§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)
I desire to make a brief reference, first of all, to a matter which I raised on the Adjournment some time ago, the question of the publication of a White Paper dealing with the Anglo-Soviet negotiations of last year. The British Government decided that they would do so before Christmas. I am sorry that it has been decided, as a result of the views expressed by the French Government, not to do so. The people of this country are entitled to have our Government's account of the negotiations and not to have to rely solely, as is the case at present, on the account given by M. Molotov some time ago. There has been published recently some kind of Polish White Paper dealing with this subject, and I hope in due course, after further deliberations and discussions with our Ally, the Govern- 2211 ment will give the British public their own account.
The impression left on my mind as the result of the Debate on Tuesday is that the Government were found guilty of culpable indecision and delay in dealing with the question of Finland. At the same time, I think we have had a lucky escape, and I think the expedition would have been an exceedingly hazardous one. With regard to the future, I cannot help thinking that Russia has burnt her fingers very badly and has learned a very severe lesson and is not likely to be anxious to indulge in expeditions of the same kind in future. I hope it will be the object of our Government so to conduct their diplomacy as to neutralise Russia in this war as far as they can. There is evidently no love lost between Messrs. Hitler and Stalin, and I should have thought a good deal might be done by wise diplomacy in cultivating that lack of love between those two allies. We are able now to concentrate on the real "Enemy No. 1"—Hitler—and that certainly will engage the whole of our attention.
While the country is united on that task, I believe it is also united in desiring to see it carried out with very much more vigour than has been the case up to the present. I have had an opportunity during the last month or so of addressing various gatherings of youth groups in different parts of the country, and my experience is that, in the main, they agree that our objects are right and that we had no alternative, but they have very little confidence that a great deal of good will come out of it all. One might just as well be frank. Their attitude is: Can we expect the people who got us into the war to win the war and to make a satisfactory settlement of it? Rightly or wrongly, I find that they are very much inclined to take an exceedingly pessimistic view of the possibility of success in such circumstances. I understand, from what the Prime Minister said, that the question of some kind of reconstruction of the Government is under consideration. The Government is composed at the present time, as we all know, of some very competent and some very incompetent persons. I will not mention any names. We all know them. I do not see any of the incompetent ones here at the moment. 2212 There are some Ministers who do not come in either class, who are gifted but distrusted. They are most estimable persons, but they are widely distrusted. I propose to mention them and to say that I feel—and I think it is widely felt throughout the country—that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Lord Privy Seal are very heavy liabilities both at home and abroad. It is no good disguising the fact that that is so. They have many warm supporters and friends.
§ Mr. Mander
Over on that side, but they are not here to-day. The Government will not really be at full strength while either of these two eminent and distinguished persons is in office. The Prime Minister, possessing as he does the support and good will of the great bulk of his supporters, and being, as one can clearly see, in full physical vigour, is obviously going to carry on his task at the head of the Government. I hope that in coming to any conclusions on these matters he will accede to what I think is the general wish of the nation, that there should be, as in the last war, a smaller War Cabinet, without departmental duties and possessing one individual who will be responsible for the main economic activities of the Government.
I would say a word about the question of the neutrals. Appeals have been made by different Ministers from time to time for neutrals to come in, and, of course, one cannot help remembering that the question they are likely to ask themselves is, "What did you do when you were neutral?" The question is not one to which we can give a very satisfactory reply. Therefore, I am convinced that the only way by which we can get the support and co-operation of the neutrals is by showing, by our vigour and determination, that we intend to win the war in the shortest possible time. That and nothing else will rally the neutrals.
I also want to make some reference to the economic blockade, which, I am sure, is not nearly as strong or as effective as it might be. The agreements with neutral countries appear to have been made on the basis of their re-export trade to Germany on the scale obtaining immediately before the war, that is, at a time when 2213 Germany was building up her reserves. Certain features in the agreements with Belgium and Norway run quite contrary to agreements which were made in the last war, when neutral countries received their own requirements only. I greatly regret that we should have so far departed from what was a wise decision. Let me give an example of what has been happening. Figures have recently been published of raw cotton exports from the United States to neutrals. I will compare those for the period September to November, 1939, with those for the same period in 1938. I ask the House to note these figures. Imports of raw cotton from the United States, in the case of Sweden, increased four times; in the case of Norway and Belgium they doubled; in the case of Holland, increased three times; in the case of Yugoslavia, increased by 50 per cent.; in the case of Hungary, increased 20 times; and in the case of Switzerland increased no less than 160 times. I wonder what explanation the Minister of Economic Warfare can give for such an extraordinarily unsatisfactory state of affairs?
