§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I think the House will desire that I should begin my statement this afternoon with a recital of the facts about the change in the situation in Czecho-Slovakia, as far as I know it. On 10th March the President of the Czecho-Slovak Republic dismissed certain members of the Slovak Government, including the Prime Minister, Dr. Tiso, on the ground that certain factors in the Slovak Government had not been showing sufficient resistance to subversive activities, and that the Federal interests of the State were thereby threatened. On nth March a new Slovak Government was appointed, under the Premiership of M. Sidor, former Slovak representative in' the Central Government at Prague. Dr. Tiso appealed to Herr Hitler and received an official invitation to go to Berlin. He had an interview with Herr Hitler on 13th March, after which he returned to Bratislava to attend a special session of the Slovak Diet, which had been called for 14th March. At the conclusion of this session the independence of Slovakia was proclaimed, with the approval of the Diet, and a new Slovak Government was constituted under Dr. Tiso, including M. Sidor.
Yesterday afternoon the President of the Czecho-Slovak Republic and the Foreign Minister left for Berlin. They had an interview with Herr Hitler and Herr von Ribbentrop, at the conclusion of which a signed communique was issued. This communique stated that the serious situation which had arisen as the result of events of the past week in what was hitherto Czecho-Slovak territory had been closely and frankly examined. Both sides gave expression to their mutual conviction that the aim of all efforts in this part of Central Europe should be the safeguarding of calm, order and peace. The Czecho-Slovak President declared that, in order to serve this purpose, and in order to secure final pacification, he placed the destinies of the Czech people and country with confidence in the hands of the German Reich. Herr Hitler accepted this declaration and expressed his determination to take the Czech 436 people under the protection of the German Reich and to guarantee to it the autonomous development of its national life in accordance with its particular characteristics.
The occupation of Bohemia by German military forces began at 6 o'clock this morning. The Czech people have been ordered by their Government not to offer resistance. The President of the Czech-Slovak Republic has returned to Prague. Herr Hitler issued an order to the German armed forces this morning to the effect that German military detachments had crossed the frontier of Czech territory in order to assume impartial control of the safety of the lives and property of the inhabitants of the country. Every German soldier must regard himself not as a foe but as a representative of the German Government to restore a tolerable order. Where opposition was offered to the march it was to be broken down at once by all available methods. The armed forces were to bear in mind that they were treading on Czech soil as the representatives of great German'. Meanwhile on 14th March, as a result of incidents on the frontier between Ruthenia and Hungary, Hungarian troops crossed the border and occupied a Czech village. Thereafter the Hungarian Government sent an ultimatum to Prague demanding, among other things, the withdrawal of Czech troops from Ruthenia, the release of Hungarian prisoners, and freedom for persons of Hungarian nationality and race in Ruthenia to arm and to organise. This ultimatum expired this morning, but I have not yet received official reports on the way in which the situation is developing.
That completes my account of the facts as far as they are known to me. To a large extent the information which I have given to the House is based on Press reports, and while I have very little reason to think that the general effect is not as I have described it to be, final judgment on all the details should await further confirmation. I must deal with three matters which arise out of the circumstances I have described. In the first place, hon. Members will want to know how they affect the guarantee which was described by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions on 4th October last in the following words:The question has been raised whether our guarantee to Czecho-Slovakia is already in 437 operation. The House will realise that the formal Treaty of guarantee has yet to be drawn up and completed in the normal way, and, as the Foreign Secretary has stated in another place, there are some matters which must await settlement between the Governments concerned. Until that has been done, technically the guarantee cannot be said to be in force. His Majesty's Government, how ever, feel under a moral obligation to Czecho-Slovakia to treat the guarantee as being now in force. In the event, therefore, of an act of unprovoked aggression against Czecho-Slovakia, His Majesty's Government would certainly feel bound to take all steps in their power to see that the integrity of Czecho-Slovakia is preserved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 303, Vol. 339.]That remained the position until yesterday, and I may say that recently His Majesty's Government have endeavoured to come to an agreement with the other Governments represented at Munich on the scope and terms of such a guarantee, but up to the present we have been unable to reach any such agreement. In our opinion the situation has radically altered since the Slovak Diet declared the independence of Slovakia. The effect of this declaration put an end by internal disruption to the State whose frontiers we had proposed to guarantee and, accordingly, the condition of affairs described by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions, which was always regarded by us as being only of a transitory nature has now ceased to exist, and His Majesty's Government cannot accordingly hold themselves any longer bound by this obligation.
In the second place, I think the House would like to know the position as regards the financial assistance to the former Government of Czecho-Slovakia authorised by the Act of Parliament passed last month. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the present position is as follows. Section 1 of the Act provides that the Treasury shall repay to the Bank of England £10,000,000 which has been placed at the disposal of the National Bank of Czecho-Slovakia. That has been done. The amount that has been withdrawn by Czecho-Slovakia since the advance was first made available last October is £3,250,000, and the balance of £6,750,000 remains in the Bank of England. As originally devised between ourselves and the French Government and the former Czecho-Slovakia Government it included the issue by the last-named Government of a loan on the London market by means of which the assistance 438 given to that Government, so far as it took the form of loan, would be repaid. In the new circumstances, when it appears that the Government of Czecho-Slovakia has ceased to exist and the territory for which that Government was formerly responsible has been divided, it would seem impossible at present to say how the scheme can be carried through, and steps have been taken to request the Bank of England to make no further payments out of the balance until the situation has been cleared up and a definite conclusion reached.
§ The Prime Minister
I may say that I have no reason to suppose that the £3,250,000 already drawn has been applied other than in accordance with the arrangements made by us and that a substantial proportion of the sum has been directly devoted to the assistance of refugees. In the third place, the House will be aware that the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade were about to pay a visit to Berlin in connection with certain discussions which are now proceeding between the representatives of German and British industries. These discussions are still proceeding, and I believe are proceeding in a satisfactory manner. But, in the meantime, having regard to the effect on general conditions in Europe which the events I have described are bound to exert, His Majesty's Government feel that the present moment would be inappropriate for the proposed visit, which has been accordingly postponed, and the German Government have been so informed.
In considering these events and their relation to the events which preceded them, we must remember that at Munich, and at the discussions which went on before it, we were not dealing with a situation which had just been created. We were dealing with events and with a set of circumstances which had resulted from forces set in motion 20 years earlier. I may remind the House that in July of last year, when it was apparent that a dead lock had taken place in the negotiations between the Czecho-Slovakian Government and the Sudeten Germans, and that if the deadlock were not speedily broken, the German Government might intervene in the dispute, we were confronted with 439 three alternative courses: we could have threatened to go to war with Germany if she attacked Czecho-slovakia, or we could stand aside and let matters take their course, or, finally, we could attempt to find a peaceful solution through mediation. The first course was rejected, and I do not believe there was then, or that there is now, any considerable body of opinion in this country which would have been prepared to support any other decision. We had no treaty liabilities to Czecho-Slovakia; we had always refused to accept any such obligations.
The second alternative was also repugnant to us, and, realising that once hostilities had broken out they might spread very far, we felt it our duty to do anything in our power to find means of avoiding conflict, and, accordingly, we adopted the third course, that of mediation. I need not recall all the circum stances which led up to the final settlement arrived at on 29th September at Munich. I would only say that in the conditions of that time, and having regard to the alternatives open to us, I have no doubt that the course we took was right, and I believe it has received the approval of the vast majority of world opinion. The settlement has not proved to be final. The State which under that settlement we hoped might begin a new and more stable career, has become disintegrated. The attempt to preserve a State containing Czechs, Slovaks, as well as minorities of other nationalities, was liable to the same possibilities of change as was the Constitution which was drafted when the State was originally framed under the Treaty of Versailles. And it has not survived. That may or may not have been inevitable, and I have so often heard charges of breach of faith bandied about which did not seem to me to be founded upon sufficient premises, that I do not wish to associate myself to-day with any charges of that character.
But I am bound to say that I cannot believe that anything of the kind which has now taken place was contemplated by any of the signatories to the Munich Agreement at the time of its signature. The Munich Agreement constituted a settlement, accepted by the four Powers and Czecho-Slovakia, of the Czecho-slovak question. It provided for the fixation of the future frontiers of Czecho slovakia which has been effected, and 440 laid down the limits of the German occupation, which the German Government accepted. They have now, with out, so far as I know, any communication with the other three signatories to the Munich Agreement, sent their troops beyond the frontier there laid down. But even though it may now be claimed that what has taken place has occurred with the acquiescence of the Czech Government, I cannot regard the manner and the method by which these changes have been brought about as in accord with the spirit of the Munich Agreement.
A further point which I would make is this: Hitherto the German Government in extending the area of their military control have defended their action by the contention that they were only incorporating in the Reich neighbouring masses of people of German race. Now for the first time they are effecting a military occupation of territory inhabited by people with whom they have no racial connection. These events cannot fail to be a cause of disturbance to the international situation. They are bound to administer a shock to confidence, all the more regrettable because confidence was beginning to revive and to offer a prospect of concrete measures which would be of general benefit.
In a speech which I made at Birmingham on 30th January last I pointed out that we ought to define our aims and attitude, namely, our determination to search for peace. I added that I felt it was time now that others should make their contribution to a result which would overflow in benefits to many besides those immediately concerned. It is natural, therefore, that I should bitterly regret what has now occurred. But do not let us on that account be deflected from our course. Let us remember that the desire of all the peoples of the world still remains concentrated on the hopes of peace and a return to the atmosphere of understanding and good will which has so often been disturbed. The aim of this Government is now, as it has always been, to promote that desire and to substitute the method of discussion for the method of force in the settlement of differences. Though we may have to suffer checks and disappointments, from time to time, the object that we have in mind is of too great significance to the happiness of mankind for us lightly to give it up or set it on one side.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
The House has listened to a most remarkable statement by the Prime Minister, and I cannot help remarking that many of us on this side of the House, and I am sure Members in all parts of the House, could not but envy the remarkable state of detachment with which the Prime Minister has opened this discussion this afternoon. He presented, in words to which we cannot raise objections, the very briefest and most curt report of events of world-wide importance as if they were simply a matter of routine and official comment which fell upon him to perform. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister is about the only person in diplomatic circles in Europe who can afford that splendid sense of isolation and detachment that he presented to-day. It is quite certain that no one in Czecho-Slovakia, cither those who have held responsibility in the very difficult six months through which the country has passed or the great mass of the Czech people who have witnessed the invasion of their country, the violation of their liberties, the liquidation of the sovereignty of their country, the destruction of their independence—not one of those people could afford to preserve the calm mien which the Prime Minister has been able to preserve to-day. It was only when he returned home to this country and to our interests in these international happenings that the Prime Minister displayed the slightest sense of emotion of any kind.
I am very sorry indeed to find that on this occasion the Prime Minister has dismissed the whole problem of Czecho-Slovakia with such few words and with such a scant amount of feeling. We be long to a country that has paid ready tribute to patriotism and the claims of nationhood and the services given by a national hero on occasions large and small, but to-day not one word of tribute to the Czechs fell from the Prime Minister's lips—not one word. The Prime Minister could only start with the history of Czecho-Slovakia 20 years ago. He invited the House to consider the developments of the last few months in the light of the last 20 years. That is far too short a view to take of the problem of Czecho-Slovakia and of Middle Europe, and I would warn the Prime Minister and all who are associated with him to take a longer view, a longer retrospective view 442 than they have been able to take in the past.
This problem of Middle Europe, with its mixed nationalities, with its conflicting elements, this problem of 150,000,000 people who reside in enforced historical association, this part of Europe which is a danger and a menace to Europe and all the world, must be far more completely understood than is apparent from any thing that the Prime Minister said to-day. Here is a nation which has now probably seen the last of its days of independence until some accident, terrible perhaps in its consequences, overtakes the whole of Europe again and gives this people the opportunity once more to gain their freedom. I am convinced that what has happened these last few days has brought that catastrophical accident within a closer distance. Europe has not been appeased. The stability which we desire to see re stored in Europe has not been brought nearer. The balance of affairs in Europe is far more uncertain to-day than it was yesterday, far more precarious than it was six months ago.
I invite the House to regard the events of yesterday as events of terrible importance to the rest of us in Europe and to the immediate peace of the world. The Prime Minister talked about moral responsibilities. I think he used the words "moral wants." This country has a reputation for regard of moral principles. This country has a fair reputation, which I have enjoyed more than anything else in my contact with people of all lands, a reputation which all of us share with our fellows, for honesty and straight dealing in our affairs, private and public, with the rest of the people with whom we come in con tact. There is nothing that redounds to our credit in the history of the events which came so much nearer a culmination yesterday, 14th March.
From the very beginning, as I have said in the House on a previous occasion, our contribution to the solution of this problem has not been a generous one. To-day, we have not heard anything from the Prime Minister that gives us any hope that our part in future will be any more generous than it has been in recent weeks and months. I am simply amazed at the state of mind revealed by the Prime Minister in his speech this afternoon. He referred to the changed situation in Europe, a kind of theoretical and 443 academic observation which did not take into account the fact that to-day, in the city of Prague, there is a situation that is surcharged with emotion, when pride is being trammelled and a nation's mutual trust and independence has been violated, when men and women witnesses in the streets of their historic city see armed men and equipment which came in, not in observance of any moral principles— for the mere pretence of that has been swept away. The pretence of self-determination, to which we were invited to subscribe a few months ago, has disappeared, and to-day there is not even that pretence.
This is simply one of a sequence of crises to which Europe has been treated and which will go on recurring for some time to come, because His Majesty's Government, the Prime Minister and those who have represented us, have not been seized of the real significance of the events in Europe during the last five or six years. We have been told that the Government are trying to find appeasement. All that we witness day after day is a steady and violent disintegration of the European system, and appeasement, instead of modifying or retarding that disintegration, only gives an added impetus to it. There is a concession here and a concession there to intimidation and violence, and the cumulative effect is now becoming apparent to every Member of the House. As I sat listening to the Prime Minister's speech, I heard the cheers, the dutiful cheers, that came from hon. Members opposite. There is a number of hon. Members who cheer some utterances of the Prime Minister, but what man in this House, in the privacy of his own home, will find any consolation in what happened yesterday? It was a day of humiliation and shame for us. [Interruption.] It was a day of humiliation and shame for all of us. We have allowed the truth to be set aside, we have allowed violence to take the place of reason and justice, and violence has triumphed. A nation has been overridden and over whelmed, and the rights of a nation have been deliberately set aside to pander to the hammer of force and the armed might which appears to be dominant in the councils of Europe at the present time.
In March, 1938, we saw the first step in this rapid degeneration of European politics; we saw Austria overwhelmed by 444 a sudden lightning stroke of Herr Hitler and his armed forces. In May, 1938, Czecho-Slovakia was threatened with a similar course of action. That was delayed because the Czechs dared to stand and fight and die in defence of their liberties. It was not then known by Herr Hitler that the allies of the Czechs, those who had promised to stand by the Czechs years ago, would desert their promises of alliance and co-operation. [Interruption.] There were other allies. With our know ledge, with our concurrence, with our part responsibility, and not without it, Russia, France and ourselves were expected to help to maintain the peace of Europe and to defend small nations against aggression, under the Covenant of the League of Nations. We did not take that step. In September, the menace grew more direct. The Prime Minister had occasion to go to Berchtesgaden. I do not know why he went there. [HON. MEMBERS: "Others do."] Yes, certainly; we all differ in this House. There are many different points of view, but each speaks for himself, and that is why we speak. I do not know why the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden. I think it was a fatal mistake. Godesberg followed. The Prime Minister had promised to go to Godesberg. He expressed disappointment with what happened at Godesberg, but he went to Munich. But he got no concession at Munich. There was nothing to be shown when the Prime Minister arrived back. There is less to be seen to-day of what he accomplished.
His Majesty's Government are responsible, perhaps not for the policy that Herr Hitler has pursued, but they have been in close touch with him all along. Herr Hitler does not do things without the knowledge of His Majesty's Government. Herr Hitler did not move in to Austria without a hint being given to His Majesty's Government. Lord Halifax, speaking in the House of Lords, gave a clear indication that he had an idea that it would take place. All that His Majesty's Government have been able to do, all that the Prime Minister did at Munich, was to act as a shock absorber for this attack upon the liberties and safety of Czecho-Slovakia and ultimately upon the liberties of all European countries, large and small, which wish to preserve their liberty in future. The 445 Prime Minister lessened the shock of the impact. To-day, the right hon. Gentle man said that, looking back, he does not know what could have been done differently. I am not satisfied with that. I do not know that, given the situation of Munich itself, much more could have been done, but much could have been done in the weeks and months before. The Prime Minister was responsible. At Munich, the Germans secured, not a victory of peace, but a military victory, and the terms of capitulation were signed by the Prime Minister of England and the Prime Minister of France. The German armies moved. They did not delay, they were in the field, they crossed the Czech frontiers as scheduled. But, the Prime Minister said, they gave guarantees; we have the Munich Agreement, in which certain guarantees were given. The Prime Minister, in his direct ness of mind, his simplicity of mind, believed that these undertakings were given in good faith. He said in this House, on 3rd October, 1938:It is my hope, and my belief, that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czecho-Slovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 45, Vol. 339.]A simple belief, an unjustifiable belief, an unwarranted belief. The Home Secretary concurred with his chief when, the same evening, he said:I myself believe that the international guarantee in which we have taken part will more than compensate for the loss of the strategic frontier."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 3rd October, 1938; col. 156, Vol. 339.]The Prime Minister still believes that what was done at Munich was done in good faith. It is incredible. After all, one is entitled to believe only when one has had evidence; one does not believe without some evidence and some assurance. Where is the assurance of good faith? Not for a single day have the promises made at Munich been observed. In the Munich Agreement itself, in paragraph 5, it is stated:The international commission referred to in paragraph 3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar plebiscite. The commission will also fix the date at the end of November on which the plebiscite will be held.446 What has happened to the plebiscite? Has anybody heard a word of the plebiscite since that date? It never was intended, and certainly it was never implemented. That was not done in good faith. After all one does not do things in good faith and forget the promises next day. A thing done in good faith remains a thing to be carried out. In paragraph 6 of the Agreement, it is stated:The final determination of the frontiers will be carried out by the international commission. This commission will also recommend to the four Powers—Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy—in certain exceptional circumstances minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite.In paragraph 7 it is stated:There will be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories, the option to be exercised within six months of the date of this agreement. A German-Czecho-Slovak commission shall determine the details of the options and consider ways of facilitating the transfer of populations and certain questions of principle arising out of the said transfers.Guarantees—nothing remains; options— forgotten; plebiscites—completely repudiated. That agreement does not stand. It has been set aside and Czecho-Slovakia is now being occupied, under threat and intimidation, in exactly the same manner as she would have been occupied had there never been a Munich Agreement. There is no justification for the Prime Minister's simple faith. It is a credulity which passes all understanding. I try to understand all my fellow Members in this House, wherever they may sit, but I have failed to understand the Prime Minister in these matters. He referred in this House tothe judgment as to whether we were successful in what we set out to do, namely, to find an orderly instead of a violent method of carrying out an agreed decision." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 42, Vol. 339.]Was it "an agreed decision"? Is this the result of anything agreed without the knowledge of this House? Is this a departure from the purpose of Munich? If it is, then the Prime Minister is a party to the agreement and he ought to speak out in far stronger terms of condemnation than he has done in this House to day. He is a party to Munich. He must be a party to the consequences of Munich. We are entering upon a period not of peace and security in Europe, but a period 447 fraught with immediate and terrible danger to each and all of us. For the last five years many of those, myself included, who call themselves pacifists—and I was a pacifist and I have no sense of shame in saying so to-day—have seen the way to the pacific rehabilitation of Europe being barred. We see armed men being led into the highways to bar the road to peace. Those armed men are becoming more numerous and their mandate is be coming more explicit. They are there to invade and to overwhelm nations here and nations there. There is no security in Europe to-day. The smaller the nation, the more innocent the nation, the more is its apprehension and the greater its fear, but the large nations are not free from it either and the acts of yesterday do not give any better security, East or West in any part of Europe.
We see Czecho-Slovakia violated to day. I would like to know the mind of the Prime Minister and those who are acting for us in these matters. We have to submit to the representation of the Prime Minister in these matters but we are entitled to ask what is the next step in Europe? What action will His Majesty's Government take at this late stage to try to assemble together and to amalgamate all the scattered forces of those who desire peace? The peoples want peace. What action are His Majesty's Government taking to give hope to those who desire peace in the world? There are nations in Europe far closer to Czecho-Slovakia than we are. We can afford to be sublimely indifferent, but if we are callous enough to remain sublimely indifferent to what is going on, what will be the effect? We know what has happened to the Czechs to-day. To-morrow, merely because of the change in the occupation of territory, Poland will be placed at an immense military disadvantage. Hungary can be overwhelmed in hours. Rumania is on the way. What will His Majesty's Government say to it?
I may be asked by somebody, what do I say to it? Indeed I complain that the Foreign Secretary, speaking a few nights ago in the North of England, charged this party with incitement to war. Never was a charge more unfounded. We have been charged all too often with the contrary wish by Members on the other side of the House. We have been charged with indifference to our country's destiny. 448 It has often been said in this House that we do not love our country. That is a foul slander. But it is not a matter of patriotism; it is a matter of preserving our own interests. Europe is going into the melting-pot. There is not much time to save Europe. There is not much time to save peace and civilisation for those who desire nothing else in life. His Majesty's Government have a terrific responsibility in this situation and in the mood of aggression in which certain nations find themselves to-day. I can understand it and I feel no rancour at all against those inhabitants of other countries who are told that they must prepare themselves, that they must gain their bread, that they must seek prosperity by the invasion of the territories of their neighbours. The German people, for example, are being told that they are a people without room. Over and over again they hear the cry "Volk ohne raum." That is the theme. If the Germans are led to believe that they can only get bread by invading their neighbour's territory then there is no sign of peace in Europe and no prospect of peace in Europe.
It is largely a question of land and of economic security. What are His Majesty's Government doing about it? I am sorry that the proposed visit by representatives of the Government to certain European countries has been postponed. I hope the tour has not been cancelled because it has been necessary to delay the visit to certain countries. I am exceedingly anxious that we should make an effort to convince the world that we, who are deemed to be fortunate, as regards large geographical expansion, are not too selfish to sit around a common board and give and take in free exchange with others. This is the underlying issue in Europe and we can disarm the armed nations of Europe if we can convince people that we have only peaceful intentions towards them.
I recognise, and I do not dissent from the view, that you must meet armed men with arms in your own hand. The most peaceful person in this assembly this afternoon could only fight or run, if con fronted by a person who wanted to dictate to him. If a person holds me up and demands my watch or something else which I cannot afford to give, I can be compelled either to fight to preserve my property or to run away from the danger. I do not think you solve these problems 449 by running away. I believe that you must convince those who have aggression in their hearts and their minds that you will not follow that aggression. We must face those people not by ourselves and for ourselves, but as part of the large world community. Civilisation as a whole will suffer if war comes in Europe this year or next year. We would all have to suffer and it is not Europe alone that is involved.
I make this suggestion to-day as I have made it before. I would like the Prime Minister to assume responsibility and leadership in world affairs as far as he is willing to qualify for leadership—and you do not get leadership if you do not stand your ground. I would like the Prime Minister and the Government, and this; House and this country, to make a great gesture for peace to all the nations of the world and an equally firm gesture signifying that we stand by all those who defend liberty and freedom for the people in any land. I would like such a message to be conveyed directly to the great United States of America—an indispensable factor in the rehabilitation of world standards. Not less important in my view is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. We may have our prejudices, and there are some who hold them as strongly as I do, but on the opposite side. This' is not the time for prejudice. This is not the time for further compromise. We must try to rally all the forces that will work for good will and peace, and by that means bring peace to all.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
On the last occasion when we discussed foreign affairs I criticised the Prime Minister for deliberately postponing Debates in this House until they could have no further influence on the course of events. Having done so, I should like now to express my own gratitude, a gratitude which I am sure is shared by other hon. Members, to the Leader of the House for having arranged at the first possible opportunity to take this Debate on the new situation. [Interruption.] I hope that the hon. Member above the Gangway does not think that I am criticising the Opposition. I am sure that the Opposition exercised its function vigilantly in asking for a Debate and, if I may respectfully say so, 1 approve of its action, but I do not think it unreasonable or unbecoming to express also my gratitude to the Prime Minister 450 for having so promptly acceded to that request. I must say that the feelings which have been aroused in me by these events received far better expression—and I would like to say most eloquent expression, for which I, personally, am grateful—in the speech of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) than in the speech of the Prime Minister. I share to the full the moral indignation which he expressed at the humiliating position in which the country finds itself to-day. He has ex pressed our feelings so well on that point that I do not propose to follow him on that line, but rather to ask the House to consider the very difficult situation in which we and, indeed, all Europe are placed to-day.
