HC Deb 19 May 1938 vol 336 cc704-30

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Furness.]

9.36 p.m.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

The early Motion for the adjournment of the House to-night gives us the opportunity of raising one or two questions relative to the recent meeting of the League Council, and I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to be good enough to reply to what we have to say. As the time is short, I propose to make my remarks as brief as possible, but, of course, the subjects to be raised are subjects of the very first magnitude. The meeting of the League Council was mostly occupied by the presentation of the various aspects of the British-Italian Agreement. Lord Halifax explained the Agreement to the Council. Although it called for no action, it was considered wise and proper that such an explanation should be made. In the second place, the Abyssinian case was referred to, and, by a procedure which was quite novel in the Council for this purpose, an interpretation of the law of the Covenant which had been given by the Assembly was set aside by what the Chairman of the Council said appeared to be the general sense of the members. Some members spoke for and others spoke against Lord Halifax, and the Chairman informed the meeting that he had gathered the sense of the Council, and that the sense was that we and others should be free to recognise de jure the Italian conquest of Abyssinia. On the recommendation of the British, the request of the Negus for an inquiry into the real state of affairs was negatived. He should be in a position to know what the real state of affairs is in Abyssinia, but, although he produced evidence before the Council to show that the Italian conquest was by no means complete, on the initiative of the British the Council refused to take any steps to ascertain whether the facts were or were not as stated.

On the third day the Council dealt with the appeal made on behalf of the Spanish Government. This, in a way, was a pendant to the British-Italian Agreement, because the situation in Spain is a key to the ratification of that Agreement. Here again the Spanish Government produced a mass of evidence to show that of recent times, since the British-Italian conversations began in February, the Italian Government had supplied heavy reinforcements to the rebels in Spain; but, again on the initiative of the British representative, the Council decided that they would make no inquiry into the truth of this allegation. It is rather an extraordinary thing that, in a Council of 15, the whole influence of the British representative succeeded in gathering the support of only three members besides ourselves who were willing to support the British view of the case; and it is astonishing also that on the non-intervention policy only four members of the Council were prepared to give active support.

A further stage has been reached in the Government's peace policy, and we are in a better position to examine that to-day than we were three months ago, because events have passed, and, whereas in the great Debate which took place in this House on the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) we were all, including both the Frime Minister and the ex-Foreign Secretary, in the realm of conjecture, to-day we are working to a certain extent in the realm of realised fact. Therefore, I do not propose to attempt to make any re-statement of the case against the Government's policy, which has been very often and very eloquently stated by Opposition Members of the House, but to examine the case in the light of what has occurred. It is certainly too soon to pronounce a final judgment on the facts, but a great deal has happened to enable us to show which way the facts are inclining. The House will remember that on that date, 21st February, the Foreign Secretary took one view and the Prime Minister took the other view as to what it was expedient that we should do.

The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said that he was in favour of negotiation with the Italians. So are we all. So far as we on this side are concerned, no one raises the slightest objection to a policy of peace with the Italians, or with any Government, whatever its form. The Foreign Secretary said that in his judgment—and he had a good deal of knowledge and experience behind him—the moment was inopportune, because, he said, if you do not first of all get something definite, some pledge, you do not know where it is going to lead. In fact, he said, what would happen to this Agreement would be what happened to what was called, somewhat strangely, the Gentleman's Agreement of last year, when, after the Agreement was made, the situation deteriorated and we were no better, but worse off, for it. The Prime Minister did not agree with that. He said he was satisfied of the good faith of the Italians, and he said, further, that he was satisfied that he had received from the Italian representative sufficient assurances to enable the conversations to begin with a reasonable hope of success —in fact, he said, with more than a reasonable hope of success, with a certain hope of success. He said that, once the conversations had started, we should find the good effect of the atmosphere in new places, and notably in Spain. He said he told Count Grandi that the situation in Spain during the conversations must not be materially altered by Italy either sending fresh reinforcements to General Franco or failing to implement the arrangements contemplated by the British formula. Then, at the end of the Debate, when the House, realising the critical nature of the Spanish question in the negotiations, pressed him for a clear statement of what he meant by a settlement, he said that it was a settlement of Spanish questions by Spaniards, free from foreign interference. That was the contrast between the ex-Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister. The ex-Foreign Secretary had resigned and given the best possible proof of the strength of his convictions. The Prime Minister said that the resignation was one of punctilio, a most unfortunate affair, and that if the hon. Member had waited only a few hours, all would have been well. Now we have to discuss whether, in the light of what has happened since the Eden resignation, the ex-Foreign Secretary was right or the Chamberlain policy justified, whether the facts have really led towards the view expressed by the ex-Foreign Secretary and the Noble Lord the Member for Southern Dorset (Viscount Cranborne).

The first point in this connection is that the British-Italian Agreement is not in force. We have done our part. We have recognised de jure the Italian conquest of Abyssinia. If the Chancellor says that is not so, that we have merely freed ourselves to recognise it, I beg to take that as evasion or a mere quibble. In the sight of the world we have declared that we think it right to recognise the conquest of Abyssinia. I am not sure that any formality is required, for, so long as Lord Perth remains Ambassador in Rome, no letters of credence will be required, and it is not until we have a new Ambassador that we shall have to accredit him to the King of Italy and the Emperor of Ethiopia. We have done our part, but what have the Italians done? Nothing. There is no obligation on the Italian Government to-day to refrain from establishing naval bases in Spain or to refrain from seeking economic monopolies in that country. They have not even undertaken to do these things, and, therefore, so far as the present situation is concerned, we have done all that is required of us, but the Italians have given us nothing in return and have not assumed the responsibilities and renunciations of Document n which were to have been the really substantial part of the Agreement. What the Chancellor will say and what a large section of the public says is this: "Do not be impatient. We are trying to extend the area of good will." [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Exactly. I am very anxious to go as far as I can without getting into controversy with anyone. It is the first duty of the Opposition to understand the Government's case.

