§ LORD DAVIES had the following Notice on the Order Paper:—To move to resolve, That this House, recognising that the proposals set out in the White Paper for the settlement of the Italo-Ethiopian dispute are unacceptable, will not assent to any settlement which is inconsistent with the principles of equity and fair dealing and our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations; further, it urges His Majesty's Government to resume the policy outlined in. September by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva and overwhelmingly endorsed by the country at the recent General Election.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the Resolution standing in my name on the Paper I desire to assure your Lordships that I do so with no intention of trying to embarrass the Government in the difficult situation in which they, and indeed the people of this country, stand at this moment. I realise that for those who have no executive responsibilities, and whose information may be meagre, it is easy to criticise the attitude of those who have been entrusted with the government and safety of the country and who are cognisant, or who are supposed to be cognisant, of all the facts and data upon which they base their policy. I think, however, that your Lordships will agree that the reversal of a policy once undertaken by the Government and approved of by the people of this country at the recent Election at least calls for an explanation, especially when it appears that the honour and prestige of Great Britain, always of paramount concern in your Lordships' House, are involved in these proceedings. Therefore, I offer no apology for having tabled the Motion of which a frank and free discussion will, I trust, enable your Lordships to express your views upon the most recent development in the unfortunate conflict between Italy and Abyssinia. May I point out that the Motion invites your Lordships to express an opinion, not upon the details of any plan or scheme, but upon a question of principle—namely, that this House
will not assent to any settlement which is inconsistent with the principles of equity and fair dealing, and our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations.
§ What were these proposals? They are contained in the White Paper and they have been published in the Press. Briefly, they propose to hand over to Italy practically the whole of the Eastern Tigre district, the Danakil area almost in its entirety, large tracts of territory in the Ogaden Province, and to place under her administration, under the sovereignty of the Emperor—in this connection sovereignty must be regarded as a very elastic term—a large area in Southern Ethiopia. Now, until the day of their publication, most of us, I imagine, refused to believe the forecasts which had been announced in the Press. The latter appeared to be impossible and incomprehensible, because they were utterly at variance with all the assurances and declarations of Government spokesmen. Unfortunately, however, all doubts as to their authenticity have been removed by the publication of the White Paper, and, worst of all, by the telegrams despatched to Rome and Addis Ababa urging the belligerents to accept them. These telegrams, I venture to think, make sorry reading; they could never have been dictated by a Gladstone, a Palmerston or a Disraeli. The aggressor, the burglar, was invited as an act of grace to be content with only half the spoil. On the other hand, the "utmost influence"—to quote the text of the telegram—was to be exerted on the unfortunate victim of aggression to persuade him to hand over his possessions, to vacate the most commodious part of his dwelling and to surrender the most fertile portions of his garden to the marauder. In return there were to be compensations—nebulous, vague, cynical; in effect, they were little more than window-dressings.
§ Briefly, my Lords, those were the Anglo-French proposals. How do they compare with the suggested settlement which was offered before Italy embarked upon hostilities? This is contained in the report of the Committee of Five, representing France, Great Britain, Spain, Poland and Turkey, which was appointed by the Council to investigate the issues and to make recommendations for a settlement. This Committee, as we all know, proposed first of all the reorganisation of the Abyssinian police 268 under the supervision of a mission of foreign specialists; secondly, the economic and financial development of the country with the assistance of foreign experts; and thirdly, the supervision of the whole scheme by the League of Nations. In addition two annexed protocols, issued jointly in the names of the French and the British Governments, expressed their willingness "to facilitate territorial adjustments between Italy and Ethiopia by offering Ethiopia, if necessary, certain sacrifices in the region of the Somaliland coast," and to "recognise a special Italian interest in the economic development of Ethiopia."
§ Now, the report of the Committee of Five was accepted by the Emperor of Abyssinia; it was rejected by the Government of Italy. If we compare these documents, can any one maintain that they bear the slightest resemblance to one another? Since Italy has become the aggressor, since she has invaded the territory of another State Member of the League, since she has ignored and defied the unanimous resolution, of the Assembly, supported by fifty States Members, it was proposed to reward her with the annexation or control of half Abyssinia, which is probably more than she could ever have hoped for after many years of bloody warfare. What a travesty of justice, what an example, what a precedent, what a delightful invitation to other nations whose appetite for territory and exploitation has been whetted, to take the law into their own hands and to resort to violence for the attainment of their ends! No wonder that the Chauvinists and the Jingoes in every country, aided and abetted by the gutter Press, are gloating over this latest manifestation of Imperialism under the cloak of the League and with the connivance of two of its Members. Once again we are confronted by the hoary adage that might is right.
§ No doubt it is true that the peoples of Europe and the electors of this country are not primarily concerned with the fate of Abyssinia. Their main preoccupation is the future of the League and whether it can be developed into an institution strong enough and powerful enough to deter any nation from wrecking the civilisation of Europe. I submit that in your Lordships' House there is not a single member who will affirm that the Anglo- 269 French proposals were based upon justice or that in the long run they would have contributed to the security of nations and the peace of Europe. On the contrary, whatever specious arguments may be urged on their behalf, every honest man, deep down in his heart, condemned them because they were founded upon injustice and a repudiation of all those principles of equity and fair dealing for which we were supposed to have fought in the Great War and which are contained in the Covenant of the League. Already the Paris proposals stand condemned in the eyes of the civilised world. We have only to read the comments, not only in the Press of Europe but also on the other side of the Atlantic, in our Dominions, and in other parts of the world, to realise that public opinion has been outrageously shocked, and that this nefarious scheme was stillborn.
§ Therefore, my Lords, I submit that in discussing the merits of these proposals we are only flogging a dead horse; and I think I have proved conclusively that, they bear no resemblance to the suggestions for a settlement submitted by the Committee of Five. Had they been accepted, they would have rewarded the aggressor for having taken the law into his own hands; they would have destroyed the integrity of Abyssinia: they would have brought, about the dissolution of the League; and they would have left an indelible stain upon the honour and reputation of this country. I now turn to the policy disclosed in the White Paper, which, it must appear to your Lordships, is a complete reversal of the policy which the Government had pursued up to December 7, when the Foreign Secretary started on his ill-starred journey to Paris. Up till that moment we believed that the Government were whole-heartedly in support of the Covenant in its entirety. That phrase has been used repeatedly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. It was one of the Government's slogans at the General Election. Moreover, in the proceedings at Geneva, the Government had given a lead to the other Members of the League in supporting the principle of collective security, and in putting into operation some of the sanctions enumerated in Article 16.
I might point out, however, that the Covenant in its entirety, or at any rate Article 16, was not fully implemented.
It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that Article 16 lays down the imposition not only of financial and economic sanctions, but also the
prohibition of all intercourse
between the nationals of the other States Members of the League. and
the nationals of the Covenant-breaking State.
That passage is usually interpreted as meaning, or at least including, the severance of diplomatic relations. Perhaps the Government could tell us why it was that this provision was not put into operation. Obviously had this been done it would have created a profound moral effect. It would have meant that the League was in earnest. Secondly, the imposition of economic sanctions was only partial. Coal, iron, steel and oil were omitted from the list, but it was intended that at a later stage the inclusion of these raw materials should be considered by the Committee of Eighteen.
I think we can agree that up to that point few of us had any complaints to make about the sincerity of the Government. Although no doubt some of us would have welcomed more drastic measures, such as the closing of the Suez Canal by collective action, we had to remember that this was the first occasion upon which sanctions had been imposed by the League in any international dispute. Consequently, in order to ensure unanimity and the support of all its States Members, it was necessary to move slowly, step by step, and to exert increasing pressure as time went on. Moreover, as Article 16 had been allowed to go by default in the case of hostilities between China and Japan, it was only fair to Signor Mussolini that the League should move by stages. We know that for months active preparations had been going on for the military attack upon Abyssinia, and during all that time no warnings were issued from Geneva as to what would happen if an act of aggression were undertaken by either side. No doubt Signor Mussolini hoped that when the time came Article 16 would again be pigeon-holed. He now complains that he is being experimented upon. In a speech which he delivered on December 7 he is reported in The Times to have said:
In a. Government speech made in the House of Commons we are informed that
the application of sanctions in an eventual future contingency remains problematical.'
My Lords, I have ransacked the speeches made in another place but so far as I can discover there is not a single speech which contains any assertion of this kind.
§ Surely it is folly to suppose that the League, having decreed sanctions in the case of Italy and Abyssinia, should not follow this precedent in any future dispute which may arise, in which one country has been branded unequivocally as the aggressor by the Council and Assembly of the League. But having endeavoured through the machinery of the League—the Committee of Five—to bring about by conciliation and negotiation a peaceful settlement, and when this procedure broke down, having pursued a policy of sanctions, why did the Government suddenly entirely reverse its policy and become a party to a plan which it must have known would never be accepted either by the League or freely and voluntarily by the Emperor of Abyssinia? Why was it necessary to emulate the acrobatic performances of M. Laval? We have been told, and told repeatedly, that the settlement must be acceptable to Italy, Abyssinia and the League. That was surely a counsel of perfection. I have never heard yet of an arbitrator who was able to satisfy completely the claims of both parties in any dispute. The vital consideration was that the settlement should be founded in equity and justice, and that it should be supported by the League and by world public opinion.
§ Besides, the Government must have known that financial and economic sanctions work slowly. They cannot be expected to produce immediate results anti they can only become decisive in the long run. The oil sanction can only become operative if it is adopted by the Committee of Eighteen, which was entrusted with plenary powers by the other Members of the League. It may be that if this sanction is added to the list military reprisals may be taken by Italy against one or other of the Members of the League, and that therefore the Governments represented on the Committee of Eighteen, and in fact the Governments of all States Members, should be asked to specify what military, naval and air assistance would be given in the event of such reprisals. In effect, this 272 would mean carrying out the second paragraph of Article 16; that is to say, the Members of the League would be asked to co-operate in evolving collective military measures in order to guarantee mutual assistance to any one of their number who might be attacked. In the event, on the other hand, of these replies being in the negative then surely it would be open to any State Member to refuse to take the risk of putting into operation the oil sanction. But I maintain that until such a refusal is forthcoming, it is the duty of every State Member to co-operate loyally in carrying out the provisions of Article 16.
§ Unfortunately the proposals emanating from the conversations in Paris, if they did not undermine the efficacy of the sanctions policy, which had after all only just begun to operate, at any rate rendered co-operation much more difficult among the Members of the League. They destroyed confidence, and they weighted the scales heavily in favour of the aggressor. I venture to reiterate to your Lordships this afternoon what I have said on a previous occasion, that diplomatic, financial and economic sanctions will not suffice to deter nations from going to war. Behind them, and in the background, there must be collective military force—a Police Force—which in case of necessity can be despatched to the assistance of the victim of aggression, and serve also as a guarantee that no State Member will be penalised for having joined in the imposition of economic sanctions. By no other means can we establish the certainty, the potency and the deterrent effect of collective action, and ensure, so far as it is humanly possible to do so, a peaceful solution of any international dispute.
§ I have not put down this Motion merely to criticise the Government. I will say this, that the Government have been candid. They have taken us into their confidence and have published the relevant documents, but in their anxiety to find a peaceful solution they have ignored the claims of justice, forgetting that without justice there can be no durable peace. They have also mistaken the temper of our people, they have misconstrued, as Sir Abe Bailey so 273 cogently pointed out in a letter to The Times, the feelings of our Dominions and of the Empire. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, can tell us whether the Dominions were consulted before the Paris proposals were agreed to by the Cabinet. On the other side of the Atlantic they have stemmed the rising tide of co-operation with the League and made it, look ridiculous in the eyes of the American people. There has been a gigantic mistake—a huge blunder—even the Government will admit it.
But [...] is no use bewailing the past. How is this blunder to be retrieved? How is this mistake to be rectified? That the serious problem which confronts us to-day. I venture to submit to your Lordships that there are at least three lessons to be learnt from these unfortunate happenings. The first is one to which I have already alluded—namely, that economic sanctions cannot be entirely divorced from military sanctions, and that collective security will never be established until the States Members of the League are prepared to enter into a guarantee of mutual assistance in the event of military reprisals directed by the aggressor against any individual State Member. The second is that when the machinery of negotiation and conciliation has broken down, when the Council has been unable to promote an amicable settlement, then, in conformity with Articles 12 and 13 of the Covenant prescribing arbitration, the issues in dispute should be referred to an Equity Tribunal composed, in the words of the 1924 Protocol, of persons:
who by their nationality, their personal character and their experience appear to furnish the highest guarantees of competence and impartiality.
For this procedure of peaceful settlement we have a precedent in the Commission presided over by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, which was appointed to investigate the issues in dispute between China and Japan.
§ Here was a tribunal composed not of Government representatives but of persons of independent judgment, appointed not by their national Governments but by the Council of the League. They were asked to recommend what, in their opinion, would be a just, impartial and equitable settlement of that dispute. We all know that their labours came to nought because they were not implemented 274 by the provisions of Article 16—there were no sanctions. In the present case sanctions have been applied but there was no Equity Tribunal. Both these institutions are complementary; one cannot function effectively without the other. I believe a fatal mistake was committed by the League when Great Britain and France were entrusted with the task of trying to find the basis for a settlement. Why? Because both Governments under the Treaty of 1906 were interested parties, both possessed territories in Africa and, with the best will in the world and the purest of motives, they might nevertheless be accused by other nations of paying a new species of Danegelt at the expense of Abyssinia, in order to safeguard their own interests in that part of the world.
Therefore, I maintain that a just, equitable and lasting solution can only be secured through the intervention of a third party, an Equity Tribunal, with no axe of its own to grind. On this point may I quote the words of a distinguished English historian, the late Sir John Seeley:
There has been found hitherto but one substitute for war. It has succeeded over and over again: it succeeds regularly in the long run, wherever it can be introduced. This is to take the disputed question out of the hands of the disputants, to refer it to a third party, whose intelligence, impartiality and diligence have been secured, and to impose his decision upon the parties with overwhelming force.
I submit that the time has now arrived when in order to retrieve its position the League should inaugurate a permanent procedure to give effect to the desire for peaceful change in the relationship of States and the modification of existing treaties, thus harmonising the dynamic principle in international relationships with the static principle of security.
§ The third lesson is that it is fatal to the success of any undertaking that a nation should speak with two voices. Contrast the telegrams sent to Rome and Addis Ababa with the speech delivered a, few days ago by Mr. Eden to the Committee of Eighteen at Geneva. The former urged the acceptance of the Paris proposals; the latter invited the Council to modify them; in fact his speech might almost be regarded as tantamount to an invitation to reject them. In a debate in your Lordships' House a few months ago grave doubts were expressed upon the 275 successful working of the innovation whereby two Cabinet Ministers assumed a dual responsibility for the conduct of affairs in the Foreign Office. I submit that these doubts have been more than justified in the sequel which we are discussing here this afternoon, and I venture to suggest that it would be far more satisfactory if one Minister alone were held responsible for the conduct of this department.
§ I must apologise, my Lords, for having trespassed so long upon your indulgence. I shall conclude by appealing to the Government to give your Lordships an assurance that their future policy will be firmly anchored in the Covenant of the League; that, undeterred by difficulties and obstacles, they will sincerely labour for the success of the collective system; and that they will do their utmost to restore the confidence which has been so rudely shaken. Let us hope that, acting in this spirit, they may so contrive to dispose things that "Whatsoever is just is mighty, and whatsover is mighty is just."
§ Moved to resolve, That this House, recognising that the proposals set out in the White Paper for the settlement of the Italo-Ethiopian dispute are unacceptable, will not assent to any settlement which is inconsistent with the principles of equity and fair dealing and our obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations; further, it urges His Majesty's Government to resume the policy outlined in September by the Foreign Secretary at Geneva and overwhelmingly endorsed by the country at the recent General Election.—(Lord Davies.)
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
My Lords, I perhaps owe a word of apology to your Lordships for asking your leave to intervene thus early in the debate on the Motion that the noble Lord has just moved, but I think it is in the public interest and from every point of view desirable that I should take the earliest opportunity open to me in this House of making as plain as I can the position of His Majesty's Government with regard to the matters that no doubt are principally in your Lordships' minds. When the noble Lord first put his Motion on the Paper he put it down in circumstances very different from those with which we are to-day concerned. I am 276 quite certain that every one of your Lordships in whichever quarter of the House you sit will not disagree with me in saying that no one standing in my place could fail to be conscious of the particular difficulty attaching to this debate, field as it is at this particular moment, with which I am obliged to deal. I think I can best overcome that difficulty, and I hope best carry the understanding if not the universal assent of your Lordships in what I have to say, if I attempt so far as I can to give to your Lordships a plain statement of the facts of the case which we have before us as I know them to be, and, so far as I may, explain how the situation in which we stand has in fact arisen, and what are the lessons that I, speaking for His Majesty's Government, am disposed to draw from it.
The noble Lord referred in some of the observations that he made to what, of course, is and has been always present to the minds of all of us—namely, the situation that has been created by the determination of the League of Nations to pursue simultaneously the dual policy of imposing and enforcing sanctions upon a nation declared an aggressor and, at the same time of carrying out to the utmost of its ability, the task of conciliation in the dispute. It was, let me remind your Lordships, by the League that the French Government and ourselves were charged with a moral mandate for that business of conciliation. The noble Lord seemed to me to speak as if it had almost been by our choice that that task was imposed upon us. I see him shake his head, and if I do him injustice I at once, of course, withdraw the suggestion that I made.
