§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn" — [Captain Margesson.]
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
Mr. Speaker, you, Sir, after consultation with the Government have satisfied yourself that it was in the public interest to summon this House to meet this afternoon in order to discuss certain events which have disturbed the Easter Festival and have created widespread disquiet and uneasiness in Europe, especially in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I propose to begin my statement by a brief recital of the events which I have referred to, so far as we have been able to get information about them. The House will recollect that just a week ago I made a statement here on the subject of Albania. I reported that two days before His Majesty's Ambassador in Rome had drawn the attention of the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs to rumours concerning the concentration of Italian troops and transport at Bari and Brindisi. I mentioned on that occasion the suggestion which, according to Count Ciano, the King of Albania had made on 8th March regarding the strengthening of the existing Treaty of Alliance between Italy and Albania and the difficulties which had taken place in the ensuing discussions, the nature of which, I said, was not quite plain, and I informed the House that, according to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Italian interests had been threatened. I also stated that, although I had not yet received a detailed account of the point of view of the Albanian Government, I had just received from that Government a denial of any report that it had accepted conditions incompatible with Albanian sovereignty and national independence.
Italian warships appeared off the coast of Albania early on 6th April and Italian residents were taken on board. In the evening Italian troops left Bari and Brindisi for Albania. Communication with Albania has been difficult, and His Majesty's Government are still awaiting a communication on the recent events there from His Majesty's Minister at Durazzo. In the meantime, accounts have been received from Italian and Albanian sources of the earlier events of 7th April 6 but regarding events in the latter part of that day and subsequent happenings, there is little but official Italian news. The occupation of Albania began in the small hours of 7th April. Italian troops disembarked at dawn at the ports of Santi Quaranta, Valona, Durazzo and St. Giovanni di Medua. Accounts vary as to the amount of resistance offered, but in any case it seems clear that by the afternoon of Good Friday the four coast towns had been occupied by Italian forces. King Zog and the Albanian Government appear to have left Tirana during the night of 6th and 7th April, and according to Italian sources, their departure was the signal for an outbreak of disturbances in the capital. Italian troops seem to have entered Tirana early on 8th April, and the town was visited that day by Count Ciano. During the same day King Zog and Queen Geraldine with their infant son arrived in Greek territory, where they were hospitably received by the Greek Government.
That is all I can say about the facts of the Italian occupation of Albania so far as they can be disentangled from conflicting or sometimes one-sided accounts. When we come to examine the background against which these events have taken place we are confronted once again with a similar divergence of testimony. I have already mentioned the communication to Lord Perth on 4th April by Count Ciano, when the latter informed our Ambassador that on 8th March King Zog had suggested to the Italian Government the reinforcement of the Italo-Albanian Alliance. On 20th March, the King had asked that Italian troops should be sent to Albania, for use, it was alleged, against Yugoslavia. The Italians had refused this proposal, and shortly afterwards had submitted a scheme for a reinforcement of the alliance in accordance with King Zog's earlier suggestion. The scheme put forward, it was explained by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs, did not modify the existing juridical status of Albania, and was not accompanied by any ultimatum.
It was then, Count Ciano said, that King Zog started mobilisation, and began to display a hostile attitude towards Italian interests. It was not the Italian wish, he added, to change the status quo in Albania, but the Italian Government felt bound to protect their interests. In 7 another communication made to the Foreign Office on the following day, 5th April, the Italian Charge d' Affaires stated that the Albanian authorities had started to organise anti-Italian demonstrations by armed bands, threatening Italian residents throughout the country. The fact that some demonstrations of an anti-Italian character had taken place in the capital in the early part of April is confirmed by contemporary reports from His Majesty's Minister in Durazzo.
The Albanian account of these events gives a different version. A written communication dated 8th April, and left with the Foreign Secretary the same afternoon by the Albanian Minister, states that the Italian Government, having tried in vain to force the Albanian Government to accept proposals which appeared to that Government to be incompatible with the independence, sovereignty and integrity of that country, attempted to impose their will by a subsequent ultimatum.
To this ultimatum, which was unanimously rejected by the Chamber of Deputies, the Albanian Government replied with a clear-cut refusal; whereupon, according to the Albanian communication, Italian troops, under cover of an intense bombardment by the Navy and Air Force, attacked the four Albanian ports in the early hours of 7th April. The Albanian Minister stated that he had as yet no details of the Italian proposals, but reports which His Majesty's Minister at Durazzo stated were current in Albania at the time indicated that they included Italian administrative control on an extended scale, and the occupation by Italian troops of certain selected points of strategic importance. It seems probable that these proposals might have opened the door to extensive Italian immigration. This was confirmed in an oral communication made by a representative of King Zog on 4th April to His Majesty's Minister and the Ministers of France and the Balkan Entente. This representative went on to say that the King had formed a Commission to study the Italian proposals and that this Commission had reported that they tended to establish a virtual protectorate, damaging alike to the independence, sovereignty and integrity of Albania. The King had inquired of the Italian Minister what would be the result if he refused to entertain these proposals, and had been 8 informed that this course would entail real danger to Albania. Nevertheless, His Majesty had rejected the proposals, and declared that he would, if necessary, resist by force. I should add that the communication made to my Noble Friend by the Albanian Minister on the afternoon of Saturday, 8th April, after recounting the reasons already quoted for rejecting the Italian proposals and for resisting the subsequent landing of Italian troops, appealed to His Majesty's Government to do their utmost in aid of a small nation which was desperately trying to defend its own territory.
It will be seen that these accounts materially differ from one another, and for the present it would seem wise to suspend judgment on the facts which preceded the occupation. According to officially inspired statements from Italian sources and the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs himself, the occupation was forced upon the Italians by the misgovernment and recalcitrance of King Zog. They point out that Italian interests which have been for a century pre-eminent in Albania, were expressly recognised by the Conference of Ambassadors; that Italy had spent large sums in Albania on schools, hospitals, roads, etc.; and that this Italian expenditure had been mal-administered by the Albanian Government. They declare that King Zog had betrayed his people, and finally they maintain that the help of the Italian Government had been invoked by many elements in Albania who were anxious to be delivered from King Zog's misrule. No doubt, all these matters will become clearer in the future than they are to-day.
In the meantime, there is no doubt as to the general effect produced by the Italian action. Public opinion throughout the world has once again been profoundly shocked by this fresh exhibition of the use of force. Rightly or wrongly, the stories of oppression and ill-treatment of the population by the former Government of Albania, of dangers to Italian capital investments in that country, and of Albanian enthusiasm at the Italian occupation, are regarded with doubt and suspicion. To everyone, whatever his faith, whether Christian or Moslem, it must be apparent that a powerful nation has imposed its will on a small and relatively defenceless country, and has done so by an imposing show of armed force.
9 In this country, there is one question which we are bound to ask ourselves: that is, how far are the proceedings in Albania in conformity with the agreement signed by Italy and ourselves on 16th April last year? The Preamble to that agreement says that the two countries, animated by the desire to place their relations on a solid and lasting basis and to contribute to the general cause of peace and security, have decided to reach agreement on questions of mutual concern. It will, I am sure, be felt widely in this country and in the world at large that the action taken by Italy in Albania, so far from contributing to the general cause of peace and security, must inevitably be a cause of further uneasiness and increase international tension. Then, again, under the agreement, both countries reaffirm the declaration of 2nd January, 1937, which says:The two Governments disclaim any desire to modify or, so far as they are concerned, to see modified, the status quo as regards national sovereignty of territories in the Mediterranean area.It was with those considerations in mind that we instructed our Ambassador to speak to Count Ciano in Rome, while, at the same time, my Noble Friend reminded the Italian Chargé d' Affaires that the situation might well raise in an acute form the whole question of the maintenance of the status quo in the Mediterranean, a matter which formed, in our opinion, so important an element in the Anglo-Italian Agreement of 16th April last. The Adriatic certainly formed part of the Mediterranean area, and the Italian Government could not, therefore, claim that His Majesty's Government were not concerned. On these broad grounds, the Foreign Secretary said he would be completely reassured only if he could be certain that the situation would develop in such a way that the conditions of that agreement were not likely to be violated.
On the same day—that is, 7th April— His Majesty's Ambassador had seen Count Ciano, who stated that the Italian Government fully intended to respect the independence and integrity of Albania and the status quo in the Mediterranean area. On 9th April he saw him again, and informed him that, although His Majesty's Government had taken note of these assurances, they were, nevertheless, gravely concerned at the reports which had reached them of the sudden invasion 10 of Albania, and they found it difficult to believe that, if the situation between Italy and Albania was as had been described to them by Count Ciano himself and by Signor Crolla, the differences between the two Governments were incapable of solution by negotiation. They found it equally difficult to understand how it was possible to reconcile the Italian landing on the Albanian coast with the maintenance of that country's independence and the integrity of her frontiers. Lord Perth reminded Count Ciano that both Governments were pledged by the Anglo-Italian Agreement to the preservation of the status quo in the Mediterranean area and informed him that His Majesty's Government felt that they were entitled to the frankest and fullest explanation not only of present developments in the Italo-Albanian situation and what had led up to them, but also of the future intentions of the Italian Government. Lord Perth added that the explanations proffered up to date had caused His Majesty's Government profound misgivings and that they would not satisfy public opinion in this country. When pressed by Lord Perth as to what were Italian intentions in regard to the future, bearing in mind the definite pledges and assurances which the Italian Government had already given, Count Ciano stated that this would depend upon the wishes of the Albanian people.
It would appear from the latest news that the Albanian Provisional Administrative Council has now offered the Crown of Albania to the King of Italy. We must await the answer of the Italian Government to this offer, but whatever may be the technicalities of the position His Majesty's Government find it difficult in the extreme to reconcile what has happened in Albania with the preservation of national sovereignty as contemplated by the Anglo-Italian Agreemnt.
Of course, it is not only the future of Albania which is at stake; unmistakeable signs of disquiet and uneasiness have been manifested not only in the adjacent areas, but in other countries bordering on the Mediterranean or included in the Balkan Peninsula. I will not trouble the House with elaborate details as to the reports reaching us in proof of this fact; I confine myself to one case only. When the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs saw the Italian Chargé d' Affaires at a late hour on Easter Eve Signor Crolla 11 communicated a message from Signor Mussolini which stated, among other things, that theneighbouring countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, were perfectly calm and that it was very clear that Italy was not going to cause trouble to neighbouring countriesLater in the interview Signor Crolla drew attention to information in his possession that the English Sunday Press was likely to make various suggestions as to possible courses of British action including, among others, that the British should occupy Corfu. On this point he assured Lord Halifax that the Italians were certainly not going to threaten Greek independence, but that any British occupation of Corfu would create most dangerous reactions. The Foreign Secretary at once told Signor Crolla that he could dismiss from his mind the idea that His Majesty's Government had any intention of occupying Corfu, but the Government would take a very grave view if anybody else occupied it.
Early on the morning of Easter Sunday we learned from our Minister in Athens that information had reached the Greek Government that Italy was intending to attack Corfu in the near future. This information was subsequently confirmed by the Greek Minister in London when he called upon the Foreign Secretary at a quarter past Eleven on Sunday morning. My Noble Friend conveyed to M. Simopoulos the assurances given the night before by the Italian Chargé d' Affaires and he also told the Greek Minister the exact terms of his reply to Signor Crolla. The Foreign Secretary's next visitor on Sunday morning was the Italian Chargé d' Affaires, and my Noble Friend reverted to the statement made to him the previous evening in regard to the calm existing in neighbouring countries, and told him that the Greek Government were very anxious and uneasy in view of the reports which were in circulation that it was the Italian Government who intended to occupy Corfu. Signor Crolla said that this was the first time he had ever heard a hint of such action, and he had no hesitation in saying that in his view it was absolutely impossible that it should be correct, since it would be in flagrant contradiction with what, on the authority of the Duce, he had told the Foreign Secretary the night before.
12 On his own responsibility, therefore, Signor Crolla gave my noble Friend an assurance that this was not the Italian intention. My Noble Friend told the Italian Chargé d' Affaires that he naturally welcomed his personal assurance, but that it was right to leave him in no doubt that if any Italian action of the sort were ever in contemplation it must be. a matter of the gravest concern to His Majesty's Government. He added that it was vital that there should be no misunderstanding between the British and Italian Governments on this point, and he told Signor Crolla that he would be glad to know that the Italian Government had made their own assurances which he had just given on his own responsibility; and my Noble Friend added that it would be of more value if the same assurances could immediately be repeated by the Italian Government to the Greek Government. In the early part of the same afternoon the Greek Minister was asked to call at the Foreign Office and informed of the exact tenor of this conversation; and in the meantime His Majesty's Minister at Athens had been instructed to communicate at once the details of it to the Greek Government.
During the same evening the Italian Chargé d' Affaires again called upon the Foreign Secretary with a further message from Signor Mussolini to the effect, among other things, that he had already given the most ample assurances to the Greek Government confirming that the Italian Government intended to base their relations with Greece on a cordial and solid friendship. Signor Mussolini had also sent new instructions to the Italian Chargé d' Affaires in Athens to give assurances to the Greek Government that all rumours concerning Italian hostile intentions towards Greece were false, inasmuch as Italy intended to respect in the most absolute manner the territorial and insular integrity of Greece. This information was at once telegraphed to Athens, and His Majesty's Minister there instructed to impart it without delay to the Greek Government. It was subsequently learnt that the Italian Chargé d' Affaires in Athens conveyed to the Greek Government on 10th April—the next day—the assurances promised by Signor Mussolini.
I have given the House in some detail the history of what may be called the Corfu rumours. How they arose I do 13 not pretend to know, but the fact that they should have been current and widely believed illustrates the general uneasiness created by recent events. Although this particular story has now been discredited, yet, as I have said on a previous occasion, once confidence has been roughly shaken it is not so easily re-established and His Majesty's Government feel that they have both a duty and a service to perform by leaving no doubt in the mind of anyone as to their own position. I, therefore, take this opportunity of saying on their behalf that His Majesty's Government attach the greatest importance to the avoidance of disturbance by force or threats of force of the status quo in the Mediterranean and the Balkan Peninsula. Consequently, they have come to the conclusion that, in the event of any action being taken which clearly threatened the independence of Greece or Rumania, and which the Greek or Rumanian Government respectively considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Greek or Rumanian Government, as the case might be, all the support in their power. We are communicating this declaration to the Governments directly concerned, and to others, especially Turkey, whose close relations with the Greek Government are known. I understand that the French Government are making a similar declaration this afternoon. I need not add that the Dominion Governments, as always, are being continuously informed of all developments.
I only want to add one or two further observations. So far as I am concerned, nothing that has happened has in any way altered my conviction that the policy of His Majesty's Government in signing the Anglo-Italian Agreement a year ago was right. I do not say that in order to raise controversies which belong to the past, but in order to avoid any misunderstanding of my present attitude. I rejoiced at the restoration of friendly feelings between the Italian people and the people of this country, both for its own sake, and because I believed that it can make a valuable contribution to the general peace. I frankly confess my deep disappointment at an action by the Italian Government which has cast a shadow over the genuineness of their intentions to carry out their undertakings.
14 No doubt some would say that we should now declare that the Anglo-Italian Agreement must be considered at an end. I do not take that view myself. Nobody with any sense of responsibility can in these days lightly do anything which would lead to an increase in international tension, and everybody would deplore the loss of the advantages that follow from international agreements arrived at after mutual discussion. I believe, therefore, that there will be a widespread desire, all the greater because of the uneasiness that now prevails, to see the fulfilment of the remaining provisions of the Agreement, and, naturally, in view of recent events, it is to the Italian Government that I look for practical evidence that they share that desire.
Frequent reference has been made in this House to that passage in the exchange of Notes annexed to the Agreement which referred to the evacuation of Italian volunteers from Spain. The passage is as follows:I desire, secondly, to reaffirm that, if this evacuation has not been completed at the moment of the termination of the Spanish Civil War, all remaining Italian volunteers will forthwith leave Spanish territory, and all Italian war material will simultaneously be withdrawn.In the course of the recent exchanges with the Italian Government, the Italian Chargé d' Affaires gave to my Noble Friend the Foreign Secretary an assurance from Signor Mussolini to the following effect:The Head of the Italian Government confirmed that all the Italian volunteers would be withdrawn from Spain immediately after the victory parade which was to take place in MadridOn the same day, 9th April, in Rome, Count Ciano informed Lord Perth, in reply to a further inquiry, that when the troops were withdrawn Italian aeroplanes and pilots would leave also. His Majesty's Government have taken due note of these fresh assurances, which, of course, confirmed those which we had received before. I need only add that the Government have always regarded the evacuation of the Italian volunteers from Spain as a vital element in the Agreement, and they look forward accordingly to its early fulfilment.
Once again this House is facing grave and serious issues. Once again there has been brought home to all of us the intolerable nature of a state of things which keeps the whole world in a perpetually re- 15 curring series of alarms and Crises, blighting commerce and industry, depressing social life and culture, poisoning every phase of human activity in every country. We have exercised patience over a long period, in spite of many disappointments, in our efforts to remove suspicions, to promote good will and to keep the peace. I am unwilling to believe that these efforts will not even yet bear fruit, however discouraging the outlook may seem at this moment. The events of which we have complained in the past, and those which we condemn to-day, cannot have failed to stir the minds and consciences of all peoples, whether within or without the countries most concerned, and surely, if slowly, they are working towards a common recognition of a common danger. Let us, therefore, not put patience aside. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Russia?"] It is a little difficult, perhaps, to avoid the exhibition of strong feelings, but I hope that hon. Members will not assume that, if I have not mentioned Russia in what I have said this afternoon, that means that we are not keeping in the closest touch with the representatives of that country. We have a very difficult task to perform. We have to consider, not only what we wish, but what other people are also willing to do. I ask the House to believe that, without any prejudice, without any preconceived ideological notions, we are endeavouring to the utmost of our ability so to marshal the forces which are still in favour of peace and which are willing to resist aggression that our efforts may be successful.
To-day we must stiffen our resolution —resolution not only to make ourselves strong to defend ourselves, but resolution also to play our part in aiding those who, if faced by aggression or threatened with the loss of freedom, decide to resist. In that resolution, and in the steps which we have taken, and which we shall yet take to put it into effect, I am confident that we shall have the approval of this House, of this country, and of the whole Empire.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
We are met at a time of very great international tension, and it behoves anyone taking part in this Debate to weigh his words and speak with a full sense of responsibility. I have listened to the Prime Minister's statement; and I am 16 bound to say that I am disappointed. When the House broke up for Easter we had just had a Debate on the position in Central Europe. When we went away for our holidays we were suddenly faced with the seizure of Albania, an act of violence, an act of lawlessness, an act which was contrary to the accepted canons of civilised conduct. Whatever may be the dispute about the details, the main facts are perfectly clear. A small State, which after very many centuries had got its independence, has in effect been extinguished. It had for many years been an extremely docile ally of Italy. One always understood that its Ruler had been a most faithful follower of Signor Mussolini. Indeed, the complaints in Albania were not that he showed any restiveness against Italian domination but that he was willing to submit to it. Now, we have a brutal invasion. Enormous forces are poured into that country without any warning, without any explanation, and then we have the farce, apparently, of an offer of the Crown by a people who are under the occupation of a huge force of foreign troops.
That is the position, and it is serious not only for the actual attack on the Albanians. There is always a double feature in these acts of violence. There is the immediate effect on the people against whom the aggression is committed, and there is a blow to the security of everyone else and an attack on the rule of law. In this case there is something more. We have what I hold to be a deliberate breach of the obligations undertaken by Signor Mussolini in the Anglo-Italian Agreement. The Prime Minister has dwelt on that point. We at the time never thought it likely that the Anglo-Italian Agreement would lead to any real pacification. We have regarded the Anglo-Italian Agreement as part of a mistaken policy—an unreal policy of unilateral appeasement. In my view, the rape of Albania is to the Anglo-Italian Agreement what the destruction of Czechoslovakia was to the Munich Agreement. The general effect is simply this, that one cannot accept the word of either the Ruler of Germany or the Ruler of Italy. It is no good abusing these men or going in for any great show of moral indignation, but it is necessary to be a realist. The fact is that these people do not accept the obligation to keep their word. In May, 1938, at the time that we dis- 17 cussed the Anglo-Italian Agreement I made a quotation from the writings of Machiavelli:A wise Prince, therefore, ought not to regard his word, when the keeping of it will be to his prejudice and the causes no longer subsist which obliged him to give itI said that the cause which obliged Signor Mussolini to give his adhesion to the Anglo-Italian Agreement was a desire for the recognition of the Italian Empire of Abyssinia, and I said that as soon as he had got that you would find that he would try the precept of Machiavelli. Unfortunately, I was right. It is only realism to recognise that. Therefore, a policy that is based on the idea that you can get a sound settlement by people who will not keep their word is based on a false premise.
I was sorry to hear the Prime Minister say that he considered the Anglo-Italian Agreement was right and that he intended to follow that same policy, because, in my view, that has been a most disastrous policy.
§ Mr. Attlee
I think the Prime Minister said that he thought his policy was right, and that he intended to pursue the policy that he had hitherto pursued.
§ The Prime Minister
What I said was that I thought it was right at the time. I did not say that the changes which have taken place have rendered it right to go on with that same policy to-day.
§ Mr. Attlee
I do not wish to misrepresent the Prime Minister, but I did gather that he still thought that the policy of appeasement was possible. I suggest that it is wrong to suppose that the dictators really want a peaceful settlement of the outstanding questions which are agitating the world. The fact is that these people have a vested interest in anarchy. It is their policy to rub every sore, to inflame every discontent. When people suggest that all these troubles can be dealt with if only reasonable people would meet round a table and discuss them, the trouble is that these people are not reasonable. I suggest that we have to face up to that fact, and we have to face the present position in the world.
Everywhere in Europe, and not only in Europe, there is great anxiety. Everyone is asking who is to be the next 18 victim—upon whom next will the quarrel be fixed? There are abundant opportunities of fishing in troubled waters in Central Europe. The settlement after the War left many composite States. There were many composite States before the War. Every attempt to settle Europe, short of the taking of the populations and sorting them out, inevitably involves the existence of minorities, and the existence of those minorities does give an opportunity to those who wish to fish in troubled waters. At the present time Czecho-Slovakia is a warning to everybody of what may happen. Albania is a second warning. The attack on Albania was certainly not a sudden attack, caused by something done by King Zog. It is part of the policy of the Axis Powers which, in my view, is deliberately directed against the succession States in South Eastern Europe. It is directed towards the disintegration of the whole of that part of Europe, and when that part of Europe has been disintegrated, then will be the time for action towards the West.
The world to-day is in an intolerable position, because of this constant menace hanging over the whole world. What we have to face is, what is now the right policy to pursue in order to preserve peace? We are concerned with a policy to establish peace. I welcome the fact that we have undertaken responsibilities towards Poland, Greece and Rumania, but we have to recognise that undertaking these responsibilities necessarily creates great dangers, and that the Government are to-day accepting just those responsibilities that they refused to accept under the Covenant of the League of Nations. When aggression first began, when the League was still standing strong, it was just the refusal to accept obligations that led later towards world anarchy, and now in more dangerous circumstances the Government find themselves forced to entertain these obligations. They are, after all, I think the Prime Minister's phrase was, in the nature of a "cover note," a cover note before you can get a real policy of insurance. We want to see that real policy of insurance come along. These individual pacts are useful, but they are only plugging a leak, and when you plug a leak in one place, the water begins to flood in another, and may overflow your dam. We want to see that dam strengthened right throughout the whole length in order to stop these floods. We 19 must, therefore, look for something more than a policy that covers us for a week or a fortnight. We want a policy that is going to build up a collective security for the world, not merely for weeks or months, but for years.
I see at the present moment no clear sign that the Government have really adopted a new policy. There seems to me still a hankering after the discredited policy of unilateral appeasement. Let us think for a moment not only of the interests of Europe, but also of the interests of our own country and of the British Empire. We are vitally concerned in not just one of these cases, but in all these cases. It is a mistake to think that you can pick and choose, and say you can stop it here and allow it there, because our interests are not immediately affected. Our interests are the interests of law, order and peace, and we can only defend the interests of this country and of the British Empire if we make those interests round in with the interests of the whole world. At the present moment we have accepted so many obligations that we are to-day getting into what was said to be the danger of the Covenant, without its advantages. I do not think that we shall be wise to under-estimate the difficulties in which the totalitarian States find themselves. It is a great mistake either to under-estimate or to over-estimate the position. If we are to prevent war, we must get a strong enough force that will deter the aggressor.
I am sorry to-day that we did not get a mention from the Prime Minister with regard to the position of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. If you want to build up a league of collective security you must get unity between Great Britain, France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I realise the difficulties there are in Europe owing to past history and conflicting ideologies, but these things have had to be overcome in the past and in the face of grave dangers. I feel that a declaration of solidarity between these Powers of their general interests in the peace of the world would be a rallying point around which to bring in all the forces which stand for peace. I am quite convinced to-day that you must have the return to collective security. We on these benches have pleaded throughout for 20 collective security and for the principles of the Covenant of the League of Nations.
Let me say at once that of most vital importance is the matter of the moral issue. You will not get a firm stand made against aggression if you are thinking all the time of individual interests. You have to get a rallying of all the people in the world who believe in freedom, liberty and peace. We want to rally not only the peoples in the free countries, but the peoples in the countries that are now under dictators. We want to get that support of liberty not only in Europe, but we want to get it in the United States of America. I believe that all were heartened when they saw the declaration of President Roosevelt the other day. Back to the spirit of the League of Nations; back to the building up of collective security. I cannot hold the Government blameless in the extremely slow and dilatory methods which have been pursued. The situation to-day calls for immense energy and for full faith in a policy to save this country and the world from the danger of another war. The great danger is of giving up position after position till eventually you find yourselves at the danger point.
The Government still speak with two voices. I want a Government that will speak with one voice, that will speak for the moral principle, and be a Government to rally the world on the basis of standing firm against aggression and of standing for freedom, and of promoting that unity which is the only way in which we can prevent another war. I want to see that unity on the political side, the economic side and the moral side. I do not feel that we are getting the lead that we ought to have from the Government. We welcome these Pacts as far as they go, but they are only for very short cover. I have yet to learn of any long-term policy on behalf of this Government. The policy that has been pursued, against all the advice of experienced men on that side as well as this side of the House, is all in ruins. Czecho-Slovakia and Albania mark the end of the policy of unilateral appeasement, the end of the attempt to make peace by disregarding moral issues. Unless the Government are prepared now to stand on a basis which will command the support of the peoples of the world, unless they are prepared vigorously to build up collective security which will be 21 implemented by those who take part in it, then they had better give way to those who will.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
The Prime Minister's account of recent events in Albania lost nothing in weight and sharpness from the fairness with which he explained to the House the points of view taken by the two sides in the dispute in that country. The only point at which the Prime Minister seemed to me to fall short in measuring his judgment of the Italian action was when, in the latter part of his speech, he was attempting to defend his policy of appeasement during the past year, and, in particular, the conclusion of the Anglo-Italian Agreement, and referred to the invasion of Albania as a shadow cast upon the genuineness of Italian intentions in signing that Agreement. It is very much more than a shadow. It is a great gash torn through that Agreement. But for the rest, in that part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he dealt with the events during Easter, his condemnation of the Italian aggression was measured and weighty, and I join with him in condemning this brutal outrage on a small but valiant people.
