HC Deb 05 August 1943 vol 391 cc2534-49
Mr. Rhys Davies (Westhoughton)

The problems I wish to discuss have no relation to any of the questions which have so far been raised. The first thing I have to do when I speak on the issues of war and peace is to make it clear that I do not speak for the party to which I belong. I have been in the House for 22 years; I was almost born into the Labour Party and have been a member of it all my life, and I have preached the same gospel that I intend to propound to-day ever since I have been in public life; and although I am 65 years of age I shall continue to preach the same gospel as long as I live. I would like a reply from the Government bench to some of the remarks I shall make although I do not press for that to-day. Perhaps a note will be taken of what I say and I hope a reply will be forthcoming in due course. I want to challenge the whole philosophy of war as an instrument of policy. If I had the right that I have here in Germany, in Japan, Russia, China or the United States I would stand up and make the same protest against war irrespective of the consequences. I have travelled too much and lived too long to be influenced by propaganda, during war-time in particular. I have met kings, statesmen, politicians and diplomats in many countries. Indeed, I have met some people abroad who were once regarded in this country as unfit members of the community but who became in due course very popular with the very people who used to condemn them. I am sure that there are hon. Members here to-day who remember the time when we dined with Mustapha Kemal Pasha in Constantinople. We hailed him then, some years ago, as one of the finest gentlemen of the East. I recollect, however, when he fought and defeated us in the Dardanelles that he was regarded as a low down scoundrel just as we regarded most of the Bolshevik leaders before Russia was attacked by Germany.

There have been a few Members of this House from time immemorial who have taken the view that I take about the issues of war and peace. The late John Bright, I believe, stood up in the House and opposed every war in which our country was engaged. I take very much the same line. If wars could settle problems for mankind, the human race ought to have reached the New Jerusalem long ago. In fact, wars create many more problems than they set out to solve, and I predict now that this war will fall into exactly the same category. When the historians ten years hence come to record the history of this period, they will stand aghast at the fact that there is hardly a soul in this Parliament to make a protest against spending the substance of the nation as we do in passing what is called the Consolidated Fund Bill. I have been here long enough to hear the Prime Minister of the day telling us that we must tighten our belts when he reduced the unemployment benefit rate by 2s. a week at the instance of the American Federal Reserve Board. The more we spend of the nations' substance on war it stands to reason that the less we shall have to build on reconstruction when peace comes. What about sanitation, water undertakings, housing, school teachers and the like? When this war ends the present proposals on education, the Uthwatt and Scott Reports will be of little avail. The Chancellor of the Exchequer will then stand at that Box and say that there is no money left to undertake any of these desirable things. The House of Commons passes £1,000,000,000 this week almost without a murmur, but when we want a few additional coppers for old age pensioners all the cunning of the Government and the Treasury is brought to bear against our proposals. It has been computed over and over again that if the money that all the nations spent on war were devoted to housing, education, travel and the like, the human race would have very little to complain about.

I shall be told, of course, that we are in a war and that it must be fought to a conclusion. It is astonishing how people change their minds about war. There are millions of folk willing to stand up against war when peace prevails, but once war breaks out they follow the thunder of the drums and the bands that play patriotic strains in the streets. I have heard it stated by some of my hon. Friends that war is inevitable; it is useless anybody arguing against it; that it must be accepted as a fact, as part of nature itself. I decline to believe that war between nations is inevitable. Why should it be so? A century ago people regarded the plague, cholera and smallpox as inevitable. Indeed, they thought that war between the several communities in this Island was inevitable. We have travelled a long way from that, and consequently I decline to accept the fatalistic view that wars are inevitable. Let me come to what is happening at this moment. Perhaps however I ought to make it clear once again, if necessary, that nothing I say must tend to support either Hitler or Mussolini or any tyrant of that kind. I am as opposed to Nazism, Fascism and totalitarianism as anybody in this country. I am so opposed to them that I object to the Nazi technique being employed in industry in this country. The strange thing to me is, that there are plenty of people in this country who object to totalitarianism in Russia, Germany and Italy, but they do not mind its application here one bit. Indeed, we have already reached the stage when there is a larger proportion of our people in these Islands in uniform and under discipline than has ever been the case in history. The essence of the Nazi technique is here in full blast. Now we are getting proposals to conscript labour from among schoolboys and grandmothers.

