§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
In the last week events of great importance have occurred in the international field. On 26th September the German Foreign Minister paid a visit to Moscow, and on 28th September the results of this visit were proclaimed. These results were threefold. In the first place, a fourth partition of Poland has been attempted, and an agreement has been signed recognising as final the frontier between Russia and Germany. The line agreed upon was considerably more favourable to Germany than the provisional line of military occupation which had previously been laid down.
In the second place, the German and Soviet Governments have declared that their agreement has finally settled the questions arising out of the collapse of the Polish State and has created a solid foundation for lasting peace in Eastern Europe. In their opinion, the liquidation of the present war between Germany and England and France would be in the interests of all nations. Both Governments, they go on to say, will endeavour to achieve this object as quickly as possible. They assert that, should their efforts prove unsuccessful, England and France will bear the responsibility for the continuation of the war, and they add that the German and Soviet Governments will then consult together as to the measures they will take.
In the third place, an economic agreement between Germany and Russia is foreshadowed, under which Russia will supply raw materials to Germany and Germany will supply industrial goods produced over a lengthy period.
There has been in some quarters a demand that His Majesty's Government should define their attitude in the face of these developments, but I see nothing in what has happened that should lead this country to modify the attitude which it has felt it right to take.
The agreement between Germany and Russia and the subsequent partition of Poland between them has, of course, 1856 changed the position in Poland, but it by no means follows that the arrangement will enure to the ultimate advantage of Germany, and still less should it affect the aims of His Majesty's Government. There is nothing in that agreement that should cause us to do anything other than what we are doing now —mobilising all the resources and all the might of the British Empire for the effective prosecution of the war.
The reason for which this country entered the war has been frequently proclaimed. It was to put an end to the successive acts of German aggression which menaced the freedom and the very security of all the nations of Europe.
The immediate cause of the war was the deliberate invasion of Poland by Germany, the latest, but by no means the only, act of aggression planned and carried through by the German Government.
But if Poland was the direct occasion of war, it was not the fundamental cause. That cause was the overwhelming sense in this country and in France of the intolerable nature of a state of affairs in which the nations of Europe were faced with the alternative of jeopardising their freedom or of mobilising their forces at regular intervals to defend it.
The passage in the Russo-German declaration about the liquidation of the war is obscure, but it seems to combine a suggestion of some proposal for peace with a scarcely veiled threat as to the consequences if the proposal should be refused.
I cannot anticipate what the nature of any such proposal might be. But I can say at once that no threat would ever induce this country or France to abandon the purpose for which we have entered upon this struggle.
To attempt—as German propaganda does—to saddle us with the responsibility for continuing the war because we are not prepared to abandon the struggle before this purpose is achieved, is only another instance of German war technique. The responsibility for the war rests upon those who have conceived and carried out this policy of successive aggression, and it can neither be evaded nor excused.
And I would add one thing more. No mere assurances from the present German Government could be accepted by us. For that Government have too often 1857 proved in the past that their undertakings are worthless when it suits them that they should be broken. If, therefore, proposals are made, we shall certainly examine them and we shall test them in the light of what I have just said. Nobody desires the war to continue for an unnecessary day, but the overwhelming mass of opinion in this country, and I am satisfied also in France, is determined to secure that the rule of violence shall cease, and that the word of Governments, once pledged, must henceforth be kept.
These events in the international field and our reactions to them are necessarily uppermost in our minds to-day. The House will, however, wish me to give them a brief summary of the progress of the war since I last spoke.
On the Western Front some further progress has been made by the French, which has enabled them to secure useful points for observation over the German positions.
A large British Army has been transported to France and is taking its place alongside our French allies. We have reason to be proud of the efficiency with which this complicated movement has been carried out.
Reconnaissance flights, both by day and by night, are being made by the Royal Air Force Units in France, and there have been encounters with enemy fighter aircraft. An account of the heroic combat above the Siegfried Line, in which five Battle aircraft fought 15 Messerschmidt fighters has already been made public and has attracted the warm admiration of our French allies.
Aircraft of the Coastal Command have continued, throughout the week, to carry out anti-submarine and other routine patrols, escort work, and special reconnaissances, and advantage has been taken of the light of the moon to continue the relentless hunting of submarines during the night hours. A number of U-boats have been sighted and attacked.
As already announced, attacks were made on units of the German Fleet by aircraft of the Bomber Command on 29th September. As a result of one of these attacks, prosecuted in the teeth of fierce opposition, both from anti-aircraft gunfire and from enemy fighters, we suffered some losses, but the Germans have 1858 admitted that two of their attacking fighters were shot down.
At sea, the war against the submarine has continued with unabated vigour. On 20th September last I expressed in this House the opinion that the rapid increase in the numbers, power and efficiency of our hunting craft, together with the employment of the convoy system, would cause the submarine menace to dwindle no less rapidly. I am happy to say that events have shown my confidence to be justified. Trade is flowing to and from our ports in an ever-increasing volume. As I speak, hundreds of vessels are moving over the great ocean routes. They are protected both by convoy and by the unremitting and relentless action of our anti-submarine forces.
Between 11th and 20th September, 1,485 vessels, of a gross tonnage of 3,679,000 tons, entered or cleared the ports of the United Kingdom. During that period only 1.25 per cent, of these ships and 1.75 per cent, of the total tonnage was lost by U-boat attacks or by mines. No ship has been lost in convoy.
Between 20th and 24th September three British ships, of an aggregate tonnage of 7,627 tons, were sunk by German submarines. Since then, that is to say for a period of over a week, no British ship has been reported sunk by enemy submarine action. This may, in part, be due to the fact that the U-boats at sea at the beginning of the war are now being relieved by others putting out from German ports. But there is ample evidence that submarines are still operating round our coasts. The absence of sinkings, therefore, is, in the main, due to the successful measures adopted by the Navy.
The U-boats are being hunted from home waters where our shipping must inevitably congregate and where in consequence it is most vulnerable. German submarines, therefore, in their efforts to avoid our warships are being driven to operate in far distant waters. In those seas their menace cannot be so great; but until they can be found and destroyed they may be an embarrassment.
Another and more sinister development of the U-boat warfare is the announcement by Germany that she will regard every vessel of the British Merchant Navy as a warship. If this means anything, it means that she will 1859 pursue an unrestricted submarine campaign. The right to arm merchant ships for self-defence is one of the well-established principles of international law. Since the war commenced, our merchant shipping has been subjected to attack without warning or in circumstances which put their crews in jeopardy by forcing them to take to the boats, often miles from land or rescue, a procedure directly contrary to international maritime law. These illegal attacks only serve to underline the importance of providing our shipping with adequate defensive equipment; and we are pressing on with this with the utmost dispatch.
Further evidence of unrestricted submarine warfare is to be found in the number of neutral merchant ships Germany has sunk. Since the outbreak of war, the total of these sinkings amounts to seven ships, of a gross tonnage of 13,194 tons. In addition, eight ships with a gross tonnage of 27,765 tons have been sunk by mines or bombing.
Evidence has been received that a German raider is operating in the South Atlantic. One of our ships has been sunk and the crew has been picked up by a neutral ship. This fresh menace will be dealt with according to prearranged plans.
The reiterated mis-statements of the German broadcasts have given prominence to the action in the middle of the North Sea on Tuesday, 26th September, between German bombing planes and certain units of the Home Fleet. The Germans have claimed the sinking of the Aircraft Carrier "Ark Royal," later changed to "Glorious" or even "Furious," and severe damage to battleships without loss to themselves. The facts are that no British ship was damaged and that all of them, the "Ark Royal" included, are carrying out .their normal duties, sublimely unconscious of these rumours. The only casualties incurred in that action were suffered by the German aircraft themselves. Four of the crew of these aircraft are prisoners in our hands.
The preparations of the Dominions, to which I have referred in previous statements, are continuing, and I should like this week to tell the House of the splendid help we are receiving from two other 1860 parts of the Empire, Newfoundland and Southern Rhodesia. In Newfoundland, arrangements are already being made to recruit for the Royal Navy some hundreds of men from the Newfoundland fishing fleet. The House will recollect the magnificent service rendered by Newfoundland men in the last war. Southern Rhodesia has mobilised its forces, and is giving us very welcome assistance by providing officers and men for service, both on land and in the air, outside the borders of this self-governing Colony.
There is little that I need say to-day about developments on the Home Front. As hon. Members know, National Registration Day was fixed by Order as Friday, 29th September. During the week beginning 17th September the local officers in charge of the enumeration mobilised their enumerators; and on the 24th September these enumerators, totalling 65,000 in Great Britain, began delivering schedules for the purpose of the returns due to be made on the 29th. Enumerators are now making their rounds for the collection of schedules and the writing and issue of identity cards.
The difficulties usually experienced by enumerators in finding people at home to receive or deliver the schedule were greatly increased by the present unusual family distribution and the black-out conditions at night. I am glad, however, to be able to say that, so far as reports are available, the whole machine appears to be working well and smoothly.
Finally, I have a statement to make about a matter which has attracted considerable attention and given rise to anxiety in the House and the country— the work of the Ministry of Information. As I stated on Thursday last, the responsibility of the Ministry for news has not extended in any way beyond the provision of means for its communication to the Press. A review has now been made of the arrangements for the distribution of news, including the question of direct contact between the Press and the Departments. The subject has been fully discussed with the representatives of the Press with a. view to meeting their convenience in the matter.
As a result it has been decided that there shall be a reversion to the practice existing prior to the outbreak of war, whereby the Press representatives had direct contact with the various Govern- 1861 ment Departments, those Departments themselves furnishing the Press with all official communications in such manner as was found most appropriate. Each Department will, therefore, now make its own arrangements for communicating news to the Press representatives.
It has, however, .been represented to the Minister that the mechanical facilities provided in the building occupied by the Ministry for the receipt and distribution of Government communications have proved of great convenience to a large section of the Press. There is no present intention to do away with these facilities, which will continue to be utilised as a channel by which official communications will be issued to the Press. In any case in which official communications are made direct by Departments, the same communications will be issued simultaneously through the central channel.
I should add that some difficulty must be expected in connection with the supply and distribution of news in time of war: the revised arrangements now proposed are intended to reduce difficulties to a minimum, and I feel sure that I can rely upon the Press to co-operate in their smooth working. The new arrangements will come into force on Monday morning next.
As regards the censorship, which is at present housed at the Ministry of Information, the responsibility for censorship must rest, like the responsibility for news and its distribution, upon the Departments which are concerned with the subject-matter. Departments will, of course, exercise their own control as regards the news that they give out. The central censorship, which is concerned with material or messages submitted by the Press (voluntarily in the case of matter for use in this country) will, as before, be operated by Censor Officers guided by the directions of the Departments.
In the event of questions arising as to any particular censorship operation, the Minister in charge of the Department affected will answer for it in Parliament. Sir Walter Monckton has been appointed Controller of Censorship; he will at the same time supervise the arrangements for the central communication of news to the Press.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I welcome the statement made by the Prime Minister with regard 1862 to the situation that has arisen through the forcible division of Poland between two great Powers. That fact does not really alter-the situation which caused us to enter upon this war, and the fact that Poland has been overrun is not different from the fact that almost all Belgium was overrun in the last War or that Servia was overrun. Belgium rose again: Poland will rise again. The spirit of the Polish people is not defeated. The Prime Minister is right, in my view, in saying that we must examine carefully every kind of proposal for peace, but we must deal with realities. It is no good saying that there is peace when there is no peace, and the mere reversion to a situation of the last year or so would not bring the world back to peace, because, in fact, this war began long before there was any formal declaration of war. We shall require deeds, and not merely words, before we can get any substantial basis for peace when we look at what has happened previously. I, therefore, welcome the Prime Minister's statement that this country and France stand where we are, because we are standing essentially for a real peace and not a sham peace, and for the safety of all peoples, and not merely considering only our own people. With that, as the Prime Minister said, every one of us would welcome any real possibility of ending this war, and no one would wish to prolong it any longer than is absolutely necessary.
The Prime Minister has given us some very interesting particulars with regard to our success in dealing with the submarine menace. I welcome that, because the more information we can get in this country the better. We were disturbed— I think everyone has been disturbed—at the attacks which are now being made on neutral vessels, and I hope that we shall soon hear more of the proposal for the convoying of neutral vessels, but it is a great satisfaction that at present, as far as we can see, the main attack of the submarines has been well held in check. The Prime Minister also told us something of the air warfare, which we hope to have an opportunity of discussing at greater length later on. There are one or two points I would like to raise this afternoon. We cannot go very far into the international situation, which is still so obscure. We cannot at the present time decide exactly what has been the effect of the Russo-German Pact. It is 1863 rather as if one or two great animals were engaged in some kind of struggle, and no one quite knows whether they are in agreement or whether they are fighting, or which is going to swallow which in the end.
But to turn to the home front, the Prime Minister told us something of changes in the Ministry of Information. It is time that this House should discuss Very fully the whole matter of the Ministry of Information. I understand that it is being reconstructed. In answer to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) the Prime Minister explained that changes were being made in regional organisations. He also explained certain changes in regard to the giving out of news and censorship, but I think it is time that this House had a full discussion on the whole organisation of this Ministry and got the thing in some kind of perspective. I would ask, therefore, whether we could have a day next week in which the House could express its views on the Ministry of Information, so that if it is to be reconstructed it may be reconstructed more in line with the views of the Members of this House, and, I think, of the general public.