If we are to consider that situation we must look at it objectively and frankly. The Prime Minister began his recital of the facts of the case at the point at which the Slovak Premier was dismissed by the Cabinet of Czecho-Slovakia on the ground of weak resistance to subversive propaganda. He went on to say that the independence of Slovakia had been pro claimed. We all know that it is not the independence of Slovakia that has been proclaimed but the dependence of Slovakia upon Germany. He told us that the declaration that the moral guarantee was binding upon this country which was made on behalf of the Government by the Secretary of State for the Dominions in October last, no longer applied. The Prime Minister will forgive me if I say that the effect of his statement of the facts was to suggest to the House and the country that an internal movement for independence had taken place and that the Slovaks were throwing off the Czech yoke. To anybody who knows the facts of the situation in Czecho-Slovakia that conception will not hold water. The Slovaks have been as loyal to their common country as the Czechs. Dr. Masaryk himself was a Slovak and M. Hodza, who was Prime Minister of Czecho-Slovakia through the difficult days of last summer, was a Slovak. The party in Slovakia which stood for some measure of local autonomy but not for separation from Czecho-Slovakia—Father Hlinka's party—polled at the last general election m July only one-third of the votes, and actually polled fewer votes than it did in the preceding election. There was no national support for an independent Slovakia in that province at all.
451 What has happened since Munich has been that there has been what the Prime Minister referred to as subversive propaganda—coming from where? Coming from Germany, and indeed fomented in that country deliberately by the German Government—and that these events have taken place under the influence of Germany. If that is not to be called aggression, I am afraid there may be many similar cases of what we might call crypto-aggressions from dictatorship States in future, the fomenting of agitation inside other countries. It may not be only in Czecho-Slovakia that this technique will be resorted to. Might it not be employed in France, might it not be employed in Belgium, might it not be employed in Switzerland; and are there not other countries where the same technique might be employed, with disastrous results to the people of the world and the liberties of Europe?
The Prime Minister then went on to say that the Czech President had placed the destinies of the Czech people in the hands of the Führer, and that German troops had entered Moravia and Bohemia with instructions to regard themselves on Czech soil as representatives of great Germany. What are the representatives of great Germany doing on Czech soil? Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to tell us that his information, which I am very glad he was good enough to give us—we are all grateful for it—was largely based on Press reports. Why do we have to vote £500,000 a year for the Secret Service and hundreds of thousands of pounds for the maintenance of Ambassadors in foreign capitals, and yet, when the time comes when we ask such questions in the House as have been asked from the Front Opposition Bench during the last two or three days, we are told that the Government have no knowledge of facts which are stated in the Press by Reuter's and are subsequently found to be true? Would it not be cheaper to get rid of our Secret Service, cut down the staffs of our Ministers, and make a contract with Reuter's, if that is all the information which the Prime Minister can give us?
The right hon. Gentleman went on to tell us then about the situation, about which we must all be concerned, in relation to the large sum of money which we have lent to the Czecho-Slovakian 452 Government. I understand that £6,750,000 has not yet been drawn, but that £3,250,000 has been drawn, and that no further payments are to be made, for which assurance, I am sure, we are all grateful. But I would like to ask the Prime Minister how much of this £3,250,000 has been spent on refugees—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will tell us that—and how much has been spent on roads and other public works. We know that if the money is spent on roads, they are not to be military roads, though we do not know quite how that distinction is to be observed in practice, but we should like to know how much has been spent on refugees and how much on roads and other public works.
Next the Prime Minister came to what, I think it would be generally agreed, was the most important part of his speech. He said that in July of last year there were only three alternatives which faced His Majesty's Government. One was to announce that we were going to war with Germany if Czecho-Slovakia was attacked, the other was to stand aside, and the third was mediation. The Prime Minister said that he rejected the first, that the second course was repugnant—though, as I think the right hon. Gentleman interjected from the Front Opposition Bench, it would have been much better to have told the Czechs that we were not going to help them if in fact we were not—and that therefore we tried mediation. But that is an in complete description of the Government's policy. They tried mediation, but at the same time they said—the Prime Minister said it in February, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech in Lanarkshire in which he repeated it—that if the mediation was not successful, and if Czecho-Slovakia was the victim of un provoked aggression, then the Government would have to consider very care fully what action they would have to take. The clear implication of that statement, the interpretation which was put upon it by all the newspapers which sup port the Government, was that if the mediation was not successful, we should be prepared to stand with France and Russia behind Czecho-Slovakia if she was the victim of aggression. If that statement had been made in conjunction with France and Russia, if it had been followed up by staff conversations and deliberate preparations, so that we 453 should have been able to implement that undertaking when the time came, then I believe the German Government would have been impressed by our sincerity and determination, and I believe that not only peace, but also the honour of Britain and the independence of Czecho-Slovakia, would have been saved.
So much for that past history. The Prime Minister then said that this policy of appeasement which he had pursued had received the approval of a vast majority of world opinion. He has made that claim before. I disputed it in the last Debate, and since I spoke no less an authority than the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Senate of the United States of America has denounced that policy as destructive and immoral, as I believe it to be. I believe he was right. Only last week the "Times" correspondent in Scandinavia gave a deeply interesting account of opinion in Scandinavia and how much British prestige had suffered there as a result of the Government's policy at Munich.
The Prime Minister went on to say that this break-up of Czecho-Slovakia was not contemplated at Munich, but I was quite certain at the time—and I know a great number of Members on this side of the House, and a great number of Members on the other side of the House too, were absolutely certain—that Herr Hitler was only waiting his chance to seize what he wanted in Czecho-Slovakia. I never had the slightest doubt of it, and now we see that the whole of the resources of that State—35 splendidly-equipped divisions, 1,000 aeroplanes, the fourth greatest armament industry in the world, all those great resources—are turned over in the balance-sheet of power to the side of the dictatorships; and meanwhile we say that at least we are going to send to the Continent of Europe to fight for democracy when the time comes 19 divisions, not all of which are fully equipped at the present time. The Germans have acted without any communication, the Prime Minister has told us, with any of the Munich Powers, after no communication with His Majesty's Government. They have flouted the Prime Minister, and I am surprised that the Prime Minister had only a brief passage in his speech, a sentence or two, of condemnation and censure upon Herr 454 Hitler for his action. He did indeed re mark that now for the first time Herr Hitler had carried out a military occupation of territory inhabited by people not of German race, which shows how well advised those of us were who refused to accept the assurance, which the Prime Minister too readily accepted from Herr Hitler at Munich, that he was concerned only with territory in which there was a majority of Germans. I believe that a fair reading of "Mein Kampf" can only lead to this conclusion, that Herr Hitler is deliberately aiming, in alliance with Signor Mussolini, at world domination, and we cannot afford to go on handing over to this powerful combination one after another of the keys of world power.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister suggested that he is not to be deflected from his course by recent events, and he spoke of the desire of the people for peace and of the aim of this Government to promote that desire. I would certainly say that we ought not to change our goal, and I have never for a moment suggested—in fact, I have frequently affirmed the contrary—that the Prime Minister is not sincere in his desire to reach the goal of peace, but I believe that his policy is disastrously misconceived, and that this so-called policy of appeasement is nothing but following the line of least resistance, regardless both of moral principle and of the consequences of handing powerful positions and great re sources into the keeping of these formidable and aggressive Powers.
Therefore, I say that three things, above all, are now important, and first I would mention the fate of the refugees. Herr Hitler's troops are now pouring over the frontiers of Moravia and Bohemia and into the city of Prague, accompanied, no doubt, by the Gestapo. What measures are being taken to see that those who have every reason to fear the advent of the German secret police and of the German forces there are going to be given means of escape? Are any special measures being taken? Are the doors of the British Embassy being thrown open to the refugees who are in greatest danger and who want to go in there? Not that that is very much, but I would ask the Under-Secretary of State whether he can give us that assurance when he replies. Are they being thrown open to them, and what other measures are being taken to 455 ensure that these unfortunate people are evacuated as quickly as may be from Czecho-Slovakia?
The next thing that I would beg the Government and the House to do is to take a fresh, clear, and objective view of the situation. During last year we were told, in repeated speeches from the Government Bench by the Prime Minister, "Tension is relaxed," and then the Germans would go into Austria. We were told then, "Tension is relaxed," and then they would go into Czecho-Slovakia. A few weeks later "tension was relaxed," and then in July, when we asked for a Debate on foreign affairs because we were so concerned about the situation just before the adjournment for the Recess, the Prime Minister made us a speech in which he told us that the outlook in Europe was so much lighter that we could all go on our holidays with a happier outlook than we could have had six months before—within a few weeks of the crisis in Czecho-slovakia!
I was amazed to read last Friday that communique which appeared in the news papers on the authority of the Government telling the country that things were very much better, that the situation had improved not only because of the growth of our armaments, but because of the easier international situation in Europe. It went on to say how the Government were thinking of pacification and disarmament and more trade, and then it went on to depreciate the utterances of Dr. Goebbels, who is one of the most powerful Ministers in the inner Government in Berlin. What is the good of talking of Dr. Goebbels' utterances as if they were those of some irresponsible person who does not matter? They are the utterances of a man who matters enormously in the present state of Europe. It spoke deprecatingly of Dr. Goebbels and said that the Prime Minister had had some pleasant private conversations with the opposite number of the Minister of Labour in Berlin. The Government based upon that a statement to the country which was generally accepted as meaning that the Government, with all their great sources of information, believed that the sky was clear and that everything was going well. That is misleading the public. It was contrary to my information. I do not say that that is better than the information of any other Member with 456 friends in the capitals of Europe. It was, however, contrary to my information, and I challenge the Government to say that it was not contrary to theirs. It is very ill-advised to apply soporifics to public opinion. Public opinion needs leadership, and vigorous leadership at that. I have been about a great deal to cities in different parts of the country, in Scotland and England, and I have asked people how the recruiting campaign is going on for A.R.P. and the Lord Privy Seal's schemes. People who are supporters of the Government tell me, "They were going quite well, but, of course, the Government now tell us that the situation is so much better, and people feel that there is no need to recruit." The Government are sabotaging by this policy their own schemes for voluntary recruitment. I appeal to the Government to do what Lord Baldwin said a National Government always would do. It was a high claim to make, and I am afraid it has not always been acted up to. But I would in this critical time appeal to the Government to do what he said that the Government ought to do, and that is to tell the people the truth.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
But he was the Noble Lady's leader, and not mine. Do not let me have a quarrel with the Noble Lady about that. I am not concerned to defend the reputation of Lord Baldwin. He has many other eager defenders in this House. What I am concerned about is that the public should be told the truth now, and I appeal to the Government to do it. Will the Under-Secretary of State tell us, for example, whether it is a fact that the German divisions at Klagenfurt have been increased from one division to three lately, and that they are troops equipped and trained in a manner suit able for operations in Africa? I would ask a further question, although it may be considered a little indiscreet. Did the Government know this fact some weeks ago? Did they know that the orders were that all the preparations necessary for these divisions were to be complete by 12th March? If they did, they ought not to have applied these soporifics and misled public opinion in their speeches and pronouncements.
If we are not going to change our course what is likely to be the course of events at the present time? It looks to 457 me as though there will be more truckling to the dictators and more surrenders. What do the Government think? I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply what is likely to happen, for example, in Spain now. Do not the Government think it possible that there may be pressure on France from Spain as well as from Italy? Have they no information to that effect? I should like to know what they think the course of events is likely to be there. Have they no information which they can give about Belgium? When the hon. Member for Gower was speaking, an hon. Gentleman interrupted him and said there was no humiliation for us in what had happened. There is not only humiliation, buy grave danger for this country when the principle of force is vindicated time after time, and when that principle, to which the Prime Minister pays lip-service, of talking things over and proceeding by conversations and negotiations is swept aside whenever a dictator finds it more convenient to act brutally and with force.
I would, therefore, beg the Prime Minister at this late hour to gather our friends to us, to take the initiative in the world in the direction of basing policy on the principles of law, because only on those principles can we reconcile the conflicting interests of different nations. We should gather to us other nations of like mind and intention, of France, Russia and the United States of America, who are prepared to stand for those principles, to convince other countries that we and our friends are determined to stand for the principles in which we believe; for all over the world people are contrasting the faith, the zeal and the determination of the dictatorship countries with the feeble opportunism of the democratic governments. Let the Government make clear to the world their principles and their determination to stand by them, and then let them convince the world that, while we shall resist by all means in our power the aggression of other countries and efforts to obtain world domination by other countries, we are prepared to settle disputes by third party judgment on a basis of impartial consideration, that we are prepared to revise Treaties and to meet the claims of other Powers that have just claims to make. Let us make that clear and certain, but let us, before we engage in that policy, make certain that we have the power, the faith and the strength with 458 which to resist any effort by other countries to resume the policy of violence and aggression.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden
During the course of his statement to the House this afternoon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned two decisions to which the Government have come as a result of the events of the last 48 hours, and I would like at the outset to refer to both those decisions. The first concerns the mission of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary for Overseas Trade to Berlin and to certain other capitals. My right hon. Friend announced the postponement of the visit to Berlin. For my part, I cannot see what other action could possibly be taken in the circumstances of the present hour. I do not think, if I may say so to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), that there is any possibility of that step being misunderstood anywhere among the smaller countries of the world. Nor do I think that anybody will interpret it as meaning that we are not as ready as ever we were to make a contribution to lasting peace. There is no doubt that now, despite the events of the last 48 hours, as at any time in the whole post-war period, this country is perfectly ready to make a contribution, and no mean contribution, to lasting peace. That is not how the postponement will be interpreted. It will be interpreted as a realisation by His Majesty's Government that after the events of the last 48 hours this visit would be inopportune. I hope my right hon. Friend will tell us that, as an indication of the desire of this country to make its contribution, there is no suggestion that other parts of the tour of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Over seas Trade will be postponed. I hope that the rest of the tour will stand. I am sure the House will accept with gratification such an assurance from my right hon. Friend. The other preliminary matter to which I wish to refer is the loan to Czecho-Slovakia. There, too, 1 say quite frankly that I am glad that the whole of that loan has not been made and I welcome the decision, though it be a temporary one, which the Government have taken in respect of the £6,500,000 which has not yet been lent.
Every Member of the House will be conscious that we meet in a situation of 459 gravity, indeed, of gravity such as to amount almost to tragedy. No Member, I do not care where he happens to sit, can read the descriptions of the entry of the German troops into Prague and of the attitude of the Czech people without feeling a profound respect for the dignity and restraint with which those people are conducting themselves. There can be very few parallels in history for such conduct, and those of us who are at all familiar with the long past history, history unhappily of much bloodshed between races, with religious and other differences, will respect all the more this voluntary discipline in an hour of trial. I would like to ask one question of the Minister who is to reply. It is whether any information can be given to-night about the position of the Sudeten and other refugees who now crowd Prague. They are there in their thousands, if not tens of thousands, and I feel sure the House would welcome any action or representation which may be made on their behalf.
I am afraid that I cannot disguise from the House that, in my judgment at least, there can be no doubt of the character of the German action which has just taken place. We have had, so far as I am aware, not one shred of evidence of ill-treatment of the remaining German minorities in Czech territory. So far as I know, no representations about them were made to the Czech Government, and none certainly, I presume, to either the French Government or His Majesty's Government, who ought to have been told under the Munich Agreement if the matter was serious and urgent. Nothing, so far as I know, was said to them. All we have read—and I think it is difficult to deny that this is the evidence—and all we can learn, is that for some days past there has been a campaign of intense provocation by a small minority in the State, and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that these grievances which are now being paraded are largely imaginary and are evidence adduced to justify illegitimate action after the event. But even if they were real my right hon. Friend made it clear this afternoon that they could not justify the action which has been taken, and for my part I am content, as a summing up of what has happened, to take one sentence from a leading article in the "Daily Telegraph" this morning: 460By this act Germany has made herself guilty of the most flagrant and impudent act of unprovoked aggression which has been witnessed in Europe in modern times.I do not believe, whatever be our shades of feeling, that there will be dispute about that in any part of the House; nor do I believe that there will be dispute that the events which have taken place are in direct contrast not only to the hopes but to the convictions which many held in the autumn of last year. The hon. Member for Gower spoke with deep sincerity this afternoon, a sincerity which, I think, impressed all parts of the House, but, if I may say so, I do not think he was perhaps quite fail' to the Prime Minister when he said that he spoke without feeling. I know the Prime Minister and have disagreed with him at times, but I have been as much in touch with him as any hon. Member, and I thought I saw in his statement a sense of deep feeling as to the new situation which confronts us.
But that is not the point I want to make. The truth is, surely this, that whereas last year many hoped in all sincerity that the new Czech State would be stronger than the old, many hoped that the value of guarantees would replace fortifications, many believed in the German Chancellor's undertaking that he had no ambitions in respect of any territories where there are no German-speaking peoples, those hopes have now all been falsified. Last autumn this House was divided—I do not see the use of attempting to conceal the fact—sharply divided into two different categories—one, those who hoped that after Munich we were at the beginning of better things, the others who very reluctantly were convinced that we had gained nothing but a brief respite at the end of which more demands would be imposed by similar methods. I have here a quotation from "Mein Kampf" which I would read to the House, because it seems to me to interpret much in the events of the last week which otherwise may be veiled to us. It is from the 1938 edition:A wise victor will, if possible, always impose his claim on the defeated people stage by stage. Dealing with a people that has grown defeatist—and this is every people which has voluntarily submitted to force—he can then rely on this fact that in not one of those further acts of oppression will it seem sufficient reason to take up arms again.Last autumn many of us felt that even after those events the country was still 461 far from appreciating the extent of the challenge that confronted us and, as I say, last autumn there were two views, but surely to-day after recent events no two views are possible. Is there any Member in any part of the House now who believes that after those events we shall have more than another brief respite, perhaps briefer than the last, before further demands are made, before another victim is arraigned and before that victim is again faced with the alternative of resistance or surrender. We are confronted with a situation wherein there is a rapid deterioration of international standards. I am reluctant to seek to put upon myself any panoply of authority, but the House knows that I spent ten years of my life within the walls of the Foreign Office, and I want in all sincerity to give the House this warning this afternoon. I am convinced that if the present methods in Europe are to be allowed to continue un checked we are heading straight for anarchy, for a universal tragedy which is going to involve us all.
If such are the conditions, what is the duty of Parliament? I say deliberately "Parliament." I believe it to be the duty of Parliament to take every step in its power to convince the world of the strength and the unity of this nation. Last autumn I told the House that in my judgment the situation was so serious that the time for party controversy had gone. I believe that in the days immediately after Munich it might have been possible, in the then temper of the nation, to form a Government of all parties and to proceed with the greatest rapidity to take those steps in policy at home and abroad which were necessary to prevent a recurrence of Munich. I believe that to be true to-day. This House—I do not care what the views personally and politically of any hon. Member may be—wants to make now the greatest contribution it can to peace. I am convinced there could be no greater contribution than the know ledge that now, as the result of the events that have taken place, this, the greatest democracy in Europe, had decided to unite and make an effort, a national effort without parallel in its history. I beg hon. Members to give heed. It would not be a mere party political matter. Then our duty would be to examine, as we must examine, the new military and strategic position that confronts us in Europe, to consult all those nations who 462 are like minded with us, wherever they may be, whoever they may be, and of whatever colour, to discuss with those nations what our policy is to be and where we will make our stand, and, having determined that, to make with them at once the military plans to give effect to our decisions. I believe that in that way this House and this country could now make its greatest contribution to peace. Only by that way out of the present tragedy can we hope to gain any thing. Every Member of this House really cares little about anything in politics more than to endeavour to avert war. All Europe is looking anxiously to this country now. Nobody on the Front Bench or anywhere else can be other than acutely anxious about the situation that confronts us. There could be no greater encouragement to the peace-loving Powers of the world than the consolidation of the strength of this great country. There are times when a great nation has to take great decisions. I believe such a time to be now, and I believe, further, that only thus shall we banish from our people the haunting fear that shadows our own time.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I believe that the Prime Minister at Munich, before Munich and since Munich has been blinded by his affection for the dictators, that dictator ship is dearer to him than democracy, and that that alone can explain the attitude of his Government towards Italy's Abyssinian aggression, towards the struggle in Spain and towards the situation with which we are faced to-day. I believe that, and I hope—and I expect that the rest of the House hopes—that it is not true. I hope, although the evidence is against it, that we did not put a stop to the Abyssinian adventure of Mussolini because we were not strong enough to do so. I hope that we did not stand up and play a nobler part in Spain because we were afraid of a war being forced upon us at that time. I hope that we played that miserable part at Munich because we and our allies were not strong enough to fight then. But does that state of affairs continue? Is it to continue for ever? Surely now we might be not merely building up our armaments so as to protect ourselves but so as to protect those ideals which we all have in our hearts, by the methods that have been indicated so ably 463 by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden).
This is not a question merely of our own armed forces. It is a question of allies, of policy, and of leadership. As I see it, during these last six months the leadership of this country has been such as to turn a brave people into a nation of cowards. The perpetual charge made against Labour has been that we are warmongers. When before in history has the Government of this country not been glad enough to find the working classes in favour of defending their country's rights? The result of all the A.R.P. preparations has been to produce panic in a people who never needed courage more. Such leadership wants changing. We want to collect not merely our armed forces to make them strong enough to help peace, but allies in a common plan of action with other like-minded nations. We have seen the tragedy of Czecho-Slovakia be fore our eyes. May I point out to the House that we have always been right in prophesying disaster to come? Only three weeks ago I urged in this House that the £10,000,000 lent to Czecho-Slovakia was going into Hitler's pocket. £3,250,000 has gone. Every step in the march of Hitler towards world domination has been foreseen from this side clearly, and at each surrender made by the Government. Now that Czecho-Slovakia has gone and now that the Czech divisions and munition factories are piled into the scales against us, are we making any arrangements for the future? Is that Front Bench making any arrangements to deal with the next crisis, which may very likely involve Switzerland, by means of the same propaganda of ill-treatment of agitators working for the Nazi cause in Switzerland? Exactly the same charges will be brought against the Swiss Government as were made against the Czech Government. Are we to see Switzerland, that great ancient home of liberty, swept away as we have seen Czecho-Slovakia, and William Tell handed over to a worse Gessler?
It is all so easy. The country is left without friends or support from the democratic Powers. Then each step follows mechanically; control of the Government, control of the Press has already started, dictation as to the form of Government. Switzerland does not matter much more acutely to this country than did Czecho-Slovakia. Or suppose the next 464 stage is Holland? After all, there are all those colonies available for Germany merely by the annexation of Holland. The Prime Minister pays no attention. Do the Government pay no attention what ever to the risks that are being faced of a similar problem arising in Holland within the next few months? If not Holland, is it to be Denmark, with whom we have always been so closely allied by blood and faith, and where this same propaganda is going on at the present time? What plans are there for the future? The Prime Minister has gone out to ask. The problems of the future will be very like the problems of the past. The Government have not played a very distinguished part in history in meeting the problems that have faced us hitherto. Is the future to be worse? What is to be the situation of this country with a leadership like that? It has not taken the slightest trouble to get the co-operation of Russia. The co operation of America, proffered, was turned down, received with the coldest of cold shoulders.
There are possibilities still of bringing the democratic and peace-loving nations, all those who base their policy on law and not on force, together. With that prospect before us we see the Government without a plan and without inspiration. They are without hope of anything except making one surrender after another till our turn shall come and we, too, shall meet the fate of Czecho-Slovakia, stage by stage, Colonies first. Palestine is going now, I understand. The dictators will object to Members having free speech in this House and to our Press remaining unbridled as it is at the present time. Stage by stage our liberties will go till we, too, weigh the matter up and judge that it will be safer to surrender all that our ancestors have won in the past—that it will be safer to live on our knees instead of dying on our legs.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I wish to approach the Debate from a different angle from that of the right hon. and gallant Member. As has already been pointed out, we have to recognise that Europe has reached a definite milestone in the events of the last 48 hours. Hitherto, German acts of aggression have been supported by some show of reason, and of the decencies of international relationship. The demands against Czecho-Slovakia were supported before the world in the name of self-deter- 465 mination and the annexation of Austria was justified by similar arguments. Now, for the first time, we have the rape of a neighbouring State whose independence Germany, and Hitler, had sworn to respect, without any argument or attempt at justification and in cynical disregard of the feelings and opinions of every other country in the world. That step seems to me a definite milestone in the deterioration of public affairs that has been going on for the last three years.