§ LORD DAVIES
I think I said that I blamed the League for having appointed Great Britain and France to investigate the possibility of a settlement.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
There is, I think, no substantial difference between the noble Lord and myself on that point, because I am prepared to go the whole way in agreeing that no more thankless task could ever have been placed on the shoulders of any nation than was placed on our shoulders when we accepted the responsibility, along with France, of trying to evolve a scheme of conciliation. It was thankless not only for the reasons the noble Lord gave, but because, looking back on it, I think we can all see 277 how readily those who accepted such a task were likely to expose themselves to misunderstandings by the world at large. It was almost sure to be said when they came to their scheme of conciliation, or even when they were preparing it, that they were going behind the backs of the League, and it was almost sure to be said when they produced any scheme of conciliation that they had, to some extent, forfeited their liberty of action in events that might follow the rejection, on such a hypothesis, of the scheme that they had produced. That, however, is perhaps not very relevant to our present discussion. What is more relevant is, I think, that we should try to have in our minds the background of general considerations that were present to the mind of His Majesty's Government when they were attempting to discharge the task so laid upon them.
There was first of all the consideration that while they were pursuing the task of conciliation they, as a Member of the League and the League itself, were also pursuing as energetically as they could the collective policy in regard to sanctions, with all the possible repercussions that that policy might evoke. It was also present to our mind always, as it must be present to the mind of any responsible thinker on these matters, that the League after all, is an instrument for peace and exists for peace. I have never been one of those—and I do not think there are many in this House, though there may be some—who have thought that it was any part of the duty of the League in this dispute to try to stop a war in Africa by starting a war in Europe, and for this reason, that the limit of such an extension of the area of hostilities, were it ever to be brought about, it is quite impossible for any man sitting in this House to foresee.
Thirdly, this also was present to our minds, that however you might assess, high or low, the danger of such an extension of the area of hostilities, it was essential, if there was any risk of it at all, that that risk should be secured against in advance by ensuring that it would be collectively met. I say that not because if this country were ever the object of isolated attack—and such attack, if it ever happened, would never be the fault of this country—I do not believe the result, so far as this country is concerned, would be very different from that which 278 has been the result of all military operations in which unhappily we have been engaged at different periods in our history. But I say it for this reason, that if this country ever found itself involved in a single-handed war in the cause of the League it would mean the disbandment of the League itself, since that would be the clearest evidence that the collective system had broken down, and because, if I know the people of this country at all, they would never tolerate membership in a League of Nations that was liable to land them into a single-handed war. The last consideration that I think is worth while your Lordships having in mind, as it was in our minds, is that the League of Nations itself had never denied that there was a case from the Italian side to be met, just as my right honourable friend, Sir Samuel Hoare, had himself quite frankly stated, in more than one of his speeches on the subject.
That was, as I see it, the framework against which the thought of those concerned in conciliation had to be and has to be set, and it was while, with public knowledge, the discussions in that field of conciliation were proceeding that Sir Samuel Hoare was ordered—imperatively ordered—by his doctors to seek rest and health abroad. How urgently that rest and recuperation of health were needed those who were working closest with him are in the best position to judge. Their need was, as I have said, imperative. On his way abroad he went to Paris. There was very little pre-designed about it. He was passing through Paris, and it was natural that he should meet the French Prime Minister. He did not go there to discuss terms of conciliation; he went to discuss matters, quite other, though still connected with the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. Consequently, as he was not going for the purpose of discussing peace terms with M. Laval, he went with no instructions as to possible terms of conciliation from his colleagues in His Majesty's Government. But when he reached Paris he found the French Government urgently anxious to make progress as rapid as might be with the proposals for conciliation and, at great personal sacrifice of convenience and health, he agreed to take personal part with M. Laval in their examination. In that indeed I think he could hardly help himself and, as the House knows, he ex- 279 tended his stay in Paris by an extra day in order to continue to prosecute this task to which, at that moment, M. Laval was attaching exceptional urgency and importance.
That task concluded, he left Paris, if I remember aright, on the Sunday night, and the result of his labours reached His Majesty's Government on the Monday. Meanwhile there had been published in Paris and reproduced in the Press here at home a communiqué bearing the authority of the French Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in which, if I remember the wording accurately enough, joint mutual satisfaction was expressed at the result of their joint labours. On the Monday morning, twelve hours after the Foreign Secretary had left Paris, a pretty full publication of the whole so-called terms of peace was broadcast in the French Press. It was under circumstances like those that His Majesty's Government found themselves obliged to take a decision on the Monday evening. The noble Lord asked me whether I could tell him on that point whether the Dominions had been consulted, and I can tell him, as was stated in an answer made in another place a day or two ago, that, for reasons I shall make plain, they were not consulted but they were immediately informed.
I want the House, if they will, to observe the dilemma in which at that point His Majesty's Government were placed. I make no secret of the fact that when they read the terms they did not like them, though I am bound to add to that, in justice, that the terms in my judgment are not so had as the noble Lord or as much public opinion outside has represented them to be. If it were relevant and the time permitted I do not think it would be at all an impossible task to show, in one or two material directions at least, how these terms are definitely better from the League of Nations point of view than were the proposals of the Committee of Five. It is perhaps not irrelevant to add this, if it be any test in any man's mind of the merits or demerits from any point of view of those terms, that so far as I have been able to glean information it does not, at present at all events, appear that the Government of Italy regard them as unduly generous or are particularly enamoured of them. This at least is quite clear for anybody to judge for him 280 self, they offer to Italy vastly less than has been officially claimed by the Head of the Italian Government. It was quite plain that the Government could only refuse assent on that Monday night at the price of repudiating their Foreign Secretary, a colleague who was absent and who would have been unheard.
I want your Lordships, if you will, to appreciate therefore quite clearly the position in which we were placed, for the other possible course that may be in some of your Lordships' minds, namely, that we might have delayed decision until such time as we could invite the Foreign Secretary to return to us and to discuss his work with us, was in fact estopped for us by the fact of the premature publication in Paris and the immediate repercussions all over the world. Therefore there were two courses open to the Government. The first was to support a colleague who had deserved and was deserving of their trust, who had done more for the League of Nations than almost any man in public life in any country to-day, who had brought the League of Nations into the forefront of European politics, and who, if any man had a. right to claim it, had a right to claim title to loyalty to the League of Nations for which he had laboured.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
After all, the terms themselves were based upon exactly identical principles (however those principles may have been extended) with those that had actuated the work of the Committee of Five at Geneva. The principles that underlay the work of the Committee of Five were an exchange of territory between Italy and Ethiopia, the principle of League assistance to Abyssinia, and the recognition of special economic interests to Italy in Abyssinian development. Therefore I think that we were entitled to think, whatever might be said about the precise application of the principles in question, that there was nothing fundamentally different between the principles that had inspired the work of the Committee of Five and the principles that were behind the work that the Foreign Secretary had done in Paris. That, therefore, was the first course: to support a colleague who, naturally, enjoyed the fullest measure of trust of His Majesty's Government.
281 The other course was to repudiate him, unheard, unable to plead his own case before his colleagues, and to leave it as the fact that His Majesty's Government, acting en their immediate and individual judgment, had felt unable to support the work that he had done. On the one hand, as I have said, the first course was that we should support him, incurring criticism for so supporting him, sharing a responsibility with him for proposals which, as I have said, His Majesty's Government were not unduly disposed to favour, but proposals which, after all were based upon principles not subversive, as the noble Lord I think has suggested, of the whole policy of the League, but proposals which at any rate were, in terms and in spirit, only a basis for negotiation and which, in the view of the French Government certainly, represented the minimum terms on which the Government of Italy would be likely to enter into any discussion of a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
In passing it is perhaps worth while to interpose that there was never any question, as the noble Lord suggested, of penalising Abyssinia if she did not see her way to accept. It has always been made abundantly clear throughout by the Government, so far as I am aware, that the settlement that they desired, difficult though the condition of attaining it may be, as the noble Lord quite truly said, should be one that was clearly accepted by the three parties concerned, and it is quite untrue to suggest, as an element in our judgment, that we did not, when weighing these maters, give great weight to the compensation that the Emperor would enjoy by securing that which Abyssinia has never had—namely, an outlet to the sea.
Now, my Lords, I say quite frankly that I believe, placed in a position such as that, with the necessity of immediate decision, most of us would be liable to be tempted to allow perhaps undue influence to the great trust and regard that we undoubtedly had for the comradeship that has bound close colleagues together through times as difficult as any that most of us in this House have known. Nor do I hesitate to say that that sense of close comradeship was immensely reinforced in all our minds— 282 certainly in my own—by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to Sir Samuel Hoare for the unwearying labour that he had spent in the cause of the country's service and for the contribution that he had personally made to the raising of the prestige of the nation high among the nations of the world.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
And if we erred, as err we did, in giving approval under such conditions to those proposals, I venture to think that we erred from motives which will be appreciated by all who know how close are the bonds of trust, that bind colleagues working closely together, and how essentially those bonds of comradeship are the foundation of all that is best in the political life of a free nation; and that they will understand the extent to which we erred and will perhaps not think that the motives of our mistake were undeserving of some respect. I am quite prepared to admit that we made a mistake—not the mistake, perhaps, that is commonly imputed to us, but the mistake of not appreciating the extent to which, rightly or wrongly, these terms would be held by public opinion to inflict damage upon the cause that we were pledged and that we certainly wished to serve. Accordingly, we share to the full the responsibility for the mistake that was made.
Now, as your Lordships know, Sir Samuel Hoare, with characteristic courage and generosity, realising that his action, through circumstances only partially within Ids control, had caused embarrassment to his colleagues and to the purposes that he had designed to further, has placed his resignation in the Prime Minister's hands; and your Lordships will not misunderstand me, I think, if I say that I fancy that it may have been harder for the Prime Minister to accept that resignation and for his colleagues to learn of it than it was for Sir Samuel Hoare to proffer it. The way of peacemakers is a hard one and mistakes exact very heavy penalties. The penalty in the case of my right honourable friend has been plain, immediate and direct. The penalty for His Majesty's Government—part of it—has been the loss of a colleague whose responsibility they share, a responsibility for which every member of that Government if it had been possible would have been willing to pay the same 283 price as his official position exacted of him. And the public service also, I think, has paid a penalty in that it has been deprived—not, I hope, permanently—of one who had made the reputation of this country stand high and who had accounted no sacrifice too great in the discharge of the successive duties that his country had laid upon him.
This effort towards peace, rightly or wrongly, is dead and it is no time yet to appraise the consequences to this country and the world of what I confess is to many of us a tragic episode. There are many misunderstandings, much ignorance and many misconceptions to be cleared, I think, before true judgment will emerge. But even now some things stand out and may be held to deserve the consideration of your Lordships' House, and they are greater than any private or lesser interests. The first, though it is not perhaps fundamental, is one which has been mentioned before in your Lordships' House but to which I think these events may be held to lend new significance. That is the danger that may and does attach to direct meetings between responsible Foreign Ministers, other than, of course, at Geneva—
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
—and the embarrassment that they must often cause to the individuals themselves. The second thing, which is much more important, which stands out and which has left and will leave an indelible mark, I think, on most of our minds, is the rallying of opinion here, in the Dominions and all over the world to the support of the cause of the League of Nations which, rightly or wrongly, they thought was in danger of damage. That is very significant. You may or you may not think it wise or good or anything else, but of the fact there can be, I suggest, very little doubt. But such a rallying of opinion as this demands, in my judgment, that those so feeling should everywhere face realities. If the League of Nations—which has no more devoted adherent than the noble Lord who moved this Motion—had been universal, and if all Members of the League had been and were prepared always to fulfil all their obligations, the power of the League would be overwhelming, war 284 would be impossible, and I venture to make bold to state that this war would never have been begun.
My Lords, the world in which we are living is different. We do ourselves no good by forgetting that it is different. When large nations remain outside the League of Nations and when other nations who are within the League are not prepared to go to war for any and every cause irrespective of what they conceive to be their national interests, it really does behove all men of common sense to recognise both the risks and the limitations that are involved in pursuit of League ideals. May I say a word about the risks? The existence of risks, of course, is responsible for the breed of isolationists who seek, and think, to avoid risks by enclosing themselves inside the insecure barrier of isolation. It is not in point here to argue it, but I record my confident conviction that no salvation lies along that path. It is impossible—the world is too closely knit, and our interests are too widely spread. Nor does salvation come from the other kind of isolationists who would be prepared to see one nation alone pursue these ideals irrespective of the action of others. Both these sets of isolationists are equally dangerous and obstructive to true progress. Therefore you are forced hack upon the best and greatest measure of collective action that you can obtain, and that will not serve the cause of peace unless in the last resort those who profess loyalty to it are both prepared and ready—I emphasise those words "prepared and ready"—to use their strength in the cause of peace to which they pay lip service.
That with regard to the risks. A word about the limitations It is quite easy to speak about no reward being given to aggressors, and intellectually and morally my mind and conscience go with every word that the noble Lord has said in that sense; but I hope that I remember the necessity when we are using language like that in this imperfect world of being honest with the facts as with ourselves. What are the facts? The noble Lord spoke of only partial sanctions and of the imperfect operation of Article 16. He reminded us of the limitations, the handicaps under which the League had worked in the Far East with regard to which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, was so directly connected. 285 What is the meaning of that? Take the scheme of the Committee of Five that has been under reference this afternoon. That scheme of the Committee of Five was produced, not, indeed, when actual force, actual war was going on, but as everybody in your Lordships' House knows under the direct threat of force, when war was imminent. Whatever the technicalities of the Covenant, there is no such profound difference of principle between force prospective and force actual as the noble Lord might, I think, be inclined to suggest. We may deplore it, but it is a fact that both in such a case as the Committee of Five had to deal with and in many others force still is an instrument by which all world policy to-day is directly and vitally affected. We deplore it. It cuts right across the ideals of the Covenant. But it is in my judgment not more than a reflection of the difference that prevails in another sphere between the Covenant as it was conceived in the minds of those who planned it and the League of Nations as in fact it exists in a still imperfect world.
The Foreign Secretary goes, but the League remains, and remains the basis of international endeavour. With the failure of these peace proposals, the position reverts to that which it was before the proposals were made. His Majesty's Government will continue to support the League in all action that the other Members of it may, with ourselves, think it right, appropriate and possible to take. I am quite prepared on behalf of the Government, therefore, to accept the Motion that the noble Lord has moved, adding only one rider by way of interpretation to it. That is, as I think he will agree, that it is the League of Nations rather than this House that must be the ultimate judge of whether the conditions that he lays down as to equity and conformity with the Covenant of the League are or are not satisfied.
I do not of course for a moment pretend that events such as those which have passed in the last week can fail to have grave results. Of those results, though many of us feel it perhaps the most immediate, the personal result is of course the least important. What I feel perhaps more than anything else is that during recent months, as I think the noble Lord was good enough to say, this country has 286 attained in rather a remarkable fashion to a position of great moral leadership in the world. These things are mysterious and belong to the imponderables about which men can hardly reason. It is inevitable that, that having been so and the events of the last week having been what they have been, much of the opinion so formed should be temporarily uncertain and confused, for Governments, more than anybody else, have to try to be—though they do not always succeed in being—like Cæisar's wife. From the broad point of view the greatest service, perhaps, that my right, honourable friend Sir Samuel Hoare has rendered by his act of resignation may be to strengthen afresh the moral leadership, of this country before the world, which he as much as any other man in recent years has been responsible for creating. Yet, speaking as I have to speak while these things are fresh in one's mind, I cannot altogether help feeling that in the long run these events may even serve to win a new loyalty to the better international order that we seek to create, a loyalty more powerful for the reason that, surrendering no part of its ideals, it will realise with truer knowledge the sternness of the conditions—as I see them—upon which the future peace of the world, certainly in our lifetime, will depend.
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, in the few words that I shall venture to address to your Lordships on this melancholy occasion I shall try to avoid rhetorical excesses and careless accusations. I shall also try to resist the temptation to make Party capital out of a situation which fills all of us with a sense of injury and personal humiliation. But the need, on the other hand, for plain speaking is not only obvious but urgent. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has placed before your Lordships the position of the Government with the courtesy, breadth of outlook and consideration which we should have expected from him. He has told us that the acute difficulty has arisen owing to the illness of a revered colleague. It was not necessary for the noble Viscount to make any appeal to myself and my noble friends for sympathy with Sir Samuel Hoare. I have had the privilege of working with him very closely, and I want to say in passing that in my judgment Sir Samuel 287 Hoare is neither incompetent nor disloyal. If it so happened that when lie had to approach this question acutely in Paris he was at less than his usual strength, it is fair to remember that with him on those occasions were the expert advisers of the Foreign Office. The responsibility, therefore, does not fall exclusively upon the Secretary of State.
The Prime Minister—I say it with reluctance—seems to me to be involved in the issue before us. These terms were certainly known in London on Monday the 9th; there was a Cabinet Meeting that night; there was another Cabinet meeting on the Tuesday. Those terms must have been before the Cabinet, and, if they had not been, it would have been a disgraceful thing. I shall assume that they were being considered by the Cabinet, and if so, the responsibility is not the responsibility of the Secretary of State; the responsibility belongs to the Cabinet as a whole. I venture my own opinion—because I am without the information of the Foreign Office—that this tragedy was not due to a mistake at all, but that it was part of a policy. The noble Viscount has himself explained to your Lordships that, if there were time, he could make a case for the terms which have been subjected to so much criticism. He says that they were only put forward as a basis of negotiation. If that is so, why was diplomatic pressure to be brought upon the Emperor of Abyssinia to accept them? Why was he warned not to reject them lightly? I cannot help thinking, in spite of all that has been said, that this was not a new policy. There were in fact, it seems to me, two policies at the same time, and the wrong policy got taken out of the pigeon-holes at the Foreign Office.