Let me now pass on to the question of bombing. It is astonishing how the human mind works on these things. [Interruption.] When the war ends and the inevitable reaction takes place, as it always does, it will probably be said then that I was right in what I am now saying. There are some people here who rejoice that Rome has been bombed, and there are those in Germany who are delighted that Bath and Exeter were bombed. I cannot understand their delight on either side. I have been in Rome and have seen the famous church that has been damaged. I have also been inside St. Peter's, Rome. If I lived in Germany and was able to speak, I would protest against the bombing of London, Exeter, Bath and Manchester, and because I would do that I want to protest equally against the bombing and blasting of any town anywhere. It is not sufficient for my purpose to hear people say, "Why did not the German people protest against bombing our towns?" Then, there are hon. Members who will say, "Why do not the Germans get rid of their masters?" and they will turn to me and say, "What grand fellows there would be in Germany if a few of them stood up and denounced Hitler and his régime." But if anybody in this country gets up to denounce the very same things that are done here, his patriotism is in grave doubt. Any man in any Parliament, in any assembly in the world who stands up to do what I am trying to do now, to protest against this mass slaughter of the innocents and the destruction of the beautiful cities of Europe is doing a great and valuable service to humanity. If Exeter, Bath, London, St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey are bombed, why stop there? Some day, I suppose, Jerusalem will be bombed and the hill of Calvary destroyed perhaps in the process. Then, we may see whether the human race will at last wake up to the terrible things that are happening in our day and generation.

The British Government have recently taken part in the Hot Springs Conference with a view to bringing food to the starving peoples that are to be liberated on the Continent of Europe. What a mockery when we all know that practically the whole of the human race is already on rations because of war, and, while they were talking at Hot Springs about providing food for the conquered peoples of Europe there were millions actually dying of starvation in China and India. I hope that the House as usual will tolerate my views as I am trying to express them.

Let me now say a word on the difference in the attitude of the public to this war and the last war. In the war of 1914–18 the crowds were hostile whenever I spoke as I do on this occasion, and the people at the head of affairs were rather kindly disposed to the minority. In this war, however, I have addressed hundreds of meetings all over the country, and I have never found any hostility except among Members of the Government. I will venture to state why I think there is that difference. We declared war on Germany because she went into Poland. I object to aggression, but I am not going to accept the argument which some hon. Gentleman here use very often that Germany is the only villain because she has declared war three times in 75 years. She has, and she has been wrong in declaring war at all. Incidentally, I object to any strong and powerful nation using small nations as pawns in the international game, as Germany and other great Powers have been doing. But let us be fair; let us coma to Russia. So far as I know my history, during the 75 years in which Germany has declared three wars Russia declared about 12, Italy 11; and if we count the fighting we have done on the North-West Frontier of India we have hardly been out of war at all for several centuries. In my own lifetime we have declared war three times in 45 years.

At long last, Mussolini has gone, and it is a good thing for humanity that he disappeared. I wish all dictators alike had gone the same way. I am not so sure that it would not be a boon and a blessing to mankind all over the world if the Governments of all the belligerent Powers gave up office for sheer shame.

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

What made Mussolini give up office?

Mr. Davis

Exactly what will make some other people give up office later on, probably in this country too. It would be a good thing, as I said, if all the belligerent Governments gave up office and allowed others to come into power to make peace among the nations and bring mankind back once again to sanity and reason. [Interruption.] Does the hon. Member love this war? Is he so delighted at seeing millions being slaughtered?

Mr. Lipson

No, and the hon. Member knows that is not true. Nobody in this country delights in this war, but we realise that it is an inevitable evil.

Mr. Davies

Nations have gone to their doom, and Empires have toppled because statesmen and politicians have refused to listen to unpopular unpalatable arguments.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)

But did not the late Prime Minister do everything he could to try to prevent this war? Are not our hands clean in this matter?