Miss Wilkinson


Mr. Benn

What Conservative supporters and a large section of public opinion says is, "Do not be impatient; it is not the details of the Agreement that matter, although the Spanish part is material to us. We have got a détente, an atmosphere of good will." The more expert would not say, "We have detached Italy from the axis." That would rather spoil our chances of approaching Berlin. They would say,

"We have freed Italy, and she can have a foot in both camps and act with more independence. And we have spread over the Mediterranean an atmosphere of good will." They will go on to say, "France is going to be brought into the ambit." The French at Geneva were persuaded by Lord Halifax to recognise de jure the conquest of Abyssinia. M. Bonet, after a speech which did not match his vote, voted with us and the Rumanian and Polish delegates on the non-intervention policy. Now people say," Here is the case. We have a friendly feeling in Rome. We are going to bring the French into the picture, and we have a solid basis of Franco-British understanding. Later we shall approach Germany. You must not take any notice of the ex-Foreign Secretary, who had a bee in his bonnet about Mussolini and is a danger to our march along the straight road to peace."

I have done my best to understand the Government's point of view. I have put the situation as I understand it is put by Government supporters in the country. But now we have a number of facts to go on, and we can examine this policy in the light of what happened and what is likely to happen. I must say the speech in Genoa showed a certain cooling off in the honeymoon spirit. It might be described as cordial rather than enthusiastic. Be that as it may, suppose the Spanish war is prolonged, as seems likely, suppose it goes on for 12 months, suppose we have to bring to the notice of the Government the fact that British ships are being bombed by Italian aeroplanes. Our seamen are being bombed by Italian aeroplanes, and everyone knows they are Italian aeroplanes. Suppose that goes on for six or eight months. You cannot ratify the Agreement until there is a Spanish settlement. Do you think the Agreement is going to survive unratified? Even the little bits in it, little bits for which the Agreement provides in Arabia, will have to be investigated. But the Spansh understanding does not come into force, and we have no charge of bad faith against the Italians, because as far as they are concerned it is not operative. Was not the ex-Foreign Secretary right when he said that we must first get a pledge or else this Agreement would go the way of the Gentleman's Agreement?

So far those are the relations between France, Great Britain, and Italy. We persuaded the French to go with us to Geneva and do as we did, to recognise Abyssinia and to support non-intervention in Spain. And M. Blondel—I think that is his name—the Chargé d'Affaires in Rome, is going to call on Count Ciano. Meanwhile the Duce makes a speech and addresses a large gathering and also a number of plaster statues made to represent Italian victories in Spain. He says he regards this French understanding as non-existent. The French and the Italians are on opposite sides of the barricade. Until the French accept the Italian view that Franco must be master in Spain, there will be no understanding. Where are we? Where is the peace policy leading us? Again it is notified to-day, that because the French are increasing the strength of their Algerian troops, the understanding cannot be ratified. The Italians have made it clear that their undertakings, so far as militarisation or enrolment of the Abyssinians is concerned, are not to take effect until the French undertake not to increase by 60,000 the number of their Algerian troops.

Further, it is intimated by the "Times" that a further condition of a French-Italian agreement, which is the corollary to the British-Italian Agreement, is to be the abandonment of the Soviet Pact. Further than that, the "Times" tells us that German technicians are organising aerodromes in Spain within range of the chief French cities. The Under-Secretary, who answers so ably in the House of Commons, but gives us little information, told us the other day that there is no understanding whatever that the Germans shall leave Spain. We ask the question, "Are the Germans going to leave Spain at the conclusion of the contest?" He says, "No." We ask, "Have they undertaken to leave Spain?" and the reply is, "No." So the French are in this situation, that they are to be without their Algerian increases, they must abandon their Soviet Pact, and they must suffer German aerodromes on their South-Eastern frontier; and all this in pursuit of the peace policy of the British Government. It would be fair to say that the French have been "dished."

What is the fundamental cause of the difficulty? The fundamental cause is that we did not accept the view of the ex-Foreign Secretary on this matter when he spoke in this House in February. He said that when you are dealing with the Italians you must have a specific understanding; you must have, first of all, some definite pledge. He said that we want a definition of what a settlement means. We have never had that. I put a question to the Under-Secretary the other day as to what the Prime Minister really said to Count Grandi, and what Count Grandi said to the Prime Minister. I was told that that is a secret matter and that we must not make any further inquiry. Seeing that a settlement in Spain is the basis of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, surely it is essential that we should be perfectly clear on this point and that it should be made clear to the House. As a proof of good will, to ask for the withdrawal of the Italian troops or the withdrawal of Italian troops in substantial number, was only an act of wisdom and proper foresight. I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he replies—we are grateful to him for coming to answer these questions—whether he will tell us what the Prime Minister did say to Count Grandi during the week-end of the Eden resignation. Secondly, what did Count Grandi say in reply? What assurances did Count Grandi give to the Prime Minister as to the intentions of the Italian Government in Spain? Thirdly, I should like the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us frankly and fully, is it the opinion of His Majesty's Government that the pledges given by the Italians when those conversations were opened have in fact been implemented? Those are questions to which I would beg him to give his attention.