There is another explanation needed that it requires a little courage to talk about. It may be that in this matter we were linked to the wrong chariot, and we ought to be told about that. I shall refrain, because it may be inadvisable, from using further words about that matter, but the time is approaching when some quite definite and tense words will have to be spoken about it. I cannot help feeling that the apology of the noble Viscount was rather overdone, and that the Government ought, in a greater degree than they have, to take responsibility for what has hap 288 pened. The easiest course was, of course, to repudiate a colleague, and Sir Samuel Hoare—and this is my last word on that point—has added to the many obligations that the Tory Party owe to him by the service that he has now rendered them. If all that has been said is correct, I and my noble friends would like to know what the Prime Minister meant when he said: "If my lips were only unsealed I could convince the House about it, and win its approval." These terms must have been known to the Cabinet and the Prime Minister.
Let me recall in a few words the nature of the promises that have been made both to the people of this country and to the High Parliament of the League of Nations. In September last, three months ago, the Secretary of State, in a speech which resounded throughout the nations, solemnly pledged the British peoples to a definite course of action. Listen to the words which then thrilled the world:My country stands … for the collective maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety, and particularly for steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression.And he further assured the statesmen of the world that this undertaking wasno variable and unreliable sentiment, but a principle of international conduct to which we hold with firm, enduring and universal persistence.Those words aroused our highest hopes.
Our country was honoured by their use, and we were exalted. My own Party paid a high price for its support of them. Yet, within a month, having got elected on these brave affirmations, His Majesty's Government either withdrew or suspended their steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression, and joined with France in seeking to reward the aggressor with territory which he had not won by war, and which he seems not within reasonable distance of winning. Then there was the story, which seems almost incredible, that the consent of the Emperor of Abyssinia was to be obtained to this cession of territory, and he was then quietly to be informed that the corridor he was to have to the sea was not a railroad after all but a camel track. My Lords, the electors of this country gave to His Majesty's Government no mandate for trickery of that kind, for deception which would put to shame a horse dealer.
289 That raises another series of questions. I say that His Majesty's Government must have known what risks they were taking when they started on their policy. It cannot be assumed that when Sir Samuel Hoare made that statement in September last the risks of the policy had not been counted by His Majesty's Government They must has known the strength of the Italian Fleet and the strength of the Italian Army, and if they did not also take account of the possible disloyalty of their associates, then they prove themselves incompetent to have charge of the affairs of this nation. In the matter of sanctions I personally have never taken the view that sanctions are, and must be, of necessity useless, and at all times morally indefensible. My hesitation about sanctions has another basis. I have never believed that they would be loyally enforced by the capitalist Governments against their own political and economic interests, and our recent experience suggests that that aspect will have to be very thoroughly examined. Supposing that the Government found out that it would not have the support of its Allies, and that it had to make an arrangement, what need was there for giving to the Italian people vase; territories belonging to the Emperor of Ethiopia? The resignation of the Secretary of State does not explain the blunder, and I hope the Government will not assume that they can, as we say, "get away with" this difficulty by just answering the Labour Party alone, as though it alone were making criticisms.
They have to answer not only their own colleagues in this House and in another place, they have to answer the nation as a whole, and incidentally their own consciences. This is what the Birmingham Post said a day or two ago:Probably 75 per cent of the electors who gave Mr. Baldwin his majority, leaving Socialists and Liberals entirely out of the picture, feel that they have been let down.They do indeed. I invite the Government through their next speaker to state specifically whether henceforth they stand for the League and for the maintenance of the Covenant in its entirety. I want to ask whether they are still for the steady and collective resistance to all acts of unprovoked aggression; and I want to ask what are their immediate proposals For future action.
290 I said I would not in this discussion try to make Party capital out of this difficulty in which not only the Government but the nation itself is placed, and I have tried to avoid that temptation; but I cannot close without expressing my own belief that never in so short a time have a Government fallen to such dishonour, and not for 150 years has the reputation of our nation been so injured. When the Labour Government were in Office they were denounced for their failure to deal adequately with a political and economic situation which was not of their making and which a Government of archangels could not have prevented. When they left office the National Government inherited from them a legacy of peace and international good will, and in the four years that have since passed the foreign policy of their successors appears to me to have been an unbroken record of tragedy and ineptitude. When the worst has been said, the Labour Government did at least not inflict upon their country the danger and the dishonour of the present situation.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I think no one can complain of the use which the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has made of the unexpected opportunity placed in his hands, and I think we all recognise that, within the necessary and rightful limits of his position, he tried to keep this matter upon a high level of principle. It is with some reluctance that I take part in a discussion which has to some extent lost its reality by the candour and straightforwardness of the speech delivered by the noble Viscount on behalf of the Government. And yet I feel bound to express even now my own sense of concern, or rather bewilderment, as to the action which the Government took about these most unhappy Paris proposals. My convictions about the principles involved in the. League of Nations, and their importance for the future peace of the world, forbid me to be silent, and indeed I have been urged to speak by those whom I may be supposed to represent in all parts of the country.
I am sure we all listened to the speech of my noble friend Lord Halifax with great admiration. It was characteristic of him, straightforward, candid, entirely frank, and it must have commanded our general sympathy. In no respect, I am 291 sure, was that sympathy more readily given than in the words which he used about Sir Samuel Hoare. I cannot tell your Lordships how distasteful it is to me to criticise a friend for whom I had, and always will have, the greatest esteem and admiration, and there is indeed nothing lacking in the human pathos of his present position, contrasted with that position which, with universal applause, he had attained only a few months ago. And I think that his resignation in itself is worthy of all that we would have expected of the chivalry of his character.
But, none the less, I must confess that I am not wholly relieved by the explanations which the noble Viscount has offered. I do not think that he seemed to realise how great, how inevitable was the bewilderment in which not only this country but the whole world has been placed by the unexpected action of the Government. I do not think he realised what a complete transformation scene it has been. The noble Viscount spoke impressively about the significance of the rally to the principles of the League which these unhappy events have called forth, but that is only a reflection, an echo, a recognition of the unity of which the Government were aware, and could not but have been aware, before and during and after the General Election. I remember presiding on the very eve of the Election at a great meeting in the Albert Hall addressed by leaders of all three Parties, and I remarked then how striking it was that at a time when usually the differences of Parties are sharpened and deepened here was a case when, on the eve of an Election, all the Parties were strongly united upon a large question of public policy. That unity was maintained throughout the whole of the Election, and it meant beyond question that the people of this country were determined to stand by the principles of the League and of the Covenant.
They desired the League at this present moment by firm action to uphold its principles, to secure a step forward towards that collective security of peace which the whole world desired, and most particularly they trusted that the action of the League would prove that in the future no nation which committed an act of aggression could do so with impunity, that it should be made clear that any such nation by any such act could not 292 hope to gain more than it would have gained by peaceful means. The Government are in their present position of having obtained the confidence of the country largely because they were supposed to be resolute to maintain these principles, not least the last of which I have just spoken. And yet what a difference has come about. There was not a hint of it during the debate on the Address in your Lordships' House. It is perfectly true—and I do not think the noble Lord who moved this Motion quite realised it—that emphasis was laid by the noble Earl, Lord Stanhope, upon the duty of following what at the time I claimed to be the rightful dual policy of the Government, to do their utmost to impose these sanctions and at the same time, and because of their growing severity, to make every effort to achieve some peaceable settlement. But I cannot remember any hint given during that debate that a peaceable settlement would follow in any way the lines which these present proposals follow.
The noble Viscount said he could see very little difference in principle, or even in substance, between the proposals of the Committee of Five and these Paris proposals. I wish he had been able to elaborate that point, because I can see, myself, hardly any resemblance between them. The Paris proposals, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, propose to give to Italy two large districts in Abyssinia which they have not even succeeded in occupying by military force, and also to give them an economic, hardly distinguishable from a political, predominance in another large district. I see no reflection of such proposals in the report of the Committee of Five. But to show that I do not adopt an intransigent attitude in this matter, may I be permitted to refer to what I said during that debate in which I admitted that there had been some changes in the situation since the report of that Committee of Five? Your Lordships will forgive me if I read my own words:I admit that circumstances in many ways have changed since that report was presented. I venture very tentatively … to suggest that there is this measure of change, that it has been proved, I think, by the conduct and course of affairs that the control of the Emperor of Abyssinia over seine of those outlying non-Amharic provinces which are so loosely attached to his Empire is very small, and with regard to these particular territories it may be 293 possible to come to some arrangement which may be the basis of a possible peace.But I added:What I think we should all feel is that nothing must be done in the way of peace which would seem to justify the act of Italy in making what the nations of Europe have declared to be an act of aggression.It is precisely that seeming justification of an act of aggression which distinguishes the proposals of the Committee of Five and the Paris proposals. In spite of the explanations offered by the noble Viscount, I still find it extremely difficult to understand how a Government which had declared that its policy was, in its own words, "steady and collective resistance to unprovoked aggression," could have brought itself to give an even provisional sanction to terms which, I am bound to say, I think justify the words of the Emperor of Ethiopia in his most dignified remonstrance:A settlement on the lines of these proposals would place a premium upon aggression and upon the violation of international engagements.When I think about the contrast that has come over the scene I can only exclaim: "The pity of it!" I still find it difficult to understand how it came about.
The noble Viscount was very candid in what he told us about the difficult position in which Sir Samuel Hoare found himself in Paris. I suppose it was the case that M. Laval intimated that he was apprehensive that the extension of sanctions to oil, which Signor Mussolini had already said he would regard as an unfriendly act, might provoke an act of war on his part and, if so, the support of France must not be assumed. If it were so, and in whatever measure it were so, I think many comments might be made upon such a position, but I prefer to make only one, and that is that I cannot yet see that the sanction given to these particular proposals was the only alternative to His Majesty's Government. There might have been delay. I was not convinced by the noble Viscount as to the impossibility of delay. He spoke of it being impossible because of the immediate repercussion of opinion all over the country caused by proposals which somehow or other had leaked out. I should have thought that was a very good reason for His Majesty's Government saying: 294In view of all this it is impossible to proceed with a decision favouring these proposals so momentous and already likely to provoke such hostility in every part of the world.If there were some particular reason for haste and urgency, does not that show once again how perilous it is in these matters to get into a hurry, to allow Ministers wielding these responsibilities to be rattled, and how imperative it is that in these matters, at all costs, full and ample time should be given for careful consideration? Or, again, was it not possible, was it not more reasonable, to recommend that in view of what had transpired it would be desirable that the League should suspend or even withhold altogether the application of oil sanctions? I was much impressed, and the whole House must have been much impressed, by what the noble Viscount said about the danger of war breaking out perhaps in some irresponsible way in a part of the Mediterranean involving some much wider war; and if indeed there were a possibility of war, then no one could contemplate that possibility without shrinking, without a tremendous sense of the responsibility of taking no step that might precipitate that disaster. But here again I cannot see why, if that danger was imminent, it should not have been said at once that the preferable alternative would be to suspend or withhold sanctions that might have provoked this untoward possibility. I am not convinced that there was no alternative open to the Government except to give its apparent sanction to these proposals.
If it be said they were only intended to be a basis of discussion, and in the words which Mr. Eden used on Wednesday at the League of Nations that it was alwaysan essential condition that before finally pressing any terms of settlement upon the parties those terms should be approved by the League"—I find it very difficult to reconcile these words with the now famous telegram which was despatched, I presume from the Foreign Office in London, to His Majesty's Minister in Ethiopia:You should use your utmost influence to induce Emperor to give careful and favourable consideration to these proposals and on no account lightly to reject them.295 I do not know what pressure is, if that be not pressure, within the necessary limits of diplomatic language. Therefore, it seems to me it can hardly be said that these things were intended to be nothing more than a hypothetical basis of discussion which might afterwards be referred to the League.
It is no doubt satisfactory to hear from the noble Viscount in his most candid speech that these proposals must now be regarded as dead, and their death and their subsequent obsequies no doubt invest our proceedings with a certain degree of unreality. But the trouble is that these proposals were ever made. I have no wish to embarrass the Government. I recognise fully the delicacy and difficulty of the whole situation. I dare say they know things which it would not be in the general interest of Europe that they should reveal, and my instinct always is to trust the men on whom great responsibilities have been put; but I am bound to say that I think the mere fact that these proposals have been made must affect the prestige of this country which Sir Samuel Hoare himself had raised so high. I think most of all that it must affect the chance of any future possible settlement. Is it likely, after these proposals have been made the measure of approval of France and this country, even if they be rejected by the League, that Signor Mussolini will ever be induced to look at terms which offer less advantages in Italy? Are they not more likely to stiffen than to abate the intransigent attitude which Signor Mussolini has hitherto taken?
The trouble of these proposals having ever been made is one which I fear can be undone only in one way. That way was opened out, I think, by the, concluding in remarks of the noble Viscount. If I had been speaking before he spoke I should have ventured to ask that he should clear the air by fully admitting that the Government had made a mistake. He has done so in words which could not be more straightforward and emphatic. Therefore that is one good thing that has been done. It has been made plain to the whole of Europe that the British Government regard these proposals as having been a mistake. The other hopeful sign that emerges is the recognition by the noble Viscount of the significance of this remarkable rally of 296 the people of this country, and indeed all other parts of the world, to the principles embodied in the Covenant of the League; and I take it from him that the Government, impressed by all that has been brought home to them in this last hectic week, will make it plain that they resume their former policy with not less but with more determination to adhere to the principles of the Covenant, to continue their policy of applying sanctions so far as may be possible to shorten the war, and to endeavour to find some possible solution, but that in no circumstances will they again make themselves party to any form of settlement which, even in semblance, would seem to condone those acts of aggression which the League exists to prevent or restrain.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords, I propose to follow the admirable example that has been given by several speakers to-night and not indulge in any words of a Party character, but I cannot help feeling that the speech of the Leader of the House has not met the fundamental question that this country is asking and does not throw real light on the very grave situation in which I think we now stand. I should like to say how deep a feeling of sympathy I have with the Foreign Secretary. I had the advantage of working with him during the proceedings of the India Joint Select Committee and for some years before, and I know the quality of his mind, the honour of his character, and the deep sense of public duty which he has. He has certainly been the victim of ill fortune whereby he was promoted suddenly into the most difficult position in the Cabinet without any rest after a long and exhausting period of dealing with the Government of India Bill, and therefore had to deal with a crisis in a condition of ill health. And I cannot help feeling that to some extent he has been made the scapegoat for responsibilities which should also rest on other shoulders.
It seems quite inconceivable that the Foreign Secretary should have gone to Paris and agreed to peace proposals of a most extensive kind unless there had been considerable preliminary discussion in London of which other Ministers than the Secretary of State for Foreign 297 Affairs himself were aware. It seems to me almost incredible that the Foreign Secretary should have gone to Paris and extended those proposals without communicating with very high personages in London before he went on to Switzerland and without coming back to this country. It seems to me that the responsibility which rests on the Government cannot be absolved merely by the resignation of the Foreign Secretary. And that is what is going to cause them the greatest difficulty in recovering their credit in the world in future.
I think further that if we are to avoid what seems to me by far the greatest danger, a repetition of the tragedy through which we have gone in the last fortnight, it is necessary to probe a little deeper into the reasons why we find ourselves in this present position. That matter was raised by the question which His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury has just asked The root of the difficulty, as I see it, in which we stand—and it is a difficulty in which everybody stands—is that we are to-day half-way between two worlds, the old world of power diplomacy, in which every nation thought only of its own security and peace, and the new world in which we are endeavouring to substitute the reign of law for the old reign of force upon earth. The rules of the old game are familiar to all of us; the rules of the new game, the League of Natioas' game, are by no means yet clear. The task of creating a new world order based upon justice and law is the greatest adventure which this country has ever embarked upon in its long history.
It is an adventure in which we shall make many mistakes—perhaps many mistakes as bad as this made by the present Government. It is an adventure in which we shall have to pay with very heavy sacrifices; but I do not think there is the slightest doubt, after the results of the Peace Ballot, the acclaim which rewarded Sir Samuel Hoare's speech on September 11, the General Election and the rebellion against the Government in the last three weeks, that this country finally and irrevocably pledged itself to that course. On the other hand I feel that the Government—and I think very large numbers of other people—did not on September 11, and have not yet, realised the nature of the obligations which they then assumed. But since that 298 time the Government, as I see it, have been trying to ride two horses at once. On the one hand they have ridden the proud steed of the Covenant obligation, and on the other the old hackney of limited liability. When the crisis came and the two steeds began to move at different speeds it fell precipitately and disastrously between the two.
There were two possible courses for the Government to adopt last September. The first was to go to Geneva and say frankly that Article 16 had been framed on the assumption that all nations were Members of the League of Nations, and that it was impracticable and 'highly dangerous to attempt to apply it against a Great Power while four of the greatest Powers of the world were outside the League and the real liability for the consequences therefore rested only upon two Powers, France and ourselves; and therefore to recommend that the League should confine itself, at any rate for the present, to the task of conciliation, and should not endeavour to put sanctions into effect. I confess that, up to September 11, I inclined to this view myself, for the reasons so well set forth by General Smuts in the powerful speeches which he made in this country only a year ago, and because I have always doubted whether a Sanctions League could be a Peace League without the co-operation of the United States.