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Has the hon. Member made any check upon those figures in order to ascertain how much of that represents a transfer of trade, formerly done through entrepot ports like Hamburg, for supplies to the countries he names? I would like to support the trend of the hon. Member's argument but I should like information on that point.
§ Mr. Mander
I dare say there may be qualifications and reserves about these figures but, even allowing for that, I think they are sufficiently startling to call for some explanation. In view of the shortage of time, however, I do not want to be drawn into a discussion. I would refer, however, to new imports from Vladivostock into Russia and, possibly, through to Germany. Last January, there was imported 2,000 tons of tin against nothing at all in the same period of the year before. It is new trade and Germany is keeping hundreds of trucks available on that line for its transport. I believe that the Government have this matter under consideration and I can only urge them to give the closest thought to it and act as soon and as effectively as they possibly can.
One of the most important questions is that of the supply of iron ore from Sweden 2214 via Norwegian territorial waters to Germany. The Prime Minister suggested the other night that the leaks and the gaps in the blockade were very small indeed compared with the effect of the blockade as a whole. That is an untrue picture to give, in connection with this important item. Germany is relying for two-thirds of her ore on this source of supply, on which her industrial activities depend. Therefore, it is a matter of vital importance to her and to us that action should be taken. I think it will be generally agreed that, as far as Germany is concerned, we are fully entitled, under international law, to take any action, by way of reprisal, we think fit because of her complete overriding of law in these matters and her sinking of neutral shipping. But the question of dealing with the neutrals is a different matter and I want to present certain arguments which would justify us in taking action inside neutral waters.
I contend that Norway has failed to maintain the neutrality of those waters. She has permitted, not willingly, the sinking of three ships in her waters by German action. To be specific I will give the names—the 'Thomas Walton"(British) of 4,460 tons, the "Deptford" (British) of 4,034 tons and the "Garoufalia" (Greek of 4,703 tons. There is the case of the "Altmark" too. You have four specific cases where Norway has failed in her international duty. But there is more than that. Norway and Sweden were under an obligation under the Covenant of the League to permit British and French troops to go through their territory to the help of Finland. They refused that permission. They broke the Covenant of the League and refused to carry out an international obligation. I say that, on all those grounds, there is justification for the action by us—which will be in accordance with international law—of going in and stopping those vital sources of supply for Germany, which are being used to manufacture guns and ammunition to destroy British citizens. In this connection I should like to quote an interesting article which appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" written by "Pertinax," in which he said:It will be remembered that last month following on the "Altmark" incident the British Navy was within an ace of assuming continu- 2215 ous control of the territorial waters of Norway to make up for the deficiency of the Oslo Government. The last we heard of it here was that the whole question had been postponed since it was foreseen in London that immediate action would clash with the then contemplated military expedition to Finland. The opinion is expressed here in competent quarters that the matter ought to be reconsidered.I entirely agree and I hope it will be reconsidered. I want to put this point. I think there is a way by which we could greatly strengthen our position legally all over the world in dealing with these matters. The Prime Minister said on Tuesday that, in our action in regard to Finland, we were acting in accordance with the Covenant of the League. Why could we not obtain the same backing for any action we may take in connection with our war with Germany? Incidentally, the Prime Minister referred to the fact that Finland was a neutral, but, of course, there is no neutrality when the Covenant is put into operation. The proposal I submit is that we should take steps to see that the question of German aggression against Poland is brought before the League Council. We do not want the impression created that the Council of the League deals only with left-wing aggressors. All aggressors are equally objectionable whether they are left, right or centre. I hope that will be considered and brought before the League under Article 17 which deals with non-members. Article 16 of the Covenant reads:Should any member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles 12, 13, or 15, it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League, which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial relations.This means that under international law all those relations would be automatically cut off. The effect on the position with regard to iron ore, and the position in many parts of the world, would be profound. It would also have the advantage of bringing into operation the regime of the Straits under the Convention of Montreux, which says, in Article 25:Nothing in the present Convention shall prejudice the rights and obligations of Turkey or of any other High Contracting Parties members of the League of Nations arising out of the Covenant of the League of Nations".2216 I appreciate that there are great difficulties, and I recognise those difficulties to the full. I simply ask the Government to give careful attention to the matter, and if they feel that an opportunity presents itself, at any moment in the course of the war, I hope they will act. I believe that they could thereby greatly strengthen our legal position and enable us to take action which would assist in obtaining a victory. The other day, I had an opportunity of discussing the question of war and peace aims with a group of Frenchmen, and I thought that one of them put the position very well when he said, "What we want is a war."