Mr. Davies

Yes. I know the story about all that, too. There were some people in this country who were always hostile to the Nazi régime. An hon. Member says "Hear, hear," but he went over there and saw what the Nazi régime had done. But there were other Members of this House who went over to Germany before Hitler began to persecute minorities, and they came back and said what a grand fellow the Fuehrer was. There were members of this Government who thought it was a splendid achievement that Hitler came into power and put a cordon sanitaire right across Europe to prevent Bolshevism coming West. What is the position now? I wonder whether I dare predict that at the end of this catastrophe Fascism may be eliminated from all over Europe. But what about the next stage? Suppose I suggested that Communism would take its place all over Europe. What of it then? Just imagine this war being waged and millions of people being killed in order to destroy one form of totalitarianism only to find another form of it being enthroned. That is not at all unlikely if this war proceeds along the line that the present Governments of the United Nations are taking. If it takes two or three more years to defeat Germany in the field and then three or four more years to defeat Japan in the Pacific, I am not so sure that we may not in the end have civil commotion even among the democracies of the world.

I object to the philosophy that is pronounced from the benches opposite on occasions when it is said that we are going to carry democracy to the Continent of Europe at the point of the sword. Hon. Members object as I do, to the Nazis trying to force Nazism on other nations. By what right, therefore, have we to complain of the form of government they should have in Italy or in Germany? I think some of the speeches of the hon. Gentlemen (the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) on the Front Bench opposite on international affairs have been much more fair on this issue than those of some of his colleagues, and I hope he will take note of this vital issue, that it will be fatal for the future peace of Europe if the democracies try to enforce democracy on all the countries of Europe that may ultimately be subjugated by the United Nations. If we adopt that attitude we are nearly back at the stage when wars were waged between the Catholics and the Protestants, each trying to force their religious philosophies on each other.

I refuse to believe that any two countries in any part of the world will ever be governed alike at any time. I have been to the United States of America many times. The United States is a republic, and Germany is a republic too, but the difference in mental attitude between one of those two republics and the other is far greater than the difference between the United States and ourselves. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying that I am a very ardent patriot when I am abroad, in spite of all my criticisms here. I remember in 1938 having dinner in Washington with the late Senator Borah, the Isolationist, a very well-informed man, and asking him whether he thought a war was looming on the horizon. He said "Yes." I said "Do you think my country will keep out of it?" He replied, "No; if there is war in any part of the world, you are in it. You will fight anybody at any time on the slightest excuse." And all of a sudden I became a very ardent British patriot, and argued against him as much as I could.

But let me return to the point that now Mussolini has gone and Badoglio has taken his place. What do our Government envisage as the form of government in Italy which they will recognise? They say "unconditional surrender." If the hon. Member who is listening to me on behalf of the Foreign Office does not mind my saying so, I am very slow to cast any suspicion upon a Minister of any Government here, but I cannot believe that Eisenhower was in error when he appealed to the Italian people that they ought to consider the terms of peace offered to them by the United Nations. Yet we are told by our Foreign Secretary that no peace terms of any kind have been offered to Italy. I do not understand military affairs, but I know human nature well enough to say this much, that if any person happened to have been born in Italy—if a man had been born in Italy he would be an Italian subject—and he were asked, under present conditions, to make absolute unconditional surrender, what would his reply be? Take the position of Badoglio. What can he do? He might as well continue to fight on to the last man as agree to an unconditional surrender. The United Nations would go on fighting in Italy in order to defeat the Germans in that country.

What the United Nations ought to do if they want Italy to be put out of this war is to offer something to the Italian people upon which they could negotiate in order to get peace restored between us and the Italians. I agree that there is a difference between the mentality of the Italians towards us and that of the Germans. In spite of the centuries of blood relationship between the English and the Germans I think that politically the Italians have more in common with us than the Germans, and consequently I do not like this callous call for unconditional surrender. When I turn my mind back to what happened in the last war I recall that President Wilson offered 14 points to the Germans if they surrendered, and I understand that they laid down their arms very largely because they thought, "this is better than fighting on to the death." But when it came to the terms of peace I believe that only two of the 14 points were inserted in the Treaty. I am rather proud of one thing the Prime Minister said the other day. I do not agree with a lot that he said, but he made one statement with which I was pleased, that it is not intended to keep an army of occupa- tion in Italy; that would be too expensive from a military point of view. Let me say as an old coal miner that I trust that when we make peace with these countries, however the war may end, we shall not import the same spirit of revenge into the peace treaty as on the last occasion in 1918–19. I know that some Members of the Conservative party have issued their peace points. They are apparently going to re-educate Germany, to penalise Germany—

Sir T. Moore

We have not issued any points.