I, therefore, support most wholeheartedly the appeal that has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in the great speech which he has just de livered to the House. Surely we must no longer approach this question from a party point of view. The taunts and gibes of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite are all very well in normal times. They are the lifeblood of the House of Commons, and our Debates would be insufferable and insincere without them; but surely we have passed from the stage when it is legitimate or patriotic to try to make party capital out of our past disagreements.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
I hope that I did not give the Noble Lord the impression that I was trying to make party capital out of the situation. I think that there is every need at the present time for a union in this House, but it does depend upon leadership.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I am delighted to have his assurance in that respect. What ever our disagreements may have been with the policy of the Government—hon. Members know that I am one of those Conservatives who have not been able to follow the Government in all respects in regard to their foreign policy—and whatever our views about the past conduct of the Government, let us at least try to be wise after the event in assessing what we ought to do now. I hope that hon. Members opposite as well as hon. Members on this side will agree that no responsible future historian of these times will think of putting the entire blame on the present Government for our present situation, and least of all upon the shoulders of the Prime Minister, who, when he assumed his present office, found a situation of immense difficulty. I think that the future historian will be bound to 466 say that one of the chief and fundamental causes of all the difficulties in which we now find ourselves has been that the pacific and democratic nations, and, above all, England, disarmed at a time when the dictator States were rapidly arming. If we are all agreed, as I think we must be, that that is one of the fundamental causes of the present condition, the Liberal and Socialist parties cannot refuse all responsibility in the matter. I hope that they will see, on consideration, the justice of that remark.
The reason why I make it is only this: It is of no use quarrelling about what has happened in the past; let us consider what we ought to do in the future. My right hon. Friend has just pointed to what I believe to be the way. The Prime Minister said this afternoon that he was not going to relax his efforts to preserve the peace of Europe, but what sort of peace are we enjoying to-day? Is it proper, legitimate, right and sensible to describe the state of Europe to-day as one of peace. I do not think it is. What can we do as a nation to bring about a real state of peace and to ensure its continuance? We could make no greater contribution than that advocated by my right hon. Friend, national unity and a real National Government, with the object of putting the defences of the nation and its military preparedness in a proper state. By that I mean the introduction of National Ser vice by common consent of all political parties, agreed on a common policy on the lines advocated by my right hon. Friend.
I beseech hon. Members opposite to give that appeal their earnest consideration, and to weigh their responsibility before they turn it down. I know that they have refused any suggestion of the kind in the past, but the situation was very different in the past from what it is to-day, and the situation is different to-day from what is was 48 hours ago: Can anyone doubt that, if the world suddenly realised that England, the home of Parliamentary government and the greatest democracy in Europe, had, by common consent of all the leaders of political thought in this country, decided to institute compulsory National Service, the greatest blow would have been struck for the liberty and peace of the world? Surely, the events of the last three years have taught us that there is one argument, and one argument alone, that the dictator States respect, and that is the 467 argument of force. This House, this Parliament, representing as it does a focus of all the political forces in the country, has it in its power to give to the dictator States an answer which the Government themselves have not the power to give. Parliament has that power, and therefore has a responsibility which the Government have not. This House has it in its power to give an answer to the dictator States which I believe would have resounding effects throughout the world.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Possibly it would have been wiser if the Noble Lord had kept to the generalities adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) in making his appeal for our assistance and for unity. I do not think it wise to suggest, as a basis of that unity, that we should go in for compulsory National Service. If ever compulsory service has to come, it will come, but it will not come merely as a result of speeches made in this House; it will come by a realisation among the people that it is their only hope of saving themselves. I speak as one of those who were volunteers in the last War. There are others on the benches opposite, and yet others with us here on these benches. There are thousands, indeed millions, in the country to-day who are only waiting for the lead to volunteer their services, and I have always heard that one volunteer is worth any number of pressed men. There is universal service in Germany. What does the Noble Lord think is going to be the result if Germany should be involved in war? Does he believe that those millions of men will march with stout hearts to the shambles? I am certain in my own mind that, when the test comes, many of those who have been enlisted by compulsory service will fail, and who knows whether they will not turn the rifles which have been put into their hands against those leaders who, many of them believe even to-day, have so sadly betrayed them?
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington made an appeal to the House this afternoon. I re member that in the Debate which took place after the Anschluss a somewhat similar appeal was made, but from a different quarter. At that time it was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and I re- 468 member that there was almost the same sort of atmosphere in the House then as there is to-day. To whom is the right hon. Gentleman addressing his remarks? To us? Let him address his remarks to a much smaller circle than the whole membership of this House. I listened to the cheers which greeted certain of the statements of the Prime Minister, and they did not give me the impression that many of his own party are ready to-day to follow the appeal which presumably the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington addressed to these benches. I have listened also to remarks made in this House on previous occasions, and observations which were made to-day gave the impression that there are still on the Government benches hon. Members who believe that the Labour party want war. Is it possible, in these circumstances, to get unity if that is the honest belief of hon. Members sitting opposite? Surely, we ought to clear our minds from that illusion before we attempt to talk about unity.
On what terms can unity be based? Is unity merely to be secured in this House, among 615 Members, many of whom never trouble to attend here; or should that unity go deeper—into the hearts and minds of the nation? How can it come about? I wish it could. I realise, and my hon. Friends realise, as much as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, without 10 years' experience in the Foreign Office, the seriousness of the position to-day; but we also know what has contributed to that position. It is no use the Noble Lord leaving it to history. There are thousands of people in this country to-day who can not unite, who are not prepared to unite, behind the present Prime Minister; and, speaking for myself alone—I will not speak for my hon. Friends—I should not be prepared to give my support as long as the leadership remains in the hands of the present Prime Minister. I do not question his sincerity at all, but I do question his leadership. A right hon. Gentleman who has made the serious mistakes which have been mentioned to-day in speeches from the benches opposite is surely not the right individual to lead this nation in the serious times which confront us.
I am not, in making that statement, ruling out any possibility of unity. I believe that, if we come to the position 469 which many of us have foreseen for months past, there will have to be a change of heart in the nation. But what is the use, in circumstances such as these, of our discussing the post-war history of Czecho-Slovakia? We axe faced with faits accomplis to-day. We know that self-determination has gone by the board, and that remarkable passage which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington read to us today from "Mein Kampf" surely ought to convince us, if there are any in this House who are still unconvinced, of the objectives of the leaders of the German nation.
Does the Prime Minister think, do the Government think, that the leaders of Germany have nothing to ask of Great Britain? Is it thought that all they require is the hegemony of Central Europe? The rulers of Germany have told us that they have a lot to demand from us. The question is, when will they demand it? Do hon. Members expect that, when that time comes, when those demands are made for colonies and possessions most of which are not in the hands of hon. Members on this side of the House—do they expect us merely to follow the Prime Minister blindly, and simply to say we are ready? Hon. Members must recollect that, as one speaker has already remarked, the common people, if such I may term them, have always been ready to fight and to die for their beliefs. To-day they are still ready. Much as we have a horror of war, much as we feel the threat of war, we are still ready to resist aggression; and if this aggression is made against us, there will be no possibility of hon. or right hon. Gentlemen coming down to this House and congratulating the country on its dignity and calm in the face of that aggression. Britishers, I believe, will resist if they are attacked, but the question is, what is the good of our resistance unless we are properly led?
I want to speak only briefly in this Debate to-day, because I have not come prepared with elaborate notes. I merely speak from my heart, and not only from my head, just as my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) did, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Warwick and Leamington paid tribute to his sincerity. It may not have been oratory, but this is 470 not the time for oratory; it is the time for plain speaking, and for speaking, as I say, from the heart. The people of this country are ready to-day, as they were in 1914, without compulsion; but they are not ready, and we are not ready, to follow blindly Members of the Government who have led us to this impasse. We want a change in the leadership, and I believe that hon. Members opposite do also. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] There sit on those benches to-day right hon. Gentlemen who are out side the Government because they dared to voice a different opinion from that held by the Government. Judging from the cheers which have just come from those benches, it seems to me that the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington is entirely out of place, because, if that was an indication of the feeling held in Government circles, hon. Members have first to convince themselves before they can attempt to convince us.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law
It is now rather more than 12 months since my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned his office as Foreign Secretary, and since the Prime Minister took the conduct of foreign affairs more or less into his own hands. Events move swiftly in these days, and certainly the last 12 months have been a sufficient time to prove or disprove the value of the policy which the Prime Minister substituted for the policy of my right hon. Friend the Member for War wick and Leamington. Anybody who compares the situation to-day with what it was 12 months ago is bound to realise that it has become terribly worse. I agree that, as my right hon. Friend said in his speech this afternoon, this is no time for recrimination. It is no time to apportion blame. But at the same time we must admit that that policy has not worked out as we were told it would work out. We must admit that the pre dictions which were made by the critics of that policy have been fulfilled in a most alarming degree, and that every published calculation of the supporters of that policy has been falsified by the event.
The events in Europe in the last 48 hours have been very terrible indeed, but there is nothing at all new in them. There is really nothing new in the situation. 471 Those events were immanent in "Mein Kampf"; they were immanent in the whole policy of Herr Hitler. They have come to pass, and, unless we take steps to prevent them, I believe that other and much worse events will come to pass in the future. There is nothing new in what has happened; it was always there. All that has happened has been that we have been driving along on a dark night along a difficult and tortuous road, and suddenly the headlights of our car have picked out a precipice at the edge of the road. The events of the last 48 hours have shown us quite unmistakably the danger in which we stand to-day, and they have shown us that the road to peace is not going to be an easy one.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in a most impressive speech—the most impressive speech, if he will allow me to say so, that I have heard him make in this House— made an appeal for national unity, and, in particular, for unity in Parliament and in the House of Commons. We have not many weapons left with which we can combat the kind of policy which Herr Hitler is pursuing in Eastern Europe at this moment, but one weapon we have got, and have not yet fully used, is that of national unity. The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) seemed to have some doubt as to the sincerity of the desire of us on these benches for unity. I believe those doubts are entirely unjustified and misplaced. I believe that we on these benches and hon. Members on the benches opposite value certain things very highly, that we see these things in great danger, and that we see our only chance of safety in combining to combat the dangers and to save all those things that we love in this country and that we respect in our European civilisation. I do not believe that if a determined effort were made to achieve national unity there would be any difficulty on these benches, and I honestly do not believe that there would be any difficulty on the benches opposite. I am sure the situation is far too grave for any question of personality, either in the minds of us on the Back Benches or the minds of right hon. Members on the Front Benches. The situation is far too critical for that, and I am sure that the one way we can reverse this appalling tide of anarchy which is sweep- 472 ing over the whole continent of Europe is to demonstrate, in no unmistakable fashion, that the House of Commons and the people of this country are united in the defence of those things which are valuable to each one of us, without distinction of class or rank or wealth.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Colonel Nathan
The hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) referred to the need for national unity in the pretty grim situation in which we, and Europe at large, now find ourselves. I do not think that among the great mass of the people of this country there is any real difference of opinion as to the necessity for our making ourselves ready, swiftly, efficiently and forcefully, to meet any danger that may arise, and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that now is the time to make ready, be cause now, more evidently even than before, the danger grows daily greater.
I do not really feel that there is any essential difficulty, in circumstances such as these and for the purposes in mind, in creating a situation in which there might be a measure, and a large measure, of unity in Parliament itself. But I am bound to say, looking at the matter quite frankly, and as dispassionately as I can, that the Government themselves have made matters more difficult than they might have been, by the policies they have adopted, the way they have pursued them, and the manner in which they have conducted themselves towards those who hold different views. I am not going to canvass here for one moment the difficult questions that have arisen with regard to the situation as it has developed in Spain, but I must point out that there have been the deepest possible feelings engendered on both sides of the House with regard to that matter, and that the Government, in their attitude to the whole problem and—this is a domestic matter in one sense—towards members of the Opposition in particular, has been such as, I will not say to discourage, but to fail to incline Members of the Opposition towards that unity to which the right hon. Gentle man the Member for Warwick and Leamington and the hon. Member for South-West Hull have referred.
But I should be lacking in candour if I did not say that in a sense the difficulty is a personal one also. I impute no blame and make no personal criticism, but, as 473 the Prime Minister has often called him self a realist, so I claim for myself that I am a realist. I say that one of the real obstacles in the way of national unity is the Prime Minister himself. It may be true, and I doubt not that it is, that for his policy he carries with him the support of the majority of hon. Members of this House: it may be true, although it has yet to be tested, that he carries with him the majority of the electors of this country; but there is a minority in this House, and a minority, equally or even more formidable, outside, which holds such strong views adverse to the policies pursued by and identified with the Prime Minister that, as a matter of real politics, it is impracticable that there should be a united Parliament at least under his leadership.
I do not desire to impugn any actions or failures at this juncture of my argument. I face the matter as a realist. What stands in the way of Parliamentary unity is the personality of the Leader of the House and one or two of his sup porters on the Government Front Bench. If we were clear in that direction, it might be that the path to unity would be made easier. One of the things in the statement of the Prime Minister to-day that occasioned me a great deal of surprise was the fact that he informed us that he had no information except that which came from the newspapers. [Interruption.] That is what I understood him to say. The Under-Secretary of State shakes his head. I do not think there is any ambiguity about his statement. The Official Report will show to-morrow.
§ Colonel Nathan
Why even "mainly," if that is the word with which he qualified his statement? Until last night, until the early hours of this morning even, the telephone was in full operation between Prague and London. I have received, not myself but at second hand, messages from Prague since the occurrences began which we all now know were on foot. Why were not the Government in direct communication with the British Legation in Prague during the night, obtaining in formation? I think it was only about five o'clock this morning—though I cannot vouch for this—that the telephone ceased to be in full operation. Last night certain persons from Prague arrived at Croydon by aeroplane. Why could not some 474 authoritative person from the British Legation in Prague have arrived here by aeroplane, and given precise and definite information to the Government as to what is happening? How is it that the Government have not known, or foreseen, what is taking place? There was a very significant broadcast from Vienna during the last few days. What was Germany doing in instigating these broadcasts, making the microphone from Vienna the vehicle for this subversive propaganda from outside Czecho-Slovakia? I observed in the Press—my sources are not so good as those that the Government have, and so I have to rely largely on the Press—a report about the Slovak Free Corps entering Slovakia. How does this Slovak Free Corps come to have been gathered immediately on the borders of Slovakia—not within, but just outside Slovakia? How does this Slovak Free Corps come to have been organised so that at the precise moment it was ready to march into Slovakia? Whose responsibility was that? Can it be anybody's responsibility save that of the German Government? When the Prime Minister came back from Munich, and reported in this House, on 3rd October, 1938, the result of his mission, he used these words:The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czecho-Slovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 48, Vol. 339.]I assume that the Prime Minister really thought that he had got past it. But he forgot the childhood's motto which he himself quoted before he went to Munich:If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.''That was his motto. But it is Herr Hitler's motto also; and what Herr Hitler did not achieve at Munich he has achieved at the second or third remove since. I recognise that when the Prime Minister was making his statement this afternoon he was making it not merely for this House and the country, but also to Herr Hitler. There can be no other reason for the moderation of his words and the economy of his sympathy for the Czecho-Slovaks in the situation which has arisen. He said he regretted the action of Herr Hitler. Is it to be only regret? On 3rd October last 475 year he boasted of the "Gentlemen's Agreement" which had been made with Herr Hitler. He quoted a passage from it, and asked whether any one would stand up and condemn the sentence which he quoted. What he quoted was part of the statement over the signatures of the right hon. Gentleman and Herr Hitler:We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other question that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.The method of consultation. Where has there been the method of consultation with regard to Czecho-Slovakia, or what I understand from to-day is to be called Czechei? Where was the method of consultation there? Was not there the necessity for consultation? Did it not interest us? The British Prime Minister was a signatory to the Agreement at Munich no less than Herr Hitler, and if Herr Hitler wished to modify or to withdraw from that Agreement the first thing to do, in order to fulfil the undertaking he gave in that Gentlemen's Agreement, was to consult with his co-signatory. He did nothing of the kind. The Prime Minister went on in the same speech to say, and it sounds rather odd in the light of the position as we know it to-day:I believe there are many who will feel with me that such a declaration,"—the one I have read,—signed by the German Chancellor and myself, is something more than a pious expression of opinion. In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and good will on both sides. I believe that there is sincerity and good will on both sides in this declaration. That is why to me its significance goes far beyond its actual words.",—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 49, Vol. 339.]Its significance indeed went far beyond its actual words for every hon. Member in this House, but not in the same direction. The significance to us was that it succeeded in hoodwinking the Prime Minister, and that Herr Hitler was determined to "try, try, try again."
There are one or two questions which I should like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer or whoever is to reply. We have heard something with regard to the loan. Is it to be taken,—as I hope and 476 assume it is—that no further payment will be made of moneys covered by the recent Act passed by Parliament, out of the £or out of the further sums of money for which that Act provided? Further the position is that the Czech National Bank has some part—I am not able to say how much—of its gold reserves in this country lodged here with the Bank of England. Czechei is not now to be an independent State. It has been incorporated more or less with some dubious degree of autonomy within the confines of the German Reich. No doubt the Czech National Bank will either become a branch of the Reichsbank or be incorporated in it. Whichever procedure is adopted, it seems to me to be clear that the Czech National Bank gold reserve and gold stocks, in so far as they are at present in the Bank of England here, if they are allowed to be withdrawn and returned to the Czech National Bank en route for the Reichsbank, would only be used against us. They would only be used for the manufacture of further munitions and armaments to be directed against the Powers who desire to be the peaceful Powers of Europe. I want to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken, or proposes to take, any steps which would prevent that gold from being handed over to the German Government.
What one has to bear in mind is that the aim of Herr Hitler in invading—for such it is—Slovakia and Czechei has not merely been political or strategic, but has largely been economic. He must have currency; he must have gold. Czechei and Slovakia must indeed be bitter fruits in his mouth if he cannot have the gold which the Czech National Bank now holds. I warn the Government that it is vital for our security and for the security of the peaceful nations of Europe that gold going to Herr Hitler under whatever title should be limited as far as may be. I do not know whether it can be retained for the purpose of any clearing agreement, such as the clearing agreement with Germany, or what the machinery may be, or retained for the purpose of refugees, but I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to give close and early attention to this matter or that gold may be withdrawn before many hours are over.
Herr Hitler has announced that his troops have entered into Czecho-Slovakia —I find it difficult to forget the 477 name of a State which was a model of good government and democracy until it was interfered with from outside—for the purpose of preserving order and protecting the population against terrorists and bandits. Whose servants are the terrorists and bandits? Who has paid them? Who has instigated them? We never heard of any bandits or terrorists in Czechei until a few hours ago. What ever problem Czecho-Slovakia was presenting they were not problems of internal difficulty. The Germans say that they have gone to protect the population of Czechei. Does the House realise the form which that protection is taking at this moment, as far as political refugees and racial minorities may be concerned? They are panic-stricken; they are terror-stricken. The terrorists are not those within the confines of Czecho-Slovakia; the terrorists are those who entered Czecho-Slovakia at six o'clock this morning. They say that they have gone to protect the people.
I tried this morning to get some in formation from the Foreign Office as to whether it was possible to send an aero plane to Prague to bring away some of these people who are supposed to be so glad, proud and pleased to be protected by Herr Hitler and his troops. The in formation I wanted from the Foreign Office was as to whether an aeroplane, chartered from this country and going to Prague, would be allowed to land there, and leave there? The Foreign Office were not able to tell me. They had not the information; they were out of touch. Imperial Airways were able to tell me. They told me that every one of their aeroplanes in Prague at this time is grounded. They are not allowed to shift from the aerodrome, and any British aeroplane sent from this country to Prague, if it were allowed to enter, would not be allowed to leave again. Communication is cut off. These people who are to be protected, the whole population of Czechei, are like prisoners in a besieged city. That is their position at this moment, and that is one of the first results of the policy of appeasement. Appeasement in the way it has been pursued by the Government and accepted by Herr Hitler is bedevilling Europe.
§ 6.25 p.m.
Mr. Annesley Somervilie
We have had a stirring appeal from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) for unity, and I 478 regret that that appeal has met with a very poor response from the benches opposite. The hon. and gallant Gentle man the Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) has told us that the chief obstacle to unity is the personality of the Prime Minister. I say at once that I sincerely believe that the policy of the Prime Minister has been absolutely right. I believe also that his policy and personality have the support of the vast majority of his fellow-countrymen, and an election would prove it. One would rejoice if we could obtain unity. I am not surprised at what has happened, having followed the course of German diplomacy and military action for many years. What surprises me is that this House has not expected it, and that in the speeches to which we have listened surprise has been expressed, but even so I believe that the policy of the Prime Minister was absolutely right. If he has done nothing else, he has given an invaluable six months of peace to this country, and what that means in growing strength and in power to preserve peace only time can tell.
Let us consider the facts. Here is Czecho-Slovakia, an unfortunate country cobbled together by the Treaty of Versailles, one of the chief constructors of which was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George); one who was also responsible for it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). That country was bound to fall apart whenever subjected to strain. Consider three races, the Sudeten Germans, the Czechs and the Slovaks, all hating one another and finding it impossible to work together. That country was full of centrifugal tendencies and was bound to fall asunder when the strain occurred, and the strain did occur. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to reproach the Government for what has happened. They all say, and we know it, that the gospel of Hen-Hitler is force, and that you can meet force only by force.
I would ask what hon. Members opposite have done in the last six years to make this country strong enough to produce a force that could resist what has taken place. We have sat here and watched them year after year voting against the Defence Estimates, and yet they come and tell us that we ought to have prevented Herr Hitler from doing as 479 he has done. They have never answered the question, because they cannot, what would they have done at Munich? We were not ready. Hon. Members opposite say that we should have called his bluff. Suppose it had not been bluff. I should not have been prepared to risk the safety of this country and the Empire on the possibility that Herr Hitler's action was bluff. It was not bluff to have 1,500,000 men in arms around Czecho-Slovakia. I believe that the action of the Prime Minister has prevented war and given us an invaluable six months. I challenge hon. Members opposite to answer this question. "What would you have done at Munich?" They have never answered it because they cannot. I ask them that question now. I ask the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) what would he do now? What is his policy? He has attacked the Prime Minister and the Government. He has not made one single constructive remark. I know that he is doing splendid work of a most valuable kind in the defence of the country, and the fact that he is able to do that he owes to the Prime Minister. He ought to acknowledge that.
What has happened? The strain occurred and force was applied because Germany had become strong. The policy of hon. Members opposite might have been applied when Germany went into the Rhineland, as France suggested, but I ask them whether they supported that policy then. They did not. Therefore, it does not lie in their mouths to reproach the Government. Let us have all the facts and the realities of the position. The Prime Minister is a realist. He made a grave statement on the position to-day, with the utmost sincerity, and it is hard to hear him reproached as he has been by men who support a policy that would render any other policy except that of the Prime Minister impossible.
Force was applied, and Czecho-Slovakia began to break up. It was bound to break up. What about the future? The most gloomy prophecies have been made. I do not feel gloomy. This country is growing stronger. Suppose Herr Hitler has a free hand in South-Easter Europe. He is not going to find it easy, and one result of it will be to endanger the Rome-Berlin Axis. Italy does not like what Germany has done in Czecho-Slovakia. Poland does not like what is happening.
480 Rumania does not like it. There will be considerable opposition to any expansion there. Therefore I say, let us remain steady. Let us be united, instead of indulging in recrimination. Let us strengthen the country, and the stronger we are the more certain it is that we shall have peace. That seems to me to be the cardinal point of our policy.
