HC Deb 15 March 1939 vol 345 cc556-64

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]
Sir J. Simon

I submit to the House that if they consider the matter they will see how easy it is to be misled by the general statement that we should join with all other friendly States for the purpose of defending a frontier which we would then draw. I submit that the true position is different. The true position is that there are certain defined and proclaimed cases in which we have committed ourselves to act and in which we have announced that we will act and in which it is plain that the support of this country and the interests of this country and our duty to peace would require us to act. There are other cases in which, as the Prime Minister said in a famous declaration not long ago, the words of the legal obligation are likely to fall far short of what this country would feel it necessary to do. But I doubt whether it is possible in the abstract and without any knowledge of the circumstances to pledge this country to the frightful business of a modern war, in a whole list of additional cases, when it appears that in most instances it would be impossible to judge the circumstances in the abstract, precisely and definitely, and where, I believe, our duty to our own people requires us to adopt a more cautious policy.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his objection is to the length of the line or does he object to any line at all? He will remember that his own Government, I think in October, 1935, entered into an agreement based on the principle of mutual assistance with four other Powers in the Mediterranean. Therefore, in principle, his own Government has accepted what he now objects to.

Sir J. Simon

I was referring to commitments in the absence of any knowledge beforehand of what would be the circumstances, and whether the House agrees with me or not I beg them to believe that this is a consideration which is well worth analysis and it is a justification, I believe, for the course which we have taken.

Mr. Dalton

May I ask—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] There is plenty of time to get a straight answer to a straight question, and it will be put several times if we do not get an answer. The straight question is this: Is it not the case that the circumstances in contemplation by those proposing this are not indefinite at all? They are the circumstances of unprovoked aggression.

Sir J. Simon

I should have thought that that was not a complete statement at all. The kind of commitment which was contemplated, which might extend over half the world—the British Commonwealth has to be considered—would be a commitment against any unprovoked aggression. But the circumstances in which the issue may arise, the challenge may be made, the call for help may come, may vary infinitely, and any such wide commitment as that would involve us in handing over the conduct of our own foreign policy to the wisdom or want of wisdom of other peple. I do not believe that that would be a view which would be adopted for one moment by the people of this country.

The hon. Gentleman has asked me whether I have anything to say in further exposition of the phrase of the Foreign Secretary's about a "major road ahead." "Major road ahead" is a warning, and I certainly am not concerned to undertake, in this Debate and at this hour, a list of the places to which this proposition may properly apply, but I maintain none the less that what the Foreign Secretary said on this subject was exceedingly apposite and definite. He was giving a warning, if I remember rightly, to one of the totalitarian Powers. It is just as well that that warning should be given, and it does represent, I am sure, the general determination of the whole of the British people. It is a mistake to suppose that the people of this country are going to put up with domination. It is an extraordinary misjudgment, I think, of the character of our people to think that they will do anything of the kind.

I am not, myself, at all convinced that all the extension that is going on in some of the totalitarian States is going to operate to their ultimate advantage. History has a way of pointing out that from time to time alien races put under the domination of their conquerors are not comfortable subjects, and that they may very easily lead, not to strength, but to weakness. I do not feel at all sure that the addition, for instance, of Austria to the German Reich has done nothing but add great strength to the German Reich. I do not feel at all sure that the Sudeten Germans will be an unmixed blessing. I am sure that the people of this country, whatever our politics may be, would never change their opinion or their resistance if anything of the sort was attempted at their expense. I wish to emphasise again—

Mr. Dalton

I must ask for a little more precision about the phrase "major road ahead." We want to know where the road runs. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say so, if he were motoring along a road and did not get any indication where the major road was, he would be completely at a loss. We want to know how near the road is, and whether the point of danger has been reached by the motor cars now driven by the totalitarian bandits.