I wish to raise one or two points on the Ministry of Information, but, first of all I would like to ask as to whether the German broadcast is being given at the right time. It has been represented to me that it is failing in its object, because when the German workers would like to listen in, they get dance music, and when there is news which they might like to hear, they are at work. The second thing I have to ask is as to whether the Ministry of Information is really getting down to a proper study of the psychology of the German people? It is no good serving to another nation exactly the kind of things you put out to this nation. You have different mentalities, and I wonder whether full use is being taken of the many Germans who are on the side of democracy and who can help with advice. I would like, also, that we should be able to discuss more fully the question again of the British Broadcasting Corporation about which I asked a question the other day. That, again, is a matter of information, but, generally speaking, I think that the Ministry of Information was formed wrongly at the start. When attacking it, 1864 I do not think we would be fair to attack the present Minister who had to take over something which had been formed already before he got there. I have no doubt that he is trying to reform it and we should like to help him in that.
What the country does really need is a great deal more information. In the broadcast given by the First Lord of the Admiralty we got more information than we get in a great many news bulletins, and in a better way. I think sometimes they get more information in the Empire broadcasts than we get at home. There seems to be a kind of idea that the people who ought to know anything are the people who do not tell us. I am quite sure that that is wrong. The whole question of censorship should be discussed. I do not know that I was very pleased with the statement of the Prime' Minister that we were to have censorship in separate Departments. It is always dangerous when censorship takes a narrow Departmental point of view. You want an extremely wise and broadminded person to direct censorship.
There are a few other questions I should like to ask. We are anxious to see the legislation on profiteering introduced as soon as possible, and also the legislation for the Ministry of Shipping. There is one more point I want to raise this afternoon, and I think it is a very important one. We were all glad to hear from the Prime Minister of what is being done by the people of Newfoundland and the people of Southern Rhodesia. It is very vital in this struggle that we should make clear by deeds as well as words that we are standing for democracy and not for imperialism. We have to consider that fact in dealing with all these people who are standing together with us in this war. We must not think that because there is a war on development under self-government should stop in our Colonial Empire. The amazing unity of the British Commonwealth of Nations is due to the fact that there has been a free association of free people.
In this connection I would refer to the great country of India. The Indian people are with us in our fight for democracy, but they wish to come in not as dependants but as free and equal partners. I do not think the Indian people have been handled tactfully in this 1865 matter. I welcome the news that the Viceroy has seen Mr. Gandhi, but I think that should have been done earlier. I think the Congress, which to-day controls the government of a great majority of Indian Provinces, should have been brought in with the closest consolidation with the Government at the start. The Government must try to show more imaginative insight in dealing with the Indian people. The declaration of the Congress shows where the sympathy of the Indian people lies, and they want to do their share as equals. We should remember that declaration which was made by Lord Halifax on 29th October, that India's place in the British Commonwealth still stands. I thought that more might have been said by the Secretary of State for India in another place the other day; I hope we shall get a statement in this House, and I hope it will be one such as will show the Indian people that in this matter they are coming in on a level with us. I say that because it is an outstanding instance of the need for telling the whole world what this country stands for. The Government have shown a lack of imagination and initiative in not rallying sufficiently behind them all those forces in the world which are really with them but which need just a touch of inspiration.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I have listened with satisfaction to the speeches of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on the main issue with which we arc confronted to-day. The whole country, and I believe all parties in this House, earnestly want peace, but we are not prepared to buy peace at the sacrifice of freedom and of the moral values of our civilisation. We know that as long as this" great and powerful country of Germany is governed by Herr Hitler and the people who now surround him, we shall constantly be faced with that choice of which the Prime Minister spoke between submission to his will and war. It is, therefore, essential for us to continue with this war until that force of Hitlerism in Germany is broken. We feel no hatred for the German people. I, for my part, hope and believe that there will arise in Germany a Government more truly representative of the German people who will be prepared to make with us a peace, the benefits of which would be 1866 shared by the German people as much as by those of France and Britain. I think there are no terms of peace which such a German Government might offer which we ought not to be willing to discuss, but let us be sure that the peace when it is made is one which will secure the liberties of Europe and of our own people, and will bear within itself the seeds of permanence.
That is why it is impossible for us to contemplate a peace with Herr Hitler on the terms which he is suggesting to the world at the present time. If people ask why we cannot trust the word of Herr Hitler, if Herr Hitler tries to persuade us that we can place confidence in the pledges which he gives us, the answer is that even now he is breaking the pledges which he so recently voluntarily assumed to observe the rules of sea warfare and to make sure that the crews and passengers of peaceful ships which are attacked by his submarines shall be put into safety. Now on a flimsy pretext he is saying that German submarines will attack our merchant ships at sight. Similarly he recently gave to the neutrals of Europe a pledge that he would not interfere with their shipping except in accordance with the strict rules of warfare in order to watch that they do not carry contraband, and again on a flimsy pretext he is breaking that pledge which he has so recently given. Therefore, my hon. Friends and I associate ourselves with the answer which the Prime Minister has given to Herr Hitler this afternoon.
I was a little disappointed that the Prime Minister was not followed by the Secretary of State for Air. On the last occasion when the First Lord of the Admiralty spoke of the war at sea, I ventured to suggest that perhaps the Secretary of State for Air would speak to us on a future occasion, and I observed in certain newspapers a statement which was no doubt an unfounded rumour, to the effect that he was contemplating doing so.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I am much obliged to the Prime Minister for his information. We were, however, grateful to the Prime Minister for the account which he gave us of the activities of the Air Force, but if we pay tribute to their gallantry and skill in such actions as that at Brunsbuttel, 1867 our words must not be interpreted by the Government as a demand for frittering away valuable lives and equipment on enterprises for which there is no adequate military justification merely in order to obtain glory for British arms. This war is much too serious for that. It should be prosecuted vigorously wherever opportunities present themselves; but the lessons of the war in Poland seem to emphasise those of operations in other theatres of war in recent years—that the effective employment of aircraft is an indispensable factor in obtaining victory in the decisive struggle on land, and it follows that close co-operation with the French and British armies in France may well prove to be the most important role of the Royal Air Force during the next few months.
Let me now revert to a point on which I have spoken before in these Debates— the question of man power. I would relate my observations to the important War Office statement which appeared in the "Times" this morning. According to the communiques which were published in July it was anticipated that 34,000 recruits would be called up then and 40,000 in September, whereas according to the figures which I gave to the House last week which were taken from the public Press, only 24,000 were actually called up and trained in July and only 18,000 in September.
There is a great deal of talk about a three years' war, but it will not be a three years' war if Hitler can help it. If he can manage it he will finish it in six months. It is, therefore, urgently vital that we should do all in our power to give the utmost support to the French Army which will be bearing the main strain of the struggle during the next six months. We need the troops quickly, but they must be well trained and well equipped before they go. There are such troops in India and in our garrisons overseas, which could in part be replaced by older men, ex-service men of experience in the last war, and by young men who have been enlisted recently by some of our Territorial battalions, who could complete their training under garrison conditions in India and other places overseas. But the War Office will not touch these volunteers. I am receiving many protests from all parts of the country that there axe thousands of men who are only too 1868 anxious to obtain an opportunity to serve in the armed Forces of the Crown but are denied it at the present time.
The War Office says that it is a haphazard system to ask volunteers to go into the Army. The Financial Secretary to the War Office called it a haphazard system, but it seems to me to be a very natural system. In that way you would get recruits of different ages going into the Army at the same time, whereas at the present time we are getting none but young men of from 20 to 22, all of the same age. The problem does not arise under the voluntary system, because you gel recruits of all ages, and it does not arise under a conscript system which has been working 20 years, because then your conscripts are of all ages who can be called up as they are required; but it arises in our present position, and we shall soon be having units, infantry battalions and batteries of artillery, very largely, if not almost entirely, composed of men of the ages of 20 to 22 or 23. I would, therefore, strongly urge that the question of combining the advantages of the voluntary system with the conscript system should be considered. The War Office communique of this morning to which I referred, which appeared in the "Times," says that we have to some extent got these advantages because of the response to the Prime Minister's appeal in the summer to raise the Territorial Army to war strength, and then to double it; but even in that way we get nothing like what we got at the beginning of the last war, when 500,000 men came forward in five weeks. We could get a similar number now if an appeal were made for volunteers, in addition to working the system of conscription.
There is, moreover, an incidental advantage about the voluntary system. In the last war the voluntary system compelled the Government to have a recruiting system under which public meetings were held all over the country, and on platforms throughout the land the Government's policy in the war was widely stated. It seems to me that we are coming to a point at which some such effort ought to be made, in order to bring home to the people what it is we are fighting about. The country needs leadership. Let me say at once—it is an easy thing to say, because everybody agrees with it, but it would be ungracious and ungrateful if we did not say 1869 it —that we owe a great debt of gratitude to the First Lord of the Admiralty for his speech last week and his magnificent broadcast, which gave to the country a sense of purpose and power of leadership which is very badly needed. That example ought to be followed up, and we ought to have a campaign of meetings throughout the country to enlighten the people, to clarify the issues, to strengthen the national purpose and to concentrate the national effort on the vigorous prosecution of the war.
That brings me to what the Prime Minister said about the Ministry of Information. His statement about the regional committees was irrelevant to the main charges brought against the Ministry. The main complaint against the Ministry is that it is not providing us with sufficient news. What we want is a Ministry with men in it of sufficient authority over the Services to ensure that the public receive the news for which it is thirsting and to which it is entitled. What the Prime Minister said about the appointment of Sir Walter Monckton was very much to the point, and I should like to congratulate him upon it. I hope that that appointment will bear fruit. The regional committees ought to be able to perform a very valuable function. I do not know what will happen if they are disbanded. I imagine that each party would carry on its own propaganda in its own proper way. I should have thought that there was advantage in providing a means for co-ordinating the propaganda and bringing it into harmony with the general national purpose.
In conclusion, I would say that the war is now likely to enter on a new and grimmer phase. Parliament, as the First Lord of the Admiralty said in his broadcast, is the shield of democracy and the means of national expression. As we enter this grimmer phase, indeed, before we enter it, we ought in Parliament to consider very carefully the position with which the country is faced and the choices of action which are open to it. The only way we can do that fully and adequately —reverting to a proposal I have made on other occasions—is that we should have a secret Session. The people are resolute. They fully realise the very grave decisions which will have to be taken during the next few weeks. They know that many problems will have to be thrashed out and that many of those 1870 problems are of a nature which cannot be thrashed out in public, and I believe it would give them confidence if they knew that their representatives in Parliament were taking the only step that would enable them to thrash out all these questions in secret discussion, on the Floor of this House, when Members on all sides could speak out freely and give their counsel to the Government.
§ 4.40 p.m.
Mr. Lloyd George
I rise not so much to take part in the Debate as to ask one or two questions of the Prime Minister. At the beginning of his very interesting statement the Prime Minister said that his difficulty with regard to even considering any proposals of peace which come from Herr Hitler himself is that he has very good reason for doubting his good faith. I quite sympathise with him in that respect; there is certainly every reason, and no one has greater reason than the Prime Minister himself. If the whole situation with regard to the question of peace were dependent upon the word of Herr Hitler I am afraid that we should have no alternative but to proceed until we got some other and better and more assured guarantee. What I want to put to the Prime Minister is this. It is clear that the statement issued last week, the combined statement of the Russian and German Governments with regard to the agreement they had arrived at, was only a provisional one. They were not putting forward any terms of peace. It was a proposal which we certainly should not contemplate. It was that we should accept as an accomplished fact the conquest of Poland and the absorption or assimilation of Poland and that we should base any terms of peace upon that assumption. We do not agree with that.
But it is quite clear from what appears in the Press—I get it from our own Press who have derived it from other sources, notably Italian sources and perhaps Russian sources—that there has been a discussion between the parties concerned, I mean Russia and Germany and Italy, of more detailed terms of peace. There is a good deal that we do not know. We do not know, for instance, what is proposed to be done with Poland, and that is a very vital matter. I was very glad that the First Lord of the Admiralty in his powerful broadcast on Sunday night did draw a distinction between the attitude of the Russian Government and that 1871 of the German Government. I could give many reasons, but this is not the opportunity for doing so, for treating even the partition of Poland, in so far as the Russian part is concerned, in a totally different spirit from that part which appertains to Herr Hitler and the German Government. Whether the parts of Poland which they have annexed are truly Russian is a matter for discussion. Since the announcement that it was proposed that peace terms should be proffered there has been detailed discussion in Moscow between the German Government and Mr. Stalin. What happened we do not know. There have been discussions at the invitation of Herr Hitler with the Italian Government, and let me say that I do not think the Italian Government have shown any hostility towards this country during the last few days; on the whole they have shown a friendly disposition.
We do not know, therefore, what has really passed, but it is quite clear that somebody is going to submit, whether formally or by broadcast or otherwise, detailed terms for the consideration of the Government. I think it is very important that we should not come to too hurried a conclusion. It needs very careful consideration. I agree with the Prime Minister entirely that if it depended on the statement of Herr Hitler that we should accept the conquest of Poland as an accomplished fact and enter into peace on those terms we should be dishonoured, but it is quite clear that you are going to get something which goes far beyond that. I have nothing upon which I can base this statement except what has appeared in the British Press. There are other questions which will have to be considered—not merely Poland. There is the question of Czecho-Slovakia, which in many ways is, I think, a better case, but, at any rate, it is a question which has to be considered. Not a word has been said about that by Herr Hitler or any other Government. There is also the very important question of the Colonies, which I have no doubt will be raised, and where this House might express some general opinion for the instruction of the Government.