But the other view, an equally tenable and more honourable and more heroic view, was held by the League of Nations Union, by my noble friend Lord Cecil and many others—namely, that after the failures in Manchuria and the Chaco it was a case of now or never, that if the League Powers, great and small, once more stood on one side and gave an aggressor a free hand, despite their obligations under the Covenant, the League was dead, and that we were headed once more for the alliance system and another inevitable world war. Supporters of this view insisted that we should stand by our obligations if enough Members did so also, because they believed that if the League succeeded in curbing aggression on this occasion it would go from strength to strength and that the future of the collective system would be assured. The Government, not perhaps wholly uninfluenced by the Peace Ballot, plumped for the second and more heroic course and Sir Samuel Hoare 299 made his famous speech; but they took that heroic course with a reservation, and that is the root of all the troubles which have followed. They said that they would support any sanctions under Article 16 provided that they were collective, but they also said that they would refuse military sanctions and—what was far more fatal—they said that in no circumstances would they allow the situation to involve this country in war.
Just follow the inevitable consequences of those decisions. It now appears that they pledged themselves even more definitely in that sense to M. Laval. Why was this attempt to combine the advantages of the high moral line (so triumphantly capitalised in the General Election) with "safety first" so fatal? The reason was given unanswerably by the Prime Minister himself in a speech which he made on May 18, 1934, barely a year ago. This is what he said:The moment you are up against sanctions you are up against war. I have probably put in as much work on these subjects as any member of this House for the last twelve years, and one of the many conclusions to which I have been driven is that there is no such thing as a sanction that will work that does not mean war; or, in other words, if you are going to adopt a sanction you must be prepared for war. If you adopt a sanction without being ready for war, you are not an honest trustee of the nation.Why did not the Prime Minister read that speech before he authorised the speech on September 11? There is the root of this whole trouble. He remembered it in 1934, he forgot it in 1935. Of course, that is the truth. One of my quarrels with some of the most enthusiastic members of the League of Nations Union in the past has been that so many of them have refused to face that truth, and some of them still refuse to face it. Though I get some applause for that from the Labour Benches, the Labour Party have been even worse, because while they have demanded sanctions on every possible occasion they have resisted our being in a position to make them effective. They have voted against every increase of armaments during the whole of this year.
When the Labour Party was in office our Government provided for more warships than the Conservatives had done.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
Once the Government embarked on sanctions and at the same time said that they would avoid war, they were doomed—at any rate when dealing with a realist like Signor Mussolini. They were first forced by their astute colleague M. Laval to transfer their weight from the high horse of League principle to a mere donkey called "Sanctions with the consent of the aggressor"; that is, of taking no action which could have a really decisive effect. Then, when the logic of their own position and world public opinion drove them to the verge of oil sanctions, the game was in Signor Mussolini's hands. He had only to threaten war and the Government were bound to run away.
I remember listening with dismay to Mr. Neville Chamberlain's Election broadcast on November 3. In that address he denounced Mr. Lloyd George and inferentially the League of Nations Union and a number of others, including myself, for having had the temerity to face the facts about sanctions and to declare that if it was necessary to give effect to the policy of September 11 we would support severance of economic communications between Italy and East Africa, if that policy commanded adequate support from other Members of the League. What did Mr. Neville Chamberlain say? He asked scornfully: "What does that policy mean?". He said: "It means war. Why? Because Signor Mussolini himself says so." That was said in the middle of an attempt to coerce a declared aggressor. Mr. Neville Chamberlain is a resolute and sincere man, but if he thinks that that is the way to conduct an encounter with a realist like Signor Mussolini in an era of power diplomacy, it was inevitable that he should be speedily disillusioned. It was a direct invitation to Signor Mussolini to treat our policy as the bluff that it was, because it showed where the Government really stood.
Mussolini then proceeded, with the help of M. Laval, to present his pistol to our heads, and the Government incontinently ran away. He threatened, through suitable channels, to attack the British Fleet if oil sanctions were imposed, and the Government retired. But they ran away in the most fatal possible manner, by offering to Mussolini, the declared aggressor, what looks on the map like half Abyssinia in order to get 301 him to make peace. It would not have been half so bad if we had offered him concessions on British territory, if we had been willing to make sacrifices ourselves for the sake of peace and to meet the crying and indeed poignant needs of the Italian people for raw materials, for markets for room for a rapidly expanding people. That would have been justice, for Italy has a case against the rest of the world, if she has no case against Abyssinia. What injured us so fatally—in the Dominions, in India, in Egypt, in Africa, in the United States, because we have been gravely injured everywhere—is that not only did we run away from a threat but we offered to buy off the aggressor at the victim's expense.
What are we to do now? That is the crucial question. And the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House does not seem to me to give an answer. The ill-starred plan is dead and the Government say they are going back to the policy of September 11, but 'that does not get us out of our fundamental difficulty. It only puts us back into the middle of it. Does Signor Mussolini's threat still govern the situation? If he presents the pistol again are we going to run away again? We cannot escape that question. Are we going to say that we will not apply any sanction even though supported by a sufficient number of League Members to make it economically effective, if Mussolini makes it clear that he will retaliate against, it by going to war? We are going to have to answer that question. If so, if we do that a second time, we may as well not only retire from Geneva because the policy which we invited the League to adopt last September will be dead, but we must prepare to meet in due time the most tremendous attack on our Empire by the expansionist Powers, for the whole world has read the recent peace offer as proof that we have gone soft and. are unwilling to fight vehemently either for the League or ourselves.
The real question the Government have got to decide, that League supporters have got to decide, that this House has got to decide, is whether, if we are once more presented with the alternative of fighting for the principles on which we took our stand and the Empire took its stand last September, we will accept 302 that challange or run away again. That is the question we have got to answer. There, as I see it, is the stark and un-escapable truth. I do not believe that Mussolini is bluffing. I hope he may be but he has never clone so yet. I think we must face the fact that Mussolini—who, for all his aggression, is a very remarkable man—may feel that if sanctions are to be imposed which will be decisive in causing his defeat he will prefer to go down fighting against France and ourselves, or if possible against ourselves, than lamely to retreat. Having embarked 250,000 men on his African crusade he would rather yield to overwhelming force than go to a lingering death or meet another Adowa. He would rather end it quickly by a smashing blow from the air at our fleet which will either give him Egypt or the Suez Canal—a most improbable event—or lead to the necessity of a prompt armistice on League terms imposed by this country in order to save his East African Army from disaster once it was bottled up in East Africa and deprived of supplies. That is the situation, as I see it, which will confront us, and the easy generalities that fell from the Government Bench do not answer it at all.
The one thing we cannot do is to go back to the "safety first" policy that we have endeavoured to pursue since September last. We ought never to have made that speech unless we were prepared for the consequences. Are we prepared to meet the consequences? I do not think we can go on sheltering much longer behind France. France is in a far more dangerous position than ourselves. We took the lead in September. We hold the decisive card in our hands—the control of the canal. The responsibility for primary initiative rests with us. If we are deserted by most of the other important Powers, well and good. We shall have vindicated our honour and can reconsider our position. Nobody suggests that we should take unilateral action. But unless we go back to Geneva ready to support any sanctions which will be effective in making Mussolini stop hostilities and come to a real peace conference, and show that we shall not shrink from possible consequences if enough other Powers stand beside us, we cannot retrieve our position either as a League nation or as a nation at all. We shall only sit at Geneva talking, leaving 303 Abyssinia and geography to deal with the aggressor.
I admit that it is a horrible dilemma, especially for those in a position to weigh all the possible consequences. But, speaking for myself—and in this I do not endeavour to suggest that I speak for anybody else—I have been painfully and reluctantly driven to the conclusion that, despite all the risks involved, risk of war in the Mediterranean, risk of grave developments in Central Europe and the Far East, risk of division at home, the right course for us is to go forward. Grave as these risks are, the risks of the other course are far graver, the breakdown of what remains of the collective system, the disintegrating effect of an abandonment of the policy of September 11 on the Dominions, the disillusionment in India and the Empire, the driving of the United States back to isolation, the encouragement of the dictatorships and, the most serious risk of all, the loss of our national self-respect and honour. If we face the risk of a limited war now, I believe we may never have to incur it, but if we run away it may make it inevitable that we should have to face the risk of a second universal war later on.
Only one word in conclusion. If we have to make up our minds that we shall stand by our guns—the policy of September 11—whatever it costs, I do not mean that we should abandon our efforts for a peaceful settlement. But we must change our approach. We must resume the opening made by the late Foreign Secretary when he talked about raw materials at the beginning of his reign. Italy has vital needs. Her pre-war emigration, I repeat in your Lordships' House, was 670,000 people a year. To-day it is nil, and her population is increasing by 400,000 a year. We must show that, while we resist her attempt to solve her problems by unprovoked aggression on Abyssinia, we are ready to try to meet these in other ways by reopening the channels of trade or facilitating emigration elsewhere, and by being willing to make some sacrifices to that end ourselves. That is the real road to peace not with Italy only but perhaps with other Powers. And let us not forget that we have another obligation—that is, to end the slave trade in Abyssinia. If we have to deal with Italian aggression first, we have also to see that the 304 League's plan for the internal reform of Abyssinia is carried out afterwards. Mussolini first, Abyssinia afterwards. Truly it has been said that the way of the transgressor is hard, but the way of a loyal Member of the League of Nations is nearly as difficult.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, after the very disarming speech made by the noble Viscount who leads the House I do not propose to say any of the things I came to the House prepared to say this afternoon. He has admitted frankly that a blunder has been committed. The sacrifice has been made. Whether or not the Government realise the gravity of the consequences that may follow from that blunder, which were so well pointed out by the noble Marquess who has just spoken, I do not know, but I for one have no wish to rub in the character of what has been done when the error has been so frankly admitted. These proposals are dead, and the less said in burying them the better. I am very sorry that Sir Samuel Hoare, in the condition of health in which I know him to have been at the time, ever allowed himself to be drawn into a discussion with M. Laval on these very grave matters. He has paid a heavy price for having done so. I recognise fully the temptation to the Government, when they received these startling proposals, to put loyalty to an esteemed colleague before the higher, graver issues which were involved. I recognise the temptation. I am sorry they yielded to it. I hope the consequences of that action may be a lesson both to them and to future Governments in similar circumstances.
In spite of everything that the noble Viscount has said, the whole matter still remains to me completely incomprehensible. I suppose one never can understand why people make blunders of this sort, but as all the motives of all who acted in the matter were of the highest—that I admit freely; as the mistake has been admitted, as the Government have accepted my noble friend Lord Davies's Resolution; it seems to me that there is nothing more for their friends to say except: "As soon as possible, try to mend the situation." But, as all previous speakers have referred to what they call the lessons to be drawn from this crisis, I want to submit to your 305 Lordships just two considerations in that respect. The first has reference to the formula—in my opinion a mistaken formula—with which the Government in the last few weeks have approached the consideration of this situation. I think it was a mistake to speak about three parties to the issue: the League and the two combatants; a mistake, because that formula seems to place those three parties in a position of equality. In effect, the League is not a party to this dispute; the League is an arbitrator in a dispute between two parties the irreconcilable character of which is shown from the fact that the League is called upon to deal with it. It was impossible to suppose that you could ever find a solution which would be acceptable to those two irreconcilable parties as well as the League.
I think it was partly due to the fact that they approached the question under that misapprehension that the consequences have been what they have been. It would have been a better formula if the Government had said: "Failing agreement between the two parties, we will help the League to find what is, in the opinion of the League, a just and fair settlement which ought to be accepted by both." If their offers of conciliation failed and the proposals held by the League to be just to both parties were rejected and a policy of coercion were forced upon the League under Article 16, then the only thing that the Government could do was to say, in the noble Viscount's words: "We are prepared, and we are ready to take our Part under that Article and to do that which we are pledged to do, and if other countries refuse to support us in so doing they must take the responsibility for the failure of the coercive policy." The facts which the noble Viscount has put before us may have been a justification for not pressing a coercive policy which other countries were not prepared to accept, but it was no justification at all for the proposals for which the Governments of France and Great Britain for a time made themselves responsible.
The other consideration that I want to submit to your Lordships has reference to the procedure which was adopted, and I am glad to know that the noble Viscount admits that it was a mistake. It was a mistake, having been charged by the 306 League to investigate the possibility of conciliatory proposals, to discuss those proposals in the secrecy of a Minister's office and to send them out without any further consideration by other Members of the League. The only way in which League procedure can work successfully is in accordance with the principle on which it is built up, the principle of public discussion in open forum and in the presence of the representatives of all nations of the world. Now it is perfectly obvious, from the criticisms which have been raised against these proposals, that they would never have stood the test of a public discussion, and if they had ever been submitted, before being passed on to the parties for discussion at the Council Table, the Government would have been saved the humiliation of having to put in its White Paper the admission that it had instructed its representative in Addis Ababa to bring the strongest possible pressure to bear to get Abyssinia to accept proposals which had found no favour in any part of the world except in quarters admittedly hostile.
I venture to submit those two considerations to your Lordships in the hope, especially after the speech made by the noble Viscount, that a procedure of that kind, a procedure of secret discussion between two individuals in a Government office, will be abandoned and that the Government will return to the proper procedure of discussion in open forum at Geneva in the hearing of all the nations of the world.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, it seems to me that Sir Samuel Hoare has been grossly ill-used. It seems to me that if he is to resign, the whole Government must resign. Never in all my Parliamentary experience, which now extends over thirty years, have I seen such an extraordinary spectacle. I do not plead the cause of Sir Samuel Hoare; he can plead that for himself, though I admire him and know that he has faithfully served his country. But here are the simple facts. On a Monday Sir Samuel Hoare caused to be transmitted to the Cabinet certain proposals for peace, the main outline of which—not in any detail, but in their broad outline as an exchange of territory—we have heard from the noble Viscount, they knew of before and were expecting. They agreed in their main outline to their being sub- 307 mitted; there is no doubt about that. Those terms did not in the least shock His Majesty's Ministers assembled in Cabinet; "they did not very much like them," is, the phrase, But still, as the noble Viscount pointed out, they did not differ profoundly either from the proposals of the Committee of Five or other proposals which they must have discussed. No; they said: "Well, perhaps it is going a little far," but they agreed to them. They did agree to them. And then the strange thing happens: the French Press, very successfully—a very clever bit of journalism—gets hold of the terms. All at once there is a shriek of horror. For my part, as I shall endeavour to show in a moment, I think the terms are entirely reasonable, nor has the noble Viscount suggested that they are entirely unreasonable.
Why did they throw the Foreign Secretary overboard? What has he done wrong? It appears that they think that the whole of this country is shocked at these proposals. Even the most reverend Primate seemed to think that these proposals, or any similar proposals, for peace were dead. I believe that to be a complete delusion. Talking of facts—we will come to the merits and honour in a moment—I am sure your Lordships will be surprised to know, if you have not heard it, the answer to the riddle: Who was the only candidate in the last Election on the National Government side who doubled his majority? The answer is, the same man who was the only man who stood and on every platform asserted that he was opposed to sanctions in every shape and form. He doubled his majority, and I have not the least doubt that, if you put the issue to the people of this country as it should be put, and as no doubt it very soon will be put—the issue between peace and war and on which side are you fighting—you would find that the experience of that candidate would be repeated all over the country.
One of the most eminent men in this country said to me, only the other day, that he had never seen such an extraordinary instance of mass hysteria. I believe that to be true. I am reminded once again of Lord Macaulay's statement, quoted in the most recent Life of Byron, that nothing is more ridiculous than the spectacle of the British public in one of its periodic fits of morality. Here you have it. All the time they do not want 308 to go along this alley-way at all. It is a dark tunnel down which they are being led, with a red light at the end—the red flame of war—and they do not want to be led down it. The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, made a speech which seemed to me to be of remarkable power, and with every word of which I agreed, except the conclusion; but with unanswerable logic he showed the dilemma in which we were placed. Are we going to regard these peace proposals—not these particular proposals, but similar ones; an attempt to come to an agreement with Italy and the League and Abyssinia—as dead, and go forward with sanctions, or are we to invite Sir Samuel Hoare to come back and allow the Government to remain in office? because I submit that they cannot in honour remain in office, having expelled Sir Samuel Hoare.
The first alternative must infallibly lead to war, and there is only one minor difference that I wish to draw in regard to further efforts. It is not Mussolini, the Prime Minister, with whom we have to deal. The whole Italian nation—King, Queen, Senators and others, man, woman and child—is united in believing in the justice of their cause. Ought we to pursue a course which my noble friend says, and I do not think it will be disputed by the Government, if pursued will infallibly lead to war, not with Signor Mussolini, but with 44,000,000 of a very valiant and determined people? If you put that to this country I am sure the people will say: "No ! that is not what we intended to do. We wanted to show that aggression does not pay, but if you say this is going to lead to war, and a very desperate war, we say No!'"
Before I leave the question of technicalities, and that of popularity or unpopularity, I would refer to the question of what is right and what is wrong. I never put my conscience in pawn to the League of Nations, nor, I hope, does anybody else, but is it really right, in the supposed cause of peace, to precipitate a ghastly war? On whose side will you be? your conscience must ask. On your side there will be not France or any other Great Power. No, we shall fight this war alone. In the first instance, within a few hours, so many thousands of our sailors and of Italian sailors will be dead, while we apparently run no risk. It is war, but it is not magnificent—not for us. Is that to be our policy, and if so for whom? 309 It will be for one-seventh part of the people of a place called Ethiopia, which one-seventh, without dispute, have recently conquered and are now enslaving and oppressing the other six-sevenths. It will be a deadly war, and for the moment the one-seventh will be on our side, though it may be that others will come in against us, and if we pull it off no doubt the one-seventh will be able to enslave the remaining six-sevenths for long years to come. I see a noble friend opposite who has lived in this country, and I do not believe he will disagree with me when I say that these brutal fellows who are enslaving Ethiopia are the only really wicked people left in the world. They will be on our side, and against us we shall have the 'whole of the Italian people, from, top to bottom. And all for what?