Sir J. Simon

I do not think the House will expect me to give illustrations and definitions. What I am going to say before I sit down is this. I have tried to show —

Mr. Attlee

The right hon. Gentleman has attacked Members on his own side because when they put forward proposals he says they are giving us indefinite commitments. We now have a statement made by a Noble Lord, who lays down in a phrase something which means, if it means anything, as the right hon. Gentleman said, a definite warning, a warning that there is some particular line of great importance to us on which we shall stand. The right hon. Gentleman is now asked where that stand is, and he is far more indefinite than the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) or anybody else.

Sir J. Simon

I should really like to end, if I can, by giving a little satisfaction. I may be wrong in my memory; this particular phrase was not called to my attention in this Debate until it was quoted just now, but my belief is that the Foreign Secretary used that phrase with reference to the vital interests of France, and that he did so in connection with matters that have arisen between Italy and France. I have endeavoured to show to the House that while I join, and we all join most sincerely, in deploring these recent events—and I do not mince words about it—there is no justification for jumping from that deplorable fact to the conclusion that it is a basis on which my right hon. Friend's policy may be condemned. As he said at the beginning of the Debate, he intends to pursue that policy, and so do his colleagues.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Gallacher

On 28th September I drew attention to the fact that the letter sent by the Prime Minister to Hitler was a betrayal of Czecho-Slovakia and that the day would come when the Government would have to answer for their policy. The day has come, and I am certain that no one in the history of the House of Commons has had an experience such as we have had to-day. Never has a Minister got up at that Box and given such an exhibition of complete and hopeless political bankruptcy as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done to-night. There are quite a number of Government supporters who are anxious to tell us that, while they would betray Czecho-Slovakia or stand by and see another country invaded, they are concerned with defending the British Empire. As a matter of fact, it is Britain and the British Empire that they are betraying. The situation in Europe now is such that the British Empire is coming more and more under the domination of Germany. We have been told that there is no possibility of Germany or Italy dominating Spain. Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Prime Minister still hold by that statement in face of what has happened in the last few days?

I ask the Government, in face of the situation which exists in Europe, how are they going to defend the British Empire? We have been told that we now have 19 divisions in the British Army. I ask, "Can we sail a troopship through the Mediterranean to reinforce the garrison at Malta or the garrison in the Sudan?" The Prime Minister's gramophone record may laugh at that statement, but I ask it seriously. Can we sail a troopship through the Mediterranean or round the Cape of Good Hope, with the position that Germany and Italy now hold?

As to the situation in Czecho-Slovakia, it is all very well for the Chancellor to try to minimise the seriousness of the situation by talking of the liabilities which are involved when nations are taken over. He should remember the character of the British Empire when he makes such a statement. Why does not the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognise the assets which have been taken over? Just before Christmas the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department was telling us that Germany, by her methods, was destroying the trade of the world, and British trade along with the rest. As a consequence there is great poverty and suffering in this country. Has Germany been strengthened for the destruction of British trade as a result of what has just happened? What has she got in Czecho-Slovakia? Coal, steel, great munitions works— great new assets for destroying British trade.

Then there is the possibility that Germany will move west. Of course, Germany has her eye on the west, and Germany has her eye on France. Some of those supporting the Government said that France had withdrawn behind the Maginot line. If the Prime Minister had not gone to Munich what would have happened? The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) said that the Prime Minister ought not to have gone to Berchtesgaden. What did he go to Berchtesgaden for? We are told that Hitler was ready to march. It is not true. The Chancellor is trying to deceive the House and the country—yes, trying to deceive. In May there was a crisis in connection with Czecho-Slovakia and a threat of marching by Germany, but France declared that she would stand by her Treaty with Czecho-Slovakia and defend her if attacked. When France made that declaration Russia made an open declaration that if France went to the assistance of Czecho-Slovakia she would go to the assistance of France. And did Hitler march? No, he did not. There was the difference between May and September. I challenge the Chancellor of the Ex chequer. I will go with him to Spen Valley, or wherever is the new constituency where he hopes to get in —

Mr. Ede

He is taking the major road away from there.