I hope the House will allow me to continue as I feel a real sense of responsibility, and I know how difficult it is to do this sort of thing in the middle of 1872 a war. Everybody says that if you begin to talk like that you are weakening the Government. I do not propose to do anything to weaken the Government, but I would ask the House and the Government to pause, not to hurry to come to a conclusion if, for instance, there is a document which comes from the Italian Government or the Russian Government, which as far as we are concerned are both neutral. I hope that the Government are treating them purely as neutrals; the First Lord did so on Sunday night, and it is vital that we should. "We do not want to multiply our enemies. We have got quite as much as we can do to conquer one without adding one or two more.
Let us consider what we are doing. We are entering upon something which involves the whole life of this Empire and the whole future of our people. What I want to ask the Prime Minister is this: Suppose we get a document of that kind, it makes a difference in two respects. In the first place, it comes from neutral Governments, and, in the second place, they will be just as involved as we are in seeing that whatever terms are come to are implemented; they will not be dependent merely on the word of one Government. You will have the signatures of at least two more. The third question is that of disarmament, because no peace would be a permanent peace unless it involved some agreement with regard to disarmament.
Mr. Lloyd George
I do not want to express an opinion on that; naturally, economic questions would have to be discussed. The question of disarmament might involve bringing in the Far East, for the simple reason that you could not have disarmament as long as there were great armies in the Far East attacking a friendly nation. Then there would be the question of whether the United States of America should be brought in. In my judgment, if you had a conference, I will not say it would be fatal, but it would be a first-class mistake, to enter into it unless you invited not merely Russia and Italy, but also the United States of America. There you have one great Power the interests of which are not European interests, and which has not been involved in any of these European disputes and quarrels. I should like to 1873 ask the Prime Minister whether he does not think it desirable, when he gets a more detailed proposal—a proposal which has a backing which is less suspect, at any rate, than any one which we have had up to the present, more detailed and less tainted—that we should have a discussion on it in the House? The House of Commons ought to be consulted. In my judgment, there have been too many hasty decisions—I have protested against them at the time—with regard to the whole of this war. Whatever we do, do not let us make that mistake. We have nothing to lose—perhaps everything to gain, but certainly, nothing to lose—by taking time. If we had a broken enemy and we were pursuing him, and we were giving him time to reorganise his forces, it would be another matter; but we are only just beginning, and neither of us in that position. Let us take time.
I would also urge upon the Prime Minister, quite earnestly, the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend that our discussion should be in secret Session. After all, here you have the representatives of the people. Nobody outside would say that we are trying to keep information from them more than they would say it in regard to the Cabinet. [Interruption.] Oh, yes; you could. We had three secret Sessions during the Great War, one of them at the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Admiralty. I never heard of a single word going out from those secret Sessions. There was not a syllable that got into any newspaper, even the pacifist newspapers that were criticising the Government. There was not a single word that got into the foreign Press. I was Prime Minister at the time, and I gave answers to the House which I would not have cared to give had they been broadcast, as they concerned military conditions. It was very satisfactory to the House, and it enabled us to go on with greater confidence. In such a session one could give reasons both for and against which perhaps it would not be desirable to have reported fully.
There is one additional reason why I urge that the Government and the House should take seriously into consideration any proposals for peace which were specific, detailed, broad, which excluded nothing, but reviewed all the subjects that have been the cause of all the troubles of the last few years. It would 1874 be of no use doing this unless you put an end to them. A mere patched-up peace would not be of the slightest use, because you would have to begin again. Therefore, you have to settle all the problems that are menacing the peace of the world, including the claims of Italy—I have not ruled them out of consideration. My reason is this. The fate of this war may depend not upon Britain and France and Germany, but upon neutrals. Who are the neutrals? Italy has proclaimed herself neutral. Russia has proclaimed herself neutral. Do not rule that out in too great a hurry. The United States of America are neutral. The fate of this war may depend upon the attitude of those three Powers. There are three things which they can do. One is to take sides—and we should have a real peril if we had to face three great Powers, or two great Powers, instead of one. But without taking sides, they can be either friendly or unfriendly neutrals. It makes all the difference in the world. We know that of the United States of America; the United States of America know it. They can help us as neutrals. When you come to Russia and Italy, within the limits of neutrality they can make all the difference in the world between being helpful and friendly neutrals and hostile neutrals.
My two questions to the Prime Minister are these. First, will he give the House of Commons an opportunity, if there are detailed declarations in the course of the next few days—something more to go on than we have at the present moment—will he give the House an opportunity to discuss them? He has had very solid support from the House of Commons, and, therefore, he may depend upon it that whatever discussion we had here would be from the point of view of people who are sincerely anxious to help the Government to establish right, freedom and justice in the world. The second question is whether the Prime Minister does not think it desirable that we should have a secret Session where all those who feel that they have a real contribution to make will be able to do so without feeling at any rate that when they say a thing they are saying something that may be distorted into something which is encouraging to the enemy.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the 1875 House speaks with such authority in circumstances like these, that I believe I shall have the leave of the House in rising to say a few words in reply to the appeal which he has made. If I may, I will speak first of his second question which is really rather a minor matter. He asked whether I would agree that we should have a secret Session of the House. I confess I am not yet convinced of the value of a secret Session. Two different views have been put forward as to the reason for a secret Session. One, that the Government might tell the House in a secret Session what they would not venture to say in a public Session, and the other, that Members of the House would tell the Government in a secret Session what they would not venture to say to them in a public Session. As to that latter reason, surely there are opportunities for hon. Members to say anything they like to the Government if they think that it is of importance to the country, and if they do not want to say it in public they can say it in private, or they can write it. I cannot think that there is any value in a secret Session from that point of view.
I think a much more substantial ground for asking for a secret Session is the impression that the Government will be able to reveal in a secret Session, things which the House would like to know but which we should not like our enemies to know. The right hon. Gentleman says that during the last war there were such secret Sessions and that no secrets got out. Can we feel sure that there have been no developments in the last 20 years in Press ingenuity and in the technique of finding out what goes on behind closed doors? I am not thinking for one moment of the Press of this country. Even if the Press themselves were not to be trusted and I am sure that they can be, there is the censorship. What would be much more dangerous would be if something were telegraphed from here to a foreign country and reproduced there. Then we should be told that since it had appeared in a foreign country, it would be no use to conceal it here. Speaking for myself, I do not feel that I should have sufficient confidence in the secrecy of a secret Session to discuss any matter which was really important to the House but which I felt it was essential should not get to the ears 1876 of the enemy. Therefore, at any rate as at present advised, I do not feel disposed to think that a secret Session would really be of particular value.
Let me come to the much more important matter which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman and which culminated in his first question. The right hon. Gentleman's question was based upon a good many hypotheses. It is true that at present all we have had is what I would call an indication that some proposal might be made, but I said in my statement earlier this afternoon that I could not anticipate what the nature of that proposal might be. The right hon. Gentleman has anticipated it but he might be mistaken.
Mr. Lloyd George
All that I said, including those terms, has appeared in practically all the papers of this country.
§ The Prime Minister
I am not complaining in the least. We can all, of course, speculate as to what the nature of such a proposal might be. All I wanted to say was that at present we have received no such proposal, and I think it is too soon to assume that we are going to have proposals of such a detailed and comprehensive character as the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting would be made. On the other hand, it is quite possible that the offer might prove to be one which no self-respecting Government could consider at all. In such circumstances, I think really it would be wrong for me to say what the Government would do in circumstances which have not yet arisen. I will only say this in answer to the question which the right hon. Gentleman has put to me. He said, "If any such proposal is put forward, do not be in a hurry to give it an answer." I entirely agree. I see no reason why we should be in a hurry to give an answer to a proposal which really appeared to require serious consideration.
The right hon. Gentleman has complained before that we have taken decisions without consulting this House, but I would remind him that we have had to take very serious decisions because we have not had the time to come down here and put the case to the House and spend a day or two in considering it. When we gave the guarantee to Poland the matter was imminent. We did not know that Poland might not be invaded 1877 within a term which could be measured by hours and not by days. But a case of this kind is entirely different. I see no reason at all why the House should not have ample opportunity for seeing any proposals which may be put forward, for considering them and for hearing from the Government what they would recommend the House to approve by way of an answer. That, then, is my reply to the right hon. Gentleman. But let me once more repeat that no such proposal has yet come to us, and I think at this stage it would be premature to build any hopes upon the likelihood of such a proposal being made, although the House will realise that no man would welcome more whole-heartedly than I, any proposal which I could really feel had achieved the aims which I have described as the aims of this Government and of this country in entering into this war.
§ 5 9 P.m.
§ Mr. Duff Cooper
The House always listens with deep respect and interest to anything which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has to say at any time, and, with his great record and his long experience, no one has a better right to advise the House of Commons at the present time. In the short speech which he gave us this afternoon he put forward two considerations. First, he suggested that it was desirable that we should hold a secret Session, and, secondly, if I understood him correctly, that we should give every due consideration to any proposals for peace which might now be put forward. I must confess that I am sorry that the Prime Minister turned down the first suggestion, and, so far as I could understand, turned it down for ever, the suggestion of a secret Session. [Hon. Members: "No."] The reason that he gave for turning down that suggestion was that it would be impossible to keep what took place secret. That reason will grow in weight the longer the years go on and the longer the war continues. The more serious the position grows, the greater will be the danger of any secrets transpiring from a Session that takes place in the House of Commons. We have the right hon. Gentleman's own assurance— and he speaks as Prime Minister during the gravest years of the last war—that so far as he was aware no secrets of any 1878 importance ever got out as a result of a secret Session.
The present Prime Minister said that during these 20 years there may have been some development in Press technique. What has Press technique got to do with this? This is a question of treason. Does he mean that there has been any lessening of the loyalty of Members of the House of Commons, or that they are less to be trusted than they were 25 years ago? That is the only way secrets can get out. We are fighting this war in support of democratic institutions, and it may be that they will not survive, but it is a fearful confession to make at the outset of the war that they are less to be trusted than they were 25 years ago, and so, if that reason is a sound reason, it will remain sound for ever, and that is why the Prime Minister's reply seemed to me to turn down for ever the possibility of a secret Session. The other argument, that Members of the House of Commons could tell the Government in private what they thought, is really no argument at all. Anyone with any knowledge of Government technique knows that what takes place between private Members and a Minister carries no conviction to the Government as a whole, that letters from private Members to Ministers carry no weight, and that it is only when Ministers themselves meet the House of Commons in full Session that they are ever able to realise, or that we ourselves are able to realise, what the feeling of the House of Commons really is.
Having said that, I must say also that I think the strongest argument in favour of a secret Session is the speech made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs himself this afternoon. With all the respect which I owe to one of his high standing in the country, I must say that I deeply deplore and regret that speech. His is a name which is better known throughout Europe and throughout the world perhaps than that of any other Member sitting in this House to-day. His words will be reported, and they will be misrepresented—[An Hon. Member: "So will yours"]—Nobody will bother to report my words, but the right hon. Gentleman, with his long experience of politics, knows how his words will be misrepresented. If they had been spoken in a secret Session, they might have been valuable and helpful words, 1879 but being spoken in full and public Session of the House of Commons, they will go out to the world, with his name at the head of them, as a suggestion of surrender. He says that we should not lightly dismiss any terms now offered by the German Government, but what kind of terms are the German Government going to offer on the day after victory? They have just won, in a remarkably short space of time, an astounding victory. They have destroyed a vast country, an independent country; they have wiped it off the face of the map. A country that has come into existence as a result of the last war and that has been there for 20 years exists no more. Is it suggested that they are ready to offer terms that will do anything less than register that victory and stamp it on the face of Europe? Are they going now to suggest setting up again a real, independent Poland, with access to the sea? We know that without access to the sea Poland can no longer exist.
But suppose they go still further and offer such terms as we have never dreamed they would offer. Suppose they state that they will set up an independent State with its capital in Warsaw. Suppose the Soviet withdraw their frontiers many miles from Warsaw where they now lie. Is it going to be a real State any more than the Czecho-Slovakia of a year ago? A State they can eat up any Good Friday morning they choose? It is unthinkable that they will offer terms now that would not mean a defeat.
Mr. Lloyd George
I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not suggest that I proposed to accept terms of that character. I think it is very important, as my words may travel beyond this country, that I should say emphatically that I am the last man to propose that we should agree to a surrender. That is a totally different proposition. But I would consider, and I think the House ought to consider, at any rate, whether there should be a conference of the nations, which would include the United States of America as well as the others, to consider all these proposals—[Hon. Members: "What proposals? "]—I have been charged with surrender. It is the first time I have been charged with that. All that I am suggesting is what I have said. I have put it on record, and 1880 the right hon. Gentleman will live to regret what he has said.
