§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the growing horror of aerial bombardment of defenceless civilians should be expressed in an international agreement to co-operate in its prohibition, and urges His Majesty's Government to exert its influence to this end.The House will observe that the Motion is drafted in quite general terms. It is also worth noting that it is mainly in the form of a declaration. I am sorry that by reason of the short notice it has been almost impossible for hon. Members to put an Amendment on the Order Paper if they had so desired, but I hope none the less that no Amendment will be handed in, for I think I am expressing the desire of the whole House in submitting the Motion, and I am going to ask for the unanimous approval of the House. I ask for that approval because I think it is desirable that the British House of Commons, speaking as it is entitled to do on behalf of the British people, should give utterance to its detestation of the horrible massacres which accompany aerial bombing. I am sure that the unanimous view of the House is that it is a crime against humanity and a reproach to civilisation that these outrages should continue. Almost every day brings further news of these ghastly and fiendish attacks upon defenceless and innocent people. It is surely time that the peoples of the world should cry a halt to this horrible business, for let us be perfectly clear about it, unless we do abolish it, the disastrous events which we have witnessed in the last year or two are but a feeble foretaste of what is in store for the world if by some unfortunate chance the most powerful nations become engaged in a life and death struggle. I trust, therefore, that no dissentient voice will be raised in this House when you, Mr. Speaker, put the Motion to the House to-night.
306 I think that, perhaps, it is also worth making this point, that even if the Motion is carried unanimously that fact ought not to be misunderstood or misrepresented abroad. Such a Motion, as I conceive it, is not at all an indication of weakness; it is not an indication of selfishness nor is it an indication of cowardice. If any nation in the European continent can afford to take the initiative in this matter I submit that it is Britain, for Britain can undoubtedly, if she so desired, secure for herself unchallengeable superiority amongst the nations of Europe. But because of her fortunate position, because of her enormous resources and her potential strength, Britain can, I think, with the greatest disinterestedness take the initiative in this matter. Happily the House can feel fortified in approaching a discussion of the Motion by the very wise utterance of M. Chautemps, the French Prime Minister, yesterday. It is quite obvious that the head of the French Government, and doubtless his colleagues also, are feeling, as all hon. Members are feeling, that a new and supreme effort should be made in order to bring to an end as speedily as possible these repeated outrages on defenceless people. I would also ask the House to permit me to make this point. I think we must assume that other nations in Europe are not indifferent to the horrors that are involved in an aerial bombardment.
I have from time to time devoted a good deal of study to the proceedings of the Preparatory Commission for the Disarmament Conference and that study has disclosed how general was the desire, particularly among the European nations represented at the Conference, to tackle the question of air armaments. Moreover, when the general discussion of the Disarmament Conference began, in February, 1932, so strong was that feeling that a series of proposals with a view to strengthening the provisions relating to air armaments embodied in the Draft Disarmament Convention was proposed and discussed. It is worth noting—for, after all, we must approach this problem in some spirit of optimism and in the belief that we can get much more support than may perhaps appear possible 307 on the surface—that on 23rd July, 1932, the General Commission of the Disarmament Conference adopted, by 40 votes to 2, with only 8 abstentions, a resolution which contained, among other things, this first clause:Air attack against the civilian population should be absolutely prohibited.I have already indicated to the House that I desire to secure a unanimous declaration from it to-night, but the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, who I believe intends to speak in the Debate, will forgive me if I make one controversial point. I am bound to say that the reservation which our own Government made as to bombing for police purposes in certain outlying regions in the Draft Convention submitted by the British Government in March, 1933, seemed to me to be disastrous then and to have been proved to have been disastrous in its consequences. It is true that in July of the same year, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, when the Government appreciated the reaction to that reservation, declared in the House that that reservation would not be allowed to stand in the way of securing a Convention in this matter, but that declaration was endorsed at Geneva only in November, 1933. I am afraid that the mere fact of the Government having made that reservation had very serious consequences upon the course of the discussions upon air disarmament. I said that a study of the discussions proves what a very large measure of agreement would have been possible if the situation had been properly handled at that time. However, that is not the subject of the Motion to-night, and I will leave the matter at that point; but I repeat that I consider that it was a tragedy that the Air Commission which was set up by the Disarmament Conference did not even complete its work, in spite of the very substantial measure of agreement which had already been manifested during the discussions.
Had the Air Commission completed its work, we might perhaps—I do not say that we necessarily would—have been spared what has happened in the world since then. Crime upon crime and iniquity upon iniquity have been presented to the eyes of the world. We are not now in the realm of speculation; the world knows what a dreadful thing is involved in the bombing of defenceless citizens. At 308 the risk of harrowing the feelings of hon. Members, I will read one or two passages from Mr. Steer's book, entitled "The Tree of Gernika: A Field Study of Modern War." I believe that Mr. Steer was in Spain, and was the representative of the "Times" there. I will read from page 238 to show the sort of situation that arose when the bombing aeroplanes appeared:An escort of Heinkel 51's, the same perhaps that had molested us that afternoon, were waiting for this moment. Till now they had been machine-gunning the roads round Gernika, scattering, killing or wounding sheep and shepherds. As the terrified population streamed out of the town they dived low to drill them with their guns. Women were killed here whose bodies I afterwards saw. It was the same technique as that used at Durango on 31st March, nearly a month back.Later, Mr. Steer says:It was then that Gernika was smudged out of that rich landscape, the province of Vizcaya, with a heavy fist. It was about five-fifteen. For two hours and a half flights of between three and 12 aeroplanes, types Heinkel III and Junker 52, bombed Gernika, without mercy and with system. They chose their sectors in the town in orderly fashion, with the opening points east of the Casa de Juntas and north of the arms factory. Early bombs fell like a circle of stars round the hospital on the road to Bermeo; all the windows were blown in by the divine efflatus, the wounded militiamen were thrown out of their beds, the inner fabric of the building shook and broke.That, in brief, is the story of the bombardment.
§ Mr. Morgan Jones
I presume that he writes of what he saw. I am not at the moment trying to make a case for one side or the other; my object is to show what aerial bombardment involves. I will now read from page 240, where there are described the results and consequences:Mercifully, the fighters had gone. They no longer glanced down to mutilate the population in movement and chase them across the open fields. The people were worn out by noise, heat and terror; they lay about like dirty bundles of washing, mindless, sprawling and immobile. There was nothing to save in Gernika but the few old mattresses and pillows, kitchen tables and chairs which they had dragged out of the fire. By seven-thirty that evening fire was eating away the whole of crowded little Gernika but the Casa de Juntas and the houses of the Fascist families. These, being wealthier than the others, lived in stone mansions apart from the rest of the people; their properties did not catch the 309 infection of the running fire, even when under pressure of the wind it stretched its savage arms to stroke them.I do not make those quotations as a contribution on the Spanish situation, but merely to show what the modern bombardment of defenceless people involves. If we turn our thoughts to the Far East, we are confronted with a similar situation. Tens of thousands of innocent and defenceless people are bombed for no apparent reason; there are the same ghoulish operations in the Far East as in the nearer parts of Europe. Is it not time that the world cried "Enough"? For whom do we plead? Is it inappropriate to say a word for the old? After all, they are the people who have served their day and generation; for them the labourer's task is nearly over. Is it too much to ask that they be allowed to live the rest of their life in peace? And what of the young, the children? Have they no claims? Wherein have they erred? What crime have they committed? Life lies before them, and they are entitled to have their chance like the rest of us. Why should they have this ghastly dew rained upon their heads in the twinkling of an eye? Why should they not be spared this ghoulish destruction?
I do not offer this Motion in the belief or with the suggestion that other forms of war are tolerable. I beg the House to understand that I make no such suggestion. War is horrible, whatever form it may take; war is a cruel, bestial, bloody business, and the sooner we get rid of it the better. And after all, to get rid of war is the only way of curing this fearful evil. We must banish war. We must abandon the pursuit of destruction and seek the way of peace. Since the last War at any rate, we in this country have been spared these dreadful invasions, and in some degree perhaps we can take an objective view in this matter. Surely, our influence is not absolutely dead in Europe. I beg and pray of the Government that they ally themselves with this new gesture from France and approach any other Government which is prepared to lend a listening ear to them, so that now, in good time, we may be spared the dreadful visitations that curse the people of Spain and other parts of the world. I believe that in submitting this Motion to the House, although it does not go nearly as far as this party would 310 like, we shall perhaps induce other nations to plant their feet firmly upon the path that leads to peace.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am sure the House will agree that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) has moved this Motion in such a manner as to command the general sympathy of hon. Members, to whatever party they may belong. If, on one matter of controversy, which he appeared to me to raise, I ventured to ask him a question in the course of his speech, it was because there must be some differences about this question in relation to the great struggle which is proceeding not so far away. I propose to refer very briefly to that matter later, but I wish to say at the outset that I am certain that the hon. Gentleman this evening at any rate—perhaps it is not always so—was voicing the opinion of the people of this country when he said that they and probably he might have added the people throughout the Empire, loathed and detested this new form of warfare. I think we may also say—and I hope no foreigner will regard this as a claim for any particular virtue for ourselves—that when the great War broke out we never dreamt of bombing open towns and civilians and only contemplated counter-action when that form of frightfulness was employed against our own people in this country. I am certain that any man who has lived for day after day, and month after month, and even year after year, under constant bombardment, whether from the land or the sea, wants to see the civilians of the world rescued from this kind of torment in the days to come.