This act of naked aggression tears to tatters the last shred of the policy of appeasement, violates two articles of the Anglo-Italian Agreement and the so-called Gentleman's Agreement upon which that Agreement was based, and once more reveals the fundamental truth about the situation in Europe which we on these benches, and many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the benches opposite, have endeavoured to impress upon the Government, which is that we are faced by an active conspiracy between the Powers of the Axis to undermine the liberties of Europe and acquire world domination. Let us have no doubt about this, that while the road which those Powers are treading leads through Austria and Czecho-Slovakia, Spain and Albania, perhaps through Poland, Rumania, Holland, the Ukraine, and even France, the ultimate goal and the greatest prize is none of these. The prize at which these conspirators are aiming is nothing less than the possessions, resources and trade of Britain. Therefore, it behoves us to bestir ourselves betimes, and I agree with the Leader of the Opposition in not being satisfied that the Government are be- 22 stirring themselves sufficiently. It is not enough to be running about Europe locking up doors after the horses have been stolen. Nor is it enough to say, "There is a weak place; let us give a guarantee. There is another weak spot, let us give another guarantee." We need to move quickly and resolutely to build up a general system of collective security based on those principles of law, justice and mutual assistance which will command the respect not only of our own people, but also of the people in our great Dominions, the United States of America, China and Japan, and even in Germany and Italy—principles upon which the common interests of mankind, which, as the Prime Minister pointed out in the eloquent concluding passages of his speech, are so gravely threatened by recent events, can be reconciled.
Such a system, in the present state of the world, must obviously be buttressed by force, and to that buttress of material force we must contribute in proportion to our population, resources and power, and we must give the world convincing proof that we are resolved to do so. What is our contribution? We have a great Navy, the most powerful Navy in the world. We have a formidable and rapidly- growing Air Force. It has been announced that we shall have prepared 32 divisions. Nobody doubts that we can get the men. The spirit of the people is high, and they seethe danger clearly. Let us stiffen our resolution, the Prime Minister said. The resolution of the people of this country is stiff and high already. It is to his colleagues, I imagine, that he addressed that exhortation. But while we have the men, the difficulty is the equipment. The Secretary of State for War has declared thatwe are operating under a system which gives us no power to assure the completion of our orders with urgency or in precedence"—exactly the argument which we put forward in supporting our Amendment to the Address last November calling for a Ministry of Supply. That system which the Secretary of State for War condemns ought at once to be changed. Let us have a Ministry of Supply now, and without further intolerable delays.
Then, giving such convincing proof of our resolution, let us be prepared to do that first, before we attempt to summon others to our aid; let us rally to the common cause others who are threatened 23 by the Axis conspiracy. Here, again, strenuous exertions are necessary. Let the Prime Minister's own words be the criterion of the exertions required. Speaking in the House on 22nd February, 1938, the Prime Minister said:At the last Election it was still possible to hope that the League might afford collectice security. I believed it myself. I do not believe it now" — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd February, 1938; col. 227; Vol. 332.]When the Prime Minister used those words, there was available to help in the efforts of the League Czecho-Slovakia, with the most powerful and well-equipped army of all the smaller Powers of Europe. There was fighting valiantly in Spain, for the cause of freedom and democracy, a splendid army 300,000 or 400,000 strong. When the Prime Minister said that the League could not afford security, those were two of the resources upon which the League could then count; but which they have no longer. If it was not possible then to summon from the resources of the League sufficient strength to provide collective security, how much more difficult is it going to be to do it to-day? Nor can we hope to earn the confidence of the weaker nations unless we can give them the assurance that we can support them in their hour of need. There is not much in the story of the last five tragic weeks to give them that confidence. On the one side action, swift, ruthless, vigorous, co-ordinated action; on the other side indignation, expostulation, vacillation, uncertainty and delay.
Let me repeat what I said last week, that in its present stage the problem is primarily a military problem and that the key to its solution lies in close and firm co-operation between Britain, France and Russia. The drive of the Axis Powers is clearly directed at present towards the Black Sea and the Aegean. Between them and their goals stand a number of smaller and weaker Powers, torn between their fears and their sympathies. They know the power and resources of Britain and France, but they see the immense war machine of Germany and Italy approaching or already resting upon their very frontiers, and they know that if they do not make such terms as they can with the aggressor there is only one great Power from whom they can look for help in resisting the impact of German and Italian armed might. It is no use 24 sprinkling guarantees round Europe unless those guarantees can be translated into terms not only of ships, but also of aeroplanes, munitions, armoured vehicles and troops, and the only country, the only great Power, which can do that in the Balkans is Russia.
Two remarkable speeches have already been delivered in this House this after noon, and other speeches from great orators in the House will be forthcoming later on; but I have no doubt at all what the most remarkable feature of this Debate will be recognised as having been when it is over: it is that the Prime Minister in this time of crisis for Europe and for the world made that speech at that Box this afternoon without one single mention, until he was interrupted from these Benches, of Russia. The Prime Minister said last week, in relation to Russia, that His Majesty's Government would welcome the co-operation of any country in resistance to aggression. That attitude is much too cold and passive. Some time ago the Prime Minister described himself as "a go-getter for peace," and we all know how hard he has worked to justify that description. Now that he realises the necessity for building up resistance to aggression he must be a go-getter for friends and allies, and especially for Russia. He has much to live down. For a year he has held them at arm's length. For a year he has referred to them as a country "half European and half Asiatic." Does the Prime Minister not remember that statement? It was on the occasion of the second Debate —
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman need not take any trouble in finding the quotation. I am not denying it. I am only saying that I do not recollect it at the moment.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I was quite willing to read the quotation to the Prime Minister, for he shook his head.
§ The Prime Minister
I shook my head when the right hon. Gentleman asked me whether I recollected using the words.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I saw the Prime Minister shake his head before that, and that was why I interrupted my speech in order to give the quotation. The statement was made on the occasion of the speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) when he resigned 25 from the Government. I think it was the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) who had made a speech winding up the Debate for the party above the Gangway. He had criticised the Prime Minister's reference to an agreement between the Four Powers, and the Prime Minister said:Surely it cannot be disputed that those Four Powers I named are the most powerful in Europe. After all Russia is partly European but partly Asiatic" — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1938; col. 154, Vol. 332.]
§ Sir A. Sinclair
A great many things that are true are very harmful when said by the head of a Government. When we are needing friends as badly as this country does, and when the cause of peace and freedom needs defenders as badly as it does, it is not the right way to refer to one of the most powerful friends we can summon to our aid. That is not the only reference when the Prime Minister has made which has had a bad effect upon opinion in Russia. I remember after the Austrian Anschluss the Prime Minister proudly announced to the House that his policy had the full approval of all the Powers of Europe, with the possible exception of Russia. If you refer in terms like those to a great country whose friendship you need, you must not be surprised if it is not ready to jump to your aid. The Russians know perfectly well that there are a great many people in this country who have been saying and writing in the newspapers what a good thing it would be if Germany would go East and if there were trouble between Russia and Germany— [Interruption]. If hon. Members do not know these facts, it is time someone stated them. It is time the Government realised that it is that atmosphere, which has been developed in the relations between Russia and this country, which they must make every effort now to dissipate. We need the friendship of Russia and it is going to call for a great deal of effort on behalf of this Government and the leaders of public opinion in this country to secure it for us now. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are helping it, are you not?"] Again, only this morning the usually well-informed Diplomatic Correspondent of the "Times" says:The Government are leaving open every opportunity for Soviet co-operation in any steps against aggression and would welcome 26 any sign that that co-operation would be forthcomingHow many more signs do His Majesty's Government want? After the Anschluss in Austria, the Soviet Government of Russia asked for the convocation of a conference to consider resistance to aggression. At the time of the Czecho-Slovakian crisis they gave to the Minister of Education, who was representing His Majesty's Government in Geneva, assurances of help in the event of France and Britain, or in the event of France only, going to the assistance of Czecho-Slovakia. Last month, after the Czecho-Slovakian crisis, they asked for a conference of Six Powers to consider what could be done to offer resistance to the aggression of the dictatorship Powers. That was turned down; His Majesty's Government preferred to have a Four-Power Declaration to be made by Russia, Poland, France and Britain. Again, Russia agreed. It was not the fault of Russia that that declaration was not made.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am not saying that it was. I am saying it was not because Russia was unwilling to help. Again, the Russian Government, through the mouth of the head of that Government, M. Stalin, has declared officially that it is the policy of Russia to help the victims of aggression. Now, therefore, with France and Turkey, and possibly with Rumania, His Majesty's Government should approach Russia with definite proposals for help in resisting aggression in the Balkans. Russia has made its proposals. Russia has agreed to every concrete proposal that has been made to it. It is time now that His Majesty's Government carried it a stage further and, before it is too late, made practical and concrete proposals to Russia and tried to get them round a table to make plans for military assistance.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister says that at last he hopes that the Italian troops are going to be moved out of Spain under the terms of the Anglo-Italian Agreement. It is time they were moved out of Spain. The actual terms of the Agreement—I quote the exact words—are:At the moment of the termination of the Spanish Civil War all remaining Italian volunteers will forthwith leave Spanish territory, and all Italian war material will simultaneously be withdrawn.27 Why not? We are told that first of all they must join in a victory march through Madrid. Then we ask when the victory march is to take place, as the end of the civil war was announced a week ago. We are told that unfortunately General Franco has influenza and that the victory march has to be postponed. Then we are told that it is to be postponed until the end of this month or the beginning of May, and afterwards, we are told, the troops must have 10 days to rest after their fatiguing march through Madrid, and that the evacuation will begin about 10th May. I think we ought to be told why there is this delay, whether the Government are agreeing to so much delay until, as we are told in the newspapers, 10th May. When is this victory march to take place and when is the evacuation of the Italian troops from Spain to begin? We ought surely to be told that.
But while it will be useful to get the Italian troops out of Spain, a much more urgent problem now awaits solution, and that is to get them out of Albania. There are more Italian troops now in Albania than there are in Spain—50,000 men, scores of tanks and 300 or 400 aeroplanes, according to the newspapers. If my figures are exaggerated I hope the Government will correct them. Is this army there to fight 10,000 ill-equipped Albanians? So long as that army remains in Albania less than 100 miles from Salonika, equipped with more and better tanks and aeroplanes than the Greek and Yugoslav armies combined, it is a direct threat to the independence of Yugo-Slavia and Greece and to the immense and vital British interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. Will His Majesty's Government acquiesce in that situation? If not what practical counter measures do they propose to take?
Friendship between us and Greece is certainly imperative, and I support the Government in giving that undertaking to the Greek Government. In Greece now, although they have a dictatorship, there is a unity of all parties behind the Government in resisting any threat to the independence of Greece. Let us give them what help we can—naval, and, let me suggest, economic help. We have a favourable balance of trade with Greece. We import £2,000,000 worth of produce from Greece and export £3,750,000 worth 28 to Greece. If only we would buy Greek tobacco it would make an enormous difference to the economic strength of Greece, and would give much encouragement to the Greek people whose help and strength are of such great value to us. So with Turkey, Bulgaria and Rumania: we want to weld them all into a powerful bulwark of resistance to German and Italian aggression in the Balkans.
Lastly, I remain as convinced as I was when I spoke last week that, both to inspire and to invigorate the national effort at home and to impress opinion abroad with the firmness of our will and purpose, this Government ought to be reconstituted. Only a year ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington resigned rather than consent to the policy which the Prime Minister then adopted. The Prime Minister said then, as he said this afternoon, "I have never been more completely convinced of the tightness of any course which I have had to take than I am to-day of the Tightness of the decisions to which the Cabinet came yesterday." Collective security was thrown over and we were adjured to trust Hitler and Mussolini. Those of us who fiercely opposed the new policy and clung to collective security were dubbed warmongers. At a recent by-election in Essex the Home Secretary sent a letter to the Conservative candidate saying that the choice was between the Government and peace and the Opposition and war. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was among those who opposed most strongly the policy of appeasement and stood firmly by the policy of collective security. On 18th November in this House the Prime Minister remarked scornfully£I am quoting from the "Times"£that he hadthe greatest admiration for the right hon. Gentleman's many brilliant qualities. He shone in several directions. He, the Prime Minister, remembered once asking a Dominion statesman who held high office for a great number of years what was the most valuable quality a statesman should possess, and his answer was 'judgment.' If he, the Prime Minister, were asked whether judgment was the first of Mr. Churchill's many admirable qualities, he would have to ask the House not to press him too far. (Laughter)I only hope that the Prime Minister will be spared the mocking echoes in his memory of the laughter which he aroused by that remark. It would be a great encouragement to the British people in 29 these dark days and to our friends abroad if these two right hon. Gentlemen, who have set a fine example of sacrifice for, and devotion to, sound but unpopular principles, and have faced calumny and obliquy in their defence, were to change places with the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. These are not days when the Government should be neglectful of those resources of energy and ability which are lying fallow on the benches opposite. His Majesty's Government are fond of appealing for national unity. The pleas that they make for national unity in foreign policy would be more convincing if the conduct of national affairs were relinquished by those whose policy has brought us to the brink of disaster, and were entrusted to those who have consistently advocated a policy which His Majesty's Government ought never to have abandoned and to which they are now belatedly and with too little conviction and energy returning.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
I find myself in general agreement with the Prime Minister's statement on Government policy this afternoon, so far as it goes. I do not press my right hon. Friend to denounce the Anglo-Italian Agreement, which he made when he parted with my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and assumed himself the main direction of our foreign affairs. It would no doubt be very painful to the Prime Minister formally to repudiate an instrument on which he staked so much. The Agreement, of course, has been violated in every material respect by Italy, but I do not feel that anything would be gained by a denouncement with bell, book and candle at this juncture. It certainly represents a sincere, if hitherto unrequited attempt, on the part of Great Britain to dwell on terms of amity and friendship with Italy and with the Italian people in the Mediterranean Sea. I think the Government are quite right to let this Agreement stand De bene esse, as the lawyers say. This is a term of art which they apply to things that do not matter very much. In spite of the bad faith with which we have been treated by the Italian Government, I am still not convinced that Italy has made up her mind, particularly the Italian nation, to be involved in a mortal struggle with Great Britain and France in the Mediterranean.
30 We must remember that if we have had an unpleasant experience at the hands of the Italian Government, Germany had a much more grievous experience of Italian policy at the outbreak of the Great War. That wears an agreeable aspect in British recollection, but a somewhat different impression of what occurred is sustained in Germany. It may be assumed that Germany would like to make sure of Italy by getting her into a war with the Western Powers before any main strokes were delivered in the central or north European theatre. I am afraid we have reached a point when we are bound to look at matters in this somewhat realistic way. If it is in the Nazi interest that this should happen, it seems to me not in our interest to facilitate their task. As long as the Government have no illusions about the Agreement with the Italian Government, I shall not press them to take the step of denouncing it merely to relieve their natural feelings of indignation at the manner in which they have been treated. We can readily imagine that it must have been a great disappointment and surprise to the Prime Minister to be treated in this way by a dictator in whom he placed particular trust, and in whom he advised us to place particular trust. Every one knows that his motives have been absolutely straightforward and sincere. We all sympathise with him, and we all sympathise with ourselves too.
I am also in agreement with the practical steps which the Prime Minister has announced on behalf of His Majesty's Government to give a guarantee to Greece and to make even more effective arrangements with Turkey. The validity of this guarantee rests, of course, mainly upon British sea power and upon the fact that the British and French Fleets combined have a superiority in the Mediterranean which might well be considered decisive, in the absence of unknown factors which at present we cannot accurately measure, but which I do not believe will be decisive. Here I really must ask the Government to maintain a continuous state of vigilance in the Mediterranean, a state of vigilance appropriate to the tension which exists and to the strain which undoubtedly is being put upon our naval power. I cannot feel that the dispositions of the British Fleet in the recent crisis conformed to the ordinary dictates of prudence. Last Tuesday week before we separated Lord 31 Stanhope, the First Lord of the Admiralty, made a speech which caused alarm. It was not a very happily phrased speech perhaps, but it at any rate indicated that the most extreme conditions of vigilance were being maintained in the Home Fleet. The crews of anti-aircraft guns were not allowed even to leave their posts in order to attend an entertainment in their own ship.
What was the condition of the Mediterranean Fleet at that time? There is no secret about it. The facts have been in all the newspapers. They are known at home and abroad. The position of every ship which puts into any foreign port is known and telegraphed. I am not giving away anything that is not absolutely known, and I think it should be understood here as well as it is understood elsewhere. Moreover, the Fleet has now been concentrated, and therefore it is quite safe, but it is extremely necessary, to avoid future difficulties, to discuss what actually happened when the Albanian stroke was delivered. According to published statements in the newspapers of all countries, facts which are not in the slightest degree secret or official, the Fleet was scattered from one end of the Mediterranean to the other. Of the five great capital ships one was at Gibraltar, another in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the remaining three were lolling about outside various widely separated Italian ports, two of them not attended by their protective flotillas. The destroyer flotillas themselves were dispersed along the European and African shores, and a number of cruisers were crowded in Malta harbour, without the protection which is given by the powerful anti-air batteries of the battleships. I do not understand at all how this situation, which has now been rectified, was allowed to arise.
After all, we are in very serious times; not a time for merely passing the time of day. I was astounded to see what has happened, and I did not believe it until I saw it proclaimed in the newspapers. It has been rectified. The Fleet is now absolutely secure and prepared. How can you reconcile the extreme extra precautions, the vigilance, taken at Portsmouth, with the simultaneous carrying out of the long published routine programme of the Admiralty for the Easter period? It was published, I believe, in February, exactly where they were all to go, and it 32 was carried out as if nothing was to happen, and at the same moment the Home Fleet is told "No, you cannot have leave." At the very time that the Fleet was suffered to disperse in this manner it was known that the Italian Fleet was concentrated in the Straits of Otranto and that troops were being assembled and embarked on transports, which presumably were intended for some serious enterprise. It is incredible to me that, when all this intelligence had come to hand and when the First Lord of the Admiralty considered that a state of tension existed requiring the utmost precautions at home, the Mediterranean Fleet was not concentrated, and at sea. These matters touch the very life of the State and I trust that improvidences of this character will not be repeated in the anxious months which lie before us.
I want to draw the attention of the House to the "timing" of the Italian stroke. The British habit of the weekend and the great regard which the British pay to the holiday season which accords with a festival of the Church, is studied abroad. You can see it on many occasions, and that moment is the dangerous moment. I do not suggest that for this particular stroke in Albania Good Friday was selected out of any desire to insult that day, but undoubtedly it was also the first day after Parliament had dispersed and consequently no immediate question could be raised. It was also a day when it was known that on that day the British Fleet, according to the programme which it was carrying out in a perfectly calm and peaceful manner, would be dispersed in all quarters; and from every point of view they were able to say, "The coast is clear." I can well believe that if our Fleet had been watching these events before they happened— after all it is before events happen that you want to be ready, not afterwards—I can well believe that if our Fleet had been concentrated and cruising in the southern part of the Ionian Sea, the Albanian adventure would never have been undertaken. Instead of their gathering the transports and men and our Ambassador in Rome going to see Count Ciano and saying, "What is the meaning of all this?" we should have had the Italian Chargé d' Affaires visiting the Foreign Secretary here, and saying, "We are very much surprised to see the apparition of a great united concentration 33 of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean waters, not far from the mouth of the Adriatic Sea" Then it might be that explanations would have been interchanged, and that some steps could have been taken with perfect safety which would have given us at any rate a chance to recover something like the initiative in foreign policy.
Here let me say a word about the British Intelligence Service. After 25 years' experience in peace and war I believed it to be the finest service of its kind in the world. I believe the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who had supreme responsibility in those years, will corroborate me. I have always believed, and foreign countries have always believed, that it was the finest in the world. Yet we have seen both in the case of the subjugation of Bohemia and in the case of the invasion of Albania that apparently Ministers of the Crown had no inkling or at any rate no conviction of what was coming. I cannot believe that this is the fault of the British Secret Service. Several days before the stroke at Bohemia was made, Nazi intentions were known in many countries throughout Europe. The whole time-table was laid down, the whole programme was known beforehand. Similarly in the case of Albania, the Italian concentration and preparations were reported repeatedly in the Press. We sneer at the Press, but they give an extremely true picture of a great deal that is going on, a very much fuller and detailed picture than we are able to receive from Ministers of the Crown. At any rate, it was quite well known that gathering of troops and ships was taking place in the Eastern ports of Italy. There was much talk that Albania was the quarry, although I quite agree that you could not tell in what form the assertion of Italian authority over Albania would be exerted, or to what extent the late King of Albania and the Albanian people would make themselves accommodating parties to what took place.
How was it that on the eve of the Bohemian outrage Ministers were indulging in what was called "sunshine talk," the golden age prospects? How was it that last week holiday routine was observed at a time when, quite clearly, something of a very exceptional character, the consequences of which could not be measured, was imminent? I do not 34 know. I know perfectly well the patriotism and sincere desire to act in a manner of perfect rectitude and render valuable services to the country which animates Ministers of the Crown, but I wonder whether there is not some hand which intervenes and filters down or withholds intelligence from Ministers. Certainly it was so in the case of the German aeroplane preparations four years ago. The facts were not allowed to reach high Ministers of the Crown until they had been so modified that they did not present an alarming impression. It seems to me that Ministers run the most tremendous risk if they allow the information collected by the Intelligence Department, and sent to them I am sure in good time, to be sifted and coloured and reduced in consequence and importance, and if they ever get themselves into a mood of attaching importance only to those pieces of information which accord with their earnest and honourable desire that the peace of the world shall remain unbroken.
The great majority of the House, I believe, supports the Government in the policy which they are now adopting in building up a strong alliance of nations to resist further acts of aggression. I welcome very much the language used on this matter by the Prime Minister this afternoon. He has an absolute right to the aid of all in the country in carrying out that course. I pointed out, the last time we discussed these matters, how great were the dangers of being caught whilst this process was incomplete. The essence of such a policy is speed and vigour. If it is not carried through with the utmost speed and vigour it would be better not to have started upon it at all. You can purchase short periods of perilous isolation. We have taken the opposite course; and this is no time for half measures. There is absolutely no halfway house. If peace is to be preserved there seem to be two main steps which I trust are already being taken or will be taken with more decision immediately. The first, of course, is the full inclusion of Soviet Russia in our defensive peace bloc. When the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) dwelt on the point of Russia and emphasised it, I heard a sort of commotion behind me. I heard the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) express her dislike of any contact with 35 Bolshevik Russia. Where was this dislike when she paid a visit to Soviet Russia with Mr. Bernard Shaw?
I have had the great advantage of going to Russia and seeing it; you have only had the advantage of hearing about it from outside.
§ Mr. Churchill
At any rate, the Noble Lady paid a visit to Russia and was treated with great consideration. But the point which the House should notice —it is a very serious point, and I hope I shall be able to put it without any offence—is that the time when she went to Russia and gave all her applause and credit to Russia, was a time when the influence of Russia was deeply detrimental to the interests of this country. And now —
Can the right hon. Gentleman show a single interview which I ever gave after my visit to Russia? All I said was that we wanted to trade with Russia, no matter how bad she was.
§ Mr. Churchill
I feel all that has been said about Russia, and all that has been argued so powerfully by the Leader of the Liberal party, but at the same time it must not be supposed that it rests entirely with us. There are great dangers in asking favours at a time like this. I do not at all think that we should be well advised to ask favours from anyone. The other day I tried to show the House the deep interest that Russia had against the further Eastward extension of the Nazi power. It is upon that deep, natural, legitimate interest that we must rely, and I am sure we shall hear from the Government that the steps they are taking are those which will enable us to receive the fullest possible co-operation from Russia, and that no prejudices on the part of England or France will be allowed to interfere with the closest co-operation between the two countries, thus securing to our harassed and anxious combinations the unmeasured, if somewhat uncertain, but certainly enormous counterpoise of the Russian power.
The second main step which, it seems to me, we should take, and which I cannot but feel that the Government are taking, is the promotion of unity in the Balkans. The four Balkan States and Turkey are an immense combination. If 36 they stand together, they are safe. They have only to stand together to be safe. They will save their populations from the horrors of another war and, by their massive stabilising force, if they are joined in a bloc they may well play a decisive part in averting a general catastrophe. If they allow themselves to be divided, if they depart at all from the simple principle of "The Balkans for the Balkan peoples," they will renew the horrible experiences which tore and devastated every single one of them in the Great War, and the Balkan Wars which preceded the Great War. I am quite sure that His Majesty's Government are doing their utmost to further the self-protective union of these States. The arrangements that have been made with Greece and Turkey are, of course, only the first step. The Prime Minister announced a new step today—the guarantee that has been offered to Rumania. But these steps, although highly important and beneficial and sound and wise in all the circumstances into which we have come, will not by themselves save the Balkans from another drenching dose of misery and ruin.
The arrangements which we are told have been made between Rumania and Turkey are also highly beneficial, and they are a step towards safety for both countries, but I submit that an arrangement between Rumania and Bulgaria is vital if the safety of the Balkans is to be secured. I well remember, more than a quarter of a century ago, being at the Admiralty and reading all the telegrams about the first Balkan War in 1912—the valiant effort of Bulgaria, the terrible losses that they suffered, the great courage of their troops, and then how by exorbitant demands, beyond what was reasonable, they drew upon themselves the malice of their two allies and suffered the most terrible tragedy of defeat and partition at the close of that war. You may say there were faults on both sides, but the curse of what was done then carried its consequences to every State throughout the Balkans during the Great War. It seems to me, since Rumania is receiving the support of the Western Powers, and other Balkan States, there is very strong ground upon which she may be pressed to do her utmost to reach an amicable settlement with Bulgaria. That alone will knit up the entire structure of that part of the world and keep it free from the storm of war and, by keeping it 37 free, perhaps influence the course of much larger matters outside.
Here let me say, with regard to the action of our country over the centuries, that in all the struggles in which we have been engaged we have survived and emerged victorious not only because of the prowess of great commanders or because of famous battles gained by land and sea, but also because the true interests of Britain have coincided with those of so many other States and nations, and that we have been able to march in a good company along the high road of progress and freedom for all. This is certainly a condition which is established in the policy that we are now pursuing in the Balkan Peninsula. We and the French can say that we have no particular interests, no special claims which we wish to press. We seek no advantages which conflict with the general interest. This should strengthen the Government in their course, and such a policy which they have put forward, and which they are advancing, brings back across the Atlantic Ocean a reverberating echo increasingly encouraging in its tone. One sees a great design which, even now at the eleventh hour, if it could be perfected, would spare the world the worst of agonies. All things are moving at the same moment. Year by year, month by month, they have all been moving forward together. When we have reached certain positions in thought, others have reached certain positions in fact.