§ Mr. Cooper
I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman has no more intention of surrendering and that his heart is less touched by fear than that of any other Member of the House. He has put forward what seemed to him a reasonable, moderate point of view, but I have pointed out that that will be misrepresented in Europe as a suggestion of surrender. I cannot imagine, and I do not know whether he really can possibly imagine, Germany now proposing terms which would not register the victory which they have so far won. If we gave way to such terms, everything we have spent and the lives we have lost would be thrown away, and we should be defeated, and not only defeated in this war, but we should be awaiting a major defeat in a greater war later. But it is not only a question of terms. Supposing terms were offered far more favourable than he, or I, or anybody in this House can imagine, those terms and that treaty would be signed with the same signature as signed the document at Munich a year ago. The Prime Minister has said—and we stand solid in our support of his statement— that he will make no peace with the present Government of Germany because he knows that any peace that they signed would be a peace that would never be kept, and it would not be worth the paper on which it was written.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. David Grenfell
I had not intended to say a word to-day, and I have had no consultation with any of my hon. Friends on this side, but when I listened to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) a fellow-countryman whom I have admired all my life, I must say that I was exceedingly disturbed by the substance of what he said and by what I believe to be his gross error in timing the delivery of that speech. The Prime Minister has been accused for two or three years of pursuing a policy of conciliation and appeasement, and carrying his willingness to co-operate too far to satisfy the opinions of the majority of people in this House. I have never agreed with him personally, and I will repeat what I have said privately time and time again, that I believe the Prime Minister has been far too willing 1881 to compromise. The situation to-day is less manageable because of the extent to which we have given way to blackmail in the past. It is true that the situation has changed day by day since 1st September, just over a month ago. The situation is still changing and it may change again to-morrow, but there is nobody in this House who will to-day confess that the determination of the House was wrong or that the statement of the Prime Minister, repeated over and over again, was unworthy of the House or the country.
Twelve months ago the Prime Minister came back from Munich with far more satisfaction than I thought the circumstances warranted. I was disturbed very much by the extent of the settlement and the territorial changes in Middle Europe which then took place. All we then saw was that the bastions of defence for the smaller Danubian countries were being handed over to Germany. The justification for that was that the people who occupied the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia were German by race, and the principle of self-determination and the machinery of plebiscites were put forward to defend the change and the surrenders which took place in September last year. Since then there have been rapid, extensive and far-reaching changes on the Continent of Europe. On 15th March the Germans over-ran Bohemia and Moravia and added to the Reich, in the form of a Protectorate, a disguised form of slavery in which 10,000,000 non-Germans were added to the Reich. The principle of self-determination and the machinery of plebiscites were completely set aside in that transaction.
Now there has been the attack upon Poland and a new partition. In this partition 22,000,000 new subjects, the overwhelming majority of them unwilling to be transferred, have been added to the German Reich and taken over by force after bloodshed, after treason and after horrible barbarities upon the civilian population. The German Reich now contains 20,000,000 more non-Germans. In the last 12 months 30,000,000 non-German people have been torn from their own lives and added to the Nazi regime in Germany to be compelled, not only to forswear their nationality, but to accept Nazi ideas in the government of the people and of the individual. This is 1882 not the end. Perhaps next month, when every day smaller countries are being coerced and compelled one by one —
§ Mr. Grenfell
I know what Russia has done. It has been a most despicable act. We say in this country that kicking a man when he is down is the act of a coward. Russia stepped in and kicked Poland when she was prostrate and shook hands with the aggressor. There is no word for it. I do not know what Russia proposes to do in future, but I am sure it does not reduce the crime against Poland by one iota because there have been two aggressors instead of one. Poland was a nation of people struggling to revive their national life after a century and a half of disorganisation and after the repudiation of all claims to nationality. My right hon. Friend made this speech to-day, but he has written articles denouncing the Poles, condemning and reviling the victim and not the aggressor. I do not speak with authority, except the authority of a conscience which I have kept as clear as I can all my life. I speak here in the presence of my fellow-Members and of the public who listen to our words and report them, and I say that I am a man who would give my life to see Europe freed from the menace of war and tyranny.
§ Mr. Grenfell
I am afraid of nothing in life. I may be guilty of shortcomings, but not of fear, and I speak here with the confidence that I shall not be misunderstood. I should like to see peace this minute in Europe. Who wants to go on? [Hon. Members: '' Hear, hear."] Yes, but there are conditions of peace. Peace itself is a condition of peace—thoughts of peace and desires for peace. I shall not try to pronounce or to picture the details of any possible offer that may come, but I would say to-day, or to-morrow, or for another year, or two years or three years of struggle in a 1883 cause which I believe to be just, that the conditions for the resumption of friendly contacts in Europe are the conditions which previously existed. I would sum it up in one phrase—Europe ought to be willing, ought to be ready, to discuss peace when we have gone back at least as far as the status quo ante-Munich, when the Czechs are to be masters in their own country and when the Poles are to regain their national right's—.when that has been done and the Germans are back in Germany and the Russians are back in Russia. If they want peace why do they not go back to their own country?
§ Mr. Grenfell
When that has been done I would talk about peace, and when I am talking about peace in Europe I am not merely talking about national boundaries and the exchange of political formulas. To build up a secure peace in Britain, whether it comes soon or whether it comes late, you must first provide the firm foundations of economic order and economic justice between the peoples of Europe.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
Ishould like to say to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) that I think he was speaking not only for his country of Wales but was giving voice also to the opinions of the man-in-the-street in every part of the British Isles. It is a speech which, I think, was needed, and it was a speech of courage, and a speech supported by the vast majority in every section of the House. The speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was deplorable. He was Prime Minister during those great eventful years of 1914–18 and I am certain that then if any Member of the House had, at a juncture like this, risen and made such a speech he would have torn his arguments to pieces. Here we are within a month of the start of the war and he has risen to his feet to suggest that the terms of Herr Hitler should be considered. I venture to think that we in this country have made it quite clear in entering upon this great venture that we are not prepared to consider the terms of Herr Hitler, but only the terms of a Government which represents the ideas of liberty 1884 and freedom which hitherto have reigned in Europe.
Regarding the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion of a secret Session, I happen to have had the honour of being a Member of the House at a time where there were, I think, two secret Sessions. I remember that I came home on leave for one secret Session imagining that we were all going to learn great facts which we had not heard previously through the Press at the front. I also remember another occasion when we had a secret Session. It is true that no great secrets got out to the public, for the simple reason that no great secrets were disclosed in this House. My right hon. Friend knows that he gave us a general story. I venture to think there is nothing in the situation at the moment which demands a secret Session. If we felt that some great tragedy was happening, that there must be a great change of opinion in this country, that a great change of policy must be considered, it is conceivable that the House should be called together in secret Session, but I cannot believe that we have any such situation to-day. I cannot believe that there is anything in the history of the war which the Government have not disclosed to this House which we should benefit by hearing. I would remind Members of this. When we have meetings upstairs of, it may be, 50, 60 or 100 Members, we know that, not through any Member present at those meetings having failed in his trust, but by a process of elimination, deductions from what Members have not said, facts transpire as to what has taken place. There is no less danger in the case of a secret Session. I believe that if at this juncture a secret Session were held the people of this country would feel there was some vital thing which we wanted to withhold from them, and I cannot believe that would help the morale of the nation.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
In rising to speak for only a few minutes I want to say as clearly as I can that I speak only for myself and, in so far as I can, for the division which I represent. Like the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell) one has to take one's responsibilities as seriously as one can, and I trust that those who disagree with the hon. Member for Gower and who hold views like mine are no less brave, no less honest and no less desirous of seeing the right thing done. I would 1885 also say that I congratulate the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), an ex-Prime Minister, upon having the courage, at 76 years of age, to take a hostile line in this House of Commons. I say frankly that there are masses of people—at least large masses of people—who are thinking as he is thinking, and if we have a democratic House of Commons then, instead of his being abused, instead of taunts being flung across the Floor, surely at 76 he is to be congratulated on putting his point of view. [Interruption.] Well, that is my view, and I hope I shall be allowed to put it.
I want to go a step further than he has gone. I take an even stronger line about peace than he has done. We hear in the House about the great mass of people who are behind the Government in this war. I am an ordinary man in this House. I try, as all Members try, to represent my division, and I meet my constituents week in and week out, and frankly I say to the Prime Minister that I cannot find this great unanimous desire for the war. Frankly speaking, I find the reverse. And I want to say this, that in 1914 I never saw anything like the hostility to the war that I find to-day. [Interruption.] Each man for himself. I say to some of the hon. Members who interrupt that I often wish I could get a secret referendum taken in this country for or against the war. I tell those who are shouting loud about the war to-day that I have no hesitation in saying the result would shock them. Men everywhere are saying, "You went to war for Poland—to defend Poland, to help Poland." On the Saturday night on the eve of the war the Prime Minister was abused by nearly everybody in the House and could not get a decent show. You talk about democracy—democracy at its worst. That Saturday night Members shouted "What about the poor Poles? They are being killed." I ask, "What about them now, at the end of a month?" They are gone.
I came back from Poland in the last ship to leave Gdynia. What did the poor Poles think? I do not say, "What did their leaders think?" because I never met their leaders, but I met the dockers, the workers on the boats, those who sail the ships and the agricultural workers. They thought we were going to fight for the Poles by much more definite methods 1886 than turned out to be the case. They thought they had the great British Empire fighting for them, and I am going to say this to the Prime Minister, that if he and this Government had ever told the Poles that all they were going to do-was all they have done the Poles would never have entered the war. The simple people walking in the streets of Gdynia thought the British Empire was behind them in a sense which they have not yet seen—and Poland has gone.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Well, I understood them through the British there who interpreted. That was all I could do. I met them and spent days with them in steamships. That is all I could do. I am not a linguist and I have not stated that I am. I apologise for my education. Blame my father for it; he is responsible.
What are we in now? When we entered this war we guaranteed Poland against aggression. Was it against German aggression or any other aggression? Here is Russia to-day, taking half of Poland. They may be different, but they have taken half of Poland. If I understood the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) properly, he says that they are just as bad as the Germans. What does that mean? It means that after you have fought Germany and restored that part of Poland you have to start and fight Russia to get back that part also.
§ Mr. Grenfell
My hon. Friend cannot have heard the explanation that the Russians are in Poland to prevent the Germans from having it. If the Germans go out, will not the Russians go out too?
§ Mr. Buchanan
My hon. Friend said that the Russians were as bad as the Germans. I thought from his speech that he meant that they were even worse, but I will say that they are as bad. Now my hon. Friend is going to say that these people, who are as bad, are going to be different from the people whom they equal in badness. He has said that the Russians will walk out of Poland. Did you ever see any country, did you ever see us, walking out of any colony, after we got it?
§ Mr. Buchanan
I do not know that place. We have not got out of India or any of those places. Anybody knows that we are taking on this business, but I do not think that the issues now are -worth the lives of millions of people that are to be poured into it. I am no war man. We are all talking about inspiration. Everybody is saying: "Inspire the people." I look at that Front Bench and at the House of Commons all over, and at all the warmongers that are in it; young men. If you want to inspire the people, let some of the young warmongers themselves march out. You are going down to my Division, where people are living in single apartments on an income which does not provide for body or soul, and young warmongers sit in this House of Commons with what are, to those other people, fabulous incomes. These young men shout for war while they themselves stay snugly at home not intending to go if they can avoid it in any possible way. [Hon. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. Only two of those in the Government who are of military age resigned their Government offices and went, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Undersecretary of State for Air. The other young men stayed. Of course, they would tell me, if I had not been so long in this House, that they are in dispensable. There are just about 200, with greater ability, ready to take their places to-morrow. They have stayed, of course.
I say frankly that, as I see this matter, it is one of millions of men arrayed behind concrete blocks against other millions of men. You say: "We cannot negotiate with Hitler." With whom can you negotiate? Suppose he is shot to-morrow, and is dead; is there any guarantee that the next man is any better than Hitler? Suppose it is Ribbentrop; will you negotiate with him? [Hon. Members: "No."] No? Then if it is some other man, will you negotiate with him? Who is it to be? As a matter of fact, you shouted the same things in the last war, that you would hang the Kaiser and do a lot of other things. You have done none of them. Looking at things as calmly and as clearly as I can, I say that my persona] view is that you ought to start negotiations now. After all, it is not Hitler that you are fighting in' Germany. I do not believe that Hitler, even if he were a greater man than he is, could to-morrow arm millions of people in Ger- 1888 many and lead them into war unless they want to go. I do not believe that the Prime Minister can do it unless he has considerable backing in the country. You talk about fighting Hitler as the representative of the German people. Either make up your mind that you are going on to smash and smash, without any result at the end, or start and negotiate now. It is said to me: "You cannot trust Hitler," but the Russian Government trusted Hitler. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but at least Russia has made treaties with the Germans. Nobody denies that. They have made pacts and understandings wth them.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The Russians are prepared to trust them. Kindly note how different is the language of hon. Members from that of the First Lord of the Admiralty the other night, which was playing up to Russia. Italy, the whole world, with the exception of this country and France, are prepared to make an agreement. I would be prepared to take these risks. I would end, if I could, this ghastly, brutal war to-morrow, with all the consequences, and the sooner this Government and the Governments of Germany, France and Russia come together round a table and discuss terms of peace the better it will be for all. The one thing of which I am convinced is that if you go into this war you will lose millions of lives and entail colossal suffering, and that, at the end of it, some other representative, equally as bad as Hitler, will have to discuss terms with you, after all those lives are lost. Discuss terms now, and save that loss. Far from being looked down upon in the future we should in that case be looked up to. Many people who take my line are looked upon as being in the minority in the country at the moment. I would sooner lose Parliamentary seats and all that they mean than be responsible for carrying on a war that meant the colossal loss of life that this war will mean.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Morris-Jones
I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is not in his place. I have had the honour of being in this House for 10 years, representing a contiguous seat to that which he represents 1889 in Wales. I was brought up under his tutelage in the old days and had a tremendous regard and perhaps still have a great regard for his activities and services to this country and the world in the past. I want to say most emphatically that I believe the right hon. Gentleman has to-day done a greater disservice to this country, and indeed to the peace of the world, in the long run, than I could possibly have imagined he would ever have been guilty of.
