nothing is being done. The hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone) referred to the work that is being done by the organisation under the chairmanship of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). I was very glad to hear what she said. and I think we all know that that organisation is doing exceedingly good work. We welcome the increase of cultural propaganda wherever it can be done, and as far as there are funds to pay for it. At the same time, with all deference to the House, I think it is a mistake to attach undue importance to propaganda.
Propaganda is, in fact, akin to education, and as the hon. Lady represents universities, it is natural that she should pay very considerable attention to education. Frankly, I do not think we ought to pay too much attention to education. Speaking as a parent, I think that example is far more important than precept. That is true in our own lives, and it is true of nations, and honestly I believe that in the sphere of example, we are miles ahead of any other nation. In this country we have freedom, happiness, comparative prosperity, and better conditions among all sections of the people, and that in truth is the best form of propaganda. As long as we can maintain that position I do not believe we need be afraid of the artificial, official propaganda of other countries; but as far as we can extend the knowledge of British conditions by cultural propaganda, His Majesty's Government will support that in so far as there are funds to pay for it.
I come now to the subject raised at the beginning of the Debate by the hon. Member for Kingswinford the main subject of the Debate, if I may so call it. I have said that these Debates provide an opportunity for private Members to raise matters which are preoccupying the public mind. I should say that this is a classic example of that practice. He has raised this question of what we all admit to be the very tragic events which took place in Addis Ababa following the attempted assassination of Marshal Graziani. His object, as I understand it, and as expressed definitely by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton was to 3177 make clear the anxieties felt with regard to these events by large sections of the British people. I think those anxieties have been made abundantly clear. They have been made clear not only to-day-though they certainly were made very clear, in a powerful speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and by the hon. Member for Kingswinford in his opening speech. If I may say so, I thought the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was almost too large a gun for this occasion, and that in this Debate of back benchers his intervention was like the sudden intrusion of a "Big Bertha" in a bombardment of field guns.
§ Viscount Cranborne
No one regards the right hon. Gentleman as a typical private Member. He certainly made, as one would have expected, a very loud and long explosion. But, as I say, it was not only the right hon. Gentleman and other Members to-day who made those anxieties clear. We already had the Debate which was initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury in another place, and we have had many public speeches dealing with the subject. We had a very important letter in the "Times" signed by many of the most respected figures in our public life. I think the right hon. Gentleman himself put his name to that letter. Nobody can say that those anxieties have not been expressed and one has only to read the Italian Press to see that they recognise that fact also. So far as the Government are concerned, a statement has already been made in this House in answer to a question, and a statement has already been made by my Noble Friend Lord Plymouth in another place, and it is not necessary, I think, for me to add to what has been said. I even think that it would hardly be proper for me to add anything.
I know that the hon. Member for Kingswinford and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs have pressed me to say what action the Government are taking with regard to this question. As I understand it, and I believe this to be a perfectly correct view, this was never a question for individual action. Since the beginning of the Ethiopian dispute this country has been 3178 concerned collectively with other members of the League. If it had not been for our membership of the League, I doubt whether we should have taken any action whatever with regard to Ethiopia, and that applies to the whole Ethiopian question. Indeed, I think the hon. Member for Kingswinford himself gave the true answer. He said, and the House will be aware of the fact, that during the last few days these matters and certain other matters relating to Ethiopia have been brought to the notice of the League. The document referred to has already been issued to members of the League and will, I presume, be examined by them collectively as it should be. In any such examination, presumably, all the members and with them His Majesty's Government will take part. The right hon. Gentleman said we had always taken the lead. I am very glad to hear him say so. He did not always say so.
§ Viscount Cranborne
But not quite in the sense in which the right hon. Gentleman quoted it to-day. I was glad to hear him say so, but the fact remains that out of a Council of 13 or 14 members we are one member, and we must consider the question brought before the League together with the other members. That is the whole essence of the League system. In the meantime the question is, in a manner, sub judice, and as my right hon. Friend said yesterday, there is nothing which can properly be said at present. As I say, it is, I understand, going before the League, and that will be the proper time—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Can the Noble Lord not give us an assurance that His Majesty's Government will support the proposal for an inquiry? The Government are entitled to have a policy on that point.
§ Viscount Cranborne
No, Sir, I cannot give such an assurance. The whole subject must be discussed, the documents must be examined, and it is in the light of the facts which come out that any action which the League can take must be taken. It would be absurd for me now to give a definite assurance on a line of action which might not turn out to be the right line of action.
3179 Now I would like to say a word or two with regard to the general question, on which I hope there will be general agreement. The British people are often accused in other countries of smugness and hypocrisy with regard to the attitude which they take, and we have been liberally so accused in recent weeks. I think it only fair to say of the people of this country that we do quite honestly and sincerely hate violence of every kind. We hate it for a very good reason, because in our mind violence breeds violence, and war and assassinations and reprisals follow each other just as surely as night follows day. The innocent suffer with the guilty, and the whole fabric of civilisation is undermined. While, therefore, we must recognise that very often there are circumstances where there is an abnormality in the situation before such events occur, and where there may well be considerable provocation, at the same time we must deplore any tendency to violence, in whatever part of the world it may take place. That, I submit to the House, is not hypocrisy. It is a very natural sentiment which one would have thought would have been common to all Christian people.
We live in difficult and dangerous times. There are events in many parts of the world—the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs referred to this—which must give us furiously to think as to the road which the world is taking. It may be said by some that humanity is not moving forward, but backward. I do not believe that actually, and I hope hon. Members of this House do not really believe it. On the contrary, I believe that in every country in the world there is an immense body of opinion, a huge body of opinion, which is by nature kindly and sympathetic and which, whilst fully recognising the need for maintaining law and order, still thinks that mere force is no solution to the difficulties of a country. But if that considerable body of opinion is ever to prevail, it must have some standard which must guide it. If I was to suggest that this country or this House should set that standard, I feel that we should all agree that that would be unbearably smug. But at the same time, if this Debate has served to emphasise the necessity, not only for other nations, but for our own nation, to have some such standard, especially 3180 in connection with the treatment of black races, to whom we stand in the position not of conqueror but of trustee and protector, if it has served to emphasise the need for that standard, I believe it will have been well worth while and that the time which Members have spent here will not have been wasted.
It has been in one respect an important Debate at the present time. It has been a fine example, if I may say so, of the exercise of the rights of free speech, and, however embarrassing free speech may be at times to the Government in power, I do not believe there is any one of us who does not hope that it will always be safeguarded in this House. At the same time free speech does carry with it, as hon. Members know very well, considerable responsibilities, and it would do immense harm if it were to degenerate into licence and extravagance. It is our habit in this country to say very little, perhaps all the more when we feel very deeply, and that is very often exceptionally wise. Indeed. as in private life self-control is the hall mark of a free man, so in public life, in international life, self-control is the hall mark, I suggest, of a free nation. I do hope that we shall guard that very carefully in this House and watch what we say with the utmost discretion.
We have a task in this House for which, I hope I may say, we are eminently fitted by our tong history and our high tradition. Thai is the task of framing policy. It involves immense responsibility. I hope, therefore, that however deeply the emotions of hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side may be stirred by the events we have been discussing to-day, they will in the days to come put a great curb on themselves. I am quite certain that that way, and that way alone in these difficult times, lies wisdom. With regard to the wider issues raised, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that anything that comes from him is always received with the utmost respect: I will take note of what he said, and I will bring it to the notice of my right hon. Friend. I hope he will understand the position of an Under-Secretary in answering such questions on high policy, and that he will forgive me if I do not deal with them at such short notice myself.