The danger is now very near. A great part of Europe is to a very large extent mobilised. Millions of men are being prepared for war. Everywhere the frontier defences are manned. Everywhere it is felt that some new stroke is impending. If it should fall, can there be any doubt but that we shall be involved? We are no longer where we were two or three months ago. We have committed ourselves in every direction, rightly in my opinion, having regard to all that has happened. It is not necessary to enumerate the countries to which, directly or indirectly, we have given or are giving guarantees. What we should not have dreamt of doing a year ago, when all was so much more hopeful, what we should not have dreamt of doing even a month ago, we are doing now. Surely then, when we aspire to lead all Europe back from the verge of the abyss on to 38 the uplands of law and peace, we must ourselves set the highest example. We must keep nothing back. How can we bear to continue to lead our comfortable easy life here at home, unwilling even to pronounce the word "compulsion," unwilling even to take the necessary measure by which the armies that we have promised can alone be recruited and equipped? How can we continue—let me say it with particular frankness and sincerity—with less than the full force of the nation incorporated in the governing instrument? These very methods, which the Government owe it to the nation and to themselves to take, are not only indispensable to the duties that we have accepted but, by their very adoption, they may rescue our people and the people of many lands from the dark, bitter waters which are rising fast on every side.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Lansbury
I rise for the purpose of putting a point of view with which the overwhelming majority of the House will disagree, but I think I should not be doing my duty to those whom I represent, and to the men and women with whom I am engaged in propaganda, if I did not on this occasion try to state our view and our standpoint in these international affairs. With regard to Russia, when this House was as overwhelmingly against association with Russia as most Members are to-day against association with other Powers, I was one of a small body of men and women in the country who advocated an understanding and an agreement with that great country. But ideological reasons prevented Great Britain at that time from taking such action as, in my judgment, would have made the whole course of European history different. I am speaking of the winter of 1920. I think events have proved that those with whom I acted were right and those who took the view that the Soviet Union should not be recognised and should not be touched, as it were, by respectable Governments, have been proved utterly wrong.
But I have not risen for the purpose of trying to justify anything that I and others may have said concerning the past. It is said somewhere that the way of transgressors is hard. I think that the way of peacemakers is, perhaps, much harder. You are always open to being let down by those with whom you act, 39 and you are also open to being misjudged by those with whom you act. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that Great Britain in the past has taken action which, in his judgment, has helped the world, and has helped to preserve peace. I cannot give dates as he can, but I think I can give events. I suppose it will be said that the menace of French domination of Europe was removed with the defeat of the French at Waterloo, and I think it probably will also be said that the Prussian power which preceded the formation of the German Empire, took its rise from that time. All through the intervening years there has been a continual struggle on the part of the Germanic power in Europe to establish itself in place of the old French power. Great Britain and her allies destroyed the power of the French with the aid of the Prussians who, themselves, afterwards established another force which came into play in 1870–71.
At the end of that war, with the establishment of the German Empire, the position of the States in Europe was entirely changed. There was brought into being a united nation composed of the States which formed the German Empire and they became our great competitors in the world. Finally, we had the Great War of 1914–18 brought about partly by our determination not to allow a new Power to arise in Europe and also by the French determination to have vengeance for 1870–71. I asked the House once before to read Liddell Hart's book "Foch—the Man of Orleans" Anyone who reads that book must get a clear and definite picture of why the War of 1914–18 took place, with its alliances with Russia and ourselves, and why the peace which was made after it was such as it has turned out to be. Liddell Hart may not be a good biographer or a good historian, but I think the facts which he puts forward are beyond doubt and beyond question. There was a desire for vengeance for what had happened in 1870–71 and a grim determination that such a state of affairs should never happen again. "Never again" were words heard then, not only in this country but in many other parts of Europe, and the peace Treaty was based on the idea of breaking up that combination which had been formed when the German Empire was established in 1871.
40 To-day, less than 21 years after the Armistice, we are faced with a condition of things in which the Power which the framers of the treaty imagined to be broken and crushed, is the most feared Power in Central Europe, while one of the Powers which, as the right hon. Gentleman has just suggested, broke away from Germany and Austria and joined us and was one of our gallant allies in the Great War, is now one of the potential disturbers of the peace of Europe. This is what realism has done for Europe. This is what the realists who control the world have landed us into to-day. For my part, I do not intend to try to demonstrate who is right or who is wrong in all the controversies that have taken place, and whether this country or the other country should have been formed in the way in which it is formed. But I would remind the House that when Germany attacked Czecho-Slovakia at least three nationalities that were still members of the League of Nations—Hungary, Poland and Slovakia—joined in tearing Czecho-Slovakia to pieces. That stands out and shows us that the question of who keeps agreements and who keeps their pledged word, is not at all confined to a big Power or a small Power, but that when Governments think it suits them to do a certain thing, they just do it if they have the power.
I want to say a word about Abyssinia. I am very sick of hearing talk about who is to blame in regard to Abyssinia. I say here, and I do not think it will be denied, that there was never, from beginning to end, a hard-and-fast declaration on the part of the French Government of their readiness to go to extremes in sanctions against the Italian Government. I do not put the blame on the Government in this country altogether. I think, perhaps, it would have been wiser if we had been told all there was to be told in regard to these matters, but there is no question about the fact that Ministers of the Crown met Mussolini while the preparations were going on for the invasion. We were told when they came back that that question was never mentioned. Well it ought to have been mentioned—there can be no question about that. I am thinking of the conference at Stresa. The fact is— and now I am about to say something which will sound very extreme, and which I shall be told I ought not to say—that while nearly all the statesmen I have met 41 are perfectly honourable and straightforward in their personal relationships with their fellow men and women, when it comes to defending what they think is the interest of their country, undoubtedly many of them never tell the whole truth. The time has come—some of us thought it had come at the end of the last War—when diplomacy should be open and statesmen should tell us straight out, what is in their minds, what is their policy, and with what purpose they are pursuing that policy.
I shall be told that it is no use rehashing that sort of thing. I do so for this reason. One of the most respected diplomatists in Europe said to me, personally, in the presence of other people, "Mr. Lansbury, you are beating the air talking about peace. You will never get peace in the world until we gentlemen, when we sign an agreement, mean to keep that agreement. We get together at a conference, we call in the photographers, we call in the persons with the wireless apparatus, we present a pen to the leader and then we go home knowing damn well that we do not intend to carry out a bit of what we have written." If that had been said by a totalitarian minister many hon. Members would retort, "That is all you could expect from them." But it was said by a democratic Minister and that has influenced me ever since, because I am convinced not only by history generally but by the story of my own times, that what is necessary is that the people should know the truth. I do not need to ransack history for examples. I know from my own country's history during my own lifetime how, often and often, the people of this and other countries have been plunged into difficulties because they never had fair warning, and never had the whole truth put before them.
Now what about to-day? I want some one among my hon. Friends above the Gangway or in any other part of the House, to tell me what guarantee anybody has that, if Europe is plunged once more into a great war, the masses of young men will not again have given their lives in an adventure which leads nowhere. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) spoke of the "easy, comfortable lives" of people in this country. It is nothing to my credit, so please do not think that what I say is in any way self-righteous 42 because I love to live where I am living —but I live among people who in the days immediately after the War, literally starved and many of whom to-day are in a state of semi-starvation. Easy comfortable lives? All my lifetime those people, or most of them, have never known such a thing, but when the War came in spite of me—and I know that in spite of me they will do it again—the very poorest districts sent the biggest numbers into the Army to fight. Boys of 17 and 18 years of age whom I had known as babies, went away to fight. A few came back maimed and bruised and battered, and we had to fight to secure proper conditions for them when they did come back. But multitudes never came back at all.
Now we are to face the same thing over again. We are to face exactly the same conditions, and I repeat my request. Will someone get up on those benches and tell me that they know that out of this next holocaust there is going to be established peace and freedom? If war could have given peace and freedom to the world in a permanent sense, we would not be discussing what we are discussing to-day because there have been wars interminably all down the ages. But I want to make this clear for the younger men and women who belong to the organisation to which I belong, and who will feel that they cannot take part in this campaign. I would appeal to the comrades above the Gangway here, many of whom were themselves conscientious objectors in the last War. I appeal to them and to all, to see that the conscientious objectors in this case, if this thing does happen, shall have as good and as square a deal as it will be possible to obtain for them. We are all full of indignation at the crushing of conscience in Germany and Italy. You cannot condemn that attitude there if you establish it here on this business of compulsory military service. I say that, too, because I am an old man, and whatever happens to me does not matter. I might be put in prison in safety somewhere and it would not matter one bit; but I do not feel that I have any right to go out and be part and parcel with the younger people in fighting against this business without doing what I can in this House to make that clear.
Finally, I will say this, though there is much more I should like to say, but 43 there are many Members who want to speak: I do not attempt to sit in judgment on any man or woman in this House who thinks that we must build up a mighty force in order to win peace. They believe it, and though I think all history proves that they are wrong, I can respect and honour them, because I know many of them will go out and, perhaps, will never come back. But what I want the House to realise is that this world of which we are a part is standing at the parting of the ways. I told Mussolini, and I told Hitler, that it is impossible now to build a new imperialism. The day has gone by. The world is too small. Science and invention have destroyed the power that men used to possess. To-day what the world needs more than anything else is that some men in position shall be found who will understand that a new technique, if you will, is required in international relationships, and that somehow or other we have got to bring to the service of mankind all there is in the world for the use of mankind, plus all the science and all the invention that God and nature have given us.
You may say that that cannot be done now. I do not believe it. If this country were threatened to-night by a general strike we should all be hoping and helping to avert it in one way or another. All of us, on both sides, would have said worse things of one another than have been said here to-day in regard to Italy and the rest. Surely when the fate of millions of people—millions of the youngest, not the oldest—areat stake it is our duty to say now, "We will send out the call to bring together whoever will come to discuss how we can use the world and not destroy the world" Mr. Roosevelt makes great speeches and I have a great admiration for him, but I shall have a bigger admiration for him— and for Mr. Cordell Hull—if he will say to Europe to-day," America is prepared, either through myself or delegates, to come to Europe and meet round a table and discuss, before the die is cast, how we can deal with economic and territorial conditions that may lead to war."
I know that Herr Hitler is an extremely difficult person, I know that Signor Mussolini is a very elusive person, but I know that those two men understand as clearly as anyone in this House what 44 another war, a colossal war, will mean to them. No one up to the present has flung down the challenge to them in that way, "Come let us reason together." [Interruption.] I know what I am talking about. If it can be proved that the challenge has publicly been thrown out to them, I shall give in, of course, but what I want to contend for is that Mr. Roosevelt and our own Prime Minister, and whoever else will join with him, shall say to Europe, "Before we plunge into this inferno we are ready to sit round a table, and we will not rule out any question that you want to raise," and I am as certain as I stand here that a way out will be found. But Imperialism—this House has proved that it does not believe in it by what it is attempting to do in India. We ourselves—and I am proud of our country—are breaking the links of Imperialist domination in regard to India and elsewhere. We can go with a free mind as it were, and say to the world, "We know Imperialism is finished, and we are ready to help to build the world on co-operation, brotherhood, respect and love."
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
I never listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) without feeling the very deepest sympathy and respect with him in every word that he utters, and this afternoon there were one or two points which he raised which 1 should like to emphasise, because I agree entirely with them in so far as I understood certain of the points that he was putting. Surely there was no one this Easter who did not think back with feelings of horror at the prospect that this world should now be approaching an abyss similar to that from which we emerged not so long ago. I do not think that at the time of the Armistice there was a Member who for one instant contemplated that the world could be capable of such cruel folly as even to be approaching a situation such as that which faces us at this time. For my part, speaking, of course, with no authority at all, I do not believe that the Government of this country, or my right hon. Friend, or anybody else would refuse at any time to make the fullest contribution possible to avoid such a situation, but I do not think any of us would be able to answer the question of the right hon. Member for Bow and 45 Bromley, "If there is another cataclysm will you be the better after it?" It seems to me that the choice before the world is a simple and an abrupt one: either you now come to such terms as enable you to avoid a cataclysm or, when it is over, you start again in no better position than you are now, but after increased suffering, increased loss and increased tragedy for the world as a whole.
I am not going to detain the House for more than a few moments, because I know there are others who want to speak, and I did hesitate to rise at all, because some of the matters discussed to-day were connected with myself in the past, and I should like to begin by saying that I have not the least intention, of course, of referring to those matters at all. The reason I have risen is quite other. As I listened to the Debate it seemed to me that there was, unhappily, less unity in this House to-day than there was on the last occasion when we discussed foreign affairs. I think we should all of us like to avoid that if possible; at any rate, it would be better for world opinion that that view should not be taken if we can avoid it, and it would be even worse if such an opinion got out owing to a misunderstanding of the position as it really is.
Greatly daring, I should like to put this to the House. The Leader of the Opposition said that we were not now engaged upon a new policy. I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister's speech and to the Debate and I do not agree with him. It seems to me that we are very definitely engaged upon a new policy. I am not for the moment arguing whether that policy is right or wrong, but it is vital that we should know exactly where we are, and whoever is going to reply for the Government will perhaps be able to say whether I am putting the position correctly or not. It seems to me that, whether we approve it or not, there can be no more serious new policy than the commitments announced to-day to Greece and Rumania. Those commitments were extremely far-reaching and, as the House knows, go beyond the terms of the Covenant itself. As I understood the Government's position—and it is important that there should be no misunderstanding in any of our minds—it is that an undertaking has been given today, and I gather a similar undertaking 46 is being given by France, to Greece and to Rumania, but that, in addition to that, His Majesty's Government and the French Government are doing what they can everywhere to build up what we may call a peace front. I call it deliberately "a peace front," because the object of that front is not to encircle anybody, but is an attempt to arrest a process in Europe which, if it be allowed to continue unchecked, must involve us in universal disaster.
As I understood it, that was the position stated by the Government to-day, and, if so, it is a development of the position as stated before we adjourned for the Easter Recess, and it would be helpful if we could clear our minds and be certain that that is the position, and that the difference which appeared to loom rather large at one time this afternoon does not, in fact, exist at all. That is one comment I wanted to make. It seems to me that what I have described as being the Government's position, as I understood the statement this afternoon, must in effect be our national position now, for having embarked upon this policy for good or ill—about which for the moment I am not arguing—it would clearly be suicidal to stop half-way. We should then get the worst of both worlds. That is why it seemed to me there was some misunderstanding of where we stood.
It is obvious that, while we are trying to make these arrangements, we may arrive at an agreement with one country before another. But the important thing of which we want to be certain is that the object is to include each peace-loving nation in what I call this Peace Front. I would carry the process further. I would say that the object is to provide an organisation which will afford you the basis of negotiation, because the object of all this policy, if it has any meaning at all, is to avert the dangers that everyone sees coming. Otherwise, it is purposeless. It seems to me that, based on this organisation, the Government and other Governments in it will be better placed than at the present time to arrest the present tendency, and to move forward to those better conditions for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley asks.
There is one comment I would ask to be allowed to make. For a long time past 47 the aims of some Powers in Europe have been strategic. They have sought, by a method of "smash and grab"—it can hardly be called anything else—to established themselves in certain positions to gain advantages which would enable them to take the next step. I remember, and the House will agree that I have very good reason to remember, the re-occupation of the Rhineland. It seemed to a great many people that that step was not such an unreasonable one. Germany was going into her own back garden, it was said. No one supposed that the demilitarised zone was going to exist for ever, yet the method by which it was done was a direct violation of the Locarno Treaty, in respect of which the German Chancellor had given my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer and myself the most specific and earnest assurances. It is that method and the pursuit of that method with all its consequences which confronts us now. I think most of us will agree that the re-occupation was not done in order that Germany's reasonable national pride should receive satisfaction, but was part of a deliberate plan to make possible further steps to gain strategic advantages in different parts of Europe. It is that which makes the present situation so formidable and so dangerous: the fact that those methods are being employed by two countries in Europe at the present time. If you choose to trace through what has happened since the Rhineland you will find the same methods and the same objective. With Austria, it was not merely a question of assimilating Germany and Austria; it was a question of obtaining important military positions which would make pressure on Czecho-Slovakia possible. Equally the concern last autumn was, as we now know, not the German minorities in Sudentenland, but to eliminate Czecho-Slovakia as a State and to disband a very powerful Army in Central Europe. I think it was Bismarck who said, long ago,a fortress erected by God in the very heart of Europe,when describing Bohemia. Faced with this method, we have to come to a certain decision, and I must confess that I do not see how we can do other than, first of all, to cry "Halt!" to the continuation of those methods. By all means, make it absolutely plain that we are doing 48 that not because we in this country, or anybody else, are filled with dislike or animosity for any people anywhere in the world; but because, if this process goes on, it is impossible for us to hope for the lasting preservation of peace.
§ Mr. Eden
I am quite willing to say something about Spain if the hon. Gentleman wishes. We introduced a non-intervention policy because we hoped—I take all responsibility; I have never shirked that responsibility—that all others would abide by that agreement. We had the support of the then Government in France—a Left Government—and we hoped to confine the dangers to Spain. I think it is quite true that events have shown that the objective of the totalitarian States in Spain was strategic, just as elsewhere.
§ Mr. Eden
I am not asking anyone to get excited. What I am trying to do is to show that the differences which appeared to exist earlier in this Debate are not really as formidable as they might appear to anybody listening to and reporting the Debate.
I have only one final word to say. The truth is that we cannot hope, as I see the situation, to secure any betterment of the international situation until we can begin to restore some sense of respect for international engagements. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley about that. It is exactly the same as in private life: if there is no respect for promises, no relationships are worth while; and it is that foundation that we have to get back to. The task is an infinitely formidable one, but I believe that the policy which the House unanimously endorsed only 10 days ago is the only policy which can hope to achieve this result, and I believe that, since we all care more for peace than for anything else, we cannot do better than give all the help in our power to see that policy win through.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister 49 is one which we must support, as far as it goes, but I cannot agree that it goes far enough. We on this side do not agree that any policy stopping short of complete collective security will be certain of bringing peace to Europe—or, rather, of preventing the outbreak of war. I was very grateful, I must confess, to the right hon. Gentleman for looking at the matter from the standpoint of war moves. I was really astounded at the Prime Minister concerning himself so much with details and interpretations of agreements and treaties when the situation in Europe is a purely war situation. We are facing a kind of war which is not recognised as war only because there are not many deaths and not many wounds; but there are many extremely important positions in Europe being gained by the Axis Powers, in anticipation of future moves in which there will be death and destruction on a large scale. I hope that in this Debate we shall look at the matter from a realistic point of view, and recognise that we are facing a war situation. We must be ready to get rid of a good many of our preconceptions.
I want to say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who talks about all people wanting peace and no nations wanting anything else, that he should remember that there are certain ideals, of a kind, being preached in Germany and Italy which are in flat contradiction to everything in which people in this country believe. They are going back, if I may say so, to Atilla. One country is dreaming of conquest of the Black Sea, of conquest in Asia, of a great revival of ancient Empires; the other is dreaming of conquest in the Aegean, of a great block in Africa, straddling from Kenya to Libya, by which Africa will renew some of the glories of the ancient Roman Empire; and those ideals are appealing to the people who are the directors of those countries at present. It is no use pretending that those ideals have not their appeal to the people in those countries. They are definitely an attempt to lead Western civilisation back to the barbarism of the Middle Ages, and before then.
I do not regard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) as an entirely unprejudiced judge of Russian affairs. He had a certain connection with Russia about 1920, upon which I do not wish to enlarge, but 50 which has not endeared him to the Russian people, and which makes us think that he is not quite an impartial judge. I would urge him to get rid of—to paraphrase a saying of his own—certain ideological in exactitudes with regard to Russia. At the present time the essential thing is to look at that country from a purely realistic point of view. I have always done so. On my first visit to Russia, I went as secretary of the first Labour delegation to that country in 1920. With my colleagues, I interviewed the chief Soviet leaders, and my opposite number was M. Kamenev, who in 1936 was executed in one of the first purges. I talked with Lenin, Trotsky and many other of the well-known people of that regime.
I have been to Russia three times since. I was never overcome by the glamour of the Communist regime. I always looked on Russia as a country escaping by its own method from the shackles of perfectly impossible conditions which existed in the Tsarist days. I always regarded that method as the way out for that great country into the conditions of the modern world, but I have always, when I have been to the Soviet Union, made exact notes of conditions with regard to the people in the towns, their houses, their food, their illnesses and so on; and have recorded my views in various papers, where they may be read by the curious. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying—and I take this opportunity of saying it, because of the insidious propaganda that is going on against Russia—that since 1920 there has been a continuous and progressive economic improvement in that country, that the condition of the people is better, and that, especially, the condition of the Army and the other armed forces, as regards personnel, clothing, discipline, rations, arms, and everything which is required for the efficient making of an army, has been progressively improved. I took exact notes in 1920 of the condition of all their armed forces, much to the annoyance of M. Kamenev, who was standing beside me, and who thought I was going to make a report to some Government; and I have gone on doing that ever since.
At the time of the crisis last September, I was asked by numerous friends what was the reason for the antagonism shown in this country to Russia, which the leader 51 of the Liberal party has mentioned. In September, the then Lord Privy Seal received from M. Litvinov at Geneva a message addressed to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, asking him, in the name of the Russian Government, to call a conference of France, Russia and Great Britain in order to demonstrate to Germany that those countries were united, and would take action if Germany marched. Why did the Government pay no attention to it? I am informed that no reply was sent to that invitation—unless the reply was that the Prime Minister went to Munich and brought back those perfectly intolerable proposals.
This is, perhaps, a moment when one might withdraw certain reservations that are usually maintained. At that time, like every other citizen, I was terribly distressed at what I saw going on in Europe, and I went to consult Mr. Jan Masaryk who was then the representative in this country of Czecho-Slovakia. I happened to be with him at the very moment when he had had delivered into his hands the Godesberg map showing what the demands of Germany were at that time. I said "Is it possible that these incredible demands can be going to be made?" and he said, "Yes, they are going to be made" Then he used words in his agony of the moment which I venture to quote here in this House:We have been sold like a blind pupI want to know whether that history is to be repeated at the present time?
We do not feel that the Government are prosecuting their present policy— which we support as far as it goes—with sufficient vigour. Are they really wholeheartedly behind this policy of agreeing with other nations in pacts as large as possible, to get such a massing of forces as will make impossible the breaking of peace? Nothing else will be of any effect. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) rather deprecated differences of opinion which had been shown to-day—I suppose he meant in speeches from this side of the House and from below the Gangway, but surely it is better to have a frank and free discussion on these matters. I say, for what it is worth, that there is no doubt whatever, so far as this country is concerned, that in a time of emergency 52 we shall all be wholeheartedly behind whatever Government there may be.
The hon. Gentleman says "Question," but that is my opinion for what it is worth, and I have some knowledge of my fellow men up and down the country. I think that we should be behind the Government, not necessarily because we like the Government, but because it would be the only Government. If the Government really want us to support them they should make it abundantly clear that the guarantee of peace which they are asking us to support is all-inclusive so far as it can be, and that it includes, in particular, the Soviet Union. I know that the Soviet Union is willing to support this policy, and that it has been anxious to support such an all-inclusive policy for a very much longer period than since September of last year. I discussed the matter with Soviet leaders in Moscow. I was there in 1936 and I was given the most unequivocal statement on that subject by those in a position of authority. That was done only, of course, for my own information, but I am convinced that the Soviet Union will adhere at the present time to those declarations.
There is one other point. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington talked in a way, which I feel was somewhat exaggerated, of the possibility of war, and used the phrase that we were facing a universal disaster. I do not think it is as bad as that. What we are facing is a great world war. It would undoubtedly be worse than the last and would cause more economic dislocation, and perhaps more deaths, more wounds and more suffering generally, but it would, after all, be only another of the unfortunate great wars with which the history of the world is stained. It would be a war through which we should undoubtedly come with our spirit unbroken and with our strength a great one, as it now is. I ask the Government to tell us more fully and frankly what is happening. I cannot feel, from the statement of the Prime Minister to-day, that he is letting us in, and telling us what he might have told us in order to give us some reassurance. I do not mean necessarily that we should be let into secrets behind the scenes into which those who are not concerned in the negotiations cannot be let in, but that we who care for our 53 own country and Empire should be taken more closely into the confidence of the Government at this very critical time.
No one can say that hon. Members on this side of the House, however much they may oppose in principle the policies of the Prime Minister—and we have all done that and, so far as I know, I do not think any of us regret it—are putting up any factious opposition at the present time. Some of us are in National Service endeavouring to co-operate; but I urge the Prime Minister that we should be told more fully and frankly what is going on. The Government should consider methods of strengthening themselves. I do not want to go into detailed criticism, but on this side of the House we do not find the spectacle of the efficiency of the Government very awe-inspiring, and we think it might, without too much difficulty, be very considerably improved. Let the Government remember that the people of this country are as determined, brave and resolute as ever they were, but that what we like in this country is a clear lead. We want a clear lead from the Government to an all-embracing pact which will give us real collective security, because that is the only way in which war can be avoided at the present time.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
I have no complaint, and I am sure that no hon. Member has, at the fact that this Debate has taken place. The Prime Minister was right when he said it was desirable, in order to remove from the public mind rumours and anxieties which are so prevalent at the present time. Hon. Members will agree that many of those rumours and anxieties are, no doubt, set about by special and specific design in order to cause alarm and misunderstanding. As I listened to this Debate I thought of the difference that must exist to-day in the House and in the country as compared with the time of the momentous Debates which took place in 1914, at a time of similar tension and anxiety. In 1914 there was in the minds of the peoples of the world no great hatred of war and no great aversion to it, but that is not the case at the present time. Whatever may be in the minds of the rulers of some of the countries of the world, it would be correct to say that in the minds of the peoples of the world there is a horror and a detestation of war, 54 and a desire to find some means of maintaining peace.
The difference between to-day and last September is that the people of this country were then apprehensive, whereas to-day they tend to be exasperated and angry at the progress of events. If people are exasperated and angry, that is all the more reason why we should keep our heads and be careful about what we say, write and do; otherwise a bad position may be made worse and the difficulties with which the world is confronted may be made still less soluble. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who speaks with evident sincerity and conviction, and I agree with him that in the end the only policy which will bring peace to the world is one of appeasement and understanding among the nations. However difficult it may be to achieve that, in the end it is the only way by which peace can be assured and established. In the end there will have to be a peace conference: is it too much to ask that the peoples of the world should endeavour to have the peace conference before war has taken its terrible and remorseless toll of the youth of the world? We are not alone in desiring peace to be preserved; I believe such a desire for peace exists in the peoples of Germany and Italy as strongly as it does here, but the difficulty is to give expression to that common feeling. Propaganda is perhaps the most awful legacy left us by the last War, and owing to the effect of it, it is impossible to convey from one people to another a true picture of what is going on and a true reflection of public opinion as between one country and another.
I do not often agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) but I do agree with what he said about Italy at the present time. I do not believe that there is in the hearts of the Italian people the slightest desire to find themselves embroiled in a war with us, and I believe that everything possible should be done to try to find a means of accommodation with the Italian people, who are our traditional friends. I think Italy is the only country against which we have never been engaged in war, and whatever we may say and think about the rulers of Italy at the present moment, let us do nothing by ill-judged words of criticism which may tend to 55 force the adherence of the Italian people over to the other side of the Axis, and make impossible any agreement with ourselves. In our anxieties about the future let us not forget that anxieties must exist to an even greater extent in Germany and Italy. If we are unhappy about the future, the people of Germany and Italy must be a great deal more unhappy than we are. We may not, and we do not, want war, but let us remember that the people and the rulers of the totalitarian States will lose everything if war comes. Now with the democracies war may be very unpleasant for the democracies but it would spell the end of the dictatorships. It is well that we should keep in our minds that fact. I believe it is present in the minds of the rulers of other countries in Europe that if war comes it means the end of their rule and their régime.
§ Sir A. Southby
The hon. Member ceaselessly interrupts, but we shall no doubt have an opportunity of hearing his views. Surely this is a time when we might listen to each other in peace and quiet in order to learn each other's views. I think we are united in the desire to preserve peace not only for our own people but also for the rest of the peoples of the world.