It is just a month after the opening of the war, which we are told is for the freedom of mankind, for the honour of the pledged word, for decency, for fair dealing; and the right hon. Gentleman already launches a peace crusade, without anyone having made any peace proposals of any kind. I think he might have waited for peace proposals to be made before coming into the House and throwing his hands up, and endangering the victory which I am sure this country is going to attain. At the persent time, I am told, our Army is gathering strength in France, our incomparable Navy is defending the seas all over the world against German cruelty, and our Air Force is behaving in a manner which is winning the admiration of the whole world. At this time we have such a speech from the Father of the House, who represents here a division which is celebrated through its association with his name, but which I am sure will be ashamed of his speech to-day. That speech does not represent Welsh opinion. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to go down to Wales to-morrow and make that speech. If he did so the Welsh people would emphatically repudiate it. I have not prepared a speech, but on the spur of the moment I rose to say, as the representative of an adjoining seat to that of the right hon. Gentleman, that that part of the world from which we come would not agree with what he has said.
I do not know what will be the repercussions of that speech throughout the world. I do not know what the effect will be in neutral countries. Certainly, I almost despair to think what the effect will be in Germany. It might well have a most encouraging and heartening effect on our enemy. I hope that someone will wind up on behalf of the Government in a manner which will reflect the views and feelings of the British Empire.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
I notice that the quarter in which the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was most welcomed was that quarter in which the war has been opposed from the beginning, and which naturally would like it to be brought to an immediate conclusion.
§ Mr. Maxton
The point on which I interrupted was the hon. Member's statement that he wants a reply now which is worthy of the British people—that is, we understand, in contradistinction to the reply given by the Prime Minister.
If the hon. Member seriously thinks that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Llovd George was mischievous, does he not think that he increases the mischief by reading into the speech things that the right hon. Gentleman never said? What the right hon. Gentleman said was that no terms should be accepted that were dishonourable for Poland, but that nothing; ought to be rashly set aside. There is nothing treasonable in that.
§ Sir H. Morris-Jones
My reply to that is that we might at least wait until the peace terms are formulated. I think that, from that point of view, my right hon. Friend's speech was mischievous. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that I seemed to imply that I was dissatisfied with the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. That is not so. We all know the debating power that my right hon. Friend has. He dealt with the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in a very clear, decided way, but I should still like a more emphatic statement from the Government to wipe out for all time the effect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech.
§ 5.57 p.m.
Mr. Vyvyan Adams
I do not know how what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said can be either exaggerated or misinterpreted. In order to refute it, and that 1 may not be charged with exaggeration, I am going to quote recent words of the right hon. Gentleman. First let me say that I was shocked by 1891 what he said. I think he may have done incalculable harm to that civilisation that he has always professed to support. This is what he said in this House on Sunday morning 3rd September, just after we declared war on Germany:The Government are now confronted with the latest, but, I am afraid, not the last, of the series of acts of brigandage by a very formidable military Power which if they are left unchallenged will undermine the very foundation of civilisation throughout the world.He went on:The Government could do no other than what they have done. I am one out of tens of millions in this country who will back any Government that is in power in fighting this struggle through, in however humble a capacity we may be called upon to render service to our country.The right hon. Gentleman then continued:I have been through this before, and there is only one word I want to say about that. We had very bad moments, moments when brave men were rather quailing and doubting, but the ration was firm right through, from beginning to end. One thing that struck me then was that it was in moments of disaster, and in some of the worst disasters with which we were confronted in the war, that I found the greatest union among all classes, the greatest disappearance of discontent and disaffection, and of the grabbing for rights and privileges.The right hon. Gentleman ended:The nation closed its ranks then. By that means we went through right to the end, and after 4½ years, terrible years, we won a victory for right. We will do it again."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd September, 1939; cols. 301–2, Vol. 351.]Surely the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the only possible terms which can come from Hitler at this moment would be terms which confirm this latest act of brigandage. How long would it be before we should see another act of brigandage, perhaps against Belgium, perhaps against Switzerland, perhaps against France—that is one of the declared objectives of "Mein Kampf"— perhaps against the British Commonwealth of Nations? It is now nearly two years since it became abundantly clear to us that Hitler's word was without value. Before we talk of negotiations and terms of peace, we have to destroy the evil Government of Germany. Then, perhaps, we can hope for real freedom and abiding peace.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
I trust that it may be allowed to a back-bencher who does not represent 1892 all the views of his party to give a meed of praise and gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for his courage in making the statement that he has made to-day. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) has said that his action was deplorable, and a later speaker has said that he has done a great disservice to the country of which Wales and the whole country might be ashamed. To me it was a noble spectacle, and it was an act of great courage that he should come forward and speak as he did. No one who knows me will accuse me of lack of patriotism. I had three sons in the last war. I lost one of them, and I know what the loss even of one son means. I can say with the poet Tennyson:With weary steps I loiter on,But always under alter'd skies,The purple from the distance dies.My prospect and horizon gone.But I think to-day, not of one son, and many lost more, but of the millions who are to be thrown into the maelstrom if we are to carry this on to the bitter end. I know that some are often accused of "Peace at any price." It seems to me that some of my friends say, "War at any price." I recall that there were opportunities, under Lord Lansdowne and others, for peace by negotiation during the last war, and many historians have said that we might thus have got a better peace than we got by the way we trod. I do not say that that is so, but my own opinion is that we could that way have got 3 better peace than that of Versailles.
I am very far from traversing anything that my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. D. Grenfell) has said. There is no man in the House whom I more honour. No man I know is more devoted to the cause of international peace, and with some of the things that he said I entirely agree, and especially when he said that it depends on the conditions of peace. We must seek an enduring peace, and something which will give world peace as well. I listened last night to the very fine statement of the Archbishop of York. I should have welcomed from him some little more discussion, though doubtless he may give that at another time, on the Christian bearings of these questions, but what struck me was that 1893 he seemed to see a very easy path and a very ready and short victory coming. He spoke of a victory of the kind that he would desire as already assured. I cannot say that that is what I foreshadow. I foreshadow that, if we go forward, we are going to have the nations of Europe bleeding themselves white, and we are not to cease, according to some, until the enemy is prostrate in the dust. I remember that during the last war there were some who said, "This war must never occur again, therefore we must go on indefinitely until the enemy is fully crushed."
There is a prevalent feeling that this is to be a different kind of war from those that we have had, and that we are going to have our fine conditions of peace carried out. All wars begin with high ideals, and I have no reason to quarrel with the ideals that animate the Government in regard to this war. The last war began with high ideals. It was my privilege to review, in the "British Weekly," the volumes on "The Peace Treaties," by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. There we see that although the last war began with the highest possible ideals, when it came to the Peace Treaties we find every nation grasping for itself. If I may say so without offence to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), we see this even in Russia at present. We see, not in one but in many nations, this grasping at power. Being in war seems to have that effect. In the day of Poland's humiliation and sorrow I should be the last to recall what the right hon. Gentleman said about Poland in that regard in his book, and about Italy too, how, when all the Peace Treaties had been negotiated Italy came in and had her filibustering expedition. It was every nation for itself. It was almost universal, and it is there for anyone who will read these two volumes. I think we should be chary of concluding that we have got already the terms of peace that we should desire. If we judge by the past they may be terms not so much better than those that we had at Versailles. Indeed, it occurs to me that, with the bombing of open towns, which will come, and the feelings that will be aroused by this new kind of desperate warfare, it will be very difficult for us if we carry it through to 1894 the bitter end, to get a better Treaty than we got at Versailles.
I certainly agree with the feeling that we cannot trust the word of Hitler and that we cannot negotiate on any terms that he has put forward. As has been well pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman himself, we seek a peace established on a much broader and more secure basis than that. But, in the end, it will come to signing treaties with nations which we can but slightly trust. Everyone has read one of the greatest speeches ever made in the House of Commons, by Charles James Fox on "A Regicide Peace." People said "You will never make peace with France. The hands of France are red with the blood of monarchs, and you will never trade with France." They said, "We will never trade with France." He said:If you never trade with any nation that has not done desperate and dastardly things, good God! with whom will we trade?While I sympathise with that, I want something much more secure and broader than anything that would come in the name of the leader of the German Government. Still I do think that the Government should give all heed to these and other considerations in a real honest, broadset desire to establish peace without going to what is called the bitter end, and it will be a bitter end, to make an honourable, lasting world peace without the slaughter of millions and millions more if we do not embrace some well-founded opportunity.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Cayzer
I do not often speak in this House, and I must confess that this is one of the occasions on which I would gladly refrain from speaking, but I feel that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has been so misunderstood and misrepresented that I would like to say that I think it was a very gallant and courageous speech. Like other Members of this House, I was in the last war. I am a Reserve officer, and I am prepared to go out and do my bit in this war, but I would in the same way as hundreds of thousands of my fellow-countrymen, like to know exactly that for which we are fighting. It seems to me that hon. Members opposite, and not merely opposite but on all sides of the House, consider that no terms which may 1895 be put forward by Germany at the present time are terms we can consider. They seem to think that Germany has won the war. In that consideration I believe they are making a profound error. Germany has not won the war. She has already lost, and nobody knows that better than Herr Hitler himself. By one fatal blunder he has accomplished just that thing which he has worked against all his life, namely, preventing Russia from becoming a great, dominant, ascendant Power in Europe. Now he finds himself cut off from the East, from the Baltic and from the Balkans, and I believe that there is nobody in this world who desires peace more at the present time than does Herr Hitler.
Therefore, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was perfectly right in making his suggestions to-night. With his vast experience he has seen the possibilities in the situation. He has seen the possibility that Germany may make a real and sincere offer of terms which should be considered. I do not think that there is a Member in this House who would consider a peace which would militate against complete freedom in Europe or which would subject the downtrodden peoples in Europe to a perpetuation of German domination, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs pointed out how extremely important it is at the present time for us to enlist the sympathies of the great neutral world. Their position is enormously powerful at the present time. I believe that if some offer be forthcoming from Germany which could be put forward through neutral sources, it might affordmatters which we can consider. Nobody for one moment would suggest that we, along with France, should accept peace terms until we have seen exactly what they are, and that is exactly what the Prime Minister replied to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I believe that if his speech had not been made by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. Georges (Mr. Duff Cooper), which so gravely prejudiced the real issue and misrepresented the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, the Debate would have ended on an issue and a note with which the whole House would be in assent—that we in this country are 1896 determined to fight on until liberty in Europe is secured, but that at the same time, should a real and sincere effort be made by the other side to secure peace at the present time, we on our side would not turn it down out of hand and without consideration.
I am sorry to say that in certain quarters in this country there is a sort of attitude to-day that we must fight on, we must smash Germany and we must overwhelm her, and not consider any proposals she makes. We have no quarrel with the German people, and it is a terrible thought that our two great nations, who are so akin, as those of us who have met Germans know—I was a prisoner in Germany during the last war —should be driven on to this awful mutual destruction. Do any of us believe that if the war goes on to the bitter end we shall secure these things for which we look, and for which we alone can fight— liberty and the abolition of dictatorship? It may be that we shall destroy one dictatorship, but shall we not merely set up another in its place? If this war goes on, I do not believe that freedom will come out of it. I do not believe that justice will come out of it. I believe that horrors and miseries beyond belief will come out of it. Therefore, I add my humble voice to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I appeal to the Prime Minister, the great peacemaker, who has striven to the very depths of his soul to maintain peace, and who for the moment has failed, to try to take this opportunity, and even at this last moment to attempt to secure for Europe that peace which alone can save our common European civilisation.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The First Lord of the Admiralty in his broadcast speech the other night said that Russia was pursuing a "cold policy of self-interest." What does that mean in actual life? A "cold policy of self-interest" means a warm-blooded policy of the advance of Socialism, because the Soviet Union has no other aim than that of advancing Socialism. It came into Poland after the Polish Government, and the whole organisation of the Polish Government, had collapsed. It has relieved the Polish workers and peasants from the control of the feudal barons of Poland. I cannot understand any suggestion coming from a Socialist that part of Poland should be 1897 handed back to the feudal barons. It will not be a question of having to fight Russia, but of having to fight these peasants and workers to try and force them under the subjection of the feudal barons once again. But that by the way.