We look at what is happening in Europe and we keep our eyes fixed there. Why do we not look around and see that we are the finest commonwealth of nations upon earth? Let Herr Hitler expand as far as he can in South-East Europe; we shall still have our share of the trade. He will certainly create difficulties for himself, and opposition, and the more we oppose him the less difficult that opposition will be for him. Let us remember our Empire and develop it. We have there possibilities untold. Let us go on strengthening ourselves and lift up our hearts and be the real guardians of peace.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) must forgive me if I say to him, with very real respect, that the speech he has just made is the speech of an old gentleman. He is coming near to the time when perhaps it looks, from his age and his experience, that we need not worry about the future very much, because it will last his time. To some of us it is not going to last our time. That is one of our charges against the Government. It is led by old men, who think that if they can manage to keep things going, some how, they will last their time, and then we shall have to deal with the patchwork. The difficulty about the Labour party is that for the last 20 years it has had to occupy the role of Cassandra in this House. During those 20 years, after the Treaty of Versailles was signed, hon. Members from this side of the House, beginning with the right hon. Arthur Henderson and going on until to-day, have been warning not merely this Government but the Conservative forces in this country who have been in effective power for those years, what was going to happen.
We have been slandered as pacifists and as warmongers. Both allegations are untrue. Every time we have been proved right. We warned the Government of the rapacity of the German Republic. We warned them of the dangers of Fascism 481 and begged them to read "Mein Kampf." Hon. Members opposite sneered, and we were told that we wanted war with Italy. Who has proved to be right? Speaker after speaker on the Government side of the House tried to blame the unfortunate Czechs. They even tried to blame them for the Treaty of Versailles and for the different groups that have gone to make up Czecho-Slovakia. It is on record that President Masaryk and Dr. Benes appealed to the framers of the Treaty of Versailles not to have the Sudeten Germans area put into their country.
§ Mr. De Chair
At the Peace Conference the late President of Czecho-Slovakia, Dr. Benes, who was not then President, promised that if the Sudeten Germans were included in the Czecho-Slovak Republic they would give them provincial autonomy.
§ Miss Wilkinson
That is not what happened in the first instance. It is on record and has been quoted in this House, by one who was there, and the hon. Member was not there. It was made perfectly clear that they appealed first of all not to have that area put in, and afterwards what the hon. Member has said happened. Therefore, hon. Members cannot blame the Czechs for demanding the inclusion of the Sudeten Germans, because they did not do so. The Czechs are also blamed as if they were responsible for oppressing their minorities, but it has been admitted over and over again by speakers on the other side of the House, who have a far more intimate knowledge of Czecho-Slovakia than myself, that the Sudetens and the Slovaks were the best treated minorities. Slovakia has been a deficit State right from the time the Czecho-Slovakia arrangement was made, and the Czechs have spent large sums of money in improving their education, their roads and so on. A statement on the Czech wireless reminded us of that. I wish hon. Members opposite would remember that we left these people in the lurch, that we have for years promised them protection. The people who have been in Government for 20 years in this country, with the exception of a short interval, persuaded them to spend on 482 fortifications far more than their modest budget could really afford.
§ Mr. Crossley
In to-day's Debate not one single hon. Member on this side of the House has said a word in blame of the Czechs. I was delighted that that had not happened.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Was the hon. Member present when the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) pointed out what an artificial State Czecho-Slovakia was, and how they were to blame?
§ Mr. Somerville
I never said a single word to blame the Czechs. I simply stated that the three races in Czecho slovakia were antipathetic, and could not work together.
§ Miss Wilkinson
Hon. Members must accept the implication of their own speeches. It is all very well in the suavest and most polite terms to make statements and then deny them, when the implication is that really Czecho-Slovakia ought not to have existed at all. I was pointing out that the existence of the Czecho-Slovak State was the responsibility of the statesmen of the time who framed the Treaty of Versailles, and that we were parties to it and, therefore, partly responsible. The Prime Minister in a recent Debate spoke of "little people sometimes far off, of whom we did not know much." The whole tendency has been to suggest that really the Czecho slovaks are not worth helping. That is the effect of some of the polite speeches that have been made.
The hon. Member for Windsor said that we had to accept Munich and its implications because we were not ready, and he went on to blame this side of the House because he said that for the last six years we had voted against the Arms Estimates. That statement has been repeated all over the country. We explained each time that our vote was not against arms but against policy. There were times when our party were in office and Conservative Members voted for a reduction in, say, the Education Estimates. Did we blame them for being against education in this country? They were simply voting against the policy of the Government. Therefore, I want to make it clear, as the Labour party made it clear in all the Debates, that we stood by collective security and were pre pared to vote for whatever arms were necessary for collective security. You cannot have it both ways. You can have 483 collective security and be willing to pay your premium for that security, or you can say, as the Prime Minister has said, that the League of Nations is just mid summer madness. In that case obviously you must arm to the limit.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I am sorry if hon. Members opposite take exception to that statement, but it was made in a speech by the Prime Minister before he became Prime Minister.
§ Mr. De Chair rose—
§ Miss Wilkinson
I hope I may be allowed to finish my sentence. Let me repeat it. It is a very well-known statement. I have a cutting of it, but not with me at the moment, because this Debate to most of us is unexpected and impromptu. But it was a statement made in a speech by the Prime Minister at Birmingham in which he described the League of Nations as midsummer mad ness.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I am afraid that the speech was not made at Birmingham, but in London. I was present and heard it, and what the Prime Minister described as midsummer madness was not the League of Nations but the suggestion that in the then state of the Abyssinian war we should intensify sanctions against Italy.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I shall not withdraw. I stand corrected as to where the speech was made, but there was a whole paragraph in that speech the implication of which was that collective security and the organisation of sanctions by the League of Nations was midsummer madness.
§ Miss Wilkinson
What I am trying to say is this, that the Prime Minister in his actions ever since he became Prime Minister has been trying to destroy the idea of collective security.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I have not the faintest notion what the hon. and gallant Member means, and I am perfectly willing to give way to any interruption from respon- 484 sible hon. Members. What I want to know is why the Government blames the Labour party. The Government are not logical. They have taken the worst of both worlds. It is perfectly logical to stand for collective security and to pay the premiums necessary in armaments, the Labour party have always made that clear, but if you are going to destroy collective security you must arm to isolation. We do not believe in isolation, and we have voted against it. We have been prepared to vote arms for collective security, and that has been our policy consistently. It is the Government who are to blame for not having sufficient armed forces at Munich. You cannot blame the Labour party for that. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) appealed to us for national unity, and the hon. Member for Windsor has gently chided us because we do not seem to be too anxious to respond to that appeal.
Our objection to this Government and its foreign policy goes far deeper than our objection to one man. Some of the speeches I have heard seemed to suggest that the Government might be acceptable to hon. Members on this side of the House if only the present Prime Minister was not the Prime Minister. My interjection during the speech of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington may have given that impression, but our objection goes far deeper than that. What we are facing to-day is the working out of a class policy against the national interests of this country; a policy which the Government have pursued ever since Herr Hitler came into power. I hope I shall be forgiven for referring to Spain in this Debate, but the Spanish policy is all part of the same thing. We cannot separate this fight into watertight compartments. We have only to look at the attitude of many hon. Members opposite to see that they regard the Fascist power as being run by people who somehow stand for their own class, who know how to keep their own working class in order. Their attitude during the Spanish conflict has been that General Franco is their sort of man. He belongs to the same class; he sends his son to the right school.
The difficulty about the Red menace —[Interruption'] — I am not surprised that hon. Members laugh—is that when hon. Members opposite talk of the Red menace, 485 and see it—[Interruption] —in the war of ideologies which is going on in this House as well as in Europe, they do not know where to stop, and include the mildest kind of Liberals abroad as part of the Red menace. Here we see the next step, the giving up of Czecho-Slovakia. The Prime Minister may argue that there are no contiguous frontiers to Czecho-Slovakia and, therefore, we can do nothing about it. He cannot argue that way about Spain. The British Navy was perfectly capable by merely steaming round the coast of Spain to make non-intervention real and allow the Spanish people to settle their troubles for themselves; which is all that we have ever asked. The Undersecretary knows it perfectly well. In all the answers he has had to give—I do not personally blame him for them—and his continual statement that he has no information on the question of the sinking of British ships, what has been the really comfortable message that has all this time passed from Spain to Berlin? Let us give Herr Hitler justice that at least he has never stood by and allowed his nationals to be bombed and sunk and killed without any protest. It has been left to the British Parliament to cheer when the news of British ships being sunk came to the House.
Is it to be wondered at that Herr Hitler has taken the moral of the Spanish war and has said that these people are too weak to protect their own nationals, they will not bother about Czecho-Slovakia? Who can blame Herr Hitler? I do not. If you tell him that he can have just what he wants for the taking, why should you blame him because he goes on taking? That really is the moral of the situation. If the Prime Minister thinks that we shall get security that way, I would only remind him of a recent saying that if Britain so obviously goes into the orbit of Germany then Canada will go into the orbit of the United States. Are we going to see this Empire disintegrate from within because of the cowardice of the Government and its refusal to organise for peace. That is our case against the Government. They have talked peace, but they have not organised for peace. They have insulted great countries with great forces who could have helped us to organise for peace. They have allowed the whole system of collective security for peace to crumble in their hands. It may 486 now be too late, and if it is it will be for the Government of this country and the Conservative party who are to blame and, therefore, it is not for them to talk to the Labour party about unity.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Commander Bower
I am sure the hon. Lady will not expect me to follow her in all her peregrinations over Europe, but I was interested in one remark when she said that the votes of the Labour party against armaments were votes against policy. I hope that some hon. Member opposite will answer this question. If that is the case, if they voted against policy, why did they vote against the Supplementary Estimates which were required for carrying out sanctions during the Abyssinian war? I do not think that her remark was accurate in every single respect. To-day I stand here as one in an inverted white sheet, because I was quite unable to support the Government's policy leading up to Munich, and I said quite frankly that I regarded Munich as a most humiliating surrender to force. I do not think anyone will now say that there is not a certain amount of substance in the view which I and other hon. Members took on that occasion. We cannot get away from it that force at Munich prevailed and that we who foresaw that we were going to have but an uneasy respite for a few months, and said so— because we all said so—were perfectly right.
It is all very well to describe Czecho-Slovakia, as it has been very unfortunately described, as "a little country of which we know nothing" but, if we had had to fight at Munich, it would not have been a case of fighting for Czecho-Slovakia, any more than in 1914 it was a case of fighting for Belgium. In 1914 we were fighting for something far more than that and we may again have to do it if things go on as they are at present We should be fighting for all those liberties which we cherish so dearly, liberty of speech, liberty of thought and liberty of action, for opposing which kings have lost their heads and gone into exile, and men like John Hampden and many other thousands of unknown people have died through the centuries. It would be that for which we should be fighting, and may possibly have to do so again.
The popular view of Munich was that it was the beginning of an all-round 487 settlement and of appeasement, that it was a big step towards peace in our time and that the piece of paper—I will not call it a scrap of paper—which the Prime Minister brought back signed by himself and Herr Hitler really meant something. I have looked at it and at the Kellogg Pact very carefully and I really cannot see very much difference between the two of them. The Kellogg Pact was certainly binding on both ourselves and Germany. I do not see that there was anything very wonderful in that bit of paper. What happened almost immediately after that marvellous settlement? We had the bestial and loathsome treatment of the Jews. That was not a good start to this appeasement. Then we had the blatant uproar from Herr Goebbels on the wireless and the insults directed not only against democracy but against all sorts of individuals in the public life of this country. I do not think that was a very good continuation of this wonderful settlement.
But there is one thing that happened quite recently, and that is the perfectly astounding pronouncement—a sort of semi-official pronouncement—which -appeared in all the Press the other day more or less to the effect that everything in the garden was lovely and that we were well on the way to an agreement for arms limitation. I do not know where that came from. I cannot believe that it emanated from the Foreign Office. It seems to me that the Government must have been singularly out of touch with affairs in Europe if they expected that anyone was going to believe that pronouncement. I think publicity of that sort is very dangerous, because it misleads the people and gives them an altogether wrong idea of the extremely dangerous time through which we are passing. Those of us who have been in our constituencies since then will realise that a statement of that sort has a very bad effect.
The events of the last few days seem to me to have been absolutely inevitable following on Munich. There is no doubt that it is part of German technique to stir up internal strife in the countries which they wish to attack in order to be able to send their men in on the pretext of maintaining order. There is in Rumania a very large and compact Ger- 488 man minority, a very old-established German minority, right in the middle of the country. I am not going to make prophecies but I am certainly going to keep my eye on Rumania in the near future. In fact it seems to be possible that the momentum of the present push may lead Herr Hitler to think that he may go on a bit further while the going is good. At any rate, I do not think we shall have to wait very long. Other countries have been mentioned. After all, the greater part of the population of Switzerland is German speaking. I have not noticed any great desire on the part of the Swiss to be incorporated in the German Reich, but it is possible that a Nazi minority might be stirred up to create yet another excuse for invasion.
Every one will be very sorry indeed that this plan of appeasement has failed. I say, "has failed," because I hope the Prime Minister is not going to pretend that it has been successful. One thing I am quite certain of is that public opinion will not tolerate for one moment another Munich. We have to try our best to get into contact with all countries that are prepared to stand with us in defence of the democratic ideals in which we believe. I know that a great many Members opposite think, and say, that there are Fascist tendencies on these benches. That is all very well. They call us crypto-Fascists and we call them crypto-Bolshevists, but really down at heart we have an equal regard for our country and for our institutions. I fully appreciate the difficulties in the way of getting together. Frankly, after what I have heard to-day it seems to me very unlikely that we could do so; but surprising things will happen in politics. I am certain that if a great emergency arose we should get together.
If we are to get the freedom-loving nations together, there again many of us on this side will have to do violence to our opinions because we shall have to bring into that orbit Soviet Russia. I am not prepared to regard Soviet Russia as a freedom-loving nation, but we cannot do without her now. She ought to be brought in. I should like to ask why we have not had staff talks long ago. It ought to have been done. After all, you have a nation—[Interruption] — I know they have shot a lot of people but there are about 170,000,000 of them still left. It seems to me that we must get some closer co-operation between the 489 nations who are prepared to stand up to the Fascist ideology, which is spreading rapidly, and that can be done only by much closer co-operation than we have had and a realisation that we are in an era of power politics. We cannot get away from that. Whatever we may think of the desirability of collective security, at the moment it is not functioning, and we are in a naked and unashamed era of power politics. There was something to be said for the balance of power as long as it was a balance. It led only to war when one side of the balance felt so strong that it could take liberties, and it gave long periods of peace. Undoubtedly we must try to restore that balance, which is very much weighed down against us at the moment.
I do not know whether we are going to be told anything as to what the Government's policy is, because the Prime Minister did not tell us, and it is a little difficult for us who want to support the Government as far as possible if we do not know what we are to support them about. At this moment we are in a state when we do not know what our policy is to be for the next 24 hours. The whole of Europe is in a state of flux. We do not know where we are, or what the French think about it, and we may find ourselves in a situation of rapid deterioration which might land us in a war at any moment. The situation, to my mind, is very serious. The country ought to know it, and the more we tell the country how serious the danger is the better. I appeal to the Government not to send forth any more pronunciamentos like they did the other day to the Press that everything is going on so beautifully, that we are well on the way to arms limitation and, as one Minister said within the last week, that the barometer is set fair.
§ 7.11 p.m
§ Mr. De Chair
I am glad to have an opportunity of speaking in support of the Prime Minister, because I feel that there is an inevitable tendency under the practice of the House, which protects minorities as much as possible, that the large majority who support the Prime Minister in his foreign policy are not able to speak in the Debate, while a handful of those on this side who may criticise his action may all be able to speak and give an impression outside the House that there is a very much greater volume of opposi- 490 tion to the Prime Minister than, in point of fact, exists. It is almost inevitable that in a Debate of this kind attention should be riveted upon the differences that there are between the two sides of the House, and I think it might perhaps be a help to consider for a moment, before getting to those points on which we differ, the points on which there is fundamental agreement between the opposing sides of the House. There is at the present stage of the world a struggle going on between those people who believe in the domination of the State over the individual and those who believe that the individual is of importance and is the highest expression of humanity, and that the State exists in order that the individual shall find self-expression and so be able to live in peace. This division of opinion may roughly be divided between dictator States and democracies.
I do not always share the opinions of my Member of Parliament, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Duff Cooper) but I agreed with him in an article on this subject which he contributed to a national newspaper. He drew attention to a book which he said he thought shared the importance of books like the "Social Contract" and "Mein Kampf." That was "The Totalitarian State against Man," by Count Coudenhove-Kalergi, whose work for the ideal of a united Europe, though it may be far distant, will be familiar to hon. Members. He stated the case between those who believe in the new ideology, that the State is an entity above the individual, as against the idea of those who believe in the freedom of the individual to determine his life within the State. Where we differ is in believing that this country should take up arms in defence of that ideal and if necessary go to war—to the length of a world war —in order to protect those individuals in those other States, unfortunate though they may be, who find themselves under the domination of a totalitarian system which may be abhorrent to all of us. I mention this fact because I feel that hon. Members opposite often fall into the error of thinking that we favour some form of Fascist State, and that we agree with the ideal of the subjection of the liberty of the individual. That is not the case. What we say is that we are Members of the British Parliament, primarily responsible 491 for the welfare of the people of this country and of the Empire. We say that before we can drag this country and the Empire into a world war in which the Empire might suffer the most severe dangers, we must be very careful that the ideals for which we are fighting are really ideals that affect the interests of the Empire which we are trying to represent.
I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) recognised that the Prime Minister was sincere in the sorrow which he felt at the events that are taking place in Central Europe, but I do not feel that those events, melancholy as they are, would justify drawing this country into a war, or plunging the world into a war. We believe that the events which have taken place during the last 48 hours are the logical continuation of the policy—let us face it—to which we agreed in September. By an overwhelming vote of this House, we agreed to a policy of detaching ourselves as much as possible from the affairs of Central Europe. We recognised the inevitable forces of geography. We cannot undertake to guarantee all peoples at all times, and at that time this country detached itself from a policy of intervention in Central Europe and concentrated upon the defence of tangible objectives.
§ Mr. De Chair
In order to secure agreement in the very difficult conditions which existed at that time, it may have been necessary to agree that if the new Czechoslovak state were set up and proved to be durable, there should be an international guarantee of its frontiers. As the Prime Minister pointed out this afternoon, it was not possible to get international agreement for that guarantee, and subsequent events have proved that the country was not durable, and it has broken up into fragments. What is important is that we decided then and there on a policy which hon. Members may describe, if they like, as Isolation East of the Rhine. We decided that we were not prepared to march into Eastern Europe, and it is in a logical continuation of that policy that we stand here to-night and say that this country should not now 492 be at war to defend the remaining fragments of Czecho-Slovakia from being absorbed into the German Reich. In point of fact, after the Munich Agreement, the new Czecho-Slovak state was a puppet state of Germany. That was recognised by everybody.[Interruption.] I am astonished that hon. Members should show surprise at that statement. If it was a puppet state of Germany, why worry if it now undergoes transformation and becomes an actual protectorate of the Reich? We must face the facts, and the facts are that we then and there abandoned Central Europe to German domination. Hon. Members may not like that, but it is a fact that we have to face.
There were other effects besides that. When hon. Members say that what we are now witnessing in Europe is merely a stepping stone to a world war, I think they are entirely wrong. The change which took place in Europe then marked a complete change in the attempt to encircle Germany. France dropped her policy of trying to encircle Germany by a military alliance with Czecho-Slovakia in the East, and retreated behind the Maginot Line. I think that very little will ever induce her to go beyond it again. But the significance of this change lies in the psychology of the Germans in considering the world around them. Some people fail to understand the German fear of encirclement. They see a Germany which is armed and powerful and they believe that the idea that Germany should be threatened by encirclement is a ridiculous one; but to imagine the state of mind of the average German about encirclement, one must imagine this country with the whole of its Fleet sunk. If we had no Fleet to protect our shores, we should have the feeling, whatever land army we might have, that there was the danger of our being encircled.
It is because there has been a fundamental change in the foreign policy of France and of this country, which took place in September, that the dangers of a world war are, to my mind, infinitely less. Germany knows that she gained greater freedom in the East—we must recognise that—but she knows that the bonds which unite ourselves and France in the West are correspondingly stronger, because we can unhesitatingly support France when we know that she is not committed to a military alliance with Czecho-Slovakia in 493 Central Europe which might draw us into a world war. Germany knows now that in our support of France, and the reciprocal arrangement whereby France supports us, we have a mutual defensive alliance which is really a defensive alliance for our own interests on this side of the Rhine. That is an aspect of the new policy, which we have in point of fact adopted, of isolation East of the Rhine.
By all means let us cultivate friends, but let us cultivate them in sensible quarters. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington spoke of getting the co-operation of all peoples who want peace, wherever they may be. Does he mean the co-operation of Lithuania and Estonia, and countries in those remote parts of Europe, where it is almost impossible for us to penetrate, where we should have to fight the whole of Germany in order to get to them? No. By all means let us get the co-operation of countries with seaboards which we can approach with our Fleet, such as Turkey. Certainly, we ought to cultivate the cooperation of Turkey and of the Balkans, and, as the Government are doing, the co-operation of Italy, as much as possible. There we can exert pressure. We can make our policy a reality. But we cannot make our foreign policy a reality when we are trying to bolster up a completely unreal situation in Eastern Europe.
I wish hon. Members opposite would face the changed facts in Europe and recognise that the decision that we took was taken in the interests of the solidarity of the Empire, because we were not prepared to plunge this country into a war. When they criticise the Prime Minister for giving way to the dictators, they are inaccurate, because what my right hon. Friend is doing is to size up the situation and to decide what are and what are not British interests. It has been well said that the Prime Minister's claim to statesmanship is that he has very much sharper eyesight than most of his contemporaries in determining what are British interests. I recall a phrase of Bismarck to the effect that some war in the Balkans was not worth the bones of a Pomeranian grenadier. One has to decide before one signs a paper for mobilisation whether or not the war one is about to start is worth the bones of one's constituents. That is a decision we have to make. We have to 494 decide what are the issues for which it is worth fighting.
I want to refer to one other matter before I conclude. There is general gloominess among those hon. Members who criticise the Prime Minister because they think that the domination of a large part of Europe by Germany is something new and something which we have to fear. There seems to me to be a striking analogy between the situation now and the situation that prevailed during the last century, when Bismarck was Chancellor of Germany. He defeated Denmark in 1864, Austria in 1866, and France in 1870, and we stood aside without there being any threat to our vital interests, because we knew that Bismarck's policy was not one of hostility towards us. He had no colonial ambitions, he was reluctant about colonial expansion, and he did not wish to challenge the British Navy on the High Seas. It was not until the Kaiser came into power and dropped the pilot, and adopted an entirely different policy—a policy of deliberately challenging this country—that the domination of Europe by Germany became a real menace to us. I do not think Herr Hitler means to challenge the dominance of this country, and that is why I believe that the Anglo-German Agreement, signed by Herr Hitler and the Prime Minister, was perfectly true when it said that there is no fundamental cause of war between the two countries and that the Anglo-German Naval Agreement represents the spirit between the two countries. There is not any real cleavage between the two countries which would lead to war. That remains true. The policy of recognising and squaring up to a changed situation is a sound one, and I have no hesitation whatever in supporting the Prime Minister in that policy.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
I have listened to two speeches in succession from the other side, one of which I should have pleasure in describing as courageous, and the other, which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair), as almost, if not entirely, incredible. The hon. Member seems to think that in determining what is a sound British policy, it is sufficient to inquire whether something is in the British interest or not. He then proceeds to justify the Munich Agreement. Presum- 495 ably, he would justify the destruction of liberty in Spain because it is in the British interest to see that happen. Similarly, I suppose he would justify the rape of Czecho-Slovakia and the terror that will be visited upon thousands of people in the city of Prague to-night because it is in the British interest not to protect them against that terror. I think there are other standards than British interests by which these things should be considered, not the least of which is that we should honour obligations into which we enter, or be a little more careful about taking on dangerous obligations.
When this Debate is concluded, the hon. Member may care to read a speech that was made by the present Dominions Secretary, when he was Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, on 4th October, when he definitely and categorically repeated twice the undertaking given about preserving, unilaterally or multilaterally, the territorial integrity of the new Czechoslovak state. My hon. Friends will be glad to have available for quotation on platforms the hon. Member's evidence that we—presumably meaning the party to which he belongs—agreed to a policy last September which has led to the events of to-day. Hon. Members on this side said that last September, and it is a little belated now for the hon. Member to recognise now what we recognised then. The hon. and gallant Member for Cleveland (Commander Bower) made what, I think, will be generally regarded as an extremely courageous speech, courageous in the sense that he expressed the deep-rooted feeling and deep-seated anxiety of large numbers of people, irrespective of his party allegiance and party loyalty, and courageous, too, in that he declared himself for a collective policy which certainly is not the policy of the party with which he is associated.