This is a time for calm consideration and restrained speech. I deeply regretted that we should have had to listen to the exchange of wit and humour between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping and the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). Was it for that that this meeting of Parliament was summoned at a time of national crisis? Surely there is something more serious to be discussed. I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister has made; I believe it is going to be of immense advantage to the cause of peace throughout the world. I particularly welcome the assurances which he was able to give with regard to Greece. I say that we should guarantee the integrity of Turkey as well as that of Greece. There is not a nation in the world that does not know, and has not known since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that any attack upon 56 the Low Countries—the Holland and Belgium of to-day—is a direct attack upon this country, and has been so considered for centuries. Any adventure in those regions has always met with an immediate reaction from this country. The world, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has grown smaller, and I believe the time has come to make it clear to the world that any attack upon the integrity of Greece and Turkey is in fact an attack—a deliberate attack—on the security and interests of this country in the same way as any attack on Holland and Belgium. I believe that that is a commitment into which we ought to enter. I welcome also the assurance that the Prime Minister has given with regard to Rumania. I think it will have a steadying effect in Europe at the present time.
The Leader of the Opposition said that he was disappointed with what the Prime Minister said. I wonder why? The right hon. Gentleman and his friends, quite rightly from their point of view, have disagreed with the policy of the Government. I do not disagree with the policy of the Government. Although the policy of understanding may have failed—temporarily, as I believe—I believe that the Prime Minister was perfectly right. I believe that he gained for this country something of immeasurable value to it, namely, six months' breathing space. But the policy which the Government are now trying to follow differs from the policy which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have advocated in the past —the policy of collective security—in one essential particular. As I understand it, the failure of the policy of collective security was due to the fact that those nations which were joined together in the League of Nations were not really prepared to implement their undertakings. That is why the policy failed. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley said, that at the time of the Abyssinian crisis France never gave any indication that she was ready and willing to apply full sanctions. That is an old story now, and it is no use raking it up again. The policy which the Government are now striving to carry out seems to me to be one of defensive alliance—an alliance of nations who are prepared to implement their undertakings, who are prepared to do what they say they will do. That is 57 where it differs from the policy of collective security. Under that policy nations who were members of the League of Nations gave undertakings and manifestly failed to carry them out.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping seemed to me to criticise the dispositions of the Fleet in the Mediterranean during the past few weeks. It may have been right or it may have been wrong to have the ships of the Mediterranean Fleet where they were, but at any rate, when we are being accused by other countries of following a militarist policy, and a policy of encirclement, it seems to me that the fact that during the last few weeks our ships were carrying out their ordinary routine programmes in the Mediterranean is an earnest to other nations that at any rate our intentions must have been entirely pacific. I think it should be made clear, so far as speech in this House can make it clear, that, although this country is rightly incensed at the turn of events, there is no desire here to carry out any policy which could be called a policy of encirclement of either Germany or Italy. We desire to live in peace, and we desire that other nations should have precisely the same freedom which we ask for ourselves. We desire that the German nation should be allowed to fulfil its destiny in peace. But we ask at the same time that it shall allow other nations weaker than itself also to fulfil their destinies in peace. Undoubtedly, this Debate is taking place at a time of great international tension, when people's minds are deeply exercised in regard to the future. I am not one who believes that war is inevitable. I do not believe it is beyond the ability of statesmen throughout the world even now to find a means of accommodation between the nations of the world. I believe that a resolute and determined front against aggression will have the desired effect. But, having shown the resolution, I believe that we have at the same time, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley said, to show our willingness to have a conference of all the nations of the world, in an endeavour to see whether it is not possible to find a peaceable settlement of the difficulties which divide nation from nation at the present time.
Considerable reference has been made during the Debate to the question of Russia. I have never been one who 58 would deny to any country the right to its own form of government, even though that form of government may not commend itself to me. If people wish to live under a certain form of government, it is their own business. I do not believe that, at this time of all times, it would be right to allow any ideological differences to come between any nations that are desirous of banding themselves together in an effort to prevent aggression. But we must bear in mind that, however anxious we ourselves may be to co-operate with the great Russian nation, it may not be quite so easy to smooth out the differances which exist between Russia and other nations with which we desire to be allied. I think that hon. Gentleman opposite, when they criticise the Government in this respect, might bear in mind the very great difficulties which manifest themselves in finding a common basis of agreement among nations between many of whom there exist deep-seated and long established differences and hatreds. Therefore, I think the assurance of the Prime Minister can be taken to mean exactly what it says—that every effort is being made by the Government at the present time to find agreement between those nations that are prepared to band themselves together to resist aggression. I believe that the policy of the Government is perfectly right; I believe it has been right all along. [Interruption.] I do not say it must always be right, but I think that, if people look back in an impartial manner to the past few years, they will agree that the policy of the Government has been right.
Hon. Members opposite are always asking for conciliation, for conference. They had it long ago. Is it any fault of the Prime Minister that the policy which he tried to carry out at Munich has not succeeded as he would have wished it to succeed? It was not for want of his trying. He was doing exactly what right hon. Gentlemen opposite have always said in the past ought to be done, and have demanded that the Government should do. Munich was a success if for no other reason than that it gave us six priceless months in which to prepare for any emergency which might arise. Whatever dark days may come, this country, of all countries in the world, is the best fitted to withstand them. We have resources which are incomparable, and, above all, we have a spirit in our people which is 59 unbeatable, and will remain unbeaten. The biggest contribution that each of us can individually make towards bringing about peace in the world is that we should show to the rest of the world that in this country we are sinking our personal differences and are united behind the Government of the day. The country is united. It wants peace and is desirous of helping other nations towards peace; but at the same time it is resolute in its own defence and in the defence of others who are too weak to defend themselves, and it will not allow any petty party difference of opinion to impair the united front which the present times demand.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
This country today is in very great danger, but I do not agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) that such an occasion should be used, not for debate, but to play Greek chorus to the Government. To my mind, the danger is far greater that it was only a month ago, and that danger is one which we ourselves must understand if we are to get the country behind us and the Government to move. The hon. and gallant Member has just appealed for unity. Of course, he said, the Prime Minister is right now; but that is no reason for contending that he was not wrong before. This passion for consistency destroys all argument in debate. The hon. and gallant Member has ceased to be an isolationist, and I take him to be typical of nine-tenths of the people in this country. He has come to the conclusion that we must unite together all over the world to resist aggression. He has accepted that new position, but he cannot see that that change in attitude, which is typical of the whole country, involves us in grave risks unless at the same time we take steps to get the advantages of the combination.
We have taken on a very grave risk in saying that in any circumstances we will go to the support of Poland, and now of these other countries. That alone does not save the situation in the least. Obviously, to anyone who reads the German Press, it has resulted in the concentration of German venom against this country. We are in greater danger from Germany than we were before we made that arrangement with Poland. The difference between the bilateral agreement 60 we have come to and collective security must be understood if we are to persuade the Government to drop bilateral security and get real security. In the case of Poland, the Government, after having given their guarantee, did manage to persuade the Polish Government—I do not know at what price—also to guarantee us. It is just as vital for us that we should get Polish support if we are attacked as it is for Poland that we should support her if she is attacked. Is not that well understood?
The House was entirely relieved the last time we debated this question, because it was apparent that Poland had decided to help us. But I think it is quite arguable that that Polish support adds to our present risks if it can be obtained only at the cost of not getting Russian support. In that case I do not think we are in any better position than before. Because we want to get as much support in the world as possible when we are attacked; therefore, we must criticise these bilateral agreements. Is there anyone here who does not appreciate that the whole standard in regard to international honour and the sacred-ness of agreements has been weakened continuously during the last few years? We know perfectly well that in this country we shall implement our bond, but can we be sure that all these countries with whom we are making bilateral agreements will do so?
Take the risk which is ever present before my eyes—the risk that Germany will attack Holland. With all respect to the Dutch Army and the Dutch Government, really nothing could stop the marvellous, new mechanised army of Germany from overrunning an unsupported Holland in a very short time. If they overrun Holland we are bound to be in that war. We cannot possibly allow either Holland or Belgium to go out as Czecho-Slovakia did. I suppose there have been talks to see how best support could be given to Holland, but the best support would be to say that if Germany attacks Holland she will have to face us on one front, and she will have her Army attacked from both Poland and Russia on the other. In this matter we must not think just of the bombing of London. To all sensible people that is not the first thing to consider. The first thing to consider is that in certain circumstances we shall be forced into war and must win. 61 It is quite possible unfortunately now that our Government may accept the fait accompli and sacrifice Holland. We have no agreement with Holland, but if bilateral agreements are to go forward, then let us have a bilateral agreement with Holland and Russia, so that she will feel secure and Germany will realise the risk she will run in attacking Holland.
In our bilateral agreement with Poland we have obtained an assurance from the Poles that they will come to our help if we come to theirs. It will be noticed, however, that in regard to Greece and Rumania, and presumably in regard to Turkey, the arrangement is not a bilateral agreement, but a pledge by us to do something without a guarantee that they will come to our help. Are we sure that in a war in the Mediterranean Greece would be even neutral? Their harbours would be of little use to us then, but would be of use to Italy. Greece is a dictatorship country, and there is a great deal of sympathy between dictatorships. The dictator, General Metaxas, served his time in the German Army, and he is pro-German. We have not, therefore, the certainty that the people we are guaranteeing will not be on the other side if trouble comes. These bilateral agreements are a mistake. They are guarantees from us to some endangered country that we will go to their aid. Whether they come to our aid is problematical in any case. We want collective security to be something different from that. Collective security means that the people who will fight shall be united together, firmly bound together, and will consent to fight if any one of them is attacked. It must be a mutual bond. Bilateral agreements merely add to our dangers. Collective security based upon the unity of great Powers who can fight and who cannot be bullied into acquiescence, are all important. A guarantee from Russia, France, Britain and America is good enough, but a guarantee from a small country is not good enough unless the big countries will all come in.
The hon. and gallant Member opposite, and I suppose the Government, hope that they can detach Italy from the axis, and get her to be one of the great guaranteeing countries. The hon. and gallant Member begged us not to antagonise Italy by saying anything unkind about the Italian Government.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
If the hon. and gallant Member did not say that, I am sorry to misrepresent him, but I thought he did say it. The Italian people and the Italian Government are not one. This perpetual habit of trying to please the dictator in Italy is injuring our chances as a nation with the Italian people. The position of the dictator in Italy is by no means so strong as the position of the dictator in Germany. The dictator in Italy has against him two very powerful sentiments—the influence of the church and a certain amount of residual loyalty to the Crown, and if those two influences get together Mussolini will have difficulty in preserving his position. We do not want to make his position any easier by subservience to him. We ought not to make his position any easier if we want to get, once more, a free and friendly Italy.
It must be obvious to everyone in this House that the position of the dictator in Italy is not comfortable so far as the Italian people are concerned, nor is it comfortable vis-à-vis the other partner in the axis. Hitler can do without Mussolini and Italy. He could march into Rome in three days, and Mussolini knows it. Practically everything that has been done, Hitler has arranged. He gives the sops to his rival dictator and ally—such as Albania or Abyssinia. The man who matters is Hitler. Hope, however, is still cherished on the Government Bench that by preserving the Anglo-Italian Agreement, by being continually civil, and by leaving our representative in Rome we can thereby detach Mussolini from the axis and bring him to our side against Hitler. Nothing more mad could be imagined by those who know the relative position of these two men.
If collective security is to be more than the increased danger which comes from taking up commitments, we must get Russia, France, England and the United States of America to act together. What staggered me during the speech of the Prime Minister was the fact that there was not one word said about America, about the President's remarkable statement, or about his open approval of America standing by the other democracies of the world. We have waited for years for some such chance, and yet there was not one word about it. Not only Russia appears to be ruled out, but America as well. In the interests of this 63 country, in the interests of safety, I would say to the Government, do everything possible to get collective security, but do get it with those Governments, because we are making our position more and more risky by every move we take.
Before the Debate, I had a telegram from six of the leading doctors of North Staffordshire. They are not politicians, but just ordinary men I know who are working at the Infirmary. The telegram reads:Demand anti-aggression pact, including Russia, also strengthening of Cabinet by inclusion of discarded patriotic Ministers[Laughter.] There is nothing humorous about that, unless it is that hon. Members laugh because it comes from doctors and not from politicians. I prefer the intelligence of the country to the intelligence of the House of Commons on matters like this. Whatever we may think of the inherent and increasing difficulties which this country will face during these times and in war, if war must come, owing to the personality of the present Prime Minister it is no use any of us on these benches attacking that Prime Minister. Anything that we do in that direction merely strengthens him in the minds of hon. Members in this House. It is not our business to do that. If, however, Conservative Members in this House really love their country and want it to come safely through the most dangerous position that we are in to-day—and everybody must realise that the position is becoming daily worse with every new commitment—I beg them to see to it that we have on the Government Front Bench the best from their own party, if they cannot have members of our party in their ranks.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I did not mean the best of that party. Honestly, I do not think that we want to have more pacifists on that Bench. What we want is a Government that is able to secure the united confidence of the people of this country, in peace and war. We want also to secure, for safety's sake, the co-operation of the Russian and American Governments in the united determination of Britain and France to preserve law and to stop anarchy and aggression.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Pilkington
I have often desired to follow the right hon. and gallant Member who has just spoken, because as I have listened to most of his speeches I have disagreed so profoundly with the majority of the points he has made that I have looked forward to being able to answer them or trying to answer them, but on this occasion I find myself in agreement with most of the things he has said. I hope that that is some augury for the feeling of the House of Commons as a whole in the Debate to-day. When he made the point about the necessity of the pledges which we have made to various countries in South Eastern Europe being made reciprocal, I felt that it was a matter which the Government will bend every endeavour to try and secure. Also I agree with him that it is very necessary for us to have on our side on this "peace front," as it was called by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), those great countries Russia and the United States of America if that be possible.
Let me say a few words about the Balkans before I turn to deal with other matters in Central Europe. In the days before the War it used to be the habit of a host in search of polite conversation to say: "I suppose there will be trouble in the Balkans in the spring." To-day it is more likely that a host in a similar position would say, "I suppose there is some new trouble in Europe this morning?" I think that many of the events which have taken place in south-eastern Europe in recent years could be used as a guide by the rest of Europe. We have seen since the War agreed and successful exchanges of population in that part of Europe; we have seen two ancient foes —Turkey and Greece—make friends; we have seen Turkey carry out by agreement a revision of some of her War treaties, and Rumania draw up a minority statute which was remarkable for its liberality. We have seen measures of regional organisation, which again Europe might well have copied. We had in 1934 the Balkan Pact between Rumania, Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey, and in 1937 we had the Middle Eastern Pact between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
But there are in this pleasant picture of that part of the world two very serious blots. The first blot is the position of 65 Hungary. In Hungary we have a nation, beaten in the Great War, surrounded by victorious neighbours, and inevitably that country has drifted into the arms of the Axis Powers. Any concession which was ever suggested is now too late to be carried out. There remains a second blot, and that is the position of Bulgaria. Here again, you have a conquered country ringed about by successful neighbours, and I suggest that there will never be real and lasting solidarity and security in the Balkans until some concession is made to Bulgaria. My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) mentioned this in his speech, and I would like to follow it up by asking whether it is not possible, for the sake of their mutual security and prosperity, for a part of the Dobrudja, and the Dedeagatch corridor to the Aegean to be restored to Bulgaria? I wonder whether Balkan statesmanship, which has achieved so much in recent years, can rise as high as that?
I would like to say a few words about the policy of appeasement, which inevitably comes up in all these Debates. In the last few weeks and months I have had contact, as have many other hon. Members, with a great number of German people, and, as opportunity has arisen, I have put to them some of the difficulties with which we are faced in this country when we try to deal with their Government. In every case, the action of Hitler has been justified by these Germans by the assertion that, in the first place, there was a refusal of the Allies to admit German equality particularly as to the Rhineland and rearmament, and secondly, there was a refusal of the Allies to apply to Germany alone that principle of racial self-determination which was supposed to be one of the cardinal principles of the Versailles Treaty. Because of that dual refusal of the Allies to Germany, these Germans, rightly or wrongly, justified the whole of Hitler's policy. They admitted that Locarno was a beginning, but they said it was a beginning which was not followed up. I think that Europe as a whole has cause to regret that what was called the spirit of Locarno never became substance.
I believe that the only possible answer to these Germans is that our Prime Minister did recognise that these grievances were sincerely felt by the German nation as a whole, and because of that 66 he initiated what is known as the policy of appeasement, the apogee of which was the cession of the German part of Czechoslovakia to the Reich in September of last year. I know that hon. Members opposite do not agree with this, but I believe that the great value of that policy of appeasement, at that time and in those circumstances, was that it did show that our Prime Minister, the Leader of this country, was a man of peace and a man of justice, and I believe that that was appreciated by the people of Germany as well as by people in the rest of the world. I believe that that fact will be of inestimable value in whatever role we may have to play in the weeks or months to come.
With 15th March a new period began, and when you put to Germans, as I and others have, that on the 15th March Hitler went against his own racial principles, on which he had already achieved so much, there is no real answer. At best, there is rather a lame suggestion that our efforts to decrease the then existing gap between our armaments and those of Germany were in some way an act of hostility. Hitler has himself now made it impossible for the policy of appeasement to be further pursued in present circumstances. The policy of appeasement has come to a stop. The 15th March was the last straw on the back of the camel of good will which already bore so much. As Germany's Leader, Hitler has successively broken his pledges over Locarno, Spain, Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Memel, and the Italian dictator has successively broken his pledges over Abyssinia, Spain and Albania. I wonder whether ever before two rulers of great nations have made so perjured a record in so short a time. How can we ever trust their word again? I can believe in the Loch Ness Monster, in the Abominable Snowmen, in the Coelacanthus fish, but when we are asked to believe in the word of the dictators, then, I think, we should have time to consider.
It would seem that Hitler and Mussolini are to-day, like Napoleon a century and a half ago, so driven by the momentum of their own past deeds that they cannot now stop. It would seem that to-day they stand as gangsters on an international scale aiming at the brutal conquest of their neighbours, until the one has created a "Mitteleuropa" from 67 the Baltic to the Black Sea, and the other a "Mare Nostrum" from Gibraltar to Egypt. If that be so, even as a century and a half ago we had to unite all the peace-loving nations against further aggression, so we have got to do now. That bloc must stand just so long as these Dictator Governments prefer a bayonet diplomacy to a table diplomacy.
So much for our policy for the present. But I agree with what people have said about the necessity of our having a clear-cut policy also for the future. We must never let the harsh necessities of the moment obscure our vision of the future. I have said that the policy of appeasement has come to a stop, but I do not believe that what is rightly meant by the policy of appeasement has for ever come to an end. You will get an enduring peace only when all the nations of the world are ready to share the great riches of this planet between them. If we are to get on our side, as I believe we have at the present moment on our side, all the peoples as opposed to the Governments of the world, then we have to reaffirm and to repeat, as this Government have on occasions repeated, that our ultimate aim is a general settlement where prosperity can be given to everyone. I believe that that ultimate settlement at which we must aim must be based on the four great pillars of Disarmament, Economic Co-operation, Colonial Development shared by all, and a method of conduct in international affairs such as was originally envisaged by the League of Nations.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Vernon Bartlett
I hope that it is in order for so new a Member to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes (Mr. Pilkington). I was very moved to hear somebody bring us back to the fundamental issues of the world problems. At a time like this, when we all get worked up and disturbed and worried, it is a very good thing that these fundamental issues should be brought from time to time before the House. At a moment like this, I look upon this as a really historic Debate. It is perhaps an impertinence for someone who has been in this House for so short a time to intervene, except that I only do so because, having no very definite links with any political party, anything that 68 I may say will stand less likelihood of being looked upon as an attempt to make party capital. I am afraid that I must say how very alarmed I am at the slowness by which we are still discussing this new policy or this revival of the old policy of collective security. I am really horrified at the difference in pace in politics in this country and politics in the totalitarian States, and, as we know, the Germans, if they ever do go to war, will depend upon the necessity of winning a victory within a very few weeks. It is essential, as I see it, that we should prepare as quickly as possible. The great forces are beginning to work on our side, and one of the great forces, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Widnes pointed out, is the fact that the people of the world do not want war. But we have to work very quickly indeed if we are to avoid the danger that before our armaments grow stronger and before we build up a decent collective system the totalitarian States should strike.
I think that practically all hon. Members welcomed the guarantee to Poland, just as this afternoon they welcomed the guarantee to Greece and Rumania, because any step that we can take now which convinces Germany that, if she went to war, she would have to fight on two fronts, is an invaluable step towards peace. But I agree with the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) in his reference to the danger of selecting one country here and another country there and offering them a guarantee. That method is both too slow and too dangerous. It is dangerous for the reason that the nations selected for this honour hesitate to accept it because they know that it draws upon them immediate insults, and possibly an immediate attack, from Germany. But there are other reasons. If we select certain countries, mainly for strategic reasons, because they seem to be important from the point of view of the British Empire, we give a little colour to the German fear of encirclement. It seems to me that the argument of encirclement is almost the only argument with which Herr Hitler could again pull his people together. That is something we have to avoid very carefully. If we select one country here and another country there, it looks as though we are asking them to join in a line-up against Germany.
69 Then, thirdly, that policy seems to be an encouragement to Germany and Italy to attack any country that is not singled out for a British guarantee. There must have been many hon. Members who, this afternoon, felt a little uneasy about Jugo-Slavia. Some hon. Members have pointed out, in the course of the Debate, that we gained six valuable months after Munich. I wish I could agree with them. Even during the last month, Albania has been lost, Hungary has become immobilised, and I am afraid Jugo-Slavia is becoming immobilised; and I fear that if the Prime Minister had not been able to give a guarantee in regard to Rumania to-day, that country also would have been in the very gravest danger. I believe it is essential, even at this late hour, that we should make the utmost effort to get into an immediate alliance the three great Powers that are against aggression. I know perfectly well that there are difficulties in the case of Poland and various other countries with regard to Russia. In some cases those difficulties are very genuine ones, and go beyond a dislike of the regime in Russia, to the time when those countries were ruled by Czarist Russia. That is a fact which we have to take into consideration, but I cannot believe that if three great Powers—the great Powers in the West and the great Power in the East—were to form an alliance, the small countries which at present hesitate to come out into the open, would not do so with the greatest alacrity.
I want now to say a word or two about Russia. A fortnight ago, I noticed that the Berlin correspondent of the "Observer," a newspaper which in the past has not been anti-German or pro-Russian, wrote that a three-Power alliance between Britain, France and Russia would represent the greatest defeat to Herr Hitler's six years of diplomacy. I do not like to talk in terms of enmity towards any country, but I think that if we could inflict the greatest defeat of Hen-Hitler's six years of diplomacy, we should do so without the slightest delay. Failing that general alliance, we shall find that the Axis Powers will continue to strike wherever we are weakest. Some people tell us that the Russian army is of no value. As I pointed out a short time ago, whatever one may think of the Russian army—it is true that it has lost a certain number of generals, but with all due respect to hon. and gallant generals in 70 the House, that is not necessarily a disadvantage—whatever one may think of the Russian system of government, it seems to me to be absolutely incredible that a country which has become as industrialised in the last 20 years as Russia has done, should be weaker than the Tsarist Russia of 1914. I canot believe that any hon. Member would seriously suggest that we should leave Russia aside, when he looks back 21 years to the March retreat, when the Germans, having got the Russians out of the War, were able to transfer their divisions from the Eastern front to the Western front. We know how very nearly that led to our losing the War, despite the fact that the American armies were in on our side. When hon. Members reflect on this, I feel they must agree that a much greater effort should be made to bring Russia in.
I want now to say a few words about the Anglo-Italian Agreement. I am fully aware of the responsibility of hon. Members who speak in a Debate such as this. I appreciate as much as anybody does the growing difference between the Italian people and the Italian Government. This is—as the Prime Minister himself certainly felt when he went to Munich and realised how great was that difference in Germany —one of the really encouraging factors in the world at the present time—the desire to avoid war even in the totalitarian States. But I cannot see how, by continuing the Anglo-Italian pact of friendship, after it has been so deliberately broken by Italy, we encourage the Italian people to believe that we really stand for justice at all costs. By continuing the Anglo-Italian Agreement, it will appear too much as though we are condoning aggression in Albania in the hope of avoiding the consequences of condoning aggression in Spain.
May I hope that whoever winds up the Debate will emphasise that that Agreement is to go on only if we get evidence that, having once sinned against it, the Italians will not continue in their sin; in other words, that the Agreement will be denounced if we still read of masses of troops going to Albania, Spain, and Libya, all in breach of that pact? Otherwise, I feel that, although we may possibly be doing something to encourage the Italian people in believing that the Axis is not a good policy, we are underestimating the tremendously harmful effects which our carrying on with that 71 pact will have on those other countries in Europe that are looking to us for a genuine lead towards a new policy of collective security. I noticed to-day that the "Times" had a message from Rome saying that the conviction that Great Britain does not intend to make difficulties about the Italian occupation of Albania has led to still more violent anti-British articles in the Italian Press. It does not look as though continued appeasement will get the Italians out of Spain, and more and more hon. Members must have come to the conclusion that Spain is probably the key to the whole European situation now. But above all, it is the effect on other countries that seems to me to be important. I will quote from one more newspaper, the "Daily Mail,"—I purposely choose a newspaper which, in the past, has not exactly taken the lead towards building up collective security against Germany and Italy—which contains extracts from the Australian Press. One from the "Melbourne Herald" states:Hesitance will mean the ultimate ruin of British hopes. A large anti-aggression front should be drawn now. Mussolini is not entitled to consideration or to any new promiseI venture to doubt whether the Government fully realise the effect abroad of their own past failures to maintain collective security. I urge right hon. Gentlemen who bear a very heavy responsibility in the Government at the present time to remember how much their own records in regard to Abyssinia, Spain and China are a handicap to them now that they are, I believe quite genuinely, trying to build up a system of collective security. I remind them of this only because it shows the need for them to work with greater courage and energy that they would otherwise have had to do. I get no pleasure from attacking people who have these burdens of office, but time after time one is worried by the reflection that we are not here to say kind and polite things to one another but to represent the vast mass of ordinary, decent, kindly human beings who are desperately worried, and who look upon us as being the only people who may, by our vision and courage, remove from them this appalling fear of war. I believe we can do that if we show real vigour in building up this new League of Nations.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
No one can be more deeply impressed than I am with the necessity, at a time such as this and in a Debate of this kind, of paying particular attention to the words which one utters. I do not think one can exaggerate the dangers which confront this country, the Empire and the world at the present time. We have now had a further incident, causing a further crisis to arise, within the last few days. I believe that His Majesty's Government have dealt with that crisis with considerable ability. I have always held the opinion that it is possible, on the one hand—as has been said by various hon. Members this afternoon—to differentiate between the Italian people and their Government, whereas, on the other hand, I do not think it is possible to make the same differentiation in the case of Germany. This latest crisis, I am convinced, has proceeded from the same source as all crises have during the past anxious years, and that is from the centre of Europe, from the predominant partner in the Axis.