§ Mr. Mander
We want a war neither of vengeance nor of illusion. I venture to hope that England and France will never be separated in future and that we shall build up an all-inclusive organisation on that basis which will preserve the peace of the world. I hope that, at the end of the war, one of the armistice terms will be that the German people shall be able to see for themselves who has won the war, and that the Allied troops will have an opportunity of showing themselves in Berlin and other German cities. This would not prolong the war by a single day or cost a single life, but it would prevent the Germans from saying, as they said of the last war, that they never lost. I hope also that in any peace terms that are signed, we shall insist on the signatures not only of those who may then be in power in Germany—perhaps the democratic element—but also of the Army, the Monarchists and the Nazis, if there are any left, so that one section will not be able to throw the blame on another section.
Peace can be had at any time. The enemy know perfectly well the terms on which they can have peace. I do not think the position can be better put than it has been by certain third parties; I refer particularly to the speeches made by President Roosevelt and the Pope, who laid down the broad moral grounds on which alone stable peace could be established. I hope it will not be long before the enemy realise that this country is determined and united on victory, and that it is much better for them to accept 2217 now, that reasonable place in the family of nations which is freely offered to them whenever they want it.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Boothby (Aberdeen, East)
I do not wish to delay the House for more than a few minutes, because various other hon. Members wish to speak. I think the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has rendered a service in raising the general question of war policy, even at this late hour, before the Easter Recess. Somehow or other, important as the West Indies undoubtedly are, I think it would be a little inappropriate if we rose for the Recess without once again giving a little consideration to the one question, which, in the last resort, matters more than all others, and upon which the fate of the West Indies themselves must ultimately depend. From time to time some of us on these benches, and on the benches opposite, have expressed criticism of the Government during recent weeks. I think I may say that nobody on either side of the House doubts the good intentions of the Government. Their plans may also be excellent. But what we have reason to complain of is the delay in obtaining decisions from the Government on vital matters of policy. Either the decision has not been given at all, or it has been given too late. When I heard the Prime Minister in the Debate on Wednesday say that "we cannot be hustled," I could not help bringing my mind back to the question, for example, of the Ministry of Supply, or of the storage of raw materials, about both of which subjects we had many Debates in this House. I could not help thinking that with a little more hustling then we might have found ourselves in an easier position to-day.
The truth is, and there is no use blinking it, and no useful service is performed by shirking the issue, that we did, in fact, begin this war, although we had plenty of warning, with a shortage of raw materials which, in the circumstances, was quite unforgiveable. I will not specify them. It would not be in the public interest; but hon. Members know what they are, and they continue to this day; and we are paying the price of these shortages in the holding up of production at home and of our export trade. All that we want to feel sure of is that everything possible is being done now. What is 2218 production? Is it at the maximum? If it is, why have we still 1,400,000 unemployed? That seems to me very difficult to explain after six months of war. Although there may be certain technical explanations from the Minister of Labour, I feel we ought not to have on the register 1,400,000 unemployed after six months of war. Administrative difficulties were increased inevitably; but in so far as they have been due to lack of co-ordination and lack of centralised direction, I submit that there is a great responsibility on the Government, who have refused so far to accede to the repeated requests of hon. Members on all sides of the House to produce a better machinery of Government for the conduct of the war.