There is an interpretation of the Agreement which has been given by the Duce himself. It was given in the Genoa speech. He said, "I stand for a Franco victory; Franco must dominate Spain." He said more than that. He seemed to indicate that he was not bound by any pledge not to reinforce Franco. I have his exact words but I will not quote them. He said, in effect, "When a martial nation like ours sets forth, there is no stopping." That means to say that the Italian objective being a Franco victory, the duty of Italians was to see that whatever aid was necessary to secure that victory was forthcoming.

There is one further question which, in view of the great importance of Anglo-French relations, I should like to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When the Prime Minister met the French Prime Minister, M. Daladier, was he told exactly what the understanding was between the Prime Minister and Signor Mussolini in regard to Spain? Was M. Daladier made fully aware as to where the two countries stood? Suppose I am right—I hope that I am not—in assuming that the Prime Minister knew that the Italians intend at all costs to get a Franco victory, was that told to M. Daladier? A frank and full understanding between France and ourselves is the very beginning, the very basis, of peace in Europe.

Some people think that the Prime Minister's approach to the Italians was wrong, psychologically; that he went the wrong way to work. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Harold Nicolson), in a speech which he made in a former Debate, gave his opinion on this matter. He said that it is a mistake to approach the Italians in this fulsome way. He said that the Italian policy will be decided at any given moment by the Italian conception of Italian interests and not in respect of any pledged word. I do not want to make any offensive remarks about another country, because we wish to be friends with all, but the hon. Member for West Leicester said that that was the right way to approach the subject. The history of the Great War is a sharp reminder of how the Italians decide on great issues at critical moments.

Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft

They fought on our side.

Mr. Benn

It is a very curious thing that in negotiations with Italy the two moments at which the Italian Government have shown the most active spirit of co-operation were not the times when the Prime Minister was writing affectionate letters to the Duce but when the British and French Governments met at Nyon and when the swastika appeared at the Brenner Pass.

It is said that the Government have a policy. We say that, if they have, it has entirely failed. At any rate, it is true to say that it is showing signs of breaking down. We are asked what is our suggestion. I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he would consider this point. What about the introduction of the idea of right and wrong in foreign policy? Lord Halifax at Geneva the other day again claimed President Roosevelt as a supporter of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, yet the very day after he made that statement Mr. Hull, in a meeting with the Press representatives, made it clear that the Stimson doctrine is left high and dry by the British-Italian Agreement, and he was at pains to point out that the statement of President Roosevelt had no significance in the sense that is claimed. Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that the result of this Italian Agreement has been to raise our status in the United States and in the opinion of United States citizens? Has it done anything to help that collaboration and that unity of spirit which would be a very valuable aid to peace?

I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer this question: Have the Government considered the effect upon the negro population, not only of Africa but of the British Commonwealth, of what has just happened at Geneva? We have just condoned the Italian conduct in Abyssinia. "Condoned" is the right word to use. A year ago there occurred at Addis Ababa one of the most horrible massacres which has ever stained the history of any country. At that time there appeared, over a number of signatures, which included those of leaders of political parties, but also Lord Cecil, Lord Lytton, and the Archbishop of York, a letter on this very subject. In weighing up the pros and cons of the Government's peace policy, I do not think it irrelevant to ask them to consider the effect of that policy on a Dominion which includes tens of thousands of black African subjects. This is what the letter says: We … are deeply involved in the government of millions of Africans. … In Africa we were warned by men like Lord Lugard, Sir Abe Bailey, and many others close to the problem of African government of what the repercussions might be. Mr. te Water, the South African delegate in Geneva, declared that, ' European action in Africa leaves always its permanent mark,' adding, ' how often in the long history of Africa has the mark not become a deeply reacting scar.' He spoke of the danger of a reversion to that black barbarism, ' which it has been our difficult destiny in the South to penetrate and enlighten.' He added these words: ' My Government and the whole people of my country, both black and white, view with deep concern and with an anxiousness born of the instinctive knowledge of its consequences the slow and apparently relentless march of the disease of war into our Continent. Let it never be forgotten: The long memory of black Africa never forgets and never forgives an injury or an injustice '. And we have condoned that injury. I think that, in weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the Government's policy, that document and the matter to which it refers are a relevant consideration. Looking again at Geneva, we find the Government, on a question of principle, in sharp conflict with one of our own Dominions. We understood in the Debate that there were no differences between ourselves and the Dominions, that there was close consultation; but it came into the open and New Zealand was forced, on a question of principle, to challenge the Mother Country. I would beg the Government to remember that the League of Nations is the basis of the British Commonwealth. There is no other document which binds all the Dominions to us, save only the Covenant of the League.

Mr. Fleming

Is it not a fact that the Empire was bound together long before the League of Nations came into existence?

Mr. Benn

The hon. and learned Member is mistaken. What I said is that there is no other document, and I believe that that is absolutely the case. The Chancellor will correct me if I am wrong. Another Power with which we came into the sharpest conflict was China. China is beginning to prove that she counts for something in the world, and the Government will not say that, after six years of their peace policy, the name of Britain stands as high in China as it did before they assumed office. Another Government with which, in this and other matters, they have been in the sharpest conflict is that of Soviet Russia—another dictatorship, the Stalin dictatorship. Why do the Government always ignore one of the most powerful countries, and treat it not frankly, but inferentially, with insults and contempt? In that very speech to which I have referred the Prime Minister went out of his way to say, "We are not a Soviet dictatorship." Is it wise to freeze out of this family of freedom-loving and peace-loving countries that type of State? [Interruption.] The Soviet Union is a dictatorship, and I am saying that, if you are realists, is it wise to exclude from your calculations so great a Power as the Soviet Union? It will be remembered that there was a time, 16 years ago, when the Soviet Union and Germany gave the Allies a great surprise at Geneva by concluding between themselves the Treaty of Rapallo.

