HL Deb 22 October 1935 vol 98 cc1090-132

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they are in a position to make a statement in regard to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, and to move for Papers.


My Lords, I am greatly indebted to the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity of laying before your Lordships the events connected with this unhappy quarrel between Italy and Abyssinia, which have taken place since your Lordships' House adjourned last August. The form in which the Question has been put enables me to place your Lordships at once in full possession of the information which I have and at the same time will give the noble Lord, Lord Marley, by the rules of the House, the right to make such observations as he may desire in the closing stages of the debate.

I am sure your Lordships will not consider it out of place if I make one reference to the noble Lord who up to now has been the Leader of His Majesty's Opposition in your Lordships' House, and whose absence to-day, for reason of which we are aware, we all regret. Speaking from my own personal point of view I can testify to the good relations which have invariably existed between us in all matters connected with the debates which have taken place in this House, and in all matters of business which come up for negotiation and settlement between Leaders of Parties; and I know that your Lordships fully recognise and appreciate the manner in which the noble Lord has always maintained the dignity properly belonging to this House.


Hear, hear.


We have always enjoyed the eloquence of his diction in the course of his interventions in debate, though perhaps at times I personally may have felt and regretted the force of his invectives. It is one more of the many regrets which surround this unfortunate business, which we are discussing to-day, that it has also deprived your Lordships of the Leader of the Opposition. At the same time I know that I shall be voicing your Lordships' sentiments when I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who will take Lord Ponsonby's place. He has already, if I may say so, a secure place in the appreciative regard of your Lordships, and I can assure him from this side of the House of a continuance of those friendly relations which have existed certainly since I have had the honour of leading the House.

To come now to the Question asked by Lord Marley. I know that your Lordships have been studying very closely and with profound anxiety the events, those calamitous exchanges first between Italy and Abyssinia, and, more lately, between Italy and the League of Nations, which have followed each other in rapid succession during the last few weeks. I feel, therefore, that it would be for the convenience of the House if I were briefly to recapitulate the course followed by this unhappy dispute from its earliest stages. It is a quarrel between two countries with whom our relations have been of the friendliest description for many years, and with one of whom we have been in the closest co-operation not only during the period of the Great War itself, but all through the difficult years that have succeeded it. I shall also describe the part which 'His Majesty's Government have taken in their earnest endeavours to obtain a settlement, at once honourable to both parties and in consonance with those principles on which the Covenant of the League of Nations stands.

I must first of all take your Lord- ships back to December of last year, when the clash between Italian and Abyssinian frontier forces took place at Walwal. This incident marks the beginning of the present dispute, though there is no doubt that the relations between the two countries cannot be said to have been of an entirely satisfactory nature for a great number of years, as is bound to be the case where a long stretch of undelimited frontier exists. I need not dwell on the details of this incident, which in itself was only important as giving rise to the present situation, a situation which involves problems of great magnitude and complexity to which, however difficult they may be, solutions must be found. They involve the interests not only of the two countries immediately concerned, but the very existence of that international harmony and world order of which the League of Nations under the Covenant is to be the embodiment.

His Majesty's Government realised, after what amounted to a hostile exchange between frontier forces on December 5, the grave situation to which it might well give rise. We immediately exerted our influence in both capitals, in Rome and Addis Ababa, for the negotiation of a satisfactory settlement in accordance with the terms of the Treaty drawn up in 1928 between Italy and Abyssinia, by which both parties had solemnly undertaken mutually to settle all their differences without recourse to war. As early as last January satisfactory assurances were given at Geneva by both parties to the dispute, but here, unfortunately, delays ensued. For these His Majesty's Government cannot be held responsible, as we were continually urging through the customary diplomatic channels the importance of an early settlement. An appeal had already been made on the part of Abyssinia to the League of Nations for consideration of the case, but unhappily, before this could be dealt with, the Italian Government began to take certain measures of a military character.

There certainly was no delay on our side. Far from it ! Indeed, there followed immediately a warning from us to the Italian Government of the dangers involved in a policy of this description. The fact that British public opinion was becoming increasingly anxious as to Italian policy in relation to Abyssinia was at once brought to the notice of the Italian Ambassador in London. I am particularly desirous of emphasising this action on the part of the British Government, because it has been alleged, both in the Italian Press and in foreign newspapers elsewhere, that the Italian Government were not made aware of the apprehensions of His Majesty's Government over the development of a policy which must conflict, not only with Italy's obligations under the Italo-Ethiopian. Treaty of 1928 and the Tripartite Agreement of 1906, but ultimately also with her most solemn engagements under the Covenant of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact. The truth is that, ever since these first threatened signs of an aggressive intention on the part of Italy, we have been continually 'warning the Italian Government of our apprehensions. We have been not only in continual negotiation with the Italian representative in. London, Signor Grandi, but we have also been in touch in Rome itself with Signor Mussolini, the head of the Italian Government, through our Ambassador, Sir Eric Drummond.

Nor is this all. This by no means exhausts the story of our efforts for peace. Not only have we repeatedly warned the Italian Government, as I have said, hut, upon our own initiative, we made certain suggestions for settlement in Rome, last June. In August, in conjunction with France, we made further proposals to the same end. Finally, in September, at Geneva,, we joined with the Council in putting forward yet further suggestions, in which Italy's legitimate aspirations in Abyssinia received full consideration and acceptance. And yet we are told that we left Italy guessing! That we did nothing! My Lords, I am amazed at the effrontery of those who dare make such a charge against us.