The hon. Member who has just sat down dealt in some detail with the offensive side of our economic policy—the blockade. I do not propose to go into that in any detail, but I would say to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Economic Warfare that I, for my part, feel convinced that while he has done, in many respects a very good job of work, still too many goods are being imported into Germany. Without wishing to criticise him unfairly in any way, there are one or two points to which I would ask him to direct his special attention. First of all, is he quite satisfied that too much is not going in through Trieste and Genoa? I think the figures of these ports, and the increase of merchandise going in, are very disturbing. I know that we have a delicate situation to deal with here, but we are perfectly entitled, in view of our command of the seas, to take more energetic steps to stop contraband going into Germany wherever we possibly can.
My hon. Friend was quite right when he drew attention to the case of Vladivostock. If you examine the recent figures of the United States exports to Vladivostock, it will be seen that there has been a rise which certainly cannot be justified on ordinary trading grounds. These goods are certainly not intended for China or Manchuria. We know where they are going. They are going, slowly and rather gloomily, down the Trans-Siberian railway; and I submit that we ought to take every possible step to prevent these goods getting into Germany. I would only ask my right hon. Friend to direct special attention to the Italian ports, and to the Far East and Vladi- 2219 vostock, because they are two most vulnerable points.
My hon. Friend who opened the Debate referred to cotton. I think that the figures he gave are very formidable, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will agree with me. Here there are diplomatic difficulties, and we do not want to get into any serious trouble with the United States; but I am sure that the mere fact that Hamburg has ceased to be a centre of the entrepot trade in cotton does not justify the fantastic increases mentioned by my hon. Friend.
Passing from the purely blockade aspect to the general question of monetary policy, I wish, although I do not expect an answer this afternoon, to express my opinion that the fact that by this time we have not blocked foreign assets in this country is really scandalous. I do not think hon. Members realise that any foreigner, except an actual enemy, can sell securities in the London market and take sterling in exchange. It is surely time, in existing circumstances, that we established an absolute control of foreign exchanges, and blocked all foreign assets in this country. Week by week we are losing foreign exchange which may ultimately prove to be invaluable to us; and I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be good enough to ask the Treasury to consider this point, which I believe to be one of vital importance; and I am not alone in that.
There is one last point which, now that we have the pleasure and privilege of the presence of the Minister of Economic Warfare, I should like to mention. That is the question of the Balkans and the Danube. I am not very happy about what is going on down there, and especially about the position in Rumania. According to my reports, Bucharest is swarming with German agents and industrialists who are establishing an absolute economic stranglehold of that country, and are buying up all the oil companies and elevators and the barges on the Danube. During the last few months we have had a great advantage because the Danube has been frozen, and for that reason the Germans have been unable to make use of that channel on a big scale. The Danube is now beginning to unfreeze, and I would ask my right hon. Friend what steps—and they must be very vigorous steps— 2220 against Dr. Clodius and Dr. Schacht are now to be taken. We want to see that when the Danube thaws it will not become a great channel for imports into Germany of vital commodities, including oil and other raw materials. We ought to leave no stone unturned to prevent that happening, if we can possibly manage it. Nobody who has any knowledge of what is going on in the Balkans can feel happy about the position down there. I am entitled to speak on this subject because about half a dozen of us in the House on both sides have been pressing this question of trade with the Balkans not only since the war broke out, but for the past two years. If we had taken energetic and vigorous action in time, we should have been in an entirely different position from that in which we are to-day. Why should those of us who feel as we do on this and kindred subjects not acknowledge the fact that we are paying for our sins of omission not only since war broke out, but also during the critical months which immediately preceded it? We cannot get away from that fact.
To follow up what the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton said on the general question of foreign policy I have spent the last fortnight in neutral countries, and I would say to the House, "Do not let us deceive ourselves that the capitulation of Finland has not been a serious blow to the Allied cause." It was a very serious blow both from a practical and from a psychological point of view. I was in Switzerland when it happened, and the one comment made to me was this, "It is another example of the fate which befalls those neutral countries who do what you say is their duty." That is the argument we were up against. The neutral countries say, "It is all very well for you to complain of us, but look what happens when we do stand up—Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Finland. It may all be quite unavoidable, but it is not encouraging from our point of view." That is the argument with which we are confronted.