It is clear that a policy based on right and wrong is a realist policy. I am not anxious to introduce into this Debate any of the feeling of sting which is in the hearts of us all when we read of what happened to the Negus at Geneva and the defence made by the Primate in another place yesterday, when all the spiritual conflicts in the mind of this godly man resulted in a decision to support the Conservative party. Let the Chancellor remember that honour is also a material strength, that a people that is ashamed does not fight well, that honour nerves the right arm.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

I shall not detain the House many minutes, but I want to express the degree to which I share the forebodings of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. At the time when the late Foreign Secretary resigned, the Prime Minister was at great pains to emphasise to this House that there was no essential change of policy. Everybody doubted that at the time. It has now passed beyond the range of doubt. We have seen our Foreign Secretary go to Geneva with an attitude entirely different from that of all his predecessors. I would say of all our Foreign Secretaries that, with varying degrees of strength, they have been pursuing a common object. There has been an underlying unity of aim, although the extent of their success has much varied: in pursuing 'a League policy, the essence of it was that they went to Geneva not to further some immediate national or Imperial interest, but to try to secure peace for all and justice for all.

At the time of the Hoare-Laval proposals as they were called, even those proposals were an endeavour to secure peace in Abyssinia without a total surrender of all the rights of that country. I thought that we were not likely to go lower than that, but we have gone much lower still. Now there is no pretence that we are trying to secure peace or justice for all. There is no provision in any of the arrangements we have made to try to secure peace in Spain. At one time I hoped, from the Prime Minister's words, that there was going to be some effort, at least, to bring about the removal of all foreign troops from Spain, but there is no indication now that any German or Italian troops are going to be withdrawn until Spain is utterly crushed.

Is there any pretence that we are now aiming at any kind of justice for Abyssinia? We have gone back to the pre-war method of bilateral agreements, in which morality appears to make little difference, provided that the arrangements are for the mutual advantage of the parties concerned in the arrangements. They are concerned with delimitation of spheres of influence, promoting advantages only for themselves, and as regards others the method seems to be that of driving wedges. The League system at least tried to bring people together, but the new system is trying to drive them apart. If a statesman has succeeded in driving a wedge between Esthonia and Latvia he thinks that he has done a good day's work. It is a change of spirit and the Italian Agreement is but an example of that. I want to apply the test of the spiritual cost at which this has been arrived at. What advantage have we gained? What material advantage even have we gained.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the actual details of the Agreement are of comparatively small importance compared with what we must suppose to be the underlying object of achieving better relations with Italy. Has anybody here any confidence really that enduring better relations have been achieved after reading the Duce's speech. "We have not forgotten sanctions" was rather a curious way of showing how much his heart had been won over to friendship for the British people. He has not forgotten sanctions, but we are supposed to have forgotten the occasion for sanctions. We are supposed to have forgotten all about Abyssinia. It is in a similarly one-sided spirit that the whole thing goes on. Italy continues to avow her intention of persevering with her armed effort in Spain until her objective is achieved, and at the same time there is a tremendous mock indignation with France for daring to keep her frontier open so that at long last munitions begin to come into Republican Spain. [Interruption.] The humbug is in the action of a Power which has been sending organised detachments of its troops and which has been claiming its national victories in Spain turning upon France with indignation for the mere supply of the munitions of war. I say that that is humbug.

We are faced here to-day with one of the strangest situations in British history in that we who depend so much on the Mediterranean and on the lines of communication of our Empire are allowing to another Power the right to dictate exactly what form of Government is to exist in Spain. That was a permission which we did not grant to the great Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a far better man than Mussolini. But times have changed, and we are told that all this is done in the name of realism. I am sick of the mention of realism. Whenever I hear it uttered in this House I know that the hon. Member who uses it is going to advocate on behalf of our country some policy which he himself would never think of adopting as an individual in private life, but which, if he did adopt it, would probably land him into the dock at the Old Bailey. We are the truer realists who seek some genuine bond of union with the nations between whom and ourselves a genuine friendship is still possible. I believe that there are many such nations, and that we shall be foolish indeed if we allow any wedges to be driven between them and us. It is with a genuine feeling of bewilderment that I view the situation at the present moment, when, after all the sacrifices in wealth which the nation has been called upon to bear to build up enormous armaments, we see ourselves to-day relatively far weaker than we were in 1931, and morally weaker still in that we have abandoned the position we once held as the moral leaders of the world.

10.20 p.m.

Mr. Spens

During the five years I have been in the House I have never before intervened in a Debate on foreign affairs, but, with great respect to both Oppositions, I do venture to put to them a question. Is this critical moment the occasion for a Debate of this description, and for what object has the Debate been brought on to-night? I do not want to be offensive in any shape or form to hon. Members opposite, but I want to suggest that to me, as a simple back bench Member, there appear to be only two answers to that question. One is that they want to snatch a temporary party advantage, which I hope is not the case or that the real reason is that if the Opposition can possibly prevent the new Anglo-Italian Agreement from being successful, they are determined to do so. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Debate said his party were perfectly prepared to enter into agreements with any country, no matter what their Government was, and that it was too early to say whether the Anglo-Italian Agreement was going to be successful or not. But none the less he tries to do his best to make it unsuccessful. He says that things point to no success coming from the Anglo-Italian Agreement. I do not believe there is anyone who really knows what is going on in Europe to-day who does not realise that an immediate weakening of the tension in Europe resulted from the Anglo-Italian Agreement. With great respect to hon. Members opposite there is not the slightest use saying that His Majesty's Government should have laid down conditions before entering into any arrangement or negotiation with Italy. Had they done so, there would have been no Agreement at all.