The Mover of the Motion said that he wanted to get rid of war. I think we on this side are entitled to say that we share that desire. We have to realise that in the last 4,000 years there have been something like 3,450 wars in the world, and I suppose that all through the ages this same desire that the hon. Gentleman has expressed has existed. Since the Great War there have been wars in almost every part of the world, in spite of the fact that we were so hopeful that there would be a new temper in mankind and that people would appeal to reason rather than to violence. There is no good in our imagining that the mere fact that we in this House express that desire is going to 311 alter the temper of mankind. My own belief is that at this moment any Motion which we pass—and this does not detract from the merits of the proposal—will have very little effect. At the very moment when we are declaiming against the bombing of civilians most of the great Powers of the world are actually providing bombers in two great theatres of war. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I do not think I ought to go into the merits of the why or the wherefore, but I think it is not denied that vast numbers of bombers are taking part in operations in the East and in Spain, which have been provided with the cognisance of every one of the Governments of the great Powers, except His Majesty's Government and one other. Whatever our feelings may be in regard to this tragedy of intervention, we ought to agree that our Government has stood definitely for a policy—it may not have been successful but our Government has loyally carried out its part.
§ Sir H. Croft
As long as I know that the hon. Gentleman does not approve of what I am saying, I am satisfied. We are, day by day, becoming aware of what happens when this kind of warfare is conducted, and it is a great lesson to us that we should try in face of this peril to be united in promoting measures which will give the greatest possible safety to our people on the one hand and provide the most effective form of defence or counter-offence on the other. [Interruption.] Really it is no laughing matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I think people are beginning to realise the tragedy of this kind of thing. Surely one of the lessons we ought to learn on this subject is the necessity of getting together and doing everything in our power to equip ourselves to prevent disasters of the kind that have been described happening to our own civilians, and also seeing to it that it will not be fruitful for any other country to undertake such operations against ourselves.
I wish to say a few words about certain happenings which we have seen recently. I do not propose to be any more contentious than the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion, but if we are seekers after truth in this country, let us try 312 to get as close as we can to the facts of the case. Reference was made by the hon. Gentleman to the bombing of the town of Guernica. The book to which the hon. Member referred is, I think, entitled "The Tree of Guernika." One of my hon. Friends who visited that tree shortly after the events described, may be taking part in this Debate at a later stage. Whatever may be the story of Guernica, we would all deplore, because of its historical associations and the fact that it is a precious site to many Spaniards, the fact that it should cease to exist, with certain exceptions, as we are told, the municipal buildings are intact, and the sacred tree is intact. In that particular area, I am told, there is no sign of any bombing. It is remarkable, since we are told that these bombs appeared to fall in star-like formations that the German bombers were so skilful that they were able to avoid the destruction of all the Fascist houses which were the houses of the rich—the substantial houses. Surely we all know by now that however substantial houses may be they cannot stand up against high explosive bombs.
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that in Madrid exactly the same phenomenon is to be seen? You can see hundreds of working-class houses smashed like egg-shells, whereas the substantial stone buildings, which were presumably the objectives of the attackers, are practically intact. Even in the University City some of them are intact.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am certain that it would be possible from the air to segregate certain parts of a great city, but in a small place like Guernica, a tiny little town of 6,000 inhabitants, it would be impossible. It is really giving the airmen credit for a power the possession of which they have not so far proved, to say that they would be able to fly above this narrow little town and discriminate between working-class dwellings and other dwellings.
§ Sir H. Croft
Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to proceed with my remarks. I am trying to make a case very briefly and I hope not with any hostility, in answer to what the hon. 313 Gentleman has said from the Front Opposition Bench. This admirable journalist wrote the book from which the hon. Member has quoted, but I gather that the author of the book was not present when this occurred. He has admitted that mountains stood between him and Guernica.
§ Sir H. Croft
I could bring scores of witnesses, but the hon. Lady is so sincere in her views on this question that she would never listen to any evidence from the other side. The hon. Members who have interrupted honestly think, I believe, that there has been bombing only on one side in Spain. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am glad to have even that approval of my utterances in the admission that there has been bombing on both sides. What I wish to put to the House is that during the last 18 months there has been bombing of non-military objectives far from the fighting line on the part of the minority government—I will not call them the Red government—of Barcelona.
§ Sir H. Croft
The hon. Gentleman who is very vocal has not yet been appointed Speaker of this House. If we are to pass a Motion, as I hope, unanimously, and to send it out to the world, let us not be guilty in this great Chamber of pretending that there is only one side to this case. I think what prompted this Motion was the fact that there have been recently great raids on Barcelona and Valencia.
§ Sir H. Croft
Of course we have to realise that Barcelona has features similar to the Port of London. It has, let us say, a Chatham, a Woolwich Arsenal, a Hendon and a Westminster. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] It is one of the principal seaports and it is a naval base. It is a ministerial and governmental centre and it is very close to an air centre. It is the seat of government. On the other hand, Valencia might not be unfairly described as similar to Devonport.
§ Sir H. Croft
Only twice, but I have not been there recently. I have not been as brave as the hon. Lady, and I have not intervened during these present troubles. I have not been there recently, I admit. These places which are being bombed, tragic though it is, are precisely—and this is the lesson that I want to bring before the House—the types of places that we have got to consider will be bombed in the case of the next war and which we have got to make adequate preparations to defend against air attack. Is it realised that during the whole of last year numerous towns have been continuously bombed? I am glad to see this protest arising here to-day, but are we aware, for instance, that in one week, as far back as 25th May, the towns of Palencia, Catalazud, Palma Mallorca, Pamplona, and what I may call the scholastic or university city of Valladolid, have all been bombed? I do not know whether any exception is taken to that.
I have here returns for the months of May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December, when Cordoba, Granada, Seville, Avila, Segovia, Merida, and Motril were continuously bombed by Red planes, and owing to some extraordinary conspiracy in the Press of this country not a word has been uttered. [Interruption.] Perhaps the hon. Members who are so vocal will give me the dates on which the respectable Press of this country referred to those bombings. I should very much like to have them. To give one single day, I will refer to 25th July, when Caceres, which is 60 miles from the Front, with no possible relation to the fighting which was taking place, was raided so violently—this little place—that 18 women were killed and 34 women wounded, five children were killed and seven wounded, and eight civilian men were killed and 28 wounded, or 100 in all, in one raid. We heard nothing about that then.
Up till May 400 bombers had been brought down by the Nationalists. I cannot give the exact figures of those brought down by the other side. These figures cannot so well be challenged when those machines were what one might describe as actually in the bag, and they are all listed. [Interruption.] I am only too glad to get any evidence of facts, but it seems to me that up till now we have heard only one side of the case. The facts are that a very large number of 315 machines have been brought down. We all know that there have been, day after day, declamations against the Italians and the Germans, and quite rightly so, I think. I am no friend of these countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I am not so sure that the Foreign Secretary could not tell you that I have been rather a disturbing element and there is no Member of this House who has been more criticised in Germany than I have. That being the fact, let us try to get a sense of proportion. Were there not large numbers of bombers on either side, and is it or is it not a fact that the vast majority of the bombers which were used on the side of Red Spain came from Russia? Is there any factory in that country where these bombers can be built?