In the course of the Debate, several references have been made to the desirability of national unity in face of the existing situation. The hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) referred to that, and, with a pained expression on his face, said that he observed that there was little response from this side of the House. I thought I saw a pained expression on the face of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) at the very tepid, indeed, almost icy response which that suggestion 496 had from his own side. The hon. Member for Windsor went on to declare that at Munich and subsequently the Prime Minister had been, to use the hon. Member's own words, "absolutely right," and then proceeded to inquire with some bewilderment how it was that national unity could not be secured on the basis of a declaration of that kind. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington has helped to strew at least one or two boulders in the path of national unity. It will take my hon. Friends here some time to forget his equivocation in the matter of Spain during at least two years, and I shall not forget his declaration made less than six months ago:I hold no brief for either side in Spain —frankly, I had too much to do with both." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd November, 1938; col. 237, Vol. 340.]That obviously means that the right hon. Gentleman did not care whether democracy won or was destroyed in Spain. He was indifferent to the fate of democracy in Spain. But that is the very touchstone of one's faith in democracy. You cannot believe in democracy here and be indifferent to its fate abroad. More recently another boulder was placed in the path of public unity. I got up a little prematurely after a long illness in order to be present here at the Debate on the question of the recognition of General Franco. What disturbed me and I think a large number of my hon. Friends, was not the fact of recognition, but the obvious glee and delight at the victory of General Franco which was apparent in the faces and the cheers of hon. Members opposite. I speak collectively and not individually and I do not wish to say of hon. Members opposite, either collectively or individually, anything that would be reckless and therefore unfair. But I found it difficult to see in their applause on that occasion anything other than delight—
§ Mr. Ridley
Delight at the conquest by General Franco, delight that liberty had been destroyed in Spain, that a common people struggling for a place in the sun had been beaten back and that tyranny had been enthroned. These things constitute obstacles in the path of unity, and not until there is some sign on the part of hon. Members opposite that these obstacles are likely to be removed, will the question of national unity be taken 497 out of the atmosphere of the debating society and become a matter of serious concern in this House. Debates at moments of grave international tension have been so frequent in this House during the last few years that we have come to regard them almost as normal interruptions of our business, and that is the most damaging evidence that could be produced of the deterioration in the European situation. These interruptions have increased in gravity as they have succeeded each other, and hon. Members cannot fail to be impressed by the gravity of the present situation. They must have been impressed also, as I was, despite audible protests from the other side, by the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell)—a speech on which I may be permitted to offer my hon. Friend my very warm and very respectful congratulations. Many of us on this side and I hope even many hon. Members on the other side must, after such a statement, experience that sense of unescapable shame and humiliation at recent events which I, for one, cannot disregard.
I think everybody who has spoken so far has recognised that this is not a moment for recrimination, but my hon. Friends and I are entitled to recall the events of last September and the policy which has been pursued since. We are entitled to say that the Prime Minister has given every evidence of a desire for a kind of appeasement which involves the abandonment of every standard of territorial, economic and political equity, and that in the policy pursued by the Government, as far as Czecho-Slovakia is concerned, those standards have, in fact, all been abandoned. The frontiers of Czecho-Slovakia were violated at the outset; her economic life has been steadily invaded and destroyed and now her political liberties have gone—and all to what end? That we might buy for ourselves a temporary security, a temporary respite from war, a breathing space, as I think the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk called it, even though the purchase might be at very cruel expense to other people. We cover it all up with a nauseating hypocrisy. We pretended in the case of Czecho-Slovakia that it was better for her that she should die in that way than suffer a far worse fate, and we offered to her at the same moment the sublime hope that out of her tragic fate 498 happier days might come. I quote from the speech made by the then Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on 4th October:I hope that hon. Gentlemen will allow me to say, in all sincerity, that we recognise the reasonableness of Dr. Benes in a difficult and dangerous situation, as dangerous for his own country as it was for Europe and for ourselves."Reasonableness" errs on the side of modesty in describing the greatness of a great man, but in that Debate some strange phrases were used. The Minister of Transport, for example, described Czecho-Slovakia as "Humpty-Dumpty" who had fallen off the wall. The then Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence went on to say:I venture to think that his courage and his willingness to recognise facts will be rewarded "—Yes, by the fact that he is now the loneliest refugee upon the road. The right hon. Gentleman proceeded:whereas a war would have involved the sabotage, the destruction, the humiliation possibly of the country which his wisdom and his decision may have saved, if not altogether at any rate in a form in which it may be happier, more united and safer than ever before in the last 20 years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 302, Vol. 339.]What do the Government propose to do, or is it proposed to do anything at all, to assure to this dismembered State those very liberties which a responsible Minister, in October last, indicated might be the price for the tremendous sacrifices made and the reasonableness shown by Dr. Benes in the interests of our peace and security? I say that we offered her a sublime hope. The undertaking given then that we would be responsible, unilaterally if necessary, for the protection of the frontiers of the dismembered State, was in harmony with the general policy which has been pursued by the Government, not only in relation to Czecho-Slovakia, but in relation to Abyssinia and Spain. I shall never forget the statement of the Prime Minister before the Anglo-Italian Agreement was concluded that the recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia would only be morally justified if it formed part of general appeasement and pacification in Europe. If the Prime Minister can find some moral justification for the recognition of the Italian conquest of Abyssinia, there is no in- 499 credible or unspeakable crime that cannot be covered by the same sort of moral justification and the same kind of nauseating hypocrisy. What steps have the Government taken to remind Herr Hitler of his own declaration which preceded the terms of the Munich Agreement and which was included in the communications printed in the White Paper:
Above all, it is completely incorrect to maintain that Czecho-Slovakia in this manner would be crippled in her national existence or in her political and economic independence.That communication, as I said, was precedent to the Munich Agreement and surely the terms of the Agreement are conditioned by that and the other communications in the White Paper. If so, what steps are being taken or what steps do the Government propose to take to remind Herr Hitler of that declaration? Now that Czecho-Slovakia has suffered again, what the Prime Minister offers her this afternoon is a dialectical and metaphysical explanation of the unwillingness of the Government to do anything at all in the face of an appalling tragedy, which will go down into history as a crowning piece of ineptitude on the part of a man occupying a position of such tremendous responsibility. Reading the Prime Minister's metaphysical explanation, who will now believe us in future, whatever we say or whenever we say it? Who will pay the price of the next act of unprovoked aggression and when will that price be paid? Is it to be in South-Eastern Europe or in Holland? When and where? How is the right hon. Gentleman employing the enormous sums which have recently been voted in general estimates for consular and diplomatic activities, if not to discover which way policy is moving?
What are we doing to safeguard what still remains of liberty in Czecho-Slovakia? What are we doing, for instance, to secure the proper observance of Article 7 of the Munich Agreement? The right hon. Gentleman must know, and I have evidence here to show, that it is so in one particular case at any rate, that Prague is heavily populated with people who, having gone there to escape from one tyranny, are now seeking to leave Prague in order to escape from another. What are we doing to provide 500 some kind of refuge for the large populations, relying on the terms of the Munich Agreement in general and on Article 7 in particular? These populations have a right to be safeguarded now that their political liberty has gone with the complacent compliance of the Government. These events represent the conclusion of seven years of steady deterioration in foreign affairs. During that time the lamps of reason have gone out, one by one, in one European country after another, leaving a steadily darkening path, and another goes out to-night in Prague. One bastion has fallen after another leaving a terrifying insecurity. The Prime Minister sought to assure the House and to assure himself that the policy pursued for the last two or three years had the support of the overwhelming mass of the people of this country. One day the Government will be required to stand its trial in this matter of foreign policy and it will be condemned.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Donner
Like many other hon. Members, I arrived to-day at about half-past three without any knowledge that a Debate on this subject would take place. I should therefore like to apologise for the somewhat inconsequent order of the observations which I would like to offer to the House. We have been listening to a Debate which, however much we may differ among ourselves, reveals that those Members who have spoken have done so with a depth of sincerity which I hope all of us will honour. The Leader of the Liberal Opposition paid a tribute of appreciation to the Prime Minister because he had agreed to have this Debate to-day, and I think we should all join in that tribute. Nevertheless, our chief difficulty to-day is that we are so near to the actual events— some of them occurred only this morning—that the pre-requisites to a balanced judgment are in fact missing. The time element is upon us, and I think that few of us, looking back upon everything that has been said in this Debate within a week's time, will feel that what was then said was expressive of that balanced judgment to which most of us naturally hope to attain.
No one, I feel sure, would wish to justify or approve the action which has been taken by the German Government, but I think there is a certain measure of restraint which should be exercised by all 501 of us, in view of the time element to which I have referred. All of us, I think, are united in this view, that the action of the German Government is a regrettable one, is an action which must affect Anglo-German relations adversely now and in the future, and is an action which must have unfortunate effects upon the whole European situation. But I believe that much of what has happened was inevitable. I believe that the old Czecho-Slovakia, as we knew it, was never more than a sandbank which sooner or later was bound to disappear. Indeed, I remember in the 1935 election referring to that country in those terms. However, the reason why I wish to offer a few observations to the House this evening is because I desire to redress the balance of the Debate.
I believe that it is a mistake to assume, as so many speakers seem to have assumed, that the effects of what has been done are all to the advantage of Germany. It is quite clear that even before this particular occurrence German influence in Czecho-Slovakia was permanent and was likely to be predominant. It has been assumed by most of the speakers to-day, I think, that the German military occupation will be not of a temporary but of a permanent character. That may or may not be so— we do not know—but if it is permanent, I suggest that it represents not only a repudiation of the Nazi doctrine hitherto followed that only members of the German race are to be included in the greater Reich, but it involves the inclusion of a great number of irredentist elements in the New Germany which cannot prove to be of advantage to Germany. That is one of the effects of this military occupation.
If, on the other hand, the German military occupation of Czecho-Slovakia is temporary and not permanent, I believe that a major error of judgment has been committed by the German Government. If we are in agreement that German influence would in any case have been predominant in Czecho-Slovakia, why, then, Germany could have obtained all that she desired without resorting to the military invasion of Czecho-Slovakia. That she has done so, I admit, but I submit that the consequences of her action will not necessarily be to her advantage. On the contrary, I believe that the effects may well prove to be profoundly disad- 502 vantageous to her. We have every one of us read of the reception of the German troops in Prague, how they were greeted with the Czech National Anthem and not with any signs of enthusiasm. Indeed, they were greeted with booing and hissing. Again I say that what has happened in the last few hours is not likely, in my judgment, to prove of advantage to Germany. On the contrary, many of the smaller States of South-Eastern Europe, if one may call them smaller, because some of them are very large indeed, Poland, Rumania, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Jugoslavia, are more likely to co-operate now that ever they were before. Again, therefore, I say that that is one of the effects of the German action and that it is not likely to prove to turn out to be in the German interest.
The Polish-Hungarian desire, with which we are all familiar, to obtain a common frontier, is now likely to become a fact. If it does, this at least was not one of the objects of German diplomacy. Further, the economic expansion of Germany to the South-East, the increase of German economic influence in that part of the world, is very largely obtained to-day at the expense of Italy. It is quite clear, therefore, from the information already in our possession, that the German action is not likely to be one that will strengthen the Axis between Berlin and Rome. The contrary is the truth. I wish to put forward these points because I think that no other hon. Member so far has attempted to show the other side of the picture. We are all agreed that what has happened is a melancholy story, a deplorable and a lamentable occurrence, but it seems to me that speaker after speaker has assumed that what has happened must necessarily have the effect of strengthening Germany, whereas I believe that the contrary is more likely to prove to be the truth.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) made the point that the policy of appeasement had not succeeded, that Europe had in fact not been appeased. If that were true, that would be a matter to be deplored, and I confess that I was surprised at the hearty cheers from the Socialist benches which followed that assertion. The hon. Member for Gower went on to say that he did not know why the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden and that that particular action was "a fatal mistake." He did not say so then. 503 I think most of us were present on that occasion, and I remember that the House was only too grateful when the opportunity presented itself to the Prime Minister and he was able to go to Munich. Most of us wished him God speed. Certainly, if he had not gone, we would not only be at war to-day, but we should have been at war for over five months. Let those who criticise him remember this. However lamentable the German occupation of Prague is and may be, we should remember, I think, that the present occupation has been undertaken in conditions of peace and not in conditions of war, and I think it can only be a man lacking in imagination who would overlook the consequences to Prague and the Czech people if he considers what would have happened to that people and to that country if that occupation had in fact taken place in time of war.
§ Mr. Donner
Our people at any rate were not prepared to fight to maintain for all time the frontiers of Czecho-Slovakia, which bore as little relation to justice as the act of the German Government now under discussion.
The Leader of the Liberal party said of the Prime Minister that he had taken last autumn the line of least resistance, but it seems to me that the sustained effort which the Prime Minister made last autumn was certainly not the line of least resistance. The world is looking for leadership, and I believe that through the Prime Minister we have been given a lead for peace such as has been vouchsafed to few countries. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth (Colonel Nathan) said, I think, in regard to Czecho-Slovakia, that we were faced with a "model of democracy and good government." Whatever may be our opinions to-day, let us at any rate cherish no illusions about the facts. We are close enough to them, and they are perfectly easy to ascertain. Let us therefore cherish no illusions as to the nature of the facts which face us. No one, surely, with any knowledge of Czecho-Slovakia as it was can bear out or substantiate such an assertion as that of the Member for Central Wandsworth. [Interruption.] May I give a single example to the contrary? 504 I happened to be in Poland this last January, and I met there a Polish pastor, a Catholic priest, of American origin, who was working among the Polish peasantry there. He told me that on 15th August last year he crossed the frontier into Czecho-Slovakia to deliver an address to the Polish schools in that country. He told me that he wished them a successful future and that he mentioned, in the course of his address, that he was speaking on the anniversary of the miracle of the Vistula, which was of course a reference to the defeat of the Bolshevik armies by the Poles in 1920, whereupon he was arrested by the Czech police, taken off to a police station, interrogated by the prefect of police and accused of making a political speech. He replied, "I have done nothing of the kind. You cannot object to my wishing success to the Polish schools because they have been established and are working under the auspices of the Czecho-Slovak Government." "Yes," said the prefect of police, "but you made a political speech. You referred to the miracle of the Vistula." "Yes," said the priest, "I did. I was referring to the anniversary upon which I was speaking," whereupon the prefect of police said, "You cannot do that in this country." The priest said, "I am an American citizen. In the United States we are a democracy, and we have free speech. We have been brought up to believe that Czecho-Slovakia is a democracy also and that there is freedom of speech in this country too." "Democracy!" said the prefect of the police, "What is democracy but a phrase?" The priest said, "I am not allowed, then, to say what I like?" The prefect of police said, "You can say what we tell you to say." After that he was deported across the frontier. That happened on 15th August last year, 1938, and yet the hon. and gallant Member for Central Wandsworth says that Czecho-Slovakia is or was a model of democracy and good government.
I think it is deporable that some of our people should have reached a point where they really believe that it is in the best interests of this country to take part and intervene in every European quarrel. I believe that this country should never go to war except in a cause which is more essential, more vital, and more important to the interests of this country than is 505 the maintenance of peace itself. Hon. Members have urged that England should be strong and powerful. I agree with that sentiment, but I believe that England should be powerful for peace and not for war. Some hon. Members who talk about the need for a powerful England desire to participate in every quarrel in every part of the world. I wonder how many of them stop to consider whether the Dominions of the British Empire are prepared to participate with them in such a policy. I believe that the spirit of our people is still the spirit which made this country great, and I do not believe that the meanness of spirit which has found expression in the mouths of some hon. Members this afternoon in relation to the Prime Minister and what he has done for this country and Europe bears any relation to the spirit of our people outside.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
A short time ago, in the Debate on the King's Speech, I made reference to the Prime Minister plucking the flower safety from the nettle danger. I then referred to the flower which was wilting and withering in his hand, losing any semblance of fragrance that it may have had at the blast of every dictator's speech. To-day we are witnessing an example not only of the speeches of the dictators, but of their actions. By the latest action of the German dictator the flower which was held by the Prime Minister is completely dead, and it can now be thrown as a faded token upon the grave of that mid-European democracy, Czecho-Slovakia. The nettle danger still remains in the form of Nazi-ism, which can and will flourish over that selfsame grave, for it is certain that democracy is being interred by instalments. That some such happening would result from Munich was foretold by many in this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, in a Debate in the House on 5th October, 1938, prophesied this result from Munich. He said:I venture to think that in future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. You will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czecho-Slovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi regime."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th October, 1938; col. 565, Vol. 339.]Those words have come true, and we have not had to wait for years; we have had to wait for only a few short months 506 — and this in spite of the childlike innocence of the Prime Minister and the Members of the Cabinet. Their faith in the Munich settlement and its effect was stated very boldly in the House in. October, when the Prime Minister said:It is my hope and my belief that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czecho-Slovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 45, Vol. 339.]I wonder where that security is to-day when we find the State first dismembered, and finally dissolved. Then the Home Secretary, speaking in the same Debate, said:I claim that the course we have taken enables the Czechoslovak Republic to survive." [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 156, Vol. 339.]For how long has it survived? For a very brief space. Herr Hitler's assurance to the Prime Minister before Munich, at Berchtesgaden and Godesberg, was told us by the Prime Minister himself. Before he went to Munich he said in the House on 28th September:I think I should add that before saying farewell to Herr Hitler I had a few words with him in private, which I do not think are without importance. In the first place he repeated to me with great earnestness what he had already said at Berchtesgaden, namely, that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe, and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than Germans."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 22, Vol. 339.]Like so many other solemn undertakings of Herr Hitler, these assurances were broken. Time and time again assurances have been given and time and time again those pledges have gone unredeemed. As the "Times," in the leading article today, speaking of Herr Hitler, says:He has often declared with the utmost emphasis that he had no aggressive designs on any other people. That assurance, like others, has been repudiated.The people of Czecho-Slovakia without a doubt have been provoked from the inside by representatives of the Nazi Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in the Debate in October, talked about Poland and, quoting Shelley, referred to this country and the democracies going on hoping…till Hope creates From its own wreck the thing it contemplated.Somebody must tell us on behalf of the Government whether the present wreck which we witness to-day is sufficiently 507 tragic for it to bring forth the thing that it contemplated, or must we hope on until democracy is completely wrecked. How can the thing contemplated then be brought to pass? This is a sorry day for all lovers of pledges fulfilled. It is a sorry degradation for Czecho-Slovakia. Exactly a year after the rape of Austria we have a similar rape of this new State.
What is to be the effect of this further step forward of power politics? Pressure on France by a bigger demand from the other end of the Axis. Italy, wondering how far eastward in Europe Herr Hitler is now going, will turn her attention to far greater demands from France to make up for what the other end of the Axis is getting. With regard to trade influence, the smallest States of Europe, many of whom used to trade largely with this country, are now becoming frightened and are ready almost at any moment to fall into the hands of Hitler and his emissaries. At the time of the crisis in August the "Times" had a leading article entitled "A New Dawn." It may have been new, but as the dawn broke into day democracy found that the old methods of Nazi-ism had been employed. To-day's leading article in the "Times" is not headed "A New Dawn." It is headed "Czecho-Slovakia Destroyed." The "Yorkshire Post" leading article is called, "The End of Czecho-Slovakia." What an ending to the promise of the new dawn! The German Chancellor and his colleagues can shout "Wave, Munich, all thy banners wave!", because Munich to them has brought a great victory.
The defeat and destruction of Czecho-Slovakia is a victory for power politics and force. It is not only a defeat for Czecho-Slovakia, but a defeat for democracy, and that is what Herr Hitler desires. He desires the final overthrow of political liberty as it is exemplified in democratic countries. What is the remedy? A combination of nations who believe in keeping their pledged word. Such a combination is at hand. We have the Western democracies of Europe, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and the great United States of America. With that combination of nations and the cooperation of nations which respect democratic ideals, there must be a determination to secure peace by removing injustices. If opposed by power politics we 508 must secure peace by removing the aggressors. From this world of troubled waters, waters troubled by the conflict of philosophies opposing comes the cry of drowning freedom. The crisis in August was something in the nature of the submerging of democracy. The so-called peace of Munich was an opportunity for rescuing drowning democracy. Democracy came to the surface for the first time. It will go down a second, and it may be a third time, and if that co-operation of the nations which I have mentioned is not used for its rescue, democracy will go down submerged for ever under the progress of dictatorship.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson
I will, if I may, for a moment follow the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton). I do not think that we are justified in appealing to the electorate of this country to put their faith any longer in co-operation. I feel that we have reached a turn in world history where we must rely first and last upon our own efforts—not that I preclude the help of countries like-minded with ourselves. I do not wish to be cynical, but I feel that there is little left on which we can depend but the faith and courage of our people, and of that there is no lack. This Debate to-day has been worthy of the traditions of the House. It is a solemn and a chastening moment and every speech has been marked by dignity and sincerity. We are all overwhelmed with the sense of the tragedy that has been played out, on perhaps the largest scale since the Great War. It is the tragedy of the extinction of a nation and the tragedy of those crowds in Prague greeting the occupying troops with their now obsolete national anthem. There is even greater tragedy in the end of the last State in Central Europe which believed in and practised Parliamentary democracy.
Nobody will attempt to minimise the tragedy and the sense of futility which we all feel, but I must honestly say that I think there is some confusion of thought in accepting for ourselves the responsibility for this tragedy. I myself thought at the time, and I think so now, that the Prime Minister was perfectly right in what he did in September. I do genuinely believe that he did the only possible thing. He prevented the inevitable happening by war and brought it about by peaceful means. I still think that, 509 geographically speaking, we cannot be expected to induge in war on behalf of a country in Central Europe. It is all very well to say that we should have been fighting, not for the country which provided the casus belli, but for the great principles of liberty and justice for which we stand, but one cannot altogether dissociate oneself from the casus belli in that sort of battle.
Let us, as in geometry, reduce the matter to an absurdity. Imagine that there is a small republic in Central Siberia which is being oppressed by the surrounding Powers. Is it to be said that one would be justified in plunging the world into war on behalf of the principles of liberty if the casus belli is at such a distance that one cannot bring help or assistance? Again, historically, we have, throughout the ages, always refused to indulge in war on behalf of countries in Central Europe. Some 300 years or more ago we refused to indulge in a war for the sake of the King and Queen of this same Bohemia, and I make no apology whatever, and I have not felt a single moment's regret, for having supported the Prime Minister in September, but I do think we have every right to feel a heavy sense of responsibility for the state we are placed in to receive the inevitable. We should feel heavy responsibility for our surprise to-day over what has happened, for our weakness, for our anxiety as to the future. I think the time is too grave for party polemics, and I frankly admit that I feel that I, as a Member of Parliament, have failed in my duty, and that every Member of Parliament, without distinction of party, has failed in his duty.
As I see it, the main, the first, duty of Parliament is to watch over the security of the nation. The second duty of Parliament is to provide a focus of clear thought for the whole country. As to the weakness of our defences last summer, I think we must all take a share of responsibility, and for the fact that although we are now strong enough to defend ourselves, we are not strong enough by our strength to prevent the threat of war. I do not suppose that hon. Members opposite will agree with this, but I believe that through our lack of clear thought we have encouraged the country to rely for safety upon a system of collective 510 security. There, again, I myself feel a strong sense of guilt. But do not let us indulge in an inquest, for it is not the duty of a politician or a would-be statesman to indulge in historical research. We are simply and solely concerned with the present and with the future.