It is equally ridiculous, in my view, to say that there is no actual delivery of material good out of the Agreement. That is not the point. The point is that at a moment when Europe is obviously lining up on one side and the other, His Majesty's Government have been fortunate enough to enter into an arrangement with Italy, which is not of a hostile nature, and which may well be the basis of a restoration of friendship between the two countries. If it is successful, surely every man and women in this country, to whatever party they may belong, should do their best to bring that about? Hon. Members opposite feel deeply about matters which are not material to this question, but surely it is the duty of every man and woman in this country to do what they can to increase the friendship between our nation and Italy at the present time. I do ask the Opposition Parties to realise that His Majesty's Government are trying to restore friendship in areas in Europe where there has been something near to enmity, and that the speeches that we have heard to-night, so far from being of any assistance whatever in the restoration of friendship, have tended to increase the enmity between our country and Italy. In those circumstances, I cannot see what good this Debate has done, and I pray that, during these critical times, we shall not have a repetition of the type of speeches we have heard to-night.

10.25 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

I intervene in this Debate only because I happened to be present at the Council of the League of Nations in Geneva last week. The House may think that the League of Nations is dead, it may even hope that that is the case, but my impression during my stay at Geneva last week was that our Foreign Secretary went there in order to make the League machinery do something that it was never meant to do, to get the League's imprimatur on what was really an old-fashioned imperialist deal of pre-War diplomacy. Much to his surprise, and even to the surprise of those who were willing to let him do that, it was discovered that the League machinery did not work in that way. The machinery jammed, even with the whole power, I will not say of the British Empire, but of Britain trying to make the League do that thing. As one of those who was in the gallery at the League of Nations and watched what was happening, I simply cannot express to the House the sort of humiliation that we felt. Whatever may be our quarrels in this House, when one is abroad one gets the sense of being English and one thinks of all that England means; one feels what one has been taught, and one finds that other countries have thought of England in the same way, that they have really believed that England had the moral leadership of the world. They cannot understand what is happening.

I say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and I ask him to repeat it to his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister —that a man of the calibre of the present Foreign Secretary is not the right man to convince the Council of the League of Nations that his heart was in that dirty piece of work. We went from humiliation to humiliation. All we could get was a grudging gathering of the sense of the League, as my right hon. Friend said, and even that they were afraid to put to the vote. There was a curious feeling of strength in weakness when that fragile little figure of the Emperor of Abyssinia walked to the Council table. You have not been able to exclude him even now. The League machinery did not work. I heard the speech of Senor del Vayo, a speech of real moderation. Let it be remembered that he is the Foreign Minister of a democratic country, in the legitimate Government of Spain, which is still recognised by our Government. Hon. Members with their passionate class interest in this struggle in Spain, tend to forget that. What was Britain left with, apart from her ally, France? As though we had wanted to humiliate our ally before the world, one had the impression of poor M. Bonnet dragged at our chariot wheels, obviously uncomfortable, apologising to the Emperor and to Senor del Vayo, and making it clear that he had got to do these things.

It is not a wise thing, if you want an ally to walk at your side, to humiliate that ally. Then what were we left with? With Poland and Rumania—Poland in the pay of Germany, and Rumania in the pay of France. Hon. Members opposite call themselves realists. I am telling them what the realities are. Who had you on the other side? The Scandinavian countries, the solidest countries in Europe to-day—people who did not want to vote against you for old time's sake, but who made it clear what they thought —and New Zealand. All those people who have been supporters of the League and the decent elements in the League— those were the people whom you could not get to vote with you. It was not a cheerful situation, and I think if some hon. Members opposite had troubled to go to the League Council, they would not have felt very different from what I felt —that it was bad for the British Empire.

Mr. Petherick


Miss Wilkinson

I do not propose to give way to the hon. Member. The comments so far from the other side have been such as to show that they have not much to say. I am giving hon. Members a statement of what happened. I am not arguing the case. I am telling them exactly what they would have seen if they had been there. 1 only want to add this: The Conservative party has used the League of Nations—[An HON. MEMBER: "Is the hon. Member arguing now or just telling us?"]. I am telling you. The Conservative party used the League of Nations in 1935 exactly as on a previous occasion they used the Zinoviev letter. That was admitted by the Leader of the party with appalling frankness. They used the League of Nations to win the 1935 Election. Here we had, as I think history will show, a possibility of mutual insurance for those nations of the world who were prepared to keep their pledges and to stand together against the aggressors. It was a fairly simple pledge, and one would have thought it was a bond of mutual assurance that, by its mere simplicity and its obvious usefulness, would have brought together those nations which so desperately need it.