§ Sir H. Croft
Since when? To build these particular types of bomber, which come from Russia, Mexico, and France? If the hon. Lady can tell me that, I shall be very much educated on the subject. I do not want to keep the House long, but if I have been longer than I intended, it has been because of constant interruptions from the Benches above the Gangway, from Scylla and Charybdis, leading me off the path. There seems to be some disagreement with the fact that these contributions have been made, but is it denied that the leaders of the Government in Barcelona have declared that they could not have remained in the war but for the aid of Russia? I will give the exact words of Martin Barrio:I, who am not a Communist, say that without the help of the U.S.S.R. the Spanish Republic would have disappeared.Here is another:But for the vast contributions of munitions from Russia and Mexico, the war could not have been carried on.Again we have Senor Negrin admitting the aid of Russia and Mexico, and a Deputy, supporting him, said:Only this aid has enabled the Valencia Government to continue the war.I think that is generally admitted. Then let us get rid of this one-sided talk. [An HON. MEMBER: "Let us have the other side of the story."] We have heard nothing but the other side for the last 18 months. I think I have said enough—
§ Sir H. Croft
I have a lot of evidence by me, and I am quite prepared to go on and give more of it, but I think I have said enough to show that it really is not helping the cause of peace, it really is not holding the scales evenly, to declare again and again that this raiding has been done by the wicked Italians and by the wicked Germans, when the facts are that the whole of the air warfare has been carried on by foreign machines. Let us not particularise. All of them have been foreign machines, and this intervention has come from all sides. If we are asking this House to give what I hope will be a unanimous message to the world that we deplore the whole of this kind of warfare, how deplorable it is that quite a large number of the Members of Parliament in this democracy have recently been lured to Spain in order to show their sympathy with one side, when the Government of this country is definitely committed to non-intervention. After all, democracy, if it is going to have its influence on a question such as this, must have some justification, but if a democratic Government, elected by a large majority of the manhood and womanhood of this country, decides on a certain policy, and leading Members of the Opposition go to a country where there is civil war and directly encourage one side in that civil war to add to the slaughter, that is hammering a nail into the coffin of democracy. Things reached a pretty pass when an ex-Minister of the Crown went to Spain and made a speech actually attacking the Government of this country and his own Foreign Secretary. That, I submit, was very bad.
I cannot conceive that ever before in the history of this country leading Members of the Opposition would have gone abroad as leading Members of the present Opposition have done recently—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Gladstone?"]—Did Mr. Gladstone ever go to a foreign country and fulminate against the Government of this country, however much he did not agree with it? If he did so, it is surprising that he had so little patriotic instinct. What does democracy mean? If you are not going to stand together behind the Government of the day you can turn it out next year or the year after, but if you are not going to stand behind the foreign policy of the Government, with all the world looking on, but are to go to foreign countries 317 and make speeches against the Government of your own country, democracy will suffer a blow from which it will be difficult to recover. In spite of all that, I hope that every Member will vote for the Motion, because, if it only calls attention to this ghastly business, it will have done some good. I congratulate the hon. Member on the speech with which he opened the Debate.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) began his speech by saying that he was not going to be controversial. I am sure the House will agree that he has treated us to one of the most controversial speeches we have heard for a long time. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that there is no Member on this side who at the proper time and place would be averse to crossing swords with him and his friends on what is taking place in Spain to-day, but this is not the time and place. His speech was wholly irrelevant to the Motion before the House. I can also assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that hon. Members on this side are not using this Motion as a peg on which to hang an attack upon his friend General Franco, but they are seeking to obtain the condemnation and the termination of aerial attacks on all peoples, no matter who they may be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman has apparently forgotten that, although it is true that air attacks have taken place upon towns and cities within territory under the control of the Spanish insurgent authorities, it is also true that the Spanish Government have offered to the insurgents to cease all bombing attacks upon insurgent territory and that that offer was rejected by the Spanish insurgent authorities.
§ Mr. Henderson
I am sure that Members on both sides of the House welcome this discussion. Public opinion everywhere has been deeply stirred by the ghastly sufferings caused by air raids both in Spain and in China. Innocent men, women and children have been slaughtered wholesale and thousands of them have been terribly mutilated. One has only to recall the dropping of bombs some weeks ago in Shanghai on the Bund, 318 resulting in a few minutes in more than one thousand casualties, practically all of whom were civilians. More recently, only last Sunday, there took place in Barcelona one of the worse air raids on record. I hope that I may be forgiven if I follow the example of the hon. Member who opened the discussion by giving the House some details of what is actually involved in a particular air raid. According to the "Times," Barcelona was last Sunday twice raided by squadrons of aeroplanes coming from the direction of Palma, Majorca. It is interesting to observe the direction from which' those aeroplanes came, because it is suggested that Majorca is entirely under Italian control. The account goes on to say:The death roll was the heaviest since the outbreak of the civil war, although the destruction of buildings was hardly as great as in the terrible raid of 19th January. The Mayor of Barcelona said to-day that the number of lives lost was 300, if not more; in the raid last month the number was about 200. Many of the victims are buried, either dead or alive, in basements or cellars under many tons of debris. Rescue squads are doing their best, but their work is slow and the chance of saving many scorns hopeless.One need not have much imagination to realise the sufferings of those people who were alive and buried under those tons of debris. The account goes on:Late this afternoon 280 bodies had been recovered. In one place 120 children, war refugees from Bilbao and Madrid, were buried. It is feared that all are dead. There are stated to have been 147 children in this group, of whom 27 escaped. Their nurses and attendants are also missing.Then the "Times" goes on to say:In a part of the city where streets are narrow, passage was barred by huge mounds of mortar and stone from the buildings, of which only cracked and tottering walls remain. In one of those buildings I saw bedroom alcoves clinging to the rear wall, which was all that remained upright. … Not a person had escaped from this building; all had taken refuge in the cellar and are buried there.On such occasions as the one I have just described it is almost impossible to assess the damage done in terms of human suffering. People may well ask whose turn it will be next. In almost every country in the world to-day Governments and peoples are making preparations for safeguarding their civilian populations against air attacks in future. No longer is it a trial of strength when war comes between the armed forces of each 319 country. In modern war women and children find themselves in the front line. In former days there was a cry, "Women and children first," when it was a question of giving them the first chance to live. To-day they have to be killed first in order that they may be sacrificed to the Moloch of war. A few years ago the then Prime Minister, now Lord Baldwin, summed up the position in this House when he stated:It is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever people may tell him, the bomber will always get through.He went on to say:The only defence is in offence, which means that you have to kill more women and children more quickly than the enemy if you want to save yourselves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]Is it beyond the wit of man to evolve a code which would rule out the horrors of aerial warfare? Has our civilisation sunk so low that modern warfare has to involve a return to the law of the jungle?
It is interesting to remember, as my hon. Friend who opened this discussion mentioned, that the prevention of aerial bombing was discussed at the ill-fated Disarmament Conference. As my hon. Friend said, the question was fully considered by the Air Commission of that conference; and I may say that the majority of those who participated as members of the Air Commission were experts on this question. As my hon. Friend indicated, they were unanimously of the opinion that air bombardment was a grave threat to civilisation. That was the view of the Air Commission itself; but the General Commission of the Disarmament Conference which, as hon. Members know, was composed of the whole of the delegates of the conference, passed the following resolution in July, 1932:The Conference, deeply impressed with the danger overhanging civilisation from bombardment from the air in the event of future conflict, and determined to take all practicable measures to provide against this danger, records the following conclusion: Air attack against the civilian population shall' be absolutely prohibited. Secondly, the High Contracting Parties shall agree as between themselves that all bombardment from the air shall be abolished, subject to agreement with regard to measures to be adopted for the purpose of rendering effective the observance of this rule.320 The next step taken was in March, 1933, when the United Kingdom delegation submitted a Draft Convention, Article 34 of which provided for a complete abolition of bombing from the air, except for police purposes in certain outlying regions. This particular Draft Convention of the British Government was on that occasion read a first time, but no definite decision was taken. Article 34 itself gave rise to considerable discussion, special attention being directed to the exception which I have just quoted. As my hon. Friend indicated, then was the psychological moment for the British Government to have gone to the Disarmament Conference and to have taken the same line as was taken by the Russian and the United States Governments, whose representatives stated unequivocally that their Governments were in favour of the total and complete abolition of air bombing. One may gather what happened from a speech made in another place by one of the British delegates to the Conference to whom my hon. Friend referred—Lord Londonderry. Speaking subsequently Lord Londonderry said:In March, 1932, the Disarmament Conference assembled, and almost its earliest discussion was centred round the possibility of the total abolition of air forces, at least the abolition of the artillery of the air, the bombing aeroplane.He went on to say:I had the utmost difficulty at that time, amid the public outcry, in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane even on the frontiers of the Middle East and in India.He said further:I felt certain that when ideas of abolition were examined pratically they would be discovered to be inapplicable in the state of the world to-day. We could not put the clock back.I want to be fair to the Government. It is true that the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on a subsequent occasion in this House, made it perfectly clear that so far as the British Government were concerned they would not allow that exception to stand in the way of a convention; but the damage had by then been done. The psychological opportunity had been missed. If the British Government and the other Governments of the world, instead of grasping the nettle of militarism and armaments with the palsied hand of insincerity and weakness, had grasped it with the hand of enthusiasm and determination, there might have been a very different result from that Conference.
