§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I regret the absence this afternoon of one who should rightfully be taking my place, namely, the Leader of the Opposition. My right hon. Friend is absent through illness, and I will do my best to fill his place for this occasion in what I regard as a very important Debate.
On Friday last I said that the Prime Minister's statement might prove to be as momentous in its consequences as any statement made in Parliament during the past quarter of a century. I meant, in the first place, that it might give pause to those who seek to impose their will on others by the show of the mailed fist. We have no reason to believe that that hope up to now has not been fulfilled, but, further, the seed which that statement contains may, if fostered and cultivated, bear rich fruit. Out of the narrow, and, as I understand it from the Prime Minister's statement, the limited agreement which has been reached, there may, and I hope there will, grow a much more broadly-based scheme of mutual protection and insurance. I do not share the views of those who would have preferred that this Debate should have been postponed. I believe that when the House rises to-night, it will be clear to the world that in Britain there is universal detestation of recent events in Europe, a loathing of the human suffering which accompanied and followed them, and the determination of our people to co-operate with all other nations in establishing a formidable and insurmountable barrier against future aggression.
If I understand the views of hon. Members opposite—I have never been guilty of undue courtesy to my opponents in this House—at least they would give me, what they would not regard as credit, but which I regard as credit, for frankness, and, therefore, I must be perfectly frank to-day. In what I have said so far, I wish it to be clearly understood that this does not mean that my hon. Friends and I have now become "Yes"-men to the National Government. We are concerned far more with principles and policies than with persons. So far as the Government 2476 carry out a plan which harmonises with our considered views, they will meet with our approval. So far as they depart from what we regard as the true path, they will meet with our strongest opposition. If the Government in these days be slow moving, vacillating, and uncertain, they will meet with the sternest criticism. We have every reason to be critical and indeed suspicious of the present Government, and we must, of course, suspend a final judgment on the Government's proposals until we are satisfied that they will be adequate to meet the international situation. We shall, as the days go by, keep an ever watchful eye on the course of events and the steps proposed by the Government, and if, in our view, the occasion calls for it, we shall not hesitate to exercise our undoubted right, and indeed our public duty, to cross swords with the Government with a view to their overthrow.
I say that in order to dispel any illusions that there may be that the Labour lion means to lie down with the Government lamb. I still honestly believe, and so do my hon. Friends, that the present grave and tragic situation is largely due to the policies of the National Government in the last few years. I have criticised, and so have my hon. Friends, those policies inside and outside this House. The Government have, unfortunately, forsaken at times the democratic path. They have sought false friends, who are now known to be false, but on an occasion like this it is useless to cry over spilt milk. This is no time for mere recriminations or for raking over the still dangerously glowing embers of past mistakes, but we reserve our full right at an appropriate time to recall what we regard as a long procession of misdeeds lasting over seven years. This is pre-eminently an occasion, now that the chapter entitled "Appeasement" has been closed and the first words of a new chapter, which I entitle "Mutual Aid," have been recorded, for us to say, quite frankly, how we believe the rest of that chapter should be written, and I propose, therefore, to address myself to that question rather than to survey the dangers which we all know threaten in Europe and the Far East.
On Wednesday, 15th March, with the march of German troops into Prague, the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement was destroyed as completely as the 2477 independence of Czecho-Slovakia, and the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech at Birmingham, realised that that was so. I will not quote his words, but the appropriate paragraph in the "Times" used the words "shattered hopes." Since then there has commenced the process of bringing Rumania into Mittel Europa; since then Memelland has been embodied in the larger German Reich; the Poles, apprehensive and anxious, have indicated, because of a supposed, and for all I know. it may be a real, threat to them, that they would fight for their freedom rather than bow the knee to German dictatorship. Since the right hon. Gentleman made what was a very important speech at Birmingham the days that have passed have proved to us clearly that the policy of calm acquiescence in acts of robbery under the threat of violence must come to an end. Some stand has had to be taken. The Prime Minister raised that question in his speech at Birmingham, and I will just quote a word or two. Expressing his desire of course, for peace, he said:But the events which have taken place this week, in complete disregard of the principles laid down by the German Government itself, seem to fall into a different category, and they must cause us all to be asking ourselves: Is this the end of an old adventure, or is it the beginning of a new?New adventures have begun; others, no doubt, have been planned and may be contemplated. The Government, as we learned from the Prime Minister on Friday, have now decided that, so far as Poland is concerned, a line must be drawn. It is not my custom to refer to newspapers in this House, but at this stage I must refer to what I regard as the complete misrepresentation by the "Times" of the statement made in the House. I would not interfere with the freedom of the Press, but they have no right to put an interpretation on words unless they are sure that that interpretation is right. So far as I understand the Prime Minister's statement, it is a warning, a warning which we all hope will be heeded, that should Poland become the next victim of aggression, immediately, without further parley, Britain and France will come to her aid with all the means at their disposal. One hopes that that step will not be necessary, but it is important that the extent of our commitment should be known.
2478 So far so good. But Poland is not the only possible object of attack. It is part of Herr Hitler's strategy to take his victims by surprise, and swiftly. Who knows where he may strike next? I think everyone in the House realised that Memel-land was easy prey. Now that it has happened I do not mind saying that I am surprised he did not do it earlier. But who would have thought that, having incensed European feeling, and, indeed, world feeling by his occupation of Czecho-Slovakia, he would so soon have taken over the Lithuanian frontier? I am not arguing the merits of that; I am simply saying that there are spots in Europe which may be the next point of attack. In recent months and weeks there has been in Europe a more widespread feeling of uncertainty, uneasiness and apprehensiveness than before the days of Munich. Switzerland, Holland, Denmark and other smaller nations all feel that they may be suddenly struck down without warning by the assassin's hand.
We have now reached the stage where there is a declaration regarding Poland, a declaration which must, without delay, be fully clothed with meaning and made capable of instant applications. The Prime Minister's statement on Friday was necessarily short, and no doubt he will be able to give us to-day—at least I hope he will, so far as it is possible—a little more information as to the content and meaning of the statement which he made on Friday. But this Three-Power agreement, however satisfactory it may become, is clearly not enough to meet the needs of the present situation. It is a nucleus. It may be made a very valuable nucleus of a much wider understanding. I ask the Prime Minister whether he will make it the basis for the broadest possible brotherhood of nations to stand against aggression. In the crowded areas of the industrial North from which I come the word "neighbour" is pregnant with meaning. My Northern friends realise what a neighbour is. Among the poorest, when a family suffers trial, misfortune or distress, there are no formal and polite expressions of sympathy, but there is active and willing help and real sacrifice in order to be of practical use. I do not wish to paint a picture, but it must be within the knowledge of many Members of the House that in the case of sickness neighbours will, if need be, keep 2479 watch in the night, lend their bed linen, run errands and look after the children, each neighbour giving as much help as she can. In this connection it is nearly always" she."
That is true neighbourliness, and what is needed now is that everyone in the same street should stand together to aid any neighbour in his hour of trial and adversity. In our view nothing less than that will be sufficient. It may be that some right hon. and hon. Members opposite do not like the term "collective security," though I think it happens to be a very good one. I will call it international neighbourliness, or, if you like, a policy of mutual aid. But however it may be summarised, whatever may be the shorthand name for it, the path we have to tread now is one towards maximum cooperation with the object of deterring, as I believe we still can, or in the last resort resisting, aggression. There may be some who would pick and choose the neighbours to whose aid they would come. That is a view which I do not share. The crime is the act of aggression and not the size, character or importance of the State which suffers from aggression. In other words, it must be known to the world that an attack upon one is an attack upon all.
If, as I think, we must come as near as we can to a world-wide federation of peoples determined to end aggression, it is clear that whoever is threatened is our neighbour. Whatever the character of the Government may be, however insignificant that nation may be, where there is an attack upon liberty there is an attack upon Britain. I would urge, therefore, that steps should be taken now to build up a clearly defined system of mutual aid. I say "clearly denned" because we must realise the duties and obligations that are imposed upon those who enter into that system; and into that system all should be invited to enter, all nations who are prepared to do what they can to increase world opinion against aggression with a view to deterring those who have been guilty or may be guilty of aggression; and those who are prepared to give us their appropriate aid, whether it be some of the smaller Powers with moral and economic support, or larger Powers with military support—they ought all to be invited to enter into this new—I do not like to use the word "pact," but into 2480 this new brotherhood of nations prepared to stand and work for peace.
In this connection we cannot ignore the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Since her entry into the League she has, I fear I must confess, been more loyal to its principles and its decisions than the British Government. She has declared her willingness to stand by any kind of understanding which would keep the peace through the establishment of collective security. I realise that there are all kinds of ideological objections to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I suppose that this new word is applicable to Members on both sides of the House, but in these times it is important to mobilise in the cause of peace all States which are prepared to stand for peace. However you may assess the military value of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, there can be no question that she might well prove to be the final, decisive and smashing factor on the side of keeping the peace in the world.
At this stage I want to make it clear that such a policy does not mean the encirclement of Germany. In his speech on Saturday Herr Hitler referred to the encirclement of his people. If any weak words of mine can penetrate the German Frontier I would say that we have the friendliest feelings towards the German people, and that the policy which we have suggested is directed not against the people, but against any evil-doer and him who, with the warning which I hope this House will give to-night, defies the rule of law. Never was there a moment in recent years when circumstances was so propitious as they are to-day, when the world, shocked by the events of recent weeks, is aching for settled peace and the establishment of law and order—there was no moment more propitious than now for Britain to take a strong lead.
Briefly, because I realise that there are many people who would wish to speak to-day, I say that the Three-Power Pact must not be a repetition of the Czecho-Slovakian tragedy. We led Czechoslovakia to believe that we would help— [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I do not wish to introduce an unnecessarily discordant note. At least Czecho-Slovakia was under the impression that there might be help forthcoming. It was not forthcoming when the hour struck. This Three-Power Pact, therefore, must be 2481 real, and it must be made to work if the occasion arises. In our view it ought to be the beginning of a far-flung effort to rally the nations, large and small, to a system of mutual aid. There ought to be now no delay, seeing that the beginning has been made, in pressing forward to the wider scheme. If the Government halt they must accept the strongest criticism, for they will, I am convinced in my mind, have betrayed what I believe to be now the will of our people. Should the right hon. Gentleman succeed he will wear the laurels of victory on his brow. On these benches we shall not complain. We shall have been proud that the policy for which we have consistently stood has borne fruit in establishing enduring peace in the world and a new era of prosperity for this people.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
The whole House will share the regret expressed by the right hon. Gentleman at the cause which made it necessary for him to open the Debate this afternoon instead of the Leader of the Opposition. We all hope that the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition will soon be restored to his usual health.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken promised us on Friday that the Debate which took place to-day would be carried on on a high level, and, if I may be allowed to say so, he has, as far as he is concerned, amply fulfilled that promise. And so, feeling as I think he does, that this is an occasion on which we should rather stress the points on which we agree than those on which we differ I shall, while noting his reference to the leonine character of those who sit around him, not attempt to go back to any matters of difference, but rather address myself to the situation that is before us. When my Noble Friend the Member for South Dorset (Viscount Cranborne) suggested on Friday that it might be a good thing if this Debate were to be postponed for a time, I confess that my first thought was rather to agree with him, not because I anticipated that any harm could be done by the Debate, but because I realised that nothing was likely to occur over the weekend which would enable me to give the House any new information.
While, of course, the right hon. Gentleman opposite very rightly and properly put forward his ideas as to the manner in which the matter should be developed, 2482 he will recognise that it is not so easy for me, who am about to take part in conversations, to say in public what exactly are the lines on which we wish to go. If, as I hope may be the case, the result of this Debate is to show that fundamentally and generally this House is unanimous in its approval of the declaration which I made on Friday, and is united and determined to take whatever measures may be necessary to make that declaration effective, the Debate may well serve a very useful purpose. The declaration that I made on Friday has been described, in a phrase so apt that it has been widely taken up, as a cover note issued in advance of the complete insurance policy. I myself emphasised its transitional or temporary character, and the description of it as a cover note is not at all a bad one so far as it goes; but where I think it is altogether incomplete is that, while, of course, the issue of a cover note does imply that it is to be followed by something more substantial, it is the nature of the complete insurance policy which is such a tremendous departure from anything which this country has undertaken hitherto. It does really constitute a new point—I would say a new epoch—in the course of our foreign policy.
The commitments of this country, whether actual or potential, were stated some time ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in a passage which is famous because it so clearly and carefully expressed the facts. The speech was made in the country. That was not so very long ago, and I think that if at that time it had been suggested that we should add to those commitments something affecting a country in the eastern part of Europe, it would, no doubt, have obtained some limited amount of support, but it certainly would not have commanded the approval of the great majority of the country. Indeed, to have departed from our traditional ideas in this respect so far as I did on behalf of His Majesty's Government on Friday constitutes a portent in British policy so momentous that I think it is safe to say it will have a chapter to itself when the history books come to be written.
The right hon. Gentleman alluded just now to some misunderstanding of the meaning of that declaration. I confess that I was myself surprised that there 2483 should be any misunderstanding, for I thought it was clear and plain for all who run to read. Of course, a declaration of that importance is not concerned with some minor little frontier incident; it is concerned with the big things that may lie behind even a frontier incident. If the independence of the State of Poland should be threatened—and if it were threatened I have no doubt that the Polish people would resist any attempt on it—then the declaration which I made means that France and ourselves would immediately come to her assistance. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a passage from a speech of mine which was made very recently, but perhaps I may be permitted to recall to the House that as long ago as last September I myself gave a warning of the possibility of such a departure as we are now contemplating. On that Tuesday, 27th September, at a moment when it hardly seemed possible to cherish any longer the hope that peace might be preserved, it was my duty to broadcast a message. I would like, if I may, to recall to the House one or two sentences that I spoke then:I am myself a man of peace to the depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of its force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living.At that time I did not myself feel that the events that were taking place in connection with Czecho-Slovakia necessarily involved such an assumption as that. My opinion at that time was, as it is now, that war as it is waged in these days is such a frightful thing that I could not ask the country to accept new commitments which might involve us in war unless some really vital principle like that which I have just described were at stake. A little later, at the end of the year, hon. Members will recall that the President of the United States in a New Year's message dwelt on the same thought. At the end of that month I alluded to that New Year's message, and said that a challenge of that kind, a demand to dominate one by one other nations without limits to where that might go, was the only challenge which could endanger the peace of the world, but that if it were made then I felt, like President Roosevelt, that it must be resisted.
2484 There were some at that time, indeed, there were some in September, who believed that the first steps had already been taken towards making that challenge. At that time it was possible to quote to those who held that view the assurances that had been given to me, and not to me only but to the world, that the foreign policy of the German Government was limited, that they had no wish to dominate other races, and that all they wanted was to assimilate Germans living in territory adjacent to their country. We were told that when that was done that was to be the end, and there were to be no more territorial ambitions to be satisfied. Those assurances have now been thrown to the winds. That is the new fact which has completely destroyed confidence and which has forced the British Government to make this great departure of which I gave the first intimation on Friday.
It is true we are told now that there are other reasons for recent events in Czecho-Slovakia—historical associations, the fear of attack. Well, there may be excellent reasons, but they do not accord with the assurances which were given before. It is inevitable that they should raise doubts as to whether further reasons may not presently be found for further expansion. I am not asserting that to-day this challenge has been made. No official statement that I know of has ever formulated such ambitions, although there has been plenty of unofficial talk; but the effect of these recent events has penetrated far beyond the limits of the countries concerned, and perhaps far further than was anticipated by those who brought them about. It is no exaggeration to say that public opinion throughout the whole world has been profoundly shocked and alarmed. This country has been united from end to end by the conviction that we must now make our position clear and unmistakable whatever may be the result.
No one can regret more than I do the necessity to have to speak such words as those. I am no more a man of war to-day than I was in September. I have no intention, no desire, to treat the great German people otherwise than as I would have our own people treated. I was looking forward with strong hopes to the result of those trade discussions which had already begun in Germany, and which, I thought, might have benefits for both our countries and many other 2485 countries besides, but confidence which has been so grievously shaken is not easily restored. We have been obliged, therefore, to consider the situation afresh.
It is not so long ago that I declared my view that this country ought not to be asked to enter into indefinite, unspecified commitments operating under conditions which could not be foreseen. I still hold that view; but here what we are doing is to enter into a specific engagement directed to a certain eventuality, namely, if such an attempt should be made to dominate the world by force. The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the matter could not end where it stands today. If that policy were the policy of the German Government it is quite clear that Poland would not be the only country which would be endangered, and the policy which has led us to give this assurance to Poland, of course could not be satisfied or carried out if we were to confine ourselves to a single case which, after all, might not be the case in point. These recent happenings have, rightly or wrongly, made every State which lies adjacent to Germany unhappy, anxious, uncertain about Germany's future intentions. If that is all a misunderstanding, if the German Government has never had any such thoughts, well, so much the better. In that case any agreements which may be made to safeguard the independence of these countries will never have to be called upon, and Europe may then gradually simmer down into a state of quietude in which their existence even might be forgotten.
Let me emphasise again, whatever the outcome of the discussions which are now taking place between His Majesty's Government and the Governments of other countries, they contain no threat to Germany so long as Germany will be a good neighbour. I am glad to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said about encirclement. It is fantastic to suggest that a policy which is a policy of self-defence can be described as encirclement if by that term is meant encirclement for the purpose of some aggressive action.
I do not wish to-day to attempt to specify what Governments we may now, or in the near future, find it desirable to consult with on the situation, but I would make one allusion to the Soviet Union, because I quite appreciate that the Soviet Union is always in the thoughts of hon. 2486 Members opposite, and that they are still a little suspicious as to whether those so-called ideological differences may not be dividing us upon what otherwise it would obviously be in the interests of both to do. I do not pretend for one moment that ideological differences do not exist; they remain unchanged. But, as I said on Friday in answer to a question, our point is that whatever may be those ideological differences they do not really count in a question of this kind. What we are concerned with is to preserve our independence, and when I say "our independence" I do not mean only this country's. I mean the independence of all States which may be threatened by aggression in pursuit of such a policy as I have described.
Therefore, we welcome the co-operation of any country, whatever may be its internal system of government, not in aggression but in resistance to aggression. I believe that this nation is now united not only in approval of what we have said, but in approval of the aim and purpose that lie behind it. I believe that the whole Empire shares in that approval. The members of the British Empire beyond the seas have hitherto watched our efforts for peace with a fervent hope that they might be successful. All of them have had a growing consciousness that we cannot live for ever in that atmosphere of surprise and alarm from which Europe has suffered in recent months. The common business of life cannot be carried on in a state of uncertainty. As far as it is possible for His Majesty's Government to help to restore confidence by plain words, we have done our part. In doing so I am certain that we have expressed the will of this people. I trust that our action, begun but not concluded, will prove to be the turning point not towards war, which wins nothing, cures nothing, ends nothing, but towards a more wholesome era when reason will take the place of force and threats will make way for cool and well-marshalled arguments.
§ 4.43 P.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
Let me make it clear at once, in the name of my hon. Friends as well as of myself, that on the main issue raised by the Prime Minister's statement last Friday we shall, of course, support the policy, which we have so long advocated, of gathering together the friends of peace and order in Europe in 2487 resistance to aggression, and that we consider the interim guarantee given to Poland as an instalment—in the existing situation an indispensable instalment, but still only an instalment—of that policy. This Debate will not have been in vain if it makes clear to the whole world that with the exception, possibly, of a few individuals, this House is solidly united behind that policy, and that it will require the Government to act with the utmost promptness and vigour, both at home and abroad, to make it effective.
Unless I have mistaken the aim of the policy, the object of the Government is less to make sure of victory in a possible war than to stop war breaking out. The contention that we have defended against Ministers in so many Debates that Herr Hitler is aiming at world domination is now common ground. Therefore, it is clear that the only way of stopping war is to build up an invincible resistance to aggression and to make it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt to Herr Hitler and his generals that if he attacks any of his neighbours he will have to face war on two fronts. For, while the British people, the Prime Minister himself, and the British Government loathe war, as the Prime Minister made clear this afternoon, it is plain that we shall never be able to negotiate successfully with Herr Hitler so long as he knows that the British Government will always shrink from war in the last resort, and is in fact—as it was until very recently— making electoral capital at home out of their own weakness.
Speaking this afternoon, the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition, who spoke with remarkable restraint and force, disclaimed the intention of raking over smouldering embers; certainly I have no desire to rake over the smouldering embers, but I am impressed with what the Prime Minister has rightly described this afternoon as the momentous character of the departure in policy which the Government have made. I am impressed with the danger of the situation with which we are faced and with the immense practical difficulties in the present situation of giving effect to that policy. So I cannot believe that we shall be doing any disservice by discussing— indeed, I feel it is our bounden duty to do so— those difficulties, and making plain the essential conditions of success in the 2488 hazardous but necessary enterprise upon which the Government have embarked.
If we are to see clearly the problem with which we are faced, first in Poland and secondly in Europe as a whole, we must clear our minds of all the cant and humbug about the justice of Germany's case last autumn, or we shall soon flounder into another bog of moral and intellectual perplexity.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It was said last autumn that Czecho-Slovakia was a composite State which contained large minorities, but so does Poland; 31 per cent. of the population of Poland is non-Polish. It was said that the Czech minorities were discontented; they were not half so discontented as the Ukranian minorities or the German-Silesian minorities are in Poland; and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) pointed out in October, the treatment afforded to the German minority in Poland—the same observation applies to the Polish minority in Germany—is not nearly so generous as that which was accorded to the German minority in Czecho-Slovakia. If Herr Hitler challenges the Prime Minister to apply to the Polish minorities, the principle of self-determination, is the Prime Minister going to agree to it, as he agreed at Berchtesgaden to apply it in its crudest form to the Czech minorities? That phrase "self-determination," which the Prime Minister consented to repeat after Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden, is political dynamite, and it would explode with the same devastating effect in Poland on the German, White-Russian and Ukranian minorities as it did in Czecho-Slovakia on the German, Hungarian and Polish minorities.
So we must recognise that Berchtesgaden and Munich represent not an act of justice but a surrender to force—the inescapable consequence of the new foreign policy which the Prime Minister adopted after the resignation of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington and which was epitomised in the Prime Minister's speech in this House on 22nd February last year when he said that at the last General Election it was still possible to believe in collective security. He added: 2489I do not believe it now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1938; col. 227, Vol. 332]I have no doubt that the Prime Minister was sincere then—let me say, also, that I do not think that anyone who has heard his speech this afternoon can doubt that he is equally sincere to-day in the new departure of policy which he has announced. Now, once again, it is common ground that the rule of law, buttressed by collective security with provision for peaceful change, is the indispensable foundation of peace and order in Europe.