I would say this about the Finnish tragedy—it is a point which was not really made in the Debate of Wednesday, although I feel that in some respects it is the most important of all. There was a general recognition in neutral countries that in the case of Finland we were faced with most formidable obstacles to send- 2221 ing her assistance, and there was a preumption that those obstacles had proved insuperable. If we had stuck to the fact that we had done all we could in the way of giving practical assistance to the Finns, and owing to the attitude of Sweden and Norway we could do no more, we could have got away without any serious loss of prestige. The folly, in my opinion, was that at the eleventh hour, when we knew that the capacity of the Finns to continue was almost finished, when they were, in fact, exhausted, we proceeded to announce to the whole world that we were prepared to send an expeditionary force to Finland if only they would ask for it. Why invite a rebuff at that particular moment? Why demonstrate to the whole world that once again we would have liked to do it, but were too late? It is that which did the damage; not so much the fact that we were slow in sending materials as that at the eleventh hour we invited a rebuff by saying we would send an expeditionary force when we ought to have known—if we did not know it we ought to have known it, because they knew it on the Continent—that it was by then too late to be of any real use.
It was the ineptitude of that action which caused the fall of the French Government, and that is what worries some of us most. As I say, it is not the intentions of the Government, which we know to be excellent, but the manner of their execution, which is at fault; and I believe that in the matter of the Government's policy on the whole of the Finnish business the real criticism is not that we did not do what we could, but that when we finally offered to send an expeditionary force it was already too late. I would say before I sit down that the one incident—and it is worth remembering by those who are disposed to criticise hon. Members who press for a more energetic policy with regard to the neutrals—which has done us real good in Europe in recent weeks is the "Altmark" incident. It has done us more good than anything else, in Norway as well as elsewhere. But unfortunately it has not been followed up.
Coming back to this House after spending a few weeks on the Continent of Europe, one does feel that we are to some extent out of touch with what is going on and what is being thought and felt upon the Continent. I opened a newspaper this morning, and I saw that my right 2222 hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) had resigned the chairmanship of the National Liberal party. I have no objection to that. He is perfectly entitled to resign from the chairmanship of the National Liberal party if he wants to do so, but I ask myself—what does it mean at this moment, the National Liberal party? It was quite an important thing when the National Government was originally formed. But the National Government was formed to keep us on the gold standard, and to carry out a policy of collective security and disarmament. These things may have been very desirable, but they are somewhat out of date at the moment. And yet we keep on with all this paraphernalia of National Liberals and National Labour and Whips' offices.
I say that this nonsense cannot go on much longer as far as this House is concerned. We are fighting for our existence, against a most formidable foe. A great Englishman once said, "Neglect no means"; and I suggest that it is time this House followed the courageous example of the French Chamber, and insisted on the formation, without further delay, of a War Cabinet of not more than half-a-dozen men without portfolio, who can devote their whole time and attention to the conduct of the war; and that these men should be chosen without any regard to personalities or parties, but should be the best men available, for the service of the State at the present time. Although this request may not at this moment find a very ready echo in this House, I believe that it will find a heartfelt response among the ordinary men and women of this country, and also in the armed Forces.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
The interesting speeches which have just been delivered seem to me to be almost incapable of answer in the short time available and without a Member of the War Cabinet present, so I will be very brief, because, interesting as they were, and though I agree with most of what was said by the hon. Member who has just sat down, I feel that this is to some extent a hang-over from Tuesday's Debate. There is one aspect of the subject raised by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) in which we are very interested, and that was in 2223 reference to the announcement yesterday that the Government were quite firm now in their decision, after consultation with our French Allies, to make no publication at all of a White Paper on the negotiations between the Anglo-French delegation and the Russian authorities between the end of April and August of last year.
I most thoroughly agree that we require the united support of all our people in this country, and the Government should not be blind to the existence of a considerable section of dissident opinion, with which perhaps we on this side are in very much closer contact than they are. One of the principal criticisms at present levelled against those of our party who hold what I regard as the sound view is that these critics have a much better case than we think they have because the British Government have been afraid to publish the actual facts of the negotiations between this country and Russia. I believe myself that there is nothing at all of which the Government need be afraid in the publication of these facts. I recognise, with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton, that it is always difficult if you are engaged in joint negotiations with an ally, and the French were parties to these consultations. But I do say that those of us who have to begin to-morrow morning, whilst Ministers are on holiday, meeting our political conferences and dealing in debate with this question are left in a very difficult position if, in spite of those months of negotiation, you cannot give us any idea, in Parliament or elsewhere, as to what were the real facts of the negotiations between this Government and Moscow before the actual signing of the Soviet-German Pact on 22nd August.