321 Be that as it may, nations of the world have in fact expressed themselves in favour of the total abolition of air bombing, and I should like to re-echo the words of my hon. Friend who opened this discussion by asking the Foreign Secretary, Is it too late? I know that it will be argued that it is no use making agreements when there are nations in the world who will persist in breaking them, but I suggest that the fact that nations may break their agreements does not destroy the value of international agreements. The value of the Covenant of the League of Nations, the value of the Kellogg Pact, is just as great as, if not greater than, ever, in spite of the breach of those international obligations by various Governments.
I hope that to-night the Foreign Secretary will accept the invitation of my hon. Friend and make it clear that His Majesty's Government will do everything they can not only to co-operate with the French Prime Minister in his endeavour to obtain an agreement between the two parties in Spain so far as air bombing is concerned, but also to deal with the wider question of aerial bombardment whenever the occasion may arise in the future. The influence of the British Government is still great in the council of nations, in spite of all their vacillations during recent years. The right hon. Gentleman has a great opportunity. I hope he will take it. If he will take his stand on this great question and endeavour to lead the nations of the world along these paths he will have the support of this side of the House. This is not a party question; this is a question of the interests of humanity as a whole, and anything which this or any other Government can do to safeguard the welfare of humanity will receive the support of every Member on this side of the House.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) gave us a characteristically delightful speech. I do not think Colonel Blimp himself could have done it better. He put forward the remarkable political doctrine that in matters of foreign policy it is the duty of the Opposition to rally round the policy of the Government of the day, however much they may disagree with it.
§ Sir H. Croft
In this House all Oppositions oppose the Government—that is 322 quite clear—and if they disagree with their foreign policy they oppose it; but to go to a foreign country and oppose the policy of the Government is something which has never been done before.
§ Mr. Mander
I understand that if a Labour Government were in power and the hon. and gallant Member disagreed with their foreign policy they could still rely upon him to rally round them in support of it?
§ Mr. Mander
In regard to the question which we have been discussing, there is much to be ascertained in the pages of that remarkable book "The Tree of Gernika." If any hon. Member has any doubts he ought to read the book through, and I should be prepared to abide by the decision he came to after reading it; but I am afraid that whenever a question arises which affects dictators or Nazis or those of the extreme Right my hon. and gallant Friend suddenly becomes incapable of reasoning. He is not able to weigh the evidence. He comes automatically and subconsciously—against his will, I feel sure—to certain rigid conclusions, and no evidence of any kind could possibly shake or change him. I sympathise very much with him in the plight in which he finds himself, with all the terrible accounts that he has been giving us of the bombing operations in Spain, that he cannot find one British newspaper to print that kind of thing. It is certainly very unfortunate, and I am sure that he enjoys the sympathy of every Member of this House.
The Motion before us has nothing to do with the much-debated question of Spain, and we might leave it aside and concentrate upon what is raised by the Motion. I feel that the only way to arrive at the conclusion desired by the hon. Member, and the best form of international agreement to end bombing, is to implement the Covenant of the League of Nations. In that way alone we shall end bombing and end war, and allow ourselves to return once more to the possibilities of a Disarmament Convention such as the Government proposed in 1933, and which can be carried out multilaterally under international inspection, so that we can see that every country is carrying out the promises which it has made. So long 323 as war lasts in the world—and it certainly cannot last for ever—nations will make use of the very potent weapons which science has placed in their hands, and no resolution or convention which they may have signed will hamper or prevent them from doing so if they think they have their backs to the wall and that by bombing they can get their way. I do not quite agree that we should concentrate all our efforts in getting a convention signed pledging nations not to use bombing.
§ Sir John Withers
If nations will not stand by such a convention why should they be expected to stand by the League of Nations?
§ Mr. Mander
We can only hope that human nature will improve, and that public opinion will be educated so that sufficient pressure can be put upon all Governments, including our own, to make them carry out the obligations to which they have set their hands. In the case of a disarmament convention we can ensure that they keep their word by a system of international inspection. I feel that this is not a very useful avenue to follow, because I think it does not lead anywhere, and that it is better for us to concentrate upon the abolition of war altogether.
As long as war continues, there is something to be said for it remaining the horrible and disgusting thing it is, so that when people see it and realise it they are more likely to want to get rid of it, rather than give them the impression that it can be conducted on certain lines by the experts and the military people, and that civilians can sit quietly and safely outside. Not only will nations use the weapon of the bomber, but they will use gas when they think they can do so safely. They have not been using it in the Far East or in Spain because they have realised that that terrible weapon would be used against whichever side started to use it, and they do not want to experience it. It was used by the Italians in Abyssinia because they knew there was no possibility of it being used against them, and that it was a safe thing for them to do in the circumstances.
If the situation were not so serious it would be ludicrous to consider some of the things which have been going on in 324 Europe. Take the recent visit of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department to Berlin. I hope that he will give an assurance to the House later on that he is quite satisfied that adequate arrangements have been made in Berlin and that there is now no danger that any of the bombs that we have been manufacturing in this country, or bombings or air raids that may take place, can possibly harm, wound or kill any of the German population. It is very important, of course, that he should compare notes with Germany, and see that anything we can do will be rendered innocuous. I hope that he has satisfied himself that General Goering, Goebbels and the rest of them have some deep dug-out a long way under Berlin to which they can retire as soon as British bombers are notified as having started from this country. Is it not ludicrous and insane that we should be embarking upon an immense armaments programme here, and that the Home Office should go over to Berlin in order to exchange information in order to render our preparations innocuous? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will give us the benefit of his experiences.
There is no doubt that we are planning to bomb each other. I will give figures which I believe to be reasonably accurate as to the scale on which the different countries are doing it, in percentages of bombers and fighters in their air forces, excluding machines that may be used for different purposes and are not classified as bombers or fighters. It is not easy to give exact figures because all the machines are not the same, and some bombers in this country are also fighters. I believe the figures to be reasonably accurate. In regard to Great Britain the figures are: bombers, 70 per cent., fighters, 30; Germany, bombers, 66 per cent. fighters, 33. The figures for France are the same. Italy, bombers, 50 per cent., and fighters, 50. Russia is the same, 50–50. From these figures it would appear that in this country more than anybody else we are concentrating in bombing foreign countries and bringing desolation upon the inhabitants, both military and civil. I dare say that is the correct technique and is the proper way to achieve your result, but it is none the less a very horrible thing to contemplate.
Reference has already been made to practical steps which have been considered 325 from time to time for the abolition of air warfare. I would make another brief reference to the Disarmament Conference. In 1932 the French Government brought forward admirable proposals that all bombers—they did this on the authority of their General Staff, and it was not a fancy scheme of some unimportant idealist—should be handed over to the League of Nations for custody and use, in order that they might be formed into an international air force. That scheme was approved by 17 countries, and I need hardly tell hon. Members that Great Britain was not one of them. In 1933 a supplementary scheme was put forward by the French Government. It was generally known as the Cot Scheme, because M. Cot was then and again until quite recently Minister for Air in France. The scheme proposed a form of international air force, placed under the League and freely recruited for the purpose of being used as a safeguard against the abuse by some country in converting machines used for civil aviation rapidly for bombing purposes. Again Great Britain opposed that practical proposal.
In March, 1933, we got the proposal to which the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) referred, the British scheme. It was really an excellent scheme, if it had been carried out, by which we were alternatively either to abolish military aviation and to control civil aviation or to cut down machines according to a strictly worked out figure for a period of years. I hope that we shall get back in due course to the consideration of one of these schemes. Any of them, if it could be carried out, would be a great step forward. But, if we are to do that, there are certain things which we must do as a country, and which our Government must do. First of all, they must get rid of their cowardice complex, which is hindering all our influence in the world. They must realise that Great Britain is the most vulnerable target, certainly so far as London is concerned, that is to be found anywhere in Europe. They must realise that Great Britain, London, and the British Empire are completely indefensible on the purely nationalistic lines on which they seem to be working at the present time. The only hope is to get back, as we must some day, to the collective system of the League of Nations. So alone can we end bombing and destroy war.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander James
I little thought that I should ever find myself in complete agreement with a Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) and with his speech in moving it, but that is the position in which I find myself to-night, except as regards two minor controversial points which were not relevant to his main argument or to the Resolution; I should like to make one or two observations on the non-controversial aspect of his speech. With the only argument used by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) I also find myself in agreement. He suggested, and I think he is right, that it might be putting the cart before the horse if air disarmament were made a prime consideration over and above general disarmament.