I notice that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has left the House, otherwise I would have wished to point out that it is of no use now talking about points of honour. Oh, no, we surrendered that long ago. You cannot turn on your honour like you ton on a tap. You cannot make excuses for non-interference in the case of China and Japan, and now say: "We have got these little Italians in the trap, let our honour function." The point of honour has gone and is dead. It is a point of expediency now. Is it expedient for us to jeopardise the lives of our sailors, who will inevitably die in a few hours if war is declared? Is it wise, is it expedient? I have had an opportunity of talking, as other noble Lords must have had, to various eminent persons who have held high office under the Crown, in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and I have myself presided over the Army Council and the Air Council, and I ask, is it expedient that you should expose the people of this country to these dangers? I say without hesitation that it is not. It is most inexpedient.
It is extremely dangerous. We are not in a position as a country to take up the position which some would ask us to take up, of saying that we will be the guardians of this theory of collective security, even if we are alone. We have not got the strength, by land or sea or air, to do such a thing, and, moreover, when you talk of sanctions imposed against others, has it ever occurred to those who ask for this desperate action to think what sanctions can be applied 310 to us? I do not suggest that if we unfortunately engage in war we shall fail to win through, as we have done by the blessing of Providence a good many times up till now, but I do say this, and I say it with some knowledge, that if you do decide to go forward with a, policy of sanctions leading to war, and say, "Let war come, "you are taking a bigger risk than any statesman has ever taken in the history of this country. I believe you will win, but it will only be by the sacrifice of more blood and treasure than you have ever had to sacrifice before.
Believing that as I do, I would urge his Majesty's Government to abandon the whole theory of sanctions, which have brought you to this pretty pass, and to say boldly that the League of Nations can only be used to conciliate not to compel. Compulsion might have been possible had you brought in all the nations—had the noble Lord, Lord Davies been successful and had he brought in Marshal Foch on his side, and we had had a great international force. Then it would have been possible; but as so many great countries have left the League, as there is no international force, to attempt to use the League of Nations as a means of applying force is a criminal folly. Abandon it. Stick to the League of Nations and conciliation, and abandon sanctions and force.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I find myself a good deal in agreement with my noble friend who has just sat down, although I think he tried to make our flesh creep in certain passages of his speech, but mine refused to. He said that sanctions should be abandoned. Let me amend that sentence by saying that sanctions are now impossible. On a previous occasion I said in this House that sanctions would lead to a very grave dilemma. I did not believe in their practicabilty, and I quarrelled with those supporters of the League of Nations who have throughout declared that Article 16, with the various amendments that were later brought into it, can be implemented and can be made effective. I do not want to repeat the arguments that were so admirably put by the noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches with regard to sanctions, because we know that if they were immediate, unanimous and drastic then there would never be any war at all. But if they are gradual, limited and partial 311 they only act as an irritant, and that is how it has turned out.
There is a further thing to be said with regard to sanctions, and it is this. We have throughout gone on saying that we were friends of the Italian people; we have no quarrel with the Italian people, but we have to enforce sanctions for the good of their souls. That is pure hypocrisy. And no wonder you cannot get the various nations conscientiously to discharge their duty with regard to sanctions. They are not doing it; they are never going to do it. And the result is that I have heard from that part of the Mediterranean that recently stores upon stores have been flowing into Italy. When there is a military war you do not say you love the enemy, you spread all possible falsehoods in the first few weeks in order to inflame public opinion against that enemy, so that everybody will fight against him, and all traders will give up trading with him, and all the nationals of the two countries will be separated one from the other. But to try to carry on a war which is hurtful to the population of a country, and to say at the same time that you have no quarrel with them, is an absurdity in itself. No, sanctions are dead.
I was very much disappointed with the speech of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House. Although I entirely disagree with what is known as the Paris plan I somehow should have respected the Government a great deal more if they had come down to Parliament and said: "We stick to it; we believe in it; we are going to see it through." Instead of that, they come down in an absurdly apologetic mood, throwing over Sir Samuel Hoare. I want just to point to one or two facts with regard to the proceedings, which were by no means clearly explained in the speech of the Leader of the House. He said that Sir Samuel Hoare when he went to Paris was suddenly confronted with these proposals. The noble Viscount is not here, and I do not like to say that that cannot be true, but I venture to doubt it. Did the Leader of the House really intend us to suppose that Sir Samuel Hoare, an invalid on his way for a holiday, went to Paris, suddenly saw these proposals ready-made by M. Laval, and said, "I agree." No, anything so complex as these proposals had to be negotiated some time beforehand.
312 The Foreign Office of course were cognisant of the early drafts of the proposals, and gradually they were framed in such a way that the Foreign Secretary was quite ready to expect that something would be presented to him. But, quite apart from that, why was it so urgent that he should agree to them when he was just going out on his holiday? What was the urgency? That has not been explained. There was no urgency at all. But in any case it is not what occurred on a certain day in Paris while Sir Samuel Hoare was there that is at the bottom of this trouble. It is the vacillating mood that the Government have been in ever since the General Election, in which they have been trying to get away from the policy that they declared to the country. In a very telling passage the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, told us what the Prime Minister's view with regard to sanctions was. Only a year ago I remember perfectly well his saying they were impracticable, as so many countries were out of the League. Why does not he stick to that view? I believe he was quite right. I have always thought that collective action was impracticable. I have always thought you would find that self-interest prevented any corporate action on the part of the Powers, as is now proved to be the case. Because we know now that the oil sanction is to be dropped. Of course it will be dropped. M. Laval knew from the start that he was not going to impose the oil sanction. M. Laval has had the key of the back door in his pocket from the beginning, and anybody could clearly see that.
And now we are told, I see in a message published in The Times on Wednesday, that other nations, especially the South American nations, question the advisability, if there is to be no oil sanction, of continuing the existing sanctions, which are causing them various sacrifices without any prospect in their opinion of achieving the end for which the sanctions were instituted. No, do not let anybody waste breath in urging the Government not to proceed with sanctions, because sanctions are dead. They cannot proceed with them. France is not going to impose the oil sanction, and the others, having tested what sanctions mean, all want to get out of them. Therefore you have a greater 313 dilemma before you than that which the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, foreshadowed.
My noble friend who addressed the House last is inclined to think that the Italian Army may succeed in its venture. I have never thought so. If Signor Mussolini had been left at the start, to use a vulgar phrase, to stew in his own juice, he would have found he had bitten off a great deal more than he could chew. If that is a mixed metaphor, anyhow it is perfectly clear what it means, and it may emphasise my argument outside the walls of this House. It would take this country several years to conquer Abyssinia, and the Italians do not seem to be making any great headway so far. There are stronger things than sanctions, and those are the things that Nature has provided Ethiopia with. Had Signor Mussolini been left alone he would have found that he had taken on a very doubtful task, and very likely he would have been ready to have come to the Council Table. But what have we done? We have irritated him with sanctions, we have had continual movements of the Fleet—why, has never been very clear—and I think we have made the situation infinitely worse than if we had abstained from this collective policy from the start.
If this Government had been a Government that had this devoted adherence to the League of Nations and to the Covenant I could have understood the attempt to carry through this policy, but we have a Government who have always been under suspicion with regard to their loyalty to the League. Just before the General Election, finding that the pressure all over the country was strongly for League action, they were converted for the three weeks of the General Election, and now they have gone back to their original convictions. No, my Lords, that is not a Government that ought to stand, and a Government finding itself in that dilemma, which throws its Foreign Secretary to the wolves, is one that ought not to continue the governance of this country.
I hope we are going to get some sort of advantage out of this particular, I would almost say tragic, dilemma. To my mind it is a great advantage that the idea of Article 16 is now killed. Sanctions 314 are dead, and the League of Nations Union must get to work on seeing how they can eliminate that element from the Covenant. We have learned also that one Foreign Secretary is better than two; I think that is clear. A good many of us emphasised that point when the appointments came up not long ago. I think the Government have learned the lesson that it is not advisable to try to ride two horses. If they are going to admit that adherence to the League is the proper policy, they must submit their proposals, whatever they may be, and with whomsoever they are made, to the League first and not last. And I think the Government have learned that no Foreign Secretary ought to go to Paris when he is off colour.
This dilemma which has shaken the confidence of this country has, of course, damaged the Government, but it has also spread alarm. Whether out of that alarm we cannot get some good I am not so sure. It has shown a very large world opinion in favour of punishing an aggressor or, at any rate, of refusing to reward an aggressor. It has shown a world support of the idea of an international body, and I hope it has convinced the adherents of the League of Nations that they must not stress its powers too far, that they must not expect it to be a body that, by lifting a wand, can stop a war, but that they ought to use it as a body to which disputes can be put, where Ministers can meet, where advice can be given, where dilemmas can be solved, and not as an international body for the governance of the nations of this world by force, be it economic or be it military. If these lessons have been learned this tragedy may have done some good. The Government can take no credit for it, however, and I think that up to this very last moment they have cut a deplorable figure.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, I know none of your Lordships to whom I delight more in listening than to my noble friend who has just sat down. He has such a, delightfully independent mind, one that does not agree with anybody else at all, and one to which it is always attractive to listen. But I do feel, both with regard to him and with regard to my noble friend Lord Mottistone, one great curiosity: they do not appear to regard the question of 315 whether this country is under any obligation after signing a Treaty at all. They ignore altogether the fact that we did sign the Treaty of Versailles, which contains the Covenant of the League of Nations, that we are bound to certain obligations by that signature, and that we have got to discharge those obligations unless we are going to forfeit our reputation as an honourable nation.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Even if that were true, which it is not, it does not justify you at all. The fact that you have broken your word once does not make it any less heinous to break your word again. The argument is really in contempt unless you are going to say the whole Treaty has been abrogated. We have never said so. We have continually acted on the principle that the Treaty binds us, and we are bound to go on acting on that principle. I feel that the whole of this discussion is so dominated by the fact of the Foreign Secretary's resignation that it is very difficult to discuss it in the way in which perhaps, but for that event, one would have been disposed to discuss it. In particular, it is not worth while—at least I think not—going into any close examination of what was proposed in the so-called Peace Plan of Paris, but it is perhaps worth noting that unquestionably it was a complete desertion of our obligations to Abyssinia and of our obligations as a Member of the League of Nations.
Various statements have been made about what the peace plan actually meant, but I think it was well summarised in one of those very remarkable articles that The Times newspaper has recently been publishing when it said that, in effect, it proposed to hand over about half Abyssinia to Italy and, with respect to the rest, it was to be put under League control in which Italy would have a very large voice. In exchange for that the only advantage that was to be given to Ethiopia was an outlet to the sea, and 316 we understand now that, under certain circumstances, that was to be a camel track and not a railway. No one can possibly maintain that that was a fair exchange of territory or anything of the kind. It is not possible to maintain that it was, and to my mind the situation, though, as I say, I do not want to go back on it in detail, is rendered very much worse by the telegram to Addis Ababa in which undoubtedly our representative was directed to use his whole influence to prevent a rejection of the plan by the Negus. My noble friends are no doubt much more familiar with diplomatic usage than I, but I should have thought a telegram of that kind communicated to the Negus could only have one signification—"If you do not agree our whole interest in you is gone." I think that to do that was a very strange proceeding, and it seems to me quite impossible to justify it.
If we are bound, as we are bound, by the Covenant of the League, Article 10 seems to me absolutely precise. I quite agree you may have some arguments about exactly what Article 16 means, but that is not in issue at this time. It is not a question of sanctions as far as this part of the transaction is concerned. The whole question is, were we justified in trying to use our influence and to use pressure to force the Negus to accept a particular solution, and at the same time send a telegram saying, in effect—so at least I read it—to Italy: "If you will agree we will abandon sanctions altogether"? The provisions of Article 10 are very precise. That Article pledges every Member of the Leagueto respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League.Respect and preserve Put aside for a moment the question of preserving, and deal only with respecting. Who can say that this proposal respected the territorial integrity and political independence of Abyssinia? It is impossible to argue that, it seems to me. Incidentally, though I do not attach too much importance to it because I am quite sure that it would raise questions of a character that I do not desire to raise, it seems to me equally impossible to reconcile the proposal with the many statements that the Government have made, that they do, unlike my noble friends Lord Ponsonby and Lord 317 Mettistone, regard themselves as bound by every part of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which they propose to maintain. I do not see how the proposal can be justified in any way.
I noticed several references to the proposals made by the Committee of Five. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with an analysis of those proposals and compare them with the Paris proposals. The point is that they were made before the war broke out. They were made in order to prevent the war breaking out. Even supposing they went some way towards interfering with the political independence of Abyssinia, it was not in obedience to external aggression, it was in order to try and appease the quarrel which had not yet reached that stage when external aggression was to be feared that those proposals were made. It was an entirely different case to that with which we are now dealing. That is not only a technicality; it really runs through the whole conception of the Covenant. The Covenant does not aim at forcing this or that nation to accept a particular solution which the Council or Assembly of the League may desire or may approve. It aims at saying: "You are not to try and take the law into your own hands and by force and violence compel your adversaries to accept your view of the case."
That is the very foundation of the Covenant, and if any one will read the Covenant I am sure he will agree with me. It is a purpose with which I am sure my noble friend cordially agrees. He does not agree with the method but with the object, which is to get rid of the old power diplomacy amid power action and the claim that you are entitled to force your view of what is right on another country by warlike means. That is the whole thing. It is perfectly legitimate for the Assembly or any other body to suggest means to avoid war, but, once war has taken place, the first thing is to stop it and, if possible, to force the aggressor back to his own territory and out of the territory which he has invaded. That seems to me to be the position, and therefore I deeply regret that these proposals were ever entertained for a moment. The consequences, I am afraid, are bound to be serious.
318 I welcome, if I may be allowed to say so, the very interesting and eloquent speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House, and if accept with gratitude the conclusions which he pointed out and the advantages which he thinks may still be gained from these events. But I cannot doubt that the effect will be to make it much more difficult to induce the Government of Italy to take a more reasonable view, as I think, and as we all think, of the situation than they take at present. I cannot help feeling that it has put into the hands of Signor Mussolini—I only take him by name; I am ready to admit he speaks for his country—or into the hands of Italy, let me say, a real argument, almost the first they have had—namely "How can you try and force us to accept any solution which is not in accordance with the peace plan which you yourselves thought reasonable and moderate?" I think that the best that could be done has been done in the dramatic repudiation of this proposal, emphasised by what I, personally, deeply regret, the resignation of my right honourable friend Sir Samuel Hoare, but, I am afraid, it is bound to have an ill effect.
I was profoundly interested by the speech of my noble friend Lord Lothian. I do not disagree with his analysis of the situation, except, if he will allow me to say so, I think that I should start at the other end to that from which he started. I feel myself that the fundamental cause of our troubles in this matter, and in other matters connected with it, has been that the Government do not really accept fully what this great international experiment means. The whole point of it is an effort by collective influence, and ultimately collective action, to establish peace. That is the point of the League and it is prodigiously important. It is by far the most important object that foreign policy could possibly have. If we really could succeed in establishing peace—I know there are many of your Lordships who have grave doubts whether it can be done, but I do not think there is anybody in this House who would doubt that if it could be done—the advantage to this country and the world would be prodigious.
I know there are a few eccentric people who tell me that war is a good thing, and that kind of nonsense, but 319 practically I do not think one would find any of them in your Lordships' House. Therefore it is the greatest possible interest we have, and if we believe that the League is the right way to do it, or the best way to do it, we ought to strive for it with all our force. I confess that I have a little doubt whether that point of view has ever been fully accepted by the Government machine. That is where I feel that it is the same argument as that of my noble friend Lord Lothian, only it starts, if I may say so, at the other end of it. If some of our other interests were threatened—let us assume a threat to Gibraltar—would my noble friend Lord Mottistone have made the kind of speech which he made just now? Of course he would not. He would not dream of drawing a great picture of the terrible dangers which we were going to incur. He would regard that as contemptible, if it was a question of defending some part of our territory. He would say: "Certainly; of course we must go and do it, and we have got to go through with it, whatever happens." But he does not take that view when it comes to the cause of peace. That is where he and I profoundly disagree.
That is the real thing. He may say, of course: "I do not believe in your plan of peace at all." That is a different matter. He was a member of the League of Nations Union at one time, but he has rather lapsed since then. But if, like the Government, you say you do believe in it, and you think it is the right plan, you ought to go through with it and carry it it through, whatever happens and at whatever cost. That is why I hear with a little anxiety this perpetual talk of fear of Italy, fear of what Italy may do if we strengthen the sanctions, or even if we preserve the sanctions as they are. I cannot help feeling that that is rather a deplorable way of looking at the thing, if you really believe that these interests are of supreme importance.
I cannot help believing still, as I am afraid I have more than once had the honour of telling your Lordships, that a strong, clear policy is what is needed in this matter. I agree most fully there with Lord Lothian. I believe that we ought to say quite definitely and clearly: "We are going through with whatever is necessary in order to stop aggression.