I would ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to let his colleague the Secretary of State know that we want that decision revised at the earliest possible moment, because we want to answer a section of dissident opinion which is very strong. Although it may not be nearly so numerous as some people think, it is very strong. I think therefore that we have a right to be put into a position to defend our attitude, in view of the fact that in the opinion of many of us, but for the pact between Moscow and Berlin it would probably not 2224 have been possible for the destruction of Poland to take place.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) and the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) raised questions which had been raised, I think, on three or four occasions before as to the publication of the documents describing the negotiations that preceded the signature of the agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union. I shall say at once to the right hon. Gentleman and to the hon. Member that we appreciate that full knowledge is of great value in explaining the case to the nation. I am not, however, in a position to add anything to what has previously been said quite categorically by the Prime Minister and which was to the effect that the whole question of publication has been reconsidered in company with the French Government.
The negotiations were conducted jointly with the French Government; we have jointly come to the conclusion that we are unable to publish the documents in question. I must reply at once to the right hon. Gentleman and say that there is no question of our being afraid to publish these documents. But there is such a thing as the public interest. When we debate foreign affairs, as we do so frequently, I have sometimes thought that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen under-estimate the limitation which must be placed upon those in authority, especially at a critical time like this, in making public everything in the foreign sphere.
§ Mr. Butler
The Prime Minister has referred to that point, which I do not deny, and has said that, after the undertaking which was given to the House, the matter was reviewed with the French Government and that, on reconsideration, it was decided not to publish. The right hon. Gentleman said that while we went off on our holidays he was going to meet his friends in consultation. We always attribute to the right hon. Gentleman a very assiduous attention to duty, but let me assure him that that is not a monopoly nowadays and that Ministers will be in attendance over the holidays 2225 while the right hon. Gentleman is talking to his friends.
§ Mr. Butler
Yes. We can assist him in that duty, which I agree is very important at the present time, from our position in Whitehall, with the latest information, with the possible exception of those opening remarks which I have just made.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton is to be congratulated on producing a very tasty rehash of several questions which have been fully ventilated in this House up to date, and on doing so, if I may say so, in his usual attractive and efficient manner. He said that he had been in contact with the youth groups all over the country. The Government are fully inspired by the desires and aspirations of youth at the present time, but when the hon. Gentleman says that these youth groups are distrustful of those Members of the Government that got them into the war, I must indignantly repudiate any suggestion that it was the Members of the Government who got this country into war. Let us place this blame fairly and squarely where it belongs, that is, on the leaders of Nazi Germany, who, with their senseless ambition and ruthless activities, have necessitated the British Empire rising as one man to defend the ideals and manner of living in which we all unitedly believe. Those are the shoulders upon which the guilt for landing us, as the hon. Gentleman described it, into this war must be laid.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton raised one or two points about the economic blockade. I have the benefit of the moral, and indeed of the physical, support of the Minister for Economic Warfare. There is not time for two Ministers to address the House, and therefore I shall not spoil the excellent command of his subject which my hon. Friend has by giving a version of the answer which he will no doubt give better than I can; but I will say that the points raised by the hon. Gentleman are valid and serious points. I can assure him that they will have my hon. Friend's attention, and, taking the question of the cotton exports, I can inform the House that this question is being actively attended to at the moment and 2226 its importance and seriousness realised. There are various considerations, and a very important one was quite rightly put forward by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, namely, the question of the entrepot trade. But there are also considerations such as market conditions and the rush to buy before a possible rise in prices which have affected the amount of cotton exports going into the various neutral countries to which the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton referred. The hon. Gentleman raised the question of the trade passing through Vladivostok, and there again the matter is being actively considered by His Majesty's Government. He also raised the question of the blocking of foreign assets. That, too, is being dealt with, as is also the question of the Balkans. In referring to Rumania I would like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen that the Germans are not getting it all their own way in that part of the world.