One often hears abroad, in these days, a phrase about the dangers in which we stand from the powers of darkness. I do not think that, as a phrase, that is in any way misused or exaggerated. Nazi Germany to-day is undoubtedly a power of darkness. I have heard it flippantly put, of the Albanian crisis, that Herr-Hitler has led from dummy. I think there is a good deal of truth in that. What threats he employed in order to make the Italians descend on Albania, I do not know, of course; but that he did so, I am convinced. If that be true, it proves two things—first, that Germany is extremely anxious not to have to fight on two fronts, because in the event of a declaration of war over the Albanian incident, our agreement with Poland in the East would not have been operative—and secondly, that Herr Hitler was suspicious of his partner in the Axis, a fact of which they were well aware, and that he wishes to place upon Italy the onus of starting a world war. In fact, I believe this to have been a trap elaborately set, and I am delighted to think that we have not fallen into it.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made this afternoon a speech which might have been made by the Leader of the Opposition. 73 The allegation which he made as to the disposition of His Majesty's ships in the Mediterranean at the time of the Albanian crisis is a point which deserves our careful consideration. I do not read the Sunday papers, nor do I ever listen to the wireless. I prefer to keep what little judgment I have unimpaired. Therefore, I do not know whether there is any truth in that allegation, as I did not see it or hear it at the time it was made. But, if it be true, it is surely a matter which can hardly be passed over without comment.
We have this afternoon heard frequently used those blessed words "collective security," and it seems to me that even now we are very unclear as to the real meaning of those words. A great many hon. Members will have it that we have now somehow come back to the idea of collective security. May I say again that collective security, for good or for ill, has never existed, nor does it exist now; and the reasons which have prevented it from existing in the past are precisely the same as those which prevent it from existing at the present time. We have now a policy of bilateral pacts, but that, of course, has nothing whatever to do with collective security. The system of collective security means that if one of an enormous conglomeration of Powers is attacked the rest will all fly to arms to defend it. But, much as we should like to have that system, we have never been able to obtain it in the past, and we cannot now. There are many reasons which prevent it, reasons mostly historical rather than ideological.
The Leader of the Opposition talked a great deal to-day of his realistic outlook, but anyone who maintains, as he did, that countries are not prepared to enter into bonds or pacts to fight except for a great moral principle declares himself to be the very reverse of a realist. The fact is that the crusading spirit, so far as fighting is concerned, no longer exists. Those who maintain that it does exist very much under-estimate the hatred of war which is in the hearts of men and women at the present time. What they will fight for, however, is their interests. I know that is a phrase or a point of view which very much disturbs hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I believe it to be a true one; and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping pointed out to-day with great force that those countries with which 74 we have bilateral agreements, including Soviet Russia, have a community of interest with us.
A great deal has been said about Soviet Russia, and we on this side of the House, I am perfectly sure, see the full force of the argument that without Soviet Russia on the East any alliance of Powers against Germany is lacking in strength. That is a point which does not take a great deal of grasping. But why is it that we cannot have an agreement with Soviet Russia to-day? The Prime Minister was attacked from the Opposition benches for not having done this or that with regard to Soviet Russia, and he was asked, especially after what he said today, why it was that the Government are not attempting with great energy to obtain that agreement? It is to be presumed that we are, but there are difficulties. We have heard them mentioned, sometimes only hinted at, and 1 would not exaggerate them. But I must confess that what I saw and heard on the only occasion that I was ever in Warsaw, which was in 1920, sticks in my memory. The main bridge over the river, the principal artery of communication, was broken and lay in the water, and, instead of mending it, the Poles were engaged in the laborious task of destroying stone by stone the Russian Orthodox cathedral in that city. They were doing that, not for any reasons of religion, but because it was a symbol of Russian domination in their city. The feeling which imbued them then exists to-day, and it is no good pretending that, with the best will in the world, it is an easy matter to obtain this co-operation, although I cannot see myself why Soviet Russia should not enter into a bilateral pact of the kind into which other countries have already come. She holds out for a complete system of collective security—for what reason I am at a loss to understand.
Well, we are engaged in this policy now, and we must see to it that, whatever happens, we do not stop half way, and that we carry it out to the end. The only fatal thing in a policy of this kind would be to hesitate or seem to give an impression of failure. Moreover, I believe it to be vitally necessary for this country to have a compulsory system of service. There is really no answer to those of our friends abroad, especially, may I say, in France, who ask us, as they frequently 75 do, why we persist in facing this peril, which we all acknowledge, without putting forth our full strength. I am at a loss to know what the answer is. The question of conscience, which was dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), is surely not one which can prevent the consummation of so essential a measure. I have always been one who believed in the menace of a resurgent Germany. Nazism has come to Germany as an additional provocation and an additional danger, but the real threat is Germany herself. It was not, after all, Nazi Germany which before the War demanded a place in the sun. This, then, is the Power with which we are faced. Let us show the world that we fully realise the extent of the task which we may, for all we know, be called to carry out.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
In this sombre atmosphere this afternoon it may be generally agreed in most quarters of the House that there is that very rare thing in this assembly, unity, now that we are confronted with the menacing situation of to-day, yet I hope and believe in some respects that unity is superficial rather than fundamental. I say that because the remarks made by the last speaker certainly were challenging to many on this side of the House. He suggested, for example, that we should be alarmed at a resurgent Germany, without making any attempt to discriminate between the German Government on the one hand, and the German people on the other, and without admitting our own share of responsibility for the present situation, in Germany or elsewhere. That, I think, reveals what is really a drastic divergence between Members on this side of the House and at least some Members on the other side.
At the same time I admit that the annexation of Albania does confirm with most people their reluctant conviction that we must speed up our arms and secure the widest possible bloc of all peace-loving Powers. There are in my view only two logical positions. There is the pacifist position, and although some may smile and believe it is irrelevant, I am convinced that if there could be a completely pacifist community it would in the end be invulnerable to all the attacks made by 76 all the dictators in the world. Unfortunately, the majority of people do not take that position. The other position is to recognise the human situation as it is, and in this case those who believe that war under some regrettable circumstances is necessary on the one hand build up their armaments but also on the other hand seek to secure some form of real international co-operation. Those are the two positions. There is no valid position in between. Unfortunately a large number of people have been shilly-shallying between those two positions, and under the logic of circumstance and the pressure of fear men and women are now being challenged to make up their minds as to which position they shall take.
If they take the position that war under some circumstances is justifiable then it seems to me that the policy of the Labour party, which has always been that war should not be waged for narrow Imperialist ends but for the principle of justice and international co-operation, is the policy which is right—and it is a policy which, as I understand, has now been accepted in some measure by the Government itself. At the same time it is well to realise that, though this will increase our defences it may also increase our dangers. The alliances now being envisaged and implemented, after all, are not just limited liability companies. Any kind of mutual aid, unless very carefully defined, may involve a collateral security and an indefinite risk under an extremely hazardous form of insurance.
That being so, we have to take to heart the warnings given in many quarters of the House to-day that this approach to the establishment of collective security should be made with a full realisation of all it may mean to ourselves and the future of Europe. In any case, if this new policy is ultimately to stand the test of war we do well to remember it will not minimise the wholesale agony and destruction visited on our civilisation. We are appalled at the human suffering existing in so many parts of Europe now, but it will be merely a kind of mild headache compared with the wholesale torture which will be inflicted, on righteous and unrighteous alike, in the eventuality of a great European war. And if we are horrified by the perversion of human life and thought as seen in the case of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini that will be 77 trifling compared with the wholesale perversion of life and thought likely to occur when once war begins.
One of the greatest tragedies of war is that so many succumb to a kind of diabolical dementia which turns their moral standards upside down. Once war starts, generosity, sanity, truth, forebearance and even compassion fill the casualty wards of civilisation. I do not say, therefore, that only on that ground war should be avoided. On other grounds I would, but not on that ground necessarily. But whether war is undertaken for imperialist ends or the ends of collective security, psychologically and economically the result for a long period, perhaps for all time, will be precisely the same. That is why I submit that there exists a real danger to us at the present moment and that we should still try our utmost to encourage all those forces that make for peace, justice and understanding. One thing is certain—there exists a real danger in any war, however righteous, that the very thing we seek to destroy is the thing which grows by our own endeavours. We saw it in the last War and because of it we now have these despotic countries in Europe.
If we throw our minds back to the immediate post-war days we can realise how remote we were then from the high ideals and noble conceptions that inspired so many men to go forth in 1914. Had we been able to get an elementary amount of sanity, and even a small percentage of the idealism of 1914 in 1919, when we signed the Peace Treaty, it is quite probable that Herr Hitler would not have been in power in Germany to-day. One of the problems that besets me is this. Frequently we are informed that we could not have expected a wiser Peace Treaty than the one that was actually signed, and although the Prime Minister and others rather belatedly confessed that in the past we have been neither wise nor generous to Germany, still it is urged that after four years of strain and tension we could not have expected a wiser Treaty than the Versailles Treaty. My problem is this. If that be so, it would seem that another war, which, is likely to make the last War a mere dog-fight by comparison, would create a neurosis and psychosis which would make it even much less likely that sanity would emerge from it. It was owing to the consequences of the last War that we are now filled with 78 gravest apprehensions as to the post-war results of another war.
I do deplore with all my heart and soul any attempt to try and rouse this country merely on the basis of a narrow national interest. I know it has been said time and again that it is the only thing that stirs men and can draw the nation together. I deny that completely. In 1914 it was not the call to support our narrow national interest that drew such a great response from the men of this country. I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper) has stated in the House that while we were led to believe in 1914 that we went into war for the sake of Belgium, that in fact we did nothing of the kind but that we went into it to preserve our own interests. He did not say that in 1914, and I venture to suggest that he is not entirely correct. There were many men who, although their sacrifice was subsequently betrayed, went into the War in 1914 for altruistic purposes; and if the Government wish to convince the best part of the people of this country that they must bear the colossal burdens now being imposed on them, they should not appeal in the name of narrow national self-interest.
I am not a sentimentalist and I do not deny that national interests have to be considered, but if we are merely going to emphasise the assumption that it is to preserve our own national interests and imperial preserves that we must ally ourselves with other countries, then two things will result. We can no longer criticise the German people or the German Government, because it is from that standpoint that they are engaging in their present policy. If you argue with them, as I have argued in Germany and outside, that their policy is wrong and immoral, they will in the last resort say, "It may be so, but it is at least in the interest of Germany: we worship Germany." If at this early stage we are going to copy so subtly the blasphemy of State worship and be led into alliances for national self-interest, we shall no longer be in a position to criticise Germany or to hold out a better example to them. Let us make it clear that we do not wish a combination of nations to exist on the basis of a band of brigands.
Let our interests be wider and include some fundamental moral principles. 79 Otherwise the principles of the jungle will dominate us. It is possible, if that is the principle which is to dominate Europe in the days to come that the most savage and unscrupulous tiger may win through. There will always be this disadvantage on the part of the democratic countries, that although they may engage in war with vigour and determination they will always tend to be more squeamish respecting brutality than the dictatorships. If we meet the situation by appealing to the instincts of the jungle it is likely that the jungle will win and civilisation will disappear. Let us attempt to display the same amount of energy for all the movements towards peace as we are now displaying with regard to preparations for war. It may be purely hypothetical, but I believe that if one-quarter of the energy, potential sacrifice and thought now being devoted to war purposes or defensive purposes could have been devoted in the last few years to peace and the purposes of justice and co-operation, we might not have been meeting here this afternoon to discuss this grim situation. We must try with the utmost devotion and persistence to preserve all the elements of sanity and peace that are still left, still strive to pursue a strategy of peace and not a strategy of war.
I would add this more cogent point. I hope that in the days to come, no matter how we dislike the policies of the dictators, we shall be scrupulous even with our enemies. I have detected here and there a tendency to throw on one side any scruples when it comes to the presentation of the worst side of the German case. It is true, unfortunately, that all of us can be liars for the sake of truth at times. In the last War truth was again and again betrayed by the liars in high places. In other words, we used propaganda without scruple or limitation. Surely we can even now try to find some points that will show a better Germany or a better Italy. It is our task to preserve and encourage this. If at this juncture it is possible to say to the world on behalf of a united England that we desire peace with justice, that we are prepared here and now to make sacrifices and to repudiate all imperialist monopolies; if we are prepared to give the lead towards a new world; if the leaders of the parties in this country and of the churches and other representatives were to say that sincerely and 80 directly to the peoples of Germany, Italy and elsewhere, I am convinced that there would be a tremendous stirring of the souls of those peoples in a way that nothing else could touch.
It may be thought necessary from one standpoint to hold up a bludgeon against the other man who is holding up a bludgeon to us but that in the end will not destroy dictatorships. It will merely increase a greater respect of bludgeons and a greater desire to get a bigger bludgeon than ever. We shall not intimidate German and Italian people merely by the sword. Indeed, we shall not destroy the evil that is in those peoples by means of the sword. There must be some other way. As I see it, the real failure since Munich has been this, and I say it with all respect. It is that after Munich the Prime Minister did not give the great moral, social and international lead to the world that he could and should have done. If he had done that, if he had risked his whole political reputation and cut through the traditional strategy of diplomacy and spoke above the battle direct to the hearts and consciences of the people of the world, and tried to vindicate that appeal with a sign that we in this country were willing to make our sacrifice, I believe there would have been a different story now. As it is, we are confronted with the nemesis of the last 20 years' diplomacy. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) pleading for Russia to be brought in, I could not help feeling that if he in his day had been wiser than he was there would have been no need now to plead that Russia should come and save Europe, and England in particular. I trust that the deliberations of Members in all parts of the House will lead us to realise that only a new lead to Europe can save us and that whatever else is considered necessary at least Britain should lead the way to a new Europe in which Britain may well be Great in a new and finer sense.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Quintin Hogg
The speech to which we have just listened was one which, in its concluding stages, was controversial. I could not help thinking, however, that the earlier portion of it was of a kind which ought to commend respect and support from all quarters of the House. The emphasis placed on the necessity of 81 moral law as a factor in determining national policy, which was obviously sincerely felt and eloquently expressed, can do nothing but good in a time like this. I should be very sorry to think that any Members on this side of the House differed from the hon. Member in what he said in that part of his speech. I venture to intervene in what is an important Debate, because I cannot help feeling that there must be some Members beside myself who regret the course which the Debate has taken, at any rate in its earlier stages.
I am one of those who believe that by far the most important issue at the moment is national unity. We are faced with what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) aptly described as what appears to be a conspiracy—a conspiracy in which the world is the booty, in which our resources, which form a substantial proportion of the resources of the world, will no doubt be a foremost part. If we are unable to unite in face of such a conspiracy as that, it is useless to attempt to resist it in any way at all. Of course, if it be true, as the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) suggested, that there is a fundamental division between us, and that we cannot unite or agree on matters of fundamental importance, it will be hypocrisy and humbug on our part to attempt to do so. We might as well, if that be the true position, cease at once to regard ourselves as a first-class Power.
§ Mr. Sorensen
May I point out that my reference to fundamental disunity arose out of the constant emphasis on the part of other speakers to the fact that our chief interest in the present situation was a national one, and that they were not prepared to go beyond that.
§ Mr. Hogg
I am glad that the hon. Member has made that plain. I hope I have removed some of the doubts which seemed to exist in the hon. Member's mind that there is any disunity among hon. Members on this side on that issue. The truth is that the House and the country as a whole are completely united and completely determined in a resolve to resist the conspiracy referred to by the right hon. Member for Caithness. If I may venture with great respect to offer a word of criticism of the leaders of the party opposite it is this. If we are to 82 achieve unity, which is an obvious necessity, it is useless for hon. Members opposite to think that they will convince us of their Tightness on matters which have passed simply by reiterating their arguments, any more than we can hope to convince them by reiterating our arguments. The experience of recent Debates on foreign policy, and of recent by-elections, has shown that if we are to continue to revert to the controversies which existed between September last and March of this year, national unity will not be a reality at all. We are faced now with a situation which has, in fact, united us, and the only matters of controversy and discussion which ought to exist between us now are matters which affect the policy we ought to pursue in the face of the new situation which has arisen. For that reason I suggest, with great respect to the leaders of the party opposite, that they are possibly allowing what is obviously a real antipathy for the leader of my party, unconsciously to influence them into seeing differences which either do not exist or which ought not to exist.
With regard to matters of actual current practicability which have been raised during the Debate, I ask myself how many of them ought, in truth, to be matters of national controversy or division. Criticism was levelled at that part of the speech of the Prime Minister which related to the Anglo-Italian Agreement. The criticism appeared in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, and more specifically in the speech of the hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Bartlett). As I understood that criticism, it was to the effect that by refusing to repudiate or denounce the Anglo-Italian Agreement we were condoning the wicked action which has brought us together to-day for this Debate at this unusual time. I cannot understand the force of that criticism. If somebody enters into a binding agreement with me and then breaks it, I am entitled to take one of two attitudes. I can regard that agreement as at an end, and can claim compensation for what has been done, or I can say—it is purely a matter of expediency which attitude I adopt—that I will hold him to his word and shall still expect him to keep his bond. Surely it is right to take the second line with regard to the Anglo-Italian Agreement of last year? If we were to denounce the 83 Anglo-Italian Agreement the Italians would be the first to point out that the very denunciation of the Agreement would entitle them to retain their troops in Spain. As it was, the Prime Minister made it absolutely plain that, whether we believed in his sincerity or not, we had a right to expect, and do expect the leader of the Italian people to honour that part of his bond to which he is still kept. I cannot begin to understand the criticism of that part of the Prime Minister's speech based on the supposition that it was in any way a condonation of anything that has taken place in Albania.
Nor can I fully appreciate the force of the criticism levelled at the absence of any reference to an understanding with Russia. As I understand it, the occasion of our meeting together to-day is the events over the Easter week-end in Albania, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it plain beyond question before we dispersed for the Recess that no difficulty whatever existed so far as His Majesty's Government were concerned to prevent a full collaboration and co-operation with Russia. While it is true that no published agreement has yet been effectuated there is not the smallest tittle of evidence adduced by hon. Members opposite to lead the House to suppose that His Majesty's Government have in any way prevented an agreement being arrived at, and surely it is right to suggest that in the absence of fuller knowledge and fuller information of what has been going on in the past three weeks, as matters of diplomatic activity, we should withhold judgment and refrain from criticism of those who are the accredited leaders of the people.
I cannot associate myself with the criticism of the Prime Minister which suggests that there should have been some reference to America. A moiety of American blood runs in my own veins and there is no object dearer to my heart than to see a full Anglo-American alliance. But the very last way to achieve that is for us to suggest it. You never get anywhere with the American people by suggesting an alliance between Great Britain and America. It only makes them suspicious, and, for my part, I welcome the reticence of the Prime Minister in not making American cooperation and the position of the 84 American President more difficult by making such a suggestion. I believe that the whole House and the people of this country are united in their desire for a pact against aggression. There are only two short observations of warning which I should like to express about that universal desire. I believe it to be a mistake to suppose, as the Leader of the Opposition seemed to think, that such a pact would effectually disperse the danger which threatens us. I believe the opposite is the case. If such a pact were published to-morrow, the effect would be to precipitate the danger.
We are faced with what has been described as a conspiracy in which our own resources are part of the booty. We are sometimes reminded by hon. Members opposite that in democratic countries Governments can be replaced comparatively painlessly. Dictators cannot be replaced in that way. It is plain, is it not, that the dictator Powers of Europe have committed themselves to this conspiracy sufficiently obviously to render it very difficult for them to retire with grace and commit themselves to an inconsistent policy? I think that the first result of publishing an anti-aggression pact, much as we all desire it, would be that the malice and spite of the dictators would be vented upon ourselves in the near future, and it would be idle to try and convince the people of this country that that danger is not a reality.
§ Mr. Boothby
Is the hon. Member now arguing that he would not like to see an anti-aggression pact signed? I thought that was the policy of His Majesty's Government and that it met with the approval of all sections of the House?
§ Mr. Hogg
I am saying that it is a policy on which we are all united, but what I want to guard against is the belief that such a policy could dispense us from being prepared, because I think such a policy would precipitate the elements of danger in the situation whereas a policy of weakness might allow us to go on in a false sense of security for a longer period. I am glad the hon. Member has raised the point, because I should be sorry to think that any words of mine could possibly lead to the conclusion that any hon. Members on this side of the House do not support that policy. There is one other observation I want to make. 85 This anti-aggression pact cannot, whatever its advantages, be a complete substitute for British action in moments of emergency.
Several hon. Members have contrasted, rather sadly, the swiftness which attends the actions of the Dictators with the deliberation and slowness which seems to cumber the consultations of democracies. Let us be under no misapprehension as to our legal rights. Under the Covenant of the League of Nations a nation which resorts to war contrary to the Covenant has committed an act of war again the cosignatories to the Covenant, and any one of the co-signatories can, if it please, rely on that act of war to take such action as is necessary to resist it. I was particularly moved by a passage of the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) when he suggested that it might form part of the deliberations of His Majesty's Government whether when they were informed of the activities which threatened the invasion of Albania some unilateral action on our part, not confined to purely declaratory action against aggression, would not have proved somewhat more effective than the silence with which it was, in fact, greeted. In the future we cannot exclude the possibility of such action. It would be legal, and I think it would be right.
I cannot share the view of the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) that nobody wants war. I remember that within the last few months the leader of the Italian people said that in his view a permanent state of peace would be a disaster to civilised mankind, and he regarded a relationship measured by power and armed forces as the only relationship which counted as between the peoples of the world. If that be right it is morally right for us to say to such a person who has deliberately declared himself an outlaw, "Very well, remember we are the stronger," and I fear that in the near future His Majesty's Government will not be able to exclude such action as part of the policy to which they are committed. If this House accords to His Majesty's Government that unified support which is desired, and the people accord that support, the future of this country will be assured in the time to come, as it has been in the past.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Sanders
I have been trying to cast my mind back to see if I could discover in recent times two instances of 86 such humiliation as those which we have suffered during the last fortnight. I have a little knowledge of the history of this country, which I love above party and beyond the economic principles which I hold dear, but I cannot remember in recent times that the Prime Minister of this great country has had to confess that, having risked the whole prestige of the country in going to two dictators to argue and plead for peace, having arrived at terms on which peace was to be established, he has been double-crossed on both occasions. I cannot remember an instance in modern history comparable to those two confessions which have been made at that Box. I agree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) that it is not our business to attack the Prime Minister, but whatever we do will have no effect on Members on the other side. We can say what we think about the policy of the Government and its results on the platforms, and some of us intend to do it.
An hon. Friend on these benches talked about making a great effort for peace. No man has made more sacrifices of this country's prestige on behalf of peace than the Prime Minister. I do not blame him for it. It was a gamble. He was warned what would happen to him, not only by this side but by Members of his own party who have been in his own Cabinet. We have listened to eloquent words from Members who have resigned from the Cabinet with regard to blackmail by the dictators. We have been told by them that the word of the dictators will not be kept, and that is why they refused to carry on their business as Cabinet Ministers. Yet the Prime Minister—I give him credit for his bravery—swept on one side all the warnings from both sides and went to Munich and to Rome with the full prestige of the British Empire behind him, and he has been insulted, and the country and the Empire have been insulted, by the dictators tearing up these scraps of papers almost before the ink was dry on them.
There is nothing more to be said about it. The Prime Minister satisfies the majority on the other side and will continue to be Prime Minister, but I say with all solemnity, and not as a piece of literary flourishing, that it may be that we shall see yet that the Prime Minister, who 87 bears the name of the greatest protagonist of Imperialism, will be the man to provide a modern Gibbon, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), with the material for the first chapter of a Decline and Fall of the British Commonwealth.
§ At this juncture the hon. Member was taken unwell, and could not continue his speech.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Muff
I should like to tell the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) that I believe he is correct in stating that there is national unity in this country to resist aggression, and, in speaking to many Members of my own party, I have found out that the Axis Powers have converted peace-loving people here and made them determined that they would resist any attacks upon their liberty. The Axis Powers have builded even better, or worse—it depends on the point of view from which you look at the problem—than they ever dreamt, because they have united the whole of the English-speaking race with the same feeling, that they must unite in order to resist the evil that may come upon them. But, whilst putting that point of view, I should also like to put the point that to build armaments is not enough. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in a fortnight's time will be introducing the Budget, in which he will be one of the players in a game of beggar-my-neighbour, and this same game which is going on throughout Europe will sooner or later bring in its train a dreadful war.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) has put his point of view. I cannot go the whole way with him in his belief and faith in non-resistance, but many of us feel in our hearts that it is only the moral forces of the world that are going to save the world, and I, for one, hope that this country is going to take the moral initiative in trying to bring to its senses a world that seems to be going mad. The hon. Member for Oxford spoke about antipathy to the Front Bench opposite. We folks here, like even the dictator countries, get the Government that we deserve. [Interruption.] I am simply an elector. I was out-voted. In this country we accept the Government of the day and make it responsible for the conduct of the affairs of the country, and that is why I 88 am not going to indulge in any captious criticism of the Front Bench or even of the Prime Minister. I was glad that he likened himself to Robert Bruce and said he would try, try, try again in his efforts for peace. I said to myself, "More power to him in his efforts in such an endeavour." Sooner or later we shall have to sit round the table, even with the dictator Powers, once more. I regret that the Prime Minister was not in a position to follow up his efforts, which ended in disaster, not altogether through his fault. It was largely the fault of someone else. But we have to strive in order to keep the peace. I simply intervene; In the Debate to express my own feeling that, if this country will strive unceasingly to regain the moral leadership of Europe, not in a self-righteous way but in a spirit of unanimity, we shall not talk of war being inevitable but we shall have kept the peace, and that will mean that we shall have peace for those who are going to follow after us.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes
The Prime Minister spoke brave words to-day which will be welcomed all over the country and by people in all parts of the world who want to live in peace and who want to see law and order preserved. But brave words are not enough unless they are accompanied by a great national effort which will show the world that all parties are united in the determination to make full use of the nation's wealth, industry and man-power, and will show friends and foes that Great Britain is determined to see her maximum military effort brought forward at the earliest possible moment. Everyone agrees that we should be much better off to-day if such a national effort had been made a year ago, when the Germans marched into Austria, and again last September when Germany annexed Czecho-Slovakia. When Germany threatened Poland, the Prime Minister made a brave declaration. His statement of 31st March and his speech in the admirable Debate of 3rd April, in which the Opposition accorded him whole-hearted support in his policy, would have carried far greater weight in the world if it had been accompanied then by a great national determination to make use of the wealth, industry and manhood of the country. Perhaps in that case we might have been spared yet another act of 89 aggression and conquest. I refer to Mussolini's treacherous attack upon Albania on Good Friday. I would have refrained from referring to the unhappy affair in the Mediterranean but for the amazing statement of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), who excused the presence of the Fleet in Italian waters at that critical hour. I think hon. Members will agree that the presence of our Fleet in Italian waters, when all the world knew that Mussolini was about to descend upon Albania, might have encouraged him to think that we were not interested.
A number of hon. Members on both sides have demanded pacts with other small nations, but it takes two to make a pact. How can we expect small nations who have to live in close proximity to the aggressors, to link their future fate with Great Britain when they are not certain that Great Britain is going to make the tremendous effort which an emergency would require? We know that this country will make the effort in the end but it may be too late to save those nations from annihilation.