There has frequently been expressed a desire in the House that we should endeavour to get Germany and Russia involved in war so that we could sit back and look at them destroying one another. The Prime Minister has continually worked for one aim, a Four- Power Pact. When he was asked by the Leader of the Labour or Liberal Opposition, "Why do you not bring in Russia?" or "Why do you not deal with Eastern Europe?" he generally replied, "Let us get a settlement in the West, and then we will deal with the East." When the four Powers were gathered at Munich, he thought he had achieved his aim. The Prime Minister said he wanted a settlement in the West and then he would settle the East, but instead of the Prime Minister's policy succeeding, the Soviet Union has made a. settlement in the East and now pro poses to assist in a settlement in the West. This represents the absolute and complete bankruptcy of the Prime Minister's policy. The Soviet Union is now the dominant force in Europe, and not Nazi Germany. It is a great Socialist country. No one in this House can deny that if there were a Socialist Government in Germany, we would not be facing a situation like this, and if we had a Socialist Government in this country and in France the situation would soon be settled without sacrificing young lives. But we have an Imperialist Government ready to conduct a war of extermination with Germany. The people of this country will never stand for it, let hon. Members say what they will. The Government will have to answer for the first massacre of youth that takes place. The Soviet Union makes a difference —
§ Mr. Gallacher
It is not a new story. I am prepared to take any speech that I have made and I defy anybody to say that I have not advocated unity in order to preserve peace. Before the war, I was advocating unity of the forces that would obtain peace. As soon as war commenced it became the responsibility of us all not to talk about a three years' 1898 war or a war to an end, but how we could bring about peace at the earliest moment. The maddest thing imaginable is to talk about a three years' war and a war to the end. We can easily have a war of extermination of the whole youth of this country and of Germany, but if we want peace we should take the first opportunity that comes for making peace. What is the new factor in any proposals that may come from Hitler or from anyone else?—that you will not only have Britain and France signing some document which Hitler may prepare, but you have the mightiest Power in Europe and as a result an opportunity to obtain the combination that can give the absolute guarantee for a lasting peace in Europe.
Anyone who understands the situation in Germany realises that Hitler never had a basis in the working-class movement. It may be that during the past years, because of some of the things he has done, he has obtained a measure of support from certain sections of the working class, but he has never had a basis in the working-class movement. He drew the Stormtroopers from other classes and never from the working class. His finances came from the big monopoly capitalists of Germany. But that was not enough. Hitler could only be maintained and advanced by the support of the big bourgeoisie of the rest of Europe and specially of Britain and France. With the developments that have taken place, all that support has been wiped away and so Hitler and his Nazis, still supported by the monopoly capitalists of Germany, have lost support of great importance for them, support from the bourgeoisie of Europe. I remember how hon. Members were delighted when Hitler talked about the Bolshevist swine, the Jewish Bolshevists, and how an hon. Member on the other side became a sort of sewer drainage of the filth that came out of Germany. They said, "Let Hitler have armaments; the stronger he is the sooner will we be able to attack the Soviet Union." That was too big a job and Hitler knew it. The Soviet Union is now in a strong position and, as an hon. Member said, the dominant nation in Europe. The only comfort that can be offered to the German people, and the German mothers, by Rudolf Hess is the Soviet Union and not Hitler.
I remember sitting in a house just after war was declared, and the mother of the 1899 family was breaking her heart over it. One of her boys had been taken away from her, and he was not much more than a schoolboy. She was sitting there crying, and the others were doing their best to comfort her. The news bulletin was being broadcast on the radio and a cold, callous, heartless voice was saying, "The War Council has met and has taken measures for a war of three years or more." I have never seen such tragedy in the face of any human being as in the face of that mother. Do not let us talk about how long we can make the war last. Do not let us say that the masses of the youth of this country and of Germany are to be sacrificed. If there is a proposal for a conference, never mind what the terms are, let us go into that conference, and see what terms we can make of it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
They were terrible sacrifices, but why was it possible that such sacrifices should have been made? Why were pledges given which it was not possible to implement? When the poor people of Poland took to the barricades, when their soldiers marched out to slaughter, they expected aid. Let those who promised aid to Poland and gave no aid answer the question of the hon. Member. Let them answer not only to the people of Poland, but to the masses of the people of this country. Why should we not go into consultation—Britain, France, Germany and the Soviet Union? If it be possible to get out of a conference of those great Powers terms that would guarantee the peace of Europe, and terms that will, within the shortest possible time, mean a complete block for German aggression, we can settle in a favourable atmosphere the position not only of the Polish people but of the people of Czechoslovakia. When I speak of that settlement I speak of the Polish people and not of the Russian people who were taken over in the rape that was carried out by Pilsudski. Those lands and the industries in those territories are now in the possession of the workers of the Soviet Union, and must remain so. Hon. Members ought to pause before they do anything which will sacrifice the young lads of this country. As I said the other 1900 night, those of us who have lived the best part of our lives will commit a terrible crime against the youth of this country if we send them to their deaths, without doing everything humanly possible to find a way of escape.
§ Mr. Buchanan
In view of that statement, I am wondering why the hon. Member did not vote against the Conscription Bill, which handed the workers over to the Government.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member has raised that question and I will answer him. If he will read my speech he will see that I spoke against it.
§ Mr. Gallacher
When the Motion for the introduction of the Bill was made, the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said that he did not want to inconvenience the Government or the House, that he did not want to waste time, and that if he and his colleagues were allowed to have a vote on that Motion, they would not oppose the Bill.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The vote was for or against conscription. The hon. Member did not vote against conscription. Will he tell me why?
§ Mr. Gallacher
I am trying to tell the hon. Member. If there had been a body of men opposing the Government, opposing conscription and willing to go to a Division, I should have gone along with them. The hon. Member for Bridgeton said, and I can quote it from the Official Report—
§ Mr. Gallacher
The hon. Member for Bridgeton said that if they were allowed a vote on the Motion, they would not oppose the Bill, or words to that effect.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I guarantee it. The vote was given not for the purpose of opposing the Conscription Bill, but for the purpose of deceiving the workers outside. When the Bill came up for Second 1901 Reading, not one of the three hon. Members, the hon. Member for Bridgeton and his colleagues, was in his place. They had had a vote on the Motion for the introduction of the Bill and not on the Bill itself. On that understanding, they did not oppose the Bill. I am not participating in trickery of that kind. The main question now before the House and the country, and especially before the masses of school lads—for they are little more than school lads—whose young lives are being affected, is to get, at the earliest possible moment, a peace that will be lasting and that will guarantee security. Nobody will object to that.
Why should any of us be afraid to meet the representatives of other nations and discuss the possibilities of peace? Of what are hon. Members afraid? Is it not because we have a Government which has been concerned all along with pursuing its own Imperialist policy first, and in trying to direct Germany against the Soviet Union? When that has failed, they are prepared to sacrifice the masses of this country in order to continue their Imperialist aims. We ought at any time to be ready to discuss peace. We know what we want and we ought to go forward with the knowledge that if we discuss the question of a settled peace in Europe, we shall have with us the mighty force of the Soviet Union. I only wish that we could get, what all the people of this country desire, above everything else, the end of this Government. If only we could get rid of this Government and get a Socialist Government here and now, it could meet these other Governments, in combination with France and the Soviet Union, and guarantee peace and a new and better life for the people of this country.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have listened to the Prime Minister's statement and to the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and to other speeches since. I listened with amusement to the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I could not take his speech seriously. His speeches change from week to week because his policy has to be settled from day to day, and we cannot accept his speeches as a serious expression of working-class thought in this country because the hon. Member takes his orders from a foreign Government.
1902 He has told us to-day that he is in favour of a conference. That is a great change within less than a month. The day after war was declared the "Daily Worker" told us how to win the war, and a week ago I was handed a pamphlet which was being sold in Glasgow under the name of Harry Pollitt, who is associated, I believe, with the hon. Member, indeed, I think is his master, which told us how to win the war. I read the pamphlet coming from Glasgow to London and it contained proposals for winning the war against the Nazis of Germany. Last Saturday the "Daily Worker" said that we must back the conference proposed by Stalin and Hitler. If the hon. Member for West Fife changes his policy and his words in such a short space of time in order to coincide with the expressions of Stalin and Hitler, he becomes in effect Hitler's mouthpiece in this country. Hitler desires peace at this moment. I desire peace. I desire that there should be no wars at all, but I am not going to be associated with the treacherous act which is to be imposed on this country.
What is more. If we go back to the various stages of the last few years those who have stood for peace have been attacked from every street corner. We were ridiculed when we stood for peace when Abyssinia was conquered. The hon. Member for West Fife went round the country and said we were pro-Fascist because we were against sanctions and against war. When Czecho-Slovakia was over-run we wanted peace, and we were called Chamberlain's allies and Hitler's allies. To-day, Poland has been raped, and the hon. Member for West Fife wants peace; he wants Hitler to get away with the rape of Poland. Why? Because Stalin has seen fit to join Hitler in the merry game of grab that is going on in Central Europe. The hon. Member for West Fife talks about his speeches. He must remember that street-corner methods will not do in this House. He is able there to get loud-mouthed Communists around him and put over any story as long as it comes from Russia. But some of us in this House have memories. I do not propose to waste the time of the House but I have dug out a number of speeches of the hon. Member and they are all full of venomous attacks on the Nazis and those associated with the Nazis. He wanted Ribbentrop cleared out of this country, 1903 and he wanted the Prime Minister who associated with Ribbentrop to be cleared out. He wanted some houses in this country purged because they had harboured Ribbentrop and other Nazis. He is so pure that he would not breathe the same air as Ribbentrop and Hitler and his allies.
I was never taken in by those speeches. I remember the thousands marching down Whitehall on the Sunday when I came back from Germany after my cycle tour, and I heard the insistent cry by young men of the Communist party "Stand by Czecho-Slovakia." That could not be done only by the tongue. If it could be done by the tongue then the Communists would have the first place in this country. But it had to be done with rifles, and bullets and machine guns, and bombs and all the paraphernalia of war. It must always be noted that the people who have been insistent on standing by Abyssinia and Czecho-Slovakia and other countries never intended to do any of the fighting themselves. Many of them are trained for the purposes of war because they deserted the Socialist movement in 1914 and joined the Army. They are trained men, but the fighting was always to be done by the simple trade unionists and people whom they would send to the front to fight for the great peace front. At that time we were told the simple story that if Russia joined with France and Britain—and we must remember that Russia has a pact with France, a military pact, although the "Daily Worker" last week said that "that wretch Blum has sold the pass in France"—the peace front would defend Poland and Rumania, and all these border States. This is the logic of the position to me. If Stalin joining Britain and France would ensure peace then Stalin joining Hitler assures war. That is not a stretch of imagination.
I said in this House a year ago that you had better ride on the tail of a lion than on the head of a fox and that Russia was prepared to play any card which meant world war. I believe that still. I believe that Stalin joined with Hitler because he wanted to ensure war. He invited other nations to send their military advisers to Russia to take part in discussions, but that was all window-dressing, because for Russia to have joined with Hitler, without making a pre- 1904 tence of lining up with the Peace Front, would not have been accepted by the country. Therefore, Stalin played the window-dressing card. We know that from February Stalin was having discussions with Hitler about joining the war with Hitler. On the Sunday on which war was declared, I pointed out—and my remarks were resented even by some Labour Members—that the mobilisation of the Russian army at the rear of the Polish army meant either that Russia intended to hold a part of the Polish army on that frontier in order to aid Hitler, or that she meant at the proper moment to tear away part of Poland for her own use. That rape took place.
The apology we get in the country is one that has to be answered. It is that if Stalin had not joined Hitler, Hitler would have had the whole of Poland, and that, therefore, Stalin saved half of Poland. Let us consider the consequences. Hitler has handed over the Christians, the capitalists, the landlords, and indeed, the Communists, for it is as dangerous to be a Communist in Russia as it is to be one in Berlin. These people are handed over to Stalin. Stalin hands over to Hitler the Jews, the Communists, the Socialists, and the Catholics. But the apologists of Stalin do not tell us that instead of defending and retrieving the half of Poland, Stalin was responsible for handing over these people into the hands of Hitler— no, their programme and policy had always been that if Stalin stood by Britain and France, Hitler would not dare to move. Therefore, the speech made by the hon. Member for West Fife was hypocritical in the extreme, and would not take in a nine-years-old schoolboy. It was a face-saving attempt by a man belonging to a party which is completely discredited throughout the world because of the actions of the Russians at this stage.
To-day, we have the spectacle of Poland beaten to her knees. My hon. Friends and I opposed the pledge that was given to Poland; we could not agree to the giving of a pledge which called for the lives of the workers in this country to defend it. We had our own ideas about the ruling class of Poland, and we gave expression to those views. But to-day there is a more difficult proposition. I heard the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon 1905 Boroughs. I am never prepared to hear turned down or treated with contempt a proposal of any kind, but I say that in my honest estimation, if the Government of this country made peace now, they would be handing over to Hitler more than he would have got if the war had never taken place. I say that only for the purpose of making an analysis. We are told, on the other hand, that we must go on. There are some people, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. Duff Cooper), who v/ant to go on, but there is no attempt made to define the end. When people talk about going on, they should face up to what they mean in a responsible manner.
In Berlin, in the Hitler club, at two o'clock in the morning, I was discussing the prospect of war with a Nazi, a young man who had been at Edinburgh University for three or four years. I said to him, "If you go to war, isn't there a chance of a tremendous rising in Germany?" I will give to the House that young man's answer, and I ask hon. Members seriously to consider it. He said, "McGovern, the German nation has had one defeat in war. They know what that defeat meant to them. When the Peace Treaty of Versailles was imposed upon them, the French and British bankers imposed a peace that took our coal from our mines, that took 150,000 head of cattle from our fields, that left our children without milk and nourishment, that took 25,000 engines and 150,000 railway carriages from us, that took away all our shipping, that imposed a tremendous monetary penalty upon us as a nation, although we had not been responsible for the war in any way if one accepts the Socialist dictum that economic struggles are the cause of war; but,"he said," 1,000,000 of our children died of malnutrition, mothers could not even give sustenance to their children, we had 8,000,000 or 9,000,000 unemployed walking the streets, bare of back and without boots or shoes on their feet; we went through the most intense poverty and suffering, without fires, without proper food, with families of five or six unemployed. To-day,"he said," no matter what your ideas are, whether it is because of militarism or not, these people are in employment, they are earning wages, there is no unemployment in 1906 Germany; we have brought in half a million workers from other countries to carry out our industrial task." He then said, "We only require to say to these people, ' There is a chance of a repetition of that 1918-1933 tragedy,' and every German will respond and die for the Fatherland, giving his last drop of blood, rather than surrender to those Allied bankers as in 1918."