I should like to mention one or two other disadvantages of air armaments, though they are not so grave as the results of bombing. In the first place, they involve the desecration of whole tracts of the country for the purposes of the erection of enormous aerodromes, and they involve particularly the destruction of some of the most beautiful downland in Great Britain and much of the amenities of our coasts. I would refer also to the ever-increasing volume of horrible noise which deafens one over large parts of the country. In my own district of Northamptonshire hardly an hour passes on a fine day without one's ears being assailed by the noise of these infernal aeroplanes. Then there is the continuous toll of casualties during training, and, above all, there is the appalling waste of money and effort, and the disorganisation of ordinary life and industry in the manufacture of these purely destructive weapons.
I suggest, however, that it is getting the matter out of perspective to treat air bombing as the disease itself. As the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said, it is only a symptom of a much more serious and bigger problem. What we have to aim at is the reduction of armaments in general to a level which would eliminate the possibility of success by aggression. If that could be done, air disarmament might be expected to follow. But I think there is a real danger in pressing for air disarmament by itself, because, taken alone, it would act wholly to the advantage of other countries which 327 have conscription. It would automatically strengthen the hands of dictator Powers, and would weaken our power of intervention in the comity of nations. Any attempt, therefore, to make us weaker for bargaining for general disarmament with other nations must be treated with suspicion. The Opposition have displayed a readiness to accept the assurances of dictators on this matter when they have been very loth to accept them in any other direction.
Another aspect of the question is that we in this country have a very marked individual superiority in the air; we have the most efficient air force in the world, and we shall have by far the most powerful one. That would enable us, if the need arose, to render effective aid to people on the Continent whom we might wish to assist. In conclusion, I suggest that the greatest lever towards securing general disarmament is the spreading fear of air action. It may well be that in the long run what has been described as the martyrdom of Spain may at long last lead to such a revulsion against air armaments as to facilitate the general disarmament which is what we should aim at.
§ 9.3 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have listened with sympathy to the moving of this Motion on behalf of the Labour party, but, while I agree with almost every word that has been said in support of it, I must, as a realist, examine the question of what prospect there is of success in achieving the object of the Motion. To call attention to the bombing of civilians in wartime is just about as far as I can agree with the Motion. I realise that bombing from the air has become, and will become, a very vital part of warfare conducted on modern lines, and with any suggestion that bombing is always aimed at the civilian population I must find myself in disagreement. I realise from experience and observation that the effect of bombing is a horrible, vicious and bestial thing, and no person in this country or in any country will disagree with that sentiment as expressed by any party or any individual in this House.
Bombing from the air is conducted, and will be conducted, even for the purposes of military warfare, with the object of destroying vital points in enemy territory, such as armament works, railways, 328 barracks, concentrations of troops, governmental buildings, and also roads, bridges and many other things. I saw the effects of bombing, as many Members of this House have seen it, at a little place on the Spanish frontier. A number of buildings were destroyed, women, children and men had been killed; but I frankly confess that I could not see in and around the place any military objectives. There was the tunnel that the rail was passing through, and the railway station that was the terminus where French people and all kinds of travellers and goods were going through. I realised that bombing could be used, on the other hand, in order to terrorise a civil population and, when military success is not being attained, in order to cause discontent behind the lines, so as to bring pressure to bear on a Government to make peace. Bombing is brutal. But all warfare is brutal. Every phase of it, to me, is obnoxious—the disembowelling of men with bayonets, the gassing of men, driving them to their death by making them unable to breathe, the shooting of men, the bombing of men, the machine-gunning of men. With the best will in the world, I cannot see how you are ever going to make warfare something of the kind that can be conducted by men from a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon in any Christian society. War has its roots, it has its causes; and to them we must direct our attention. Only when we have uprooted the system of private enterprise and private ownership of the means of life shall we eliminate bombing from the air, and warfare in any shape or form.
I remember a man who was a soldier in the South African war telling me that one evening he was at Divine Service at the South African plains. It was an ordinary Christian service, at about midday on Sunday. In the middle of the service, word came from the scouts that the Boers were engaged in some form of Divine Service not many miles away. The Divine Service was scrapped immediately; the clergyman was told to bring the worship of God to an end, because they must get on the march and seize their opponents at Divine Service, while they were disarmed. They proceeded speedily to the spot, caught the Boers at Divine Service, riddled them, and won a successful engagement, and, I have no doubt, returned to thank God that He had delivered the enemy into their hands 329 at Divine Service. That is war. To me, a Motion of this kind can be useful only in instilling into the minds of the people of this country a horror of war, a seeking of the causes of war. Then, in the end, by the abolition of the system of private property, ownership and control, we shall abolish war.
Reference has been made to Mussolini. There is no Member of this House who would say he had any faith in the word of Mussolini. Although Italy is not engaged as a nation in the conflict in Spain, he sends out submarines in a secretive way, sinks British and other ships, and then steals away like a gangster after accomplishing his foul deeds. A Member of this House told me last night that in Italy they boast of what they are doing in Spain. Men, even in this House, are prepared, by their collective class action, to starve working-class women, children and men in order to protect their economic interests under the capitalist system. Individually, they can be kind; but collectively, their policy is a brutal one of maintaining then-economic interests over the poor of the country, even to the point of starving them into subjection. The same policy is pursued in war. In the Spanish conflict and the Eastern conflict men are often guided by material interests. They would sacrifice men, women and children by thousands to protect their selfish, soulless, material interests. War is caused by one group seeking to get the better of another in order to control trade and the investing market.
Great Britain can enter a conference and plead for the abolition of the bombing weapon, provided that it is not abolished when they want to use it against the native tribes of North-West India. They want to abolish it from general warfare, not because they are pious or Christian or because they have a greater revulsion against it than any other nation, but because their bag is full, and because by collective action they want to protect their interests. The other fellow disagrees. If you believe in Capitalism, why should he not disagree? If he believes in dominating the markets of the world, and becoming the dominating force, he says, "I am for strong individual action." I say frankly that I cannot see bombing being abolished. I have seen the effects of bombing. Many other hon. Members have seen it. I have seen children 330 dragged out of the ruins of buildings and being pieced together. I have seen the walls soaked with blood by one well-directed bomb. One bomb can destroy fine buildings and hundreds of lives, but if it is going to be used in the event of war, even without the excuse of being used for military objectives, the nations which are interested in upholding the capitalist system will never agree to the abolition of bombing.
If I thought that an attempt could be successful in putting an end to bombing, I would support and sympathise with it and give it whole-hearted backing, but I cannot see warfare being Christianised or eliminated while Capitalism remains. It is as much a part of Capitalism as poverty and unemployment. We can no more abolish war under Capitalism than we could abolish rain by a resolution of this House. The executive authorities in every Government are the custodians of the rights of private property. They have to serve the interests of private property and to defend private property, just as has the unemployed man in Lancashire who is unemployed because money has been invested in the mills at Shanghai. He is the victim of the starting of the mills at Shanghai, which you cannot prevent. The son of the unemployed man goes out to protect the rights of the Lancashire millowners at Shanghai with his blood and his life. Until you can get a recognition by the people of the world that a war is brought about by Capitalism for capitalist interests and in defence of the investments in the unhappy labour of the poor in this country, war will never be eliminated. Capitalism must be uprooted in every single avenue. It is only by popularising the theories of the public ownership of the means of life throughout the world, of international ownership and control, that the bombing of civilians, of women and children, and the destruction of men, who lose their lives, or their limbs and all that health means, will cease.
The Labour party talk of disarmament conferences. If we had adopted the policy of this Motion, and if we had pinned our faith to collective security and had backed the League of Nations, we would have extended war. If we had listened to some of the well-meaning pacifists in this country we would have been in war right up to the neck at the moment. War 331 would not have been minimised, but extended. I am not prepared to trust my life, liberty and well-being to the hands of the British Foreign Secretary. If he should say that Mr. McGovern should go on to the battlefield, I should say, "No. He may decide to go himself, but he must not say that I must go, or that anybody who comes under my influence should go." No Government, no matter what its political complexion, is going to speak for me as an individual when it comes to a question of defending the interests of private ownership. If it is a class struggle in order to bring about public ownership, then I am in the struggle right up to the hilt, just as the Spanish workers went into the struggle right up to the hilt. The bombing that has been going on in Spain has, in many cases, certainly not had military objectives. I think that it is getting to the point where it is an attempt to terrify the civilian population into subjection because Franco, Hitler and Mussolini are not getting a decision in Spain, and they do not seem likely to get a rapid decision.