I am not sure that in this matter we can blame Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini. We speak as though they were responsible entirely for the fate of the small nations, but I found in conversations which took place after the Council meeting at Geneva a number of the representatives of the small nations said, "Our fate is not decided in Berlin or in Rome; it is decided in London." The queer thing about this Government is that it does not know its own power as head of this Empire and of this nation. It regards its job purely as a party job. Its moral power has been enormous. We showed in the last War, and we have shown in every war that we have fought, that Britain does not stand alone and cannot by her own armaments stand alone. We ought now to be talking in terms of constructive peace rather than in terms of war, and it is in her moral leadership in the world that Britain's greatest contribution to collective peace lies. My complaint against the Government is that they have thrown away that priceless asset. What for? After Mussolini's speech, after the speech of the French Premier, it seems to me that that question is written in the heavens. For what have you thrown that away?

10.36 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)

The right hon. Gentleman who raised this question to-night said early in his remarks that he conceived it as his duty and the duty of his friends —the first duty, I think he said, of the Opposition—to try and understand the position of the Government. I think I detected when he made this pronouncement a protest immediately behind him, and if I recognised the voice, it was the protest of the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson). Now we have listened to her speech I recognise most sincerely that she is not one who considers it any part of her business to try and understand the position of the Government. I will do my best to state it, and if there be hon. Gentlemen opposite who feel that at present they do not under stand it, that will be the more reason for asking for their attention. It seems to me that in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leith— [Laughter]. I am sorry, but that was quite unintentional; I meant the right hon. Member for Gorton (Mr. Benn) —

Mr. Benn

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what place he is sitting for to-night?

Sir J. Simon

It seems to me that I must endeavour to speak with suitable anonymity. In the right hon. Gentleman's speech just now it seemed to me that there was just this omission. He entirely failed to refer to what I should have thought was the central fact, the main explanation, whether good or bad, of the course which has been taken by the Government in this matter in recent months. I am willing that we should debate whether this central fact is a justification or not, but surely everybody ought at least to recognise and to face the importance of the central fact. The central fact was this, and we need not go back very far to appreciate it. The fact, as my hon. and learned Friend behind me said in his speech, was that there existed in the middle of last year a state of extreme tension between this country and Italy which was developing to the most dangerous lengths, which was constituting a situation full of gravity and possible menace, and which was getting worse month by month.

The crime of the Prime Minister, if crime it be, was that he did his manful best to cure that situation. He wrote his letter to Signor Mussolini—and in that respect it can hardly be a matter of reproach from any hon. Member opposite, because the late Foreign Secretary entirely agreed to this—and he proposed in July of last year that there should be the opening of negotiations between the two countries. So far the position is perfectly plain, and to a very large part of our country it is common ground. What happened next? What happened was that from time to time inquiry was made as to when these conversations could be opened, and again and again reasons were offered why they should not be opened at the present. The Prime Minister explained clearly to the House how, though the reasons given for the postponement might be good, they served only to arouse the suspicions and, indeed, the ill-will of the Italians, with whom we wished to get on better terms. After some eight or nine months had passed he decided that it was impossible to continue to postpone again and again the opening of these discussions, and that in the interests of the reduction of this state of tension it was necessary that the discussions should be begun.

That is the central explanation, the foundation, of all that has happened since. That may be attacked as in itself a baseless fear or an unworthy point of view, but if, as I believe is the case, the vast mass of our fellow-countrymen most warmly approve of it, then at least we are on the road to see whether something has not been done, if I may borrow the phrase of the hon. Lady, to promote what she called "constructive peace." At any rate it is certainly the view of a large part of the world that something has been done. That is not open to any doubt at all. The hon. Lady spoke, it seemed to me rather slightingly, of the spokesmen at Geneva of the Balkan Entente and the Little Entente. These being small nations, which she and her friends apparently regard as of no great importance, she dismissed them with the contemptuous phrase that she did not know in whose pay these gentlemen might be. It is the fact, acknowledged and admitted by all serious students, that, rightly or wrongly, the result of this Agreement has been not merely to reduce the tension but to produce a situation which has been welcomed far beyond the bounds of Italy or this country. On all hands it is recognised as being a contribution towards peace. [Interruption.] I make, as in duty and in candour bound, an exception in favour of His Majesty's Opposition. They stand almost alone in Europe. They are prepared to denounce and condemn this Agreement, not stating merely that they have their anxieties, which would be a legitimate point of view, but rushing in to condemn it as a wild or a foolish or an immoral transaction. [Interruption.] They may be right, but, if so, they stand splendid in their isolation.

The hon. Lady gave us a very vivid account of the impressions which she had derived from a visit to Geneva, and I wish to deal quite seriously with what she described, but I am not sure that she did quite appreciate the real purpose, the real meaning, of the visit and speeches of the Foreign Secretary on that occasion. The matter stands thus: There has never been a quarrel, a dispute, between this country as such and Italy on the subject of Abyssinia. Never. The dispute was a dispute between the League and Italy, and as such it was a very grave dispute. We have in this matter acted from beginning to end perfectly faithfully along with the other members of the League. We made ourselves responsible for taking such action as it might be possible for the League as a whole to undertake along with us, and we are entitled to claim that we at any rate acted in this matter fully up to those rules of duty and collective action which, as has so often been pointed out, are part of the Covenant of the League of Nations.

It was when it appeared that the League was not prepared to see a further application of sanctions, that is, in July, 1936, and only then, that we desisted; and again, no supporter of the League has any right to reproach the Government for their action. We simply took action in conformity with the rest of the League. Many States, in that new situation, when collective action was dropped, considered that they were entitled then and there to recognise Italian sovereignty in Abyssinia. The hon. Lady referred to the Scandinavian countries; why, broadly speaking, the Scandinavian countries did recognise the Italian conquest of Abyssinia without ever going to Geneva at all, on the ground—a possible ground, and I am not seeking to criticise them—that once the League as a League had determined to give up the application of sanctions, they were entitled so to do. The House and the hon. Lady know that there were some 20 States, not all members of the League, both large and small, who, in one form or another, and before ever Lord Halifax went to Geneva, had in fact recognised, in effect or in terms, Italian sovereignty over Abyssinia without consulting any other members of the League.