320 That is what we believe is the essential thing to do, and we will go through with it"—not by ourselves, because that is not part of the scheme, but with others, assuming we can get others to join us in sufficient numbers to make success practically certain.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
In human affairs one cannot make anything absolutely certain, but I will say with such support as to make success practically certain. That is the conception. I know a great deal is said about the French attitude. It is said that they will not do this and that they will not do the other. I dare say that is said on better means of information than I have; but I have taken some considerable trouble to find out what is really the state of opinion in France and what is the state of opinion even in the Government of France, and I am satisfied that they are as determined as the Government here to stand by the League. I am satisfied of that and I am satisfied that, if we go on with the. League and, as part of the League, agree to take any action which we think it right and which the League thinks is right, there is no question that, if we were attacked, we might rely upon the defence of France with all her strength. That is the opinion, about which I may be wrong, which I have formed after such inquiries as I am able to make.
One word more. I was delighted to hear the phrases of my noble friend Lord Halifax referring to the visits of Foreign Ministers to one another, and to what I may venture to call, I hope not disrespectfully, the confabulations of Ministers in various Capitals. I cannot help thinking that they have produced very little good result. They have been, unfortunately, common in these last few years, but I cannot think that they have had any adequate result. I was interested to hear my friend Lord Ponsonby express a disbelief, worded with his usual courtesy, in the possibility of the theory that this was a sudden surprise sprung upon our Foreign Minister when he arrived at Paris. I confess that I share his scepticism on the point. I cannot believe that it can have been that. We all read in the newspapers that, for months or weeks before the visits took place, one 321 of the officials of the Foreign Office had been having elaborate consultations in Paris with the officials of the Foreign Office in Paris. What were they talking about? Were not they talking about this very thing—the possibility of some division of Abyssinia by which, by giving a large part of Abyssinia to Italy, one might put an end to the war?
I cannot help thinking that that is what they were doing, and, although I accept it, of course, I confess I was startled beyond words when my noble friend said that the Foreign Minister went to Paris, knowing that he was going to meet the French Foreign Minister, but that he had no instructions whatever as to what lie was to say supposing the question (which everybody knew was a burning question in France) of possible terms of peace was raised. I accept it, of course, from my noble friend. He tells me that it is so and I suppose it must be so; but all I can say is that when I hear, as I sometimes do hear, some of my noble friends explain that the great danger of allowing a Labour Government to come in is that they would be so totally incompetent to transact delicate negotiations of that kind, I confess I shall regard that criticism with a little more suspicion in the future than I have done in the past. Not only were there no instructions, but there appear to have been no communications for the forty-eight hours during which the Foreign Minister was in Paris. There is the telephone: he does not seem to have telephoned. There is the telegraph: he does not seem to have telegraphed. It is a most extra ordinary thing. I accept it if my noble friend tells me it is so, but it is the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened, I should suppose, that a Foreign Minister goes to a foreign Capital and enters into a discussion of the utmost possible importance, yet does not inform the Government here what he is doing, or what he has been asked to do, or anything of that kind, but suddenly fires off at the end of the transaction an entirely novel set of proposals and he himself goes off to Switzerland. That does seem to me to be a state of things which is almost—I will not say incredible, 'because I am bound to accept it, but the most extraordinary chapter in diplomatic history that I think has ever occurred.
322 I personally dislike these confabulations. I do not think they answer. They became very much the fashion in the earlier part of the life of the National Government, but I always distrusted them. They had their climax in the celebrated meeting at Stresa, which I personally think did infinite harm and no good at all. It really is a kind of reversion to the old conception of diplomacy of the eighteenth century, or the nineteenth century even, when great and distinguished statesmen met in a secret room and settled the fate of Europe. I do not believe that can be done. I very much hope that after what my noble friend said about it we have seen the last of that species of negotiation. If you are going to have a collective system that means only negotiations, you cannot expect to make anything of it if you are going to have separate negotiations which are then presented to the assembled nations at Geneva and they are asked to accept them. I believe in what my noble friend the Earl of Lytton said about the guarantees of publicity at Geneva. I believe they have produced admirable results and I hope that my noble friends are going back to that system.
There is one other thing I would like to say. I found myself in some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. I think it was he who asked what was the use of professing friendship for Italy when pressing for sanctions. I rather agree. It may be true, but it is not the kind of thing that will be believed. I hope very much that we shall adopt a more reticent attitude with regard to the Italian Government. If the whole claim is right, they have committed a grave international crime. They have been so adjudged by a unanimous vote of the nations assembled at Geneva. I do not think it is right to go to them continually and say: "We wish very much to make friends with you again. Will you not tell us how much of Abyssinia you will be content with?" I do not believe that is the right way of dealing with the situation. I should have thought it was a case for silence, letting everybody know that you are perfectly prepared to accept any proposals made to you for peace and that you will accept them with the greatest joy if they are at all reasonable, but not perpetually making proposals of your own. It is not 323 that I have any pride in the matter, or that I think it beneath our dignity to do that, but I do not think it will secure the desired result. I believe the only result will be to make the other party to the negotiations think that you are weakening in your position and that a little more show of strength will force you to accept his whole view.
My noble friend Lord Ponsonby said again, and I do not quarrel with him at all for repeating it, that sanctions are dead, that sanctions are impossible, and that therefore we must now abandon them altogether and try to establish a League which, if I understood him rightly, will never have any force at the back of it. I am quite certain that that is a dream which has no prospect of fulfilment. I am quite certain there is not a Power in Europe that would look at such a proposal. I am afraid that our experience shows both in the Far East and in this matter that mere adjuration, mere disapproval is not sufficiently strong to restrain a predatory Power which is really anxious to carry on a predatory war. I am sure if we are going to adopt that kind of policy it means the end of this experiment in international co-operation. I do not believe a League could survive for a moment on those lines. That means, as it seems to me, and as the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, said, that you would have an inevitable recrudescence of the conditions which led to the 1914 war. I see no conceivable reason why it should not. The same causes, as far as I can tell, are operating to-day in precisely the same way as before that date, and unless you can find some new means of controlling them they are bound to have the same result as in 1914. That is a situation I cannot contemplate with any degree of calmness. Therefore I am very glad to hear from my noble friend who leads the House that the Government at any rate have no thought or idea of proceeding with a policy such as the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, would approve.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, in one or two, and in fact in a whole series of analogous discussions, it has fallen to my lot to follow immediately or with a very brief interval my noble friend Lord Mottistone. I have, perhaps presumptuously, once or twice attempted to qualify one or two of his brilliant 324 generalisations. He tells us he has special opportunities of learning the latest information from Italy. I have myself some knowledge of that country, although I am not able to contest with him in more recent elucidation of events. I can only say that when I left Italy in April of the present year the sound opinion of the country so far as I was able to appreciate it—and I had good opportunities—was against the African adventure. If, of course, you can make a whole nation believe that they are menaced and unjustly treated it is perfectly natural that they should rally to the national flag, and all honour to them for doing so. But it was not to speak of that that I rose, but rather to speak on the Resolution.
We now have that Resolution in three forms. The first form I should certainly have found myself unable to accept. The second form I found sympathetic, but as we could only have a hypothetical knowledge of what might have been secured by Italy by peaceful negotiation it appeared to me that there was no basis for the comparison which was made in the Resolution as it was then drafted. The Government have already adopted the Resolution in its present form and I can only follow their lead, but I should have preferred the first part of it to end with the words "inconsistent with the principles of equality and fair dealing" and then to put in a semi-colon, because as it stands it necessarily opens up a discussion on the League of Nations and the obligations which we have incurred in connection with the Covenant. There is, to many of us, an apparent contradiction which I will try to put before your Lordships in the fewest possible words.
We have taken a firm stand at Geneva in favour of upholding the Covenant and the vast majority of the nations who are Members of the League adopted a similar attitude, but we limited our obligation by subordinating it to collective action. The clear statement made by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House renders unnecessary any expression of opinion on proposals which have now been abandoned. I welcome, of course, the view which he takes that it should not be the responsible Ministers who undertake negotiations abroad,, having several times spoken in that same sense 325 myself, and I deplore, as I have no doubt many of your Lordships must do, that Sir Samuel Hoare should be under the necessity of making himself the scapegoat of circumstance. On the other hand we cannot, think, altogether avoid discussing the nature of these obligations under the Covenant.
First I would ask, can we honestly persuade ourselves that the League itself did not ignore its obligations as laid down in Articles 10 and it of the Covenant prescribing the action to be taken in case of that threat or danger of war which Ethiopia had pointed out to the League as existing in January and again in March of this year? Their application would obviously not have been welcome to some Members of the 'League, which was induced to accept as an adequate interpretation of the procedure contemplated in the Articles two successive commissions of conciliation from which the real issue, the menace of war, had been in practice excluded. Ethiopia, however, confiding in the League, had withdrawn her appeal. Through recourse to such alternative action many months were lost. His Majesty's Government, it is true, expressed their grave concern at the increased piling up of armaments, but the prospective aggressor, continuing without any protest on the part of the League itself to assemble troops and war material on the spot, might even have been led to assume that there was no serious intention to intervene. Then, before the League had taken action, followed that resort to aggression which, according to Article 16 of the Covenant, constitutes an act of war against all Members of the League, entailing the immediate imposition of economic pressure, which may be postponed as regards certain Members in certain particular circumstances. The full application of sanctions was also postponed as regards all Members of the League, while it was hoped some form of settlement might be worked out. Meanwhile the Italian Government announced that their application to certain categories Would be regarded as an unfriendly act.
Now an unfriendly act, in diplomatic language, is interpreted as implying a tension of relations antecedent to a rupture threatening to disturb the good understanding between nations on which peace depends. We are therefore faced with 326 this anomalous position. On the one hand there has been a definite act of war against all Members of the League. On the other hand, if the Members of the League carried out strictly the plans laid clown in the Covenant, they would be regarded by Italy as committing an unfriendly act and thus endangering the peace which it is the primary object of the League to maintain. That is the dilemma which we have to face: fidelity to the League may entail the danger of war. We have to face that dilemma and find the way out of it. For many other reasons it appears, however, evident to me that the League will have to be re-modelled in many respects and reconstituted if it is ever to regain prestige and have real value as an instrument for regulating international relations. In the meantime we have to deal with it as it is. Obviously it would be foolish to regard the League as having a divine origin or even a fetish value, and not to recognise that, like other human institutions, it has its imperfections and its prescriptions may have to be modified to particular exigences and occasions. On the other hand, if a League of Nations is only to be upheld by individual Members so long as it suits their particular interests to do so, if it is to be abandoned, defied, invalidated or weakened by those who at particular moments find its prescriptions conflict with their individual interests, then it has failed to fulfil the spirit in which it was instituted and it may well become an actual danger to those who have conscientious scruples about fulfilling their own obligations.
That brings me to my final sentence. It is possible that conditions in the modern world may make it less easy for us to-day to conform to the old adage which has so long governed the policy of this country: "Fear God and take your own part." It may be that there are imperative reasons, unappreciable by the ill-informed, which limit our independence. But no one can ignore the strong feeling to-day in the public at large, which has been intensified by the handling of the Italo-Abyssinian question, that our foreign policy has been too long constantly subordinated to the interests and exigencies of another country—to which we wish nothing but good and with which we are ready loyally to co-operate in certain eventualities. In other respects, however, there is no doubt 327 that the country at large desires to reassert its own liberty of judgment as to what is just and what is opportune, and to deal with all other nations from a more objective and unprejudiced angle of view. I trust that His Majesty's Government will not lose sight of this point, on which I gather there is a very strong feeling in the country, when they lay down the line of their future policy.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
My Lords, I had intended, when I came down to your Lordships' House, to oppose the Motion which was put forward and to give my hearty support to His Majesty's Government. My excuse 'for intervening in a debate like this is that I thought that in all probability I was the only one of the speakers in this or previous debates who had actually walked across Abyssinia and had learned at first hand something of the conditions in that country. I have seen—and I draw my impressions not from second- and third-hand evidence, but from first-hand—the raiding bands come back from countries of independent tribes unchecked and, I think, unreprimanded, and I have seen the slaves in Abyssinia. Nothing in the course of this debate has surprised me more than the light and, I might almost say, tolerant way in which so many people seem to regard slavery as long as it is practised by Abyssinians.
When I was in that country—which was several years ago, but I understand that conditions have altered very little, and that not for the better, since then—there were existing in very many villages, and even as far as Addis Ababa, the remaining mutilated soldiers of the Italian forces. If your Lordships want to get to understand what the feeling of the Italians is, I think you ought to ask yourselves what our feelings would have been if it had been a British force. The Italian force, under the orders of its Government, had proceeded to battle, had fought a most gallant fight, as acknowledged by friend and foe alike, and when the advance guard and the whole of the main body had been killed, the remainder had surrendered. Then, in cold blood days afterwards, hundreds of the Italian and native troops had been shot down and the whole of the remnant of the native troops, over 2,000 of them, had been herded together and had their right hands and left feet cut off and the 328 stumps dipped in boiling wax, and been allowed to crawl away. Most of them died, but many of them existed for years; you may have seen that twelve were released by the Italians the other day. I ask your Lordships: if it had been, shall we say, the King's African Rifles who had suffered such a ghastly crime, do your Lordships think that it would have taken forty years for us to redress that wrong?
I have also, from experience at first hand, learned how far the writ of the Emperor ran. Although I and my friend were armed with Government passes from the very highest authority, we were held up and made prisoners. Why? Because then, as now, in a large part of that country the writ of the Negus only runs just as far as the bullets from his rifles. Accordingly I, and, I think, a large proportion of those with any personal knowledge of the country, have sympathies with the Italians in spite of the follies and wrongs which I know they have committed. It has seemed to me up to now that the attitude of the Government in this matter was perfectly right. They had a mandate from the country to support the League of Nations. I think there can be no question as to that. They have given them one hundred per cent. support. Had they no other mandate at the Election? I can only speak for my own view, but it seems to me that a mandate was given to the Government to "seek peace and ensue it." So much was that the case that I do not believe there was a candidate in East Anglia who did not say, either on the platform or by postcard: "A Vote for me means a vote for peace," and who did not promise that if elected he would beg the Government to use every means in their power not only to keep us out of war, but to see that this deplorable conflict in Africa was stopped at the earliest opportunity.
Therefore, when I saw that peace proposals were put forward, I said to myself: "Here is this second mandate being carried out. The proposals do not seem to me to be all that I should have expected, but, after all, they are a basis, and at all events some peace proposals are going forward." I wish I had been right in what I thought. I believe the nation would have been heartily behind the Government after a little while. I would ask the Government, even now, at 329 the eleventh hour, to reconsider the position and still go on trying to see whether some satisfactory peace terms cannot be thought out. When I say "satisfactory" what do I mean? I do not mean satisfactory to Mussolini and his War Cabinet, and, still less do I mean satisfactory to the Emperor and his Rases. I mean satisfactory to the poor common people, the natives who live in this country. They do not seem to have received any great consideration during the course of this discussion, or indeed in the newspapers. I wonder whether the, mover of this Resolution has taken the pains to find out whether or not the majority of the natives in this territory, which it was suggested should be ceded to Italy, are in favour of such cession; whether they would prefer the rule of a civilised people or the rule of the tyrants who live in Ethiopia. In my experience there are vast portions of that country in which the majority of the inhabitants would make their choice not for the Emperor but for the Italians.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I only desire to make one observation. I do not think it has been mentioned in this debate, but outside there have been charges of betrayal. I think the Government may honestly ignore such charges, and treat them with profound contempt. There has been no betrayal on the part of His Majesty's Government of anybody at all. The only people who can put forward any complaint of having been betrayed are the 11,000,000 simple-minded people, friends of the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, who signed this Peace Manifesto. They are people who imagined they were voting to protect themselves by securing eternal peace, and they are the people who may find themselves called out to fight for the League, for a principle with which they are not concerned, and on behalf of an institution which, in the words of the Prime Minister, is a fallible institution which represents fallible Governments composed of fallible statesmen. These are the only people who have a right to make any charge of having been betrayed.
§ LORD OLIVIER
My Lords, I think it is quite futile, after all that has been said by, Lord Cecil, to make any further reference to the point raised by Lord Cranworth, which has already been made 330 by Lord Mottistone—namely, that the Abyssinians are an infernal lot of savages. Our point is simply this, that the League of Nations gave to Italy full opportunity to put her whole case before the League of Nations, and that Abyssinia begged and prayed her to do so, but that Italy refused, saying that in any event she was going to do what she wanted to do, with or without the approval of Geneva. That is the position which we are still hoping His Majesty's Government will make plain.
With regard to the speech which fell from the Leader of the House, it was a very coherent, consistent and nice speech, but it did not convince us in the slightest degree. I will tell your Lordships why. It happens that my family and that of Sir Samuel Hoare have had contacts for the last four generations, and I could not for a moment suppose that Sir Samuel Hoare had been affected at Paris in the manner which the noble Viscount imputed—namely, with weakness and tremor, so that he assented to a thing which was contrary to his principles. There is nobody for whose fundamental principles I have greater respect than for those of Sir Samuel Hoare, and I am quite sure that he would not do anything so silly and futile. We are quite prepared to believe that Sir Samuel Hoare was hurried, and was confronted suddenly with something or other, but it was not in my conjecture a draft of the proposals. Was it something with regard to the talks which took place between M. Laval and Signor Mussolini in January last? We want to know what it was which suddenly affected him, and so terrified the Government that they said:
"We must support him, and must send a threatening telegram to Abyssinia" There must have been something more than has been suggested by the noble Viscount—namely, that Sir Samuel Hoare was weak and ill, and the Government thought they must support a weakly and sickly colleague; and now they beg pardon of the House for having done so !