I want to make a plea now for the people who arc least responsible for the unhappy state of international affairs existing to-day. I refer to those splendid young volunteers who are giving their services in the defence of their country, in the Regular forces and who are coming forward in thousands to serve in the Territorials and other auxiliary Services. I do not think the present system of service is fair to them. I have here a letter from a lady who devotes the whole of her life to helping young men from the distressed areas to be trained for domestic service. A great many of those men have volunteered for military service and have been rejected. She says that in her visits to the North looking for suitable men to train she has entered hundreds of homes and she is certain that some form of compulsory National Service would be welcomed by those people. The same feeling, she says, animates all the lads who come to the training centre. What they say is, "If I go, the shirker who stays at home will get all the plums. If he is made to go I will gladly volunteer"
I feel that all the young men of this country should be trained to arms. The fighting will be done by gallant and 90 splendid young volunteers as in the last war, but it is not fair that others who shirk military service should be able to remain at home and get perhaps 10 or 20 times as much pay as those who are fighting. That is what happened in the last War. I want to see all men trained for military service if that is required, or conscripted for National Service, in munition factories where they would get a fair wage but they should be under some sort of martial law or discipline to prevent strikes such as those which were a disgrace in the last War and interfered with the supply of munitions. I might say on this subject much which would annoy hon. Members opposite, but I will refrain. I have discussed it with several of them and they all say that there is no case for compulsory National Service because we can get all the volunteers we want. But that is not fair, and is not what the country wants and I think that in that view hon. Members are doing an injustice to the British working-man. I believe that the working-man would welcome some form of National Service based on equality of sacrifice which would bring in everybody and under which employers and employés would be treated alike. I am all for that, and I am all against any kind of profiteering out of war.
§ Sir R. Keyes
I have said so. I think that wealth is being fairly well conscripted at present, but I would go further if necessary. All these other nations which we may describe as our foes because they have practically declared war upon us, conscript their manhood and womanhood and have mobilised all their wealth and industry against us. These are dangerous times and we must do the same. I wish I had the eloquence of some hon. Members opposite, because I feel passionately that we must introduce a system of National Service without further delay.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Morgan
I cannot help feeling a real sense of admiration for the whole-heartedness and sincerity of the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). However I may disagree with him in the absolute, I feel that there can be few Members more honest in their outlook and who believe more in what they 91 advocate. Throughout this Debate one feeling has been uppermost in my mind. I have tried to envisage what the possibilities of this situation might be were there appended to the guarantee to Rumania and Greece the signature of the United States. The hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Hogg) used the term "disperse" in the course of his speech. We should be within sight of the dispersal of the present problem in that case, and I have felt throughout this afternoon that the reticence of the Government, and particularly of Members of the Cabinet on the question of the interest of the United States in our problem, must be attributable to a desire to do nothing to impede the efforts of important people on the other side. There is an increasing volume of opinion in America which realises the quality of the issues being raised in Europe to-day.
We have been discussing the fact that certain governments are behind their own people, in the sense that the dictatorships in Germany and Italy are out of line with the real feelings of the peoples of those countries. I believe that in certain ways this country is ahead even of its Government, but in America we seem to have a Government which is ahead of the people in this respect. How can the case be presented to the American people in a way which will make them see the possibility that their present attitude is bringing down on us the very calamity that we all dread? Suppose that war were to break out in Europe. We have talked today on the assumption that we should emerge victorious. It is one of our characteristics to think that we cannot be defeated. It may be that that is one of our qualities, but it may also be an impediment in the present circumstances. But suppose that we were defeated and that Germany took over the West Indies or some other colony of that kind, how would the American people regard the upshot of those events?
Again, we find phrases used by American statesmen to the effect that Western civilisation is at stake. What do we mean by Western civilisation? Perhaps one of the reasons why we are finding it difficult to persuade Russia to join in these arrangements is that they are not interested in Western civilisation. The preservation of Western civilisation is not 92 a tenet of the political dogma and theory which they support. They are not so much concerned with the permanence of Western civilisation as such. It is a capitalist system, and that is part of the ideological difficulty which lies between us. It has been pointed out by eloquent and important Members opposite that we shall gain the support of Soviet Russia only if we realise that she has substantial interests that can be identified with ours in this emergency. That is the material basis of a possible understanding but the case has been made out, again and again, that what will really carry us through will be the strength of our moral case, the case that we are holding up on behalf of the future of mankind as a whole.
On that, American opinion surely is with us and if American opinion could be persuaded that a couple of warships at Gibraltar alongside ours would settle it for Franco and a couple of warships alongside ours elsewhere in the Mediterranean would settle it for Mussolini—if American opinion could see that, they would realise the value of aiding us now in dispersing the possibility of the calamity that seems imminent at the present time. How Italy could be made responsive to the material strength of America can be seen from the fact that Italy to-day is economically dependent upon remittances of money that come from Italian immigrants in the United States, back to the old folks at home in Italy. Italy is dependent upon the economic and financial support that is coming from the United States of America.
It has been pointed out once or twice this afternoon that we have been witnessing a sort of jockeying for position on the part of the Axis Powers. We have been told that what we have really seen in Albania—I think the description given of the position by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) was an exact one—is Germany making sure, or attempting to make sure, that she will not be "ratted upon" by Italy in the next war. Italy is to be put into the front line first, and then Germany can follow her up, having first made sure that Italy is thus involved on the right side. If Germany is trying to create an issue between us or France and Italy in the Mediterranean, in order that Italy may-become So involved, I believe that 93 Mussolini appears to be aware of the position into which he is being manoeuvred. In fact, I believe that our Government must have information of that kind in their possession and that it is that which makes them adopt the attitude they have taken up with Mussolini at the present time, because that would be the only ground on which we could excuse their allowing him any more rope and any more chance of adventures at our expense.
It must be that our Government have such an idea, or are acting upon the idea, rightly or wrongly. They have hazarded a good many things and may still be hazarding, banking on the idea that Italian forces in Spain are a guarantee that Italian forces will not go out until German forces also go out; that the Italian forces are in Spain as a sort of hostage for the German forces there—I do not know—but I do feel that the Government's policy as disclosed to-day indicates that they are hoping to detach Mussolini. I do not say "Italy" as such, because I believe that a very large section of the Italian people are ready to be detached, only too ready to be detached, from the German association. I believe that our Government must be acting upon the presumption that that is a possibility.
As regards our commitment to Poland, I have heard the argument that we have gone at least more than half way to meet the Russians in this matter. It must be an advantage to Soviet Russia that we should undertake some kind of liability on a frontier of a buffer State which concerns them very intimately. But Russia aside, in accepting commitments in respect of Rumania and Greece we are exposing ourselves to fresh grounds of difficulty with Germany and the Axis Powers. They are all of them a cause of irritation, or they can become causes of irritation. They can lead us into fields of conflict that are fresh and arouse new difficulties for us, and possibly lead us to take vital decisions. America in these moments has indicated on several occasions her disapproval of action taken by Germany, and has gone to the length of imposing penalties and refusing to recognise conquests. All that at a distance is all right for them, but it serves to irritate and to disturb the German temper, towards us in particular, of course. It also indicates an attitude of 94 mind in America which we like and appreciate as hopeful, but at the same time it is a disturbing factor in European affairs, and we are made the victims of the vexations that are aroused.
Therefore, I should like, if it is the only contribution I could make to this Debate, to ask the Government whether they cannot now in some more precise way raise the issue with American public opinion of whether or not action on their part now can prevent the occurrence of the major calamity, in which they would be, as certainly as the coming of to-morrow, involved if it should happen. The leaders of American opinion have already recognised the inevitability of their country being involved, and if they could associate themselves with us in any undertakings of the kind to which the House has committed itself, if we could have the spectacle of American ships alongside British ships in the Mediterranean, detaching Spain, detaching Mussolini and influencing opinion, not in favour of war— that is not the object—we might see the dispersal of the problem we are confronted with, which in any case must be resolved within the next few months.
I am not disposed to criticise individual Members of the Government at this stage. I begin to feel that we are all so deeply involved that it cannot be long, unless some change occurs in the psychology of the whole situation, before we must all hold ourselves ready to be of the utmost service. It is easy for hon. Members opposite to appeal to this side of the House for unity, in spite of the fact that we have no semblance of representation in the seats of authority—to make an appeal to those whose point of view has come to the top and who are sincere holders of principles that are now being almost greedily adopted by the Cabinet. They should hesitate to offer criticism to us on this side if we tend to recrimination. Taking all the facts into account, we are indulging in the minimum of that. We are justified in castigating the other side, and I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman sitting on the Front Bench realises that we have a most excellent case and in the circumstances are entitled to offer a certain amount of criticism; but the Government also understand perfectly well that on this side we are prepared to play our full part and are in consequence letting them off extraordinarily lightly in the circumstances.
§ 8.22 p.m.
Captain Arthur Evans
I am sure that my right hon. Friend who is representing the Government at this moment will welcome the assurance of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. J. Morgan) that in spite of the criticism which the Members of his party feel called upon to make concerning the policy of the Government from time to time, really and truly they are behind His Majesty's Government in dealing with the present situation to the best of their ability. I do not propose to follow the hon. Member in his examination of American public opinion vis-à-vis the situation in Europe, because I am one of those who believe that whilst the majority of the American people will find themselves on the side of law and order the task of those who are anxious to play their part in support of the democracies of the world will not be made easier if we in the British House of Commons attempt to dictate to them what course they should pursue. There is no doubt that public opinion, I think throughout the world, has welcomed the recent pronouncements of the President of the United States and the Secretary of State in the speeches which they felt it necessary to make concerning recent events, although I feel that the large volume of public opinion in the Middle West of America—among people who have never seen the sea and who do not think of Great Britain as a nation apart, but think of all this part of the world as being in a collective sense Europe—will find it more difficult to convince itself of the right and justice of our position if it is subject to what it considers alien dictation. As events develop American public opinion will more and more find itself on the side of the democracies in the defence of freedom and justice.
If there is one point which has become clear from the Debate to-night it is that the nation has reached the cross-roads. I think it is generally agreed that the signs at the cross-roads are clear and unmistakable. On the one hand, we have the road leading to indecision, defeat and disaster; and on the other, the road which clearly leads to strength and victory. Can there be any possible doubt what path the people of this country would have us follow, provided it is followed with sincerity, conviction and determination? As previous speakers have said, it is clear that II Duce did not strike at Albania just 96 to satisfy his personal pride, but that he did so as part of a well-thought-out plan on the joint account for power politics as a whole. That is why we were warned, in a semi-official statement from Berlin, not to interfere with the action of the Italian Government. Four hundred aeroplanes and 50,000 troops, with their artillery and tanks, were not necessary for the invasion and occupation of Albania; they are there for one purpose alone; the mastery of the Balkans.
One has not to be a Napolean to see what the objective is. It is, I think, to isolate Turkey in the first instance, and close up the Eastern Mediterranean. In the meantime, we have the spectacle of the other partner in the Axis threatening and causing apprehension in Holland, Denmark and Belgium, not to mention Poland. It is idle for the German Government to tell the world that they have no illegitimate intentions towards the Dutch. At least, the Dutch do not believe them. All their frontiers, all then-forts are manned to capacity. The three approaches to their country are mined, and, as a result of what they consider to be legitimate apprehension, they are in a state of preparation for war. It might be that it is the policy of Mussolini to-day, through this overwhelming display of force, not only to take up an important strategic position which would be the key to the Balkan situation in the event of a world war, but to terrorise the people of Albania as well as the people of the adjoining States. And with what result? A day or so ago this country was approached by Greece, according to the statement of the Prime Minister this afternoon, for our assistance, for our counsel, and perhaps for a guarantee of her frontiers. This morning I read in the papers that Greece has welcomed a guarantee from Italy with an announcement of friendship and good will—a similar guarantee, I imagine, to that given to Albania within a month of the invasion of that country. I suggest that perhaps these masses of troops stationed on the frontier to-day are not unconnected with that guarantee and the message which was sent. Whatever the purpose, it is a clear demonstration of the methods of power politics. What is the moral as far as His Majesty's Government are concerned? It is necessary for them to act with decision, and to act quickly.
97 The militarisation of the Rhineland, the annexations of Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Memel are not casual events, but strong evidence of the object of the totalitarian States to dominate the world. This policy is described with disarming frankness in the second part of "Mein Kampf" I sometimes think it is a pity that Herr Hitler has been frank enough to publish this volume, because, as a result of his frankness, nobody appears to have taken the slightest notice of what he said. If this had been discovered as a secret document, like the Zinoviev letter in a memorable election, everybody would have been up in arms, and the whole of this country would have been ready to take steps. It is because of his frankness that we treat his declarations with a casualness which they do not deserve. It is clear what are his objects. Let us face the issue fairly and squarely, and support the Prime Minister, and say, "So far, and no farther" But in our own interests, and those of the smaller State whose boundaries we shall, no doubt, be called upon to guarantee in future, it is incumbent upon us to place our country upon a war footing, so that we shall be capable of rendering that assistance to those countries, and, at the same time, of defending ourselves. That means that we shall have to advance those measures which are all prepared, ready to be brought into operation when war is upon us. It is useless to wait until our nerve centre, London, is subject to wave upon wave of aerial bombardment, our men and women killed, our buildings and the machinery of government for mobilisation destroyed. Surely it is best for us to take the obvious steps in these fleeting moments of peace, rather than to wait until the horrors of war are upon us.
I would suggest that it is necessary for a Ministry of Propaganda to be set up immediately. Let us examine the power of the pen as against that of the sword at this particular time. Unfortunately, this House is daily faced with the necessity of having regard, and very serious regard, to the effect of Nazi propaganda throughout the whole world, and especially in our nerve centres, such as Palestine. We are all aware of the great value of their commercial intelligence in connection with world trade. There are one or two outstanding incidents which have recently occurred which it might be suggested are not unconnected with pro- 98 paganda from unfriendly States. Is the time not overripe to deal with the situation with the weapons of our potential enemies? If propaganda is essential in time of war, it is still more essential in times before war, when it might prevent war. I purposely did not say "in times of peace" because I do pot think anyone can claim that we are living in peaceful times at the moment. There is nothing usual about present conditions, not even the conditions of business. The "business as usual" cry of the late War will certainly not fit the next war. Such a cry is thoroughly bad business now.
The success of Lord Northcliffe in the late War was not disputed by anyone. Have we not in our midst to-day someone who is just as capable of giving a clear expression to our policy as Herr Goebbels is in giving expression to the policy of Germany? No doubt to do so would cost money, but war also costs money. We are not facing this situation as a practical nation if we imagine that we can counter this efficient propaganda of the dictators by allotting a sum of£100,000 to the British Council. That money is not wasted, but this is not an adequate way to deal with an essentially practical problem. I hope that when the House resumes after the Easter Recess we may have an opportunity of debating, perhaps in more detail, this suggestion.
I want now to pass to the subject of National Service. It appears that we are prepared to enter into a series of guarantees, while still continuing the obligation to defend our own shores and the scattered parts of our Empire, but the extent of those guarantees is not quite clear, nor are the consequences, which no one can foresee at the present time. With what are we prepared to enter into those guarantees? The finest Navy in the world. That is splendid, because we shall need every ship to carry out our obligations. We shall enter into our guarantees with an Air Force which is daily growing in size and efficiency, but no one will dispute that to-day we are far behind, in numbers and in pilots, the air forces of our potential enemies. We shall enter into those guarantees with an Army which, for its efficiency is, perhaps, the most powerful in the world; but what are its numbers? A few. hundred thousand, versus the millions possessed by the dictator countries. The Army as well 99 as the Navy will be called upon to defend our own shores and to enforce our will overseas in support of the guarantees that we are now giving.
To-day the world sees an anxious Britain wondering whether it can raise an extra 250,000 Territorial soldiers by a voluntary system in the short time available to us. Is it surprising that in those circumstances the small States whom we are anxious to incorporate at the present time into a defensive alliance hesitate because they question our ability to come to their assistance in a time of crisis? No one will dispute the psychological effect which would be created by a Government pronouncement at this time that, in view of the circumstances of to-day, it was imperative to introduce a system of compulsory service, but if such a pronouncement were accompanied by a most serious split in our national ranks it is obvious that the psychological effect would be immediately destroyed. I wonder whether the country would oppose such a proposal at the present time. I am given to understand that the Trade Union Council and the Members of the Labour party above the Gangway are opposed to such an introduction, but I have heard no official pronouncement of the subject from the Labour Front Bench.
Those who oppose conscription surely cannot do so on the ground of democratic principle because, as was stated in the Debate the other day, it cannot be democratic to rely on the most patriotic of our young men and women to bear alone the burden of war and of defence preparation. Those who are against compulsory service cannot believe that the introduction of conscription would mean the immediate downing of hundreds of thousands of tools and the immediate mobilisation of thousands of men to the Colours. That would be neither practicable nor desirable at the present time. Surely they cannot accept that view. I believe that the objection uppermost in the minds of hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway is that if they subscribed to the principle of compulsory service, irrespective of the danger that threatens us to-day, they might lose for ever that hard-won freedom which is enjoyed under trade union law. Perhaps that is a legitimate doubt and fear in their minds, but it is not an objection on principle but an objection on detail.
100 I sincerely feel, in view of the events that have taken place and are taking place hourly, and of the danger that is hourly increasing, that the time has now come when His Majesty's Government should call into conference official representatives of organised labour in this country in order to find out where their objection lies and whether it is possible to overcome it to the satisfaction of all concerned. If we are to enter into a policy of collective security and are prepared to incur responsibilities which we dared not face before, let us at least assure an anxious and interested world that we are not only prepared to carry out our word but that we are capable of putting our promise into effect when the time comes.
§ Mr. J. Morgan
Would the hon. and gallant Member also be in favour of the conscription of wealth in time of war, in order to make more complete and effective that demonstration before the world?
I share the view that in time of national emergency the whole resources of the nation should be organised and mobilised in the service of the nation. On the question of the organisation of wealth—[An HON. MEMBER: "Conscription"]—of the conscription of wealth there is only one point. I would ask hon. Members to bear in mind that it is no use killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. If we are prepared to ask the people of this country to subscribe to a compulsory scheme of service for the nation, every form of service, whether that be man-power or wealth, should come under the review of the Government.
Just one word more, about a Ministry of Supply. The days of business as usual are unfortunately over, as I have already said. Our only immediate business is to make our defences sure and our pledged word good. At the present time, the armies of France, Belgium and Britain are only half the size of the effective forces which Germany and Italy together can put into the field. I understand that Germany to-day is capable of placing in the field upwards of 120 divisions, and Italy nearly 100 divisions, It is clear that, whether we stick to our present system of voluntary service for our military forces or whether we are prepared to enter into a form of compulsory service, 101 those forces must be provided with the most modern form of mechanised equipment in the shortest possible time. That being the case, and time being the essence of the contract, no one can doubt the desirability of His Majesty's Government having the right to lay down in clear-cut terms the priorities as between the claims of civilian requirements and those of the nation.
Judging from the speech which the Secretary of State for War made in my constituency in Cardiff last year, and from the speech he made at Bermondsey the other night, there must be some real doubt in his mind as to whether the present system is capable of producing the results which are required. If we introduce such a Ministry, it does not mean that the powers which we ask the House of Commons to give to the Government must be utilised to the full immediately; it only means that those powers can be used as and when required, to produce the results in the shortest possible time. I feel that we have now approached a time when we must clearly face the issue and place the country on a war footing on a business basis, so that we can be prepared to deal with any event with which the nation may be confronted.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
To-day we have been called to this House, in a very dangerous situation, to hear a grave statement by the Prime Minister. He has informed us to-day that this country and its manpower are being pledged in order to defend an extended front, to defend more and more countries as time goes on. I have watched the attacks which have been made on various countries by the totalitarian Powers, and I have watched Hitler and Mussolini with their duplicity during this period. I have seen and heard at close quarters tales of tremendous mass suffering and of individual brutality such as has hardly ever been experienced since the dark ages, but which is being experienced in Germany and Austria by a large number of people. I frankly confess that the emotional reaction towards that is to say in one's mind, "Let us make an assault upon these dictators and have an end of the legions that are supported by them" But, on the other hand, there is the question whether, if you are going to smash or punish the dictators, you are going 102 to punish millions of human beings who have no desire for war, who have no desire for this brutality, but are engulfed in war and brutal conduct by a few organised gangsters. We hear the plea in this country for liberty and collective security, and I do not deny the case that can be made out by people who are imbued with the desire to end this terror.
My mind goes back to the same circumstances in 1914, and I remember the ideas that were conjured up in the minds of the people of this country with regard to the brutal dictatorship of the Kaiser. We were told at that time that there could be no peace in Europe until the power of the Kaiser had been destroyed. The war went on for a long period, during which we were told that the conduct of members of the Kaiser's family, like the Crown Prince, was the most immoral and brutal that had ever been experienced from any Royal family, and in the end we were told by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and others in this country, during the election of 1918, that we must be prepared to hang the Kaiser. The Kaiser escaped into Holland, and only a few months ago the King and Queen of this country sent a message to the Kaiser congratulating him on his 80th birthday, while last year the son of the Crown Prince came to Buckingham Palace for a holiday in order to see his friends. That is one side of the picture of the people who were said to have been responsible for that bloody and atrocious war. Periodically I go to institutions, and I see there the blind, men without limbs, men who have lost their reason. They went out to destroy the power of the Kaiser; they voted at the end of the War for hanging the Kaiser; and their sons to-day are being told the same story, that the brutal dictatorship of Hitler can only be destroyed by mass slaughter of humanity throughout the world.
In that situation we are told that we must prepare for war, and the gist of the speeches to-day from either side of this House is that they accept the inevitability of the struggle that is foreshadowed. It is said that war is to take place, and that we must mass the manhood, the manpower of this country in order to fight on the battlefield. We are wonderfully generous with the lives of young men who have not yet begun to live or enjoy the ordinary things of life. The old men can 103 be generous in deciding that they are going to organise them for slaughter on the battlefields of Europe in order to protect a mythical freedom that is spoken of by different people with different ideas. When Members of the Labour party talk of freedom, they mean a certain measure of freedom. When Members of the Liberal and Tory parties talk of freedom, they mean their right to exploit and rob and plunder the people of this country. When they talk of freedom they mean that no other gangsters are to cross their path and take from them the right to plunder the yellow, black and white races of the world.
A large number of people in this House appear to imagine that the German workers do not believe that they, too, have something to fight for but that is not true. There are millions of the youth of Germany who believe that they have something to fight for. They saw Germany down, with 8,000,000 and 9,000,000 unemployed; they saw poverty, destitution and despair. They saw, at the end of the War, a vicious, cunning and diabolical ruling class in France and in Britain, that decided at the end of the War that, although they laid the blame of the world War on the Kaiser, they would shoulder the burden on to German humanity, and would extract from them the last ounce of wealth and energy in order to pay the bankers and bondholders of this country who had subscribed wealth in order to wage the war. Germany was kept in poverty; her people were held in the gutter by an iron force, even of black men, that you brought there to hold down the German people.
Do not imagine that there is not some case in the minds of the German people when they see what happened in the past. They went through the process of democratic government. They appealed to the people of this country to ease the burden, to lessen the stranglehold, and the poverty and suffering that were rampant in Germany; but the soulless, brutal ruling class in France and Britain refused to relax their hold and let the German people have a place in the sun. Their democratic rulers were treated with contempt. They were spurned. Then Hitler came and said: "Away with these democratic politicians. They are gaining no respect, but are treated with contempt. 104 Let us defy the bond holders and bankers of Britain and France. Let us determine to wrest from them the things in which we believe"
It is galling to me to realise that the very problems we are up against to-day as a capitalist imperialist Power are of our own creation. You created Hitler. You put democracy in Germany aside and established dictatorship in that country. When you had carried out that policy, you attacked the standards of the German people. In Germany millions of unemployed have disappeared. Do not forget that workers do not judge a system by its spiritual standards but by its ability to give to the people food, clothing and shelter. Hitler has given the German people food, clothing and shelter, for certain purposes, it is true, but nevertheless he has marshalled behind him millions of youth. He has 11,500,000 members of the Hitler Youth organisation. I have seen these young men going away from the stations on Sunday in Vienna and Berlin, with their knapsacks on their shoulders, singing, full of life, appearing to be happy and going out to enjoy themselves. I have seen them at 4.30 in the morning marching, with their polished spades on their shoulders, to carry out work in their labour organisation. When men at 4.30 in the morning go about singing, they do not impress me. The man who sings at 4.30 in the morning is a hypocrite, unless he has been up overnight and has imbibed too freely. Therefore, the man who marches to his work and sings at that time in the morning does it to order, and it certainly did not impress me. The fact is that in Germany this force is organised and carrying on.
They have tremendous faith in Hitler. I have heard stories of people in that country that I did not like to hear. I have heard of families being divided because the youth have such tremendous allegiance to Hitler. If these people are put to fight they will fight as rovers and as mechanical men with all the ferocity of the man who does not think but only obeys orders, and the world will be deluged with blood. If Hitler and Mussolini are driven to make war in these circumstances they will be like the beasts of the jungle. I am told that the beast in the jungle in its dying hour, if it has been shot, becomes more ferocious than at any period in its life's history. So with Hitler and with Mussolini. They 105 will do everything in order to try and wreak vengeance on the rest of the world and to bring an early close to a successful war.
My mind goes back to the Munich period. When I was cycling from Czechoslovakia into Vienna I saw a great force there. People are entitled to believe that Hitler was bluffing, but I saw evidence in the tanks, in soldiers marching day and night, in hundreds and thousands of wagons and buses conveying men, in trenches, in wooden hospitals that were being built on a Sunday, on the borders of Czecho-Slovakia, which appalled me, and I shrunk with horror at what was in store for humanity if war broke out. I do not believe that Hitler was bluffing. He cannot afford to bluff. His whole philosophy is built on force, and he must go forward or go down. It is like filling a drunken man with wine, giving him more and more until he is incapable of imbibing any more. When I saw all this I was convinced that war was coming. Then I heard that the Prime Minister was going to visit Germany. I welcomed that fact, not because it was the right hon. Gentleman. If he had been a Labour Prime Minister I should have thanked God for his presence, if there was any possibility of averting that catastrophe for humanity.
Everywhere I went in Germany people welcomed the fact, and I welcomed it. Although the Prime Minister and hon. Members who sit with me may part company if war comes, yet if war does come the fact that the Prime Minister made the effort at Munich to avert war will linger in the minds of the people of Germany. I was told by a man from Germany, who came to see me last week, that everywhere to-day in Germany they are being compelled to put out propaganda, even in the schools, to disabuse the minds of the German people of the opinion that the Führer has broken his word that he pledged at Munich with the Prime Minister. Germans are asking: "Is it not the case that the Führer said there were no other territorial claims that he had to make in Europe. Has he not broken his pledged and signed word?" In that respect loyalty to the Führer is being shaken, and the minds of the people are being disabused as to the honour of the word and the undertaking of the Führer.
I hear it said in the House: "Bring in Russia" The British Government 106 would naturally desire the aid of Russia in war, but do not let us forget that Poland and Rumania have to be considered. I would ask hon. Members if they were waging war in Scotland what they would think if 2,000,000 Red soldiers were billeted on them in England. Would the Church dignatories like it? Would the propertied class like it? Would anyone with a business interest like it? Hon. Members must put themselves in the place of the people of Poland and Rumania, in order to appreciate their fears in connection with the bringing in of Russia. A Red army might go to Poland and Rumania and the workers of those countries might think that they would never get the Red army out again. There might be a Red republic in Rumania and Poland. Although that' might be desirable from the point of view of the working class, it would not be very desirable from the point of view of Colonel Beck or King Carol.