At the same time, I would remind your Lordships that the proposals which we made or to which we assented preserved the integrity and independence of a fellow Member of the League. Had they been accepted, they would have provided Italy with full scope for co-operation in the development of Abyssinia. No one can deny, no one has ever attempted to deny, that Abyssinia is in a backward condition. This is admitted by the Emperor himself. Administrative machinery on the lines to which we are accustomed does not exist in that country. Communications are still of the most primitive description, and in many other ways she differs from modern States. Your Lordships will readily understand, therefore, that Abyssinia requires assistance, to enable the Emperor to give effect to his treaty obligations, to maintain peace in his realm, and to abolish abuses, such as slavery, which still exist in his country, and which of course are repugnant to modern civilisation. The Emperor has freely accepted the plan of the League for the collective assistance proposed, but unhappily, up to the present moment, any basis of negotiation of this nature has been rejected by the Italian Government. Nevertheless, although there has been a recourse to force and a deliberate breach of Covenant undertakings, I can assure your Lordships that His Majesty's Government have not rested, and will not rest, from their endeavours, in concert with the other Members of the League, to reach an early restoration of peace, accompanied by a fair and just settlement in the spirit of the Covenant.

I have put before your Lordships the sequence of events which have led to the present situation. During all that time, as I hope I have clearly shown, all our efforts have been directed towards preventing aggressive action by Italy against Abyssinia, such as would constitute a breach of the Covenant. In this we have failed, and it is no use seeking to qualify that failure. It stands admitted by the verdict of the League itself, which has proclaimed Italy as having had resort to war in breach of the Covenant. There is a state of war between Italy and Abyssinia, and we are faced by the fact that the quarrel between Italy and Abyssinia is no longer an isolated affair. It has taken on a far wider aspect. It is a League concern. It now involves action on the part, of all the signatories to the Covenant, in accordance with their solemn undertakings. This is a matter of common concern to all the States Members of the League of Nations, but we have found that, notwithstanding our entirely disinterested activities, it is being represented in the foreign Press that the dispute lies between this country and Italy. No greater misrepresentation of the facts, or of the part that we have endeavoured to play, could be suggested. This dispute, such as it is, now lies between Italy and the League of Nations. Her quarrel is no more with us alone than it is with any other single Member of the League.

Through all these troubled times our policy has been one of unswerving loyalty to the obligations of the Covenant. That policy, my Lords, remains unchanged. It has been approved by Parliament and by the great majority of the people of this country. Moreover, this policy has received the unanimous support of the Dominions, which, acting independently, have reached the same conclusion as His Majesty's Government here in the United Kingdom. We are not contemplating—we cannot contemplate and we have never contemplated—isolated action. As the Foreign Secretary has told the world at Geneva: If the burden is to be borne, it must be borne collectively. If risks for peace are to be run, they must be run by all. The security of the many cannot be ensured solely by the efforts of a few, however powerful they may be. For some years past, in fact ever since the War, we have all hoped that a new order of international relationship would arise, with the League as an instrument for removing the cause of war and as an instrument of impartial and comprehensive justice, not aimed against any particular country, but as the means for developing co-operation between nations. This plan, idealistic as it is, is necessarily surrounded with difficulties, because it presupposes collective action through a common purpose and a common decision amongst more than fifty different States.

These difficulties are increased a thousandfold for us when, as in the present case, one of the parties to the dispute is not only a great Power, but a Power with whom our relations have hitherto been so invariably and universally friendly and satisfactory. There are ties of history, ties of sentiment, between this country and modern Italy of which we may well be proud and which Italy herself will never forget. This country was once the refuge of Cavour, of Mazzini, of Garibaldi. It was by sheltering and befriending these great Italians in the days of their struggle for Italian freedom and Italian unity—the first days of the Risorgimento—that we repaid our debt to that earlier Italy still, which with Caesar's legions brought us our first contacts with the civilisation of Rome. Nor is this all. Even our friends have suspected our sincerity, to judge from the articles which have appeared in the Press of many foreign countries.

Faced with all these problems, His Majesty's Government might have been tempted to admit the failure of the conception of collective security. We might have disinterested ourselves in this dangerous and difficult Italo-Abyssinian controversy and have admitted that the Covenant could not be applied. How easy, how comparatively simple, that course of policy would have been; but how weak, how cowardly, how dishonourable! My Lords, I am sure that I am voicing the sentiments of all your Lordships and the feelings of the vast majority of my fellow countrymen when I say that we must have regard to our moral obligations, and that His Majesty's Government would have been wanting in their duty if they had adopted this despicable line of policy. The League of Nations cannot be said to have failed in its object until the provisions of the Covenant have been effectively put to the test and until, being tested, by reason of the lack of cooperation and the refusal of other nations to recognise their obligations, they have been found to be ineffectual and powerless to deal with a situation such as the present, a situation which up to now has been a mere hypothetical question but with which we are now faced in its full and terrible realities.