Again and again we have been told by Lord Ponsonby and others that sanctions are dead, and again and again it has been said that there is no chance of our getting oil sanctions. Was Sir Samuel Hoare told in Paris that M. Laval was opposed to them? Even so, there was nothing to prevent the League of 331 Nations from going on with the sanctions and seeing what would happen. I want it to go on and see what will happen. The Government have been badly shaken. They say they have now repented of their sins and are prepared to go back to the promises made at the Election—namely, to proceed with the sanctions against unjustifiable violence. I do not know whether we shall get any further opening of the door as to what sudden reasons actuated His Majesty's Government, in relation to these terms, but that is what we want to know. Until we have that, although we admire the loyalty of Sir Samuel Hoare and the loyalty and consideration which his colleagues have shown him in apologising for him, we cannot on the whole accept the case they have put forward as being a sufficient explanation of the whole matter.
That was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby. The more I hear my noble friend speak, especially since he ceased to be the Leader of my Party, the more I admire him, and the more I disagree with him. He seems now to have passed into an atmosphere where angels lead him by the hand, and apparently he seems to think that whatever violence is done to anybody, to the League of Nations or anybody else, those angels will bear him up and no harm will come to him. I am an unfortunate human being who has lived a practical life and I do say that to resist evil is occasionally a useful and necessary thing. We on these Benches think that when you have a man who consistently behaves like a mad bull in a china shop it is time that the other nations of the world put their heads together and dealt with him as they would deal with a mad bull—first of all try to tie him down, and after that, well, we would see what would happen.
But that is what we are trying to do and what the League of Nations is trying to do, and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has repeatedly explained, that is what we had a very good chance of doing until now. One good thing has come out of this débâcle. It has shown that the nation is against the Government when they act in such a foolish and weak manner, and it has shown Signor Mussolini that the whole world is against 332 him. Signor Mussolini cannot say after the present week that it is only England and France; England and France did their best for him, they put forward a scheme which they thought it was possible for him to accept. But the whole world has declared against him, and in that respect the strength of the League of Nations has been consolidated. If only the lead of England, which was so nobly given by Sir Samuel Hoare at Geneva itself, could be re-established, I should not have any despair of getting better terms out of this conflict than could possibly have been got by such negotiation as M. Laval desired.
My Lords, His Majesty's Government have received a great deal of advice to-night. I venture to suggest that some of that advice might well be absorbed, and to add one little item to it. I suggest that they must give a clear lead to the country. It has been urged before that they should not attempt to ride two horses. I do not think the country will stand anything but a clear lead from this Government any longer. It is not very apparent to me from this debate what lead the Government are going to give us. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House has accepted the Motion before us, asking the Government to resume the policy of September, and declaring that that policy was overwhelmingly endorsed by the country at the recent General Election. If there is one thing of which I am certain it is that the recent General Election was a vote for peace, and if this Government think that they are going to lead this country into war for the Covenant of the League of Nations, they are making the mistake of their lives.
And this is no joking matter. We have the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, telling us that he accepts with gratitude the speech of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I am not surprised to hear of his gratitude; it was well due from him to the Government. At the same time, the noble Viscount says that he does not in the least disagree with the analysis of the situation by the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, and he urges the Government to carry through the policy which he represents, at whatever cost. Now I must confess to having listened to the speech of the noble Marquess with great admiration, and it seemed to me to demonstrate very clearly 333 the root difficulty in which the Government are placed. But with one thing, and one thing only, in the speech of the noble Marquess I disagreed. He felt that if necessary we must carry through this Covenant policy right up to the point of war, and he hoped and thought that that might be a limited war. To talk at this juncture of a limited war seems to me to be deceiving ourselves, if not deceiving the people. It is impossible to limit war. A war once started in Europe will know no limits. With that one criticism I agree with almost all that the noble Marquess said. He clearly pointed out that this policy of September, which the Government have just accepted, may lead us into war. If we are going to follow it and follow it faithfully, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, suggested we should do, it may well lead to war, and we have got to face it. I tell the Government that the nation is not behind them in that; the nation will not, go to war for the Covenant.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, in company with a considerable. number of members of your Lordships' House, of members of another place and others, I was one of the signatories of a telegram of support to His Majesty's Government on their new policy some forty-eight hours ago. It was therefore with very deep regret that I learnt at an early hour this morning that they had departed from that policy no sooner than they had adopted it. There was no need for the Government here or elsewhere to appear to-day in a white sheet. If they had stuck to the new policy that had been suggested I think it would have been more in the interests of this country and of the preservation of the peace of the world. I want to draw attention to one or two aspects of the situation which have not, I think, been touched upon to-day. The first is the probable effects of this war being allowed to drag on to an inconclusive, or possibly au all-too-conclusive end.
Assuming that the resistance of the Abyssinians is successful, that they either prevent an Italian advance from getting any nearer to their capital or else succeed in decisively throwing back the Italian armies, I think it is not a very rash assumption that such a success would mean the end of the régime of Signor Mussolini in Italy. I know that there are a great number of people, including 334 possibly a certain number of members of your Lordships' House who are bitter enemies of Signor Mussolini, but while I myself hold no brief whatever for his recent actions, I think we should remember that not so many years ago he saved Italy, and indeed a considerable section of Europe, from Bolshevism, and I cannot see that it would be for the interests either of this country or of European peace that his régime should fall in a short space of time with a resounding crash. For there is no doubt that Fascism would not be succeeded by any form of constitutional government, at least for a long time. It is more likely that some form of Red tyranny would be set up which might in turn be overcome by reaction; but in the course of the internecine warfare which would inevitably ensue in Italy a vast amount of bloodshed and misery would come to pass, and that bloodshed and misery might not be confined to the bounds of Italy but might spread all over Europe, and we should find ourselves in a situation not less serious than that of 1914.
Not only might European repercussions be very serious, but no less serious would be those in other parts of the world, when a coloured people had been successful in resisting the massed attack of one of the great white nations of the world. It would produce in Japan and in various parts of the globe repercussions which would not be to the benefit of the white races. It would render more difficult the working of our already perilous Constitution in India. It would arouse throughout Equatorial Africa fresh subversive movements, such as the so-called Watch Tower and the like, and it would also mean that our own Empire in East Africa would be menaced long after the conclusion of hostilities by vast numbers of Abyssinian irregulars, for the first time armed with modern weapons which we have been carefully pouring into their country. For these reasons I cannot believe that the complete defeat of the forces of Italy is going to be for the advantage of civilisation.
I agree entirely with what one or two immediately preceding speakers have said as to public opinion in this country to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, quoted the case of a certain member of another place who doubled his majority at the General Election because of his unswerving detestation of sanc- 335 tions. Another colleague of my own trebled his majority in a very difficult constituency for exactly the same reason, a constituency which everyone had expected would be lost. There is no doubt that the people of this country want peace, but I think there is very considerable doubt as to whether they want the peace that the League of Nations Union in their ballot imagined they wanted. That ballot was obtained by the most appalling misrepresentation and fraud. People were invited to sign a form, and canvassers in many cases knocked at the door, pushed the form forward, and said, "If you want peace, sign here."
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Earl, but he cannot have seen any of the papers connected with the ballot if he gives that account of it. You had to answer questions, and it was not a question of "signing here" or anything of that kind.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
The noble Viscount's contention is perfectly correct, but in very many cases, as I know, all that happened was that people were invited to sign "Yes" to all the questions. They were asked "Are you in favour of peace?" and "Are you in favour of sanctions?" At that time 95 per cent. of the electors in this country did not know the difference between a sanction and a submarine. They asked: "What is a sanction?" They were told: "It is something which will stop war," and they replied: "Of course we shall sign with pleasure." That ballot was completely fictitious. The eleven million people who signed it were honestly desirous of peace, but the great majority of them had not the vaguest idea of the implications of that to which they were putting their names. There is no doubt the people of this country are not prepared to go to war in defence of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and there is no doubt that any Government that tries to compel them to do so will find itself more unpopular than anything that can be imagined. I only regret that when the Government have made a bold and constructive effort to obtain peace, they have been hoodwinked and bamboozled by this flood of criticism against them. I am quite certain, if they had persisted in their policy, that within a very few weeks, perhaps within a few 336 days, they would have found the bulk of the country behind them.
I regret that it has been found necessary to throw Sir Samuel Hoare to the wolves. He has been butchered, not to make a Roman holiday, but a League of Nations Union holiday. Those of us who disagreed with Sir Samuel Hoare in another place when he was piloting the India Bill could not but admire his steadfast courage and pertinacity. It is a great calamity that the country has lost his services, and that he has been thrown overboard to satisfy popular clamour. We have been given no reason why this new policy was reversed almost at once, except some vague talk about popular feeling. It is quite true popular feeling is in favour of peace, but popular feeling would equally be in favour of any proposals which would be likely to lead to peace. A peace which is going to end in either party being vastly humiliated is not going to lead to a peace which is likely to be permanent. I hope that the Government, in spite of the advice which has been given to them to-night, will still continue to seek out avenues of negotiation and discussion so that this lamentable dispute will be brought to an end before it spreads far wider and before we find ourselves in a European or world war of catastrophic proportions.
My noble friend Lord Snell has asked me to speak last on this side of the House in winding up this debate, and I hope not to keep your Lordships very long at this late hour and after the full discussion we have had. I thought at one time that the Government had not any friends in the House at all, that they had no supporters. The most reverend Primate and members in all parts of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, Viscount Cecil, Lord Lothian and my noble friends behind me have all attacked them. But I am glad to hear that the last three noble Lords at least were prepared to support them if they had resisted the Motion.
If I may refer briefly to the speech of the noble Earl who has just addressed your Lordships, I agree it would be bad for the prestige of the white race if the Italians were driven into the sea by the Abyssinians, which apparently is not impossible, but I submit to your Lordships, and I believe I shall carry general agreement here, that it would be a bad thing 337 for our interests as a great Imperial Power, with millions of loyal coloured subjects of His Majesty, if we could be accused of abandoning the Abyssinians because Abyssinia happened to be an independent kingdom in Africa ruled over by people of the African race. It is most significant that when the alleged peace terms were published some of the strongest criticisms came from India, from such papers as the Statesman and others which have always supported us and shown great loyalty.
We have heard in this debate that sanctions are now impossible. I hope that is not the Government's view, and I would most respectfully ask the noble Earl who will speak presently for the Foreign Office to tell us, what my noble friend Lord Snell also asked in rather different words, what they now propose to do, particularly with regard to sanctions. First of all, are they in favour of keeping on the present sanctions, which apparently are not so ineffective as we were led to suppose in some quarters; and is, it proposed to apply the fuel sanctions, which concern not only oil but coal as well, and metals? In this connection, a great deal of contempt has been thrown in certain quarters on the other nations in this matter of sanctions. May I remind your Lordships of the action and example of Mexico? There is a country that really has little to gain from membership or support of the League of Nations. Mexico is defended by the Monroe doctrine, and is really immune from aggression from Europe. At the same time Mexico is the third country exporting oil in the world, and it has a tremendous lot to lose materially. Mexico has declared that it is prepared to stop its exports of oil. There is one other thing I would like to say about Mexico, and that is that the Mexicans are very gallant fighters and not afraid of being involved in hostilities. Their whole attitude has been unselfish, and is a very good example to everyone.
The noble Marquess on the Liberal Benches, Lord Lothian, if I may respectfully say so, made his speech with the usual ability and interest. As usual he accused the Labour Party of having always voted against armaments and blamed us as far as I could gather for the alleged British military weakness in the Mediterreanean. The facts are these. 338 We have had two Labour Governments since the War and both those Labour Governments voted for more naval shipbuilding than their Conservative predecessors. That is a fact. I myself attacked them on those grounds. I thought they were far too precipitate in laying down warships on the eve of a Naval Conference. That is one of the things for which I attacked the Government that I otherwise supported. I know perfectly well that the noble Earl opposite who is to reply for the Government has something of the same sort on his notes and will have something to say to this effect—and we shall hear it elsewhere before this business is through—"Oh yes, you people call out for support for the League of Nations but you have disarmed Britain and struck the weapons out of our hands by means of which we could give that support." The official policy of the Labour Party, overwhelmingly supported and endorsed and indeed criticised by my right honourable friend Mr. Lansbury in his personal capacity, has been to provide the necessary armaments to enable this country to play her part in a system of collective security, which obviously means that if the economic sanctions and the financial sanctions lead to retaliation by the aggressor Power we are prepared to defend ourselves in conjunction and alliance with other Members of the League, and the Labour Party has always declared that it would provide sufficient armaments to enable us to play our part in such a system of collective security. That is a fact.
That a smashing blow can be delivered at our Fleet in the Mediterranean, as the noble Marquess affirmed, is only repeating the ridiculous rumours that have been floating about in Fleet Street and in the capitals of Europe during the last ten days, and in the Lobbies of Parliament. Those rumours have been, amongst other scares, to the effect that our position in the Mediterranean is hopelessly weak. If that is true, then I see in your Lordships' House two former Secretaries of State for War, the noble Viscount on the Woolsack and the noble Viscount who leads the House. We have also in this House the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Under-Secretary of State for War. They all have a direct responsibility for such a state of affairs if it were true. Since the War for fourteen years the Conservative Party has domi 339 nated every Government, while the Labour Party has only held office as a Minority Government for less than three years. For fourteen years the Conservative Party has dominated the Government of this country and if it is a fact that we are so lamentably weak in the Mediterranean, which we are not, then it is the Conservative Party that is to blame in the matter.
I would say this to the noble Earl who addressed your Lordships last. He says that the people of this country want peace. I can assure him that the people of this country are prepared to defend this country if it were unjustly attacked. I can tell him this: that the people of this country will not thank him for letting it be supposed throughout the world that the great British Empire could be humbled and made to run out of the Mediterranean by the Italians.
The noble Lord said that above all we wanted peace. Therefore he implied, and other noble Lords implied, that we must if necessary abandon the Covenant and everything else. I hope I did not misrepresent him. If I did I am sorry. Then he is in favour, if necessary, of defending ourselves if we are attacked?
I am very glad to hear it. Then if we are attacked in doing our duty by the Covenant is he prepared to help to defend us?
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
I regret to have to intervene. If the policy which I should like to see His Majesty's Government adopt were adopted, it would be of such a non-provocative character that there would be no danger of being attacked by any one. Therefore the question would not arise.
Of course, I accept that. I think the noble Earl at any rate will agree that it is a very bad policy first of all to threaten and then to run away, and above all with the Latins. Do not threaten them, but, above all do not run away. That is what we have done in the case of Mussolini, and I am afraid in consequence we are only at the beginning of this business. We have 340 already had insults from Mussolini and we shall have more insults. We shall next have demands for territory, and in the end the patience of the other Members of the League and of ourselves will be at an end. Then there will be real trouble. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, both referred to this danger of attack. Apparently the theory is something of this kind. I gather it was explained in another place. This also is apparently what was told to the Foreign Secretary when he was in Paris, or it was told some weeks ago to members of the British Cabinet when this Peace Plan was drawn up.
May I very respectfully support the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, and my noble friend Lord Snell in saying that, although we accept the statements of the Leader of the House that he was not privy to this plan before it was put forward, all the facts that we know go to show that it had long been in preparation. Indeed I ventured in the former debate on this subject, just before the dissolution of Parliament, to say that I feared a change of policy on the part of the Government. I was admonished by the noble Viscount on the Woolsack, the Lord Chancellor, but as he is not speaking in this debate I will not repeat the eloquent and burning words that he used on that occasion against me. I am sorry to say I was right. This change of policy was obviously in preparation six weeks or so beforehand, and not only were the experts on Abyssinia, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, has reminded your Lordships, present in Paris for some time negotiating, but the permanent head of the Foreign Office himself was there. I quite accept the statement of the noble Viscount who leads the House that he was not privy to it and I can well understand that he would be the last person to shirk collective responsibility; but it is undoubtedly true that this business was going on and that the Foreign Secretary was not the only Minister concerned.
I would like to support the position put to your Lordships that the throwing overboard of Sir Samuel Hoare does not absolve the Government. I do not want to make Party profit out of this matter. It is far above Parties and far above the fortunes of Parties, but I must say I think the whole Government should have 341 resigned and that noble Lords who adorn the Bench opposite should be on this side of the House. What was it that apparently frightened certain powerful members of His Majesty's Government? The fear, the supposed danger of a separate attack by the Italians upon ourselves in the Mediterranean. The attack may come, bit this talk of our strategical and tactical danger is grotesque. I am sorry the Secretary of State for Air is not present. May I with respect ask the attention of Lord Mottistone, who filled the high office of Secretary of State for Air, to one or two facts I propose to lay before your Lordships, and perhaps he will challenge me if they are not accurate. This is the force available that is to be frightened or alarmed by fear of an Italian attack, the thousands of our sailors who are going to be destroyed in action according to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, if we do our duty and stand by the Covenant of the League.
The British Fleet, which is not all in the Mediterranean now but which can all go there with the exception of a few ships on foreign stations, consists of fifteen Super-Dreadnoughts armed with 15-inch or 16-inch guns, against which the Italians have four old and small battleships of pre-War design armed with 12-inch guns, two of which have been on the reserve for years and I doubt if their engines will turn round. We have fifty-one cruisers; the Italians have twenty-four. We have six aircraft carriers (three in reserve also, but six aircraft carriers in commission) and they are magnificent aircraft carriers too, with very efficient fighting aeroplanes, against the Italians' one. We have 161 destroyers against ninety-four Italian destroyers; and in submarines we are about equal. I admit that all those vessels are not in the Mediterranean, but the great majority could be sent there. As 'regards the Battle Fleet, there is no question at all of the Italians attempting to engage such a force. It would be suicide if they did. That is no exaggeration at all, and everyone who knows the facts will bear me out.