Therefore, while I welcomed the substance I regretted the form of the Prime Minister's statement on Friday. The second paragraph was good but the first paragraph, with its reference to the desirability of negotiation in settling disputes, was unnecessary, and bound to cause misunderstanding. Of course, we all want disputes settled by negotiation, and the whole world knows that all parties in Britain, and this Government in particular, are of the same mind on that point, but the inclusion of those platitudes in the statement was calculated to weaken the effect of the statement in Germany—
§ Sir A. Sinclair
—and in Poland to revive suspicious memories of Lord Runciman's activities in Czecho-Slovakia; while commentators of the newspapers which support the Government were swift to declare that this paragraph was intended to exclude Danzig and the Corridor from the scope of the new guarantees. Accordingly, I was not surprised to see in yesterday's newspapers that the Foreign Office had already been compelled to issue an explanation of the Government's statement. It is a great pity that the statement was not made on Friday in quite unambiguous language. Of course, we can all guess how it got there. There can be little doubt that the first paragraph was the contribution to that communique of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why? Because he declared less than three weeks ago in this House that we should not enter into extensive commitments with the result that the control of our foreign policy would depend upon a whole lot of foreign Powers. So no doubt the first paragraph of the Prime Minister's state- 2490 ment was the price of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's consent to the second paragraph.
For more than seven years the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been the evil genius of British foreign policy. It will be difficult for a Cabinet of which he remains a member to present that aspect of unity and resolve which the need of inspiring confidence in our friends imperatively demands. Men like the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Home Secretary, who have already once sabotaged the policy of collective security, ought to make way for men like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who have consistently advocated it. In the present dangerous situation it is vital that Government pronouncements should convey the impression of proceeding from a resolute and unanimous Cabinet.
Danzig and the Corridor are vital issues for Poland. The Vistula comes out into the sea through the territory of Danzig. The possession of Danzig and the Corridor, without the most solid guarantees of Polish interests, would give Germany a stranglehold on the economic, and therefore on the political, independence of Poland, just as the possession of the Sudetenland gave Germany a stranglehold on Czecho-Slovakia. I am far from saying that the existing status quo in Danzig must be preserved for all time, but I would say this: if we are entitled to say in this country—as I think we are—that we will not abandon our rights and responsibilities in the Mandated Territories except in return for solid guarantees, not only for the rights of the natives but also for world peace and order, including disarmament as part of a general settlement with Germany, so Poland is fully entitled to take a similar line in respect of questions with which her very existence is bound up, such as Danzig and the Corridor. If we are to convince Herr Hitler of our inflexible determination to resist aggression henceforward, there must be no hedging in the policy of His Majesty's Government and no whittling down of their pronouncements.
Let us be quite clear about this matter. Peace will depend on the ability of His Majesty's Government to convince Herr Hitler that this time they really will be 2491 firm. It will not be easy to convince him. He will remember the Government's pledges at the last election about steady and collective resistance to unprovoked aggression and, four or five weeks later, the Hoare-Laval negotiations. He will remember that the independence of Austria was proclaimed by this Government to be an object of British policy. He will remember the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Lanark last August which was universally interpreted as meaning that we should, in the last resort, support Czecho-Slovakia against unprovoked aggression. All the newspapers said that it meant that. They declared that the evil influence of Herr von Ribbentrop on Herr Hitler and his lamentable ignorance of the inflexible intentions of the British Government were what was leading us towards war. If only, they exclaimed, we could get behind Herr von Ribbentrop and warn Hen-Hitler how determined the British Government were. That was why we all rejoiced when the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden. At last, we thought, Herr Hitler was going to hear the truth. At last Herr von Ribbentrop was going to be proved wrong. The Prime Minister proved him right and now the German newspapers publish comic strips of the crestfallen friends of Britain and the German Ministers mock at them in their speeches, the Negus of Abyssinia, Dr. Schuschnigg and Dr. Benes. Tremendous exertions are called for from this Government and this country if we are to live down that record and convince Herr Hitler that in future we will be steadfast.
The effort will be all the greater because the problem is essentially military, because, both in Central Europe and in Spain, the weakness of the Government's policy in the past year has enabled Germany to acquire strategic positions of dominating power and because the disappearance of Czecho-Slovakia and Republican Spain has enormously strengthened Germany and Italy and weakened France and Britain. The Chancellor of the Exchequer suggests that Czecho-Slovakia may give the Germans a good deal of trouble even now, but how can the Czechs serious threaten the Germans in Czecho-Slovakia? There are 3,500,000 Germans there, many of them trained to arms. They have only to mobilise 5 per cent. of them to have an 2492 army of 12 divisions, or an armed and mobile police force of 175,000 men with which to hold down the country. At the same time, 35 German divisions which would have had to fight on that front but for the policy of appeasement and the destruction of the Czech army are now available for use elsewhere. Of course, in the intervening period, we have made immense progress in rearmament, but we must set against that the men, the economic resources and the war material which Germany has acquired in Czechoslovakia and Austria, to say nothing meanwhile of Spain. Take the war material in Czecho-Slovakia alone. I wonder if the House is aware of the facts. I quote from the Berlin correspondent of the "Times":In taking over Bohemia and Moravia it may be assumed that, after having disarmed the garrisons in these provinces, Germany obtained the full arms and equipment, all modern and of the best quality, of about 36 divisions. Her immediate gain is greatest in motorised fighting vehicles and heavy artillery. The motorised equipment of the Czechoslovak army is greatly superior to that possessed by the Germans. … It can be said, even as matters stand at the moment, that the disarmament of the Czecho-Slovak army has, at the most cautious estimate, at least doubled the number of heavy guns possessed by Germany. … So far as can be learned, the Czecho-Slovak air force had little more than 1,700 machines of all types, of which only 500 or so may be assumed to be suitable as first-line machines. The quality of these aircraft, however, is reputed to be good. In taking over the Czech country, Germany has entered into possession of three first-class armament factories, among the largest in the world, equipped with the best and latest machinery, and of at least one large poison gas factory.Let me also mention to the House the opinion recorded by a world famous correspondent, Mr. Ward Price of the "Daily Mail," who is well known to be on terms of friendship with the rulers of Germany at the present time. He says that the Germans were surprised by the great resources in war material which they obtained by their seizure of the former Czech provinces—that40,000 machine guns is only one item of the long list of the equipment which has fallen into their hands.Those 40,000 machine guns, seven months ago, were in the strong hands of friendly Czechs. Your policy of appeasement has transferred them to German hands, and what use do you expect them to make of them?
2493 So also in Spain. Last September, General Franco declared that if war broke out he would remain neutral; but then the Republican Army was still valiantly defending democracy in Spain, and he could only defend himself against it with the help of German and Italian troops and war material. Now that His Majesty's Government have permitted the dictators to impose their rule on Spain, we no longer dare to count on General Franco's neutrality, and we shall have to pay a heavy price for the levity with which they prostituted the policy of non-intervention, left the Spanish democracy to its fate, and allowed France to be encircled by the dictatorship Powers.
Truly tremendous, therefore—incomparably greater and more difficult than it would have been a year, or even seven months, ago—is the task of establishing collective security in Europe to-day. It is now clearly a military problem and in the East of Europe Russia is obviously the key. I know the difficulties with regard to Russia. I know the distrust of Russia that is felt in Poland—a legacy of Russian misgovernment in the days of partition, and, of course, the Pilsudski tradition, which still dominates Polish politics, is not friendly to Russia. Nevertheless, the task of bringing Russia into co-operation with us in resistance to aggression is one of supreme importance. I welcome the Prime Minister's statement to-day that he will allow no ideological barriers to impede him in that task, and I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is going to reply, will assure us that the Government will do everything in their power to improve the atmosphere which envelops the relations between His Majesty's Government and the Government of the Soviet Union, both here and in Moscow, and also between the Soviet Union on the one hand and Poland and Rumania on the other.
The Prime Minister himself has indicated to the House this afternoon that his statement on Friday represented only an emergency policy. I hope that possibly the Chancellor of the Exchequer—I was going to say, will be in a position to indicate to us a little more clearly what the policy may be, but I think that that, perhaps, is too much to ask of him at this stage; let me only express my own hope that His Majesty's Government will try to rally Rumania, Turkey and other Balkan Powers to the common cause of 2494 resistance to aggression. The Prime Minister said that the policy was directed to a specific eventuality—the domination of the world by force. It is hardly, I should have thought, a specific eventuality, but, none of us will dispute, a real danger, and one to which many of us have been drawing attention in this House for many months past. More far-reaching plans are necessary.
I wonder if the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to indicate to us with a little greater precision exactly what our obligations are at this moment. I think the whole House knows what our obligations are to Poland if her independence is threatened and if she herself is prepared to resist. But, supposing that the threat to Poland comes through Lithuania, is it clear whether we should similarly have obligations to Poland if she considered that such a threat to, or an attack upon, Lithuania was a threat to the independence of Poland, as leading to her encirclement to the north? In a recent speech I urged the Government to make it clear that we could not be disinterested if an attack was made upon Holland, Belgium or Switzerland. I have seen in the newspapers since that such an undertaking has been given, that France and ourselves have agreed that, if any threat is made to the independence of Holland, Belgium or Switzerland, we shall work together to resist that aggression. If that is the case, I should be grateful if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make it clear to the House at the end of this Debate. With regard to Spain, I see that General Franco has officially proclaimed that the war is at an end. Can the Chancellor of the Exchequer inform the House whether he has received from the Governments of Italy and Germany any assurances as to the departure of Italian and German troops, and, if so, on what date that departure will take place?
Three things remain to be done. The first is to convince Europe that His Majesty's Government are at last in earnest, that this is something better than their General Election pledges or the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lanarkshire last August, and that they are united and resolute. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might be helpful in doing that to-night. In winding up the last Debate that we had on this subject, less than three weeks ago, with a powerful speech in opposition to the policy 2495 which His Majesty's Government have since adopted, he asked me two questions. I answered promptly and plainly. If I may say so respectfully to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I thought they were very good questions, and I think they are so good that I am now going to repeat them to him. I am going to ask him the same questions, adapted to the new setting of events, and I would like him to give me equally plain answers at the close of the Debate. The first is: Does he now agree that we ought to ask France, and, if suitable arrangements can be made, Russia and other countries, to join us in supporting Poland against unprovoked aggression, and that we ought to enter into staff conversations with those countries to make effective arrangements for resisting aggression? If, as I imagine, he answers in the affirmative, as I answered his question, which related to the situation last year, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, as he said to me:Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain one thing to me and I will be satisfied. Is the policy which he has advocated a policy which would have meant that we were going to war, or that we should threaten and then not go to war?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th March, 1939; col. 552, Vol 345.]Which of those meanings does he attach to the Prime Minister's statement last Friday? I hope he will answer that question as frankly as I did at short notice, and in such a way as to give convincing evidence of the Government's sincerity and determination.
The next thing to be done is, surely, to enter immediately into staff conversations with France, Poland and other countries as and when arrangements are made with them, so that every country in Europe will know that we are ready for action with all our forces should the need unfortunately arise. The third thing to be done is to mobilise with the utmost speed and vigour all our own resources. At the time of the Abyssinian dispute, the present Home Secretary impressed the House by telling us that no other nation than Britain had moved a man or a gun in that crisis. Subsequently it appeared that they had only been asked to do so a day or two before he made that statement, and that five Mediterranean Powers immediately responded with offers of assistance. Four years later, after four years of rearmament, peace hangs on the 2496 question whether Britain has enough guns and men to move to preserve it. Immediately after Munich, Lord Baldwin declared that he would "mobilise industry tomorrow," but the Government still hesitate to set up a Ministry of Supply. They ought not to hesitate a moment longer.
As regards man-power, I believe in voluntary service, and the Government are getting to-day more volunteers for the Fighting Services than they are able to equip; but if the Government, with their incomparable sources of information, reach a different conclusion, it would be unforgivable if they refrained from political motives, as they did long after they knew that rearmament was necessary, from telling the House and the country the truth. I supported the increase in the establishment of the Territorial Army, but I understand that there is one serious flaw in that scheme. The Government are short, not only of war equipment for the Territorials, but of training equipment. New halls have to be built in different villages and districts scattered all over the country. Meanwhile, the Regular Army has a great deal of training equipment that is not being regularly used. Why do the Government not raise militia battalions, which could speedily be trained with the use of the equipment of the Regular Army?
In short, the Government have at last embarked on the right course; but they have started perilously late, and after their own blunders have impaired confidence at home and abroad and gravely weakened our position. Hon. Members opposite, with certain notable exceptions, must share with the Government the responsibility for the mistakes and blunders of the past. Henceforth, the possibility of stopping Herr Hitler from plunging the world into war will mainly depend on the measures adopted by the Government. Let us, therefore, join together in exacting from this Government promptness and vigour in action. The aggressors have made great strides in this year of appeasement. Not another yard of ground must be lost. We must dedicate ourselves afresh and devote our material resources to the service of justice and peace.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
The powerful speech of the leader of the Liberal party conforms 2497 to the conditions which the leader of the Opposition hoped would be observed during the Debate, and if a controversial note was struck, it was one which my right hon. Friend had a right to strike, because he was entitled, if he thought fit, to review the past and to sum up the various errors, as he conceived them, which have been committed by the Government, to which he is opposed. I must say I think this is a fine hour in the life of the Liberal party, because, from the moment when they realised that rearmament was necessary, they have seemed to seek to bring forward together both the material and moral strength of this country, and I believe that at the moment they represent what is the heart and soul of the British nation.
I find myself in the most complete agreement with the Prime Minister. I hope it will not do him any harm if I say so. I listened to his speech with the greatest attention, and both in its assertions and its reservations, in its scope, in its emphasis, and in its balance, I find myself entirely in accord with what he said. I am sure he will believe that, if I did not do so, I should not hesitate to criticise and attack him, but, being in agreement with the Prime Minister on the speech he has made, I naturally am going to give him my support in such a way as will be a help, as I conceive it, and not a hindrance. Therefore, I shall not follow my right hon. Friend, who, as the Leader of an Opposition party, was perfectly entitled to do as he did in weighing up what has happened in the past. In all these extremely grave and baffling matters of public policy, where the terrible accidents and chances of peace and war hang in the balance, human judgment may easily go astray; and anyone can put himself in the position of the man upon whose decision the awful consequences turn. It is very easy to see clearly what should be done, and to advocate it in cogent terms, but even the most resolute of us would, I am inclined to think, have a note of soberness, of anguish, struck into his nature if he thought and felt that now, at the last, it had come to him, and he had to say the word. Therefore, I am going to give my full support to the policy which the Prime Minister has now declared. I said in March last year—if the House will pardon me for making a quotation: 2498If a number of States were assembled around Great Britain and France in a solemn treaty for mutual defence against aggression; if they had their forces marshalled in what you may call a grand alliance; if they had their staff arrangements concerted; if all this rested, as it can honourably rest, upon the Covenant of the League of Nations, agreeable with all the purposes and ideals of the League of Nations; if that were sustained, as it would be, by the moral sense of the world; and if it were done in the year 1938—and, believe me, it may be the last chance there will do for doing it—then I say that you might even now arrest this approaching war." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1938; cols. 99–100, Vol. 333.]I must remark that I was speaking of the year 1938, and it is now 1939. The situation has deteriorated. What could have been gained in certainty is now doubtful. What then seemed sure has now become more difficult. But I entirely agree with the Prime Minister when he makes it plain that in our policy there is to be no encirclement of Germany. Who has ever proposed an encirclement of Germany. Those of us who, during these these years, have urged a certain course have always made it quite clear that, in this policy of building up guarantees from many countries for mutual security, they were not asking for the encirclement of particular countries, but only for "the encirclement of an aggressor." But as it would be a crime to encircle a particular nation, to injure its interests and prosperity or cramp its development, so it is a duty to bring into play the largest and best organised system which is possible against an aggressor. I have always preached the doctrine that similar assurances should, if necessary, be offered to Germany herself. If Herr Hitler fears that he will be overrun by Russia, that he will be fallen upon by Poland, that he will be attacked by Belgium, Holland or Switzerland, that he will be browbeaten by Denmark, he has only to declare his anxiety open to the world in order to receive the most solemn international guarantees. We seek no security for ourselves that we do not desire Germany to enjoy as well.
I presume that all the engagements into which we are entering, or will enter, will be in harmony with the letter and the spirit of the Covenant of the League of Nations, because that Covenant contemplates not only mutual protection, but also the settlement of legitimate grievances by sincere negotiation. That doctrine and system carry with them no sort of menace 2499 or repression except to wrongdoers, or would-be wrongdoers; and it is my conviction that they still offer to the world the surest hope of a lasting peace. But all such arrangements, in the present condition of the world, will be valueless, unless they are supported by combinations of strongly-armed States, fully prepared, in will and in fact, to make war in defence of the common purpose.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper) said in his resignation speech is now generally accepted. He said it was useless for us to try to play a more prominent part in Europe unless we are prepared, when all else fails, to resist a wrongdoer, to go to the last extreme. It is indeed wonderful that our country has been led by the Prime Minister to declare, in the clearest terms and with almost unanimity, that the defence of European freedom and the reign of law constitute causes in which this country will dare all and do all. This is the surprising transformation of the last few weeks. We have got to the position where we can no longer endure to be pushed from pillar to post, to expostulate and withdraw, and to utter what Lord Halifax called "warlike noises" with a mental reservation not to persist beyond a certain point.
What has happened in the last few weeks is not only the effect produced on the Government by the perfidy with which they were treated by those to whom they offered a very great effort of conciliation, but a revival of the national spirit, with a united force which I think has surprised ourselves as much as it has surprised foreign countries. There is behind this revival a high cause, but there are also practical reasons. The nation has asked itself, and the Prime Minister in part of his speech seemed to indicate, "How can we go on like this?" Life is intolerable under present conditions. We wait from fortnight to fortnight for the various dictatorial speeches. No one can plan ahead. Business is stifled, employment is deranged, insecurity and anxiety overcloud our happy land, and lie still more darkly over Europe. A united stand must be made —and must be made now. Everyone knows the Prime Minister's love for peace, and that he has faced taunts and unpopularity without hesitation in that 2500 cause. The German and Italian peoples know that there is no English statesman whom they can trust more fully not to menace their lawful interests and prosperity. All parties know it, and know that he would not lightly or wantonly involve us in a terrible war.
When, at last, after so much has happened, he feels impelled to take the momentous steps that he has done, it seems to me that all will feel able—even the most pacific-minded, even the most isolationist-minded—to follow the course indicated by the Government, with a good conscience and without the slightest feeling that anything which could have been done to avert the dangers of the conflict has been left undone. When it is known that a powerful confederation of States will infallibly fight—I think it is wise to put it in blunt terms—if certain things are done, there are still great hopes and chances that these deeds will not be done. If the disease has got worse in the year that has passed, and if the remedy lacks some of the ingredients which it formerly possessed, nevertheless it is still potent. He would be a bold dictator who, apart from other enterprises at this moment, and taking into consideration all the facts of the world, would deliberately set himself to destroy the French Republic and the British Empire acting together in complete unity. But that is the task which would confront an aggressor in Europe once he had committed acts which had forced Great Britain and France into war; for these two ancient and powerful States, once committed by some outrage to the dire event, would persevere, whatever their sufferings, until they were either victorious or had ceased to be. It is in the fact of this supreme issue, this awful stake, that I myself draw the most solid reassurances of peace.
Having begun this new policy there can be no turning back. There is no halting-place. The arrangement is strictly limited at present to three Powers, but others are being consulted, and others have dangers and also have resources, and undoubtedly we must measure each case, so far as we can, because our own resources are not unlimited. But undoubtedly the process of building up mutual security on the basis of mutual exertion and effort, large, strong armed strength maintained in all quarters—that process must continue. To stop here with a guarantee to 2501 Poland would be to halt in No-man's Land under fire of both trench lines and without the shelter of either. That is why it seems to me that the announcement of the Prime Minister on Friday, which is explained and emphasised by his statement to-day, constitutes a milestone in our history. We must go forward now until a conclusion is reached. Having begun to create a Grand Alliance against aggression, we cannot afford to fail. We shall be in mortal danger if we fail. We shall be marked down and isolated if we fail. It has become a matter of life or death. The policy now proclaimed must be carried to success—to lasting success—if war is to be averted, and if British safety is to be secured.
It is for this reason that I thank His Majesty's Government for the prompt steps that were taken on Saturday to repudiate officially the attempts which were made in certain quarters to whittle away the guarantee given to Poland. There was a sinister passage in the "Times" leading article on Saturday, similar to that which foreshadowed the ruin of Czechoslovakia, which sought to explain that there was no guarantee for the integrity of Poland, but only for its independence. But surely the position of the French and British Governments is perfectly clear. We are not concerned at this moment with particular rights or places, but to resist by force of arms further acts of violence, of pressure or of intrigue. Moreover, this is not the time for negotiation. After the crime and treachery committed against Czecho-Slovakia, our first duty is to establish respect for law and public faith in Europe. Once that has been done effectually, there are no doubt many matters which may be discussed in a calm atmosphere, which cannot be discussed or entertained now. But it will take time, and not only time, but a considerable series of helpful and faithful deeds, before the leaders of Germany can regain, even in the most confiding bosom, the trust they so treacherously abused after Munich. And meanwhile, believe me, the slightest sign of weakness will only aggravate the dangers which concern not only us, but the whole world.
The attitude of His Majesty's Government towards Russia appears to me also to be well conceived. Russia is a ponderous counterpoise in the scale of world peace. We cannot measure the weight 2502 of support which may be forthcoming from Soviet Russia. The Opposition have coined the phrase, "The maximum cooperation possible," and this has been freely accepted by His Majesty's Government. It seems to me a very accurate and convenient phrase, but to find any guidance as to where we stand with Russia, one must ask what is the interest of the Russian people. Why should we expect Soviet Russia to be willing to work with us? Certainly we have no special claims upon her good will, nor she on ours. But Soviet Russia is profoundly affected by the German Nazi ambitions. A Nazi advance down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, and the creation which would soon follow there of a Nazi Black Sea Fleet, would be a deadly blow at the integrity of Russia, and also a deadly blow at Turkey. The conquest of the Ukraine by Nazi Germany, upon which such covetous eyes have been avowedly set, would be a direct assault upon the life of the Russian Soviet State. Then again in the Far East, the aggression of Japan upon China has brought Japan at this moment into close grips with the Eastern Russian Power. No one can say that there is not a solid identity of interest between the Western democracies and Soviet Russia, and we must do nothing to obstruct the natural play of that identity of interest.