If the policy of the League fails now, these hopes and aspirations of which I have just spoken will be shattered, the world will be faced with a period of doubt and danger of which no one can prophesy the outcome, and the earnest and determined attempt during all these later years to eliminate war as an instrument of national policy will be frustrated. These are the reasons why His Majesty's Government, in close cooperation with fellow-Members of the League of Nations, have been constantly trying to make the provisions of the Covenant succeed. We are not thinking of Imperial interests. We are not using this controversy as an opportunity for taking sides. We have never had the smallest intention of interfering with the domestic affairs of other people. They must be governed as they will. We have worked consistently at Geneva with one single aim—to maintain the principles of the Covenant.

We have even been criticised in some quarters for taking more than our part, and for constantly taking the lead in the discussions at Geneva. My Lords, those of us who have beer called upon to take our part at Geneva, and, I feel sure, all your Lordships, will realise that it is quite impossible for the representatives of Great Britain and the British Empire to take a secondary part in any great international discussion, or in any measure to shirk the grave responsibility which rests upon our shoulders. I should like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to my right honourable friend Mr. Eden, who, fully realising his responsibilities, has represented Great Britain in a manner for which we owe him a deep debt of gratitude. He has been faced with overwhelming difficulty; he has been called upon to find solutions for problems of enormous complexity; above all, he has been misrepresented as having exceeded his instructions. This has certainly not been the case. As I can assure your Lordships, he has had the full support of his colleagues throughout, and has done all that we could expect of anyone occupying the responsible post of representative of Great Britain in the councils of nations. The suggestion that lie has been alone responsible for the proposals which have been put forward is a pure travesty of the facts. The representatives of other Powers have also been taking a most important part in the discussions. If these deliberations had been held in public, it would have been impossible for certain sections of the Continental Press to spread abroad gross and malicious misrepresentations that Great Britain is attempting to use the League for her own selfish ends and for the humiliation of Italy.

One word on the collective action of the League. Your Lordships will have realised that this is the first great occasion upon which the, most difficult provisions of the Covenant have been put to the test, and that in the most difficult of all circumstances. This controversy may concern an inaccessible corner of Africa, but, at the same time, it raises a direct issue between three of the Great Powers of Europe. Nevertheless, collective agreement has been reached upon the merits of the dispute, upon the arms embargo, upon the withdrawal of credit and, subject to the considered views of the various Governments, upon certain measures of economic pressure. War having unfortunately broken out, it must be our earnest endeavour to shorten the duration of that war. We believe that economic pressure of the kind envisaged will not be ineffective, and that, if it is effectively applied and not frustrated by nations not members of the League, it will accomplish what we desire.

I will now say a word upon sanctions of another kind, about which there has been a great deal of ill-informed talk in many quarters. Many things have been said on this subject which can only lead to a great deal of misunderstanding, which can only harm international relations. So far as the delicate question of so-called military sanctions is concerned, these could never be enforced in the absence of collective agreement at Geneva. As is the case with economic sanctions, military sanctions can only be applied collectively. His Majesty's Gov-eminent have made it plain throughout that, while ready to meet to the full their obligations under the Covenant, they can only do their part collectively. We do not intend to act alone. I should add that up to the present there has been no consideration in Geneva of military sanctions, and the policy of His Majesty's Government has therefore not been directed towards their application. What we have been considering is economic sanctions—not military sanctions or measures of war—a distinction which has been fully appreciated by Signor Mussolini as shown in his speech on the occasion of the national mobilisation of the Italian people on the 2nd October, when he said: Against economic sanctions we shall set our discipline, our frugality and spirit of sacrifice. To military sanctions we shall reply with military sanctions. To acts of war we shall reply with acts of war. I repeat, and I hope we have made it clear, that all our efforts will be directed towards the attainment of the common objective. His Majesty's Government are ready to perform their full duty as a Member of the League, but they will take no isolated action. We have never even proposed the consideration of any measures for which we knew for certain that there was no chance of collective support.

My Lords, the League of Nations is an instrument of peace. Its primary object is defeated by an outbreak of war. But we should be wanting in our duty if we assumed that a breach of the Covenant destroyed the League. Such a terrible eventuality should only cause us to redouble our efforts for the purpose of strengthening the League and bringing it into harmony with the objects which we have in view. By economic pressure, if it is necessary to apply it, it is hoped to shorten the war and to confine the area of actual conflict to the narrowest limits. Meanwhile the efforts of the League will be continued in their endeavours to find an honourable settlement. His Majesty's Government have publicly recognised Italy's passionate desire for expansion and economic security, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs informed the Assembly of the League that His Majesty's Government were prepared to investigate the question of colonial raw materials. There is still time before economic pressure can be applied, and this time must be occupied in a renewed common attempt to find an honourable settlement, which will make it unnecessary to proceed further along the road of economic action against our old friend and ally, with whom we have for so long been on terms of the utmost friendliness and co-operation.

It is superfluous for me to urge upon your Lordships, or indeed upon any section of the British people, the necessity for the strict observance of our international undertakings. To us they are sacred and their regard is a duty which is universally recognised in this country and. this Empire. We did not lightly enter upon these engagements, nor do we interpret them differently in their application, as between nation and nation, colour and colour, creed and creed, strong country and weak country. For us there is but one standard of right, one standard of justice. In our judgment even-handed dealing between the nations is the sole hope for civilised man, and along this road alone lies the path of progress for the world. The whole edifice of modern civilisation rests upon the punctual observance of undertakings, not only those between man and man within the nation, but those also which exist between Government and Government as representing the nations themselves. Life to-day has become too wide in its scope for those older and narrower limits of mere national boundaries. The world has changed and policy too must change with its changes. Communications are so rapid, so various, so easy, that our civilisation is a network spread wide over the world and embraces all its peoples. The Covenant of the League of Nations and the Kellogg Pact are the recognition of the facts of modern life, the solemn renunciation of that claim, so long put forward by statesmen of the past on behalf of their peoples, the claim to the right to live unto and for themselves alone, a claim which led at length to the catastrophe of the World. War.