Mr. Davies

Not in this House. I wonder whether I dare ask hon. Members to remember the effect upon our coal and shipbuilding industries of the treaty made at the end of the last war, and upon other industries too, including cotton. We shall reach a stage, I hope earlier than we think, when we shall have to live in peace once again with all the peoples of Europe, and I trust that in the forthcoming peace treaty we shall not be so stupid as to demand such reparations from the conquered nations as would put our coal-miners and our ship-builders out of work for years, which is exacty what happened on the last occasion.

There are people in this country who talk loudly about educating the Germans. The President of the Board of Education has said that we shall require about 70,000 additional teachers to teach our own people, to start with, and at the same time it is suggested that we are going to educate 80,000,000 Germans, too, and probably 42,000,000 Italians as well. And what is wrong with teaching the French a few lessons, and the Japs—there are about 100,000,000 of them?, If the House does not mind, my suggesting that we start with educating the Indian people. There is a job of work to be done there. And, of course, should Russia and Germany make a separate peace, I suppose we should have to educate 160,000,000 Russians in addition.

I have something else to say to the House, but in passing I want to thank the House for its tolerance to people who hold my views. Incidentally, I am not alone in the House in holding these principles. There is a minority here who take the same line as I do, but there is a larger number outside. I should not be surprised if there were 2,000,000, 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 people in this country who agree with what I say. Hon. Gentlemen laugh. I have lived longer than some of them, and ought to know.

I do not want to detain the House much longer, [AN HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] If hon. Members say "Hear, hear" to that, I will continue; but in spite of their enticement I will conclude. I am afraid I have not put my case in a very chronological order. I only had an elementary education. I could hardly speak English when I was a boy. I naturally feel very deeply on this issue. I have travelled most of Central Europe. I have seen the Czechs, the Slovenes, the Slovaks, the Hungarians, the Macedonians, the Poles, and the Ukrainians. I would like this last utterance to be taken note of, if I may say so. I told some of their leaders in Central Europe when I met them that they would not be able to live together in peace until they had learned to tolerate one another's language and religion. They are astonished of course, at the toleration practised in this country on that score and of which I am very proud. I disagree with my hon. Friends because of their point of view on war and peace, but I have no spirit of hatred towards anybody who disagrees with me. Human nature has been built that way; men in the same political party differ on some fundamental issues. What would be the use of a Parliament if we all agreed with one another, anyhow? Parliament was designed, because there are people who differ fundamentally on these issues of life and death. I close with some lines that I learned long ago from Shelley's "Queen Mab." They are not all that I wish to convey, but they are very appropriate to this occasion:— War is a statesman's game, the priest's delight, The lawyer's jest, the hired assassin's trade.

Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)

My hon. Friend the Member far Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) declared, it seemed to me apologetically and quite unnecessarily, that he had had an elementary education. So had I—very elementary indeed—but that is the only point of agreement between us. Hon. Members on these benches and I in particular, and I imagine hon. Members opposite, appreciate wholeheartedly the sincerity of my hon. Friend. He speaks feelingly, passionately, on an issue that concerns every one of us. He detests, one might almost say with hatred, the thought of war, the fact of war. So do we all, without exception. War is a messy, murderous, brutal, ugly and loath-some business. This war is not of the making of this party, and I venture the opinion for what it may be worth, although on this head there may be disagreement in certain quarters, that this war was not of the making of this country. Indeed—and my hon. Friend must be familiar with the fact—in the painful, tragic appeasement years preceding the war, the inaction, we cannot say action, of the then Government was regarded by many hon. Members on this side as reprehensible. It was felt that we could not be patient any longer, that the detestable acts of the Nazis preceding the war, in their relations with other European peoples, and in their arrogance towards us, and, over and above that, in their fiendish cruelty and bestiality towards their own people, called for the most drastic action against them.