The Government have been wise in not forcing matters. Rumania, Poland and the Baltic States all feel easier because this great mass of Russia is friendly behind them, and lies there in a broad support. But we must be largely guided at this juncture by the feelings of those States. Upon the whole I think we may trust to the natural forces which are at work. It seems to me highly probable that that dominating identity of interest will prevail, and that without undue delay. I therefore accept the declaration of the Government upon this point as satisfactory for the time being. It may be that in a few weeks the whole of this Eastern Front will have assumed a greater stability and be far more closely knit than is possible at present. The worst folly, which no one proposes we should commit, would be to chill and drive away any natural co-operation which Soviet Russia in her own deep interests feels it necessary to afford. Primarily we must rely upon 2503 our own strength., but we welcome cordially the aid of all who stand for the main cause now at stake.
I have been expressing my agreement with all that has been said by the Prime Minister, but do not let us forget for a moment the marked and singular period of tension, perhaps to be prolonged, through which we are now passing. For the first time Great Britain has taken the initiative against the Nazi aggression. For nearly a fortnight the Nazi leaders at Berlin have known that we are in process of constructing a defensive bloc to resist another outrage. For the first time they see themselves confronted with the possibilities of war on two fronts. The men at the head of Germany are not restrained by any scruples. They have risen to their power by violence, cruelty and murder. Herr Hitler plumes himself particularly upon the lightning character of the blows which he strikes. These are men in the path of whose ambition it is very dangerous to stand, and we have taken up our stand right in their path.
I pause to pay my tribute to the calm resolve of the British nation. We read how, when Napoleon's army lay at Boulogne 140 years ago, the threat of invasion hung over this country from day to day, dependent upon the shift of the wind, our ancestors showed qualities of doggedness and phlegm deemed remarkable by all who observed it. But that is nothing to the ordeal which the British nation is to-day facing with complete composure. Nothing with which Napoleon threatened England is half as intimate or direct as the destruction and ordeal which would fall upon this country should we be involved in a modern war. I think it very remarkable that this House of Commons, elected by universal suffrage under conditions of free democracy, is ready quite calmly and resolutely, and not in any mood of excitement—far from it—to accept the perils with which we may be confronted, with a feeling that, God helping, we can do no other.
Personally, I believe that the weapon of air terror cuts both ways, and I believe also, that it cannot in any case be decisive against the life of a brave and free people. Nevertheless, the ordeal to which we should be subjected is one which we should not underrate. Do not let us neglect anything. Let us take every step 2504 to diminish this dangerous period and to abridge its duration. But precautions taken now are not only safeguards; they may be preventatives. I shall venture to mention only some of the measures which are required so that they may be considered and discussed on later occasions. First of all, everything should be done to remove the temptation of a surprise attack from desperate or perhaps abnormal minds. I have no doubt that the Fleet is in the highest state of readiness, short of actual mobilisation of the Royal Fleet Reserve, which is by no means indispensable to the immediate assertion of naval power. I have no doubt that steps have also been taken to secure a state of vigilance and preparedness in anti-aircraft defences. I trust that the Government will go farther and take other steps necessary to the instant and constant readiness of our air defences. Surely there is a state of emergency as far as purely defensive precautions are concerned.
I had intended to refer to the question of compulsory service, but other opportunities will come for that. Let me say that if the Government wish to make a success of their voluntary effort, in the support of which they have the right to engage the energies of every one, it should be made absolutely clear that this voluntary effort is only for the peace interlude, and that should war come, on the day that war breaks out the obligation of universal service will be proclaimed upon all citizens. If that were done, then the young men who are coming forward in their scores of thousands, and who will continue to come forward, will not come with the feeling that they are standing forth, as it were, the scapegoats, the devoted scapegoats of the public. They will become the vanguard of a great nation in arms. You could reconcile this movement within the voluntary system, which will certainly give you great masses of men, more than your equipment can supply, and reconcile it with those proud feelings of national self-respect, which makes it unworthy of a great nation to lay too great a burden upon the most generous of its sons.
Then there is the question of equipment. The Secretary of State for War made a very remarkable and a very fine speech last Friday, in which he said:We are operating under a system where there is no interference with industry, no 2505 power to assure the completion of our orders with urgency or in precedence.That is a very serious statement which the Government cannot ignore. When this Parliament met only five divisions were contemplated for the Continent. Then the number was raised to 19, and now it is raised to 32. This great matter of equipment means a tremendous effort of industrial energy and calls for a new view, and I beg the Prime Minister, now that he has gone into this tremendous, valiant adventure for the safety and the peace of the world, not to hesitate to revise judgments made when the circumstances were different from what they are now.
I have only a few more words to say, and they are on the same note that I struck when I began my speech. Last week at Doullens, was celebrated the twenty-first anniversary of the appointment of Marshal Foch to the supreme command of the Allied Armies in the height of that terrible battle, the greatest battle of the War, which began on the 21st March, at a moment when the battle seemed a stricken field, and when it seemed that the union between the French and the British Armies would be lost. General Weygand, in celebrating the anniversary, used the following words about Marshal Foch:If Foch had been with us to-day he would not have spent his time deploring what had been lost. He would have said, 'Do not yield another yard.'Those, it seems to me, are great words which may well be our guide not only in France but in Britain, at this stage in our journey which, though encompassed by unmeasured perils, is sustained by solid confidence and not uncheered by hope.
§ 5.49 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I should like to join with those who have congratulated the Government upon the initiation of this new policy and upon the reversal of the old policy which we have so often deplored in this House. The Prime Minister has reverted to the policy upon which he fought the General Election of 1935, namely, that there should be no cowardly surrender to aggressors. I heartily welcome that reversal. When he made the momentous declaration that he was convinced that Herr Hitler was no longer 2506 pursuing the policy of merely redressing what he claimed to be the inequities of a Treaty, but that he was aiming at establishing world dominion, and crushing freedom in the world, I agree that he opened a new chapter in the history not merely of this country but of the nations of the world. A declaration of that kind, involving as it does a change in policy, also involves a re-examination of the means and the methods at our disposal to enforce it, and I propose to make a short examination of those practical considerations.
I agree with a good deal of what fell from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), but I thought he underestimated the tremendous importance, from the point of view of the commitments which the Government have now undertaken—the very startling commitments, for nobody quite knows what the consequences will be—of securing the pledged support of the greatest military Power on this earth in this combination. The Prime Minister treated the matter of getting Soviet Russia into this alliance, or whatever you call it, rather too much as though it were a matter of placating a number of my hon. Friends above the Gangway, that one would like to see Soviet Russia in. It has nothing whatever to do with that. It is a military matter of the very first importance.
What is the commitment, as I understand it? Herr Hitler's speech on Saturday, in my judgment, was a very sinister one. His speech before he marched on Czecho-Slovakia was a very moderate one. It gave no indication in the least of what he was prepared to do. Suppose he does march into Poland, then this pledge of ours comes immediately into operation. Let the House calmly examine that position. We are responsible for the people we represent in respect of these commitments, and the carrying of them out. We cannot go back again upon the pledge we have given. The whole world would mock at us if we did.
Mr. Lloyd George
I know that. I am proceeding on that assumption, and I am examining what it means. Britain has been admired, Britain has been respected, Britain has been hated and Britain has been feared, but she has never been 2507 laughed at. It is essential that, having given this solemn pledge, with the assent practically of the whole people of this country, and of France, it is vital that we should carry it out. Let us see what it means. It means that if Hitler marches his armies into Polish territory, with a view to annexing it to his own Dominions, as he did in Czecho-Slovakia, we shall march. France will march, and we shall march with her. March, with what force? March, how? I propose to examine that matter as one who has had some experience of this terrific problem.
The Prime Minister said to-day that he has spoken plain words. That is not enough. You must make it clear that you have the means of implementing those words. There are two objects you must have in view. One, of course, is that if Herr Hitler does march you will be able to meet him and beat him. The other is even more important, and that is that you should make it quite clear to him that you can do it. Then he will not attack. Is it clear? If war occurred to-morrow, you could not send a single battalion to Poland. Let us speak quite frankly. France could not. She would be confronted with fortifications which are infinitely more formidable than the Hindenburg line, which took us four years to break through, with casualties running into millions. [Interruption.] I am sorry to speak what is unpalatable, but I owe a duty to myself and to the country. I will say later on what my suggestions are.
You have the Polish Army. That is an army perhaps half the size of the German Army. The Poles are a brave people. Well led, they have always fought valiantly. They have rendered great service to civilisation on many a momentous occasion. They fought with Napoleon, with the best men in his legions. But the Spanish War and the Chinese War have demonstrated that no valour, no training can stand against an overwhelming artillery supported by a tremendous air bombardment. That was demonstrated in Spain. The Spanish militiamen had three years' experience, but they were broken. The same thing applies to the Chinese, who also are a brave people. The equipment of the Polish Army is not comparable to that of the German Army. Let us examine the answer that is given to that. Germany has to fight on two 2508 fronts. Against whom? Against France, who may have to fight on three fronts. Whether it is a dual alliance, or a triple alliance with Poland, I ask first of all, what is going to happen to Poland while we are blockading Germany—and Germany is much better prepared for a blockade than she was in 1914–18—and while the French are breaking through these very formidable fortifications. If this is the Government's policy it proceeds on four assumptions which are all dubious and in my judgment false. What are they? The first is that Signor Mussolini will prove unfaithful to the Axis. If he does not you have to reckon not merely with the German Army but with the Italian Army, which is twice as efficient as it was in 1915.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon
I rise only to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman realises the harm he is doing to this country?
Mr. Lloyd George
This is the great council of the nation, and we are bound to face facts. I propose to do so, and I will make my suggestions later. I am not going to confine myself merely to negative criticisms, but I propose to make definite proposals which will overcome all these things. But it is important to take these facts into consideration. Signor Mussolini in my judgment will not prove unfaithful to the Axis. Nobody knows what arrangements he has with Hen-Hitler. A war of this kind will just suit him; it will give him his opportunity, when France is engaged with Germany. It is quite true that in 1915 Italy abandoned the Triple Alliance, but do not forget two facts about that. The Triple Alliance definitely excluded war with Britain. In the second place, tremendous territorial expansions were promised to Italy by France and by Britain. We did not break our promise; we gave Jubaland. [Interruption.] The Italians recognised it the other day. The second assumption is that General Franco will betray allies who alone made victory possible. I do not believe it. I could examine that at greater length but I do not propose to do so. The third assumption is that the Mediterranean will be as open to us as a roadway as it was in the War of 1914–18, that the Straits will be open, and that the narrows at Pantelleria will be open. It made a great difference in the War because we were able to turn the flank of the Central Powers.
2509 The fourth assumption was one to which the Prime Minister rather committed himself and I was rather sorry to hear him; that if Poland gets into trouble we are unable to reach and help her but that Russia would. It is an assumption that Russia will come in sooner or later. I will give at once my definite suggestion to the Government and to the House, and I urge it upon them. If we are going in without the help of Russia we are walking into a trap. It is the only country whose armies can get there. She is the only country whose air fleet can match the German's—some people say it is better. Our air fleet may be quite adequate at the present time for defensive purposes. I am expressing no opinion on that because I have not examined it, but it is not equal to the German air fleet. I have heard a Prime Minister in this House not long ago say— not the present Prime Minister—that our air fleet was 50 per cent. better than the German's and that the Government had resolved to keep it at that figure. Nobody now doubts that the German air fleet is overwhelmingly stronger than it was, but here you have on the eastern borders of Poland an air fleet which is equal to the best the Germans can put forth and with the help of the French and ourselves would quite neutralise the superiority the Germans possess.
When we had the alliance with Russia and France in 1914 there were no ideological scruples. The Russian Government then was an autocratic Government which was thoroughly depraved in its methods; it was a very corrupt administration, and very inefficient. I remember perfectly well that when we examined the matter in 1911 in the Committee of Imperial Defence—there is no harm in saying it now—the late Sir Henry Wilson with his remarkable powers of description told us what the Russian Army was like; yet by their invasion of East Prussia they saved Paris and but for the sacrifice they then made the Germans would not merely have got Paris but might have been now garrisoning the Channel ports and the Belgian ports. That was the work of an inefficient army. I do not say it is now a perfect army but it is an army of 18,000,000 trained men, and of the bravest men in the world. It is a much more educated army. We were dealing with a people 80 per cent. of whom were illiterate. The people who 2510 are now in the army are no longer so. Their equipment was despicable, but it is immeasurably superior now. Look what they are turning out in iron and steel and electricity, the improvements in their transport. It is an immeasurably superior army to that of 1914.
I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves to this tremendous enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion of Russia. The right hon. Member for Epping seemed to express some doubt as to whether they would be prepared immediately to do it. They were committed to support us if Czecho-Slovakia was attacked. They gave a definite assurance that if the French redeemed their pledge to Czecho-Slovakia—we did not give a pledge—they would come to the support of France. I ask the Government to take immediate steps to secure the adhesion of Russia in a fraternity, an alliance, an agreement, a pact, it does not matter what it is called so long as it is an understanding to stand together against the aggressor. Apart from that we have undertaken a frightful gamble, a very risky gamble. With Russia you have overwhelming forces which Germany with her inferior army cannot stand up against. I appeal to the Government with all the earnestness I can command to take steps immediately. If Russia has not been brought into this matter because of certain feelings the Poles have that they do not want the Russians there, it is for us to declare the conditions, and unless the Poles are prepared to accept the only conditions with which we can successfully help them, the responsibility must be theirs.
As for the rest, I am not at all satisfied with our own preparations. I am quite heterodox on the question of National Service. I was in favour in 1911 not of conscription on the Continental basis but in favour of a citizen army like that which you have in Sweden and in Switzerland. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War has asked for an additional 250,000 men. It will take a long time before he gets them, and I am very doubtful whether he will get them—certainly not if this excitement dies down. The government are appealing for volunteers for this and volunteers for that; there are about a dozen different things for which they are asking people to volunteer. The Army has a claim; the Navy, the Air Force and the various 2511 Defence organisations against air attack have their claims. There is a far greater rivalry than there was before 1914. There is a clash of moidering appeals from every quarter. I hope the Government will face the whole of that situation and throw themselves upon the common sense of the country, and determine whether they have a chance of getting a sufficient number of men and of equipping such an Army as they think necessary as partners—as we are now—in one of the most momentous enterprises this country has ever undertaken. I hope that, now the Government have committed them selves to this, they will not try to ex plain it away. I hope they will not evade it by inspired articles in the "Times" —
Mr. Lloyd George
—trimming it here and trimming it there; but I also hope that if they have made up their mind to go through with this policy—and the Prime Minister has said so in most categorical terms, not merely on Friday, but even more clearly to-day—they will also secure such a combination of forces as will ensure an irresistible advance against the aggressor. The right hon. Gentleman said that the freedom of the world is at stake. There is no country that has made greater sacrifices or displayed greater heroism in fighting for human freedom and for international right than this country. I am quite convinced that when the Prime Minister of this country makes his call, as he has done for Britain—and her Empire—to renew their old achievements, they will display such power, such valour, such irresistible might that no enemy can stand before them.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in the speech which he has just made, has, with an authority and an experience which only he can command in this House, surveyed certain aspects of the political and military outlook. If I try to follow him for a moment or two on that subject, it is not because I can claim any comparable authority, but because it seemed to me, as I listened to him, that there were one or two points that might fairly be put not so much in contradiction as in elaboration of what he said, which might give a different 2512 emphasis to the conclusion to which he came. As he spoke of these four eventualities, he seemed to forget the force of his own argument both at the beginning and the end of his speech; that is, the immense influence in the councils of the world, and in political and, consequently, military decisions, to which nations might come, that would arise from the know ledge that this country, with all else that that means, and may mean, has come to certain definite political decisions. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman in tended that the significance of this should be forgotten. There are, then, two matters of detail to which I wish to refer. The right hon. Gentleman said—and I do not think many people will quarrel with his argument—that in the event of war or hostilities between Germany and Poland, probably half of the German army would have to concern itself with the Polish frontier. I think we should probably agree that at least that amount would be contained on the Western front, and if that were so—
Mr. Lloyd George
I said that the German army was at any rate twice as numerous as the Polish, and with regard to the Western frontier, my argument was that the French could not put the whole of their army there, because they would have to fight on three fronts.
§ Mr. Eden
I do not think I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman; the difference seems to be between "twice" and "half." Approximately half of Germany's military power would be contained on the Polish frontier. It is equally true to say, whatever may be the other considerations, that at least half of Germany's military power would be contained on the Western front. If that be so, an offensive either on the Western or the Eastern front would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. This is only a personal expression of opinion to which, naturally, I would not give undue weight.
There is one other very important factor which the right hon. Gentleman left out of account, when he was speaking about the Mediterranean and explaining the difficulties and dangers there. None of us wants to make the position more difficult. There is one very important factor which must not be overlooked in considering the difference between to-day and 1914, and that is a friendly Turkey. The right hon. Gentleman will be the 2513 first to recognise the difference that would have made in the anxious years during the War. Add to this a friendly Egypt, and you have two very important considerations there.
The main purport of the right hon. Gentleman's argument—and with this I entirely agree—was the desirability of trying to secure the best possible relations with the Soviet Government of Russia. I want to say a word or two on that subject. The Government told us—and of course, we accept their assurance— that the attitude of this country towards the Soviet Government is not based on any ideological antipathy. We have continually to remind ourselves in this House that in the conduct of foreign affairs it is really not our business what political colour a Government has, nor even how it conducts itself at home, although it is desperately our business how it conducts itself abroad. That, I take it, is the basis of our approach to the Soviet Government now. I do not consider that attempts to improve our relations with the Soviet Government are a new policy. Four years ago, when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary, I went to Moscow, and at the conclusion of that visit a communique was issued, the terms of which I venture to recall to the House because they are not inappropriate as the basis of our relations at the present time. The communique stated:''There is at present no conflict of interests between the British and Soviet Governments on any of the main issues of international policy.That seems to me to be true, and founding ourselves upon that basis, it should, I hope, be possible for us to have further collaboration with the Soviet Government. There is another aspect of the question which we cannot altogether ignore. It is not only a question of our relations, or the relations of other Western Powers, with the Soviet Government of Russia. In the new work of construction to which the Government are devoting themselves—with the approval of every hon. Member who has spoken—we have to make allowances for the fact that among Russia's neighbours two factors play an important part, geography and history. The Government, and all of us who wish to see this new system— call it what you will—built up among the peace-loving Powers of Europe, have to allow for those feelings and have to do 2514 what we can in order, as we can, to meet them. I think it would be short sighted to take the view that this Eastern question is just a question of what we, or even we and France, can say or do. It is more complicated than that.
I rose principally to say that, for my part, although I was a little doubtful of the wisdom of this Debate, in view of the very delicate negotiations which obviously are going to take place, I am confident that it was more than worth while if only to obtain the most emphatic re-affirmation of his statement of last Friday which the Prime Minister has given us. I am convinced that his speech this afternoon is going to have a most excellent effect among the Powers of Europe. Ten days ago, when the Foreign Secretary made a speech in another place, it seemed to me that that speech forecast a re-orientation of our foreign policy for which, in fact, the changed events of Europe called. That assumption on my part landed me and some of my hon. Friends in trouble with some other of our hon. Friends. But I think it is now clear that that speech and the statement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Friday last were, in fact, a re-orientation of British policy, and a departure from the policy of two years ago, to which my right hon. Friend referred as the Leamington speech. Although in that speech we made allowance for the possibility of further commitments in Eastern Europe, we are now definitely engaged upon this commitment, and let nobody doubt the immense significance of that for this country and for Europe. I do not know that the House has as yet fully appreciated the consequences for us and for our future policy and relations with other lands of the new commitment we have undertaken.
Above all, it seems to me that the justification for the course which the Government are pursuing does not lie in the fact that our forces may be greater than those of somebody else or that this or that check or balance can be arranged; but in that there is no other way to-day by which we can hope to maintain peace. The essential value of this policy lies in its deterrent value, and from that it follows that the greater our own preparedness, the more effective the deterrent and the greater the contribution we can make to peace. That is why I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for 2515 Carnarvon Boroughs in the emphasis which he laid on the subject of re-equipment, and my right hon. Friend also, were absolutely right, because now that we have embarked upon this policy, every phase of our growing strength will mean decreasing chances of anybody daring to challenge us.
I have only one other thing to say. Among other advantages, this policy has united the nation in support of the Government in foreign affairs and that is of immense value to anyone negotiating with foreign Powers. It is a long time since I heard in this House two of the most powerful oratorical gladiators in the House agreeing to approve the policy, at least, upon which the Government were engaged. I do not think I was every quite so lucky myself when I was Foreign Secretary. That is an event the significance of which, I hope, will also not be lost upon Europe. If it be that we are to make this fresh start, with real national unity upon the objectives which we are to attain, I suppose we had better clear the decks and clear the Order Paper too, and if that is desired, my hon. Friends and I will be only too happy to do so. But, above all, I think the Government can rest assured of this, that the Prime Minister's speech interpreted exactly the feelings of the nation at this time. There was a sense of growing exasperation at the situation with which we were being confronted.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about recruits. I do not know, but I happened to be at a meeting in Newcastle on the night on which the Prime Minister spoke, and as far as that city is concerned, I have not the least doubt that the recruits will be forthcoming. Such is the temper of the nation at the present time. But however that may be, we have now this policy upon which the nation has embarked and, in the belief that the Government will pursue it with firmness and without deviation, we shall all wish to do what lies in our power to bring it to a successful conclusion and thus, we trust, avoid that calamity which seems to have been approaching nearer with every month that has passed.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I rise with considerable diffidence to take part in this Debate because the majority of the speeches which 2516 have been made since the Prime Minister sat down have been war speeches and I can see this House of Commons very much in the mood that the House of Commons must have been in during the days preceding August, 1914. I did not take the Prime Minister's speech as a war speech, and I regret the emphasis that has been laid upon that aspect of it. The war element was, I admit, innate in it, but I regret the emphasis that has been laid by others on the war aspect rather than on the very strong peace part of the speech. Indeed, in his finishing sentences the Prime Minister denounced war as strongly as anyone in any other part of the House could do, and I want to bring the House back to that fact.
I ask hon. Members to remember this. I have said it here before and I repeat it now. From 1914 to 1918 we took part in the same kind of struggle as that which has been visualised in the speeches today, and the Allied Powers won. Yet to-day, 20 years after, while the wounded men are still in our midst we are working ourselves up into the belief that war can settle things. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not want to raise undue controversy. I, just as little as any man here, want to say anything which would give comfort to the leader of the German nation. I am at the opposite pole, in every ideal I hold, from what he stands for. I believe in peace, I believe in human liberty, I believe in social equality. He stands for everything that is at the opposite pole from those ideals, and I want to say nothing here that would give him the faintest suggestion of support, because, in circumstances like these, even the most insignificant voice can be made to appear as of first-class importance. I hate everything that the ruler of Germany stands for, but I hate more the thought of millions of young men, who have not really begun to live, being hurled into conflict over something which I am profoundly convinced, in my own mind, will, a few years hence in human history, be found to be something that was not the vital problem of our time.