In those circumstances, in what position were His Majesty's Government? We took the view, and have always taken it, that we ought not to do that, and that we ought to consult with the other members of the League before we took that step. Lord Halifax went to Geneva, and this matter was a topic which was put down for discussion. The House and everybody know that the discussion took place. It was in the negotiation of the Agreement that we, Britain, said, "No, our proper course, in our judgment, is not to make a promise or to make a special bargain, but to go to Geneva and consult the other members of the League and see what the result is." One only has to read the speech of the Foreign Secretary to see that stated in black and white. He went there and laid the case before the League, and the question had then to be decided. Was the League then prepared to take this view? Many members of the League had already, without consulting anybody else, recognised the position of Italy as conqueror of Abyssinia. Was the League prepared to say that every State in the League should decide for itself according to its own judgment, what it should properly do? The result was that in the discussion that was unquestionably the prevailing view. The action, therefore, which we may now take is action which we are justified to take because, in common with every other member of the League, that position has been laid down by the League itself—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, by the Council of the League of Nations itself—as the proper action to take.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that recognition of Abyssinia was approved by the Council of the League by Resolution?

Sir J. Simon

No, I am not suggesting it, and I hope that no word of mine can possibly lead anybody to think that. I thought that I had made it as plain as speech could make it. The point which was discussed at Geneva and the point which had then to be decided was, in accordance with the prevailing view, in favour of what I have said, and it was not whether the conquest of Abyssinia should be recognised, but whether the members of the League should severally have their liberty and right to decide for themselves.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that a resolution was adopted saying that members of the League were free to do what they liked?

Sir J. Simon

No. That is a second and a quite different suggestion. The first suggestion of the hon. Member who interrupted, I really think without cause, was that I was saying that at Geneva a resolution was carried to recognise the conquest of Abyssinia. I have never said so or anything like it. He now asks whether I say that a resolution was carried to the effect that he has just described. I did not say so. I said that the prevailing view, as declared by the presiding member of the Council, was as I have stated, and that view was not challenged. That being so, we now have, according to the very strictest view of our League duties, undoubtedly the right to decide whether we will recognise the Italian conquest of Abyssinia or not. It is not correct to say that we have done so. The hon. Member was not right when he implied that that was the fact. On the contrary, we have made it a very clear condition that to us at least a settlement in Spain is an essential part of the general settlement in Europe and the Mediterranean which must accompany our recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia.

The question has been asked again and again: What do you mean by a settlement?—a very familiar line of cross-examination. All that I have to say about that is that the Prime Minister himself was asked to define the circumstances which would constitute a settlement, and he said, very naturally, that he must decline to attempt a definition of that sort on the ground that the situation was not sufficiently clear to make this possible. [Interruption.] Why that should be supposed to be laughable or unreasonable I am at a loss to understand. The important thing to appreciate is that, in the view of the Government, this question of a settlement in Spain is related to the final situation that would be created if the Anglo-Italian Agreement was carried out completely. This is the reason, and it goes to the root of the whole matter. We have pursued these negotiations with Italy as a means of promoting wider and more comprehensive good relations in Europe, and particularly in the Mediterranean. We have pursued them as the best means of reducing the dangerous state of tension to which I have referred. Our view also is that unless and until there is a settlement of the Spanish situation, we shall still have in that corner of the world unrest which might very well spread still further and which must be brought to some sort of conclusion before we can say that our efforts to produce a state of reduced tension in Europe as a whole have been successful. That is the reason why these things are related.

We have had to-night what we have so often had—a discussion as to the Nonintervention Agreement and all the rest of it; and I cannot, in the short time that is left, answer all the points which have been raised. As to the question of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to what the Prime Minister said to Count Grandi, the answer has already been given, and the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that, that answer having been given on behalf of the Prime Minister, I cannot add to it to-night. He asked also whether it is the Government's view that the pledges and assurances given by the Italians in the course of these negotiations have been fully and fairly implemented. The answer to that question is, "Yes, Sir."

Mr. Gallacher

No, Sir.

Sir J. Simon

As far as the information at our disposal goes, there has been— [Interruption.] Really, I must ask for courtesy. I was asked whether, in the Government's view, the pledges given by the Italians have been implemented, and my reply is "Yes, Sir." There has, as far as we know, been no material alteration in the situation in Spain due to Italian reinforcements. They have, in fact, made the withdrawal of troops from Libya which they promised, they have stopped the Bari broadcast; and they have co-operated, as far as they are concerned, on the Non-intervention Committee. There has never been, and, in the circumstances, there never could be, any bargain, or, indeed, any contemplation by us, that Italian action should be unilateral action without any regard to what other countries did. Really, anyone who expects that one single party would act in that manner by itself must take a most unreasonable view.

I want to make one short reference to another aspect of the Spanish question. I think the hon. Lady referred to the proposal of the spokesman of the Spanish Government in the Council, and certainly the. right hon. Gentleman did. I think he said that only three members of the Council supported the British view on that occasion. But let us view this matter in its proper proportions, and appreciate what really happened. The Council was considering, not a British proposal, but a Spanish proposal. It was in substance considering a proposal put forward by the representative of the Spanish Government

which would have somehow reversed and repudiated the policy of non-intervention. This Spanish proposal was only supported by one other member of the Council, and, therefore, the importance can hardly be attached to it which the right hon. Gentleman suggested.