It has often been argued, and I think with substance, that we might as a nation, in company with other nations, have taken action much earlier than we did, yet it would have involved us in war, with all the passions that it brings. When we discuss war in general, war in vacuo, war as a possibility, we are in cordial agreement, every one of us. Everybody knows that war does not pay. Of course it may pay armament manufacturers and also many workpeople. And that is the tragedy of it, that the workers gain during war. Sometimes there is more abundant prosperity among the workers in war-time than there is in peace. Nevertheless no one in his heart desires slaughter, brutality and the cutting of one another's throats. My hon. Friend indulged in generalisations relating to the ugliness and sinister effect of war, and observed at the same time—and in this I am in cordial agreement with him—that we cannot trust the Government—but that is a side issue—but having expressed his apprehension about the post-war position, as many of us have done on many occasions, the question I pose is: What is to be done about it? That is the sole issue.

If my hon. Friend had been able to indicate to the House some means of bringing this war to a speedy conclusion, with honour to the United Nations, and with the destruction of the Nazis, or I will go so far with him as to say the destruction of the leaders of the Nazis, we might have gone a long way with him, but he has not indicated anything of a positive nature at all. What would he have us do? To surrender unconditionally? Is it not a fair question? Would he have us say that because we in our hearts hate and loathe war and all that it entails, with all its wild and cruel slaughter, we should hold out the olive branch to Hitler, Goebbels, Goering and their accomplices? Surely that is not his conception of peace. Would he have us make proposals to the Nazis, and, if so, what are the nature of the proposals? Sir, we must in this regard be realistic, and being realistic does not dispense with the idealism which animates us all. We have some hope for the future, but there can be no hope for any of us and for those whom we represent, for the people of this country and the people of the world at large, unless we root out ruthlessly, with all the power at our command, those beasts who are the authors of the crimes which are now being committed throughout the world.

My hon. Friend said that he was opposed to the Nazis and to aggression. How does he propose to apply his opposition? By making speeches of a general character in this House denoting his idealistic views of peace? Why, the Nazis do not care a fig for such speeches, and if that is the only kind of opposition they have to encounter, it will go hard with us. My hon. Friend seemed to express doubts about bombing. I am not clear as to whether he meant the efficacy or the principle of bombing. He did seem to discriminate between the bombing of sacred edifices and bombing elsewhere, although I recognise no distinction. It is as serious matter to bomb working-class houses as it is to bomb some sacred edifice, even if it is in Palestine. Apparently, to Nazism and aggression, both potential and real—and for the time being we are dealing with real aggression—bombing has a mightier and more powerful effect than speeches. That is the right kind of opposition.

Of course, in all this there must be sacrifices. As I speak—and I am sure this is present to the mind of many of my hon. Friends and Members in all quarters of the House, despite our political differences—now, in the tip of Sicily, our men are undergoing trials and tribulations, even unto death. Is that not always present to us in the face of such events? It is no light thing. We are comfortably placed here at home. It is a hateful thought that our own boys and our own brothers should be going through hell. It is hateful, but unfortunately it is necessary. I put it in a very simple way. Would my hon. Friend now advise that we should withdraw the men from Sicily, make no attack on the Italian ports, fail to use Italy as a jumping-off ground to destroy the Nazis? Would he suggest that?

Of course he would not. He knows it is utterly impracticable. Then what is the purpose of his speech? My hon. Friend said that he thought there were millions of people in the country who would support his views. I know that he addresses meetings in the country, but he knows also that I address meetings, and very large meetings, probably as many as any other Member in this House. I must say, with the utmost good will to my hon. Friend, that I have so far failed to detect any evidence, apart from the natural desire to avoid war and to promote peace, to indulge in surrender to our enemies. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend says that he never suggested it. It seemed to me that that could be detected in his utterances. There is a very strong feeling in favour of pacifism generally, as an ideal, but faced with the awful facts of the present situation, what is the use of talking about pacifism?