There is the answer. He made me ponder and think deeply. I have said before and I say again that there is only one revolt that can take place in Germany to-day, and that is a revolt by the military. But a military machine does not revolt when it is having tremendous victories; it revolts, as did the Russian army, in disaster, defeat, demoralisation, hunger and sacrifice; but it does not run away and surrender in the conditions we see in Germany to-day, after Poland has been polished off with a one-month's campaign. That is what I envisaged last year with regard to Czecho-Slovakia. I gave Czecho-Slovakia one month, and I believe that the whole country would be by then overrun and bombed by the German forces. This being the situation to-day, many hon. Members want to go on and on. It was easier to get into the war than it is going to be to get out of it. There has been a tremendous change in this country within one month, a tremendous change in the minds of the people of this country about the prospect of carrying on the war. Only the other Sunday in Glasgow my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) addressed a meeting of 2,000 or 3,000 people, and they were unanimously against the war. On the last three Sundays I have addressed meetings in my division, each of at least 1,000 people, and every meeting was completely unanimous against the war. Those at the meetings were given an hour-and-a-quarter to question me on my stand in relation to the war and I say to the Members of this House, "Take heed when you talk of going on and on."
This is not 1914. There was tremendous enthusiasm in 1914. On the very spot where I addressed a meeting last Sunday I saw an anti-war speaker, in 1914, a fortnight after the war broke out, chased for his life. There was scarcely anyone then to defend him. To-day the people have seen what war 1907 means. They know more about it. In the cinemas they have seen the work of the bombing planes and the wreckage in Barcelona, in Madrid, and in Valencia. They have seen what happened in China and Abyssinia. There is no glory in war. It is a hideous monstrosity. There is nothing to be proud of in goading and hounding young men on to the battlefield and to their death in the name of freedom. I was told by a Conservative Member to-day that in Hyde Park last Sunday he heard a Socialist speaker 70 years of age addressing a huge crowd including soldiers. The speaker asked, "Can anybody here tell me what we are fighting for?" He said, "I do not mean that in the ordinary sense, but I put the question to any man in this audience." He gave them 15 minutes to reply, and not an individual in that audience could tell him what we were fighting for.
It is no good to tell me and to tell the workers that we are fighting for freedom and democracy against Fascism or Nazism. Fascism and the Nazi system have been thrown up, because a previous system has gone down and has been unable to exercise its instrument of government in a proper and constitutional way. Those systems have been thrown up by forces which are always in the background, ready to be used in moments of insurgency and insurrection. It is a case of the ruling class with its back to the wall fighting to preserve its interests. We are told that we are fighting to destroy Hitler. We have always had a bogy man. In the Boer War it was Kruger. In the last war it was the Kaiser. In this war it is Hitler. God knows who it will be in the next war. We went into the last war, with the Czar as an ally, to fight for freedom and democracy. We go into this war with Colonel Beck, to fight for freedom and democracy. I would say this to the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). When Czecho-Slovakia was being raped. Colonel Beck ordered his forces to go into Czecho-Slovakia and to tear away part of Czecho-Slovakia. When the ravens were looking on with lustful eyes at the conquest, he descended on Teschen and tore it away from bleeding Czechoslovakia. Then they whine to Britain and France to save them from the reptile, with whom they made pacts along with 1908 Hungary, to descend upon and break up the State of Czecho-Slovakia.
We are told that we must restore Poland. Must we also restore Czechoslovakia? Why not restore Abyssinia and put the Negus back on his throne? The Communists said to the Negus at a presentation of addresses in London at the Abyssinian Embassy, "Your aims are our aims." Are we to restore the Negus? Why not? Why not make war on Italy and take away Abyssinia from her? Why not go right back? Let us be realists and accept things in a realistic manner. We are told that Hitlerism is to be destroyed. How long will it take? The hon. Member for Gower said whether it was a year, or two years, or three years, he was prepared to go on. We are in for another Thirty Years War if you are to remove Hitler. I say that frankly. I think Britain and France to-day are in the greatest jam they were ever in, in their lives. I do not say it with glee. Do not misunderstand me. But I do not believe that they can defeat Germany. [Hon. Members: "Rubbish! "] Hon. Members say "Rubbish," but that is my opinion and it is based on a study of the position, because I believe that the German youth, in spite of all that is said, is behind Hitler and will fight to the death to preserve Hitlerism.
We are told that we are out to crush Hitlerism. There was a reasonable chance of crushing Hitlerism before Russia joined the merry gang. At that time you had the opportunity of the blockade, the most potent weapon which this country had. Is it not the case now that Russia is going to supply Germany with oil, just as she supplied Italy during the Abyssinian campaign? If hon. Members doubt that, let them remember General Goering's words. He made a speech a week ago last Saturday which I heard relayed in English over the wireless. He said, in effect, "We are told that we have not food and raw materials, but would anybody deny that Russia has food and raw materials? "What did that mean except that there was an agreement to supply food and raw materials to Germany, by Stalin and his henchmen at the Kremlin?
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman has said that he is basing his argument on a careful study of the position. He is drawing a rather gloomy picture which 1909 will go out to the world and is saying that we cannot beat the Germans. Will he now give the House some information about just what it is that Russia is in a position to supply to Germany? Can he give us something other than the statement of Goering? Will he give us something on that point from his own study of the position?
§ Mr. McGovern
I do not think that would be very difficult. We are told, if the reports in the Press are correct, that Poland alone produces 800,000 tons of iron ore and several million gallons of oil and petrol. Russia has tremendous resources in petrol and in food.
§ Mr. McGovern
The hon. Member asks me in the middle of a Debate in the House of Commons suddenly to throw back at him the exact figures of production. If I had known that he was going, to ask me for those figures, of course I should have had them.
§ Mr. McGovern
That statement may be satisfactory to the hon. Member, but I know that Russian Oil Products are sending millions of tons of petrol and oil annually to the Glasgow Corporation alone.
§ Mr. Edwards
The figure of exports from Russia for the last year is less than 1,000,000 tons, and that represents her export surplus.
§ Mr. McGovern
I can assure the hon. Member that not only is Russia exporting oil to this country, but that part of the finance gained from her oil exports is used in propaganda in this country.
§ Mr. Silverman
I have been waiting for a long time to know what exactly it is that the hon. Member is advising the House to do.
§ Mr. McGovern
The hon. Member must wait and draw his own deductions from 1910 my speech just as I have to draw my deductions from his speeches, because very often I do not know what he is asking the House to do. Russia, I say, joining in this combination, has made it extremely difficult at this stage because of the fact that certain chemicals, minerals, oil, and food can be supplied to assist Germany. We must not forget either that Germany recognised that this war was going to take place and conserved tremendous food supplies. She is able to terrorise Rumania and almost every country throughout the Balkans and Central Europe, and she is sitting with the prospect of waging a war on one front, on the West. She can allow the French and British to dash themselves against these Western fortifications, she can take a tremendous toll and throw them back periodically to their former positions, and she can maintain a struggle of that kind for a very long time. We might sacrifice 3,000,000 men; we might get to our three years' limit, and we have not then defeated Hitlerism. Are we still going on saying that we have to fight to the last man, but that the last man shall be a man inside this House? I do not see many uniforms in this House. I have been rather staggered at how few uniforms I have seen worn by men who wanted to conduct this war to the last man.
In this situation we are asked to consider terms if they are proposed. I am not saying to the Government that they must of necessity accept the terms that are proposed. I believe that Germany would not expect us to accept them just now, because they have a few things to do along with Comrade Stalin yet, and there is a number of countries bordering on Russia and Germany that are to be put under their heel. They have to clear the decks throughout the Balkans and Central Europe, to remove French and British influence, both trading and military, from those areas. From my angle, the war narrows itself down to this—and I have said it so often that I do not want to repeat it if I can help—that it is a war between Britain and France, which have tremendous Imperial power and resources, which have raw materials, which have Empires, and which have yellow, white, and black slaves who work at very low pittances and from whom tremendous profits are wrung, and Hitler, a rising Imperialist Power, Italy, and Japan, the 1911 younger nations coming up. They want Empires, and if you want and believe in Empires, they are as much entitled to believe in them as you are. If they see that the only way to get them is by challenging the power of Britain and France, naval, military, and in the air, then that is their job, and the struggle to-day is between these two Imperialistic sections.
One thing that I was taught by Labour party speakers when I was a boy of 18, when I entered the Socialist movement, was that wars spring from the economic rivalry of nations, and that economic rivalry is the beast. Hitler wants the yellow man and the black man, he wants the El Dorado of profit, he wants raw materials, he wants power, and in the clash the struggle comes, and we throw the workers on to the battlefield. We say that we are fighting for democracy, freedom and liberty. Hitler says to the German nation, "You are fighting to the death to preserve your nation against the encroachments of the Imperialist bogies of the West." In that situation to-day we have the suggestion that we should discuss peace terms if they are advanced. All that I can say to Members of this House is that I do not think peace can come soon enough. I recognise the difficulties of the Government in accepting terms at this time, when Hitler and Stalin have raped Poland between them and when the hammer and sickle and the Nazi emblem fly side by side.
There are many people who are carried away by the actions of Russia because they see in Russia a great Socialist State. I do not. I see it, if I may use the word, as a bastardised system between National Socialism and Nazism, with national ownership as the basis and a terrorist bureaucracy at the top, and I see in Germany a private profit-owning system that Hitler has gripped by the throat and that with political revolution in Germany could be turned to the same system as Russia with very little trouble. Whether it be Stalin or Hitler, I loathe their actions against their fellow-men in each country, I loathe their actions against the people of Poland, I loathe the economic struggles that take place periodically when the youth of the world are hurled into the tremendous struggle to kill one another, to disembowel, and blind, and draw asunder humanity. I urge Members of 1912 this House to be careful in demandine that this shall go on and on to the end, because in the end Hitlerism may still be there; and remember that revolutions can come not only in Germany, but could just as easily come in this country and in France if you got the youth of these nations into action to preserve their real liberty and to down their real aggressors throughout the ages.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Magnay
I did not intend to speak to-day, but I have heard so much during this Debate which to any freeborn Englishman is intolerable that I feel compelled to rise in this Mother of Parliaments on this occasion. I do not propose to follow the last two speakers, for one reason because they have talked for over an hour, and I cannot traverse all the statements they have made, but there has been the impression that because they speak at such great length and all are for the most part from Glasgow, unless you talk with a Glasgow accent you will not get into the kingdom of God, and it is not true.
§ Mr. Magnay
The hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) said that in Glasgow, after a quarter of an hour's interval following a speech of his, no one could tell him the cause of the war.
§ Mr. Magnay
Nobody would expect anything else from Hyde Park, because there you get just a conglomeration of fortuitous atoms, and there is no community of interest or communal life in London. They are totally different from any other part of the country, and no one would take the opinion of London for a stable opinion on anything. If anyone in Glasgow could not say what the cause of the war is, it amazes me, because the hon. Member himself, only five minutes ago, said precisely, in terms that could not be bettered, why the war must come.
The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), representing the Communist party and Russia, said it was quite wrong for us to talk about sending our boys to fight for this their country. I suppose it is not wrong then for Russia to occupy Poland with an army of soldiers including millions of boys. It is wrong for us to say our boys should fight, but right when 1913 the Russians go as the grave-digger, once Hitler and his army of brigands have conquered Poland, to bury the body and take wages in kind if not in cash. It is amazing for anyone to say that they do not know why we are at war. Anybody could tell them in the north country, but we might expect that, for we are properly educated. They will tell you that this is a fight between democracy and dictatorship. There are various causes for dictatorship in various countries. In Russia it was one cause, in Germany it was political collapse, in Spain it was financial collapse, in Portugal it was something to do with religion, and it was something else in Turkey. Whatever the cause, the result is the same—chaos and bewilderment, fear, the collapse of Government, the setting up of a dictator and the laudation, and even the worship, of the dictator. In Russia is the Lenin tomb where his body can 'be worshipped, and there are Lenin corners in the schools where the very name is worshipped as a diety. Whatever the cause, the inevitable result of dictatorship is the loss of liberty.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is the hon. Gentleman speaking about the same country with whom three months ago we tried to get a pact so that she should be our friend?
§ Mr. Magnay
We were negotiating and all the time they had a private wire from the Kremlin to Berlin and put themselves up to the highest bidder.
§ Mr. Magnay
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell the House what happened. I hope we shall have a White Paper so that we can discover what happened in our negotiations with Russia, and I suspect that those folk who are criticising me now will have little to say. I rose to lament the fact that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) should talk as he did to-night, that we should go cap in hand to Hitler—[Interruption.] That will be the impression given by his speech throughout the world—that he has been 1914 put up to throw a straw in the wind to see what terms could be accepted.
§ Mr. Lipson
The hon. Member says that the right hon. Member was put up to make that speech. Will he say by whom?
§ Mr. Magnay
What I said was that it will be said in the world to-morrow that the right hon. Gentleman was put up to throw a straw in the wind.