That Covenant and that Pact are the most important, the most sacred obligations which the nations have ever undertaken. It is upon them that His Majesty's Government, following in the footsteps of successive Governments since the War, have founded and developed the whole range of their foreign policy. As my right honourable friend so impressively said at Geneva, in that remarkable speech from which I have already quoted: There then, is the British attitude towards the Covenant. I cannot believe that that attitude will be changed so long as the League remains an effective body and the main bridge between the United Kingdom and the Continent remains intact.


My Lords, I apologise to the House in that important public duties in another place prevented me from hearing the first words of the speech of the noble Marquess. It has, however, been reported to me that he made very kindly references both to my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and to myself, and for those words I tender him my most grateful thanks. I rise to speak to-day with a great sense of responsibility, fully knowing that I have to present the views of a Party that is not too much liked in your Lordships' House, but I must try to do so disregarding that fact. I am quite sure, however, that any one who speaks for the Labour Party in your Lordships' House is certain of one thing, that is, the generous and never-failing courtesy of every member of your Lordships' House. I will not, of course, attempt to reply in detail to the speech of the noble Marquess that we have just beard. It is too important to do that. It is necessary first of all to see it and to reflect upon it before we attempt finally to measure its significance. It does seem to me, however, that the issue that we are facing is one of alarming significance, and our words and attitudes may have consequences far beyond our individual intentions. It is our duty, therefore, to measure very carefully what we do. The short view is not enough for us we have to envisage the distant scene as well.

The Government, through the noble Marquess, have placed before your Lordships their defence for what they have done and are doing. As far as I could summarise what the noble Marquess said, it was that the Government had endeavoured to ensure peace; that they had sought to restrain Italy by advice and by warning from a dangerous and callous adventure; that they had made certain proposals for a settlement which had been disregarded; that Italy had proved obdurate until at length the choice lay between Italy and the League of Nations. Your Lordships will not expect me, as representing the Opposition, to take all that at its face value. There is, I believe, in the Old Testament, a phrase which says: He that goeth first in his cause seemeth just, but his neighbour cometh after and searecheth him. The zeal of the noble Marquess is not in question, but his statement must not be taken at its face value.

His Majesty's Government have always had a unique capacity for self-adoration and the sense of injury which they feel when their own assessed virtues fail to dazzle the observer is sometimes quite painful to behold. Nevertheless I venture to suggest that this zeal for the League of Nations, however admirable it is in itself, is rather sudden. We lament that it was not so much in evidence when other great issues arose, and our submission is that delay or half-statements tended to mislead Italy, by vagueness and so on, until it was too late in Italy's mind for her to retreat. We feel, too, and your Lordships must allow me to say it, that His Majesty's Government have dissipated a great heritage. Mr. Henderson, in 1931, left behind him a peaceful Europe. The conditions were so favourable that universal disarmament appeared to be a practical proposal. We feel, I repeat, that His Majesty's Government dissipated that heritage. Compare the conditions as they exist to-day and as they were then. In foreign affairs, at least, whatever may be said of His Majesty's Government in other directions—in foreign affairs there is a dangerous record of apparent confusion, of indecision, of wrong action, and of wasted opportunities. Supposing a Labour Government had so dissipated its inheritance! What an outpouring of wrath there would have been!.

The Labour Party's attitude towards, Italy is perfectly plain. I desire to say of my Party—and indeed I think it is true of all Parties—that we have no sort of hostility towards Italy or her people. Her form of government is entirely her own affair. I certainly have no prejudice against Italy. Her history, her contributions to civilisation, the sunny friendliness of her people, won our hearts long: ago, and I have derived more from. Mazzini, whom I count as the greatest political prophet of the nineteenth century, than from any other modern writer. I can almost say with Robert. Browning: Open my heart and you will see Graved inside of it, 'Italy'". So we have no hostility to Italy, and I want to be fair to her to this extent, that she is not doing something which has never been done before. What she is doing has been recognised imperialist practice. What she is doing in regard to Abyssinia other nations, including our own, have done in other parts of the world in generations past. Her desire to' colonise is neither better nor worse than, was theirs, and I do not see how any Englishman with an adequate knowledge of how our own Empire was built up cart condemn her without admitting some measure of excuse.

The Labour Party's objection to Italy is just this—not that she has sinned against Abyssinia alone, but that she has-betrayed the League of Nations. She had assumed certain solemn obligations: She stood to gain such things as the. League of Nations could win. She stood to gain in greater security and a lessened military expenditure. She had sponsored Abyssinia on the League of Nations. She knew that the League of Nations with all its defects was the repository of the hopes of the world, and she struck a. wanton and perhaps fatal blow at its structure.