We are told, again, that we are going to fight for democracy. Where are the democracies for whom we are going to fight? Is it Poland? Is it Colonel Beck, the democrat? Are you going to ask my son or any man in my area or in this country to fight for Colonel Beck, who has imprisoned the Socialists of Poland who cannot even get out of the country or obtain an ordinary passport to pay a visit to some of the international gatherings that are to take place—to fight for a country where terror has taken place against millions of Jews with a brutality and ferocity that have never been experienced in any part of the world except Germany? There are 3,000,000 Jews almost in a complete concentration camp, with the whip and the butt of the rifle beating their heads; many of them beaten in the by-lanes and back streets of Poland, while the authorities have sat by and allowed it to take place? Is it General Metaxas, for whom I am expected to get up and be enthusiastic? Is it King Carol? I know that he is a very live man. We all know that, but I am not impressed. I am reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) that he has been put out of this country already by a Tory administration.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton-Brown)
I must warn the hon. Member 107 that the use of opprobrious terms about a ruling monarch is not allowed in the Debates in this House.
§ Mr. McGovern
I recognise that we can only deal with human beings and therefore I will restrain myself to the extent of dealing only with human beings, and leave the monarchs alone. When I was a boy and was taught in school about when Kings and Queens died, I used to think that all I learnt was that most of them did not die soon enough. However, I will leave that matter aside. The whole question is that we are in a position where we are expected to mobilise the youth to fight, and I say frankly that I am not going to ask any man to roll up to fight for the ruling class of this country. If any boy in this country leaves these shores, he does not leave them to fight for Scotland or to fight for England or Wales. He leaves to fight for your right to plunder India, Africa and Newfoundland and other parts of the world; to plunder Newfoundland, where the right hon. Gentleman opposite defends a wage of 2s. 3d. a week, and where, we are told in the "Daily Express," there is tremendous poverty and people are being wiped out like flies. That is in a British possession. Do not think that it is all on one side. We cannot put on a moral, high falutin' attitude and talk about Hitler as if we were perfection ourselves. We have parts of this Empire which would bring the blush of shame to the face of any decent-minded person.
In Germany they say, "Look at this old man of the woods. Hear him talk. He has enslaved black men, white men and yellow men, and he wants to defend this great Empire of his." Every boy who goes out goes out to defend the bond-holding interests of the possessing classes. He goes out to defend your right to loot in every corner of the earth. My answer to you is that I cannot say to young men "Roll up" I cannot do like some of them do. There were conscientious objectors in the last War. You say that we fight for democracy in this country. There was the same democracy in 1914 as there is in 1939. and I am not enthusiastic about it. I am not enthusiastic about Hitler, and remember this, that there are large numbers of sober-minded young people who are not impressed with Hitler, although many of them are.
108 I remember that one of the most exciting periods of my visit was in the Palace Hotel in Vienna on the night of Hitler's Nuremberg speech. I went into the hotel and sat down to have a meal. People were packed in the hotel, with their faces turned towards the wireless. I did not know what was taking place, but I was told by a waiter that Hitler was delivering his Nuremberg speech. When his speech had finished the music struck up the Horst Wessel song. Everybody stood to attention, including the waiters, who stood like robots where they were, and their hands went up. They sang the Horst Wessel song, but a number of them did not. I remained seated, reading that democratic old paper the "Daily Mail," which was given to me because it was so like their own. It gives out things so like their own that they permit it. I remained seated, eating a piece of Apfel Strudel. Everybody turned and looked towards me, but I made up my mind that I did not intend to stand, or to salute or to do anything at all to give recognition to the Hitler system. I felt that there might be trouble when the music died down and everybody took their seats. When, 10 minutes later, I went out into the lobby of the hotel, people at nearly every table which I passed very good-naturedly bade me goodnight, showing that they were glad that somebody had had the opportunity of remaining seated.
It was a most striking indication to me that everybody was not impressed with this system of Hitler's, and that if he were to go to war, there would be no illusion that, though he might wage war ferociously, cracks would appear in the system itself. In Vienna and Berlin, there are mobile forces, well armed, groomed and disciplined, and well fed, which are ready to stamp out any signs of disorder. Those forces will be destroyed because power will be handed over to the workers, and, in collusion with one another, in the trenches and on the battlefields, there would soon be evidence of the cracks in their system. I know that this is in the minds of a large number of people in this country. They are afraid also that cracks might appear.
Let me say to people who propose to talk for the workers of this country, either of conscripting them or putting them behind the Government by force, that, 109 though I am prepared to admit that, if you go to war, at the outset you will get a large mass of the people behind you, in three months they will be well behind you—they will be chasing you because the antagonism will develop. You cannot send men to the slaughter periodically. Old men from a British Cabinet cannot tell them to go out periodically and die for freedom. Young men want to live. If you are going to organise men on the basis of social service or conscription, I will give you a method of doing it. Recruit them or conscript them according to their Income Tax returns. The man who draws the most should go first. Organise them into the bankers' battalion, the landlords' battalion, the bishops' battalion, and the politicians' battalion. Everyone should be organised according to his grade. When it comes down to the ordinary proletarian members of society who have been the victims of your vicious means test since 1931, they can take possession of the country and try and build a decent, stable civilisation on the ruins that you have created.
It is the system which is crumbling. It is the greed of a few selfish people in every land, of those who own and control the means of life and exploit the slave labour of the masses. They are the gangsters warning one another—Al Capone saying to Jack Diamond "You exploit this side and I will exploit the other," and then Dutch Schultz comes in and wants to take a hand, and a conflagration takes place. That is what is taking place in society. Your system is going down in chaos and disaster, and if you want the support of the people of this country and of the Empire, then declare that there is a general emergency, mobilise the whole of the wealth of the country, declare the communal ownership of the means of life, and eliminate selfish interests. Only then can you appeal to the people on a real basis instead of the sham which you have to-day.
§ 9.16 p.m.
I am profoundly thankful that the hon. Member for Shettlestone (Mr. McGovern) does not represent in any degree the national spirit of the people of this country. The cynical observations which he has made are a reflection on our people which is entirely unjustified. We are meeting tonight in circumstances of the greatest 110 gravity to our country. I believe that there has never been a time during the past 25 years when Parliament had to face such a serious and dangerous situation, and I am fully aware that those who take part in the Debate ought to weigh every word they utter, in view of the very dangerous world situation. I want to ask the Minister who is to reply whether the Government are amply satisfied now that there is an attempt in Europe to dominate the world by force. If the Government are satisfied that that is so, there can be only one answer that this country can give. I am glad that the Government have given specific assurances to other countries joining in the peace bloc, and I hope that we shall make it plain to the world that this is not an effort on our part to encircle Germany or any other country in any aggressive spirit.
We desire to live at peace with the whole world, but the people of this country have now arrived at a stage of unprecedented aggravation. They are angry at the course of events. This does not apply to one section of the community, but to the whole of our people. We have behind us a courage and a capacity of which the world has had reason to take note in the past, and of which it will take note in the future if we are again called upon to defend ourselves. We are not afraid to fight again if the necessity arises. Our people will do their duty again, as they have done it in the past, in defence of liberty. I am certain, too, that we have behind us a sympathetic world. I am satisfied that the efforts which the Prime Minister has made for peace have put the moral issue of any dispute that may come strongly on our side, and, therefore, we can count solidly on a great mass of support from the rest of the world. President Roosevelt's recent message should be a warning to the world.
I happen to know something of the United States of America. I had the honour of being sent there by the British Government during the War to train one of the American divisions, and I have visited that country every year since the War. I am convinced that during the past few months public opinion in America has been building steadily behind the British Government. I was in America when Germany took Austria, and I had an opportunity of talking to many of the 111 leading American politicians. I know the keen resentment which was felt at European events at that time. I do not hesitate to say that, in my opinion, the whole weight of America will be with us if any effort is made by the totalitarian States to impose their will on Europe and to suppress freedom in Europe.
Everybody hates the wholesale slaughter and butchery which war would bring, and even at this late hour I ask the Government whether they consider that any real good could come from a world conference being called at this time before it is too late. I believe that President Roosevelt would help in calling such a conference if there were any opportunity of bringing a semblance of sanity into this mad world. At such a conference, if it could be held, there could be plain talk on all sides, and a real review of the whole economic situation in the world in order that some of the difficulties might be removed, so that people could get back to normal conditions.
One thing that is tremendously important is that our defences should be built up with relentless vigour, and that our preparedness for any event should be such as would command the greatest possible respect in any negotiations that might ensue. There is no doubt that industry as well as men must be mobilised at once for the service of the nation. I urge that if compulsory National Service is not to be proceeded with immediately, at any rate there should be such facilities that everyone who volunteers in any capacity is not turned away from the service of the State at this time. I have vivid recollections of the early days of the War, when hundreds of thousands of men who joined the Army were drilled in civilian suits and carried sticks. Let us have no repetition of that sort of thing. Let us be ready to play our part in a proper way. I should like to say a few words about the agricultural industry, which is an important element in our defences, and one which will play a very big part if trouble comes. I attach the greatest importance to a well-conducted industry on the land of our country. Nobody knows how much we may need food during the next two or three years. Now is the time substantially to improve and increase home production of food and to relieve the shipping industry of the responsibility of carrying so many millions of tons from overseas at 112 a dangerous time. Surely, at a time of emergency such as this, the farmers should receive assistance from the great army of unemployed in doing necessary work which has got behind during the years of depression. Surely, it would also be possible to arrange for battalions of a land army to be raised to render great service in this direction.
I should like to reinforce the appeal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that all sectional differences in this House should disappear at a time such as this. The nation must stand solidly together to make a great and supreme effort. If we tackle our position in a resolute manner other nations will be ready to join us, but if there is any irresolution on our part, we shall not find that support which we so badly need. We must have the greatest possible confidence in ourselves, and others will then join with us in that confidence. I am certain that the capacity of the British Empire and this country is sufficient to maintain our position. In my opinion there ought to be a steady closing of our ranks in Parliament. There are many brilliant brains in different sections of the House which ought to be mobilised in a great national effort of service, and they should assume a real measure of responsibility for the protection of our country at this tune. If they were co-opted immediately we should, I believe, have great and valuable results from such help.
I am not one of those who believe that war is inevitable. I think it can be averted if we can show to the world at once our resolution and our determination; and I am hopeful that under our Prime Minister, whom I regard as a very great international statesman, who has the confidence of the world, we shall be able to rally round us sufficient force to deter any Power from further acts of aggression. I am profoundly sorry that the results of Munich have been so disappointing. I had looked forward to an era of peaceful association with Germany for many years to come. That those hopes have all been dispelled in this way must be a source of deep regret to every Member of the House. This nation has great traditions behind it, and I believe that in the long run we shall come out of these difficulties with dignity to ourselves and honour to the country.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley
I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the impression left on my mind by the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon. I had a very strong feeling that, even after the events of the last few weeks, the Prime Minister is not yet seized of the necessity of inviting the co-operation of all the peace-loving and law-abiding countries in Europe to meet the constant menace of aggression. It is quite true that after the annexation of Czechoslovakia and its complete destruction as an independent State the Prime Minister did make a step forward and concluded a treaty of mutual assistance with Poland. It is also true that now, after the latest aggression by the invasion of Albania, the Prime Minister and the Government are quite willing to give an undertaking to Rumania and to guarantee the integrity of Greece. But we are still not told how much further they are prepared to go.
Even in regard to Greece and Rumania I think the House is entitled to know a little more when the right hon. Gentleman replies on behalf of the Government. For instance, are the guarantee to Greece and the agreement with Rumania reciprocal? Is there a corresponding undertaking on the part both of Greece and Rumania to stand in with such forces as they have for the defence of the collective system? We are also further entitled to ask what the Prime Minister's intentions are towards Russia. Does he intend openly to invite the co-operation of Russia in the building up of a powerful bloc to meet aggression? One knows quite well that certain difficulties stand in the way, for example, the hesitation of Poland to open its territory to Russian troops and the same is true with regard to Rumania. On the other hand we either do believe that the co-operation of Russia is necessary, or we do not believe it. We either believe that she can be relied upon, or we do not.
There are two considerations with regard to Russia which we ought to bear in mind. It is a commonplace to say that we do not accept the ideological system of Russia. But I do not suppose there is anyone to-day on either side of the House who would desire to claim that we must not co-operate with a law-abiding country because it has a different kind of Government from our own. We are 114 all agreed that every nation has the right within its own frontiers to its own form of government. Then what is it we hesitate about? Why do the Government hesitate in giving a whole-hearted invitation to Russia to play a part in this difficult situation in Europe? I do not think it can be disputed that ever since 1921, or 1922 at the latest, Russia has never given the slightest ground for suspecting that she entertains aggressive intentions outside her own territory.
§ Mr. Riley
There was no aggression in Spain. There were certain Russians who assisted the Government forces in Spain, but not the wildest fancy could suggest that Russia had territorial ambitions in Spain. Then, in the second place, who can doubt the attitude of Russia towards the employment of an international force for the restraint of aggressors, especially in view of the part she has played at the League of Nations? There is no country in Europe which can show a better record in that respect. The idea that there is something sinister in asking Russia to participate in this joint effort has no foundation.
On all sides of the House there is a growing consensus of opinion that, in view of the latest aggression, the time has come when there must be a determined and comprehensive effort made to build up a system of defensive security. There are perhaps some people who still have cold feet, and who say "Well, but have not the aggressor Powers become too powerful?" If the Government would unite with law-abiding countries in Europe we have still an overwhelming force in favour of law and peace as against the aggressor Powers. The manpower of Germany and Italy numbers at the outside, with the additions of the last year or so, 135,000,000. I am excluding Spain. Outside the Fascist and Nazi Powers there are in Europe, excluding Russia, over 200,000,000 attached to the peace-loving Powers. In addition to France and Great Britain, there are Poland with 35,000,000, and the Balkan bloc, consisting of Yugo-Slavia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Greece, with another 80,000,000. If we include Hungary, there are 90,000,000, bringing the total, excluding Russia, to 230,000,000. Including Russia, as we have a right to do, 115 there is a man-power of 360,000,000 against the 135,000,000 of the dictator States.
Those figures do not take account of the enormous resources of our own Empire. There is nothing to deter the peace-loving countries from recognising that by cooperation they have power to prevent the aggressor countries carrying on their nefarious work. The disappointing thing about the Prime Minister's speech was the lack of any indication that the Government are really seized with the necessity of taking vigorous action. It is hoped that the outcome of this Debate will be that the Government will have done with dilly-dallying, not in the direction of organising for war purposes, but in the direction of organising defensive peace on a basis of real collective security.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Apsley
The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley) will forgive me if I do not follow him in detail in his argument on foreign policy and the way it should be undertaken by the Government. I would only say that I wish it were as simple and as little complicated by other issues as the hon. Member appears in his own mind to imagine. If it were so, the lot of a Foreign Minister would be a happy one and we would all go home and have no fear for the future. That is not the case, however. I will not pursue that issue. I want to raise an issue which was referred to by the hon. and gallant Member for South Cardiff (Captain A. Evans). He made a suggestion that now might be the time suitably to revise the ministry of propaganda. I would suggest that we should think very carefully about such an idea, and should consider whether by the ministry of propaganda which we raised during the last War under the able leadership of Lord Northcliffe we did not raise a monster which has now given birth to a large offspring, and which threatens to overrun the world. We find the methods employed by Lord Northcliffe faithfully reproduced by Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, and I am not sure that it would be a wise policy for us to indulge in any further examples of that kind.
I suggest that the best form of propaganda is truth. If we stick to the truth and have exact accuracy we can never go wrong. Instead of suggesting a ministry of propaganda I would suggest a 116 ministry of truth, if such a thing were possible to find. We might, at any rate, take some steps along those lines in our own home. Charity, after all, begins at home. Some hon. Members have suggested that we are now in a state of war. That is not the case, but we are now getting near to a state of emergency, and we should begin to think about the importance of the correct dissemination of news. I can remember the time 10 or 15 years-ago when a foreign affairs Debate in this House was attended by not more than a dozen or more Members, while a Debate on unemployment secured a full House. Many Members then did not know the difference between Czecho-Slovakia and Yugoslavia, or what was the capital of Esthonia. There are now very few people who are not well versed in these matters because, owing to the fear of war, foreign affairs have now a greater news value than anything else in the world. The gentlemen of the Press are well aware of the importance of that, and their highly trained staffs are now taken away from reporting football, murders and so forth, and are concentrating on foreign affairs.
Any news is important now if it deals with foreign affairs. News must be quick if it is to be real news. Herein lies a danger. Sometimes that news is not accurate, and recently we have had marvellous examples of sensational stories, not only in the Press but on the wireless. These stories are given largely for the sake of sensation, and not with a complete regard for accuracy. They are having a bad effect in two directions. On the one hand, a certain portion of the public get excited by them; they pick up rumours from the newspapers and discuss them with their friends, and get into a state of nervous excitement. On the other hand, the larger proportion of the public look upon them as newspaper stories, as fairy stories, and pay no attention to what is going on. Some action should be taken to counteract these tendencies; otherwise, the situation will not be made better or easier.
I am strongly against any form of control of the Press or the issue of D notices, except in a state of national emergency. The freedom of the Press is one of the most priceless possessions of our democracy—and we are a democracy still. I would suggest that some form of official issue of news might be possible. The wireless should be one 117 of the best safeguards against sensational news, and if the newspapers were giving too much attention to sensation it should be checked by the wireless. I am afraid, however, that that is not the case. Sometimes a man switches on the wireless or is interrupted while he is listening to it, and when his attention returns to it he hears sensational stories that the Germans are being ordered back from Paris or London, or that the fleet are mobilising, and so forth, without having heard the beginning of the announcement to the effect that Madame Tabouis, writing in "L'Oeuvre," has said these things. There is an inclination on the wireless to reproduce sensational reports from foreign papers which may be taken to be official news. The wireless, therefore, has not been the corrective that one might have hoped from it.
I suggest that the Government should consider the possibility of taking, say, a column in newspapers of the heavy weight variety, such as the "Times," "Daily Telegraph," "Yorkshire Post," "Manchester Guardian," "Scotsman," "Glasgow Herald" and one or two of the Sunday papers, in order to publish a resume of the news obtained from Foreign Office telegrams. These telegrams are secret and confidential, but it seems to me that there is in them a lot of news that could be issued to the public without endangering any interests.
§ Lord Apsley
I have not gone into the matter in such detail as that, but I would suggest that the Foreign Office should be the Ministry responsible for issuing the communiqués to the Press. They should be issued from day to day. They might be a little late, because the Foreign Office is usually one or two days behind the Press, but it would be accurate news and would be of more value than news of something which has not really happened. I suggest that something of that sort should be done, and that in the light-weight papers, who have less space to spare because they go in more for headlines and pictures with which to entertain the public, the Government should take as much or as little space as they thought necessary. In this way people who are inclined to be impressed by sensational news in a paper would find their minds 118 allayed by reading the truth in one newspaper or another.
§ Mr. Mander
Is the hon. Member aware that it was a communication made by the Government to the Press which completely misled the whole country as to the gravity of the international situation?
§ Lord Apsley
I was not aware of that. Is the hon. Member suggesting that it was the information of the Government which was at fault or the distribution of the information?
§ Mr. Mander
Information regarding the international situation, saying that things were going well and that the Government thought a disarmament conference might be possible before the end of the year. Three days later Herr Hitler was marching into Czecho-Slovakia.
§ Lord Apsley
The hon. Member is speaking of speeches made by Cabinet Ministers. I do not think it was a Foreign Office communication.
§ Mr. Mander
If the hon. Member will look at the Questions and Answers given in this House he will see that what I have said is perfectly true. The Prime Minister said that the conference with the Press was one in the normal course of affairs, and he did not challenge the information supplied.
May I draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that the invasion took place four days after it was officially stated in France that the French Government had been warned that Hitler was to march into Prague on the day in which he did—15th March?
§ Lord Apsley
I hope hon. Members do not object to the general idea that the truth should be published. I suggest that there should be a well-run symposium of the dispatches, not necessarily those which are confidential, but dispatches which can be released and which can be published in the Press, so that we should have official news to which people would be able to look as official news, as against the sometimes more sensational and mishandled news which they may find in some organs 119 of the Press. At any rate, I put forward the suggestion in the hope that it will be considered and possibly improved upon but as something which would be really useful if it could be brought about.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
We have listened with great interest to the suggestion made by the Noble Lord for the better propagation of the truth, and I am sure that such a purpose will find a sympathetic echo in all parts of the House. At the same time some difficulties have been indicated. We desire to be assured first of all that the sources are pure, and that it is the truth indeed, and not some shoddy substitute put forward through official channels. Nevertheless, if I may add a comment, there is very great importance at this time in the full use of the wireless service, particularly in order that we may get across the British point of view, as distinct from the purely official Government point of view, to those people in certain foreign countries who learn no truth from their own Press and wireless. Of such countries there are at least two in Europe. It is of the greatest importance to put over the air clear statements of our friendly feelings towards the peoples of Germany and Italy, alongside, I hope, equally clear statements of our lack of trust and confidence in the rulers of these countries.
The Prime Minister said in the Debate to-day that the Anglo-Italian Agreement had restored the friendly feeling of the Italian people for the British people. I do not think it did anything of the kind, because no such restoration was necessary. I have spent many happy days in Italy and have many friends there who are at present cut off through recent political developments. I believe the Italian people, it left alone and uncorrupted by malevolent influences, have always had the friendliest feelings for the people of this country. Of the nations of Europe no two were more intended by their nature and characteristics to be friends than the British and the Italians. I do not believe that the Anglo-Italian Agreement re-established that friendship. That friendship has continued all the time, although it may sometimes have been dormant and discouraged. I hope that steps will be taken to get over to the Italian people, less credulous than the German 120 and less liable to be driven like sheep into the slaughter-house of a foolish and false philosophy, to make it clear, at short intervals by wireless, that we wish them every good fortune although we cannot but condemn many of the acts which their present Government have committed.
The Debate to-day would never have taken place but for the pressure of the Opposition. I do not think that the Government would of their own motion have summoned Parliament earlier than next week. This Opposition pressure has been fully justified by the Debate which has taken place, although I share the view expressed by the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition that the Prime Minister's speech to-day gave us great grounds for disappointment in many of its passages. Those who have travelled from the peace of the countryside to this hectic Metropolis have felt that they were indeed leaving peace behind and coming very close to the horrors of war. Overwhelming perils overshadow us, and some count the prospects of continued peace in terms of days or, at best, of weeks only. We can speak frankly to one another. Some other nations do not enjoy the rights of free speech that we do, and we can make proper use of them, although we may say sharp things in expressing our views of the present situation.
The peg on which this Debate has hung is the latest Italian aggression. I do not propose to say much about that, because among the perils to the peace of the world I place the German dictator as by far the greatest, and I propose to devote the greater part of what I have to say to him. None the less the Italian aggression has called forth the Prime Minister's speech of condemnation and I will say a sentence or two about it. First I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether it is still the case, as it was earlier in the afternoon, that we are without any communication from His Majesty's Minister at Durazzo and, if so, why? If Signor Mussolini has blocked all the lines, cannot we use an aeroplane or a warship? Cannot some means be found whereby a report can be furnished to the Foreign Office of what has been taking place in Albania in the last few days?
The Prime Minister in his speech to-day mixed condemnation of the latest act of 121 the Italian dictator, with obstinate adherence to his own previous view that he was right a year ago in signing the Anglo-Italian Agreement, from which up to date this country has got exactly nothing. Signor Mussolini has made no concession whatever except, perhaps—I say "perhaps" because I am not sure even of this—that there was a temporary cessation of direct anti-British propaganda by Italy in the Near East, but I am not at all sure that the cessation of direct methods has not been substituted by indirect methods just as damaging to our interests. Apart from that one possible exception I believe that we have got nothing out of the Anglo-Italian Agreement. The Prime Minister has said that he is not going to denounce it. I should like to inquire whether that means that we are still going to hold ourselves bound, in spite of the latest Italian action in Albania, by that section of the Agreement which requires us to give full information to the Italian Government about our troop movements, our aerodromes and other defence arrangements in the Mediterranean. We are so bound under the Agreement. Signor Mussolini has made troop movements on a great scale without making any communication to us, not only in this Albanian aggression but also in Libya, in the Dodecanese and in other places in the Mediterranean basin. Is it the Government's view that, since we do not denounce the Anglo-Italian Agreement, we are still bound to furnish accurate statements as to our own troop movements, naval movements and changes in our Air Force arrangements?
If that is what we are driven to, would it not be much better, if not to denounce the agreement, at any rate temporarily to suspend its operation until we have rather better evidence of Italian good faith in future? The Prime Minister will not, I think, object to my quoting a speech that he made to the Conservative Association in Birmingham on 18th April last, in which he attacked the Opposition and said:They have talked about surrender to the dictators and about the gullibility of the Prime Minister in believing every word that was said to him. I only ask you to have a little patience, to wait a little longer before our agreement with Italy is concluded and published and then, if you are not of my opinion, if you do not believe that it is not the Prime Minister who has been fooled but the Socialists and Liberals who have fooled themselves, I will be prepared to eat my hat.122 I hope the Prime Minister has not lately been suffering from severe indigestion. What is to us a little discouraging is to find, during these years when we have been in Opposition and the Prime Minister and his colleagues in power, how continually our appreciations of the international situation have been correct. [Interruption.] The hon. and gallant Gentleman has evidently forgotten a good deal. I must not eat into the Chancellor's time or I should be tempted to go through a long list of cases in which, since 1931, prophecies have been uttered from these benches which have been ridiculed by him and his like and which have unhappily come true, gravely imperilling the country and the Empire and landing us at last in great danger of immediate war against powerful forces, ourselves having marshalled hardly any allies in opposition to them. I hope the Prime Minister will, at any rate, give us the credit for having been more often right than he has been. We said he was being fooled by Signor Mussolini, and to-day it is difficult for him to deny that that is what has happened. But, just as he believes that a year ago in entering into the Anglo-Italian Agreement he was right, so also he believes that a little more than six months ago, when he entered into the agreement at Munich with the other dictator, he was right then. [Interruption.] I gather that one hon. Gentleman agrees with that. There are still one or two, though not many—only a single voice was raised then from the serried ranks behind the Prime Minister—who are willing to press upon the House at this hour of the day the view that on both these occasions the Prime Minister has been right and has not been fooled by the dictators with whom he entered into agreements. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman's following is now so lukewarm in support of his policy.
With regard to the situation in which we have found ourselves in these last few weeks, it is five weeks now since Herr-Hitler sent his instrument, Herr Keppler, to Bratislava to instigate the spurious Slovak independence movement and it is just one month since the rape of Prague. Five weeks is a long time as time is counted in these days. Even the month that has slipped by since Prague was occupied is a long while, as long perhaps as many years in quieter times, and yet in this lengthy period, in spite of many 123 general statements to the effect that the Foreign Office was busy and British diplomacy was active, what has the Government to show until to-day except the Polish Pact? Nothing else at all. Only to-day we add the Greek and the Rumanian guarantees. My hon. Friends have made it clear that we welcome these pacts in themselves, although we believe that, unless the policy of multiplying such pacts, extending such pacts and bringing other nations within the scope of these pacts—unless this policy is vigorously and actively pursued, these partial pacts, taken by themselves, may be more dangerous than helpful to the cause that we have at heart. None the less, subject to this condition we welcome them, and of the Rumanian pact I merely say that it comes only just in time—the delay has been almost excessive—because next Tuesday the Rumanian Foreign Minister is going to Berlin, having refused a number of previous invitations and, we understand, feeling that he could not go on refusing the Great Power which sits in Berlin, and only just in time we have given him something to take with him.