§ Mr. Magnay
By interested parties in this country to see what the other side will think about peace negotiations. I very much regret the right hon. Gentleman's interposition to-day. It will give the very worst impression. We are pledged to take care to the best of our ability of the rights of Poland. She is down and out within a month, and the body has hardly been interred when the right hon. Gentleman says that we should consider terms of peace. Some of the hon. Members for the Glasgow area say that they are sure the country is not agreed about the war going on. I would tell them, however, that any Government which wavered in the slightest about this war would be down and out to-morrow, and would deserve it. That is the feeling in the country. I have the greatest respect for my old political chief, but I regret his speech to-night. It is easy to say a good word in the wrong place and at the wrong time, and I think his speech was ill-timed and badly advised. It will cause the gravest concern throughout the world and it ought to be repudiated at the earliest moment as not representing the views of the Government and of the electorate.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
It is clear from the course which the Debate has followed that there is a definite cleavage of opinion in this House on the issue raised by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I think that that cleavage of opinion reflects a cleavage throughout the country. There are those who think that we ought at all times to be willing to consider proposals for peace. There are others who say that we must not listen to proposals for peace because we have not yet destroyed what is called Hitlerism. I am not sure whether we shall ever destroy Hitlerism, because I remember 1915 that in the last War we were out to destroy Prussian militarism. We carried on that war to the end as we are told to do to-day. To-day we have Hitlerism, and is it anything better than Prussian militarism, or is it not something infinitely worse? I am not sure that those who criticise the right hon. Gentleman for making that speech are really the true democrats that they claim to be. In a democracy and in this House, which is the home of democracy, we must be prepared to listen to speeches that we do not like just as much as to speeches that we like.
If it was ill-advised from the point of view of the war that the right hon. Gentleman should have spoken as he did, it is not his fault that that speech had to be made in open session. It was his opinion, speaking as an ex-Prime Minister, with a full sense of responsibility, that a certain attitude should be adopted towards peace proposals which we are told are to be forthcoming. That speech had to be made, and I am wondering whether, after that speech and the Debate that has followed, the Prime Minister will think that the case against a secret Session is quite as strong as he thought it was earlier in the day, because there have been a good many things said in this Debate which could have been said in a secret Session without the possible repercussions they are likely to have. I think more use might be made by the German Government of the remark of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) that we can never defeat Germany than of the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. But those who criticise that speech also criticise the Government, because I think there has been an unnecessary amount of heat brought into this Debate. Really there is not all that difference between the point of view of the Prime Minister in the reply which he made and the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs asked that any peace proposals that may be made should be considered. The Prime Minister said they would be considered. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs asked that they should not be dismissed in a hurry. The Prime Minister assured us that they would not be dismissed in a hurry. He further 1916 asked that this House should be given an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon those proposals, and I think the Prime Minister gave his consent to that. So, really, there is not all the difference that some have tried to make out between the attitude of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and that of the Prime Minister. But we have to take into account the attitude of neutrals in this war, and I am wondering what argument might be used by the Isolationists in America, at a time when America is considering her attitude towards the Neutrality Act, if we were summarily to reject any proposals that came to us from the other side. America would be told that if she repealed the Neutrality Act she would be helping on the continuance of the war and that we had put ourselves definitely in the wrong by refusing to discuss terms.
It has been suggested by hon. Members that such terms as could possibly come from Germany must be rejected because Germany has won the war, but I think the advent of Russia into the scene has altered the position, not only for this counry and for France but also for Germany. It is possible that Germany may, in view of all the issues that are raised by the advent of Russia into the war, and her increased importance in Europe adopt a more reasonable attitude. Anyhow, I am sure the right thing for this House to do is to say that we are prepared to listen to proposals, that we are not going to condemn them beforehand. We may be sceptical as to whether it is possible under present conditions for proposals to be made which we can accept, but if they are proposals which we can with honour accept it is a duty which we owe to the people of our country and to civilisation that we should not lightly turn them aside. Given good will, we can get a much better solution of Europe's troubles now than if we have to leave them to be settled at the end of a long and bitter war; and if these proposals should open the door for a lasting peace then I hope we shall see that, so far as we are concerned, that door is left wide open to see if a real peace is possible.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
During the course of this war there will be many occasions such as we have had to-night when passions run 1917 high and we do not give due consideration to remarks made by people who, we think, are not altogether so wholehearted in the prosecution of the war as we should like them to be, but I think we ought to try to examine them in the proper perspective. I do not put upon the speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) the construction which many Members have. I cannot imagine that a man who, on 3rd September, made a speech such as he made in support of the Government's policy in prosecuting the war, can at this moment have any desire to lead us to a dishonourable peace. I read his speech in this way—that for diplomatic reasons he did not want it to go out to the world that, whatever offers might be made to us, we were not prepared to listen to them. He was saying to the Government that whether they came from Hitler or Stalin, or from whatever quarter of the world they came, the Government should listen to them and examine them and, if it were at all possible, put them before the House of Commons for the House to decide whether to accept them or not. Viewed in that light I do not think that strong exception ought to be taken to that speech. I am rather inclined to think that it will go out to the world more emphatical and embittered because of the extreme criticism which has been passed upon it, and I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will take an early opportunity of trying to make as clear as he can what his intentions were when he made that suggestion to the House of Commons.
Now I should like to turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). He recounted the instance of the young man in Germany who visualised what happened after the last War, when the Germans were subjected to treatment to which no country ought to be subjected. I can understand the citizens of Germany feeling that if that experience had to be repeated they would fight strongly to retain their present position. I would ask the hon. Member for Shettleston whether, knowing what Germany went through at that time, he agrees with Germany adopting the same attitude towards others, because so far as I know Germany is carrying out the same policy towards the countries that it conquers as it was subjected to after the Great War. Does he hold with that kind of thing? If not, what does he think 1918 we ought to do in this country? Does he think that because we are a big and powerful country we ought to stand on one side, waiting until the blow falls on ourselves, and then, and then only, make a stand? That is not the outlook of a man such as I have always regarded the hon. Member for Shettleston to be. He is about as pugnacious and as belligerent a man in fighting for his rights as I know. As one who has tried to get fair play throughout the world I say that when we see that kind of thing taking place it behoves us to make a stand at some point. I thought the country took a false step in not taking its stand at the time of Munich.
The hon. Member for Shettleston has been in Germany and has seen the massed legions of Germany, and they imbued him with the fear that nothing could stand against their might. During the Great War I stood and watched the American troops coming to join us. I was at many of the base camps on the French coast. I thought nothing could stand in the way of the British armies and their allies. Yet we were held up year after year. So it is not wise to be impressed always by a show of force.
I ask the hon. Member, what would he do if they should launch an attack on this country as they have attacked others? Would then be the time to take a stand against German aggression? If so, does the hon. Member expect that he would get any help from anybody after we had been watching nations trampled underfoot? I think he will agree with me that we enjoy a measure of freedom in this country greater than any other part of the world, not excepting America. That is shown by what he has told us about the opinions he expressed at meetings in Glasgow. Would he be doing the right thing by humanity in waiting until we could not resist the onslaught of mighty Germany?
§ Mr. McGovern
I do not want to indulge in a Debate upon this point with the hon. Gentleman, but since he asks me a question, I say that I see in this recurring struggle a struggle between two sets of ruling classes whose aims are the same, rent, profit and interest, to pay the least possible wages, to give the lowest standards to the workers and to extract the maximum out of the situation. If they are contending for spheres of influence and for war materials and it becomes 1919 a struggle between ourselves and one country which has no Empire and which has gone down further to disruption than we have, I am not prepared to take part in that struggle.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has answered the questions which were put to him, and he must not carry the point any further.
§ Mr. McGovern
I know that that would be out of order, Mr. Speaker, but I was only giving an explanation.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am rather glad that the hon. Member did make those remarks. I agree that we have ruling classes, but we have in this country an opportunity of overturning our ruling class by constitutional methods, if we can persuade people into giving us their support and after we have put our case before them. This is illustrated by what the hon. Member said about a no-war campaign in which he took part in Glasgow. If we can persuade the vast mass of the people, what is to stop us from removing these capitalists by constitutional means? If Hitler came —and that is not beyond the bounds of possibility if he goes on conquering place after place and terrifying everybody—and if it came to our turn, that measure of freedom would be swept away. I can men imagine the hon. Member and myself —we are not entirely dissimilar in temperament—standing shoulder to shoulder trying to retrieve the situation from what has happened. Before we arrive at that position I want to make my stand to prevent it happening.
The hon. Member asked what we were fighting for. I think I have made my position clear. I believe that the Hitler regime is the wrong thing for the world. The hon. Member smiles. I have heard it said that we talk in this House but are not prepared to fight.
§ Mr. Tinker
Taunts have been made many times that many of us are talking but are not prepared to risk our lives. I went in 1914. I am now an elderly man. I have offered my services in this present conflict, but I am told that I am too old. I am physically fit, but I recog- 1920 nise my age. I am not wanted for the time being, but I may be wanted later on. I do not ask other people to do a job in which they will risk their lives without being prepared to give my own. I hope that hon. Members will not throw that taunt at others. We are not trying to hide behind anybody in this fight for freedom, and I hope that the taunt will not be used again. I want the Government to prosecute the war until we are able to get better terms than we are likely to get at the present time. I do not rule out the possibility of getting some kind of terms, but if we were prepared to step down we should hand over to Hitler and those behind him the thought that they were invincible, and that, although we had entered into war, at the first sign of any threat against them these Britishers who govern the world had cried off and were prepared to climb down. We do not want that to happen.
I did not expect to speak to-night, but I did not think it right to allow the speeches to go out from the working-class movement, and not to be as courageous as some hon. Members in putting a point of view. I trust that our point of view will go out, just as theirs will do, to show that there are many in the working class that are prepared to go on until we get justice and freedom for the Polish nation and other nations. It may be a long time coming. I did not enter into war expecting that it would be a speedy war. It would have been cowardice to do so, if we knew that we should win. I saw tremendous difficulties when we took on Germany, which is a well organised nation, and I can see greater difficulties, now that Russia is behind it. The hon. Member wanted to know the reason we are fighting. It is in the hope that we can bring the war to a successful conclusion and, when we have beaten Germany, can give to the German people and others the same rights as we shall enjoy after the war.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
The Debate has gone on for some hours and I would not willingly prolong it if there were not one thing that might usefully be said which so far has not been said. I think it is true to say that the people of this country have no enthusiasm for this or for any war, but they would not be willing, in the main, now that the war has started, to let it end on such terms as would restore 1921 the world to the position in which it was —or to anything like that position— before we started. It was a position in which we were continually stumbling along from one crisis to the next, never knowing what was to happen, and without any kind of order, stability or security. I think the people of this country would not go back to that now, and that they are prepared to fight until some kind of order, based on stability and justice can be secured.
At the same time, we may be making a mistake in continually allowing the initiative, both in war and peace, to be on the other side. This Debate has been confined unnecessarily to considering whether we would or would not consider proposals or peace terms made to us. There is general agreement that it would be; folly, if terms of peace were proposed to us, to allow them to go unexamined. I do not know anybody who thinks that they ought to be cast aside unexamined. But 1 would have liked to hear someone, with more authority than I can pretend to have, say in his Debate: "Why should we consider only whether we should or should not entertain, discuss and go into conference about proposals made to us? What is to prevent us from making our own proposals? "What is to prevent us from looking at the situation realistically and making up our minds what kind of world and what kind of Europe we want, and on the questions that will have to be decided in conference some time or other? Having made up our minds as to what proposals we have to make on what terms we ourselves would be prepared to make peace, we should announce them to the world—enemy nations and neutral nations alike—and say that we are prepared to come into conference with anybody who is prepared to meet us on these terms. What could be lost by having something more positive, something more constructive, than the mere reiteration of the phrase, "Hitler must go"? You cannot expect to maintain a long war—if, unfortunately, that tragic necessity should arise—on a mere negative of that sort. People will not fight for a negation.
1922 It may be that you hold the view that no kind of peace is possible unless the Nazi regime in Germany is removed. If that is one of the things you regard as essential, say so by all means; but do not stop there. You have to say what you would do then. Suppose that the Nazi regime went, suppose that the abnoxious individual went, what then would you propose? I think it is precisely that which the German people are waiting, with great anxiety, to hear. I hope the opportunity will be taken to take the initiative out of the hands of the others. We are the leaders of progressive world opinion—not Germany, not Russia, not Italy. Are we leading it? We are certainly telling those people in Germany that they ought to get rid of their Government, but are we telling them what will happen if they do? We are not. Are we telling the neutrals what we would like to put in the place of this Europe overrun by the horror of war? We are not, and I think we should be.
It may be that it would have been better if so long a Debate had not taken place, but since it has taken place, it would have been a pity, I think, to let it come to an end without someone urging that we should state our aims more positively than anyone has stated them so far. It is possible that the war might go on for many years before we got peace. You could create a European desert and call it peace, and give it the permanence of the grave. The objects that we regard as essential for the maintenance of civilisation may require a long war. If so, we should not be afraid of it. But neither should we assume that that is going to be necessary. Now, while people are in the mood to talk, talk to them. It is not necessary to talk on their terms; but if you tell them what are your terms and invite them to talk on your basis, you take the initiative out of their hands, you take the leadership, and perhaps you do something to acquire a long-wanted diplomatic success for ourselves.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five Minutes before Eight o'Clock