I am whole-heartedly in agreement with every sentiment that has been expressed against bombing and warfare and every form of brutality which is carried on in war throughout the world. But no pious resolutions in this House and no amount of agreements and meetings of Governments will be successful because always, when war comes, one group seeks the advantage over another by springing surprises. There will be further surprises if war takes place between this country and another country, and we must concentrate our attention upon men, women and children throughout the country, and, by studied persistence, give the working-class movement a line of thinking in the direction of collective action directed to the overthrow of the system that works for war. When you end capitalism you will end war, civilian bombing, unemployment, poverty and a large amount of disease, and you will make way for a further advance in education, scientific knowledge and progress, and in human happiness throughout the world. That is the only way I can see of abolishing bombing and war.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Wing-Commander Wright
We must all have listened with a great deal of sympathy to the non-controversial way in 332 which the Mover of this Motion has presented the case to-night. In what he said there was very little to which any of us could have taken exception, and, certainly, we cannot find anything in the wording of his Motion which we could possibly oppose. I intervene in this Debate only because I regret that the whole atmosphere of the Debate has been such as is likely to increase rather than allay the, to my mind, exaggerated fear and alarm which exists in the minds of many people to-day as to the dangers from aerial bombing. I would be the last person to minimise these dangers, but they are not anything like what many people believe, provided the defences, which are well-known to us to-day, are provided where they are needed. We have had the opportunity of observing m three recent wars the application of aerial attack, but we have not yet had any opportunity of obsreving the application of modern aerial defences.
We can certainly learn two lessons from these three wars. The first is the appalling waste of life and destruction of material which come to a city when it is bombed, and has not been provided with proper defence. The second lesson which we learn is that the theory held by all sorts of people up to the present, that by bombing the civilian population you will reduce it to a state of panic when it will go to its Government and demand that it should make peace upon any terms, is groundless. These wars have proved that that is entirely a fallacious theory and that it does not work out in that way at all. In fact we have seen, on one side at all events in Spain, exactly the opposite effect take place. We have seen parties which we know had strongly divergent political views, knit together into one whole, in a splendid determination to protect themselves against these barbarous attacks from the air. I believe that as a result of these lessons we shall not in any major European war such as we might be engaged in—if indeed we are so unfortunate as ever to be drawn into war again—see the deliberate bombing of open towns and defenceless citizens.
But what we have to realise is that the coming into use in war of this new aerial arm has made our great industrial districts—where are to be found our big power stations, our important lines of 333 communications, and where, most important of all, are congregated our munition factories—perfectly legitimate targets. If those targets are attacked, then of course, the civilian population around them—often in very thickly populated areas—are bound to suffer to some extent. I assume that in this great expense of £1,500,000,000 proper air defences are going to be provided for those areas, but I maintain that if they are provided it would be possible to make those comparatively few areas almost impregnable. If once we do that, it will not be worth while sending bombing machines at all.
I am glad that the House is going to accept this Motion to-night, because we are the country which can afford to take the lead in making such a move towards the abolition of this barbarous side of war. If we are thus able to bring some protection to those smaller countries which obviously cannot provide such defences as we can in this country, then we shall have gone a long way towards achieving our object. But I do not feel that we could safely leave the defence of our own people to such protection as would be afforded by a Motion such as this.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Major Milner
I had not intended to speak in this Debate, but I think it necessary to say one or two things, particularly as I believe that no one who has recently been to Spain has spoken. I hoped that the hon. and gallant Gentleman for the Bournemouth Division (Sir H. Croft) would have been here, because I really desired to address a word or two to him. He was good enough to suggest that those of us who went to Spain were lured there—that was the expression he used; and he seemed to imply that there was some obligation on us to take active steps to assist the Spanish Government in some way or other, but I assure him that as far as I am concerned—and I have no doubt my colleagues were in the same position—I was not lured there in any sense. I offered voluntarily to go, and was not approached in any way, and before I went I made it perfectly clear that I was under no obligation, and should say precisely what I thought and be guided entirely by what I saw. I do not know that I need deal further with what was said by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, except to say that he did not 334 quote a single authority for the various statements which he made as to the action taken by the Spanish Government in bombarding open towns in that part of Spain occupied by the rebels. And, frankly, I do not accept the particulars he gave. He seemed to me to be inclined to offer, if that were possible, almost complete justification of the practice of bombing and to speak, so far as he could, in complete opposition to the Motion now before the House.
I appreciate, and I am sure the House will appreciate, the comforting words which the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken has addressed to us. He has had experience in the Royal Air Force, and I agree with him that it is perfectly true that so far we have not seen any case where there has been really adequate defence, or the best defence possible, against attack from the air, but I myself am convinced that there is no adequate or complete defence. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) quoted the remarks of Mr. Baldwin, which are well known, to the effect that the bomber will always get through. Those of us who have been to Spain have seen that that is true. It may be said that the defences which the Spanish Government, having regard to the so-called Non-intervention Agreement, have been able to put up, are not as adequate or as strong as we in this country are likely to put up. Nevertheless the speed of bombers, coming as they do from Majorca, is so high, they fly at such a height, and they drop their bombs so indiscriminately that it is impossible, in my judgment, to provide a complete defence against them. We saw anti-aircraft in operation; we saw searchlights; we did not see, it is true, many of the new devices which we understand our own Government have up their sleeve; but I cannot myself conceive of any defence which would do more than partially protect our large towns.
The hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, for whom we all have a high personal regard, is spending a good deal of time on "black-outs" and all that sort of thing. Some people appear to think that a "black-out" is a sort of magic cloak which can be thrown over London or elsewhere, and which will form a complete protection. That is not so in any sense 335 of the word. All a "black-out" will do is possibly to divert a bomb intended for the War Office if you like to the—[Several HON. MEMBERS: "The Foreign Office!"]—to the Foreign Office or, I was going to say, perhaps to the large Battersea electrical station, half a mile or so up the river or vice versa. The bomb intended for one objective will hit another objective, and certainly that is no protection for the civilian population. Indeed, the situation will be such that bombs are more likely to be dropped among the civilian population, who occupy a greater portion of the ground than is occupied by military objectives or Government offices. From my experience, short as it was, I do not believe that there is anything more than a very partial defence against the bombing of the civilian population.
I had some little experience, as many Members of the House had, during the War. In my view there is no comparison between the effects of those air raids and the effects of a large number of bombs dropped by a large number of aeroplanes. In Spain I saw 80 overhead at one time; I never saw more than a dozen or 15 at the most during the Great War. The only comparable thing is a barrage of high explosive shells directed against a particular small section of the enemy front. In the Great War there were trenches or dug-outs in which one could get very substantial protection, but in the case of bombs dropped from the air there is no protection. The only possibility is that a certain number of shelters can be provided, but those shelters cannot in the very best condiitons, spend as much money as you like, protect more than a very small proportion of the population.
The bombing aeroplanes come over practically without warning. In Barcelona the syren would blow, you looked out of the window, you heard the aeroplane overhead and simultaneously you heard the bombs dropped. You never knew whether the next bomb would drop on the building where you happened to be. The bombs were bigger than anything that I saw in the Great War. They made craters of from 12 to 15 yards across. They were immensely powerful. Notwithstanding all our efforts we had practically no evidence of any present intervention by the Russian Government. 336 We did see a quantity of old, small arm ammunition which was being refilled, but there was no evidence of any other intervention.
§ Major Milner
No. I do not suppose the Spanish Government has such a number either from Russia or elsewhere. That story reminds me of the story of the Russians who came over during the war. In my district they were supposed to have gone through York station. Everybody knew that they were Russians because they had snow on their boots. When I am told that the Spanish Government have 600 tanks from Russia, I say that they have nothing like that number either from Russia or elsewhere. We had, however, very ample evidence of Italian intervention. We saw hundreds of Italian aeroplanes. Every bomb we saw, some of which did not explode, high explosive and incendiary bombs, were of Italian manufacture. One plane was brought down and one of its machine guns was brought straight to us. It was manufactured by Fiat, Turin. The pilot's identification book was produced to us within an hour of the machine being brought down, and it transpired that he was commissioned at Seville on 31st October, 1937. There was the plainest evidence, as there has been for months past, and up to the present time, of intervention of a very grave and serious kind by Italy. The bombs which were dropped on the British ship "Thorpeness" at Tarragona were of Italian manufacture and were dropped from an Italian aeroplane.