Therefore the Labour Party asks itself, in those circumstances, what it should do. Are the offended and injured nations to stand apart whilst another impulsive and headstrong nation breaks the growing solidarity of the world? It seems to me that there were precedents for our decision to support the League of Nations. There was so much at stake. I am personally not in love with sanctions. At best they seem to me to be dangerous weapons. Sanctions may stop a particular war, and I hope they will stop this war, but they cannot stop war in itself. Only Socialism can do that. I am not -wholly concerned about Abyssinia, although I should like to have seen one free African people remain. I fear the reactions upon the native peoples, but I am perfectly aware that in one form or another Abyssinia will come under the bondage of Western nations. If it is not Mussolini it will be Mr. Rickett, or somebody else. The Labour Party stands, for good or for evil, by the League of Nations, and they cannot stand by while its foundations are being undermined. In our judgment the alternative to the League of Nations is war, and continued war. Between those alternatives the Labour Party makes an instant and decisive choice.

Its attitude on this matter is consistent and, we believe, defensible. We have sought to stop war by every means. In co-operation with colleagues in other nations we have built up in every country a population with a will to peace which could bring pressure to bear upon its own Government; and to a quite astonishing extent we have succeeded. In France, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and America there exists a population with a will to peace greater than has ever existed before. We had hoped by pressure within each nation and by the formation of international organisations to obviate war. But what is to be our attitude to a nation in which a will to peace is suppressed, where trades unions are put down, where every expression of international sympathy is punished by exile, and perhaps worse? Our answer is that since Italy, for ends which she could have secured in our judgment in other ways, has chosen to attack the League of Nations, we have an imperative obligation to rally to its support.

What is the choice before us? You may do nothing, gather your skirts about you and utter religious and moral platitudes, and thank God that you are not as other nations. The result would be that Abyssinia would be subdued, and such of her sons as were left would be conscripted into a native Fascist army which would probably be an imminent danger to all her neighbours. If that took place the League of Nations would become a byword and a hissing in the mouths of men. I feel it is hateful to have to use sanctions. But let me remind your Lordships that economic sanctions have been used throughout history. They have always been applied in the case of workmen, and nobody, so far as I know, has ever protested against them. Force is, after all, implicit in law. There is always force behind our law. The prison is the whip of the law, and the whole problem for us is, can force be applied to communities as well as to individuals There are three schools of thought on this matter. There is the school which believes in the philosophy of not resisting evil. There are those who believe in the futility of force, however applied; and those who believe in isolation. The Labour Party considered all these three alternatives, and they are important enough to deserve serious consideration, and are not to be answered by haughty scorn or by the beat of a hollow patriotic drum. Let me try in a very few words to state our view in regard to each of them.

Those who follow the philosophy of not resisting evil hold that force begets force, that the hatred which it sows has to be reaped by other men, that civilisation has progressed only in proportion as force has been superseded; and they believe that if the moral ideal were enthroned it would draw all men unto it. I at least do not held that ideal cheaply, and I will not pour any sort of contempt on those who are willing to risk everything for the highest that they see. They are not open to argument. What they have is an intuitive moral objection to force, and for the individual that is an absolute. But I believe that there are no absolutes in politics. The essence of democratic Parliamentarianism is that you have to use means to end, or, to put in it another way, you see the end you want and you have to will the means to achieve it. And we have to work in the world as it is and with imperfect human material. It may be that not to resist evil may be to connive at it, even to encourage it. A mean act of violence may be followed by a meaner complacency. The Labour Party cannot accept that view of life. We cannot forgo the possible good for the sake of the impossible better.

Then there is the second view, that force is futile. We carefully examined that. It is very much more difficult to answer than the other, because the objection is not to force in itself but to collective force applied to the community, and it is useless when so applied if it produces more trouble than it allays. There are also the difficulties of possible disloyalties among the Members. The noble Marquess in his speech used the words "if Members remain loyal." I will not go into that, but I hope His Majesty's Government have very seriously considered the significance of that possibility.

So far as the last of these theories is concerned, that of isolation, those who hold that theory believe that the highest good would be to cut off from the League, to build a wall around the Empire, to have no obligations to our neighbours in Europe—let them fight it out and we stand by within our own shelters, enjoying peace for ouselves. "Scrap the Locarno Treaty, scrap the League, scrap every hope of closing Europe's ranks; scrap everything, in short, save bombs and tanks! "With a jungle philosophy of that kind the Labour Party will have nothing to do. If it were possible successfully to isolate England from Stoma-way House and Northcliffe House that would be an invasion of a deeply cherished principle that I could stiffer without too great pain. Do these pugnacious isolationists really realise what their philosophy implies? Do they imagine that such an Empire would be immune from attack? The old free trade Empire perhaps, but not an isolated and protected Empire. One-fourth of the earth's surface reserved to an indolent nation that makes no attempt to people it will not remain unchallenged, and the Labour Party is not going to take those risks. Therefore it came to the question that the Labour Party had to support the League; and without passion, without hatred to the Italian people, with a passionate desire for peace with all the world, it felt that the League had to be supported. It felt also that if the League failed that would be one failure the more. But if it should succeed it would begin a new epoch of security for the human race. The risk was worth the taking and we chose in that sense.