I want to lay before the House three lines of action which I suggest we should take. After all, the electorate do listen to what we say in our constituencies. I think our first duty is to try to get away from this psychology of inevitability. We all feel a terrible sense that events are moving and armies marching completely outside our own control. We ought to feel that our future is in our own hands, that we are the masters of our fate. Secondly, I look forward, as a result of the unpleasant truths we are realising today, to some strong move, a move of intrinsic value and of psychological value, on the part of the Government in the wav of increased rearmament. Thirdly, I want to re-echo the plea of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) for national unity. I think every political party has failed in leadership. I believe that this House, on every side, is to a large extent out of touch with the feelings of the electorate. We represent, it is true, their yearning for peace—everyone represents that, a yearning that is common to every one of our fellow-countrymen and is, indeed, common to the vast majority of humanity—but I do not feel that we represent the yearning for leadership, or that we can answer that yearning for leadership which the people of this country feel. Nor do we represent their yearning for unity. I am perfectly certain from my experience in my own constituency that the ordinary man and woman is passionately longing for leadership, passionately longing for national unity. I believe that if we really tried we could find a large number of common beliefs and common faiths that are far more important and more fundamental than the differences which we have between us. Those things may sound banal and platitudinous, but, none the less, I firmly believe they are true. I believe there are times when the man-in-the-street has a sounder political instinct than all his would-be leaders in this House, and I reaffirm my conviction that the man-in-the-street is asking for unity at the top, and for leadership, and if any party by their pettiness refuse or put 511 obstacles in the way of that unity, their responsibility will be heavy.
It has often been said that there is only one prayer which the sane and reasonable man can utter, and that is that out of evil good may come. I think good will come even out of what has happened in Europe in the last day or two if it leads this country, which is, after all, the guardian of so much in civilisation, to a realisation of the truth, to a realisation of the fact that we are coming face-to-face with the critical moment and that the next few months will be a period of continuous, recurrent crisis. As I see it, this is, for the time being, the last episode in the drama that will be played in Central and Eastern Europe. When the curtain next goes up it will be in the West. It may be Holland that will be occupied. It may be that demands will be made upon Switzerland that she shall effectively muzzle her Press and play the part of a neutral nation that wishes to be a good neighbour to a strong authoritarian State. It may be that the other partner in the axis will be called upon to initiate a diplomatic offensive against France. I think that this episode will not have been altogether wasted if it wakes us up to the true state of the case, where easy optimism is out of date. Yes, there has been a lot of easy optimism, partly from a desire to help trade and business, and partly from a laudable desire not to panic. There certainly has been easy optimism in every section of the nation lately.
The night is dark; I think there is every reason for profound anxiety and sorrow; but I would remind the House that many times in history the same sort of thing has happened. There was the overwhelming of the Eastern Empire and of Eastern Christianity when the forces of the Crescent were not turned back until they had got to the gates of Vienna. There were times in the last Great War when all seemed lost. All has not been lost on those occasions. Perhaps the analogy is not true in the case of Vienna, but in the case of the last War we won through simply and solely because we united. In March, 1918, it will be remembered, every striker went back to work without a word as soon as the news came that the Germans had broken through. I reiterate my appeal to see to it that it is emphasised to the Government that in the opinion of many back-benchers in this 512 House what the country is crying out for is unity, and I believe we shall all have failed in our duty if we do not press forward for that in every possible way,
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
The last speaker has referred to unity. I, too, would like to refer to the very remarkable speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and to consider what seemed to be some of its implications. He said what I gathered was not disputed at the time by any Member on the opposite side of the House, that last October there were two opinions and to-day only one. Last October some hon. Members quite sincerely thought that appeasement might succeed and others thought it might fail. To-day it seemed to me the right hon. Gentleman said, without one word of dissent in this House, that there was only one opinion, namely, that appeasement had failed. The right hon. Gentleman was asking for unity upon the basis of that one opinion, that the policy of appeasement had failed.
The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) completely misinterpreted the nature of the appeal for unity which was made by the right hon. Gentleman. He seemed to interpret it as an appeal for compulsory National Service. If the opinion of this House is, as I believe it is, that that policy has failed, the unity cannot be in favour of compulsory National Service to pursue the same policy. The unity must surely be upon the basis of a new policy. Let us face the fact that if there is to be unity, sacrifices have to be made on both sides of this House. If there is to be unity, we on this side shall have to accept a leadership some of which comes from people whom we have criticised during the past seven years, and hon. Members on the opposite side will have to accept the fact that the policy which they have advocated for the last seven years has been dropped. Both of these things are very difficult to do, yet I do most firmly appeal that that should be done.
I would remind hon. Members of the fate of Austria. I hope that many Members have read Mr. Geddes's book "Fallen Bastions" in which he describes the history of Austria from the end of the War until the Anschluss, and brings out overwhelmingly the fundamental cleavage in that country which is exactly 513 paralleled by the cleavage in this House to-day. In Austria, from 1934 to 1938, there was on one side Herr Schuschnigg, and on the other side the workers, distrusting each other as much as we distrust the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister distrusts us on this side of the House. In Austria they distrusted each other far more than any Member of this House distrusts any other Member, because there was between Herr Schuschnigg and the workers of Vienna the memory of the Dollfuss murders. Schuschnigg was unable for his part to appreciate that the democrats of Austria had real aspiration which must be satisfied if there was to be any unity in that country. On the other side, the workers were unable to forget the appalling things that had been done to their leaders by Schuschnigg. When there came the menace of German arms accumulating on the frontiers of Austria, Herr Schuschnigg, at that last moment, approached the workers' representatives, who asked him for guarantees as to his policy. They were given, whereupon there was co-operation actually under Schuschnigg leadership, but too late.
§ Mr. Silverman
I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Member but this happens to be a matter upon which I have some personal knowledge. I went to Vienna in 1937, and there were movements among the workers at that time. The workers realised what was between them, but they were prepared to unite and support him against a great common enemy if they could only come to some kind of understanding with Herr Schuschnigg and others. That was ultimately forthcoming, only it was too late.
§ Mr. Acland
I do not know why the hon. Gentleman needed to interrupt me to say that, because it is equally well known to me that throughout those four years in which the two partners might have saved Austria they were unable to co-operate. Feelers went out from one side to the other in vain. I agree with the hon. Member that the obstacles to unity came overwhelmingly from the Schuschnigg party. My point was that in the last days Schuschnigg sought cooperation, conditions as to policy were sought for and given and there was cooperation, too late. To-day, however, Schuschnigg and the workers look out on the world from inside concentration camps.
Have we to wait until this country is in precisely the same position before we can 514 get unity here? Everybody here knows that within one day of the outbreak of war, if there were a war there would be a Cabinet including Members of all parties. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] I do not for one moment admit that cry of "No." Have we really to wait for that? Is it not possible, now that everyone in the House is agreed that the policy of appeasement has failed, for there to go from the Government side a real initiative along the lines of a new policy, and the lines which we have been advocating for the last seven years from these benches, and in which advocacy we have never been proved wrong. Is it not desirable to prevent that from happening?
The speech from the right hon. Gentleman was one of great significance and may represent one of the last chances of this country to save itself from unbelievable disaster. I believe that persons, on the one hand, who adhere to their offices when by so doing they are preventing this country from taking a course that might save it, and people, on the other hand, who refuse to take any part in what might save the country merely because certain persons are occupying certain offices—I believe that both those categories of people are rendering the greatest possible disservice to the community at the present time. I am glad that my own party has shown in these last months a willingness to realise the gravity of the situation and to co-operate with all those who are willing to pursue a policy which might well save democracy and this country. That is a token of our earnestness, and we most cordially and sincerely support the appeal that has been made to the House so earnestly and so influentially by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Sandys
This is indeed a momentous Debate. We are meeting to-day in tragic and tense circumstances. We are watching—and the news overtakes our speeches —a brave democratic people, who have gone through great trials during recent months, being annihilated and wiped off the map. We cannot help recognising that as a nation, as a Parliament, we had undertaken certain obligations towards that country in the form of the Munich guarantee. That guarantee, I admit, has not come into technical operation, but I also agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions that 515 morally, as far as we are concerned, that guarantee has come into force. I must say that from the very beginning I never saw how we could implement that guarantee. This is another case in which we have offered to render assistance to another nation if it were in difficulties, and have found that, when the hour of danger has come, we have been powerless to give the promised help.
I do not quarrel with the Government's attitude. I did not quarrel with what they did at Munich. I quarrelled with the policy which led up to Munich; I quarrelled with the neglect of our defences which placed us in a position in which a great Empire like ours should never have been placed—the position of having to decide between deserting its friends or plunging its people into war. In the situation in which he found himself when he arrived in Munich, I believe the Prime Minister had no alternative but to do what he did. To-day I do not believe that any Government could do anything but look on helplessly at the disaster and the tragedy which is being enacted in Czecho-Slovakia. These are the fruits of past mistakes. But the situation to-day is far too grave and far too serious for us, in the precious time that is left to us, to indulge in mere recriminations. The present crisis is a serious one. When you have three armies on the move, it is no laughing matter. But in my view it is but the fringe of what is to come; it is but the first of a series of crises which lie ahead of us, and I do not believe that, whatever we do, those crises can be avoided. It will depend on what action we now take whether we overcome these dangers. But that they can be altogether avoided, or that they are going to dissipate into thin air, I believe to be an entirely empty hope. There are more dangers and more crises lying ahead. It is to the future, therefore, that we must address ourselves.
What are we going to do to avert further aggression and further disintegration? Hon. Members have spoken of the possibility of fresh acts of violence, and I believe we must face the likelihood of such eventualities. We must not be frustrated or paralysed by the new technique of aggression which is now being adopted. The fact that an army marches in at the invitation of the victim whose country it proposes to invade ought not to be 516 regarded as necessarily precluding other nations from rendering assistance. It is quite clear that, if we are to meet the dangers which lie immediately ahead, perhaps in the next few weeks, at any rate in the next few months, we must at once endeavour to rally together those other nations which, like us, are in danger. And, let there be no mistake about it, this country is in danger. We must rally those other nations together to join with us in resisting aggression. Let us not be dispirited. The forces, the resources of wealth, the natural resources, the resources of man-power, possessed by the nations which believe in law and order and which desire peace, are, if only they can be united, immeasurably greater and more powerful than anything that any would-be agressors could hope to array against them. Our task, therefore, the immediate task of the Government—and there is no time to be lost—is to unite those forces and to present to the world such a combination of power as no aggressor would dare to challenge.
I am going to make a proposal to the Government. It is one which some hon. Members may ridicule. I am going to suggest that the Government should take the initiative immediately, now, in the next fortnight, to call a conference of those nations who are in danger and who are prepared, if they can see the possibility of effective combination with other nations, to organise together for mutual defence against aggression. If such a conference is to be successful, clearly it must meet in an atmosphere free from pressure. It cannot usefully assemble under the threat of German mobilisations or to the sound of marching Nazi troops. Therefore, a pre-condition of such a conference would be that each of the participating nations would in advance guarantee to come to the assistance of any other participating nation if that nation were attacked during the limited period of the session of the conference. I believe that, on such a limited basis, the nations would be prepared to give each other such a guarantee; and I believe also that it is possible that some sort of support and assistance might even be forthcoming from the United States of America. Such a conference should, in my opinion, in order to show straightaway, without any delay, that the Western Powers are not disinteresting 517 themselves in what remains of Central and Eastern Europe, be summoned to meet, not in London or in Paris, but in Warsaw or Bukarest or some other Eastern European capital.
The purpose of the conference would be a simple one; it would be to devise immediate measures for the mutual defence of those who participated in it. Of course, it would be no good any government going to that conference—particularly the British Government—unless it knew quite definitely what it was prepared to do. My own view is that Great Britain ought to be prepared at the present time to enter into such a mutual defensive system with any country in Europe, provided that that country from a military and geographical standpoint is capable of being defended. In other words, we should say, for example, to Rumania, which may be the next to be threatened, "Provided Poland, Hungary, Yugo-Slavia, Bulgaria and Turkey are prepared to come into this defensive system, we are prepared also to participate." It would, on the other hand, be difficult to undertake to protect a single country which was geographically isolated.
How can these nations be brought together in conference? It is quite clear, and I think hon. Members who have spoken have expressed the same view, that any rallying together of the nations of the world can take place only through the leadership of Great Britain. If Great Britain is to be able to provide that lead, she must herself be strong and united—especially united. Our rearmament is progressing. Our defensive preparations are now proceeding at a more satisfactory pace. But even if all the plans the Government have made had reached fruition, even if their whole defence programme had already been completed, there would still be many things left to be done which no party Government could possibly tackle. There is the need for a large-scale planning and reorganisation of industry in the interests of defence. There is the need for a far more intensive organisation of our manpower. It may be that we shall even have to envisage some measure of universal National Service. But none of these things, involving as they must great interference with the private and business lives of our people, can be attempted except with the consent and 518 approval of a united people and a united Parliament.
I, therefore, wish to add my support to the appeal which has been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) for the formation of a truly representative all-party Government. I am of opinion that the measures, both at home and abroad, which the emergency demands will not and may be cannot be taken except by a Government which enjoys the backing of all three parties in this House. There can be no doubt that if war had broken out last September, we should have seen the formation of an all-party Government of the kind we ask for now. We have, it is true, purchased at a heavy price a short respite. Notwithstanding that respite, the need for national unity and for strong action, which cannot be achieved except through unity, is hardly less imperative to-day than it would have been if we were now actually at war. Peace can be preserved only by rapid, ruthless and resolute action.
The Prime Minister told us a little while ago, in a phrase that has stuck in our memories, that he and his Government were "go-getters for peace." My right hon. Friend has gone to get that peace in Munich and in Rome. He did not find it in either of those places. I, therefore, welcome the marked change which has taken place in the tactics of the Government during recent weeks. We now see that it is neither to Rome nor to Munich that Ministers are going in search of peace, and I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade has cancelled his visit to Berlin. It is to Moscow and to the Scandinavian countries that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade is now going, and his journey to Moscow will, I feel, be something far more important than a mere trade mission. The fate of Europe is going to depend on the initiative and leadership of this country in the next few months, perhaps in the next few weeks. Every party has a responsibility, every hon. Member has a responsibility, for assisting in providing that leadership. I appeal to the Government, I appeal to the Opposition, I appeal to all hon. Members to sink their differences, to provide the nation, and, through the nation, to provide the world, with that unity and that leadership through which alone we can 519 hope to save our civilisation and our freedom.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
Some 15 months ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned from his post. He resigned because he differed from his colleagues in the Cabinet on a fundamental issue. He thought that the policy in foreign affairs upon which the Prime Minister then proposed to embark was a wrong policy fundamentally, and he prophesied a number of disasters in foreign affairs that would take place if the policy that the Prime Minister wanted to adopt, and that he himself did not want to adopt, were pursued. During the last 15 months, one by one, with an almost terrifying rapidity, we have seen fulfilled every one of the prophecies which the right hon. Gentleman then made as being the inevitable and disastrous consequences of the policy then begun. Now, 15 months afterwards, when the state of Europe is at least as bad as the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington had prophesied as a result of that disastrous policy, the right hon. Gentleman makes another speech. He has been proved right. The logic of events has run in tune with the logic of his argument of that time—and what does he now propose? He proposes that we should all unite behind the author of that disastrous policy, believing that, in that way, we could obtain national unity. It is not surprising, when one sees that kind of argument presented in these tragic days to this House, that the right hon. Gentleman, upon whose future at any rate some hon. Members on the other side and some on this had built such hopes, has disappointed all such hopes, and is to-day, if not a beautiful, at any rate a quite ineffectual angel beating in the void his luminous wings in vain. Let no one suppose that, if the time came when the unity of this nation was possible, it could possibly be achieved along lines which have brought us to just that situation of which we all complain. The unity of this nation, I believe, is possible, but it is along quite different lines from those which the Government have been pursuing.
Hon. Members, I think, mistake the issue. There has been deep division. The question has not been whether this country ought to engage in war in every 520 kind of trouble all over the world. It has not even been whether this country ought to arm or not to arm. The question has been between those who believe and those who do not believe these things, (1), that no nation, however strongly it may arm, can secure peace against any possible combination of opponents; (2), that you can replace international anarchy by international law and order on the basis of only defending your own interests and disinteresting yourselves from every other question in which you do not happen to be immediately involved; and (3), that you can establish international law only on the basis of all law-abiding nations agreeing to stand together against any law-breaker in precisely the same way as the domestic and municipal peace of our own country is achieved.
I know very well—who does not—that the difficulties in the way of achieving any such thing are enormous, and I know, what I think everybody now admits, that those difficulties have not been lessened but increased by the policy that we have been pursuing in these latest years. But however more difficult it may be now than it was seven years ago, it still remains true that, unless we do achieve it, we are lost. There is no other way, and the division in this House and in this country on foreign affairs is between those who do accept the view that I have endeavoured inadequately to outline, and those who do not. Those who do not accept that view have another policy—the policy of appeasement. I am not going to be ironic about it. I have never thought that that policy was likely to succeed and that it was right in principle. I have never thought that it was practicable in the objects which it set itself, but I am prepared to admit that it was a great endeavour. I am quite prepared to admit and to say that if you thought it right in principle, then go ahead, try it out and see if it can be done, and whatever I might have thought of it before, if it had indeed achieved its purpose, I should not have been afraid or ashamed to stand up in this House and confess my error.
But what I cannot understand, and what, in fact, I find impossible to understand is, that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in the light of everything that has taken place since September last, can stand up at that Box 521 and still say that that policy was right. I can understand that six months ago he believed it was right, and that, believing it was right, he felt, whatever opposition it excited, that it was his duty to attempt to carry it out. But how a man could come back from Munich, announcing to the enthusiastic crowd which assembled to meet him that he had found peace for our time—[An HON. MEMBER: "With honour."]. Never mind the honour; you need not bother about that. I do not object to peace at any price. I would be prepared to pay the price myself, and not have it at somebody else's expense. Whatever price is paid, if you achieve peace, all well and good. I think that the most dishonourable peace is better than the most honourable war, but if we are to sell our birthright, let it be certain that we get the mess of pottage. I was about to say that the man who could come back with that piece of paper and announce, no doubt quite sincerely, "I have brought back peace for our time," and who, seeing what has happened since, can still say that that policy was right, must be in this dilemma, that either he is completely insincere, either he deliberately means to mislead this House and mislead the country or else he is completely and intellectually incapable of understanding what is going on in the world around him.
I do not want in these grave and critical times to score mere debating points, but there are perhaps just two other things that it would be right to say. There is a fairly widespread and growing feeling that the Prime Minister is not completely candid with this House or with the country; that in all his dealings in these matters, and particularly in his dealings at Munich, and in his dealings with Spain, his fear was not that he might fail to defeat diplomatically or otherwise the dictators. His fear was that he might succeed. When he talked about the danger of war if we did justice to the Spanish people, or if we did justice to the people of Czecho-Slovakia, he did not mean it. He knew that there was no danger of war. He knew, in the case of Czecho-Slovakia, that he had no intention of resisting at all, and the feeling is that his whole consciousness is so deeply imbued by the fear of the establishment of Socialism in Europe that he is prepared to pay almost any price, and indeed any price, to prevent it. His great 522 fear was that Mussolini might lose, that Hitler might lose and that the consequences of that would have been the defeat of Fascism in Italy and of Nazism in Germany. His feeling was: "It is all very well to bring down these dictators, but you have to look further and consider who will take their place," and when he considered who would take their place he decided that it was better to…bear those ills we have Than fly to others that we know not of.There is a deep and growing feeling, a more and more widespread feeling that these questions of foreign affairs in the form which they have now assumed cut right across the ordinary political frontiers, that the kind of people who want to maintain Hitler in power in Berlin and Mussolini in power in Rome are, when you meet them and look at them closely, very much like the people who want to maintain the Prime Minister in power in this country, that there is a certain association of interest, and that economic and social questions have far more to do with the business than would be the case between the Foreign Offices and the Chancelleries of Europe. It may be that that is not so, but 1 cannot help feeling that at the root of all these troubles in the world there lies the problem of poverty. When I hear hon. and right hon. Members opposite discussing how far the international uncertainties are responsible for recessions in trade, I cannot help feeling that they are putting the cart before the horse, and that what is responsible is our inability in this age of plenty to organise the production and consumption of wealth as we might organise it, so as to make it possible for most individuals in most countries to have a decent standard of life. It is the system which makes it impossible for us to organise properly that causes these results, and not the international uncertainties which make us all live in the impending shadow of European suicide.
When people talk about the achievement of national unity, they must remember that you cannot get unity without equality, and you cannot get a common bond between people unless you can establish in some way social justice. If you are able to establish those things, you will have gone a long way towards removing the causes of international rivalry and war. I do not want to con- 523 tinue along those lines, but I would say, in conclusion, that hon. and right hon. Members opposite delude themselves if they think the time will ever come when those of us who take the view on social and economic matters that we take on these benches will ever be persuaded to come into a Government led by people with the social and political outlook of the Prime Minister, or to stand in defence of a system which has established poverty in the midst of plenty, and the continual danger of war in a world where everybody wants peace.
§ 9.9 p.m.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said that this was a Debate in which hon. Members should speak from their hearts. I do not think there is anyone who has heard the speeches to-day who would not admit that that has been the case. The Debate came upon us unexpectedly, and we have been spared those set speeches with which very often this House is entertained. If ever there was a time for calm and quiet consideration of world affairs and for the exercise of restraint, both in the spoken and the written word, I suggest that that time is now. We should exercise quiet and deliberate judgment. It may well be that at the present time the peace of the world is at stake. If that be so, there is the more reason why we should hesitate before we say anything which may make the position worse, or might exacerbate feelings which have already been aroused. The present situation only proves how difficult is the road to peace, and how many and how grievous are the setbacks which those who desire to travel that road, as I believe we all do in this House, are bound to encounter upon the way. We realise how much has to be endured before a stable peace can be established in this world.
I believe the Prime Minister was right in what he did at Munich. I believe he is still right in his policy. I believe that the policy of appeasement is still right, and that it will remain the right policy. What is more, I believe it is the only policy by which we can expect to gain a peace that will last.
§ Sir A. Southby
The hon. Member will, no doubt, have an opportunity of expressing his views. I have listened to other speeches and have not interrupted, and perhaps I may be allowed to express my views without any interruption. The right hon. Member who leads the Liberal party called attention to the fact that a certain pronouncement had been made by a senator who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States; that is a body not commonly sympathetic to this country. I am sure that the peace of the world can ultimately be achieved only by the closest collaboration between this country and the United States of America. I am certain, also, that any policy which was not a policy of appeasement would never appeal to the people of the United States. They might want to come alongside of us in the defence of democracy, but if they feel that coming alongside us would inevitably involve them in an armed struggle, they would be loath to bind themselves to stand by us.
Our policy necessitates our standing up for our own liberties and in our own defence in every way that we can. To-day, I have heard the policy of the Prime Minister referred to as a disastrous one. It is nothing of the sort. Because of that policy we have had six months of peace, when we might well have had six months of war. The trouble that has arisen in Czecho-Slovakia shocks and disturbs every one of us, whatever our political views may be, but our duty lies first of all in the defence of the well-being of our own Empire. I believe the people of this country demand that our first and primary interest should be the affairs of our own Empire and its legitimate interests, and that we should not involve ourselves in Central Europe, where our interests are not concerned.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), who opened the Debate, made a speech, as he always does, from his heart, believing sincerely every word he said. I do not agree with everything that he said, but I pay him this tribute, as would most hon. Members of this House, that I never hear him speak without appreciating that he is saying something in which he honestly believes. He said that he could not understand why the Prime Minister went to Munich. Does he honestly think that if the Prime Minister had not gone to Munich we should have 525 been at peace now? It is easy to quote old speeches, to "job backwards," as they say in the City, and to be wise after the event, but there is no one here who does not believe in his heart that if the Prime Minister had not had the courage to go to Munich we should now be at war instead of enjoying peace. Whatever may be the truth about the present occupation of Czecho-Slovakia, without Munich that occupation would have taken place in a sea of blood. If the visit to Munich did nothing else it saved Czecho-Slovakia from the horrors of war, although it did not save her from collapse.
The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) twitted the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Somerville) with his age. Certainly nobody who heard her forceful speech would imagine that age had in any way impaired her energies or her spirit. She reminded the House of something which, I think, the House should remember. She said that the Labour party, ever since the Peace Treaty was signed, has said that in the Peace Treaty there were the seeds of discord and injustice and of future trouble. They are not the only people who have said that. They were perfectly right, but there are other people who have said that unless the injustices of the Peace Treaty were removed we should inevitably experience just what at the present time we are experiencing. The hon. Lady was neither quite accurate nor fair when she suggested that this country had ever promised protection to Czecho-Slovakia. Very wisely this country did nothing of the sort, but when blame is being apportioned, as it is this afternoon, and laid at the door of the Prime Minister, I think we must consider the past.