§ Mr. McGovern
Lest there should be misunderstanding, is the hon. and gallant Member attempting to make out to the country that Russia is not supplying a large amount of arms to the Spanish Government? Is it not a thing that we should be rather proud of rather than attempt to deny it? It is bad propaganda.
§ Mr. McGovern
I only want to make the position clear. The best propaganda that can be done is to compliment a working class Government for assisting the Spanish Government.
§ Major Milner
The hon. Member's propaganda always seems to me to be as mischievous as possible on one side or the other. I was not intending to prove that there was no Russian intervention. What I said was perfectly plain. I saw no present evidence of Russian intervention other than that I have indicated. I do not think there was at any time anything like the intervention or help from Russia that there has been from the Fascist Powers.
This matter is a much more serious one than our people realise. I do not think they have the slightest idea of what a bombing raid might mean. I do not think they appreciate the death, destruction, chaos, misery and unhappiness that such a raid could cause in this country. It behoves all of us, and not least the Government, who must bear the chief responsibility, not to be content merely with rearming, but to take active steps. I am sorry that my hon. Friend in his Motion did not use rather stronger language. He asks the Government to use their influence. I ask the Government to take active steps day by day until they can bring about some solution of this problem by an agreement between the various countries involved. If that is not done, then such destruction, misery and unhappiness as were visited on this country and other countries during the Great War will be as nothing to what will happen to us if another war comes in a year or two. I hope the Government will accept the Motion.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)
I have listened with very great interest to the discussion. As so often happens on private Members' days the discussion has perhaps been even more interesting than many of the more advertised discussions we hold on other occasions. We have had all points of view expressed and there emerges a comprehension both of the seriousness of the problem with which we have to deal and its vital importance, and also a measure of comprehension of the difficulties, both technical and political, which confront any attempts to secure a solution.
I should like to say at the outset that the Government far from complaining of the hon. Member's action in bringing forward the Motion are grateful for the 338 choice which he has made, and I should like to congratulate him on the speech with which he introduced it. There can be no doubt in the minds of any one of us, even in the mind of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) as to our feelings in respect to the Motion. The whole House will agree that when the Motion refers to:the growing horror of aerial bombing of defenceless civilians,it is expressing the feelings not only of the hon. Member's own party but of the House and the whole nation. The hon. Member for Shettleston, very rightly, pointed out some of the difficulties. I thought that it was a very honest speech, even though I do not think that his universal remedy would be as effective as he is ready to believe. In pointing out the difficulties he said that he thought under his plan all would be well. It he is not optimistic about the Motion I am less optimistic about the efficacy of his cure.
There is agreement in all parties as to the many perils—I use the word in its widest sense—which must result to the world from the use of this aerial weapon. By its very character it has extended the field of military operations and widened the range of havoc and destruction in any conflict in any country. Its indiscriminate use is brutalising in its effect on all concerned. Only too soon we get used, unfortunately, to even the worst atrocities. One of the most disturbing factors of the abuse of this aerial weapon is that it produces callousness and weakens restraint in those who use it and even in those who suffer from it. I think it is clear that unless something can be done to meet this menace the peoples of the world in the latter part of this century are going to live as troglodytes and go back to the age of cave dwellers.
It is a fantastic and sad commentary on our civilisation that all the nations are to-day spending millions of money in order to protect themselves against a weapon of which they are all in truth afraid, but which they cannot agree how they are to control. Hitherto every attempt that has been made to co-operate in this business has failed. I do not want to refer to that King Charles Head, our reservation to the bombing resolution at Geneva in 1932. I can only express my own opinion that that resolution, whether wise or unwise from the point of view of tactics, whether wise or unwise from an 339 electioneering point of view, was without any significance on the course of events. That must be a matter of opinion. I ask, how should we in this world to-day strike a visitor from another planet in the preparations we are solemnly making for each other's destruction, even exchanging Notes on how to do it and how to avoid it? Where is this going to stop? With the ever increasing range of these weapons and their ever increasing speed, there will soon be no single part of the world which can feel itself safe from their menace.
I do not want to detain the House, but there are one or two comments I want to make on the detailed aspect of this question. Although it is well that we should express our opinion on the Motion it is equally important that we should realise the problems with which we have to deal. First, I should like to take the question as to whether there is any definite rule of international law regarding the bombing of civilians from the air. At present there is one only, and that is that direct, deliberate and intentional bombing of non-combatants, as such, is illegal. That is simply an aspect of a general rule, it is a canon of international law, and it is the basis of representations and claims which we have ourselves recently made in the conflict in the Far East. Beyond that no definite rules have ever been evolved. In the last war, when the air weapon came first into general use, there was no convention, nor has one been entered into at any time since.
The essential thing upon which I want to concentrate the attention of the House is this—whether any steps can be taken, and if so what steps, to reduce the sufferings of the civil population from the use of this bombing weapon? Let me make clear at once that while we realise the difficulties in connection with action, we are strongly in favour of action. I cannot altogether accept what the hon. Member for Shettleston said when he maintained that no rules of international law are ever observed in warfare, and that it was not much use to try and make any new ones. I cannot accept that, and low as our standards have fallen it is not even now true.
§ Mr. McGovern
I never said that. I simply asked what was the value of 340 making agreements with people like Mussolini who never kept them?
§ Mr. Eden
I apologise to the hon. Member; it was another hon. Member who used that argument. But the argument has been used that it is no use making a new convention because other conventions have not been kept. That is not entirely true. There were international conventions which throughout the last War were observed, and I cannot accept the doctrine that because certain people have not kept their engagements we are never to try to improve the existing situation. I believe we are not alone in the anxieties which we feel about this problem to-day. The hon. Member who moved the Motion referred to the appeal made by the French Prime Minister yesterday. That was an appeal in connection with the bombing actually taking place in Spain. We, as the House is aware, some few days ago took a certain initiative in that matter, the details of which I think it would be better not to make public at the present moment, but I feel confident that the French Government will certainly join in any wider international endeavour. I would also ask the House to recall that the German Chancellor expressed himself in favour of an endeavour of this kind, and I feel sure that we can in this matter count on his sympathy and support. It is difficult to exaggerate the significance that that support might have. Germany is not only a great Power, perhaps potentially the greatest military Power in Europe, but she is also at the centre of Europe geographically, and, therefore, for her the problem of the future use of the aerial weapon is one of great significance, as it is for us.
At the same time I must not give the House the impression that in making this survey I am ignoring the Government's position, on which the House is entitled to the fullest information. I can now disclose to the House that in point of fact some months ago, obsessed as we were by the significance of developments in this sphere and their potentiality, the Government initiated exhaustive work on this subject by the competent Departments of the State. We thought it necessary to make a very thorough survey before contemplating any initiative or approach to other Governments, because the complexities of this matter are such that it is of little avail to approach others 341 unless you have yourselves examined the difficulties and know how you are going to meet the very formidable objections that may be raised.
An hon. Member has asked: how are you going to deal with a situation when it is possible in bombing an enemy objective to hit another objective near by? These are the kind of difficulties which have to be faced if any progress is to be made. Therefore I say this survey has been in progress and will be, I hope, finished in the near future. The work is being done by these Departments under the Government's instructions with the express intention of reopening the question with other Powers, and the hon. Member's Motion has given me the opportunity of telling the House of some work which is going on and which but for the Motion would not have been made public for a little while yet. I am not committing myself as to dates or methods, but the House can rest assured that our objective is to get a general international agreement on this subject and that is why this preparatory work is being done.
§ Mr. Eden
It is directed to the problem of the development of aerial warfare, particularly in its relation to the bombing of the civilian population. I am sure that all sections of the House, and indeed every hon. Member, will give a welcome to this Motion. Clearly there is no intention on this side of the House of moving any kind of Amendment. On the contrary, we feel it desirable that this should go out to the world as an expression of the opinion of the House. I trust that it will serve once again to call the attention of the world to the difficulties with which we are confronted in this respect. If it does that, this will indeed have been an evening well spent, for in spite of all the discouragements of the modern world, we should not even now under-rate the effect of the moral opinion of the world in supporting movements of this kind.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has more truly expressed the feeling of the House than did the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). 342 There has been in the course of the Debate a striking and remarkable unanimity, for which my hon. Friends are exceedingly grateful. Yet there are certain cases to which I would direct the attention of the House, because they relate not to a mere abstraction or to what might be described as an academic discussion, but to the realities of the situation in certain parts of the world. Whatever we do, let us not regard this as a pious resolution. There is in Spain and in China a desperately grave situation, and there are happening there things which neither this House nor the nation can ignore. It must have occurred to every hon. Member, when listening to the moving references contained in the book from which my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) quoted, that the question of bombing from the air, particularly as it affects the civilian population, cannot be regarded by us objectively. We have to consider these references, as I am sure every hon. Member will do, in relation, not to a hypothetical situation, but to one closely connected with world events; in short, what is now happening in Spain and in China may happen in London or any other part of this country.