I wish to put to the Chancellor of the Exchequer a point which was raised earlier by one of my hon. Friends. Now that at last the Government have been wakened up to the vital importance of a free and independent Rumania, standing outside the German orbit, is it not very desirable and important, in view of the fact that that country to-day is being overrun by German experts who are making plans to cut down the forests and get hold of the crops and extract the oil at high pressure, that we should speed up our own economic negotiations with Rumania? Why should not Sir Frederick Leith-Ross be getting away now by aeroplane to Bucharest, instead of dawdling about in London until M. Gafencu has already arrived in Berlin? I hope it is intended to follow up our military guarantee by greatly accelerated economic discussions with Rumania? Otherwise we may find that the military guarantee has been rendered almost worthless owing to the fact that the Germans will have penetrated into Rumania along the line of economic interests and domination. I would like an assurance that the Government intend to speed up this economic mission and that they will not allow any more valuable time to slip away.
124 I would offer this reflection to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who a few minutes ago challenged my statement that we had been consistently right. It has for a long time been the view of Conservative elements in this country that we could disinterest ourselves in Eastern Europe. That short-sighted and, I think, dangerous doctrine has been prevalent particularly in Conservative quarters until recently, that we could concentrate on the West of Europe and ignore the East. The Locarno Treaty was a typical outgrowth of that school of thought—that only this country, France and Germany mattered. Just as, in my submission, the Great War was certainly prolonged, and its toll in British lives greatly increased, and the campaign at certain stages nearly lost owing to the Western philosophy prevalent among British and French Generals and some politicians—just as in the War the strategy of the Westerners was disastrously wrong, so equally in post-war displomacy the strategy of the Westerners has been disastrously wrong. But at long last Conservatives and Members of the Government have begun to take account of the fact which we, as long ago as the Geneva Protocol of 1924, declared that peace, at least in Europe, is indivisible and that Britain cannot disinterest herself in states in the East of Europe. We have maintained that over many years and now we see a National Government which is predominantly Conservative, working round at last to our view and coming out from those Westerner superstitions which have become so disastrous to the international position of this country. We find them coming round at last to the view illustrated by the Polish and the Rumanian guarantee and the other guarantees which are in contemplation, namely, that we must stand or fall with those nations of Eastern Europe.
A word about the Turks. I have not yet read the French Government statement made to-day by M. Daladier, but I am told that it emphasises rather more than the Prime Minister's statement, closer relations with the Turks as the result of recent diplomatic discussions. I understood from the Prime Minister that up to date we had neither given nor received from Turkey any practical undertaking for mutual aid in the event of aggression. I understand that the French declaration has gone further, and if there is any divergence perhaps it will be cleared 125 up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever the British Government may have done up to date, I press upon them the importance of bringing Turkey as soon as possible into a wider scheme of guarantees and undertakings. I have reason to believe—indeed I think it is common knowledge—that the Turks for some time past have been willing to go great distances in organising the collective defence of peace in those parts of the world where they have particular interests. I hope that the Turks will soon be given their rightful and proper place in an organised scheme for the defence of the Mediterranean area, and the Eastern Mediterranean in particular, against aggression.
The suggestion has been made that it might not be without usefulness in these new conditions, when nothing in the Eastern Mediterranean is safe against the possibility of—what shall I call it—such ratifications, of the status quo as we have just seen in Albania, to get together the Montreux Powers, that is the Powers particularly concerned with the Montreux Convention regarding the conditions of navigation through the Straits. This would bring Turkey into this wider scheme, which I understand they desire, and would also assist the Government to overcome the obstacles which, to them, seem so formidable in the way of bringing Russia into the same general discussion and organisation of resistance to aggression. At any rate, I throw out the suggestion which I have heard made in this House, though not in the Chamber, that it might be worth while to organise at an early date a conference of the Montreux Powers.
I pass to say a few words on the attitude of the Government towards Russia. It is on this point, particularly, that my hon. and right hon. Friends found the Prime Minister's speech so exceedingly disappointing, and as they still think inadequate to meet the requirements of a dangerous situation. The Prime Minister was not going to mention Russia at all. The draft of his speech contained, I think, no reference to Russia and it was not until he had visibly reached the last page of typescript and was approaching his peroration that some of my hon. Friends, astonished that he had made no reference to Russia, invited him to express views upon our relations with that great Power, and at that point the Prime Minister im- 126 provised certain sentences. The astonishing thing was that his speech, prepared no doubt under his supervision and according to his directions, would not have contained a single reference to Russia, but for those interruptions. The reference which he did make had to be dragged out of him by interruptions from this side of the House, almost as a dentist would extract a tooth.
I do not wish to use extravagant or provocative language, but at a time when, if civilisation is to be saved and the dictators halted in their tracks, it is necessary to mobilise every element of power that we can, we find almost inexplicable the continual reluctance of the Government, not merely to conduct negotiations with Russia, but even to pay such conventional tributes or make such friendly observations as are commonplace in international relations. We find it quite impossible to explain it, except upon hypotheses, which many of us would still be inclined to regard as fantastic, but which are bound to gather increasing weight if there is such persistence on the part of Government spokesmen in ignoring altogether this great Power which, as the Prime Minister was reminded this afternoon of having once said is half European and half Asiatic, and for that very reason of predominant importance in two Continents and not in one only.
I am going to suggest to the Government, in the simplest language I can, hoping to make my meaning abundantly plain, and speaking, I believe, for all my hon. Friends on these benches, that to-day you cannot organise collective security effectively, you cannot get that overwhelming weight of power on your side which you must get if Hitler and Mussolini are to be halted, unless you bring Russia effectively inside the combination. We desire to see built up an Anglo-French-Russian military alliance, a military alliance between three of the greatest Powers in the world—I exclude for the moment from this description the United States of America, in many respects the greatest Power of all Between the British Commonwealth, France and Russia we desire to see built up a clear and explicit military alliance directed against any aggressor, whether in Europe or in Asia or in North Africa.
We believe that such an alliance should be sought by us, openly sought. We 127 should propose it, publicly propose it, press it upon the other two partners. We already have an Anglo-French Alliance, a pretty close one, I am glad to know, and the French have a Franco-Soviet Pact, and we should now propose an Anglo-French-Russian alliance which should be concluded as speedily as possible, which should be followed up by staff talks, which should review alternative hypotheses and concert plans to deal with them and which should also make provision for economic discussions as to how, in particular, economic assistance might be rendered by the Soviet Union to various States which might be glad to have it, and which for geographical reasons might more easily get economic and material assistance from the Soviet Union than from either ourselves or France. I make that perfectly specific and clear proposal, and I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Have the Government any objection in principle to such a triple alliance? If not, why are they letting time slip by without making the proposal; or will they tell us that they have made the proposal and that it has been turned down by the Russians? If it is so, let us know. Has the proposal been made either by Lord Halifax to M. Maisky here or by Sir William Seeds to M. Litvinoff in Moscow and been turned down? I believe that an alliance of that kind, if it were brought into active operation, would be the real foundation upon which an effective system of collective security could be built. It would give added value and strength and coherence to all the separate bilateral pacts, which would then be enormously increased in their efficacy if they were founded upon this great alliance of the three Powers having general interests not in one Continent but in many.
I wish to say a word or two here about the Far East. Russia, like every other State in the world, is in danger of being encircled by the predatory dictatorships of the world, of which there are three. Russia is in danger of being encircled, or at any rate of being caught between two fires. The other night I was taken up by a geometrical pedant over the use of the word "encircle" and therefore I will say, since this word is only a translation of a term of German propaganda, that Russia is in danger of being caught between two rocks and crushed unless 128 she takes steps to organise her defence— between Japan at the one end of the world and the eastward moving power of Germany at the other. In the Far East and in the Pacific Russia is a great Power. Russian aerodromes are situated on the Pacific seaboard, Russia has great contingents of the Red Army out there. We are a Pacific power, with Australia, New Zealand and Canada all touching the Pacific. We have our naval base at Singapore and other points of great importance out there. And the French, in a lesser degree, are also a Pacific power. Is it not plain common sense that in view of the fact that there is out there in the Pacific a Power with the third largest fleet of warships in the world, a member of the Anti-Comintern Pact, that we and the Russians and the French should concert plans for common action in the Pacific if necessary, parallel with plans for common action, if necessary, in Europe?
Here, if the leader of the Liberal Party will permit me to make a comment on his speech this afternoon, I would say that he put upon a somewhat wrong basis his appeal to the Government to do what I am also appealing to them to do, to get on terms of closer co-operation with Russia. His case seemed to be that the Russians had much that they might give to us, but that we had little to give to them. No doubt he will say that that was not what he intended, but that was the emphasis I thought he put on it. Let us rather say to the Russians, "We invite you to come into this triple alliance of great Powers on an equal footing with the French and ourselves. We do not ask you to come in to help us only, but to help yourselves as much as us. You might be the victims of attack one day. Perhaps we have put off that attack on you by the guarantees we have given to two Powers, neighbours of yours, Poland and Rumania, and perhaps that is all the more reason why you should be convinced of our bona-fides now—a bona-fides which you might have been inclined to doubt before. Such an alliance would mean security for you, security for France, and security for all other peace-loving Powers in Europe"
I would like the Chancellor to tell us, if he knows—and I am sure he knows, because he is a member of that inner Cabinet, in which, frankly, we have not 129 much confidence—whether any proposal has been made by the Government to the Russians even approximately as specific as that which I am now indicating; and have they turned such a proposal down? If no such proposal has been made, why not? We have had the soothing assurance from the Prime Minister that ideological differences will not be allowed to interfere with negotiations, yet there are no indications that there have been any such approaches made between London and Moscow, either at the one end or at the other.
May I say one word upon one delicate point with regard to this organisation for collective peace in Europe? There are some Powers—Poland and Rumania have been mentioned in this connection—who are said to be a little chary of accepting certain forms of Russian assistance. Anyone who is familiar with conditions in those countries will not need a long explanation of why that is so, but, assuming that it is so, surely if you get a triple alliance—and I have heard that representatives of Poland and Rumania have said that they would be very glad to see an indirect arrangement made whereby we were bound closely with Russia and they were bound closely with us—it might then be a matter for friendly arrangement as to the means by which Russia might best assist those countries if trouble should come.
Here I would like to dwell upon an obvious and hopeful fact. Poland and Rumania are both populous countries with relatively large armies, and for them large reinforcements of man-power from Russia would not be the primary necessity if trouble came. It would rather be the supply of material. Perhaps it might also be the use of air power by appropriate means which would not raise in their minds the same hesitations that large-scale entries of ground troops into their country would raise. Without pursuing this rather delicate subject any further, I would suggest that it is surely within the capacity of the Government, and a most desirable object, that we should get into contact with the Russians, conjointly with those States whose security and independence we are now guaranteeing, to consider means whereby, if trouble should come, the enormous resources of Russia could most acceptably and efficiently be organised into a plan for their defence. I strongly urge 130 that the Government should get down to the consideration of that problem.
I have said that we have no confidence in the Inner Cabinet. Just over a week ago, speaking just before the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the close of another foreign affairs Debate, I said that we were speaking not of persons but of policies and that we urged the Government forward along the path of rapid reconstruction of that collective security which they had done so much by their previous policy since 1931 to destroy. In the interval which has elapsed, we have been gravely concerned at evidence, which seems to us to accumulate, that the persons sitting on that bench who are particularly concerned with the direction of foreign policy find it almost impossible—or so it seems—to reverse the direction in which they were previously moving. Although at last they are compelled to admit—I am sure quite honestly—that they are struggling at high pressure and at short notice, and by all sorts of improvisations, to reconstruct that system in which we always believed and concerning which until yesterday they were deeply sceptical—and which by their action, positive and negative, they have done so much to undermine—they are apparently, while determined in spirit to do those things, mentally incapable of carrying the job through. Hence these dawdlings and hesitations in regard to Russia at the present time, and the terrible slowness with regard to Rumania. Hence, also, the many evidences that we see that the Government, who have so long derided and discredited collective security, find it very difficult now to build it up.
I say to the Ministers sitting upon that bench: "The country to-day expects you either to get on with this job or to get out. Could you get on with it, could you build it up, could you make it clear to the people of this country, to the German and Italian people, and, most of all, to the German and Italian dictators, that there was such a force built up against them, such a barbed-wire entanglement, that they would charge it at their peril, who would be more glad than we? Clearly none would be more glad, because that would prove that you had been converted to our view and were putting it into operation. If, because of your past philosophy of diplomacy and your past attitude of mind, you show that you 131 are indeed incapable of doing it, you are not fit guardians of the safety of this country in its most perilous hour, and it is high time that you gave place to others who honestly believe in what you so feebly are now endeavouring to do."
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
The hon. Gentleman's speech divided itself into two parts. In the first part he discussed some very difficult questions, diplomatic and strategic, that present themselves, especially in Eastern Europe, and even further a field; and in the last few minutes, as I suppose is proper on any ordinary occasion, we had in the most vigorous form the party Opposition to raise the cheers behind him and assure us that we were incompetent guardians of the safety of the country. That question will not be decided by the hon. Gentlemen whom I see before me; it will be determined by the country as a whole; and there is no indication whatever, either in the majority in this House or in the country at large, that there is a loss of confidence in the Government or in its leadership.
I will, if I may, take up two or three of the smaller questions which the hon. Gentleman put, because I should not like to fail to answer them, though I will postpone for a later portion of what I have to say my remarks regarding his observations about Russia. The hon. Gentleman asked early in his speech whether we now had any further information from Albania. He was referring to the Prime Minister's statement at the beginning of the Debate to-day that communication with our Minister there had been interrupted. I have inquired, and find that telegraphic communication with our Minister at Durazzo has been resumed to-day, and we are now receiving telegraphic reports from him. I cannot tell the House exactly how far back they go, but it is within the last 24 hours. We are still, however, awaiting the full report which, I have no doubt, the Minister is preparing, and will very properly send, of the events during the past few days. Since telegraphic communication has been reopened, he has naturally sent, in the first instance, certain pieces of immediate information which do not, I think, affect our discussion this evening.
132 The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Anglo-Italian Agreement was to be regarded as continuing. I think there are good reasons why we on our side should claim to hold Italy to the Anglo-Italian Agreement in respect of the provisions which it contains. I was asked whether, if the Agreement is continued, we shall continue to give to the Italian Government information as to troop movements and the movements of our forces. As a general proposition, I do not think anybody could doubt that, if you insist that you will hold the other party to an agreement, you must not break any term of it yourself. The Italian Government may have no right to hold us to it, but, if we wish to hold them to it, we must observe the terms ourselves. The terms, in fact, do not provide quite what the hon. Gentleman for the moment supposed. I have the White Paper here. Paper No. 3 of Annex 2 states:The Government of the United Kingdom and the Italian Government agree that in the month of January each year a reciprocal exchange of information shall take place through the Naval, Military and Air Attaches in London and Rome regarding any major prospective administrative movements or redistribution of their respective naval, military and air forces.Then follow details, and there are some facultative provisions for getting more information. I think that, if the hon. Member will look at it—not necessarily tonight, because it is a technical matter— he will find that that is the case, and, therefore, I do not suppose that the difficulty which he thought might arise is quite as great as he expected.
The hon. Member asked about Sir Frederick Leith-Ross's Mission to Rumania. The Government attach the greatest importance to that Mission, and no time has been lost in making the arrangements. The hon. Member knows—nobody better—that if you are going to have such a Mission it must be done in close arrangement, as regards time, with the other Government. The time that has been arranged will enable the Mission to go next week, but it is not possible to get the arrangement altered unilaterally. I can assure the hon. Member and the House that the arrangements are being made in as speedy a manner as possible, and that the considerations which Sir Frederick Leith-Ross will be able to advance have received the fullest 133 and most careful consideration from the Government.
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not know, but I do know that there has been no delay on our part. On the contrary, we have arranged the Mission at the earliest possible moment.
I should like now to put to the House, as plainly as I can, what I submit is really the most important consideration that arises. The hon. Member spoke about dawdling hesitation, and the rest of it. It is only 10 days since we had a Debate in this House on the announcement which the Prime Minister had made in regard to Poland. That was a definite announcement of a new policy—the first step, if you like, in a new policy which we felt bound to adopt as a precaution against possible developments in Europe. When I spoke at the end of that Debate, 10 days ago, I asked the House not to belittle the announcement, because I said it was a most tremendous change not merely in this Government's policy, but in the traditional policy which our country has followed for generations. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was leading the Opposition, said that it might prove to be as momentous in its consequences as any statement made in Parliament in the last quarter of a century. It was recognised in the House then that it was a step to a larger scheme. The only criticism that I recollect was the criticism that it ought to be developed to cover a larger field.
At the end of the Debate, with, I think, the general assent of the House, I described it as a specific commitment in a quarter of the world in which hitherto we had been free from specific commitments, and that it was a commitment which presaged commitments in other quarters also. The course of events runs very swiftly, and I agree that this Government or any Government would be open to the greatest criticism if it left that matter alone and allowed things idly to develop; but when we are meeting here again, specially summoned back within ten days, in view of the very grave events that have occurred, and we are able to announce to-day, in agreement with the French Government, the arrangements made in regard to Greece and Rumania— 134 not many people would expect that we could in so short a time have carried it so far. The Government certainly is not open to the reproach that it has been dawdling or hesitating in the matter. [Interruption.] Dictators, no doubt, have certain advantages in the matter of speed, but in this country and in the democracy of France it is necessary that we should keep in communication with one another.
In this matter we have acted, and acted very promptly. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was right when he said that we were now definitely engaged in a new policy. France is equally engaged with ourselves, and I say again that we shall make a very grave error if we are disposed to minimise the gravity and importance of these moves or the risks involved. I do agree that, in having undertaken this new policy, the risks arc at their maximum unless this policy is carried through. There is no position so dangerous for us, having set our hands to this policy, if we do not carry it through with firm, prompt determination to its proper end.
I will not repeat the refutation of the foolish charge of encirclement. I would rather adopt the language that was used by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. He described it, I think, in very proper terms when he said that the effort is an effort to build up a peace front. We have seen Germany growing in greater and greater strength. We saw her set aside the restrictions of Versailles, but she has manifestly passed beyond that stage, and the explanation and the justification for a new policy rests in that very fact.
§ Mr. Dalton
What about Turkey? We were not very clear as to whether a new commitment to Turkey has been concluded?
§ Sir J. Simon
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It is convenient to mention it now before going on to Russia. I heard the hon. Gentleman say, and no doubt he learned it outside this Chamber, that he believed that the statement made in the French Chamber about Turkey went rather further than our own. I have not myself seen the report on the Tape of that statement. I should be very slow to believe that there has been any difference between France and ourselves about this. I do not think so, but it is not 135 possible for me to do more than to say what the Prime Minister said, that we have, as a matter of speed and urgency, kept Turkey in this matter most promptly informed, and we are in the closest communication with her. I cannot say, and it would not be right that I should say, more than that at this stage.
And now Russia. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will be good enough to let me make a statement about this. I will try to make it without any sort of prejudice. It is quite true that in times past and in other connections Russia has been one of those subjects about which people make heated statements on one side or the other. I am not complaining at all that it should be a sensitive point with hon. Members opposite, but I want to make, on behalf of the Government, a statement about it which is quite unqualified, and, if I make it without epithet or innuendo, I trust it will be received, as it is meant to be received, as a plain statement of the solid position. I would say, first of all, that on our part, and, I believe, on the part of Britain as a whole, there is no sort of desire to exclude Russia or to fail to take full advantage of the help of Russia in the cause of peace. I will not repeat the phrase about ideological differences. It is an expression for which I do not very much care.
At the very outset of this new policy we did, as I think the House knows, earnestly invite the speedy co-operation of Russia. Very shortly after the German occupation of Czecho-Slovakia, we invited the Soviet Government to join in a four-Power declaration. The Soviet Government responded quite promptly, and said that they would agree to join in a four-Power declaration as soon as France and Poland had accepted and had promised their signatures. As the hon. Gentleman said, we got to rather a delicate point, and I think the House knows that it, unfortunately, proved impossible to realise that precise project, and we were obliged to adopt a different course, not with a different object, but a different method. Then a suggestion was made by Russia. They suggested a conference of Powers.
§ Sir J. Simon
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. They were both quite early and in neither case was our action in any sort of way disparaging or discouraging. With regard to Russia's proposal for a conference—I think it was to be a conference at Bucharest—I wish to say, as has been said before, that His Majesty's Government had no sort of objection to that proposal because it came from Soviet Russia. The proposal had to be examined, judged and pronounced upon purely as a practical issue. Everybody who has attended a conference knows that the most important thing to secure is that one does not start the conference until one has some solid reason for thinking it will be successful. A conference that breaks down in confusion does far more harm than discussions through other channels. The difficulty we felt had nothing to do with the fact that the proposal was made by Soviet Russia. It was purely a question of what was the most effective and prompt machinery for getting agreement between the Powers concerned. There would have been great difficulties in having a conference, but we should have tried to get over them if we had been able to persuade ourselves that that method was the best method. We never resisted the proposal because it came from Soviet Russia We were never less inclined to approve of it on that account. We regarded it—and I am sure Soviet Russia understands this—simply as a question of procedure and method, our object being to get as quickly as possible the greatest amount of agreement we could.
Recent events in Europe, both in March and in April, gave rise inevitably to anxiety in certain countries that their independence was in jeopardy, and that the matter was as urgent as a matter could be. It might have been a matter of days or hours. To meet that danger—not behind the back of Soviet Russia, not with any disinclination to make use of her help, but because we were faced with this immediate and urgent business, and in full accord with the French Government we felt impelled to make what contribution we could to the restoration of confidence by giving the assurances of which the House knows. Therefore, we took on special commitments to those countries whose independence was exposed, or might be exposed, to an immediate menace. Throughout those negotiations we have kept Soviet Russia 137 in the closest touch with ourselves, and I will give the House a short account of some of the actual steps that were taken.
On 29th March, the Soviet Ambassador was told that we had to recognise that it was useless to pursue the idea of a four-Power declaration, and that we, therefore, had been considering what other line we could usefully take. The Soviet Ambassador was given a provisional outline of the new course we were contemplating, which would involve us giving assurances, together with France, to Poland and Rumania. The Soviet Ambassador recognised that this would be a revolutionary change in British policy and that it would increase enormously the confidence of other countries. It was made clear in the conversations that we had no intention at all of excluding help from the Soviet Government, if the latter were disposed to afford it, in whatever way was most suitable and effective.
Circumstances then arose, however, which made it necessary for the Prime Minister to make the declaration regarding Poland on that Friday; but before it was made the Soviet Ambassador was informed of the purport of the statement. As soon as ever it was arranged, it was communicated to him. The Soviet Ambassador told the Foreign Secretary, on 31st March, that Soviet policy had recently been defined by M. Stalin as assistance against aggression for those who fought for their independence, and the Foreign Secretary received that definition as one would expect it to be received by all of us who wish to get the maximum help from all possible quarters. I think the House will see that the principles by which His Majesty's Government were moved to make their Polish declaration were precisely the same as M. Stalin's own declaration.
It seemed to us, and it seems to us now, self-evident that these principles were not misunderstood by the Soviet Government, and I wish the House plainly to understand that, while these things are more difficult to negotiate with a very large number of Powers than might appear, there is no truth in the suggestion that we have been seeking to find means of avoiding taking Soviet Russia into that system which it is our object to build up as a system of peace against aggression. Since then my Noble Friend has seen the Soviet Ambassador on more than one occasion and has kept him fully 138 informed of the progress of events. I have endeavoured to state what has happened, checking it by the documents which I have before me, and I say that it shows that there is no justification for the suggestions which have been made, and indeed, considering the peril in which the free countries of the world now stand, we should be fools if we did not recognise where assistance might be drawn and gladly received.
§ Mr. Dalton
May I just remind the right hon. Gentleman of a question I put? Have the Government at any time proposed to the Russians a definite military alliance between this country France and the Soviet Union? Have they proposed it and, if so, has it been rejected?
§ Sir J. Simon
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I had intended as a matter of fact to say a word about that. I will meet the point and deal with it in another way. There is no objection on our part in principle to such a proposition at all. These things are not always as simple as they may appear, but whatever is the most effective way of organising the forces of peace is the way that His Majesty's Government will wish to choose. I do not think, powerful as Russia is, that we ought to concentrate the whole of our gaze simply upon that great Power—we have to remember that there are others even nearer to danger than Russia is. But, though I cannot say that that particular proposition has been made, the hon. Gentleman and the House may take it that the Government is raising no objection in principle to any such proposition.
I want to conclude by saying this: So many things have been discussed and it is so easy to dwell upon other matters that we might lose the main point. The real evolution, as I see it, is this. The traditional policy of this country has been for a long, long time back that we should commit ourselves by definite and precise assurances of military and naval aid in certain defined cases close to our own shores, like the case of Belgium or that of France, but, as regards the general body of Europe, particularly the part of Europe much further from our shores, the traditional policy has been that we should not make precise and defined commitments of such a character, but that we should consider the situation and deal with it as my right hon. Friend has 139 said—it might be that we should intervene, or it might not be that we should intervene in cases outside the primary and traditional obligation.
That is not peculiar to this Government, it is not peculiar to the last few years. That has been the traditional policy of this country. I do not think there is any fact more striking in our policy of defence than this, that it has been possible to transform that policy by adding to it a series of new, most formidable commitments, commitments which might land us in war, with the general approval of the British people in the course of the last few weeks. It would be well, I think, if the totalitarian States would consider that. For what is the explanation? The explanation is not that the British people have suddenly changed their nature, or that this country has lost its historical sense or forgotten its traditions, or that it is any more ready to rush into adventures than it was before. It is not that we did not weigh and understand the terrific and frightful seriousness of these new undertakings. The explanation is the change that has taken place in Europe, which is due to the fact that the people of this country, watching the development of events in Central Europe, are coming to the conclusion that if these events develop as they threaten to develop we shall be face to face with some immense Power that tries to dominate Europe. That is the explanation and it is one of the most tremendous facts of contemporary history. If the nations abroad that have brought about this change can really appreciate the spirit of our people to-day and realise that it is they who have produced this change of policy, it might do more to bring about a better understanding of the true position than a great deal of propaganda.
I wish to complete my observations by a reference to the comment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) on the Admiralty. I know with what authority my right hon. Friend speaks on this subject because of his distinguished service at the Admiralty, but I really do not consider the criticism he 140 made was altogether justified. At any rate, he will be the first to give due attention to an answer from the Admiralty. He said something about confidential information coming to the Government. What has to be remembered is that we do not get one set of information saying that one thing is likely to happen, but we get a whole series of messages stating all sorts of alternative developments which have to be sifted out. After the facts are known it is easy to assume that the course of events was equally certain and clear beforehand. The actual position is this. The Mediterranean Fleet had completed its spring cruise. The ships were paying, as they usually do at this period of the year—and it is a useful thing to do—a number of visits to foreign ports in France, Tunis and Italy, all according to programme which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is carefully worked out beforehand. The breaking of a programme is, of course, an awkward business, although no one would hesitate to do it if the circumstances called for it. It is however a very unusual step and requires a clear justification. The view that was taken was that there was not in the circumstances sufficiently clear knowledge of the facts to require the programme to be broken until the situation became clear. The moment it was ascertained that the Albanian invasion was being undertaken orders were sent to break the programme, to cancel invitations, to get everybody aboard, and the ships were ordered to put to sea and to concentrate at their place of assembly. I do not speak with technical knowledge, but I give that account to show that the Board of Admiralty considered there was-perfectly good justification for their action.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Captain Margesson)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave withdrawn.
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn until Tuesday next"—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eleven o'Clock until Tuesday next, 18th April.