Czecho-Slovakia was a State created with pen and ink out of the Peace Treaty. For years it has been obvious that its internal problems, unless they were solved, would inevitably lead to its disintegration. We have all to accept blame — all parties and all Members of this House have to accept the blame— for the fact that we did not do anything to try and get the injustices of the Peace Treaty remedied while they could be remedied in a spirit of friendship. None of us has faced the realities of the position, the completely false position which has existed in Europe up to recently. Germany believed— I do not say she was correct— that 526 Czecho-Slovakia was there at her back door like a kind of French policeman to keep her in subjection. I do not believe that any State consisting of warring and discordant nations such as those which exist in Czecho-Slovakia could ever remain a successful entity. It collapsed, as it was bound to collapse; and it collapsed from within. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I agree that the collapse has been stimulated by action from outside, but it has collapsed, and it has collapsed because the State which was built up after the Peace Treaty was something which could not last.
That does not excuse what Germany did at 6 o'clock this morning, and I am not suggesting that it does. We are shocked and disturbed by the high-handed and brutal action which was taken, but those who criticise the policy which the Prime Minister has carried out ever since he became Prime Minister might remember that it is the policy which we and the French Government have carried out ever since the War which has been responsible for the position in which we now find ourselves. I hold no brief whatever for Germany nor for what she has done, but let us realise that we now stand at the cross roads. The future issue is either peace-or war, and by the action which is taken by hon. Members and by responsible Governments in Europe, is going to be decided the fate of the world. If we realise that then we must go back and try to understand the mentality of Europe which is a result of the Treaty of Versailles.
That Treaty inculcated a spirit of resentment and revenge in 73,000,000 people. One by one the artificial barriers which have been built up around Germany have collapsed. It is no fault of the Prime Minister that they have collapsed; circumstances have been too strong for Europe. The trouble is that a feeling of repression and persecution leads to a brutal and cruel outlook on the part of those who feel themselves to be oppressed. We have now to face the situation in Europe as it exists. I say that there is no other policy which has the slightest hope of saving the world from catastrophe except the policy of appeasement. The road may be dark and difficult, and there will be many setbacks, but I still believe that it is the only policy which will in the end succeed.
§ Sir A. Southby
The hon. Member will never be appeased by anybody. At this moment when we axe faced with great dangers we must face facts and try to rebuild and reshape Europe in a spirit of peace—not wait until it has to be done in the furnace of war. Ever since the War the trouble has been that we have been too late in our understanding of the difficulties of other nations. The Prime Minister has been one of the first to face realities. He took his courage in both hands, and he will reap the reward of his courage in the success of his policy. It may be true, as the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner) has said, that we should remember, that in absorbing this part of Central Europe Germany has not everything on the credit side. There are serious debits to be taken into consideration. That is nothing for us to be pleased about, because everyone in this House and throughout the country wants to establish peace.
This Debate has certainly served a useful purpose. It has brought forth individual expressions of opinion genuinely felt, and it has proved that there is no hon. Member in this House who does not want peace. I have frequently dissociated myself with the suggestion that hon. Members opposite are warmongers. I think the policy which some of them advocate would lead to war, but I do not believe that they desire such a calamity to come upon our people. Whatever dark days may be in store for us I am sure that this country is fit and able to meet them with the greatest confidence. However much we may differ individually, we are in our hearts united in a desire to maintain and defend our liberties. If the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) is right—I do not believe he is, and I hope he is not—that this is only to be a brief respite before another crisis, then all I can say is that it is all the more essential that the Prime Minister should make contact as soon as possible with responsible statesmen throughout the world and of every country in the world. I rule out no country whatever. If ever there was a time when it was necessary that there should be some form of world conference to try and save the peace of the world, that time is now. I do not agree with those who say that this country does not want any more Munichs.
528 There is an insistent demand for leadership. The trouble is that hon. Members opposite do not seem to recognise leadership when they have got it. The only leadership they want is the sort of leadership which appeals to them. I do not believe that is the leadership which appeals to people outside. I believe the people in the country realise that at Munich they did get leadership. That Munich has not been the success that the right hon. Gentleman hoped and prayed that it would be is not his fault. Whatever blame is laid at his door, that is not fit to be laid there. The only hope for world peace is that he should persist in his endeavours to get understanding between those who are responsible for the government of the nations of the world. I can only regret the cancellation of the visit of Ministers to Berlin. I hope that cancellation is only temporary. The more contacts that you can get at the present time with responsible statesmen throughout the world, the better. I believe that the peace of the world is something worth striving for. In these troublous times peace is not easy of achievement. I have said that there will be many setbacks, and that the road will be difficult, dark, and beset with many troubles. I believe that it requires courage to pursue a policy which appears for a time to have been unsuccessful but, I also believe with all my heart that if it is so pursued, we shall in the end achieve an era of world peace.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Cocks
The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Sir A. Southby) has used the rather nauseating argument used by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Donner), and in a previous Debate by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Prime Minister's action at Munich saved Czecho-Slovakia from the horrors of war. That is not the argument that we used in 1914 in the case of Belgium. After all, there was no threat to Belgian independence at that time. The German Government merely asked the Belgian Government to allow her troops to pass through in order to attack the Allies. We urged her to resist, and she did. I remember a famous cartoon in "Punch" of the Kaiser, booted and spurred, facing the figure of the Belgian King, pointing to the blazing cities of Belgium and saying, "You have lost everything." The King of the 529 Belgians replied, "Except honour." Czecho-Slovakia, too, would have fought for us for liberty and for her independence if we had not handed her over, we and France together, bound to her enemy. After all, Czecho-Slovakia has been crucified. It is not fitting that those who were responsible for the crucifixion should come forward now to say, "The man would have died anyhow and, in any case, he deserved to die."
I was rather interested to notice, too, that some back benchers opposite have been forced by the logic of facts to come back to the idea of collective security, picking up again the policy which has always been the policy of this party and which the Prime Minister has discarded. I think it was the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) who saw signs that the Government itself was coming back to that policy, and the mission to Russia was an instance of it. I only hope that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet will not be too slow in returning to these principles. After all, I feel very much that the situation is too grave for mere party polemics. We have been warned from America to-day that the invasion of Czecho-Slovakia must be regarded as the forerunner of a more serious crisis which maybe expected before the end of the month. A prudent general always clears up any hostile force in his rear before marching in another direction, so it may be that sooner or later, perhaps sooner rather than later, Italy and Germany may take action towards France, and in their colonial claims towards us, which may have to be resisted and which might involve the world in war.
What I am alarmed at is the Prime Minister's continued capacity for believing in the good faith of governments which have so consistently broken their pledges. A day or two ago I drew attention to the fact that last November the Duce promised the Prime Minister that he would send no more arms to Spain, but it was admitted by the Under-Secretary that those arms had been sent since November. Since then the Prime Minister has said that he returned from Rome more than ever convinced of the good faith of that Government. He believed again what Herr Hitler told him at Munich. That pledge has been broken to-day, but the Prime Minister still says he does not believe that the action of Herr Hitler was in his mind at the time he 530 signed the Munich Agreement. On 30th September the Prime Minister, in a message to the nation, said:The settlement of the Czecho-Slovakian problem which has now been achieved is in my view only a prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace.I do not know, but we know that Herr Hitler lays his plans months beforehand, and it well may be that on the very day that that statement was made Herr Hitler had already given orders that on 15th March Czecho-Slovakia should be invaded. I cannot help thinking that the Government is badly served by its representatives in some foreign countries. It would be as well if we had a little more information as to the intentions of the governments to which they are accredited rather than speeches in praise of Nazi philosophy. The Prime Minister does not seem, as far as I can make out, to have studied the previous utterances of Herr Hitler himself. I should like to bring before his personal attention certain things that Herr Hitler has said since he came into power. On 23rd March, 1933, he said:We will tread no other path than that laid down by the Peace Treaties.On 30th January, 1934, he said:Once the Saar question is settled I will accept not only the letter but the spirit of Locarno.On 10th September in a Note from the German Government to the British Government, this sentence occurs:''The German Government.… firmly reject all idea of aggressive conduct towards other States or the use of any kind of force in international relations.On 9th March, 1935, Herr Hitler said he had an air force, which was forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles, whilst negotiations were going on to modify the disarmament clauses. Four days later— I hope the Prime Minister will not mind me quoting this—the late Sir Austen Chamberlain said:There is no justification for a unilateral breach of the Treaty. We cannot build peace in Europe if that is the mood of any great nation. The situation is graver than at any time since August, 1914.Four days later, Herr Hitler announced that he was going to establish conscription in Germany—also a breach of the Treaty of Versailles. On 26th March, when the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer went to Berlin, he was told that the German 531 Air Force, which we had not known was being constructed, was already equal to, if not greater than, the British Air Force. I do not understand why, if that information was in the possession of the Government, the increase in the Air Force of this country was not started earlier. On 21st May, Herr Hitler made an important speech in the Reichstag, and having denounced the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, he went on to say:I will unconditionally respect the remaining Articles regarding international relations, including the territorial provisions, and will only carry out by means of peaceable understandings such revisions as will be inevitable in course of time.On 7th March, 1936, Herr Hitler denounced the Treaty of Locarno, and occupied the Rhineland. Then he made the statement:Germany will never break the peace of Europe. We have no territorial demands to make in Europe.On 14th November, Germany denounced the waterways clause of the Treaty of Versailles. On 24th September, 1937, there was the famous visit of Signor Mussolini to Berlin, during which it was decided, according to General Goering's newspaper, that Signor Mussolini was to have Spain and Central Europe was to go to Germany. On 6th November, the triangular pact between Italy, Germany and Japan was signed in Rome. On 11th March, 1938, Herr Hitler marched into Austria, the country whose independence he had previously pledged himself to maintain. At that time he gave a pledge to the British Government that, in the case of any dispute with Czecho-Slovakia, he would respect the Arbitration Treaty of 1926. The present Foreign Secretary stated that:By these assurances, solemnly given and more than once repeated, we naturally expect the German Government to abide.We know that when the crisis came a few months later, Germany scorned that treaty and dismissed it as being just a document of Geneva, and there was brought about the settlement of which we know. When the Prime Minister went to Godesberg, and expressed surprise at the alterations that had been made by Herr Hitler in the proposals put forward at Berchtesgaden, again Herr Hitler said the same thing as he had said two years previously that this was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe and that 532 he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than Germans. That has been proved false to-day. Germany is in occupation of Czecho-Slovakia. As a result, they have in their possession the famous Skoda works, and also the works at which the Bren gun is made—and if they are going to take them, as I have no doubt they will —they have a fleet of 800 first-line aeroplanes, and if Czecho-Slovakia is to be disarmed, as I understand it is to be, Germany will have the equipment, the rifles, tanks and so on, of a first-class army of 35 divisions—a great increase in the strength of Germany. This has been the policy of Herr Hitler for a long time. I should like to quote something which I have quoted in the House before—the statement made by Doctor Imredy, the then Prime Minister of Hungary, just before Munich. He paid a visit to Berlin, and when he came back, he said:German intentions are to establish a great German commonwealth of nations which would include the smaller nations of South-Eastern Europe, while guaranteeing their frontiers and independence. They will be subject to Germany in foreign policy and will be unable to conclude treaties which might be directed against Nazi Germany. Czecho-Slovakia was the stumbling-block.That stumbling-block has now been removed. The other thing which alarms me about the Prime Minister is his extreme optimism, a kind of wish-fulfilment that everything is going to be bright and happy in the near future. In July, 1938, on the last day before the House rose for the Summer Recess, the Prime Minister made a statement that the atmosphere of Europe was very much brighter than it had been. Two months later, we were on the verge of war. On 10th March last, a Government statement appeared in all the newspapers giving a very optimistic review of international affairs and even suggesting that it might be possible, before the end of the year, to have a treaty of armaments limitation. I believe it stated also that the Prime Minister was very pleased with the conference that he had had with Dr. Ley. On 12th March, Dr. Ley was speaking at Munich, and I will quote to the House a newspaper report of what he said:Dr. Robert Ley, chief of the Nazi Labour Front, told a mass meeting here to-day that Germany's demand for 'living space' must be heeded 'without delay.' 'If we are cheated out of our rights, developments will follow compared to which Versailles will be but child's play. If the Jews cheat us, we 533 shall exterminate every Jew in the world. Dr. Ley brought boos from the crowd when he said that 40,000,000 English rule 470,000,000 people and 40,000,000 Frenchmen rule 200,000,000 people. 'We are at least as good as the English, and all the rest of them. Destiny has given us the same chance. Now we have Herr Hitler the time is ripe. We shall claim what is due to us.'That was said by Dr. Ley two or three days after he had interviewed the Prime Minister in England. I am sure he did not say the same thing to the Prime Minister's face. I feel that we are faced at the present time by ruthless men who understand no argument except force. It may be that in a very short time there will be joint demands made upon us and the French by the Axis Powers. It seems to me to be correct, as some hon. Members opposite have said, that we should, without any loss of time, get into close touch with countries such as Russia, America, Turkey, Poland, Yugoslavia and Rumania, not only to exchange views with them, but definitely to fix up, with such as will join in, military plans against any possible attack. I am told that one of the things Herr Hitler appreciated was the mobilisation of the Fleet. Our Fleet is at present at Gibraltar, and I hope that at the conclusion of the manoeuvres the ships will not be dispersed as yet. It may be that some mobilisation or partial mobilisation would be a very valuable act for the Government to try out at the present time. It may be that the visit of the President of France to England might be an opportunity for a joint Anglo-French naval demonstration in the Channel. I believe that by action of that kind the Axis Powers, if they intend to strike, may be checked before they leap. If they leap, millions will perish. With all solemnity, I suggest to the Government that the fate of the British Empire and of liberty is in their hands. By strong and resolute action, and by a strong and resolute attitude, both may be saved. I believe that if they hesitate a little longer, both may either be lost for ever, or saved only at the cost of appalling sacrifices.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Dalton
My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell), in opening the Debate with a speech which some hon. Members opposite have said deeply moved them by its sincerity and high moral tone, said truly that to-day is, for many of us, a day of shame and humiliation. For my part, I was somewhat sur- 534 prised, and I thought it was a little unseemly, that the Prime Minister's entry to-day was greeted with cheers from his own supporters. I cannot imagine why any hon. Member in any part of the House could have felt that the opening of to-day's sitting justified any such demonstration. The Prime Minister's policy in foreign affairs has been largely a personal policy. It is now, visibly, in ruins and the responsibility for that rests, not much upon his other colleagues though they must bear their share of the general collective responsibility; not much, I think even indirectly, upon those skilled officials of the Foreign Office whom he has studiously and consistently set aside, and not at all on the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) who, although to-day he has appealed for some new united front, yet himself felt compelled for reasons which appealed to me and many of my hon. Friends at the time to separate himself from the front to which he had previously been attached. No, the responsibility rests in an exceptional degree upon the Prime Minister himself. It is his personal policy, which he has pursued in conflict with much of the best advice available for him, which has broken down. It is his personal judgment which has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is not true!"] Is it not true? I will read the right hon. Gentleman's own words and we shall see whether it is true or not. The Prime Minister, speaking in this House on 28th September, and referring to his visit to Herr Hitler at Godesberg, said:I think I should add that before saying farewell to Herr Hitler I had a few words with him in private which I do not think are without importance. In the first place he repeated to me with great earnestness what he had said already at Berchtesgaden, namely, that this"—that was the demand then made for an adjustment of the Sudeten frontier—was the last of his territorial ambitions in Europe and that he had no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than Germans.The Prime Minister believed that and a little later in the same speech, having mentioned a number of other undertakings which Herr Hitler gave him, he went on to say:Those are all reassuring statements as far as they go"—They went pretty far— 535and I have no hesitation in saying after the personal contact I had established with Hen Hitler, that I believe he means what he says."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; cols. 22– 25, Vol. 339.]Having given that quotation, I repeat that the Prime Minister's judgment has been weighed in the balance and found wanting. I also repeat something which I ventured to say in this House last October, and for which in some quarters at the time I was taken to task. The Prime Minister at Munich was out-manoeuvred, hustled and humbugged by Herr Hitler. Recent events have proved that those statements of mine were true. When we hear talk about leadership and about reformations of this and that kind—and many alternative reformations are now being floated by the promoters of such political ventures—it appears to me that one necessary preliminary condition of any reformation which can be supported by any large body of thoughtful and alert-minded citizens, is that the Prime Minister should disappear from his office. [HON. MEMBERS: "Put in Cripps."] I wonder which would do the better. That would be an interesting matter for debate on another occasion. For my own part I should never be interested in any proposals of any kind for such reformations until we first had the prospect of a different Prime Minister and a different foreign policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Wait and see."] Yes, we shall wait and see.
It will not be inappropriate on this occasion to draw attention to one aspect, and a very obvious aspect, of the events of the last few days, which is that the balance of power, already inclined against us, as the result of previous events, has been tipped still more steeply against this country and its friends in Europe by the events of the last few days. Herr Hitler by this latest unprovoked aggression against Bohemia and Moravia has absorbed great additional resources in wealth, in arms production, and in armaments. He is confiscating the Czech armaments. We read to-day that he has confiscated military aeroplanes found in Czech aerodromes, and in this and other way she is enormously increasing his power relatively to this country and her friends. Having read the news which has been coming through to us to-day, I, for my part, am filled not only with a sense of shame and humiliation, but with a sense of rapidly increasing danger to 536 this country, now and in the immediate future. For that, the Prime Minister with his personal foreign policy, which has so visibly and so catastrophically failed, must carry complete responsibility.
A story is related which, although I cannot reveal its source, I have no reason to doubt is substantially true. It is said that after the Munich Conference, when the Prime Minister had signed the documents and gone away, high German personages conferred together with great self-satisfaction. One of the highest—not the Fuhrer himself, but one very near the throne—said, "This simple old gentleman has here to-day signed the death warrant of the British Empire, but has left the date open for us to fill it in when we choose." [An HON. MEMBER: "Do you believe it?"] Yes, I believe it, and hon. Members on the other side may come to believe it though their conversion may come too late to save that heritage which may not then be theirs to defend. I have quoted the Prime Minister's observations about what Herr Hitler told him regarding the Slavs and the Germans. But I have here a report of the proclamation issued by Herr Hitler and published to-day. Herr Hitler's desire to dominate that Slav country has grown considerably, and he has indulged in historical reflections since he gave that assurance to the Prime Minister. He sees himself now as the successor to the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire of long ago. He says of this territory into which his troops have marched:It is a territory in which Germany is vitally interested and which for over a thousand years belonged to the German Reich. We must now secure the basis for a new fundamental settlement which will do justice to a thousand years of history.In other words, he is now invoking historical causes to justify his brutal invasion of that once free and happy model democracy in Central Europe. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I presume that hon. Members who express incredulity at that description, have never visited Czecho-Slovakia as many of us have done. Let us consider what is happening in that country now. The latest news that has come over the tape this evening is that there has been formed in Prague a Czech general committee "including all Fascist organisations." These were negligible in the days when Czecho-Slovakia was free and the police dealt with the Fascists faithfully. Now they have put their ugly heads above the 537 water and they have joined this Czech general committee, formed by the German occupying forces. It has been formed under the presidency of General Gayda. In the days of Masaryk and Benes General Gayda spent part of his time in gaol. The message also says:The aim of the committee is close collaboration with the German authorities. The Aryan Front Organisation is participating and will be responsible for putting racial measures into force.The Czechs were too civilised to contemplate such measures in the days when they were a democracy. Jews moved about as freely and with as little liability to abuse and insult in Prague as they do in this country.
The German commander-in-chief in Prague has announced that a number of regulations will be issued to-day controlling the life of the city and the whole country. Meanwhile, they have all been told to stay indoors after eight o'clock or run the risk of being shot by the German occupying troops in the streets. That is what is happening in Prague now. Some of the commissioners who have been put into high places by the occupying authorities come from Germany, and others have been chosen from among the local German minority, a negligible minority in Prague in point of numbers. This is what we have reached as a result of the Prime Minister's policy, and it is indeed a verification of what ex-President Benes once said to me when I had the honour of meeting him in Prague in 1935 before he became President, and when I ventured to ask him, having travelled about Czecho-Slovakia, what he thought of the proposal, which some people were even then making, that there should be a readjustment of the boundaries of the Czecho-Slovak State so as to put the major part of the Germans in the Sudeten country back into the Reich. I said, "Some people have suggested this; what do you think of it?" He replied, "I would indeed be strongly in favour of that, if I had any hope at all that it would furnish a final solution of our relations with Germany, but," he said— and his words have a prophetic ring in the light of recent events—"I believe that that would not be a final solution, because I believe that what Herr Hitler desires is not merely a readjustment of the frontier, but he wishes to have somebody sitting here, in Prague, a German, 538 in command, giving orders to us Czechs what we shall do."
That has come true. That is what Herr Hitler wants. That is what the Prime Minister has so conducted British foreign policy as to permit him to achieve. The Prime Minister at Munich was persuaded by Herr Hitler and others that it was a mere readjustment of frontiers that was wanted, whereas, quite evidently, this is a plan laid a long while ago by those in authority in Germany, designed completely to dominate and exploit the wealth of this Slav country in the centre of Europe. I suggest that it was a plot laid a long while ago by Herr Hitler, and I wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is, I believe, to reply, whether these events have in truth taken the Government completely by surprise. I wish to know that. The answer to that question will put the Government, I think, upon the horns of a dilemma. Either these events have taken them wholly by surprise, or they have not. If they have, it is a very grave reflection upon the efficiency of our diplomatic representatives and of that expensive apparatus, including the Secret Service, which has already been referred to to-day, if no foreshadowing at all of these events came through. If, on the other hand, the Government did know beforehand what was taking place, surely it is a very grave reflection upon them that neither was the German Ambassador here sent for and acquainted with our point of view, nor did the Government, through our Ambassador in Berlin, take any steps themselves to initiate that consultation which Herr Hitler promised the Prime Minister we should always have in future whenever any questions of common concern might arise. I hope therefore the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us on which horn of that dilemma the Government prefer to be impaled.
With regard to consultation, the Prime Minister told us to-day that this German aggression had taken place without any consultation, either with himself or with the French or Italian Governments, and I think it is not unfitting to read to the House the Prime Minister's own statement, which he submitted to Herr Hitler and got him to sign, and concerning which he boasted, first at the aerodrome and later in this House, that he had 539 obtained from Herr Hitler most valuable concessions. Here it is:We (that is, the Prime Minister and Herr Hitler) resolve that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other question that may concern our two countries.The Prime Minister has been let down. He was entitled to consultation, and he has not had it, though, as I have said, if he had known what was coming, he is partly to blame for not initiating conversations from this end to ascertain what the Germans were intending to do.
May I turn to a matter on which, I think, there will be a wider measure of agreement in the House than there has been over some of the points on which I have touched up to now, and that is the human problem presented by the great mass of human beings in Prague and other parts of Czecho-Slovakia who have already lost their liberty and who may at any moment lose their lives, either by quick murder or by slow torture, in that great German gift to civilisation, the concentration camp. These people who are thus threatened are of every sort. They include some Germans who fled from the Sudeten regions, others who fled earlier from Germany and Austria, as the black death spread over wider and wider areas, many Jews, refugees, continually on the run from one country to another, numbers of others, Jews who in Slovakia and Bohemia and Moravia were respected citizens in the days when those lands were free; over and above these democrats of every kind, persons who are known to have written in the free Press in a country in which, till a little while ago, their Press was one of their finest possessions, notable men and women of every kind who had played their part in the life of that gallant little State, military leaders, soldiers, and indeed great numbers of men and women, both eminent and humble, all of whom, I repeat, are in danger at any moment of losing their lives or of losing, at the very least, their property and their liberty.
I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell us what this country is going to do to endeavour to help this very greatly increased number of unfortunate people who —and I put the thing quite objectively— are where they are, by reason of the course which international affairs have followed in Central Europe, through no fault of their own. The Chancellor or the Prime Minister told us that the major part of the 540 loan which was to have been given to the Czecho-Slovak Government still lies at the Bank of England, and that it is not intended—and no hon. Member in any part of the House quarrels with this statement—to hand out any more of it now to the Government there. But there is this large sum of over £6,000,000, I believe, and even a comparatively small part of that would go a very long way in facilitating escape from the dangers in which these men and women are living.