Before I close I should like to say a few words about our relationship to His Majesty's Government. This issue came, and we felt the responsibility not to break the national unity at a time when national unity seemed to be desirable. If ever a Party sacrificed Party advantage for the common good, it was my Party over that issue. Yet the reward for it was an immediate avalanche of Tory misrepresentation—every calumny that capitalist hysteria could suggest was thrown back upon us. So I think it necessary to say to-day that our support was not given to the National Government: it was given to the League of Nations; and we shall support the Government only for so long as and to the extent that it works for collective security. We did not shape the Versailles Treaty. We have always pleaded for its revision, and we are not going to be trapped into supporting any mad rush for armaments.

Finally, I want to say one or two plain, if unpleasant, words to the Government in another connection. It seems to us to be characteristic of the Government that when the minority Parties both had subordinated their Party propaganda for the common good, this Government of all the virtues should take advantage and rush us into an Election on this issue. My Lords, you need to have a long spoon when you sit at table with the National Government. They played the confidence trick on us and they won. So the National Government ends, as it began, with a trick. We make our protest and we leave it to whatever respect it is entitled to receive from fair-minded men.


My Lords, I am anxious not to detain the House at any length, but before I touch on the Question asked by the noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench I should like to congratulate the noble Lord who has just sat down on the important position in which he has just been placed. I have had a long experience of regarding Leaders of the House and of the Opposition both from outside and, for a considerable time, by looking at the looking glass, and I should like to join the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, in what he said of the Leadership of the Opposition by Lord Ponsonby so far as I had opportunities of observing it. He seemed to me to show much dignity and correct appreciation of the position in which me found himself as Leader of a very small opposing body, and I feel sure that the noble Lord who has succeeded him will in time earn the confidence of the House in the same way. I should like also just to say one word about Mr. Arthur Henderson, who was mentioned by the noble Lord in his speech. Like all those who were at any time associated in public life with Mr. Henderson, I felt that his conception of public duty was based upon a religious faith, simple and profound. The part that he took in his later years in the matter of disarmament showed, I think, the full bent of his mind, and I feel that whenever the world comes more to its senses and progress is made in that direction, it is clear from the tributes that have been paid to Mr. Henderson from abroad that his name will not be forgotten.

We all listened with deep interest to the clear exposition of the situation set out by the noble Marquess opposite, and we appreciated, I think, that he did state the case for the action taken throughout by His Majesty's Government as adequately as it could be stated. I should like first to say one word about the Italian case for their action on which the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, dwelt, as I thought, very fairly and, in all the circumstances, with as much sympathy as could be expected. We all know, every schoolboy knows, that from the dawning of what is called modern history, in the ages of adventure and conquest, Italy played no part. Italy was then only a geographical expression. It was overshadowed by the two giants of the Papacy and the Holy Roman Empire—weak-kneed giants very often in the material sense—and at that time, and from the sixteenth century onwards, Spain, Portugal, England, the Netherlands, and then France, and, in later years, Russia and Germany divided up among themselves all the open spaces of the world. The noble Lord who has just sat down ascribes that acquisitiveness very largely to Imperialism and to the absence of Socialism. In a measure, no doubt, that is perfectly true, but it is also, I think, equally true that Soviet Russia has proceeded in precisely the same way in its advance in Asia.

Italy thus fell behind in the race, and it was not until that united Italy was formed, with which, as the noble Lord has said, we have felt from its inception. such complete sympathy and to the formation of which we, like France, helped to contribute—it is only since then that Italy has, under the leadership of Signor Mussolini, risen to the belief that it, too, must play a part in securing whatever is left, and it is not much, of countries which can possibly be occupied outside the European area. But, as we all know, that is in complete and definite contradiction of the Covenant of the League of Nations and of the Pact of Paris, and to me the breach in the obligations of the Pact of Paris is the more serious of the two, not only because it is a more recent obligation which Italy undertook but also because its terms are more definite and explicit than those contained in the Covenant of the League of Nations. The assurance that war would not be used as an instrument of policy is as definite as anything could be, and it is impossible to deny that that obligation has been defiantly broken.

The noble Lord seemed to lay stress on the fact that Abyssinia is also a Member of the League of Nations. To my mind that is not a very important fact. If I might make a preposterous suggestion and assume that the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, assaulted some traveller through Pall Mall with a stick, I do not think it would be of much moment whether that traveller was a fellow member of the Carlton Club or whether he had just emerged from the Reform Club next door. The whole point would depend on the degree of provocation which he had received. And in this case the charge against Italy is not, I venture to think, that she has attacked a fellow Member of the League of Nations but that she has attacked a nation without having received any provocation which justified her action. To my mind her action would have been just as reprehensible if Abyssinia had not been a Member of the League of Nations at all.

The noble Marquess dealt very fully with the charge which has been made both abroad and also by some very important people at home that the Government have been sadly- slow in their action, that they delayed when they might have moved, and it has even been stated by some of those important people that if the Government had moved a little sooner the war need not have taken place at all. I do not know enough to venture to express an opinion about that, but the noble Marquess set himself to show, and was able to show with great force, the form of the direct representations and warnings which His Majesty's Government had made to the Italian Government almost from the beginning of the year. But I think that is not exactly the onus of the charge which has been brought against His Majesty's Government. The charge is that they might have got the League of Nations to work sooner, and that the action which now has been taken might have been taken even before that vast army of Italian troops had been moved to the Red Sea. There again I cannot pretend to know enough of the circumstances behind the scenes to give a decided opinion on that point, but I hope that that side of the argument will be dealt with by some future speaker from the Government Front Bench.