On a previous occasion I stood, I think fairly strongly, behind the Prime Minister's attitude on a not unimportant international issue. Perhaps he is not requiring my modest help so much to-day as he did on that occasion, but 1 still think that there is a way for Great Britain to get to the German people and the 2517 peoples of the world that would avoid the catastrophe of war. Probably it is difficult, but the road that is being entered upon to-day is a difficult road. I still think that there is a way of getting at the more fundamental issue that has to be solved in the world to-day—the problem of how ordinary people in all lands are to have a chance to live in decent security and comfort. The basic problem of the world to-day is not the problem of frontiers but the problem of poverty, and the German people are as much concerned to find a solution for the problem of poverty as the people of Great Britain, or France or any other land. To me, the approach to that problem seems to be along the lines of trying to develop a new world diplomacy which aims at giving a chance to the peoples of all the nations of the world.
That element, I believe, was in the Prime Minister's speech to-day, and to that extent he has my support. But on the war aspect of it I would only say this. The irrationality of war, the idea of intelligent nations organising themselves to throw millions of tons of scrap iron at one another, is so much against every scrap of common sense that I think I have got, that I cannot work myself up into the mood of offering support for action along those lines. I hope that the new trend that British Government's policy has taken to-day—a war trend—will not become seized in the minds of this country. I cannot deny that in this country there is a different mood among the people from that which there was in September and at the time of Munich. I do not deny that for one minute and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) described it rightly as a mood of exasperation. I do not think we should go to war about exasperation. We should not go to war because we are feeling in a bad temper at the moment. While I admit that the people of this country are in a different mood to-day from what they were in during September, their fundamental, basic desire is the desire for peace, and I do not depart from the view that that is also the mood of the German people. Somebody talked about the strain under which we have been living here. It is nothing to the strain under which the mass of the German people have been living for four or five years. It seems to me that the higher statesmanship of our 2518 time would be that statesmanship which, coming to a world where the masses of the peoples anxiously desire peace and fear war as they never feared war before, and despise war as they never previously despised war—a world aching for peace— tries to use the will of the masses of the people, in all lands, to make secure peace and certainty.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Assheton
I have never before tried, Mr. Speaker, to catch your eye during a Debate upon foreign affairs and I desire to intervene very briefly upon this occasion for one reason only. I have been away from the service of the House on a Royal Commission in the West Indies, for the past six months. I have been in all the British Colonies there; I have also visited many of the colonies of other nations, and I returned through the United States of America. I have had the opportunity therefore of gathering many opinions in the Western Hemisphere. I left this country just after Munich and I have had the advantage of being able to look at the affairs of Europe from a distance and to get a somewhat different perspective of the picture.
Two impressions stand out in my mind above all others. The first is that despite the social and economic troubles from which that part of our Empire is undoubtedly suffering there is in every one of our Colonies there an unshaken loyalty to the home country and the Throne and there are no sections of the West Indian community, whether black, white or coloured, who do not anxiously desire to continue to live under the British flag. No meeting is ever held there, whether it be a meeting of a charitable organisation or a meeting of strikers which does not end with the singing of the National Anthem. Need we doubt that this is but an example of the unity and of the loyalty of the whole Empire. The second impression to which I want to refer to-day is the immense personal prestige which the name of the Prime Minister carries throughout the Western Hemisphere and the enormous respect and admiration which is felt for him. Why is this? I am sure that it is because the whole world is longing for peace and because the Prime Minister's name is associated with peace and the cause of peace.
The reason why the whole Empire is behind the Prime Minister is that they 2519 know that he will do everything that is possible to preserve peace. This is an age, I believe, in which leadership is more vitally important than it has ever been before, and I am sure that hon. Members in every part of the House appreciate this. The great importance of the Prime Minister's leadership lies in this fact, that if he should think it necessary to lead this country into war, which God forbid, all the Empire would follow his lead, because they would know that every possible effort had been made to avoid it, that the great cost would have been counted, and that no other action could, in his view, preserve the safety and the freedom of the Empire. The Prime Minister leads not merely a party, but the country and the Empire and a cause.
I belong to a generation which is counted fortunate by some. I was only 17 when the last War ended, and if it had gone on a month or two longer, I should probably not have been here tonight. A war makes many and varied impressions upon the mind of a schoolboy, and no memory is clearer in my mind than the memory, at the end of every term at school, of saying "Goodbye" to boys who were going away and who, many of them, one knew would not come back. At that time it was the sense of personal loss that was uppermost in one's mind, but 20 years later one realises that what really mattered was the tragic loss of the flower of its youth. No one realises better than the Prime Minister what this loss has meant at the present time, and no one realises more fully than he the catastrophe of another war, which would mean once again the destruction all over the world of the youth from which the leadership of the future should come.
But let no one think that, if war does come, the youth of England will fail her. There are some observers, who see only the surface of things and who do not know the real depths of English character, who may be deceived by our love of pleasure and our love of sport into thinking that we are a decadent generation. The young men may spend too much time at football matches and at the "movies," and the young women may think too much about silk stockings and lipstick, but let no one in any country doubt that if the call comes, they will give their lives as willingly as did their fathers and their 2520 brothers before them in the cause of England and in the cause of freedom.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Sanders
As one who was in the Army from 1914 to 1918, I could speak, had I the ability, as much against war as did the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), who spoke a few minutes ago, and who, I believe, considered, as he had a perfect right to consider, that it was not his duty to take part in that War. I can say from the bottom of my heart that I have as much horror of war, having seen what war means, as he has, but there are some things that to me—I may be wrong—are worse than war, and one of those is to live under the threat at any moment that my country may be overrun and that free peoples like my own may be crushed by an evil influence that has arisen in the world over which we have no control. It is for that reason that I want to occupy the time of the House for a minute or two on certain aspects of the Prime Minister's speech and of the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgeton.
I am sorry to repeat it, but to make my ground good, I must do so, in order that I may speak with the authority of experience. For many years I was the secretary of the British section of the International Socialist movement of the whole world, and there was never a country connected with that association, from Switzerland to Russia, that did not believe on the Socialist side in compulsory military service or military training, on the ground that it was the duty of a Socialist to defend his country if his country was attacked. I would challenge the hon. Member for Bridgeton to go to Germany and to ask the average man there whether, if it was a question of following Hitler and going to war or disobeying Hitler and having peace—I would challenge him to get an answer from the German that he would prefer not to follow Hitler and would be prepared to go into a concentration camp rather than fight.
§ Mr. McGovern
I was in Germany last September, and I met in Austria and in Germany a large number of people who in the event of war would not be prepared to follow Hitler.
§ Mr. Sanders
We have the word of the hon. Member from his own experiences, but I go by the votes that Hitler receives whenever he puts forward a plebiscite, 2521 and I go by the cheers and the support which he gets whenever he makes one of his great militarist speeches. I would say that you can count by the scores only the number of Germans who would not be prepared to follow if he gave the word. I would ask the House to waste no more indignation on the policy of Herr Hitler. It does not shock the German people for a moment. They look upon Herr Hitler as a kind of male Joan of Arc, who has lifted his country out of the slough of despond and placed it in the forefront of the world, and they will be prepared to follow him exactly as the trade unionists and Social Democrats of Germany followed the Kaiser in 1914, when he called upon them to fight for German might and to suppress the attack from Russia, France, and Great Britain. If there was any movement in Germany against Herr Hitler such as you had in Ireland against ourselves, where is the evidence? All the people in Germany who are opposed to Herr Hitler are in concentration camps, where the hon. Member for Bridgeton would be very soon if he was a German and uttered the speech that he made this afternoon.
We have no reason to doubt what the German leader stands for. In 1914 there was a German bible which gave them inspiration from the ruling classes and from them downward to the German people. It was a book, now forgotten, that played an immense part in rousing the military spirit of Germany, and that was Herr Bernhardi's book, "Weltmacht oder Niedergang"—"World Power or Downfall." The Germans have now another bible, which any Member of the House can now buy unexpurgated— "Mein Kampf"—and there you have the devilish doctrine supported that the only influence that has any weight in international politics is force and that Herr Hitler is going to use that force on every possible occasion where he thinks that by so doing he can add to the power of Germany. We need not be surprised at what has happened. It is all planned out, and the further plans are there for everyone to read. It must be remembered that that book is not simply a book read by a few people. Its circulation in Germany is compulsory, and millions upon millions of copies of that book have been distributed among the German people to be the inspiration of what Germany may become if she will only follow the leadership of 2522 this, as I have called him, to the Germans male Joan of Arc, who is going to be the salvation and at the same time the glory of modern Germany.
I ask the House not to waste any moral indignation on Herr Hitler and the German people. It is no good wasting moral indignation on a tiger, and there is as as much humanity and as much belief in the softer side of human nature in Herr Hitler and his advisers as there is in a tiger. The intellectual classes of Germany are educated to believe that the State is and must be all-powerful. Over and over again in Germany, in the universities that I attended, I heard the Hegelian quotation that the State, meaning the Prussian State, was the march of God through the world. What we can say, I think equally is that to us the march of Hitler's State through the world has been a satanic procession during the last three years. I therefore urge the House to consider most seriously what the new policy of the Prime Minister and the majority behind him means. It means that we have to take the situation from the point of view of national defence more seriously even than in 1914, because we had had no lesson then and we have had several lessons since. For my part, I would ask the most powerful voice in this country to make an appeal such as was made in 1914 to the volunteers to come forward, not in tens of thousands but in hundreds of thousands, to be registered to be called up if required, and equipped and trained as fast as the Government can supply the necessary training and equipment. I would put no limit to the number of men to be registered as willing as volunteers to fight for the things that many of us hold more deeply and strongly than we do the fear of death or the fear of war.
Then I want to say a word about Russia. When I was in the Army part of my service was in Russia, and I went all round the south-western front for a thousand miles. I saw then hundreds of thousands of men, and addressed mighty meetings of ten of thousands of soldiers, some of the finest men in the mass physically I have ever seen. Why were they beaten? Because the leadership was incompetent, because the equipment was poor, and because the whole of the Government of Russia under the Tsars had been corrupt, and worse than corrupt. I remember talking with General Russky and General Gurko at Dvinsk and Minsk, 2523 and both of them said that while the Allies were throwing shells at barbed wire, the Russian generals were throwing men armed simply with sticks and stones. And even in May, 1917, when I was there, the army was still intact, and if we had played our game properly at that time most likely that army would never have succumbed to the German machinations which led to the distastrous Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
I do not believe that the Russian Army is in that position to-day. At that time I do not think they had a single available aeroplane. Now we are told by people who ought to know that their air service is equal to that of Germany, if not greater and stronger. We know very well that the Russian people are now filled with a desire to fight for what they have gained—for that which they did not possess in the struggle of 1914, when many of them said to us, "England will fight Germany to the last drop of Russian blood." They do not feel like that today. They will not fight for England, they will not fight for France, but what they will fight for is for the principle of a Russia which to them, if not to us, represents the ideal of the great mass of the Russian people, and which has inspired them with a new life. So I add my appeal to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that the Government will do its utmost to show to Russia that this time the Government are sincere in their promise to stand by threatened nations, and that we will keep our word even though the "Times" may try to whittle away the value of that word.
Then my final point is on the question of National Service. I, personally, have no prejudice against national military training—none at all. I have seen little Switzerland, a country which is as free as ours, saying to its young men, "You have got something worth fighting for in your freedom. Come and be military-trained," and they come. And if there is any country in Europe I would take my hat off to to-day it is that little country, with the hell hounds of Hitler on one side and the forces of Mussolini on the other, mining its roads, calling up its men and defying those two great Powers—and meaning it, if there is any trust to be placed in the heroic history of Switzerland.
2524 But there is no need at the present time for conscription or compulsory military service in this country. Before conscription was introduced in this country in 1916 and before the War Office accepted my services, I was chairman of a Committee to inquire into the complaints that were sent up to the Trades Union Congress concerning the misdoings of contractors who were supposed to be supplying shelter and food and clothing to our volunteers; and it was quite evident that for 12 months the voluntary system supplied more men to the British Army than the trainers and the providers of the British Army could really properly train and equip. There were ghastly stories brought to me, as chairman of that committee, of men who had volunteered— not conscripts—packed into huts which, instead of having properly jointed flooring, were made with green wood, and the wind swept up between the boards and gave hundreds of men pneumonia, so that in some camps they were dying like flies. What is the good of demanding compulsory military service when you are not able yet to give the necessary food and shelter even to the number of men who want to volunteer?
I conclude by saying once again that all that is required at the present moment to back up what the Prime Minister has said is for a great appeal to go to the country asking every available man and woman to show by their willingness to give some form of National Service voluntarily that they are behind the proposal that the Government should take the lead —not in declaring war but in calling upon all the nations that desire to preserve their liberty and freedom to come together in a great effort to try once more—although it may be in vain, nevertheless to try—to stamp out this evil in the world that has reared its head again, and threatens the very foundations of civilisation.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson
In following the hon. Member for North Battersea (Mr. Sanders), I wish merely to add my pebble to that great bastion of support which the Prime Minister must feel that he has now behind him. I think it is only fair and fitting that those of us who criticised the Munich Agreement should admit that at one point at least we made a miscalculation. We grossly underestimated 2525 the effect which the Prime Minister's visits to Germany would have upon the German population. I see now that the impression derived by the German people from the presence in their midst of that resolute pacifist, that determined civilian, is an impression which has sunk so deep and so wide into the German consciousness that no propaganda, no artifice on the part of Dr. Goebbels, no injection of fear and of envy, of hatred or of malice, into the exhausted veins of the German public will remove from their minds and their memories the consciousness that that statesman visited them for one purpose only, namely, the avoidance of war. I think we must admit, those of us who criticised Munich at the time, that although that Agreement left us later with so many disillusions and such grave disappointments, that personal impression remains. It will be the Prime Minister's great justification in history; and for today it remains one of our greatest assets. Let us exploit that asset.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for North Battersea, who referred to the state of opinion in Germany to-day. I have been at great pains, as have other Members, to try to discover what really is the state of German opinion. This is one of the most useful tasks that a person who has lived, as I have, for many years in Germany can fulfil at this moment. I think the German state of mind can be defined to-day as a nerve-stricken apathy: the nerves of that country, which have been tortured with these injections of ambition, glory, excitement, adventurism, fear, terror, and hatred, have become overcharged; the response to those injections is daily becoming less immediate; and the drugs which have hitherto been injected have to be increased in strength. But to that apathy certain new elements have in the last few months been added. We must recognise, and it is only fair to recognise, that the persecution of the Jews created in the minds of all decent Germans—and the vast majority of Germans are decent people—feelings not merely of repulsion, not merely of horror, but of actual personal shame. It is right that in this House we should always remember, however terrible were those atrocities, however appalling was the cold and deliberate sadism—there is no other word—behind those atrocities, that they were due to a very small class 2526 of Germans, and that the great mass of the people regarded them with repulsion and distaste. Well, the effect of those persecutions upon the German public has been to a certain extent to shake the legend, the glamour, the spell of the Nazi system. Many Germans of all classes have felt, "If this is really what our rulers are standing for, something has gone wrong with their education and ours." That was the exact phrase a German used to me the other day. That is the first thing.
The second thing that has brought about this change of feeling in Germany is, curiously enough, the violation of the Munich Agreement. It is true that the German conception of what they call national honour is not exactly the same as our conception of what we call national honour. They do not attribute to the pledged word of their country the extreme importance that we attribute to our pledged word; but, none the less, there does remain in the German mind a conception that this Treaty was signed in circumstances of the utmost publicity and of great personal drama by the head of their State and the head of our Government. That the head of their State should take up that agreement and tear it to pieces in the eyes of all the world is to them a rather shocking thing to happen.
That has had its effect, but it is not merely the tearing up of that treaty signed by the two statesmen and published in every paper in the world that has had its effect. The seizure and annexation of Bohemia and Moravia have violated their belief in their own bible, "Mein Kampf," in the whole doctrine of Hitler himself. That has been a profound shock, because they say that this thing is wrong according to the doctrine of their own leader. A German told me the other day that the people in the cafes were horrified at seeing a photograph of Herr Hitler shaking hands with General Sirovy because they had been told up to the last moment and in the previous edition of the paper in which the photograph appeared that he was one of the deepest died assassins the world had ever seen. That has had its effect. Although I think that German opinion is now apathetic in regard to new adventures, and although its old blind confidence has been to some extent undermined, I do not believe for one minute that we or anybody can at this 2527 stage arouse the German people to resist their present rulers. The organisation is not there; the will is not there, Eighty-five per cent. of the German people are absolutely and entirely behind the Nazi Government. Let us have no illusions about that. But there are doubts, and it is our duty to explain our policy, but not—as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said—to explain it away. I do not wish to exaggerate; but I fear that if there is one thing which can galvanise the tired muscles, the exhausted nerves of the German people, it is the fear of encirclement. Do not let us under-estimate that for a minute.
§ Mr. Stephen
Does the hon. Gentleman ask the House to believe that all those millions of Communists and Socialists in Germany are now behind the Hitler Government?
§ Mr. Nicolson
I do not know the exact proportion of the Communist and Socialist parties in Germany compared to the 80,000,000 population, but I am certain that they are all against it. I do not wish to enter into that argument, because I would be delighted to agree with the hon. Gentleman in any proportions he could give me. I am trying to diminish the optimism of those who imagine that the present system can be upset by an internal movement.
§ Mr. Nicolson
I doubt whether it is 40 per cent. to-day. To continue my argument, I was saying that it is important that we should not under-estimate the fear aroused in the German public by the conception of encirclement. We here know perfectly well that the Prime Minister is quite incapable or unwilling to encircle anything. We think it ridiculous to pretend that our Government at any moment wishes to attack Germany. It is as if they argued that a rabbit was anxious to attack a python. If the German people have the idea that Great Britain wishes to attack Germany, it is very silly and foolish.
We argue also—and rightly argue—that the Germans have brought encirclement on themselves. It is perfectly true, they have. But that is merely getting back to 2528 that old vicious circle round which the German problem has always revolved. It resides in the fact that they believe profoundly that force is the dominant factor in international affairs, that they, by using force, produce a reaction, and that the reaction produces coalitions agains them. Then they claim that they are encircled. It has always been like that. They have always driven people into alliances with countries with whom in ordinary circumstances they would not like to be allied. In 1907 we were driven into an agreement with Russia, and there were many hon. Members belonging to progressive parties who regarded that as a most disastrous but terrible necessity imposed upon us by the action of Germany. The same situation is arising in different terms to-day, but it is no good our saying that no British Government would try to encircle Germany and that it is all Germany's fault. The point is that alliances between the West and the East have a neurotic effect upon the German people and induce claustrophobia.
The suggestion I wish to make in this Debate is that we should realise that every step that can possibly be taken, every penny that can possibly be spent, on trying to explain to the German people the real meaning of our present policy of eastern alliances should be adopted, and spent not only lavishly but immediately. The B.B.C. broadcasts in German are having a great success. They are being widely listened to, and I do not see how they can be improved either in matter or in manner. I think, also, that the British Council in other directions is doing admirable work under the dynamic leadership of Lord Lloyd. These measures, however, are not being pressed with sufficient power.
I believe firmly that the three great advantages that we possess, and which the totalitarian States do not possess, are, first, our sea power; secondly, the mobility of our financial and economic resources; and, thirdly, our point of view. That brings me back to what I said at the beginning about the asset of the Prime Minister's civilian presence as a symbol of our point of view. If we could now, as we shall have to do if war breaks out, organise and co-ordinate every source and agency of propaganda that we possess and pour into that work all the information, 2529 experience and intelligence that we have and all the funds that we can possibly spend, I believe that, without provoking in any way the hostility of the German people, who are ordinarily a pacific race, we shall gradually convince them that we do not stand for any purpose of destroying their principles, or of driving them to the abyss of destruction, or of depriving them of any of their interests or their rights, but that we should show them that our point of view is a state of order under which they will be able to attain that tranquillity of mind which is the normal state in which human nature finds its ease.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I rise to bring to the attention of the House one matter which seems to have been neglected for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that we must have a change of method. Another hon. Member asked the Government again about a Ministry of Supply. I want to ask the Government whether a Minister of Supply would get some estimate of the Empire's resources. One who reads books which are distributed among the German youth to-day continually finds the complaint that Germany has been deprived of raw materials. It appears to be practically the whole of her case that she has been deprived, primarily by Great Britain, of adequate supplies of raw materials, and that, therefore, she has to take some method of getting these materials in her own way. I think that there was a little justification for one statement in Herr Hitler's speech the other day. He was referring to a passage in the Prime Minister's statement in which he assured Germany that we wished to do everything we could to help her. Herr Hitler said that we had had years in which to do that and nothing had been done. I think it is true when Germany was willing to work decently with other nations we did not deal with her problems. We have known all along that Germany did not have access to adequate supplies of raw materials, and nothing was done to help her. Naturally, she fears that she may be deprived of adequate supplies.
Germany is not the strongest of nations in the world, as is so frequently said, but positively the weakest of the great 2530 nations when her strength is estimated in reality. Of all the great nations in the world Germany is the poorest in the supply of essential raw materials. That prompts us to two things—first that we have a right to consider Germany's position; and, second, that if we were to say to-day that we would no longer continue to supply her with materials with which to build her armaments, but that we would, if she would change her methods and stop the savagery of war, guarantee her adequate supplies. I cannot see why the Government should not make such a definite promise to Germany at the time they tell Germany that we are not going to stand for any more of this aggression. We had a remarkable speech by the present Home Secretary at Geneva in 1935, in which he agreed that this matter should be dealt with, and, in fact, promised that it would be dealt with, but it has never been done. Many statements have been made in the meantime, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there must be a very thorough investigation, that it was to be vigorous, complete, remorseless and urgent. I do not know whether he had in mind the particular problem of Germany, or just our own problems.