The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton referred to the question of iron ore from Sweden, and he asked that the importance of this commodity in the German industry should be borne in mind. I can assure him that that is the case. He also raised the question of whether in giving our help to Finland we could not have insisted that Norway and Sweden should give passage to our troops under Article 16, Section 3, of the Covenant. As the House will remember, that lays down that the nation concerned should give right to the passage of troops across its territory. The answer to that I think is that the Norwegian and Swedish Governments, and indeed the Scandinavian Governments as a whole, had already made their attitude on this subject perfectly clear. I went to Geneva in December on behalf of the Government to the meeting at which Russia was expelled from the League in view of her attack upon Finland. There were Debates upon a League Resolution which was then passed. It was legitimate at that time to hold that the full application of Article 16 was not excluded from that resolution, but the representative of Sweden made a specific statement on behalf of himself and the other Scandinavian States in which he made—and these are his words:Every reservation in so far as the resolution involves any measure coming within the scope of the system of sanctions.
§ Mr. Butler
Whether it was a unilateral action or not, the fact is that that represented the attitude of the Scandinavian States and under the circumstances we did not feel that any useful purpose would be served in pressing those Governments to assent to a position such as the hon. Gentleman desires when they had already stated their attitude. This does not mean that we accept their attitude but it does mean that in considering this question from the particular angle that the hon. Gentleman suggests we had no alternative but to understand the position in which these Governments placed themselves. In a previous question the hon. Gentleman wanted us to refer the Polish case to the League and he said that if we did that, starting with Article 17 and then bringing into operation Article 16, this would automatically cut off exactly what Germany desires to enable her to carry on the prosecution of the war. That again, I think, is a misunderstanding of the present position. If we had merely to invoke Article 16 and trust that the neutrals concerned would automatically cut off all the commodities necessary to Germany for the successful prosecution of the struggle, it would indeed be an easy world. But I recommend the hon. Gentleman to revert to a close study of the League of Nations documents of which I have a healthy exhibition here, and to revive his memory, to read, for instance what happened when the principles of the Covenant were reviewed in September, 1938. He will see that there was no agreement as to the automatic application of Article 16, such as he expects; and, in fact, had we taken the action that he suggests, it would be most unlikely that we should have achieved the object he has in mind.
He referred to the Montreux Convention. There, I think, the operative clause is that which says that if Turkey is a belligerent she may allow warships to pass through the Straits. That, I think, may be taken to cover the general point that he made in connection with the Montreux Convention.
Several remarks have been made on the subject of neutrals, arising out of the Finnish campaign. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen said that this Debate 2228 was a hang-over of the Debate of last Tuesday.
§ Mr. Butler
The hon. Gentleman says so. It may be true, but the hon. Member would have better understood the Government's case if he had more closely studied the Prime Minister's speech.
§ Mr. Butler
I recommend him to study it again. He says that our help was offered to Finland too late. If he rereads the Prime Minister's words, he will see the full explanation of the reason for the preparation of the force; he will see the dates for the preparation of the force, and the statement of the Prime Minister that the force was ready almost two months before it was asked for by Field-Marshal Mannerheim.
§ Mr. Boothby
Does my right hon. Friend think that the French Chamber considered that the help was offered in time?
§ Mr. Butler
I am answering the point in the British Parliament, and I can say no more than that. But, in the position I hold, I have the opportunity to appreciate neutral opinion on the Debate held last Tuesday, and, in particular, on the two speeches of the Prime Minister. I say, without hesitation, that neutral opinion has been very powerfully impressed by the Debate, by the dignity of the Debate, by the exchange of views freely expressed, and, in particular, by the Prime Minister's own speeches. That, I think, is the most effective answer to any doubts of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, which he has a perfect right, of course, to express to this House.
The only other point raised was the general attitude of the Government towards the neutrals. Whatever may be the real or imaginary difficulties in carrying out the obligations of the Covenant, to which I have referred, let us remember that in all the discussions the spirit of the Covenant has remained intact; and it is that spirit which should animate our attitude at the present time. If we recall to the neutrals the years during which we worked together at Geneva, I feel sure that that will be the most effective way. If we do it in company with our ally France, if we devote our attention to de- 2229 veloping Anglo-French co-operation and if, on our side of the wall, we develop our view of Western civilisation as opposed to the barbarity which has taken place on the East side of that wall, that, I think, will be an initiative which will create confidence in the cause that we have taken up.
§ It being Four of the Clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 20th March.
§ Adjourned till Tuesday, 2nd April, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 20th March.