Now it is said that air attack is the danger. We will suppose the Fleet is either at Alexandria or at Haifa. I admit that Haifa is in mandated territory, but if we are attacked we have to defend this mandated territory and 342 therefore we have a right to use Haifa, which has a splendid harbour, one of the finest in the Mediterranean and well protected. Supposing the Fleet is at Alexandria, who is going to attack it and from where? Will Italy send her one miserable aircraft carrier to do it? If so, she will be sunk. It may be said that bombers will fly from the nearest Italian territory. The noble Lord, Lord Cranworth, came to the support of the Government with great gallantry.
The noble Lord gets the worst of both worlds. His opponents attack him and he does not placate his friends. The nearest point from which the Italians could fly is in Lybia. The nearest point (not the nearest aerodrome) in Lybia to Alexandria is 300 miles. The range of the Capron i bombers is 600 miles, that is a 300 mile radius, and they could just do it, but they could not be accompanied by the fighters. It would mean that the bombers would have to go unescorted, and the bombers would be attacked by the fighting aeroplanes attached to the British Fleet. Each battleship and cruiser carries fighting aeroplanes. The aircraft carriers have squadrons of fighting aeroplanes. The Italian bombers would be attacked along the last fifty miles of the route by the British fighting aeroplanes. The nearest point in Italy to Alexandria is Messina, 830 miles. That is out of the question. From the Island of Rhodes to Haifa is 500 miles and from Lybia to Haifa is 600 miles.
The more one examines it, the more grotesque is this idea that the British Fleet could be driven out of the Mediterranean by Italian aircraft. I have heard these stories of the hundred desperadoes who are prepared to commit suicide and to sink the Super-Dreadnoughts. We have some pretty desperate fliers in the naval air arm and if they thought it was a question of our Fleet being driven out of the Mediterranean I think they would give a good account of themselves in the air. The total strength of the Italian Air Force, including school machines, is 1,861, according to the last published figures. The number of our first-line machines alone, not counting instructional and reserve machines, is approaching 1,330.
343 We are told that there are no suitable bases in the western Mediterranean; that we cannot use Toulon because it is too shallow or too narrow to admit our largest ships. All I can say is that the French have now building and well advanced two Super-Droughtnoughts of 26,500 tons and they have just laid down a Super-Dreadnought of 35,000 tons. If it is really the fact that we believed this story, whoever told it to us—namely, that Toulon is unsuitable as a base for the British Fleet (I have been to Toulon and have seen British and French warships entering and leaving it), our Foreign Minister and his advisers should have taken some Marine officers with them, because they would not have believed this story and would have been kept right on the technical facts. I am not a warmonger and I want peace as much as anyone, but I believe we are not going to ensure peace in this world either by breaking our bond or by running away from the first threat that comes. I have tried to deal with that part of the speech of the noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, who spoke with such eloquence from the Liberal Benches.
I would, if I may, put one more question to the noble Earl: What is the position of the former treaties, semisecret or, if you like, treaties registered with the League, that existed between England, France and Italy for the economic exploitation of Abyssinia; and above all, is the noble Earl able to tell us that no secret arrangements exist? When I looked at that map in the library of your Lordships' House—the very large map that is now on the wall showing the effects of the Hoare-Laval plan—one of your Lordships and one of the Bishops asked me what I thought of it. I jokingly remarked "I wonder what we get out of it?" Quite seriously I ask the noble Earl: Is there any arrangement for an economic exploitation of the rest of Abyssinia? I would be very much obliged if the noble Earl would answer that question. I gave notice of it to the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax.
Now may I make what I hope is a constructive suggestion to avoid part, at any rate, of these troubles in the future? This is a matter of domestic politics. Might I suggest very respectfully to the noble Viscount who leads your Lordships' House (and I do this in my personal capacity and not as a member of a 344 Party) that we should consider adopting the system that works very well in the French and American Legislatures, of having Committees of Members of Parliament to watch over foreign affairs and defence? We have had, in this trouble, statements from the Prime Minister of England saying that if only his lips were unsealed there would not be a member of the House of Commons who would not follow him into the Lobby, but he cannot, of course, so he says, tell all that he knows. I admit that there are certain diplomatic matters and certain questions of defence that it is not wise to publish to the world, but I believe there is a case for Committees being set up, of all Parties and of both Houses, with whom Ministers could consult on foreign affairs and on defence questions.
There will not be leakages from such Committees. The reputation of Members of Parliament in this country is very high indeed in that respect; and, in any case, think of the rumours—some of them absurd and harmful rumours—that have been going about since this trouble started ten days ago. You will not get from such Committees more trouble than those rumours have caused already. I do not suggest that these Committees should have executive functions; they should be consultative; but they would enable Ministers to take into their confidence members of all Parties, and Ministers would be able to take their views into consideration. This is an urgent question. It has often been debated. I know the answers which are given to it, that Ministers do not wish to share responsibility, and that sort of thing; but I think something of this kind is needed at present, because there is going to be more trouble over this war in East Africa. I agree entirely with what the two noble Lords who have addressed the House from the Liberal Benches have said on that question. I want some means of informing Parliament and at the same time of enabling Ministers to know what the reactions of public opinion are likely to be.
There is no doubt that the Cabinet were surprised at the uprising of public opinion in the Press and throughout the country. As a fellow Yorkshireman I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Halifax, must have been proud of the Yorkshire Post when the peace terms came out. If 345 not at the moment he will in a few weeks time look back with pride on the premier newspaper in the county which is usually more kind to him than it is to me. I am also proud of The Times. I have said on other occasions that The Times always gives slavish support, to the Conservative Party when in office and attacks the Labour Party irrespective of what they do. On this occasion The Times has been magnificent. This of course is not a Party question, and my noble friend spoke for the whole Party when he said that we do not want to make Party capital out of it. There is something more important than Party advantage. However, the plan is dead and I do not want to dance on the corpse. I am not satisfied, nor are my noble friends, with the answer given by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and I agree with those noble Lords opposite who may, I suppose, be described without offence as "Diehards" in regretting that the Government have accepted the Amendment, because I would have liked a Division on this question, but there it is and I suppose we can only hope for better luck and a. better conduct of affairs in the future.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, at the end of a very long debate I do not think you will want me to go at great length into questions which have been dealt with very fully by my noble friend the Leader of the House, and till less will you want me to follow the noble Lord who has just spoken into all the strategical questions with which he dealt. I observed that he paid a compliment to the Marines and I suppose that was his method of thanking the noble Lord, Lord Marley, for having accepted him on the Front Bench.
With great respect to the noble Earl may I say that I was chosen by my whole Party although I am sure Lord Marley accepted me?
§ EARL STANHOPE
I think Lord Marley appears to be about a quarter of his party. There is one point which I should like to make clear to noble Lords who have spoken from all quarters of the House, and that is in regard to the position of my right honourable friend Sir Samuel Hoare 346 having been unexpectedly plunged into talks with M. Laval in Paris. It is, of course, quite true that British and French experts in Paris have been discussing this question in regard to peace terms for weeks, but there appeared to be no possibility of any terms arising which were likely to be agreed to by the two Governments which could possibly be found to be acceptable. Therefore, although Sir Samuel Hoare went out knowing that these points might be raised, and that there were differences between the two Governments as to what they thought the League would accept, he certainly did not think there was any possibility at that moment of terms being agreed as the result of the talks. As my noble friend the Leader of the House said, lie had no instructions from the Cabinet for the simple reason that the talks were still going on and had not reached the point at which instructions would become necessary. There was, of course, a general instruction that conversations should go on but he had no idea that they would reach the point of agreement.
So, too, in regard to communicating these terms to the Cabinet at home. I think the noble Viscount on the Cross Benches said it was a very extraordinary thing that neither the telephone nor the telegraph was used for the purpose. May I remind him that the talks took place on Saturday and Sunday, and that Ministers who are very hardworked endeavour to get some small amount of rest between the periods of work on the other days of the week. Therefore, it would not have been easy to get Ministers together, and it did not seem at the time necessary to do anything of the kind. There appeared to be ample time to discuss the reports when they arrived in London on Monday, and there would have been if it had not been for the leakage in the French Press which put the whole thing in the public mind and made the decision of the Cabinet necessary.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am anxious to get information on this because it has puzzled me so much. Do I understand that there were communications on Saturday and Sunday?
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
There is a person called the Resident Clerk at the Foreign Office whose business it is to be on duty there and receive communications on Saturday and Sunday. Was no communication sent to him?
§ EARL STANHOPE
There was nothing, because on the Saturday the conversations were concerned almost entirely with separate subjects, with the question of what was to happen when the Council met to discuss oil sanctions and the reports of the experts and so on. There was nothing to report on Saturday. On Sunday the conversations went on and agreement was reached, and reports were brought back by bag on Sunday and arrived in London early on. Monday morning.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
If my noble friend would allow me to ask one other question, am I to understand that the Government were really taken by surprise by the publication of these terms? Is it not common knowledge that news about negotiations in Paris is always published directly if it meets anybody's convenience?
§ EARL STANHOPE
We were gullible enough to think that these terms would not be published because the conversations were much more secret than many conversations which take place in Paris. Perhaps news comes out because of the practice, which the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi wants us to follow, of having Committees, but Committees did not operate in this case.
The most reverend Primate said that he could not understand our putting forward terms of this kind, and he read out a passage of a speech he made a fortnight ago. In that speech he said that it was quite possible that we might have to agree to terms for the whole of the non-Amharic parts of Abyssinia. If that had been done, the terms would have been infinitely worse for Abyssinia than those contained in the Paris peace proposals. When he spoke about rewarding the aggressor I hope he will forgive me when he reads my speech if I say that he was hedging and that that is not quite the right thing to do when giving advice to the Government on such a question as this.
The noble Marquess, Lord Lothian, asked what the Government are going to 348 do in the future, and he took the line that the Prime Minister himself had said that sanctions must inevitably lead to war. It has been explained more than once that what the Prime Minister meant on that occasion was that if you impose a type of sanction which will bring war to an immediate end, that type of sanction must be military and will inevitably mean war. But we have declared—I am afraid I have had to do it more than once—that you can impose sanctions without getting mixed up in war. I see that the noble Marquess shakes his head and apparently does not agree. If pressure is applied, the only reason why it should be likely to bring war would be that the pressure is not collectively applied and the risk is not equally faced by the nations of the world. What the Government have jibbed at—and I think the country agreed with them on that, and perhaps did not agree with the noble Viscount—was taking single-handed action against Italy or any other country. When he tells your Lordships that we would be prepared to go to war for the defence of Gibraltar, the answer is that of course the defence of Malta or Gibraltar is inevitable because they are part of the British Empire and under the British flag. But it is not part of our obligation to take on the risks of other countries and become the policemen of the world. Provided that is shared equally with the other countries, then of course we shall take our full share in the Covenant, but we are not prepared to go ahead of other countries.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I am very sorry, but I never for a moment intended to suggest—I thought I had made it quite clear—that we should take isolated action under the League; not because I should be afraid to do so, but because I do not think that is in accordance with the conception of the Covenant.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am very glad to hear the noble Viscount correct me in that respect, and I am sorry if I misunderstood him. But I am all the more glad to have extracted that from him, because there are a number of people who have thought, from the remarks by him which they have read, that he was in favour of taking, I will not say isolated action, but action which was not fully collective in the real sense of the term.
One or two of your Lordships referred to the question of the railway through the 349 corridor. May I tell your Lordships how that arose? This question was never before the Cabinet at all, and was therefore never considered by the Cabinet. What happened was that we were discussing the question of corridors generally, and so there arose the question of whether it should be Assab or whether there might be somewhere else as well. When we came to discuss the Zeila scheme, in case that should come into the peace terms, then there arose the question of a railway. It was confined, and entirely confined so far as we intended, to Zeila, and it had to arise for this reason: that we had had a long-standing arrangement with the French—and I believe the Emperor of Abyssinia had, too—that no railway should be built through British territory which would compete with the railway from Jibouti. Obviously, unless that treaty were altered later on, we were bound to agree that no railway should be built from Zeila, but I hope I have made it clear that it was only confined to Zeila. Of course, it was a matter which no doubt could have been considered when these terms eventually came up before the League of Nations and all the details were filled in.
I hope your Lordships will realise that this was only a framework. If it were not so very late, and if it were not that the terms are dead, I could make a fairly good case that these terms conformed to the proposals of the Committee of Five—in spite of the surprise of the noble Viscount—and that actually the exchange of territory was agreed to by the Emperor of Abyssinia himself, as he will see if he will turn to page 12 of the White Paper for the Emperor's reply. The two territories which it was proposed to take over were, as I think everybody knows, desert territories—Danakil and Ogaden—and therefore the real exchange was between the eastern part of Tigre and the corridor to the coast, including the port which, as everybody knows, Abyssinia has been so very anxious to secure for a long period of years.
§ EARL STANHOPE
As regards the settlement part, he will find that quite definitely in the Committee of Five's proposals, because he will see that we 350 proposed a scheme of assistance to Abyssinia; and on page 4 also that amongst the public services requiring reorganisation—
§ EARL STANHOPE
—was:(C) Ensuring security in agricultural areas …and under (2) (Economic Development):(A) Possibility for foreigners to participate in the economic development of the country (land tenure, mining regulations, exercise of commercial and industrial activities).
§ EARL STANHOPE
I think that can perfectly well be fitted into the economic zone in the south of Abyssinia. Of course, it was for the League to decide what kind of control should be exercised and to see that the colonisation was purely economic and not political.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, tells me that he has had to go away to catch a train, and so perhaps he will not think it necessary for me to deal with many of the questions which he put to the House. He remarked that sanctions were dead. My Lords, they are nothing of the kind. The position is exactly that which it was before these various conversations took place, and the Committee of Eighteen—I think it is—will be meeting again, I am not quite sure whether it is next week or after Christmas, to go into the reports of the Committee of Experts. In fact, they may have been doing it to-day. I rather think they have to see whether the sanctions already in force are working satisfactorily, and if anything further should be done in that direction. We have made no arrangement, secret or otherwise, with the French in regard to the matter, but we have made it quite clear that we are not prepared to go any further than other people. That is, of course, in accordance with the statements which have been made over and over again in both Houses.
The noble Viscount said that the great disadvantage that he saw in regard to the peace proposals was that it would be quite impossible to force Signor Mussolini to accept any plans for peace 351 which were worse than these. I do not see anything of the kind.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
I did not say it would be impossible, but I said that it was encouraging him very much.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I can deal with that point quite briefly. The reason why these plans were put forward at this time was that we did not see that we were likely to bring the war to an end on any terms more favourable to Abyssinia than those in the peace proposals. But it remains to be seen what is going to happen. Everybody realises that the dry season will come to an end in the course of a very few weeks, and then the whole difficulty of the Italian army and their transport over these extraordinarily difficult roads will be very materially increased. There may come a. time when Italy and Signor Mussolini, quite apart from the pressure of sanctions, which I agree with him is very considerable, may find themselves prepared to accept terms very much less favourable to Italy than these. Therefore, so far from the proposals which we discussed together in Paris blocking the way for anything less, I think that will be settled a good deal by the situation on the war front.
My noble friend Lord Cranworth referred to the question of slavery and expressed his sympathy with the Italians. I agree with him over that, but I do not want to go into that question yet again, because more than once I have remarked to this House that the best way of stopping slavery is not to make war on the country which goes in for slavery. Lord Olivier seems to think that we should go straight ahead on our own, and was quite prepared to gamble with the threat of war, which no doubt is a perfectly safe thing to do from the Front Opposition Bench but not perhaps quite so safe out in the Mediterranean. In saying that, I do not want to suggest for one moment that we are in the least frightened of the result. Lord Strabolgi seemed to think that some members of this House, and particularly of the Government, were terrified of what might happen if there were a war in the Mediterranean. We are not the least terrified of it, but we do not want to plunge any of His Majesty's subjects into 352 war if that can be avoided and we can attain our objects by peaceable means. Therefore we do not in the least intend to take any action which Italy, for some reason obscure to us, although the Italians may think it quite clear, can interpret as isolated action done in hostility to Italy and which may cause us to find ourselves at war.
The noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi, asked me two questions. The first was: What is the position of former treaties? The answer is that former treaties go on and remain in existence as before. Whether all those treaties will remain in existence hereafter, of course I am quite unable to prophesy. It would depend on the conditions of the terms of peace. But as at present advised I can only say that all treaties and arrangements made with Italy and other countries in regard to Abyssinia remain in force as before. No secret arrangement whatever exists with Italy or France or with any other country in regard to the division of Abyssinia. Everything in regard to those spheres of influence was contained in treaties which have been published, and there is no secret arrangement of any sort or kind between us and any other country in regard to it. I think I have answered most of the questions that have been put to me. Both Lord Strabolgi and Lord Mottistone said they thought that not only should Sir Samuel Hoare resign, but also the whole Government.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
I said that if Sir Samuel Hoare was asked to resign of course, the Government must go, too, because they were responsible. I did not wish him to resign.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I know now what criticism the noble Lord made with regard to his own Government at the time of the Curragh incident. The noble Lord did resign, but his Government did not. I confess I rather wished they had, because we should have found ourselves changing places. That is presumably why Lord Strabolgi would like the Government to resign now; but I doubt very much whether the country desires to accept his suggestion of ôte-toi que je m'y mette.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.