I go so far as to say this, and here I make a confession, that in the past war, in the later stages of the war, I was in favour, with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, of peace by negotiation. I have never taken the view that we could always escape the use of force. I have on occasion welcomed bloodshed. It depended whose blood it was. I agree with John Bright that force may be no remedy but that we are not always very logical in these matters. If now at this hour it was regarded as expedient and even feasible to promote peace by negotiations, I would support such a proposal, but I know that the slighest gesture of that kind would be regarded by our enemies as weakening. Imagine what the fate of the world would be. We cannot afford it. My hon. Friend has warned the Government that if we destroy Fascism and Nazism—I am bound to say that I do not recognise any distinction, because they are birds of a feather, if that metaphor explains the matter—Communism may take its place. I know what my hon. Friends opposite think about Communism and I have some knowledge of what my hon. Friends on this side of the House think; but if I had to choose, I would prefer the Russian dispensation to the German, because at present it appears to me, in spite of all that has happened—I hope this will not be regarded as irrelevant—in Russia, and many of us have tried to understand what was happening in Russia during the revolutionary period, it is my convinced view that there will be modifications in their political system and their ideology in future. Russia will become more democratic, although at the present time they regard themselves as democratic. After all, we must not judge the Russians by our own democracy. Some of us occasionally have doubts about it, and there are different views and different brands of democracy. If one had to choose, I would prefer this Russian Communism to the bestial thing which has emerged from Germany, this new order, forsooth. It stinks of the Middle Ages. It is worse than anything that happened in the Middle Ages.

My hon. Friend spoke about travelling abroad. He has been in Poland. He knows the Poles. That is more than I have done. I have never been there, contrary to the general belief. I believe my ancestors had something to do with that place—but we cannot of course be responsible for our ancestors. It would be very awkward for some of us if we were. In fact, when we reflect on the political events in Poland, the millions of people who have been slaughtered—I am not thinking of Jews alone but am speaking of people, and I am concerned with people and not with races or religions—I would like the opinion of my hon. Friend. What are we to do about it? Let the Germans get on with it? With the best will in the world we must go ahead. We must destroy these brutes at the earliest opportunity. My hon. Friend said that we may have civil commotion after this war. Perhaps there I am slightly in agreement. Any kind of commotion will do after this war, even if it happens to be civil. I do not want a world that is uniform and where everybody agrees. We had better have a row occasionally and if we cannot have a row with our opponents let us have it with our friends. Why should we speak in terms of surrender now and giving way to Nazis and Fascists because we are apprehensive about civil commotion in this country? My hon. Friend seemed to be very illogical. He said that when he was abroad he was an ardent patriot. I do not know what Senator Borah thought of him, but after his statement perhaps what I think of him I had better tell him outside. How he can be an ardent patriot abroad, be-laud his own country and virtues, stand up for it and its great achievements and then come here asking us to bow the knee to the enemy is more than I can understand.

Mr. Rhys Davies

My hon. Friend has not been unfair up to now, and I hope he will not put into my mouth the words that I want to bow the knee to the enemy. He knows that I happen to be the chairman of a group of Labour Members in this House who are always asking that the British and United Nations should state their peace aims and saying that if they did, it might shorten the period of the war.

Mr. Shinwell

That would seem to me to be slightly irrelevant, but I will take up my hon. Friend on his own ground. He wanted the Government to state their peace aims. I thought they had been stated. My peace aims are the destruction of the enemy. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) wants to know the Government's peace aims and is not very much concerned about mine. I do not matter; I recognise that. Sometimes we think the Government do not matter. At any rate I thought the peace aims had been stated. Whether they have or not, I believe that the only peace aims of any consequence at all lie in the destruction of the enemy, because we are never going to get real peace otherwise. I repeat that we may go through great trials before we succeed. I would like to say, in parenthesis, that much as I dislike the bombing in this country—I do not think anyone likes it, and those who have gone through the blitz by no means want a repetition—I sometimes feel I was glad to be in it because we were all in the war, we were not leaving it all for the young fellows to go out and fight. My hon. Friend said that there must be no question of revenge at the end of the war. Revenge against whom?

Against the common people of Germany? They may be at fault, but there can be no question of revenge against them. But revenge against the bestial authors of this crime, certainly. I hope that when that time comes, when victory has been achieved, we will plant our feet firmly on the ground of peace, on the ruins of Nazism and Fascism and the destruction of those responsible for plunging the world into this conflagration.