Question put, "That this House do now adjourn."

The House divided: Ayes, 180; Noes, 95.

Division No. 213.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G. Fremantle, Sir F. E. Munro, P.
Albery, Sir Irving Furness, S. N. O'Connor, Sir Terence J.
Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead) Fyfe, D. P. M. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh
Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S. Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otloy) Peat, C. U.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J. Gluckstein, L. H. Peters, Dr. S. J.
Aske, Sir R. W. Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C. Petherick, M.
Baillie, Sir A. W. M. Goldie, N. B. Plugge, Capt. L. F.
Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet) Grant-Ferris, R. Procter, Major H. A.
Barclay-Harvey, Sir C. M. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Radford, E. A.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T P. H. Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Beauchamp, Sir B. C. Gridley, Sir A. B. Ramsbotham, H.
Beechman, N. A. Grimston, R. V. Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)
Bossom, A. C. Gritten, W. G. Howard Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)
Boulton, W. W. Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake) Reid, J. S. C. (Hillhead)
Briscoe, Capt. R. G. Guinness, T, L. E. B. Reid, W. Allan (Derby)
Broadbridge, Sir G. T. Hambro, A. V. Remer, J. R.
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith) Hannah, I. C. Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Harbord, A. Ropner, Colonel L.
Bull, B. B. Hely-Hutchinson, M. R. Rowlands, G.
Burghley, Lord Henaage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Butcher, H. W. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.
Butler, R. A. Higgs, W. F. Russell, Sir Alexander
Campbell, Sir E. T. Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S. Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
Carver, Major W. H. Holmes, J. S. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.) Hopkinson, A. Salmon, Sir I.
Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham) Horsbrugh, Florence Salt, E. W.
Channon, H. Howitt, Dr. A. B. Scott, Lord William
Chapman, A. (Rutherglen) Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport) Selley, H. R.
Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.) Hulbert, N. J. Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead) Hume, Sir G. H. Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.
Colman, N. C. D. Hutchinson, G. C. Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Colville, Rt. Hon. John Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H. Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Cook, Sir T. R. A. M. (Norfolk, N.) James, Wing-Commander A. W. H. Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)
Craven-Ellis, W. Jarvis. Sir J. J. Spans, W. P.
Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)
Crooke, Sir J. S. Keeling, E. H. Storey, S.
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C. Leech, Sir J. W. Strauss, E. A. (Southwark. N.)
Croom-Johnson, R. P. Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Cross, R. H. Liddall, W. S. Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)
Crossley, A C. Lindsay, K. M. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Crowder, J. F. E. Lipson, D. L. Tasker, Sir R. I.
Cruddas, Col. B. Llewellin, Colonel J. J. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Culverwell, C. T. Lloyd, G. W. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Davidson, Viscountess Locker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S. Titchfield, Marquess of
Dawson, Sir P. Loftus, P. C. Tree, A. R. L. F.
Denville, Alfred Mabane, W. (Huddersfield) Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
Duckworth, W. R (Most Side) McCorquodale, M. S. Wakefield, W. W.
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness) Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Duggan, H. J. McKie, J. H. Watt, Major G. S. Harvie
Dunglass, Lord Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Eastwood, J. F. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon H. D. R. Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.
Eckersley, P. T. Markham, S. F. Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.
Elliston, Capt. G. S. Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest) Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Emery, J. F. Mitcheson, Sir G. G. Womersley, Sir W. J.
Errington, E. Moreing, A. C. Wood, Hon. C. I. C.
Erskine-Hill, A. G. Morgan, R. H. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Everard, W. L. Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Findlay, Sir E. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Fleming, E. L. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Captain Hope and Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.
Adams, D. (Consett) Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Pethick-Lawrance, Rt. Hon. F. W.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Price, M. P.
Ammon, C. G. Groves, T. E. Pritt, D. N.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Hall, G. H. (Abardare) Ridley, G.
Barr, J. Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Ritson, J.
Batay, J. Hardie, Agnes Rothschild, J. A. de
Bellenger, F. J. Harvey,. T. E. (Eng. Univ's.) Seely, Sir H. M.
Bonn, Rt. Hon. W. W, Hayday, A. Sexton, T. M.
Bevan, A. Henderson, A. (Kingswinford) Shinwell, E.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Silkin, L.
Charleton, H. C. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Silverman, S. S.
Cluse, W. S. Hills, A. (Pontefract) Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford Hopkin, D. Smith, E. (Stoke)
Daggar, G. Jagger, J. Smith, T. (Normanton)
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Sorensen, R. W.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton) John, W. Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Jones, A. C. (Shipley) Stokes, R. R.
Day, H. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Kelly, W. T. Summerskill, Edith
Ede, J. C. Lawson, J. J. Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) Leach, W. Thurtle, E.
Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Leslie, J. R. Tinker, J. J.
Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. McEntae, V. La T. Viant, S. P.
Foot, D. M. MacLaren, A. Walker, J.
Frankel, D. Marshall, F. Westwood, J.
Gallacher, W. Milner, Major J. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Garro Jones, G. M. Montague, F. Wilkinson, Ellen
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.) Williams, T. (Don Valley)
Gibson, R. (Greenock) Nathan, Colonel H. L. Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Green, W. H. (Deptford) Noel-Baker, P. J.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. Oliver, G. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Grenfell, D, R. Paling, W. Mr. Adamson and Mr. Anderson,
Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Pearson, A.
Adjourned-accordingly at Nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.