I, therefore, ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he can, to give us some assurance that a reasonable part of that large sum will now be devoted, over and above whatever it was proposed to do before, to succouring and rescuing those people from the unhappy place in which they find themselves. Even if no collective guarantee now protects them against external aggression, let us see, at any rate, whether we can give to a large number of them an individual guarantee of safety. Up till now the attitude of the Government Departments concerned with refugees, both of their political heads and of the officials, have been helpful and sympathetic, and I have no doubt that the administration at the Home Office and the Foreign Office will well be able to-cope with an increased provision of this kind for the assistance of the victims of German invasion if the finance is found by the Chancellor drawing upon this large fund.
I would now like to say a word about the immediate cause of this trouble, that is to say, the declaration of the independence of Slovakia. The Prime Minister to-day spoke as though this was just a thing that had happened and that it had furnished us with a convenient legal get-out of the guarantee. One could almost wish that there had been a little less barefaced cynicism in his description of the legal loophole through which the Government had wriggled. It would, I think, have been a little less open to criticism if the Prime Minister had merely said, "Well, the guarantee had never really come into force; the whole thing had always been indeterminate and we had never worked it out with Herr Hitler." That would have been better than saying that it was in force up till yesterday, but that Slovakia having been declared independent yesterday, the lawyers had opened a door through which we could run out.
541 What led up to this independent Slovakia? I agree with the Leader of the Liberal party, and what he said bears out what I have heard from many sources. The Slovaks did not desire, and would not have voted in a free election for, complete independence. They would have voted for more home rule and for the quicker manning of the administration by Slovaks. In the last elections that were held the Hlinka party were heavily defeated and the party of Dr. Hodza and the Socialist party and other unitary parties had a substantial majority in combination over the separatist Hlinka party. In any case, since the death of Monseigneur Hlinka there has been nobody to take his place with the same influence to deal with the autonomy issue. The fact is that the Slovakian independence movement has been paid for by German money and has been organised by German agents. If that is challenged, let us take the newspaper on whose foreign correspondents, at any rate, we can always rely, namely, the "Times." The Berlin correspondent of the "Times" yesterday said:The stage for the events of to-day was set, according to reliable information, on Saturday, when Herr Keppler, a German Under-Secretary who from time to time undertakes confidential missions on behalf of Herr Hitler, paid a visit to Bratislava. It appears that Herr Keppler expressed the German intention to see an independent Slovakia created, and suggested that M. Sidor himself might be President of the new State, with M. Durcansky as his Prime Minister.I believe that that is substantially correct. The thing was paid for by Herr Hitler by money emanating from German sources and it was organised by the intrigues of German agents which were, however, not sufficiently well hidden to escape the attention of the "Times" correspondent in Berlin.
§ Mr. Dalton
It may be that there is no limit to what they will attempt, although we hope there will be a limit to what successive British Governments will permit them to do. The Slovakian independence movement has been organised from outside, having no real, substantial backing among the unfortunate Slovakian people who will very soon look back with eyes of longing to the lot that was theirs in the past when Czecho-Slovakia was a unitary State.
542 The question arises, What can we do now? The Prime Minister having carried us so far down the road to ruin, what can be done now? I hope that we may be able to learn our lessons from this repetition of these unhappy experiences before it is too late. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, in one passage of his speech, made an appeal to this country to get together with all like-minded nations, wherever they are, whoever they are, and whatever form of government they may have. I applaud that proposal. It is no new proposal for us on these benches to make. It carries us back to the days of the Geneva Protocol in 1924, to go no further back in history. That was the underlying principle of the Protocol— that all nations should get together in order to preserve peace and establish peaceful means of changing international relations. That was destroyed, I am afraid, by the late Sir Austen Chamberlain, to whom the right hon. Gentleman was then a very able Parliamentary Private Secretary.
Since then many other proposals have been made by my hon. Friends having the same object. Indeed, even in September we were chiding the Government for having failed to get together and to maintain contact with the Soviet Union on the one hand and the United States on the other. Therefore, it is to us no new doctrine. We are glad to hear it enunciated by the right hon. Gentleman with the clarity and ability with which he expressed it this afternoon. Whether or not his influence and that of his friends with the Prime Minister is strong enough to get any change made in that direction, remains to be seen. None the less, I say, speaking I know for my hon. Friends here, that we are in complete accord with that sentiment. There is yet time, although time slips away, to build a strong collective force. I hesitate to say collective security, because the Prime Minister has told us he does not believe in that. Shall we say a sufficient aggregate force to make even Herr Hitler and his advisers think twice before they repeat somewhere else what they have done in Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia in the last two days? I think there is yet time enough, and certainly there is still force enough.
I was glad to hear that those Ministers who were going by way of Berlin to Warsaw and Moscow are, if I have under- 543 stood correctly the statement from the Government Bench, now going to bypass Berlin, but are still going to Warsaw and Moscow. Let me say, in passing, that I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman who said that it would indeed be most unfortunate if, merely because Herr Hitler has done what he has done, we should abandon the opportunity of getting into touch with the Polish and Russian Governments, and if, as I hope, Ministers are going to Warsaw and Moscow I hope they will come back by way of Bukarest, Belgrade and even Budapest, because in that part of the world there are still great forces waiting to be led. There are great popular movements in nearly all those countries, very few of which—indeed, none among those which I have enumerated—can properly be called dictatorships. There are still considerable democratic movements which, if only they get the right lead, will be only too glad to array themselves on the side of the democracies, and which want nothing from them except trade and good relationships, as contrasted with the dictatorships, which want everything from them that they have, would strip the very shirts from their backs and destroy their freedom as to-day the freedom of the Czechs has been destroyed in Prague.
Reference was made to the United States Government. It has been very encouraging to note the way in which opinion in the United States has been developing. Although it would be stupid to say the Americans are yet solidly united in support of such a policy yet there is among more and more people of influence and importance a growing sense of common interest, of a solid common interest, with the democracies of the West in making at some point a stand against this continual encroachment of totalitarian tyranny. I hope, therefore, that the Government is keeping in as close touch as it can with the United States Government as well as with the Soviet Union and all those other States which have been referred to.
I want to ask a question of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I want to know more about this "Major road ahead" of which Lord Halifax has spoken. He said, "Halt, Major road ahead," message to Berlin, repeat to Rome and Tokyo "Major road ahead." How far ahead? We have done nothing in this 544 particular case. Czecho-Slovakia has been overrun, and the lawyers have given the Prime Minister his argument why we should not do anything. Now we have not even thought to give a guarantee to Hungary. If Hungary is overrun have we reached the major road or not or will that be on this side of the road? Will it be a case of "road casualties still permitted on this side?" And then Rumania and Poland. I halt for a moment in referring to Poland to say that I am very glad indeed that Colonel Beck is coming here next month. He occupies a key position in a very key country in Europe. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the course of political events in Europe may turn upon the attitude of Poland as much as upon any other single fact. Between us and the Poles there is a very solid common interest, and that has become increasingly clear as Herr Hitler has become more and more truculent, more and more heavily armed and more and more a threat to all his neighbours.
We and the Poles have this in common. We are both neighbours, and uncomfortably near neighbours, of that gnat Power, and I hope the visit of Colonel Beck next month will lead to an even closer drawing together of Anglo-Polish relations and to some clear understanding as to concerted action in the future along some common line. And if we are to make concessions about colonies and exits for trade or emigration to foreign countries on the Continent, why not begin by making them to people like the Poles, who in contradistinction to the Germans and Italians, are not adopting a menacing attitude towards this country or its friends? If some concessions could be made to Poland others might behave themselves rather better in the hope of getting such concessions for themselves later. We should show that we did not intend to give concessions to those who shake their fists at us or deceive our Prime Minister by giving undertakings which they did not intend to carry out.
But I want to come again to this "Major road ahead." What countries lie on this side of the junction and what beyond? Would we be indifferent to the treatment of Denmark in the way that Czecho-Slovakia has been treated? Would we be quite indifferent to the treatment of Holland in the same way? Where is this major road? It ought to be drawn very much more clearly on the map, and I 545 invite the Chancellor of the Exchequer to draw it when he replies.
Gloom must be present in all our minds as we look upon the horrid scene to-day in Central Europe. I have ventured already to use the term "black death." After the Crusades a plague, the black death, spread over Europe. People died like flies and Europe was set back for generations. There is a black death spreading over Europe now, from great Germany, that great spot of pestilential tyranny, where no man is free, whereit is a crime to be in favour of peace and a crime to be a Jew."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1933; col. 2759, Vol. 276.]I am quoting Sir Austen Chamberlain. It has spread over this Slav democracy, as it was a little while ago, in Central Europe. It will go on spreading until something is done to arrest the disease, the plague, of totalitarian tyranny, brutality and general beastliness. When is it going to be arrested? What are we going to try to do to arrest it? Either we are to join with other nations to seek by common action to arrest it, or it will flow on and on, first in this direction and then in that, until it has reached almost to the shores of this little island itself, and until we are left to resist it, having allowed overwhelming odds to be piled up against us, having allowed the dice to be heavily loaded against us. Having been unwilling to defend others in their hour of necessity we shall have lost all claim to the friendship and help of others, until at the last we, friendless and forsaken, shall face our fate alone. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he can now give us any reassurance that somewhere between now and that shameful and shocking possibility, which cannot be absent from our minds, a barrier will be drawn, as Lord Halifax suggested, where it shall be said to the totalitarian States, "Thus far, but no further."
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
The circumstances of the Debate to-day enabled the hon. Gentleman, and those who have taken the same line, to combine the grave and measured language of distress and regret about these deplorable events, as to which we shall find general agreement in all parts of the House, with an intermittent and sometimes bitter attack upon the Prime Minister, with which the majority in this 546 House will not agree at all. I am going to endeavour, in the course of what I have to say in concluding the Debate, to draw a distinction between those two things. I do not think as some hon. Gentlemen seem to suggest that judgment and condemnation ought to follow automatically upon the view of recent events, which every one of us deplores, but it is easy and a very natural temptation when grave and deplorable matters occur which we honestly regret, and view with distress and horror, to look around to blame the persons who, we think, can most easily be held responsible. The circumstance that it is easy to do so does not in the least prove that it is right.
We certainly start with this amount of common ground, that there cannot be any difference of opinion as to the gravity of these events, or their suddenness. I do not feel in the least embarrassed by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we were on the prongs of a dilemma. It is no reflection on our very competent Ambassador that he is unable to predict action—very sudden action—which depends upon the decision, and, as far as one can see, the very sudden decision, of a single man. It would be very unjust to select him and our Diplomatic Service as another of the targets of criticism when we are labouring under this disappointment. The central tragic thing I would put in a sentence which I observed in, I believe, one of the evening papers, and which was reported to be included in a proclamation or pronouncement of some sort by Herr Goebbels, to whom was attributed the statement issued in Berlin: "The State of Czecho-Slovakia has ceased to exist." That is the central tragic thing. It does not require any very technical or precise advice from anybody else for the Prime Minister to make the point—if I may say so, the obvious point—that in that situation it was indeed impossible to suppose that a guarantee to maintain the State of Czecho-Slovakia could have any meaning at all.
I join with any hon. Member in any part of the House in the view that this situation which we are examining is in the sharpest conflict with what was contemplated at Munich. That is quite true, and we really ought not to spend time in rebuking one another for failing to express the deepest sympathy with the 547 Czech people, for everyone feels it. I thought, myself, that my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) was well justified when he challenged the comment that had been made that the Prime Minister in his speech had not displayed adequate emotion. Things like this are not to be measured by the violence of people's language, or the emphasis with which they pronounce their words. As a matter of fact, anybody who is really familiar with the Prime Minister's thought on this matter, and his expression of it, could see very well the deep feeling in what my right hon. Friend said in his speech. Ministers cannot exercise the freedom and vehemence of language which others may allow themselves. They are responsible—[ Interruption ] —whatmay be the attitude taken up by the Opposition. It is just as well for people to remember that, when the Prime Minister has a serious statement of this sort to make, it may well be that he has to consult with other countries, perhaps with other members of the British Commonwealth, on what he says, and that every phrase he employs may have a meaning and importance quite different from that of the language used by other hon. Members.
I said that there will be general agreement that the extinction of Czecho-Slovakia is a terrible event, a wholly indefensible event, and that the method by which it is being brought about is the very opposite of that contemplated at Munich. [Interruption.] I must decline to take the estimate of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) as to his own powers of prophecy and perspicuity.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
I do not wish to claim any special powers for myself, but if the right hon. Gentleman looks up the Official Report for 4th October, he will find that the prophecy I then made has been fulfilled to-night.
Sir J. Simon: There are one or two indications of a practical nature which we are able to give. A question was put to me just now by the hon. Gentleman as to the proposed visits of Ministers to the Continent. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had made his plans to pay a visit to Berlin this week. It was announced by the Prime Minister earlier in the Debate, and I think almost universally approved, that, in the view of His Majesty's Government for the President of the Board of Trade to make that visit at this time would not be, in the circumstances, appropriate. There is a second Minister who had planned to pay a visit to the Continent in connection with his Office—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of the Department for Overseas Trade. He was going to Berlin and Moscow, to Warsaw, and to Scandinavia. The decision which was reached in this case was that it would not be appropriate that my right hon. Friend should pay a visit to Berlin, but that he should carry out the rest of his journey. I think that, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said, these were indications which would not be overlooked. I am sure that that action, at any rate, will be supported by the House. The fact that my right hon. Friend is going to carry out his other visit demonstrates our continuous resolve to pursue all possibilities of economic improvement in all the areas to which he is going. That is the answer to the question which the hon. Gentleman asked.
He also asked a question about refugees. As was explained by the Prime Minister at the beginning of the Debate, of the total sum which we had in mind to provide, and which the House had authorised, a little over £3,000,000 has in fact been drawn, and I think he House generally has approved the decision which we took that it is necessary to put an embargo on any further drawings for the time being, because we must see what the situation is likely to be. That is not at all to say that we wish to abandon any efforts we can make to assist refugees. The arrangements for the emigration of Sudeten Germans and other refugees in Czecho-Slovakia have been proceeding smoothly in the last few weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) has followed the matter very closely, and I think he will confirm that. According to the figures received in the 549 middle of last month, 5,500 refugees had already emigrated, and others have done so since.
The conclusion of the arrangements for financial assistance for Czecho-Slovakia enabled plans to be discussed, and they were discussed, for a further emigration of refugees. Mr. Stopford, our representative in Prague, has been very active in the matter, and we have had constant reports from him. These arrangements include the departure of large numbers of refugees to various countries, including a further batch of several hundreds to the United Kingdom. I am not yet in a position to say what the effect of recent events will be on these arrangements, but we have already communicated with our Minister at Prague, and we have pointed out to him that there are, we believe, quite a number of refugees there who have already got visas for the United Kingdom. We want every effort made to get these people away as quickly as possible. There are also some, we believe, who still could get such a visa, and we want arrangements to be made for these to get their visas as soon as may be. The total number of these persons who are either waiting for visas or about to get visas is thought to be about 500, and, as I said, His Majesty's Minister in Prague has been given these instructions, and he is to do everything in his power to accelerate that matter.
As for the question put by the hon. Gentleman, we certainly take the view that the money, and a very substantial proportion of the whole, which was earmarked expressly for the purpose of assisting refugees, should, if possible, be available for that good and useful service, but we must really take adequate security to provide that it is used for that purpose before we resume any further transmission of money.
§ Mr. Dalton
I want to get this quite clear. The point I tried to dwell upon was that, in addition to all these people who were refugees before this Hitlerite invasion, there has to be added great numbers of persons who until now were peaceful citizens of Czecho-Slovakia—I am not now talking of Germans but of Czechs and Slovaks—in responsible positions or holding political opinions, and soldiers and so on, and are they now to be brought within the scope—and I think they are—of those who have 550 become refugees under the new conditions?
§ Sir J. Simon
I should certainly hope so. I quite understand the point and I think the spirit of the arrangement ought to cover such refugees as far as is possible.
§ Sir J. Simon
I want to examine the more general subject which has been discussed all the afternoon here in this House. As I have said, we all feel that these sombre facts are much too serious for gibes or scores, but necessarily much of this Debate has gone back to the discussion of policy which arose and was carried on for several days after the events of last September. I want to turn to that for a moment, and see how far the agreed and admitted facts of this deplorable situation, not by any means what one hoped would be the outcome of Munich, can fairly justify the conclusion, which the critics of the Government, naturally perhaps, wish to enforce, that all this amounts to a condemnation of the policy which His Majesty's Government pursued.
The fact that these recent events constitute disappointment and an overthrow of some of the highest hopes which were built at the time of Munich is a very different thing indeed from saying that the policy which the Prime Minister pursued is a mistaken one. Before any one can say that with conviction, and claim to prove it, he must demonstrate that there was some other policy which the Prime Minister could have followed at Munich and which would have secured superior results. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys), in his speech, formulated the most just reflection which I have just tried to repeat. Without going back over past events but taking the situation as it is, everybody has to ask himself on this issue: "Have I got an alternative policy which I could have commended as the right policy for this country to have adopted at the time of Munich which could have been substituted for the policy which the Prime Minister pursued?"
The hon. Member for Gower, in a very sincere speech, said that he did not know and never had been able to imagine why the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden. I do not think it is very difficult to imagine the reason. No doubt there are 551 quite a number of people who would not have made that great effort, but it is quite easy to see what the Prime Minister was striving to do. He went to Germany to do everything that man could do to promote a just settlement which would avert the danger of imminent war. It is very easy now, when you do not feel quite in the same state, to be hypercritical.
§ Sir J. Simon
That may be right, but I am speaking now not of the right hon. Gentleman's own performance but of a performance which I remember rather better, namely, the performance of the hon. Member sitting just below him. I remember the hon. Member expressing the view, which some of us have not forgotten, that for his part he was not going to spend his time throwing abuse at the Prime Minister, when he could see that the effort he was making was a sincere effort in the cause of preserving peace. I would remind hon. Members that this is the same House of Commons that, when we had a Debate on the subject, extending for more than a day, on 6th October, adopted by a great majority a resolution approving the policy and, as the resolution said, "A policy by which war was averted in the recent crisis." If that was true then, it is true now. It is very easy, very attractive and very tempting, when things have not gone quite as well as we had hoped, to turn round and say: "Let us throw half bricks at the Prime Minister."
§ Sir J. Simon
That does not destroy the claim which I make, and which I believe the great majority of the House and the country support, that what the Prime Minister did then was the right course and the only course. I would ask the House to consider what other policy would have saved the Czechs. Those who are now attacking the policy of Munich, no doubt did not want war, and they are perfectly entitled to protest that they were not designing to produce war, but the fact is that at the time the Prime Minister did save us from war, and I ask the question again: "What is this further course which those who were not Prime Ministers at the time would have taken, 552 and which would have had satisfactory results which could be contrasted with what has happened?"
§ Sir J. Simon
I remember a purple patch of the right hon. Gentleman, that we should have called in all sorts of Powers and done something, and that all sorts of things were to happen. What that has to do with a situation in which Czecho-Slovakia was going to be invaded in 24 hours no sensible man can understand.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Since the right hon. Gentleman challenges me, I am sorry he cannot remember my speech better, because he was present during the whole of it. What I said was that we ought to have summoned France and Russia to join us in supporting Czecho-Slovakia against unprovoked aggression, and that we ought to have entered into staff conversations with the Governments of these countries and of other countries.
§ Sir J. Simon
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will explain one thing to me and I will be satisfied. Is the policy which he has advocated a policy which would have meant that we were going to war or that we should threaten and then not go to war?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
It would certainly mean that we should have been loyal to our obligations, that if another country had gone to war against a country which we were sworn to defend we should certainly have backed it up.
§ Sir J. Simon
If that means that we should then and there have gone to war I will tell the right hon. Gentleman and anybody else who takes that view, that if that is so I am perfectly confident that the country in that matter is in favour of the Prime Minister's policy.
§ Sir J. Simon
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for making plain what his alternative policy is.
§ Sir J. Simon
Is the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) content with the statement made by his leader?
§ Mr. Mander
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten a reply given to me in the last few days by the Prime Minister with regard to the official statement which was issued by the Foreign Office on 26th September last, when it was officially declared to be the policy of the Government that they would stand together with France and Russia against German aggression on Czecho-Slovakia if it were necessary.
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not think it is possible to discuss now what was, in fact, the position of France and Russia last September. I am perfectly content to leave the matter to the judgment of the House. I am certain that there is no alternative which can be recommended for the approval of the country other than the policy which the Prime Minister followed at Munich.
There was another suggestion made in the course of the Debate upon which I should like to say a word. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington made a suggestion which was developed by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). It was the suggestion that has been made from time to time that the right way is to call together those nations that are in favour of peace and have a conference, or something of the kind, with them, in which we should draw a line and make up our minds all together to resist by force any attempt to go beyond that line. It is an attractive proposition which accords in general terms with the sentiments of many of us. I perfectly appreciate the motives with which it is put forward but, after all, if you introduce a suggestion of this sort, it is necessary to consider what will be the consequences of that policy, what form it will probably take in practice and whether it is a policy that would work.
Let us imagine the nature of the commitment involved by this. We should get to the conference, I should hope, a considerable group of nations, small as well as great. They sit round a table. You endeavour to draw this line. It is pretty certain, apart from any other consequences, that every nation, certainly every small nation, would wish to draw 554 the line so as to include within the protected area its own country. It is certain that every one of the members of this conference would insist, quite naturally, that his own area, and the whole of it, must be within the line of protection. Does that mean then that this country, this Parliament, should be committed to an assurance of support by force of arms of that very long and varied frontier?
Let us consider first of all the consequences on foreign policy. It is a really necessary principle of British foreign policy, whatever the complexion of the particular Government, that while we have our definite commitments, and while we have principles on which we should all agree, it is essential that we should not enter into extensive, indefinite commitments with the result that the control of our own action, and to a large extent the control of our own foreign policy, will depend not on this country, on this Parliament, on these electors, but upon a whole lot of foreign countries. This is a very serious proposition. I do not quite see how you can avoid this result, namely, that presently one or other of these foreign Governments will really have a call upon us in circumstances which may involve us in the greatest possible military excursion, although it is quite certain that the judgment of the democracy of this country would not support it. That difficulty has been perfectly well understood by many who have studied the nature of our foreign policy. As a matter of fact, nobody has pointed it out with greater clearness than my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in a famous speech in which he put the true proposition and one which the Prime Minister, in terms, has declared to be the policy of the Government. After discussing our armaments, he said:For what purpose will these arms be used? Let me once again make the position in this respect perfectly clear. These arms will never be used in a war of aggression. They will never be used for a purpose inconsistent with the Covenant of the League or the Pact of Paris. They may, and if the occasion arose they would, be used in our own defence and in defence of the territories of the British Commonwealth of Nations. They may, and if the occasion arose they would, be used in the defence of France and Belgium against unprovoked aggression in accordance with our existing obligations. They may, and, if a new Western European settlement can be reached, they would be used in defence of Germany were she the victim of unprovoked aggression by any of the other signatories of such a settlement. These, together with our 555 Treaty of Alliance with Iraq and our projected treaty with Egypt, are our definite obligations. In addition, our armaments may be used "—This is a very important passage, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington used a word here which it is well worth noting—In addition, our armaments may"—that is the word, "may"—be used in bringing help to a victim of aggression in any case where, in our judgment, it would be proper under the provisions of the Covenant to do so. I use the word 'may' deliberately since in such an instance there is no automatic obligation to take military action.The House will see that if you have this great conference in which all who are willing can join in helping to draw this long line, it ceases to be a case of our own judgment being left to us and it becomes a case of automatic action. My right hon. Friend went on to say:It is moreover right that this should be so, for nations cannot be expected to incur automatic military obligations save for areas where their vital interests are concerned.It seems to me that that is a very important consideration, and it is one which must be laid against this other theory. I cannot see how in a democracy—I do not know what would happen in the case of a totalitarian State—one can expect that people will readily agree to leave it to the government of some other country to decide whether they should be involved in war. If that is not so, then one of two things would happen; either we should endeavour to toe the line which had been drawn, or a series of lines, and be confronted with all the difficulties that would be involved, or, having led these people to think that we were going to their assistance in war, we should find ourselves reduced to discovering reasons why we should not actually do so.
§ Mr. Dalton
I understand that the Debate can continue after 11 o'clock. Therefore, will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question I put to him as to where is the major road ahead, to which his colleague, Lord Halifax, referred in another place?
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.