I suggest that we can do two things at the same time. First, we can say to Germany that we shall refuse to deliver further materials with which to build armaments; and, second, that we will guarantee her adequate supplies of raw materials if she will agree to negotiate in a decent manner with other nations. One is bound to say that their claim for colonies from that point of view is entirely unfounded. If Germany were to have all the colonies belonging to all the other nations in the world she would still have an infinitesimal supply of raw materials. She would have too much rubber and too much copper, but very little more of all the other things which are essential. Anyone who takes the trouble to look into this matter will find that there are 25 essential raw materials. To emphasise this point I will read a remarkable passage from a book written some years ago by Francis Williams which is worthy to be put on record:Although by his industrial achievements modern man has created a new world, he has in doing so built for himself a prison. He has defeated space and cheated time and made the land and the sea and the air his servants. He has shrunk the proud earth to the 2531 dimensions of a turning globe his voice can girdle, but in making himself the master of matter he has made himself also the prisoner of a dozen or so metals.That is true. I will read to the House a list of these essential materials, because sometimes one is challenged about them, and I should like the list to be put on record to see whether anyone will challenge it. The essential raw materials are: Aluminium, antimony, cadmium, chrome, coal, cotton, copper, fluorspar, graphite, iron ore, lead ore, magnesite, manganese, mica, molybdenum, nickel, petroleum, platinum, quicksilver, rubber, sulphur, tin, tungsten, wool and zinc. The British Empire has adequate supplies of all but four, America has adequate supplies of twelve of them, but no other country has more than four, except, perhaps, Russia—and I hope that will make some impression upon the powers-that-be. Germany has only four. She has no oil, and is utterly dependent upon the British Empire for nickel and for a great number of the other things.
This is the second fact which I want to impress upon the House—the Government ought to make no mistake about it, because the country is disturbed by it—that the vast armaments possessed by Germany, Italy and Japan to-day have been built mainly out of British materials and, as an hon. Member reminds me, British finance. That is a ghastly reflection of which the Government must take notice. At this time not a thing is being done to prevent such materials going to the country which is threatening the peace of the world. I have been concerned, and have mentioned the matter on several occasions, about our own position as regards supplies of pig-iron. My constituency manufactures nothing else but pig-iron and steel, and in the last 18 months we have seen our furnaces going out one after the other and unemployment has been increased by 50 per cent, in the last year or so, and yet in the midst of the crisis we sold 100,000 tons of British pig-iron to Germany. That is sheer lunacy. As one Member rightly said, it will come back again—perhaps in another form. That is a terrible reflection. I am told that we cannot do anything about it, that to interfere is something that is "just not done." I know that any action we took might interfere a little with the trade of certain 2532 people and interfere with certain profits, but we have to consider at this stage whether we are going through with this thing on the basis of having more consideration for profits than for the sacrifice of human life.
If the English-speaking peoples stand together, then, in view of the supplies of raw materials which they control, it is not possible for any combination of Powers to make war for any length of time. Why should we not at least consider the question of controlling our own supplies of raw materials? It seems almost providential that they happen to be in the control of the English-speaking peoples. We have 75 per cent, of all raw materials controlled by the British Empire, and yet we have to see nations building up vast armaments with which to threaten the entire world just because we will not say, "If you behave like this we shall not let you have the materials with which to build up those armaments."
§ Mr. Marcus Samuel
Does the hon. Member propose a policy of sanctions by the British Empire alone against Germany, or Italy or Japan?
§ Mr. Edwards
I am not proposing anything of the kind. I am asking the Government to consider the point that these materials are under our control and whether the time has not come when we should consider their use. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs suggested a new method. If we are to see every strategic point taken from us, one after the other, are we still going to say that we cannot use these strategic assets of ours? Obviously it is the only answer we can make, and perhaps this will be the last opportunity this Empire of ours will have to take that step. Now that the United States has taken the first step in applying, if you like to put it that way, sanctions, by saying that she will not supply these materials, surely it is time "that we made a response.
I travelled about America for three months and spoke to a great many people in the isolationist parts, in the Middle-Western States, and I found that isolationism was manifestly disappearing. After Munich our stock was at zero, but now it is rapidly rising, and if the Prime Minister will show himself as eager for collective security as he was for appeasement I believe he can turn this time in 2533 which we live from what seems to be the twilight of civilisation to the dawn of civilisation. Is he going to do it? He cannot do it unless he will consider this problem. If war broke out we should at once stop all supplies to Germany, and why should we not stop supplies for the preparations for war? Germany has not any supplies of oil. Let any hon. Member look at the map and ask himself where she will get her supplies of oil. She can, of course, stock a certain amount of oil, but she must have Rumania's oil. Obviously she wants Rumania's oil. Czecho-Slovakia was not an end in itself, but a springboard for further encroachments. She must have Rumania's oil, but even that will go only a small way. In time of war Germany will require about 15,000,000 tons of oil. The whole export of Rumania is less than 6,000,000 tons of oil, and Germany will not have it all. I am glad that we have made an agreement with Rumania to take part, and France has also agreed to take part.
The book which is given to German youth, the Nazi primer, shows very clearly that Germany is really poverty stricken in the matter of supplies. Ninety per cent. of her iron ores have to be imported. I will not weary the House with a list of all the materials, because they can be easily ascertained, but if any hon. Member is interested I can give him a book or two on the subject. The Germans admit that, excluding present stocks, they are the weakest nation of all nations in the matter of supplies, and one of their justifications for threatening the world is to get access to other supplies. It simplifies our problem, but let us be fair to Germany at the same time as we are strong. If we withhold supplies she cannot carry on for very long, but if we continue to let her have all the supplies which she requires of those materials which happen to be within our possession within the British Empire, then I am afraid that we shall be asking for a good deal of trouble in the future.
I must mention one other point with regard to supplies of oil. I want to warn the Government against the elements which are operating against any such scheme as I am suggesting. Naturally, the vested interests are bound to put up a fight. We are in a situation where we ourselves might run out completely of all supplies of oil—that is not an impossibility in the view of anybody who has 2534 studied the position—but although we have proved that we can produce oil in this country the Government refuse to do anything further about it. They appointed a committee to investigate the subject, but appointed on it only those who are interested in the importation of oil, a group of people who make £18,000,000 a year profit. Really, they are not the persons to study the problem. Rather than forgo that profit I believe they are running this country into the very serious, very grave position in which we shall not have adequate supplies of oil if we do get into trouble, because it takes time to make oil from coal, and yet we have the largest supplies of coal in the whole world.
America has taken a stand in refusing to allow certain materials to go abroad. What was the situation in America last year? The President was sending Notes to Japan protesting against the brutal murder of the Chinese people, the American Red Cross was sending cargoes of medical equipment to succour the wounded Chinese, and at the same time the industrialists were sending cargoes of munitions to Japan to keep up the supply of wounded Chinese. That is happening also in this country. We have not yet begun a war, but we are assisting in the piling up of armaments by another country which is threatening us, and if the Government want us to accept their sincerity in this matter it is essential that they should go into this question immediately and say whether they will or will not tell Germany, "We refuse to supply any further materials for the manufacture of armaments." Two days before Hitler told us that he was going to march into Czecho-Slovakia a cargo of 4,000 tons of British copper left a Canadian port for a German port—and we might have been at war within a week. Apparently, nobody was in a position to say that that material was not to go to Germany. I think that it was turned back actually by Germany herself, because she did not want to risk losing it; but we took no step to prevent it arriving at its destination in Germany.
"We in this country cannot match the barbarism of the present controllers of Germany. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs the colossal problem we have set up. The fact is that we are still sending immense cargoes of materials to strengthen our 2535 potential enemies. I should like to hear from the Minister to-night whether we are going to do something about that immediately. If we do it will be making use of the greatest asset we have, and I venture to suggest that we shall see something of a change on the other side. People tell me that by taking such action we may so enrage Germany that she will declare war. I would still have us declare that as long as she pursues her present policy we will not continue to supply her with raw materials. I think I can best illustrate the effect by the old story of the Irishman who began to chase a bull around a haystack. Before very long he found to his dismay that the bull was chasing him. On this occasion it may be John Bull, and I hope that John Bull will show Germany that we are the most powerful Empire the world has ever known—and there is no question about that from the point of view of our resources of raw materials—and that we do control the destinies of our own Empire, and that providing other countries agree to act in a civilised manner, we will guarantee them access to the whole of those resources, but that if they do not accept that gesture, they will get no more raw materials from us with which to build up their armaments.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter
It is customary among the critics of this House to say that the great days of debate are no more and that our present legislators are a commonplace lot. I agree that that is foolish criticism, for to-day we have surely had a Debate which will make us proud to be Members of this historic assembly. At the end of this week I have to broadcast to the Empire a description of this House. It will give me great pleasure to tell those who listen—if any are unfortunate enough to be listening to me— that men whose names are famous throughout the world and some whose names will become more famous in time, have turned this House into a council of State and have given us the privilege and the benefit of their experience and of their great position in the world. I would not say that the contributions of our Privy Councillors have been equally successful. The leader of the Liberal opposition spent most of his time, regrettably so, casting the greatest possible doubt upon the efficacy of the Government to which he 2536 was pledging his support. Support of that kind is not very encouraging.
I did my best to follow the discussion and the plan of action of that great figure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). Everyone in this House respects him so much for what he was, and is so often puzzled by what he is. If his speech meant anything it was to warn every small nation in Europe to have nothing to do with the alliance which this Government have concluded. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Well, I will put it this way: if I were the prime minister of a small European State I would read the right hon. Gentleman's speech as saying, "Do not come in on any account until you have got Russia"—the right hon. Gentleman's great secret. That is a fair estimate of the speech. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] It was a speech strongly calculated to discourage our friends and greatly to encourage our enemies. Otherwise the speeches that we have heard have been most helpful.
To my great pleasure the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken added one factor which was missing from every other speech. While we heard a great deal about the Soviet Government and many other countries, no other hon. Member mentioned the United States of America, yet it would be most unwise of us to discount the part which America must play. Herr Hitler, looking out on the line-up of the countries against him cannot leave out the United States. I agree with the hon. Member that there is a strong section of opinion in America which was shocked by Munich. That is true, and some of the worst examples we have ever seen of unfair journalism emanated from there as a result. But there is also a very strong section, although it is more quiet, which thought that the Prime Minister did right. I lived for the first part of my life next to America, and I know Americans as well as I know my fellow-Canadians.
There is the danger in this country of not understanding the real spirit of the United States of America. The psychology of that Republic is clear and simple. Whenever Americans are greatly moved, their emotion comes from idealism. It would be wrong to deny that that is so. America owes its very existence to its fight against tyranny. When the North and South War was fought, it 2537 was to free the negro slaves, and when America came into the last War it was because she believed that the tyranny of Germany had to be beaten. It is a great mistake for those who have little minds to say that America came into the last War to save the money she had invested. America came in because of her great spirit. Think of the component parts of the nation. Talk about minorities; did ever a country have to consider the opinion of so many powerful minorities? It is in some ways a miracle that America came into the last War at all, and it is very wrong for any of us to sneer at her delay. In the next war if America is in sympathy, on our side, or even though she were no more than a friendly neutral, she would play an enormous part in defeating Germany.
I have only one or two small points yet to make. I wish the Government would consider one aspect of National Service. I fail to understand the arguments of those who are against conscription. The Government would be wise, if we are to have voluntary service and not conscription—and I should be glad if the responsible Minister would put this point to the Government—to give a medal or a ribbon to the volunteers to wear on their clothes. [AN HON. MEMBER: "The white feather."] If there were a war they could wear the badge or ribbon on their uniforms. The hon. and gallant Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg) has fought a good fight for conscription and I hope he agrees with me. I would like to see people wear the badge with their civilian clothes and with their uniforms when they volunteer. If we are going to have voluntary service let us do it with distinction, and give men encouragement to come up now.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
I should like to be clear whether the hon. Member is proposing his medal or ribbon in order to attract men to voluntary service or to shame those who do not come.
§ Mr. Baxter
I would answer "Both." We must encourage those who volunteer and we must discourage and shame those who do not. It may sound cruel and going back to the white feather game of 1914, but it would be a very good thing. AH shades of opinion in this House and the country—I would like to think that that included even the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), 2538 who has come back to the Front Bench— [AN HON. MEMBER: "He has never been away from it"]—it is very difficult for us to follow his movements—are agreed on two or three points. The first is that this country will not accept security or peace with dishonour. The second is that the House and the country will be ready to support compulsory National Service when the Government come to it. The third point is that we have to get back to the League of Nations, or to a league of justice or a league of assistance.
In reviewing this Debate we ought to give great credit to the courage and magnanimity of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who has fought for those ideals. I think we should approach Germany and Italy to join in that league. The claustrophobia of Germany is very dangerous. Her fear of encirclement is real, but she would have to come into the league on the condition that the future status of Bohemia should be decided by a committee of the league, whether it had to remain in the Reich or become independent once more. Nothing would drive a wedge more firmly between the German Government and the German people than an open offer to show our good will. Also that plan might permit Italy to come into the league and thus weaken the axis that is not easy for Italy to get rid of. I put that idea before the House.
Another thing that we ought now to admit, although the Prime Minister's policy of appeasement has failed, and bitterly failed, is that he was right to try it. I think we are morally stronger in the world to-day than we should have been if we had chanced everything in September. I speak as one who comes from the outer Empire. The Prime Minister has endured taunts and humiliation. He has suffered the supreme disillusionment of the man he trusted trying to make a fool of him. That has happened, but the very fact that he has endured so much makes him a great leader for us all to follow. On this side of the House we are profoundly grateful for the statesmanlike speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The time has come when, for a little while at any rate, we can sink our differences and accentuate our measure of agreement.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
It is well for the serenity of mind of the hon. Member who has just spoken that I did not speak before he did, because I propose to spend all my time in casting doubt upon the efficacy of the Government. In the hopeful expectation as to the turn of policy that has been expressed by the Government, neither the House nor the country will, I hope, fail to remember that this is not the first time that the Government are giving an appearance of making some attempt to hold up the aggression of the Fascist States. Similar gestures have been made in the past upon at least two occasions in order to satisfy public opinion in this country—two most important occasions, and events proved afterwards the complete insincerity of the words that had then been used. I refer first of all to what was said at the last Election and in the course of the betrayal of Abyssinia which followed. Constant professions of loyalty to collective security were made, both in this House and at Geneva, especially by the then Foreign Secretary. The policy of non-intervention in Spain was heralded as one of justice and impartiality, with every profession of honest purpose behind it, yet in both those cases the betrayal was complete and was made the more nauseating by the excuses that were continued week after week and month after month, excuses by which the aggressors were continually encouraged to proceed with their aggression. Now, after so many free countries have been surrendered to the threatening violence of the dictatorships of Europe and to the brutalities of Fascist conquest, another profession of belief in a limited form of collective security is forthcoming, and there is no more reason to trust the reality of this profession than of those earlier ones, especially as the circumstances of it are now far more difficult.
A little over a fortnight ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on behalf of the Government, was explaining to the House at great length, and presumably with deep conviction, after the final fall of Czecho-Slovakia had taken place, why this country could not and should not take on any further commitments whatsoever. Now it is suggested by this Government that such commitments must be undertaken. This reputed change of outlook can hardly inspire anyone with the enthusiasm of the Govern- 2540 ment for their newly discovered responsibilities. Owing to the complete failure, which has just been confessed by the hon. Gentleman opposite, of the policy of the Government—a failure prophesied by everyone on this side of the House for months and years—already Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Spain have been conquered and added to the Fascist International as strategical bases for further attack and aggression upon the Western Powers, and, within the terms of the guarantee now offered to Poland, another Munich can be achieved against that country with complete ease and honesty. Surely the Government which has taken part in these successive surrenders to Fascism, because of its fundamental sympathy with the aims of Fascism, is hardly a fit instrument to rally the world to save democracy and freedom.
On every occasion in the past on which the Government have been urged—and they have been urged on many occasions —to take some action in the direction which they themselves are now suggesting, they have refused, and have poured abuse through their propaganda machine upon the Opposition for making such proposals, accusing them of being warmongers and peace-breakers. The dishonesty and the folly of such accusations have now made themselves apparent. The process of organising a collective defence against Fascism has become progressively more difficult as the area of democracy has been lessened and the area of the resources of Fascism has been increased. What six years, or four years, or even one year ago would have been the comparatively easy task of organising an overwhelmingly strong anti-Fascist group of Powers, is now an infinitely more difficult undertaking. For that change of circumstances, for that weakening of our defensive position in Europe in particular, this Government is largely responsible. Czecho-Slovakia, with its highly mechanised army of 1,500,000, with its strongly fortified positions in the Bohemian mountains, with its 1,500 aeroplanes and its strategic position between France and Russia, is no longer there as an ally and an upholder of democracy. The price of Munich, I believe, has still to be paid, and if may turn out to be a very great price of suffering and tragedy for the world.
§ Sir S. Cripps
The hon. and learned Member would have been just as prepared to give the guarantee at that date, when Czecho-Slovakia was still an ally, as he would to-day to Poland. After the Prime Minister has himself confessed the folly of his past actions, it is not the time for his supporters now to try to excuse him. France, England and Poland may form a group strong enough to preserve the independence of Poland, provided that war is risked in doing it, but that is not the only point where the spread of Fascism is to be feared. If the preservation of the independence of Poland means nothing more than was meant by the preservation of the independence of Czechoslovakia, of which the Prime Minister boasted on his return from Munich last September, there is very little value in the guarantee that has been given. What the Government is now finding itself forced to do, or to make a gesture of doing, for the protection of the interests of this country, admits conclusively the wisdom of a proper policy of collective security such as the Opposition have been trying to induce it to adopt ever since, in 1931, Japan went into Manchuria. The dishonesty of the warmongering accusations has now been demonstrated beyond all possible doubt, and the least that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite could do would be to make a public apology and a recantation of this false propaganda by which they have attempted, unfortunately with some measure of success on some occasions, to mislead the people of this country as regards foreign policy.
Whatever may now be the professions of the Government, it would in my view be foolish of anyone to place faith in them, in the light of the Government's actions during the last six years. Those actions have shown a complete carelessness for and disregard of those principles of democracy, liberty and freedom which we regard as basic to our civilisation. The Government's only concern has been the interests of those whom they so ably represent in this House—the vested interests of British finance, industry and land. The attitude adopted by the Government towards the totalitarian countries, with their brutal suppression of all freedom and liberty and their sadistic persecution of other races, has been quite uncritical; indeed, it has been friendly, if not encouraging. Fundamentally, the National Government and its supporters 2542 have sympathy with the totalitarian view that it is necessary to suppress the common people and take away their freedom in order to save capitalism and Imperialism. That is why they have permitted democracy after democracy to be sacrificed to Fascist aggression. An hon. Member opposite laughs. What of Austria? What of Czecho-Slovakia? What of Spain? I know that the hon. Member approves of the policy, so naturally he laughs.
For the National Government, the problem is purely and only that of protecting their British supporters, and not that of saving the principles of democracy and freedom, which means, indeed, the saving of civilisation itself. They have disregarded throughout, and have boasted of disregarding, the ideological struggle that is proceeding in the world; and, as the ideology of democracy, liberty, justice, international law and order means nothing to them compared with their own interests, now, when they turn to the problem of protecting Poland, it is with a view to the strategical problems of this country, and not in the least because they desire to uphold democracy against Fascism. Indeed, many of them and of their supporters would be only too glad to use this opportunity of crisis to introduce measures of compulsion and suppression into our own country, on the best and most efficient Fascist model, as is being done already by their friends in France, to the great detriment of the working class and to the enormous profit of the armament and other manufacturers. It would be poor comfort to the British workers if the price of their protection of the vested interests of this country were to be the loss of their own liberties and their own freedom.
The true democrat to-day, I believe, regards the ideological struggle as the real essence of the present world situation. While deeply concerned with the safety of this country, as still the home of democracy and freedom, he has throughout the last eight years been most conscious that freedom, like peace, is indivisible in the world, and that, if it is sacrificed or allowed to perish in any other country, its maintenance in our own country becomes more and more difficult. He realises that the democrats of Spain and Austria and Czecho-Slovakia were our surest allies to preserve our own freedom, 2543 and their defence ought to have been our greatest interest in this country. That, unfortunately, has not been the view taken by the National Government, nor is it the view that they now take. I believe that the kite-flying articles in the "Times" are more truly representative of the views of this Government than the statements put out to contradict them by the Foreign Office.
We on this side of the House regard it as vital that every effort should be made at once in the direction of saving the democracies of the world, and that risks, if necessary, must be accepted in so doing —risks which have been largely created by the follies of the National Government during the last eight years. We have no desire, on the plea of national crisis, to copy the model of what is happening in France, and hand over supreme power to suppress all working-class freedom to a National Government which is in sympathy with Fascist dictators and which represents the interests of people like the Federation of British Industries, who chose the day upon which Hitler's troops entered Prague to sign their agreement with their opposite numbers in Germany, entirely careless of the overthrow of democracy in Czecho-Slovakia and of the breach of every pledge that had been given by the German Government. Yet that, I believe, is the danger which overshadows this country to-day. If this Government remains in power, with the tacit Support of the Opposition parties, it will be compelled to take measures to force the people into its support, since their distrust of the Government will very probably prevent them from giving that support willingly. Already the cry for conscription is being raised in the Press, and inside this House as well. On the other hand, the Government are making efforts to prove that the voluntary system has not yet broken down, and in those efforts the main Opposition parties have been summoned and have come to the aid of the Government, so as to give the appearance of a united front for National Service.
The reason why the Government have been forced into this position is that their own behaviour, in foreign, imperial and domestic policies, during their entire term of office has deprived them of the confidence and support of the mass of the 2544 workers in this country. That is why, all over the country to-day, resolutions against the National Register have been passed by working-class organisations of every kind, representing millions of workers. The agenda of the forthcoming conference of the Labour party contains more resolutions condemning the National Register than on any other point, and there is not a single one supporting it. This, I believe, is the true reflection of the disgust of the people with the policies of the Government, and it is to try to counteract the opposition based on that disgust that the support of the Opposition parties is being called in. It would be more consistent with the true workings of democracy if the distrust were allowed to take its proper course in increasing the power of the Opposition, and so leading to the overthrow of the Government. It becomes confusing to the electors if there is national unity on National Service while the appearance of opposition on other matters is continued. It is not to be wondered at if, in such circumstances, the electors are uncertain as to the course they should take, and lose interest in their democratic institutions.
While this attempt to preserve voluntary service under an unpopular Government is being made, others, seeing its inevitable failure, press forward with a policy of military and industrial conscription, realising that it will be necessary to force the people to give their support. The opposition does not come from fear, or from carelessness as to the future of the country. The people of this country are as brave and as willing to serve as they have always been, but they are becoming more intelligent and aware of the traps laid for them by their rulers, by which they may, quite unnecessarily, lose all their liberties. Many still remember the last War and its effect on working-class rights and liberties in this country, and they are not anxious for a repetition of the events that then took place. I am convinced that it is infinitely more important to try to revitalise and strengthen the free democracy of this country, so as to make it vigorous in its own defence against the loss of liberties, whether the danger be from those at home or abroad, than to try to concert measures to compel people to do that which they are unwilling to do without compulsion. That defence can be created only by a Government which will, 2545 by its energy and progressive policies in all spheres, encourage and inspire people to a belief in the effectiveness and efficiency of their own democratic institutions.