The collective efforts for peace can, I think, have been said to begin at the very beginning of August—I think the date was the 3rd of August—and it was on the 16th of August that the Three-Power Conference took place. It was on the 11th of September that Sir Samuel Hoare made his memorable speech; and two clays later M. Laval made his memorable reply. I think what is in the minds of some people is that all that might have taken place two or three months earlier. As I say, I do not like to be at all dogmatic on the subject, but it seemed to be the case that no explicit collective action was taken until practically all the troops had been moved and until the war was at the very point of beginning. It was, if your Lordships remember, on the 2nd of October that the actual invasion of the Abyssinian frontier took place, but, of course, vast bodies of troops had been massed in Eritrea and, I suppose, to some extent in Italian Somaliland, before that date.

I am very glad that the noble Marquess repudiated so strongly the charges that have been made that we are mainly, if not entirely, concerned to safeguard British interests in this affair. What the noble Marquess said on that point was, I thought, conclusive, but it is quite true that you cannot repaint the map of the world without affecting and possibly threatening the interests not only of this country but of other countries in Europe. That is a matter which the Italian Government have to bear in mind, although we entirely disavow the charge of pure selfishness which has been brought against us. To my mind the most important thing is not the immediate action by economic sanctions as they are called. I confess I dislike the use of the word "sanctions," because it simply means adopting a foreign word into the language without attempting to translate it, which could easily have been done. However, I do not want to dwell on the subject of what action of that kind may be taken—collectively, of course, and we trust by no means in the military sense—by the League of Nations. To my mind the most important thing to bear in mind is the ultimate settlement which will be made as between Italy and Abyssinia. The League of Nations could not prevent the outbreak of war, but I maintain that it is in the power of the League of Nations to compel a settlement which shall be fair to both countries.

The League of Nations, if it is to keep any prestige at all, must see this thing through, and. therefore I hope—and I was encouraged by some of the concluding words of the noble Marquess—that His Majesty's Government, in concert of course with our friends in the League of Nations, will continue, in season and out of season, to press for, and I would even use the phrase insist upon, an early discussion of what are going to be the terms of the final settlement. In my judgment those terms ought not to depend upon either the success or the failure of the Italian campaign. This is a matter affecting the future of the world, and you have to arrive at a settlement, not patched up as so many settlements between nations unhappily have been, but a settlement of a kind which should be, so far as anybody can look ahead, fair both to Italy and to Abyssinia, and, what is not unimportant, fair to the rest of the world.

I venture to think that that settlement ought to be considered in the abstract, without reference, as I say, to what occurs in the Abyssinian mountains. It would be, in my judgment, wrong to penalise Italy—assuming that the League of Nations is prepared to do it—for what we consider her mistaken action in this case. Whatever civilizing possibilities or commercial possibilities, in the matter of railway facilities and so on, ought to be allotted to Italy she should receive, however much we may disapprove of her action or whatever the outcome of that action may be. Equally, whether the resistance of Abyssinia turns out to be more successful than is generally supposed, or whether Abyssinia, is finally crushed, Abyssinia in my judgment ought to receive that measure of independence which, looking at the whole business from a purely abstract point of view, she ought to possess. Therefore I trust that, quite apart from any immediate action which His Majesty's Government may desire to take in application of economic pressure or financial pressure or any other painful inducement which they can apply to Italy, they will bear in mind the ultimate settlement which has to be arrived at between the two countries, that they will study it in all its bearings, and that they will devote themselves to persuading their partners in the League of Nations to take their share in bringing it about.


My Lords, I listened with interest and attention to the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the House, and I have studied carefully the communiqué issued on Saturday by the Foreign Office on the interview which took place in Rome between His Majesty's Ambassador and Signor Mussolini. While any symptom of relaxation of tension between England and Italy is more than welcome, it is disappointing to find nothing definite in the statement of the noble Marquess to reassure the anxiety of public opinion on the subject of military sanctions, since no definite assurance is given that military sanctions will not be applied. The Government have drifted so rapidly of late from one sanction to another that it is difficult to know when and where they will stop, and anxiety will remain and will undoubtedly increase, if it is found that economic sanctions are ineffective, unless some such assurance is given.

As for the communiqué, although it states that the actions of His Majesty's Government are and will be confined to collective obligations under the Covenant, it does not contain a single word to show that military sanctions do not come within the picture. As a matter of fact, the application of military sanctions would not be in contradiction of the terms of the communiqué but actually in accordance with paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 16 of the Covenant. Consequently the communiqué tells us little that we did not know before, except the fact that His Majesty's Ambassador at Rome is in touch with Signor Mussolini—which in these days is something to be thankful for!

For a long time the conviction has been forced upon me that the application of even economic sanctions might, in the end, lead to a war of which it would be impossible to foresee the consequences. That I have not been alone in holding these views was shown in the speech of the Prime Minister on the 18th May of last year, when he said in another place: There is no such thing as a sanction that will work that does not mean war. Sir Austen Chamberlain also, on the 11th July last in the same place, warned the House of Commons: It is no good talking of economic sanctions without war. He referred in particular to suggestions of economic blockade or the closing of the Suez Canal. I am of course unaware what are the present views of these two great Conservative leaders and statesmen, but I hope that the Government will urge moderation at Geneva and the avoidance of any step that might lead to war with Italy, who in spite of her delinquencies is our old friend and ally, who sacrificed 600,000 men on the field of battle in the common cause during the last War. After all, the League and its Covenant were constituted to prevent war by arbitration and conciliation, and not to become a focus of war, and I decline to believe that diplomacy is so bankrupt as to make the solution of this question impossible. Moreover, to enforce sanctions upon Italy which obviously must result in war, becomes a breach of the Kellogg Pact, which prohibits the use of war as an instrument of public policy.