Mr. Gallacher

The difference between May and September is that when the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden he was able to assure Hitler that France had been broken away from her allegiance to Czecho-Slovakia and was supporting the policy of the Government of this country. That was the difference. Did Hitler talk about marching before or after the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden? Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer answer that question? No. The right hon. Gentleman sits there in silent disdain, which is the general attitude of the political bankrupt. I want the people of this country to understand that there never was any suggestion about Hitler marching into Czecho-Slovakia until after the Prime Minister went and saw him at Berchtesgaden. When the Prime Minister let him understand that France was breaking away from her allegiance to Czecho-Slovakia Hitler knew that the stars were in his favour and then he proposed to march in on 1st October. He did so, with the assistance of the Prime Minister and the Government of this country. If he had been held up by France and the Soviet Union in Czecho-Slovakia in September, and if instead of assisting and encouraging the Fascists and breaking France away from her allegiance to her treaty, the Government in this country had been bound to France and the Soviet Union in regard to Czecho-Slovakia, Hitler would never have marched. Hitler may have a certain form of insanity and his associates may have the same, but they have sufficient sense to know that if they had marched in those circumstances no matter what had happened to the others it would have been a complete finish for them.

There was, however, no danger of war, and I will give another reason to demonstrate that there was no danger of war. I will ask the Under-Secretary, because the bankrupt has flown, whether he can give me a case in history where, on the eve of war, any Government have, by their policy, stirred up a panic fear of war, as there was on the eve of Munich? One hon. Member referred to that panic as mass hysteria. There never was such a thing in the history of war, but on the eve of a great betrayal a panic fear was necessary. I want to see unity of the people of this country, but a unity for peace and progress, not unity behind a gang of bandits. When the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) was speaking, the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) struck in with "They are doing it in this country." Of course they are—the Nazis. How is it possible to have, with the greatest publicity, a Brown House opened here in London, in Belgravia, right in the heart of aristocracy, in one of the great buildings with all the aristocratic houses round about? When the Brown House was opened in Belgravia, Members of this House and leaders of finance, bankers and insurance company directors, all sent their messages of greeting.

In every town and city in Germany, and all other countries where they have carried on general disruptive activities, they organise a similar Brown House. A Brown House has been opened in London, and the Nazi organisation from that centre is intimidating every German in this country; and it has the support of Members of this House. Look at the list of Members of the House, and the list of bankers and big insurance company directors who are associated with the so called Anglo-German Fellowship. In addition, the whole rubber gang from the City of London are closely associated with it. Therefore I want to appeal to the people of this country to take the most urgent steps to get rid of this Prime Minister and this Government, because only by getting a Government that represents the true desires of the people for progress can we save the people of this country and the people of Europe from disaster and slavery.

11.27 p.m.

Mr. Davidson

I have listened to this Debate to-day, for a considerable part of it, very attentively indeed. I have heard the speeches, particularly from the Government, exonerating the Prime Minister continually for betrayal after betrayal which, in my opinion, have strengthened the Fascist States. I want to say quite plainly to the Government that when the time does comes to make some defence of their own interests, I will advise the workers to see the Government in hell before they undertake the job which should have been dealt with long ago.

11.28 p.m.

Mr. V. Adams

There is no time for argument, but I want to make one entreaty to my right hon. Friend the Undersecretary. The rulers of Germany understand to perfection the technique of "the lull." I have no doubt that for a week or so we shall be impressed with a new false sense of confidence throughout Europe. I entreat my right hon. Friend not to be deceived either by trickery or threat by the Nazi Government in Germany. We may be faced quite soon with one of two ultimata. Either Hitler will say, "We will call off the arms race, but give us a colony," or, "If you do not give us a colony, we will bomb London, or Leeds or Liverpool." In God's name — I say this in all seriousness—let us not give way to that kind of threat. If we allow Germany into Africa, we shall give a perfect and classic instance of fouling our own nest.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.