I share with, I am convinced, millions of others, a complete lack of faith in this Government. Where there is such lack of faith in a Government, there will be, inevitably, apathy and listlessness in a democracy which continues to tolerate such a Government. I believe that no firm stand will ever be made against the spreading danger of Fascism unless we can greatly strengthen the free determination of our people, and we cannot do that by applying conscription, which is a method fit for a servile and suppressed population but not for free people. I regard the first and most vital thing in the defence of our country and our civilisation as being a change of Government in Great Britain, substituting for the present discredited Government—discredited on their own confession—who reflect nothing but a reactionary Conservatism, a Government reflecting the free desires of our own people, in the domestic as well as the international sphere.
Although it would be inappropriate to enter into any detail on home affairs in this Debate, it must be realised by the House that the ordinary man and woman of the country will assess the value of democracy in their country, and determine their keenness in its support, very largely on the measure in which it responds to the duty of providing them with their elementary needs of domestic security and a decent standard of living. If, for instance, all those affected by unemployment, the old-age pensioners, the youth of the country, and the great army of low-paid wage-earners, feel that they are being neglected in favour of the great industrialists, the shipping interests and other vested interests, as they are to-day, they cannot be expected to rise up in support of a Government which does not intend to satisfy their urgent needs. They will be apathetic and frightened, as so many are to-day, and we shall not, in those circumstances, get that willing self-sacrifice in a great cause, the cause of freedom, which alone can, in my view, give to the democracies the power to stay the onrush of Fascist aggression.
2546 Many people to-day are, I believe, on the point of being deceived once again by a call to national unity. Unity is an excellent and desirable thing, but its value to those who share in it must depend largely on its leadership and the purposes for which it is organised. It is an easy cry for a Government which has lost the confidence of the people to use to rally the electors to its support. Unfortunately, many may be caught by that cry. Granted that unity is desirable and necessary, why should it be a unity of forces under the leadership of this Government reaction? Have they proved themselves by their past conduct to have a monopoly right to such leadership. Does the history of the last eight years of failure and betrayal present any reason why this Government should continue in office? National unity is not any argument in favour of the continuance in office of a particular party Government, such as the present one has shown itself to be. Its refusal to take any steps for the unemployed and the wage-earners—for the miners, the railwaymen and the cotton operatives, to take instances—is no reason why, when it is to these very people that the appeal for support is being made, the present Government should claim to be the rallying point for democracy and freedom. Such a history of failure to respond to the just demands of the workers demonstrates precisely the opposite.
The examination of the past eight years shows that the Government are entirely unfit to govern a free democracy, and they are incapable, as they will be proved to be, of rallying the common people to the defence of the country. Some alternative must be found if our democracy is to survive, to remain free and to become vigorous and effective in its own defence. Nothing, I believe, with the most supreme elements wedded to a desire to maintain power at all costs, can permit the present Ministers to retain office in existing circumstances. The sense of decency or loyalty to the traditions of democracy would at once terminate their period of office. In the place of the present Government there should come a Government of the united forces of the Opposition, who have uniformly attacked the foreign policy of the Government and their betrayal of democracy, and who are prepared to deal with the Imperial and domestic policy of the country, not in the interests of a small 2547 class of wealthy and powerful persons, but in the interests of the common people of this country, the Empire and the world. I believe that only so shall we ever rally the true strength of our democracy and make it the leader, as it ought to be the leader, in the struggle for world democracy against Fascism.
§ 8.28 p.m.
Mr. Gurney Braithwaite
I am not sure whether I am entitled to claim from this House some modicum of indulgence because of the quasi-maiden capacity in which I now address it. When I had the honour to be here before I never intervened in a foreign affairs Debate, and I only do so now because I came back a few weeks ago as a result of a by-election. I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who has just so eloquently addressed the House, that there was nothing listless about the by-election, although my constituents took a different view from his own and sent me back here to support my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I found during my contest that there was among humble folk the greatest possible appreciation of the character and ideals of the Prime Minister, that my constituents desired to support him in the efforts which he was then making for a settlement of the economic and geographical problems of Europe by negotiation, and to support him in going to the greatest possible length to avert war and to see if it was still possible to prevent Europe from being divided into rival camps on ideological lines, while at the same time pressing forward with the rearmament of this country. In other words, to continue striving for the best while preparing for the worst. I submit that that is the answer to all those who declare that the Prime Minister at Munich was either humbugged or that he was hoodwinked. Had he been, he would not, of course, have returned to this country and immediately accelerated the rearmament programme. At the same time my constituents, or at least the majority who returned me, felt that Munich provided a great chance, but the last chance, for Herr Hitler to play the game in the Continent of Europe.
We are told by some pessimists that we are back again in 1914. I suggest to the House that we are back in nothing of the kind, and that we are faced with a 2548 situation in which the dictators, in order to pursue their armament policy, have been for some years following financial methods, which we have often debated in this House as regards our domestic politics—in my view, unsound financial methods, forced loans, capital levies and the like, which have placed upon them such economic pressure that their assets are now used up and they find themselves in a desperate economic situation. That is very far indeed from the situation with which Europe was confronted in 1914.
As regards Czecho-Slovakia, I look upon the latest aggression not so much as having been undertaken for strategical reasons as for the seizure of foodstuffs and gold by the Nazi r6gime owing to its economic distresses. We are debating to-day what is described as the new situation which has arisen, but I would refer to it as the old situation, by which once again this country is organising resistance to an attempt at the domination of Europe and of the world. I would say to those hon. Members who state that we are now returning to the system of collective security, that the system of collective security envisaged all countries being included for the purpose of resisting aggression from any one of them, a system which it was right to try out, but which, in the circumstances with great Powers such as Germany, Italy and Japan outside, can no longer work.
We have returned not to collective security but to the organisation of a balance of power with which to tilt the scale against the Fascist Powers, and we are discussing in this Debate what the contribution of Britain can be to that resistance. I urge very strongly upon the House that whatever our desires and enthusiasms may be, we should try to put first things first, and that our primary contribution, as it has always been, and will be again, is sea power. I believe it was Lord Palmerston who, faced once with a situation not unlike that in Central Europe to-day, when confronted by his critics replied, "I regret I cannot send the Fleet to Vienna" It is equally true to say, "We regret that we could not send the Fleet to Prague," that Britain's is primarily a naval Power and that her primary contribution must be that of sea power.
I have been back long enough to know that the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is always fruitful at interjection and interruption, but I always thought he allowed hon. Members first to develop their line of argument before interruption. I was about to try and develop that line of thought for a moment or two. In the meantime, I think that the hon. Member will find an atlas in the Library.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made a speech in which he did not seem to me to be keeping to his great record as an optimist. As I listened to him I was sorry that he was not here when we were debating the Naval Estimates, when we heard with the greatest satisfaction from the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty the latest facts about the development of our sea power, and that it was possible for us to dominate the Mediterranean. That view was agreed to by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who has always been a critic on these matters, if there has been any effective criticism to make. I believe that our primary contribution must be that of sea power, and I was very glad last week to hear of the steps taken by the Government to strengthen that essential adjunct of sea power, the merchant navy. It is also true to say that our air power is already superior in quality and is rapidly overhauling in quantity that of Germany. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) asked me about the plight of Warsaw, and what further action could be taken by this country.
Then I fail to see the point of the interruption. The further contribution which we can make in the way of land forces has been described in this House often enough. We have been told of the number of divisions which we could send to the Western front, and it is not for me to say what strategy would be required in regard to other parts of a war front. In the last War we were able to draft armies and reinforcements to various theatres, so long as we retained that command of the sea upon which I have thought it right to lay stress this evening. I do not think that we should fall for the idea of military conscription on the Continental model. Britain cannot do everything, but I feel that a great more could 2550 be done in the regimentation of manpower and, I might add, woman-power, among the civilian population at home. It is true to say, certainly it is true of those I meet, that the people of this country are anxious to serve the country, and they are anxious to be told in what capacity they can serve. We all remember that in 1914 there were square pegs in round holes. Men with great industrial capacity rushed to join the Army as privates and were killed in the trenches, when they would have been of the utmost value in the manufacture of munitions and other essential work at home.
None more so. I can assure the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) that I had the honour of serving with some of the fine battalions that came from his comrades. They would certainly have been more useful hewing coal at home than in the great work they did out there. There is a case for the completion of the national register at the earliest possible moment, in order to prepare the ground for a proper and wise use of our man power and our woman power, in the event of war. But there is one Department of national defence which has not been referred to in this Debate, and that is the essential Department provided over by the Minister of Agriculture. The Government should press forward plans for the adequate supplies of home grown foodstuffs. The land army is still feeling the drain of casualties, while failing to obtain recruits. That is one section of our national defence which requires the swiftest possible action for its organisation. I would suggest that the Minister at present in charge should convey to the Minister of Agriculture the opinion, which is strongly felt in many areas, that in view of the fact that this is largely a problem for negotiation with the Dominions, the Mother Country is the lynch-pin of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and in return for the great naval security that we provide in the event of war, the Dominions should make concessions in regard to agricultural produce.
I was sorry to hear the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, for whose great achievements in the late War I have nothing but admiration, make a speech of which it is hardly an exaggeration to say that he declared that we could hardly emerge successfully from a contest with 2551 Germany and Italy at this moment. I hope the country is going to get rid of the spectre of Herr Hitler as a great military conqueror and a second Napoleon. He is nothing of the sort. He is a discredited figure who has brought his country to the edge of bankruptcy by unsound finance, and is now conducting a series of smash-and-grab raids in the hope of getting a little temporary financial relief. It is probably wise to prepare for the gambler's last throw, but let us prepare for it with calmness and determination.
At least one issue has been solved as the result of recent events. There can now be no question of the return of the ex-German Colonies. No Government would survive which proposed to haul down the Union Jack and to substitute the Swastika for it. Apart from strategic reasons and the providing of spring-boards for German air offensives in the Continent of Africa, no House of Commons would approve of handing over these populations to the frightful horrors of Nazidom, at which the world stands aghast. Our constituents, the constituents of hon. Members of all parties, look to this House of Commons and the Government as never before to see to sit that the people of Great Britain and the Empire are preserved and protected from so lamentable a fate.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont
I should not have been tempted to intervene in the Debate had it not been for the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. He stated that he had recently entered the House and suggested that he had come here with a mandate from the electors in support of the policy of the National Government. If my recollection is right, the hon. Member represents a minority vote in his constituency. Therefore, he cannot definitely say that he represents the opinion of the majority of the electors of that constituency. I happen to be in the happy position of having contested a by-election since the hon. Member, and I can state emphatically that I come here with a definite mandate to inform the Government that the electors have no confidence in the Government or their policy.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I would prefer to have an interjection rather than the hon. Member should suffer from an injustice.
I want to correct the hon. Member on his facts. He made a statement about the by-election in which I was returned. There were four candidates—
§ Mr. Beaumont
I am not concerned with the actual figures of the by-election in which the hon. Member was returned, but I am concerned with my own figures, and I can state emphatically that, despite the fact that the prime issue of the election was definitely the policy of the Government's proposal for appeasement, that policy was defeated by an increased majority. In that constituency the electors of Batley and Morley definitely stated that they regard the policy of appeasement of the National Government as a policy of national danger and not of national security. Whilst I have been sitting in this House during the last three weeks I have been struck by the changing views of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have been surprised at their political contortions. I notice that the hon. Member opposite does not regard the policy of the National Government now as a policy of collective security. I think we are justified in asking that we should have a clear definition of what the policy is. If we are to believe the leader writer of the "Times" it is something entirely different. If we are to accept the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon it is something different from the interpretation placed upon it by the hon. Member who has just spoken. I am hoping that the right hon. Gentleman when he comes to reply will make it clear whether he accepts the full-blooded interpretation of the Prime Minister's proposals as given by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill); and it will be interesting to know whether the interpretation placed upon them by the right hon. Member for Epping is the interpretation accepted by the Government itself. If so it would clarify the position.
It has been definitely proved that the country does not desire that this policy of appeasement should go on. It recognises that appeasement, as it has been 2553 tried, has simply whetted the appetite of the dictators to ask for more. We as a party are against a policy of improvising a solution when difficulties arise. We say that this plays into the hands of the dictators. The hon. Member opposite used an illustration which I was going to use. He referred to the dictators of Germany and their policy as a policy of smash and grab. It is extraordinarily interesting that the hon. Member and his party have approved and supported that policy for so many years, and have only now come to the position of realising what it means. We have said in this House and in the country that we should be prepared to meet all eventualities. We do not desire to deal with these questions by vague mutual obligations; we want joint action to resist aggression. In this House on Friday last the Prime Minister was asked if he would be willing to agree to call a conference, and in reply he said:On the question of a conference, in our view it is simply a matter of practical expediency. We have no theoretical views about a conference. If it proved to be the best way we should not hesitate to use it. If we find that there is a more effective way of achieving our object, we might dispense with a conference." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st March, 1939; col. 2417, Vol 345.]I submit that the experience of the past few years has demonstrated that a resort to the old-time policy of secret diplomacy and private conversations has proved a failure, and, in fact, has brought us to the brink of the abyss. We suggest that perhaps the better way is to resort again to a policy of open conference; that the world should know what is being done, what is being said, what concessions are asked and what demands are made. They should be made known to the whole world. That brings me to this point. I understand that the correct practice of one who is making a maiden speech is to be short and brief, and I do not want to intrude too much on the time of the House. But I should like to say this, that if there is one lesson that we should gather it is that we must return to the principles and practices of Geneva. The admission the Government are making now that the policy is wrong will lead them, I hope, to take the further step of admitting the necessity to go back to Geneva. The dictator Powers are not only anti-League, they are anti-co-operation and anti-respect of all international law.
2554 There have been hon. Members opposite who from time to time have derided the League. One wonders now whether they are going to eat the words they have uttered. The reason why the League has failed is not because of any weakness in the machinery of the League but in those who have operated its machinery. The shortcomings and weaknesses of democracy are not going to be cured by the abolition of democracy, and the shortcomings and weaknesses of the League are not going to be cured by the abolition of the League. It is up to the member States of the League to realise their responsibilities and carry out their duties under the League. It is most important, if we are to get a pact among the peace-loving nations of the world that we should utilise as far as possible the machinery which lies at hand, and it may be far better even at the present juncture that in the pursuit of the conversations which are now going on these conversations took place in Geneva, and that Great Britain first of all should demonstrate that she desires and is determined to return to Geneva. May I quote words which were used in another place in support of the League of Nations:The League of Nations provides an alternative procedure to that of war for the settlement of international disputes. Its success is measured by the willingness of States to use this alternative and, therefore, it is essential that we should use the League to maintain peace. Using the League means a willingness to act collectively both in remedying grievances and in resisting aggression. Therefore, we can yet win freedom and peace through collective action and the result of collective action through the League will be a world order based on justice.In conclusion, may I put three questions to the right hon. Gentleman? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer them—I hope he will. The first is, whether he on behalf of the Government will pledge the Government to return to the League and use the machinery of the League at once? The second is, whether he on behalf of the Government will express the willingness of the Government to exercise their powers under Article 11 of the Covenant of the League and ask for an immediate meeting of the Council of the League? The third question is, whether the Prime Minister, if he is still Prime Minister when the Assembly of the League next meets, will take a British delegation to the League 2555 meeting? My last point is this. We have to make a very definite and clear stand that there can be no remedying of grievances and no removal of injustices by the exercise of violence and force, that if there is to be a just settlement of the difficulties which arise between nations it can only be by reason and conference and a presentation of the case, and not by the exercise of dominion and might. As has already been said, we desire that the message should go out to the peoples of the countries who are now suffering under the dictators that we extend the hand of fellowship and friendship and that we want to live at peace with them. Abraham Lincoln once said:Those who deny liberty to others deserve it not for themselves, and under a just God cannot long retain it.We stand for liberty, and for peace. We stand for freedom, and we ask the Government, having taken this step and having determined that they will resist the onward march of the aggressor, to take the further logical step of returning to the League and acting on the righteous principles of the League of Nations.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Emmott
I wish to offer to the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. H. Beaumont) the customary congratulations upon the speech he has just delivered. But I perform the customary task in no conventional spirit, and I am sure that I am voicing the sentiments of the House when I extend to him our congratulations on a well-argued, good-tempered and well-delivered speech. We hope that he will intervene often in our discussions. Perhaps the hon. Member will not think it discourteous of me— perhaps, on the contrary, he will think it courteous—if I take up, however briefly, one or two of the points that he made. He suggested—if I go too far in the way of controversy, no doubt the hon. Member will express his displeasure —that the method of conference should now be employed, and he used some harsh expressions about the method that is generally called secret diplomacy. I think he also spoke of private conversations. I find it very difficult to understand how most delicate and difficult diplomatic conversations can be carried on except in secrecy. I entirely repudiate the criticism which is often made of what is described as secret diplomacy. I agree, 2556 as I think all hon. Members will, that in the conduct of international affairs there is a function to be performed by conference, but I think generally, if not always, only when the ground has, been prepared with great care and usually over a long period of time. And even when those conditions are satisfied, it is not always that conference succeeds. I feel sure that the present situation is not one in which the method of conference is preferable to the traditional and well-tried methods of diplomacy that are likely to be, and are in fact, being employed.
The hon. Member went on to urge, with obvious sincerity, that His Majesty's Government should now return to the principles and practices of Geneva. I agree with him that we should continue to follow, to the best of our power, the principles of Geneva, but I would say that we have never abandoned them. Then, I would distinguish the principles and the practices of Geneva, because I think the two things are distinct. The hon. Member asked—and this was the first question which he hoped would be answered by my right hon. Friend who is to conclude the Debate—for a pledge that His Majesty's Government would now return to the League. But we have never left or abandoned the League. We have never abandoned the principles of the League: and as to the practices of the League, the whole question is, can the League as now constituted and with its present procedure be relied upon to protect its members against war? How can it be expected that the League as at present constituted and with its present constitution can be surely relied upon to protect its members against war? Under the unanimity rule the decisions of the League, except upon questions of procedure, have to be unanimous. This means that the action of the whole League is circumscribed within the limits set by any one member of the League, and that may be the member least willing to take action to resist aggression. The limits of the action of the whole League are set by any member, that is to say, by the least willing member.
And what is the fundamental political reality underlying that matter, which may be considered merely a matter of procedure? Surely, it is this. The League of Nations is constituted of sovereign inde- 2557 pendent Governments which attempt to secure and preserve, to the best of their capacity, the interests of the people they represent. No Government will commit its people to war, even when it is acting within the constitution and procedure of the League, unless it is convinced not only of the justice of its cause, but also of the absolute necessity of defending it by force of arms. That is the fundamental political reality that underlies the whole activity of the League; and it is the unanimity rule which enables any Government, or group of Governments, to place such a limitation upon the action of the League that in particular circumstances of aggression the League's strength may be insufficient to resist that aggression. Surely that is the essential argument against the efficacy of the League, to which the hon. Member invited the Government to return, although I repeat that it has never left it.
§ Mr. Emmott
I am not a member of the League; only States are members of the League.
I listened with great interest to the remarkable speech made by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). It was delivered with great power and force and it contained many harsh expressions about His Majesty's Government and their policy. I could not help wondering what echo those sentiments found in the breasts of hon. Members behind the hon. and learned Gentleman, and what really are the relations between the hon. and learned Gentleman and right hon. Gentlemen on those benches. Certainly, there was a very complete difference, not only in argument but in tone and temper, between his speech and the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), with which the Debate was opened. Although the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol may be a voice crying in the wilderness, I think that the voice he lifted up to-night should not go without some answer, and therefore, I propose, though not I hope at too great length, to attempt one.
In reply to an interruption by one of my hon. Friends, the hon. and learned Member said that the time is long past, after the Prime Minister has confessed the folly of his policy, for his supporters to 2558 defend it. The Prime Minister has never confessed the folly of his policy, and his supporters do defend it.
I propose to offer a defence upon that part of the recent policy of His Majesty's Government which is concerned with Czecho-Slovakia. And I should particularly like to offer a few remarks upon this subject because it formed the staple of the only other speech so far made in this Debate which sounded a note of serious or profound controversy, and that was the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). He had some fairly harsh although not so harsh, expressions to use about the Government. He said that we must clear our minds of cant and humbug about the justice of Germany's case. He spoke about Berchtesgaden—I do not know whether he meant Munich or not, but I do not think it matters very much—as being not an act of justice but a surrender to force. He spoke of the weakness of Government policy in Central Europe and referred in a tone of contempt to the policy of appeasement.
I utterly deny the truth of the argument that the events which took place in Central Europe during March show the unsoundness of the policy pursued by His Majesty's Government in the autumn of last year. The speech of the leader of the Liberal party meant nothing if it was not an argument to the effect that German action in Czecho-Slovakia last month proved that the policy which culminated in Munich was wrong. My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), who made such an interesting and charming speech, defended the Government against this attack and said that the Prime Minister himself admitted that the policy had not succeeded in achieving its objective, but that the Prime Minister was right to try that policy. I go further than my hon. Friend, and I utterly reject the argument which I have just described. I suggest in all seriousness that it is false and wrong to paint the colour of recent events in Europe upon the policy pursued by His Majesty's Government last autumn. I ask this question: Should we in this country, should Europe, should the world be in any better case than we are in to-day, if we had gone to war to prevent the cession of the Sudeten German districts to Germany last autumn? Everyone realizes that we 2559 should be in infinitely worse case in that event. I say that to justify the committal by a Government of its people to war, that Government must be convinced that its cause is morally impregnable. It must be convinced not only that its cause is morally impregnable, but that it is strategically defensible. Neither condition was satisfied in the case of Czechoslovakia last autumn. Therefore, I say that the policy pursued by the Government last autumn was right: and if it was right then it is not made wrong by recent events.
I return more directly to the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol. He accused the Government, not for the first time, of the betrayal of Abyssinia. Many of my hon. Friends on these benches deeply resent this repeated charge against His Majesty's Government. What does it mean? If it means anything it must mean that His Majesty's Government failed as a member of the League to take some action which it ought to have taken. Is it suggested that other members of the League wished to go further in action against Italy at that time? Everyone knows that we supplied the motive force at Geneva. We supplied the chief motive force which drove on the League to go even as far as it went, and to do even as much as it did against Italy and in defence of Abyssinia. [Interruption.] I would ask hon. Members above the Gangway to allow me to continue to develop my argument. The hon. and learned Gentleman also accused the Government of repeated betrayals of democracy. He finds democracy in strange places. He finds democracy, apparently, in what he described, and what is generally described, as Republican Spain. Anyone who has followed the course of the Spanish conflict and has read the reports of speeches and the writings of those Spaniards whose political ideas are most Liberal, will realise that there was no question there of democracy. Behind the respectable bourgeois facade of lawyers and doctors, or whatever they might be, who claimed to govern Spain, the real forces which held the reins of power were the forces of anarchy and Communism. There was strong rivalry between two great unions: one was the National Confederation of Labour, which was dominated by the 2560 Iberian Anarchist Federation, and the other was the General Union of Workers, which was dominated by men who held the most extreme Socialist views that were indistinguishable from Communism. There was no democracy.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then used another argument against the Government with which by this time we are familiar. He referred to China, Austria, Spain, and Czecho-Slovakia: he drew up a list of countries where events have taken place which, it may be, do conflict with those general principles of government that we would like to see universally observed, happenings which all civilised peoples have reason to resent, and indeed to hate. But what justification is there for attributing responsibility for those events to His Majesty's Government? The hon. and learned Gentleman presents us with a list of these things, and then lays the blame for all that has happened upon His Majesty's Government. That is a palpably unfair method of argument.