It is perhaps difficult for some hon. Members to appreciate all the horrors and brutalities which surround bombing from the air and its effect upon a non-combatant population. A few weeks ago there was shown in London a newsreel which depicted the consequences of air bombardment in Shanghai. I did not see that film myself, but I have been informed on reliable authority that people who saw it turned sick with horror. Some of us have recently had the privilege of being in a country seriously affected by air attack, and we have seen wholesale scenes of appalling destruction, where whole areas have been wiped out, a testimony, as I see it—I hope the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for this observation—to the folly of non-intervention. I say that because the hon. and gallant Member for Erdington (Wing-Commander Wright) seemed to me to express not only his own feelings but the feelings of other hon. Members when he stated that he was in agreement with the sentiments embodied in the Motion and went on to say that we need not be unduly apprehensive of the effects of air bombardment as long as adequate 343 defences are provided to protect us. If that be true, surely we ought to have accorded to the Spanish Republican Government all the rights which international law affords to enable them, within the spirit of this Motion, which is unanimously accepted by the House, to provide adequate safeguards for their civilian population.
It is futile for hon. Members to accept these fine sentiments and to express concern for a civilian population which is bravely resisting attack from the air and elsewhere, and at the same time to deny to the Spanish Government the right, which has nothing to do with so-called intervention, of purchasing in cash, out of their ample resources, the necessary weapons with which to protect the civilian population. If the sentiments which are expressed in this Motion are acceptable to hon. Members we cannot regard this Motion as a mere abstraction, as an indication of our opinion, but must be prepared to take the requisite action in order that the civilian population in Northern Spain may be properly protected.
The right hon. Gentleman has made such a conciliatory speech, a speech which does him credit, that I refrain from embarking on any controversial issue, except that I am tempted to say this, that we all appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's pacific intentions, but we cannot dissociate the right hon. Gentleman from the conduct and policy of his own Government. I would not go as far as to say that recent events have disturbed the Government that they are becoming apprehensive of the effect of aerial bombardment, that they are now beginning to turn from mere weapons of defence to the weapons and instruments which international law can provide; but it seems pretty much like a death-bed repentance. All along we have been told in this House—I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has not delivered himself occasionally of such observations—that to protect ourselves we could not rely on the League of Nations or the Covenant, or on international agreements such as are asked for in this Motion now accepted by the right hon. Gentleman; that we must have recourse to a large air fleet, to a formidable air arm, capable not so much of defending our population, as of killing off civilian populations in other countries. Indeed that is a policy consistent with the statement 344 made by Mr. Baldwin, as he then was, on a previous occasion in this House to the effect that we could not adequately protect ourselves against bombing from the air and that we must engage in reprisals. Now the right hon. Gentleman seems to have departed from that philosophy and is more inclined—I say it with the highest respect—to avail himself of the instruments which are, and have been for a long time, embodied in the Covenant, I regard it—and I use my own language—as a kind of death-bed repentance. It is, nevertheless, one for which we are exceedingly grateful.
I have only this to add. The right hon. Gentleman has taken a proper step. But may I ask that these negotiations on which he is about to enter, arising from the survey which the Government, as I understand, are now conducting, will not be unduly protracted; that we shall not have a repetition of those long-drawn-out deliberations of the Non-intervention Committee. We welcome the suggestion, even though it be a bare suggestion, that Germany may be disposed to enter into these negotiations. We would not exclude any nation from the humane task of abolishing air armaments or any form of armaments. But the right hon. Gentleman will forgive hon. Members on this side for being just a trifle suspicious, because of other negotiations which have been unduly prolonged and, as far as we can gather, have come to nothing. We are grateful to the House for accepting the proposal of my hon. Friend. Let us hope that when action is required the right hon. Gentleman will agree with hon. Members on this side that the best form of action possible is that which can be taken through the revival of the League itself working within the terms of the Covenant.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Garro Jones
I shall not attempt at this late hour to make any contribution to the general solution of this problem, but I wish to touch on two or three aspects of the matter. I would feel relieved if I were certain that the right hon. Gentleman would keep these in mind during the negotiations upon which he is embarking. I think throughout the country there is a general feeling that the words which have been so frequently quoted and which were uttered by Lord Londonderry in another place, have done immeasurable damage to the good name of this country in those quarters which 345 favour the abolition of the air weapon. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to-night to do something more than give a general assurance that the policy of the Government in that matter has been altered. I ask him to give some earnest of an intention to repudiate the words which were then uttered. I refer to the case of the bombing of native populations in the Middle East and even on the frontiers of India. Is there anything to prevent the Government saying that as far as that form of bombing is concerned, bombing which is punitive rather than designed to prevent acts of aggression, shall be abandoned. Is there anything to prevent the Government from saying that they have abandoned that form of air warfare for all time? The common feature of all forms of air bombing is that they punish both combatants and the non-combatants, and I feel that it would do something to mitigate the evil impression which has been caused by the statement to which I refer, if the Government announced that only in a case of life and death, and to repel aggression upon the population of this country, would they ever use that air weapon.
There are two other points which I desire to make. Just before the House rose for Christmas I asked the Prime Minister whether he would ascertain the attitude of foreign Powers on the question of the bombing of military objectives situated in the midst of civilian populations. Whatever else may be ascertained in these negotiations, and even should no result accrue from them, we ought to know where we stand on that fundamental question. I suppose I am one of the few Members of the House now who had had the evil misfortune to bomb and to be bombed. Anyone who has experienced the practice of bombing knows that even with the most modern weapons and sights it is practically impossible to obtain such accuracy as to bomb military objectives situated in the midst of civilian populations. Whatever else may be the outcome of these negotiations, I hope it will be made crystal clear that it will be no defence of aerial bombing of civil populations if the aggressor country is able to point to some military or quasi-military objective, such as a power station, or a general post office or a railway station, which happens to be situated in a populous area.
346 The third and last point which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to bear in mind and which is perhaps the most important, refers to bacteriological warfare. It is a subject upon which I also questioned the Prime Minister but upon which the right hon. Gentleman was not anxious to communicate any reply. I am aware that it is not specifically referred to in the Motion which the Minister has accepted. Nevertheless, it is comprehended in the intentions of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. M. Jones). It is not only by means of spraying by tanks and other forms of air aggression, including the dropping of bacteria, which is comprehended in the intentions of my hon. Friend it is quite useless to close our eyes to that aspect of the problem, and no one who is well informed upon these matters is ignorant of the fact that experiments at any rate are going on in every country with the defensive intention, no doubt, of protecting themselves against bacteriological warfare.
I would like to feel that the Minister has that problem in mind, and if he turns the spotlight on that aspect of the matter, I think it will strengthen him in his attempt to secure the abolition of this weapon, which for ruthlessness is to be the prize and test of power in future warfare. The mighty are almost as much at the mercy of this weapon as the weak, because provided you have a small nation capable of sending up half-a-dozen aeroplanes equipped by modern mechanical research with bacteria capable of starting the most devastating epidemics, the mightiest nation is at the mercy of the smallest nation. If the right hon. Gentleman will keep the minds of the negotiators on that point, that unless some stop is put to the ruthlessness permissible, the world will one day find itself in a sad plight. There are diseases, as we all know, such as pneumonic plague and bubonic plague, the former with 100 per cent. fatality, which could be dessiminated by a single aeroplane and which nothing known at present to medical science could prevent. Surely that is an argument of some use. I think, no doubt, it is being kept in mind, but if the spotlight of public opinion was turned actively on the immeasurable potentialities of bacteriological warfare in the hands of the weakest of nations, I think that would strengthen the hands of those who wish to bring all forms of air aggression to an end.
347 Finally, although this has been said before, it is, in my view, futile merely to look upon air bombing as being more ruthless than any other part of war. It is equally dreadful to see a line of men mown down by machine guns as it is to see a civilian population bombed. Furthermore, just as it is illogical to stigmatise one form of warfare as being more ruthless than another, so it is illogical to attempt to prevent warfare until you have eradicated the roots of warfare. I believe that Ministers would be better employed in addressing themselves to those passions, and the causes of those passions, which bring about these operations than to the elimination of the preparations which are an effect but not a cause of our trouble.
That, in the opinion of this House, the growing horror of aerial bombardment of defenceless civilians should be expressed in an international agreement to co-operate in its prohibition, and urges His Majesty's Government to exert its influane to this end.