He went on to argue that the process of organising resistance to Fascist aggression is infinitely more difficult today than it would have been some time ago. I beg leave to suggest to hon. Members above the Gangway that that view may be profoundly mistaken. In a continuing process of events it is always difficult to decide where you are going to rest. You have to draw the line somewhere, and there is always difficulty in determining where to draw it; but I think it is a great mistake to argue that the longer the process continues, the more difficult this determination necessarily is. I believe that by these recent events a spirit has been raised in Europe and in the world which may well succeed in stopping the advance of the aggressors.
The hon. and learned Gentleman talked much about collective security and said that the only proper policy for the Government now to adopt was collective security such as the Opposition had always advocated. I protest against this continued confusing misuse of words. For years our people have been bemused, their critical sense has been lulled to slumber, and their thought has been confused by a series of vague, indeterminate phrases, all revolving around the conception of "collective security."
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Does not the hon. Member remember that the expression "collective security" was used in the manifesto issued by the Government at the last election?
§ Mr. Emmott
Perfectly, but its meaning was there made clear. What excites my protest is the indiscriminate use of this phrase without explanation of its precise meaning. I am thankful that since the Prime Minister came to hold his high office we as a people have shaken ourselves free from the use of these mischievously ambiguous phrases. [Interruption.] Whenever the phrase has been used by responsible Members of His Majesty's Government, in whatever context, its meaning has been precisely explained. Wherever two or three Powers are gathered together and come to a political agreement there is a kind of collective security. But there are different kinds of collective security. The agreement which it is assumed we shall make with Poland constitutes a kind of collective security, but hon. and right hon. Members above the Gangway know very well that that is not the kind of collective security which for all these years they have advocated. To suggest that it is is a mere play upon words, and is really a most dishonest argument. The hon. and learned Gentleman accused the Government of dishonesty, but it is most uncandid to suggest that the policy on which we are now embarking is an admission that the Opposition have been right in all these recent years, and means the adoption of the policy of collective security which the Opposition have advocated. It is nothing of the sort; it is quite a different thing. We must not confuse two entirely separate things. What they meant—and they know it very well—by collective security was the system founded upon the Covenant of the League of Nations. But this agreement has nothing to do with the Covenant of the League of Nations.
There is much more that might be said about the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, but I will conclude by reminding the House of the extraordinary statement that he made when he said that fundamentally the National Government and their supporters are in sympathy with totalitarian principles, and that democracy and liberty are nothing to them. It is enough for me to say that 2562 that charge is complete nonsense. He said, "We have a complete lack of faith in His Majesty's Government." We retort that we have complete confidence in His Majesty's Government, and in its leader.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Price
I regret the tone of the speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Emmott), who has just spoken, because I think it was not up to the general standard of the Debate this evening. There was a passage in the speech of the Prime Minister in which he said something which I thought was most significant. He said he thought that the new line of policy enunciated last Friday indicated anew epoch in cur foreign policy. I would say that though I am in general agreement, it is a tragedy that that new epoch did not begin soon after the last War and under the auspices of the League of Nations. Although I do not wish to labour that point, I feel that we cannot let this moment go by, grave as is the international situation at this moment, without calling attention to the responsibility of the Government for having allowed that great opportunity to go by and for making it impossible for that new epoch to begin very much earlier than it actually has begun. We must hope that a new epoch has indeed begun now. I had the impression that the Prime Minister was sincere and was convinced that a new policy is needed. I hope he will be able to convince other countries in Europe which may become and, we hope, will become our close collaborators in this enterprise, and particularly, the Government of Russia. His words at least did give the lie to that mischievous interpretation which was put upon his speech of last Friday in the "Times" newspaper on Saturday.
I wish to say in this connection that my residence in Germany for five years soon after the war enabled me to see something of the underground workings of those movements out of which the Nazi system has grown, and during that time nothing impressed itself more upon me than the terrible conviction that it was only upon force and violence that that movement which has now come to rule Germany was based. The Germans are, as I know from my knowledge of them, a very great people, supreme, I would almost say, in science, art, and literature, 2563 but they lack just one thing. They lack the political sense. They have never learned how to govern themselves; they have never, in fact, had to learn to fight for their freedom like we did, like the French did, like the Americans did. They have for too long, for hundreds of years in fact, put up war lords to rule over them. It was they who helped to cause the downfall of the Roman Empire, through their war lords coming down from the North. Virgil, in his great work "The Georgics," voices the fear of those days in these words:Tot bella per orbem ….Hine movet Euphrates, illinc germania bellum.So many wars throughout the world; here the Euphrates, there Germany moves to war.It was, alas, the Thirty Years' War, that great religious struggle early in the seventeenth century, which ruined Germany and threw her back a century behind the rest of Europe; it has made her now the latest comer in European politics and made her the most difficult of all the nations to bring into a common political system. About a year ago I had occasion to speak in this House on that matter and to say—and I think it is just as true to-day—that the Government have to follow a double line of policy towards Germany—great firmness to resist all attempts at force, and at the same time conciliation, making it clear that we are not out to encircle her or to prevent Germany from getting her economic rights. These two policies ought to be worked together. The Government have failed to do that up till now. If they will do it now, all I can say is that I hope they will get on with it and do it sincerely and thoroughly. At the same time that we organise this league to resist violence and force we ought to offer to Germany economic concessions in the way of the open door in colonial Africa, guarantees for obtaining raw materials, of which she stands in need, along the lines indicated in the Van Zeeland Report. It has been a surprise, no doubt, to many supporters of the Government that Herr Hitler has gone so suddenly from a policy of trying to unite all Germans in Central Europe to a policy of crass, open and crude imperialism. But it would not have surprised those who have watched the Nazi Movement in Germany and read the writings of Herr Hitler.
§ Mr. Price
It is in "Mein Kampf," when he refers to the German lands to the East, and even more in the works of Rosenberg, where he talks of the creation of protectorates and dominions on the Eastern flank of Germany, including all the Western Slavs and stretching from the Ukraine almost as far as the Caucasus.
§ Mr. Price
Not at all in the same way. I disagree entirely with the hon. Member. The British Empire justifies its existence by the fact that it is always changing, and slowly and gradually we are giving freedom to the various parts of the Empire; not perhaps as fast as some of us would like, but I have lived long enough to know how great has been the change in the tone of this country towards India, for example. India, we hope, is gradually getting the status of a Dominion like the other self-governing parts of the Empire.
In regard to the Polish Corridor, that lifeline of Poland, I feel very strongly that here is an issue on which we must take a very firm stand. No one wishes to injure Germany economically, but the Corridor is an economic lifeline to Poland, which it is not to Germany. The economic connection between East Prussia and the rest of Germany are not so vital to Germany as the outlet to the sea via the Corridor is to Poland. In this matter I feel strongly that we must bring in Russia to help settle this crisis in the East of Europe. I know the fears of Poland, I know the traditional fear of the Cossack knout and of the terrible repression that went on in the time of Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia, right up to the time when Poland obtained its freedom at the end of the last War. I hope that the Prime Minister will try to allay the fears of Poland. I think this is a role which he might well try and see if he cannot adopt. I am afraid that his tradition of cold hostility towards Russia in the past will make it more difficult, but I hope still he will try.
I remember very well having an interview with a well-known Polish leader in the second year of the World War, M. Roman Dmowski, who was leader of the 2565 National Democratic party in Poland. We could hear the thunder of the German guns 50 miles away from Warsaw, as the enemy were advancing further and further East and the Russian armies were slowly going back. I remember in the interview I had with him he said to me, "We are righting along with Russia to-day because we do not really fear Russia; we know that we are strong enough to get and maintain our independence. We do not know that about Germany. We are resisting Germany to-day because we fear her." I believe that all far-sighted Poles really believe that. I know there is a tradition of friendliness towards Germany which was particularly noticeable in the policy of Marshal Pilsudski when the Poles invaded Russia in 1920 and attempted to seize the Ukraine. But in spite of these two tendencies in Polish politics I maintain that the Polish fear of Germany is more dominant than the fear of Russia, because of the reasons that M. Dmowski gave me in that fateful hour. Therefore, I hope that the Prime Minister will do his best to make it possible for Russia to come into any system of mutual defence which may be organised in Eastern Europe to maintain the position there.
I hope this too in regard to Rumania. There is the same fear there, the old traditional fear for Bessarabia, which was originally taken from Rumania after the Russo-Turkish War in 1877. Russia could play a very big role there in helping to protect Rumania in the event of a conflict between her and Germany, or between her and Hungary, by helping with her air force to defend the mountain passes of Transylvania. I would also call attention to the immense strategic importance of Turkey and the Straits. I put two questions to the Prime Minister a day or two ago in regard to negotiations with Turkey with a view to enabling a naval force to go into the Black Sea to defend the independence of Rumania should it be threatened, and also asking what naval help we might give to Rumania in that event. The answers indicated to me that the Government had an open mind on the matter. So far that was satisfactory, but I hope it will not be only an open mind, but an active mind, and that this matter will receive their very careful attention.
In regard to the feared encirclement of German, the speech of Herr Hitler last 2566 Saturday seemed to me to have one most sinister and dangerous passage in which he was demanding a free hand in Eastern Europe to do what he liked. None of us, I am sure, wish to see Germany prevented from getting even a dominant economic interest in Eastern Europe. It is natural that she should get it. A great industrial country would naturally be the country to which the bulk of the trade would go with the great agrarian countries lying to the east of her. We should be wrong to attempt to prevent that. What we can and must prevent is an attempt to use this economic lever for the political subjection of the Western Slavs and all the countries that do not wish to go into the German political system.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Hannah
I have enjoyed this Debate, I think, more than any other since I was a Member of this House. The unity that has on the whole been shown seems to me to be in the best traditions of this Parliament, and some of the friends that I value most of all are those who I feel would render me any service except to vote for me. Even the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), on one of his rare and refreshing visits to this House, struck no discordant note. I hope the Government have noted his advice to them that the essence of statesmanship is to have a policy and to stick to it. I remember the time when I was living in America, when practically every American newspaper had across it in huge letters, "L.G. rats again." I felt a deep sympathy with a good deal that was said by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). He drew attention to the need of moral forces, although I frankly confess that my attitude of mind would be the exact opposite of his. I would remind him of the admirable saying of one of our greatest English statesmen, who made a rude remark about that Mace, "Fear God and keep your powder dry." I believe in trying in every way possible to use such moral forces as we can and to work in every possible manner to make our country stronger.
I will do the best I can in my division for A.R.P. and other things in order to put the Midlands in a state of military defence. Nevertheless, if the spirit and souls of those who have been prominent in this House in days gone by still brood over these walls, what must have been 2567 their reactions to-day to hear the Leader of the Liberal party able apparently to see Europe with no other background but that of bristling bayonets and battle planes? It does not make me at all regret that I left the Liberal party. I gladly accept the fact that in trying to make a grand alliance—call it whatever we will—against aggression, we are not concerned with the ideologies of the nations that will rank with us. As a keen supporter of the League of Nations from the beginning I always felt a deep regret that it was Poland at Vilna that first defied successfully what should have been a new order for the world. Like everybody else I was impressed with the high ideal set by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) in opening this discussion, although I could not help being a little disappointed that he made no reference to that conference of the nations which I understand is one of the most important features of Labour policy. It burns through all history that in the long run moral forces are far greater and more powerful than material ones.
We have all been impressed at this hour at the way in which on the plains of China, the old drama of the foundation of the Dutch Republic is being re-enacted, with Chang Kai-shek taking the place of William the Silent. The Chinese have lost every battle and have been defeated in every skirmish, and yet we realise that they are winning this war. The Chinese, in fact, are rendering to us simply enormous service in the way in which they are immobilising the vast forces of the nation that might be ranked against us. I confess to loving China and Japan from the old days when I was privileged to live in that part of the world, and I feel a fervent hope that a new China will arise from this war, a China that will be in the truest sense sympathetic with us. It is extraordinarily fortunate at the present time that in the Far East China is rendering us great service. Twenty years ago the world was at our feet and we ought to recognise the vast responsibility that we have for what has gone wrong in the world ever since. If we had made a reasonably good treaty, as good as the Powers at Vienna gave to the world a century before, we should not be in our present difficulties. When Hitler tells us that the difference between the 14 points and the actual Treaty of Versailles is the 2568 greatest betrayal in all the history of the world, what do we answer?
I agree strongly with those who have said and emphasised that while we should neglect no element in strengthening our defences, in making ourselves powerful for war if we have to fight—which God forbid—nevertheless, we should realise more and more the enormous importance of moral forces. I was brought into politics by my enthusiasm for peace. To me—and not to me alone, I hope—it is the most sacred cause in the world. There are a considerable number of things that we can do even now to ease the tension. We have the opportunity to a large extent through the B.B.C. to tell Germany our point of view. Surely we should impress upon the German people that the inevitable result of any future war would be long years of stalemate and suffering such as perhaps mankind has never known before, but that against the tremendous material resources of the British Empire, and perhaps of the United States, victory for them would be practically out of the question. We should make in every way we can cultural contacts with Germany. I hope that as many English people as possible will visit Germany this summer and that we shall welcome many German people in our midst.
I have lived in cosmopolitan communities in different parts of the world and have noticed the extraordinary way in which, when English and Germans come together individually, they invariably learn to like and respect each other. Germany is anxious to get rid of her refugees and her Jews. It is not for us to say whether she is right or wrong, but I believe we may do something for better relations by co-operating with the Germans in helping to find new homes for these people and getting them out of the German Empire in an ordered and satisfactory way. I do not think that any Treaty ever contained any more foolish clause than that which forced Germany at the point of the bayonet to confess, what the whole world knows she does not believe, that she was solely responsible for the last War.
§ Mr. Hannah
I was not at that time in any way responsible for the Treaty of Versailles. At that time, speaking at the Brooklyn Institute in New York, I 2569 referred in rather flowery language to that Treaty, which for badness has no peer since time began. I feel it very strongly to-day, but I do believe that if we voluntarily expunged from the Treaty those war-guilt clauses it would be enormously appreciated in Germany and might help, to some extent at any rate, to improve relations between the two countries. Let me repeat that I believe in arming in every way we can, though I loathe, detest, hate and abominate it, but at the same time I want to emphasise that while material forces will last as long as a new gun remains up to date, moral forces are eternal.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Hannah) made a moving speech of a type which is a little unusual in this Assembly but, if I may be allowed to say so, is none the worse for that. I think that these confessions of disquiet regarding the Treaty of Versailles are today a little overdone, particularly by those who are now politically affiliated to those who carried it through at the time, but perhaps I may express my sympathy with the hon. Member and my regret that when he was declaring his delight at having left the Liberal party, no representatives of that great political force were here to listen to him. Perhaps the hon. Member will think it well to repeat privately outside this House to the Whip of the Liberal party, who has just come in, what he said in the absence of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
§ Mr. Dalton
I think those who were fearful last Friday that the Debate to-day would be premature have been proved quite wrong. I think to-day's Debate, from start to finish, has been of great value. The House of Commons has shown that, without hypocrisy and without any clouding of the essential issues, it can conduct a Debate of this kind with frankness, sincerity and a sense of the public and, indeed, of the international, interest. So far as my hon. Friends are concerned—I will begin by summarising briefly our attitude towards the subject-matter of discussion and afterwards go on to elaborate it somewhat—I think they are disposed to give their support to this proposed new arrangement between British, French and Polish Govern- 2570 ments as the first step—not a very long step, not a very quick step, but the first step—in the right direction, namely, towards securing the concerted and united action of a strong group of peaceful Powers against aggression, or the threat of aggression, in Europe, working our way back towards some respect, as we hope, for the rule of law, and for the principle that all disputes between the nations should be settled through peaceful discussion and not by force, or by the use of brutal and immoral threats.
This principle is one for which the Labour party have stood consistently, persistently, sometimes obstinately and, I believe, always rightly, ever since the first phases of the post-war period. Since the days of the Geneva Protocol of 1924, associated with the names of the late Arthur Henderson and of M. Herriot, and since even earlier days than that, we have always declared in favour of what we have called—and I think our meaning has been clearly understood—collective security. We judge this latest proposal of the Government to be, as I have said, a short step, in itself an insufficient step, but none the less a step, in that direction.
But we desire to emphasise that, in our view, the Government must go much further and much faster, if the purposes which they proclaim to be theirs are to be fulfilled. They must go further, I suggest, in two respects. In the first place, all guarantees of mutual aid should be reciprocal. If we guarantee that we will come with all our forces to the aid of Poland in certain events, equally Poland should guarantee that she will do the same for us, and if I know anything of the character of the Polish people, their spokesmen will be only too glad to make the guarantee reciprocal, for, if I judge the Polish people aright, they are a proud people who do not desire to receive from others more than they give in return. In the second place, not only should all guarantees be reciprocal, but other States should be brought into the arrangement. The arrangement should be greatly widened so as to include not only Britain, France and Poland but other States, both large and small, as well. It may be said that, juridically speaking, in terms of existing treaties and engagements, this new departure of the Government adds little if anything to the previous situation, because already there is a Franco-Polish alliance, mutual and bilateral, by which 2571 each undertakes to aid the other if attacked, and on top of that there is the British guarantee to France in return for a guarantee from' France to Britain. That was all prior to this last Government initiative.
Therefore, I say that juridically speaking and in terms of treaties and engagements, the Government up to now have practically added nothing to what existed before. They have, however, made it emphatic, brought it out into the light of day and emphasised it, and that is right. It is right, in my view, because there was evidence—evidence which came not only to the Government but to others, some of which came to some of my hon. Friends by other routes—that there has been in recent days grave, immediate and pressing danger that Herr Hitler, intoxicated by earlier successes, might "try it on" with Poland. There was, therefore, urgent and immediate need for something new, firm and emphatic to be said. After Czecho-Slovakia, Poland is next in the list. I am told by one who has recently returned from Prague, that the German soldiers—sharply distinguished from the "toughs" of the S.S. and S.A. —are behaving themselves with decency in Prague, but that in every tavern frequented by them they are saying to the Czechs, "We shall not be here long; we shall soon be going on—going on to Poland." That is all over Prague. I have it from a good source.
This new German technique of the Blitzkrieg, of a sudden surprise, or a sudden threat to bomb the capital city of the country proposed to be intimidated, does indeed call—and I am glad the Government realise it—for a reconsideration of the mutual relationships of peaceful States. After all, things are marching on. In March last year Vienna was suddenly subjugated by this device of a brutal threat. In May of last year we all but had the same technique applied to Czecho-Slovakia. It was held up by a momentary firmness in the west—only momentary, unhappily. Last September at Munich the same device was applied to the Prime Minister. He was told that unless he, with M. Daladier, signed on the dotted line, or nearly on the dotted line, or just below the dotted line, there would be violent, immediate, brutal action by the German armed forces against 2572 Czecho-Slovakia. The Prime Minister un happily capitulated before that threat, Last month Czecho-Slovakia, or what was left of it, the poor rump State left by the negotiators of Munich, was subjugated— I will say a word in a moment or two about how it was done and the meaning of it—by this same brutal threat: "Give us all we want or we will bomb your capital." Herr von Ribbentrop was sc elated by his success in Prague, that he persuaded Herr Hitler to try it again in Memel, and he succeeded there again.
Therefore, after this long run of easy victories and after the natural intoxication following upon it in the mind of the ruler of Germany, it was natural that we should ask last week: "Who knows how long before that same threat comes, to bomb Warsaw this time, unless certain intolerable demands are accepted by the Poles? How long before the same threats are made to Paris or London?" The Government have been somewhat slow in their reaction. It is nearly three weeks since Herr Hitler summoned the Czech President to Berlin and threatened to bomb Prague next morning unless the Czech President agreed to the invasion and enslavement of his country and its occupation, not only by the German military forces but also by the Gestapo. In the interval, the Government have procrastinated. For several days they appeared to do nothing. Then the Soviet proposal for a conference was rejected as premature. The Government then put forward their proposal for a four-Power declaration, but, as we learned from the Press, that declaration was to be purely consultative. It contained no clear-cut proposals for mutual aid in the event of aggression. I am not surprised that the Poles, next in the line of fire, rejected it. It was not unnatural for them to say: "It is good of you to promise that, if Herr Hitler bombs Warsaw, you will invite us into consultation, but it would be better to promise us something more substantial." I am not surprised that the Poles rejected that four-Power declaration.
I had the pleasure last Thursday of a conversation with Mr. Jan Stanczik, the Polish miners' leader. He is a member of the executive of the International Federation of Trade Unions and is a tough man, as miners are, in Poland no less than in this country. I was interested to learn from him at first hand 2573 the attitude of the Polish workers towards the crisis. I was prepared to hear that the working-class movement of Poland have a number of complaints within the sphere of their internal politics, but with those I am not now concerned. What I am concerned to say is that the Polish Socialist movement, the trade union movement and the Peasant party, who represent between them a substantial majority of the population, are rallying unitedly to the defence of their country in the face of this German threat. Exiles are returning. Mr. Witos, the well-known peasant leader, has returned, and others are returning. I was deeply moved by my conversation with this Polish miners' leader, and at what he told me about the determination of the Polish people, including those for whom he was particularly entitled to speak, to resist with all their courage and resolution a German attack, even if they were left completely alone and un-befriended. He told a moving story of a proud and brave people rallying to the defence of their country.
As has been said by those who have preceded me this afternoon, an alliance against German aggression among this country, France and Poland is not enough. It is not as powerful as it could be made, and it does not represent the maximum co-operation—to use the phrase last Friday of my right hon. Friend the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition—which the Government have told us they desire to achieve. Especially, as has been emphasised by many speakers to-day, is it vitally important that the Soviet Union should be brought into this combination. On Friday last, the Prime Minister, replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) said that he could give the assurance that there was no ideological impediment to close cooperation between London and Moscow. The same thing has been said in other words to-day. We are glad to hear it, but we hope that soon we shall pass from general declarations of friendliness to some evidence of positive and continuous cooperation between London and Moscow with a view to bringing the Soviet Union, with all its tremendous forces, effectively into this combination against aggression. I should be hiding my opinion and that of many of my hon. Friends if I did not say that we are not yet satisfied that the contacts between the British Government and the Soviet representatives in 2574 London and between British representatives in Moscow and the Soviet Government are as close, as continuous and as cordial as we should like to see them.
It is reported in the Press—I am not now speaking of the events of last September when for over a fortnight there was no effective contact between the British Foreign Office and the Soviet Embassy in London—that between the 19th and 31st March there was no contact between the Soviet Ambassador and the British Foreign Secretary. That is too long a time for contact not to be renewed. To put it at its best, such treatment of the Soviet representative is rude and clumsy, and is not designed to create a feeling of mutual confidence. In times like these there should be contact every few days between the representatives of the two Governments, either in London or Moscow. In future I hope there will be. I ask the Government not to encourage suspicion either in Moscow or in some parts of this country that His Majesty's Government do not really wish the closest co-operation for the common purpose of resisting German aggression between two of the most powerful governments in the world, the British and the Soviet Governments.
As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said, the Prime Minister made a friendly reference to Russia, but he led up to it by way of suggesting that he wished to conciliate my hon. Friends. We are grateful for his kindly gesture, but we had rather that the Prime Minister did these things on their merits. Lord Halifax, speaking in another place as the spokesman for the Government, spoke more warmly than did the Government spokesman in this House with regard to his feelings of friendship for the Soviet Union. We should construct a bloc of Powers with which even the present rulers of Germany will not venture to try conclusions. It is not only the Soviet Union which should be brought into this arrangement. There are the Balkan Powers, who might all come in together so as to avoid possible difficulties among themselves. There are Rumania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Greece. If we could get them all in together we could get a strong reinforcement. Some of them are very good friends of ours; why not bring them into this combination without 2575 more delay? Then there are the small Baltic States, very well placed from the strategic point of view, and there are also the small Powers to the West. There are Holland, Belgium, Switzerland; and there are also the Scandinavian States, good democracies, if there be any in this wicked and imperfectly democractic world. They are shining examples to all European nations in respect of their internal affairs. As regards their external policies, lately, in despair in this period of disillusion and of collapse to a great extent of the League system, they have tended to run away into attitudes of neutrality. I hope that the Government may, in forming this great new combination towards which we are trying to urge them, be able so far to reassure these Scandinavian democracies as to bring them into the circle, too.
Finally, so far as this catalogue of countries is concerned, let us never forget the enormous moral force, in addition to the immense material power, of the United States of America. Although it is only a simpleton or an ignoramous who believes that the United States can be brought into any tight contract for mutual aid at this time against possible aggression in Europe, none the less President Roosevelt is leading them gallantly along the path towards neighbourly co-operation with the democratic peace-loving States of the world. I would express the hope that the Government are going to keep in the very closest touch with the United States of America, and to try to regain among the American people some of that confidence that was forfeited last September by reason of the events at Munich, and that we are going to do our utmost to work in close co-operation and mutual good will both with the United States Government and with the great body of American citizens.
Let me add, so far as America is concerned, that I have been informed that there is an increasing sense there of very solid common interest between the American democracy and the democracies of Europe. If it be indeed the case, as the Prime Minister has suggested, that what some persons are aiming at is domination, not of one Continent only, but of the whole world, not of one hemisphere only, but of both, it is not hard to see that if these plans continue to mature as rapidly and perfectly as they have in the 2576 last few months in Central Europe, it will not be long before South America will need something more than a mere platonic re-enunciation of the Monroe Doctrine, if it is to be made safe against the depredations of certain aggressive Powers which have their seats in Europe.
Hints have been dropped that there are certain difficulties in securing full and effective co-operation for the purpose of mutual aid between certain of the countries which I have been enumerating. Indeed, it is well known that there are certain mistrusts within this group, based partly on history and partly on other factors. But I hope that His Majesty's Government will do their utmost to remove those causes of mistrust, and to persuade all these nations that really they will be far safer all standing in together than drawing apart by reason of these historical and other causes of mistrust. I should have hoped that it would not be beyond the wit of diplomats to devise a formula whereby all the Powers who would join in this larger bloc, which is to be wider than the Anglo-French-Polish bloc, to resist aggression, could concert among themselves means of resistance to further acts of aggression in Europe by appropriate and mutually acceptable means. I believe that such a formula could be clothed with reality, and that in any particular case, if there were two countries whom we were anxious to get together into this bloc, but between whom there was some lack of confidence, we might be able, by our own presence at a meeting between representatives of the two and by other devices, to see that plans were laid for common resistance against aggression, if it should come, in such a form that the resources of both countries would be effectively mobilised and the means of co-operation agreed upon beforehand in such a way as to remove any possible causes of mistrust. For us merely to despair and say that because certain countries, for reasons good or bad, mistrust one another, we must give up hope of bringing them together and uniting their combined forces against the threat of aggression, would be a terrible failure of British policy. I hope the Government will not contemplate such a failure, but will work hard to bring those nations together on some such formula as I have roughly suggested.
It would be wrong not to say a word, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to 2577 reply for the Government, and I have warned him privately that I was going to ask a question on the subject, about the interpretation—as we hope, misinterpretation—of the Prime Minister's declaration of last Friday. It was not only the "Times" and not only the Beaver-brook Press—who, perhaps, need not be taken too seriously. But Reuter also, on the Friday night, were carrying tendentious tales to all the capitals of the world to the effect that the Prime Minister's declaration in this House last Friday was made with mental reservations, and that the Poles would be informed that we should expect them to get into negotiations, and in the course of such negotiations to be prepared to make substantial concessions to Herr Hitler as a condition of throwing our shield over them in the event of their being attacked. It is common knowledge that the effect of this Reuter telegram was such as very nearly to prevent the visit of Colonel Beck to London. It is common knowledge that it caused consternation in Warsaw. And even when Colonel Beck had been reassured on Friday night, there was still waiting the "Times" leading article on Saturday morning, once more to sow poison and make mischief. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer very bluntly this question: The Government will, of course, have made inquiries between Friday night and now to ascertain what person was responsible for giving this lead to Reuter—Reuter do not write without guidance—what person was giving to the "Times" this interpreetation of the Prime Minister's declaration. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what is the result of the inquiries which I am quite sure the Government have made as to this deplorable and disgraceful affair?
The "Times" of 7th September last year published a shameful leading article, proposing, before ever Herr Hitler, or Lord Runciman, or Herr Henlein, or the British Government had proposed it, the dismemberment of the Czecho-Slovak State. The following day there was a Foreign Office dementi denying it, but as the tragic events developed it appeared that the "Times" had been well primed, that the sacrifice of the Czechs had been preordained, and that the Foreign Office denial had been made either in ignorance of the intentions of Ministers or else with the deliberate intention to deceive the public—and I myself, knowing the 2578 Foreign Office, inclined towards the former alternative. Now we have the same thing again—a similar article with a similar tendency; another Slav victim to be sacrificed on the altar of Printing House Square: Poles to-day, Czechs yesterday. These traitors of Printing House Square, this residue of the Cliveden set—[Interruption]—I was going to use a Spanish metaphor; I was going to say, "Hitler's fifth column in London." It does indeed strain, almost beyond endurance, one's belief that in this country the Press should be free to do mischief, as compared with the situation in Germany, where they are compelled to do mischief.
I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer bluntly, who is responsible for this? If the Government have investigated, what is the result of their investigation? I can imagine only four alternative sources. First, the Foreign Office; second, No. 10, Downing Street: the Prime Minister's entourage—is it possible that Sir Horace Wilson, on instructions, gave this guidance? [Interruption.] On instructions; he would not do it without instructions, of course. In the third place, there is No. 11, Downing Street—the Chancellor of the Exchequer is notoriously lukewarm in respect of commitments to a lot of foreigners—or, in the fourth place, there is the Home Secretary, who, we understand, manages the Press for the Government when others are otherwise occupied.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir Samuel Hoare)
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to justify that statement.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am indicating four possibilities. I am not in the habit of dodging these issues. I am indicating four alternative sources from which guidance could have gone to Reuter and the "Times." I am asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can indicate any of those four, or suggest a fifth. So far as the Home Secretary is concerned, I am only suggesting that he has frequent communications with the Press.
§ Sir S. Hoare indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Dalton
Why is the right hon. Gentleman so modest? Surely it is well known that he has frequently met the 2579 Press in recent times, and has given guidance to the proprietors and the editors, and we have come to regard him as the Government's handy-man in this regard.
§ Mr. Boothby
Has it not occurred to my hon. Friend that it might be the editor of the "Times" himself?
§ Mr. Dalton
That would not explain Reuter on the night before. At any rate, I am asking the Chancellor a question, and I hope we shall have an answer. I hope that, apart from the question of tracing the criminal, we shall have an emphatic reaffirmation from the Chancellor himself of what the Government's intention is. It would be of particular value coming from the Chancellor, because he has been named in the "Daily Telegraph" and other organs as being a bad and weakening influence in the Cabinet on these matters. Therefore, such an affirmation would be of exceptional value coming from his lips, and I invite him to affirm, as the Prime Minister did, that the Government intend to implement the guarantee to Poland without any mental reservations to the effect that Poland would be required, if she was to earn our guarantee, to make concessions to Germany before the guarantee came into operation. I ask for that reassurance.
Herr Hitler and the controlled German Press have spoken much about encirclement. Hon. Members in all parts of the House have made reference to that matter, and I also will venture to make specific reference to it. Who is encircled in Europe to-day? Who has been encircled and strangled recently? Czechoslovakia was encircled and strangled. [Interruption.] Austria was rather a different case. There was no encircling of Austria in the strictly geographical sense. Czecho-Slovakia was encircled in the obvious geographical sense of being surrounded. Austria was not encircled, but she was taken all the same. Czechoslovakia was encircled on three sides by Germany, and she has been strangled. France to-day is being encircled on three sides. Poland is being encircled. Why should Herr Hitler speak of encirclement at a time when people are concerned about the possibility of Poland being encircled? Poland is being encircled. If Poland were cut off from the sea, as the 2580 gang at Printing House Square suggested she should be, she would be landlocked completely. There would be 35,000,000 people with no access whatever to the sea except through German territory, and that is not a form of access which is very enviable. She would be landlocked and encircled by Germany on the north-west and south. Even the British Commonwealth itself is finding its key points and trade routes encircled in many parts of the world, and, therefore, if one is to talk about encirclement, we can all raise a chorus about encirclement, and Hen-Hitler cannot expect to be allowed to sing a solo on this theme.
But it is not our purpose, it is not the purpose of our people, nor, I believe, of His Majesty's Government—I am sure it is not—and it would not be the purpose of any alternative Government in this country, to encircle the German people or any other people. It would rather be our hope that we could put an end to all these fears consequent uopn geographical and military conditions of the encirclement of innocent and peaceful nations, and that they would fade away and no longer be entertained. I wholly agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he indicated the hope that the time might come when we could extend this narrower circle of allies against an immediate threat of aggression to a wider circle, and a still wider circle of States bound together to make common cause to maintain the rule of law, decency and order in international affairs, and that Germany might at long last accept an invitation and come in and take her place with the rest, equally guaranteed against aggression from without and equally prepared to play her part in helping to repel and destroy aggression from whatever source it might come. Certainly we look forward to this, and the immediate purpose of this policy, the first step of which is before us to-night, is not to encircle any one nation, but only to encircle any potential criminal as it is the duty of the police in any country to encircle and catch criminals. To the German people I would wish that we could speak more freely and more often through the wireless and by other means, to tell them the truth about the world situation as we see it, the threats to peace as we conceive them, of our earnest hope that they will attain equality with others and that they will share equal rights with other 2581 peoples in all the good things of the world. But equality is one thing and dominance is another. While we concede equality, we shall not concede predominance.
This is a time in which it would be very rash to be optimistic. Even though the dangers of the last few days have passed, it would be very rash to take an optimistic view. The outcome between peace and war may depend upon the vigour with which the Government in the next days continue to mobilise, in larger numbers than they yet have in view, the peaceful Powers for the common defence of all that we hold dear. Time indeed, may be of the essence of the contract. So to-night we are talking about policy and not about persons. My hon. Friends on this side of the House are strongly of the opinion, whatever they may think of the past record of persons on that bench —our opinions of them have been often stated—that we should urge those persons, since they still have authority in this country, to press forward this policy with vigour and imagination; with imagination of the difficulties which may need to be removed, and with vigour and ingenuity in seeking to remove them, so as to give us that maximum of co-operation which the Prime Minister has promised.
The position in the world to-day, as I see it, is that the German Fuhrer, by a series of brutal and impatient steps, has led the great German people right up to the edge of the precipice of war, and that our people, led by the faltering and uncertain steps of our own Government, find themselves, together with France, Poland and many another, on the same dreadful edge of risk. There is at least one last fleeting chance—it may be the last and it may be very fleeting—that if the German Government will learn to keep faith and to act like a good neighbour, and if the British Government and others associated with them now, and others that maybe brought into association with them by British diplomacy, if those Governments are clear, co-operative and firm in conjunction one with another, by their action they may yet save the peoples of the world from the last final plunge into depths of human agony yet unplumbed in the history of the world.
§ 10.29 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
It has been my lot from time to time to reply from this Bench at 2582 the end of a Debate and on ordinary occasions I have been not unwilling to take up topics of controversy and do my best to enter into what Mr. Speaker calls the cut-and-thrust of discussion. To-night, interpreting as well as I can what I believe to be the general feeling of the House, I do not think that that is the sort of reply that is expected from this Bench. We are all of us so deeply impressed with the importance and significance of the present occasion that we would wish to postpone smaller matters of controversy to a more convenient season. I think it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who said of the declaration made by the Prime Minister on Friday that it was a momentous and, indeed, a tremendous declaration. There is one feature of its reception here which, I think, stands out in front of everything else.
With one or two exceptions, which only emphasise the general unity, we may mark this day as a date in our history when there has been accepted and approved in every part of the House this immensely significant statement. I am not disposed to belittle its importance. It is a statement which commits us specifically in a quarter of the world in which we have hitherto been freed from specific commitments, and it presages—I agree with the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) —commitments in other quarters also. It is writing a chapter in our history which carries us further than the catalogue of commitments which my right hon. Friend set out in a classic speech at Leamington. Here we are registering that in taking this stand the country as a whole is more united than on any other contemporary question of policy. That is a most tremendous fact which we shall all have occasion to remember hereafter, and I consider it to be the duty of all of us not to minimise this change in the least, but to recognise it and acknowledge it to the full extent of its application. It proclaims a definite course of action if need arises, and from that decision there can be no looking back.
It is the most serious commitment because it not merely threatens the possibility in certain events of war, but it binds us in certain events to undertake war. Compared with that tremendous task, accepted, as we see, so generally by the country, and with certain 2583 exceptions by the House, what do imputations of inconsistency matter? They will surely be recognised by everybody to be of small importance, and I am sure that I shall be excused by the House from answering merely personal challenges. The right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), so anxious to have some grounds on which he could suggest there were differences between colleagues on this bench, actually suggested—whether seriously or as a piece of mistimed humour I do not know—that one of the paragraphs of the declaration which the Prime Minister made on Friday was due to my unworthy hand, and another paragraph was to be attributed to the Prime Minister himself. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to be assured that there is no conceivable ground for such a suggestion, and that the whole Government thought then, and think now, that the declaration stands as a whole, and there is no reason to withdraw or qualify any part of it. May I venture to add that the part of the document which the right hon. Gentleman thought must naturally be attributed to me is the part which emphasises that it ought to be possible to find a peaceful means for solving difficulties, and that there should be no justification for the substitution of force or threats of force for the method of negotiation? I should have thought that that was a proposition which no Liberal would want to challenge.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
As the right hon. Gentleman has referred to me personally, perhaps I may be allowed to interrupt him. Not only do I not demur from that proposition, but I said it was platitudinous. I think it was untimely.
§ Sir J. Simon
The right hon. Gentleman can sneer at it, but I think it to be a good proposition. This is a convenient moment to deal with a specific question put to me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland when he asked me—and he kindly gave me notice of this—whether I could throw any light on the unreasonable comment and quite unfounded gloss which, as he pointed out, had been placed by Reuter's on Friday evening, and in a leading article of the "Times" the next morning, on this declaration. I claim again that the declaration itself is perfectly straightforward. I do not think it is capable of 2584 being given some refined or unnatural meaning. At any rate, it is to be understood in the fullest sense which it bears, and it is hardly necessary to add that I associate myself, and the whole Government associates itself, with the declaration as it was expounded by the Prime Minister himself. As I told the hon. Gentleman, I knew nothing about this matter, but I have made inquiries and this is the information I have to give, that no one, either at the Foreign Office or on behalf of the Government, authorised Reuters or the "Times" to minimise the effect of the Prime Minister's statement on Friday. I am given this specific sentence which I repeat, as I have it before me:These comments were made on the responsibility of the agency and the newspaper concerned.The Foreign Office took an early opportunity of explaining the true position, and the only thing to add is that, as far as Reuters are concerned, they later withdrew their statement. I am sorry I am not able to oblige the hon. Gentleman or the House with positive information, but I can only answer for official sources. I have been at pains to address myself to every official source concerned. I think the House may take it as quite sure that the comment or observation that was made was entirely unofficial and in no sense inspired from any Government source whatever.
I should like in the few remaining minutes to ask the attention of the House to a matter which may seem quite simple to us, but which I am convinced, in history will be regarded as one of the most striking features of this business, and therefore one which it is very desirable to put entirely plain before the House now, if only for purposes of record. It is the contrast between the situation as it was six months ago and the situation as it is to-day, because it happens to be almost exactly six months to a day. I have been much impressed during the Debate to observe how the House of Commons, I think generally, realises that there is no inconsistency in the Prime Minister's position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] My right hon. Friend is quite sufficiently straightforward to come here and say so, if he repented of what he had done. There is, in fact, a development but nothing which can really be called inconsistency, and he is entitled 2585 to say in a phrase of his distinguished father's, that it is not he, but the circumstances that have changed. [Interruption.] I think hon. Gentlemen will find it worth while to allow me to state these matters.
The Munich Agreement was signed on 29th September. At Berchtesgaden, Herr Hitler had declared that the inclusion of the Sudeten Germans in the Reich was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people not of German race. In his speech at the Sportspalast he said, "This is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe. I shall not be interested in the Czech State any more. I can guarantee it. We do not want any Czechs." Finally, at Munich the International Commission which was set up for the purpose of fixing the new boundaries was a Commission which, by the very terms of the document that was then and there signed, was to provide the final determination of the frontiers that were to be defined by the International Commission.
The Prime Minister has said more than once that these repeated declarations justified him in entertaining hope. What I think is equally plain to every fair-minded man is that when on the night of 14th March, before ever the interview had taken place with the Czech President, a German army invaded and appropriated the country of the Czechs, and when on 17th March a proclamation was issued at Prague that Bohemia and Moravia were annexed to the Reich and henceforth were subject to the Reich's political military and economic needs—what ought to be plain to every thoughtful observer of these arrangements is that in that situation the Prime Minister was, indeed, entitled to say at Birmingham that though he had considered himself justified, in view of the repeated assurances he had received, in founding some hope upon them, he shared the indignation that his hope was betrayed, and was bound to advise the country to adopt a different course. I believe the fact that the declaration of last Friday was made by the Prime Minister and by nobody else has added enormously to its weight. It makes an enormous difference that this decision should be declared after every hope which we entertained has been disappointed, and when it is possible for us now to say that 2586 the country at large is of one mind as to the issue.
The head of the German State said at Wilhelmshaven the other day that Germany is not dreaming of attacking other nations. Well, if that is so, then so much the better. Everybody knows that Britain has no intention of aggression in any quarter. Everybody knows that the stand that we are prepared to take is not directed against the rights and freedom of any State, but is a stand that we would maintain, and will maintain, at all costs against the threat of domination in Europe. It is very difficult, I think, for us in this country to understand how the leaders of Germany can have been so ill-advised as to suppose that these events which have now happened would not produce profound and united reactions in this country, and I believe that no other course of events would have produced so united a revulsion of feeling in this country as the events that have occurred. It is this departure from the racial principle by which the German policy was said to be confined which has so stirred the world.
It is noteworthy that, as far as I have checked it, there has been no attempt in Germany to dispute that the word of Munich was broken and that the action that has been taken is contrary to the agreement that was then signed; and we are offered, by way of explanation or excuse, this fantastic proposition about encirclement. I wish to associate myself with what the hon. Gentleman opposite said on the subject of encirclement. To us, whatever our political opinions, the proposition that we are engaged in encircling Germany is so fantastic a proposition that it is difficult to know how to deal with it, but I thought that what the hon. Gentleman said about it in calling attention to other cases was extremely effective. What we have in mind is the prevention of further aggression. Germany says that she has a right to living space. Who denies it? But Germany's right to living space cannot possibly be granted at the expense of the living room of smaller nations. I desire, therefore, to observe that the circumstance that it is the Prime Minister who, on behalf of the Government, has made this statement goes far to explain the unity and the authority which it carries in this country. His popularity in Germany after Munich—my hon. Friend 2587 the Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) spoke very convincingly on that subject—is due to the fact that he is known to be striving with all his might' for peace, and indeed, at any rate temporarily, he secured it. No one can question his motives, and I say that it is surely the strongest proof of the character of the change which Germany's recent actions have brought about that the man who was prepared to go farthest in giving credit to German declarations is the man who is leading this country to take this united stand.
With regard to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), I would add this, that His Majesty's Government are well aware that what is required now is more than this interim declaration. On the diplomatic side there is much work to be done, which, of course, we cannot anticipate in this Debate. Whatever commitments are entered into, they must not be vague or unspecified commitments; they must be precise and definite commitments. There is much to be done, very much to be done, on the domestic side also. We have already announced the doubling of our Territorial field force, and that is a very large matter in itself. But, while I cannot anticipate, I will venture to-night to declare my own conviction. Accept- 2588 ing as we do, pretty well all of us, this tremendous declaration and all that it involves, it is my conviction that anything and everything which will make this country stronger and more united has to be accepted and pushed forward. I believe it to be our view in all quarters of the House that neither convenience, nor comfort, nor money, nor wealth, nor our insular tradition and practice can be put into the scale against this essential necessity. We will throw the whole potential strength of Britain into this essential work. That strength must be used, if need be, if the occasion really arose to resist aggression, to fight; but, above all, I conceive this effort as an organisation to make broader and surer the basis of peace. The Deputy-Leader of the Opposition in his very statesmanlike speech, if I may say so, which opened the Debate, declared that if success was achieved he did not care who got the credit. Let me reply at the end by saying that if peace is secured, it will be the action of a united House of Commons that has helped to secure it.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eight minutes before Eleven o'Clock.