National policy.


Of national policy I will take it from the noble Viscount. As those countries who resort to war, even to support the League, will be equally guilty with Italy of breaking their written engagements, what is unjustifiable in the action of Italy can hardly be justified when taken by the League. In the Protocol of Geneva of 1924 passed by the League, definite lines were laid down for the imposition of sanctions by the League, but this Protocol was rejected in 1925 by the Conservative Government of that day, and also by the British Dominions. The reasons given to the League in 1925 for this decision were as follows: The fresh emphasis laid on sanctions, the new occasions discovered for their employment, the elaboration of military procedure, insensibly suggest the idea that the vital business of the League is not so much 'to promote friendly co-operation and reasoned harmony in the management of international affairs as to preserve peace by organising war, and (it may be) war on the largest scale I would draw special attention to the last few wards, which in my opinion describe fairly accurately the present situation. Instead of this Protocol, the Locarno policy of conciliation, of no isolation and no universal entanglements was adopted by His Majesty's Government; but now for some months past the Government appear to me to have been slowly but surely drifting back to the Protocol of 1924. Even if economic sanctions fail to stop this deplorable war, there can be no justification for military sanctions, which are contrary to the Kellogg Pact, which is more universal and of much more recent date than the Covenant of the League.

In expressing disagreement with any extreme policy of sanctions, I wish it to be clearly understood that I hold no brief for Italy, for I regard her aggressive attack on Abyssinia as a most unjustifiable proceeding and one that, cannot be sufficiently condemned. On the other hand, although I have profound sympathy with the people of Abyssinia in their gallant resistance to an enemy highly organised and equipped with every modern implement of destructive warfare, I have no sympathy whatever for the Abyssinian Government. They have, broken their pledges, just as the Italians have done. Twelve years ago, in spite of the Abyssinians being an uncivilised and barbarous race, they were admitted to the League of Nations on the instance of France and Italy and, I am glad to think, in opposition to the views of the British delegation. As stated in the recent Report of the Committee of Five at Geneva: On admission to the League Ethiopia assumed special obligations regarding certain matters, in particular slavery and the traffic in arms. The obligations were that both these abuses should be abolished.

Twelve years have elapsed since these obligations were contracted. What has happened? Nothing. Slavery continues just as before. What has the League clone to secure the fulfilment of those conditions imposed by the League for entry into the League? Nothing. Nobody knows more of the situation in Abyssinia than the late ex-Governor of the Colony of Kenya. What does Sir Edward Grigg say? In a speech made by him on September 18, he referred to Abyssinia as a bad neighbour and to the maintenance of slavery as a domestic institution involving a slave track across the Red Sea, and great oppression and cruelty in the system of government. It is notorious that not only have Abyssinians been sold into slavery and transported across the Red Sea, but that Abyssinian raiders have penetrated into Kenya and have kidnapped British subjects, men, women and children, and sold them as slaves. When one hears the slogan "Justice before peace," one asks oneself where are justice and peace for these poor souls, kidnapped, led away in chains by the slave-drivers into foreign lands from which they will never see their homes or relations again?

In the breach of their engagements the Abyssinians have been just as bad as the Italians. In cumulative results they have probably been worse. That is one of the reasons why I am so strongly opposed to sanctions, which may mean war, since it would, in my opinion, be a disgraceful crime to sacrifice British lives to prop up not only an incomplete League but also a savage and uncivilised State where such barbarous practices are daily perpetrated. If this country is involved in war against Italy the Government will have assumed a very grave responsibility which will neither be forgiven nor forgotten. The sooner Ethiopia is handed over by Mandate to a civilised Power the better for the Abyssinians and for the rest of the world.

I would like also to see a change in the attitude of unveiled hostility to Italy as displayed by our delegation at Geneva. It has struck me and many others as unnecessarily provocative. Not a single effort at conciliation has been made. One has only to refer to the Report of the Committee of Five to see that, although the Committee was appointed to seek a pacific solution of the Italo-Abyssinian question, the only proposal which was made was that which had already been proposed by Mr. Eden at Rome and rejected by Signor Mussolini, while no mention whatever was made of rights secured to Italy in Abyssinia by treaty or agreement. I admit the generosity of the scheme, but the generous attitude was towards the League and not to Italy, since, amongst other points, it was possible under the scheme for the Emperor to veto the appointment of a single Italian in the proposed new administration. If one had wished to draw up a report which would certainly be rejected by Signor Mussolini one could hardly have succeeded better. If some proposal had been put forward in which there was a recognition of Italy's sphere of influence as provided in the Treaty of 1906, it is possible that this unhappy war might have been averted. I am aware that it will be said that such a proposal would be derogatory to Abyssinia, who is a Member of the League of Nations, but the answer to that is that there is little reason to regard the susceptibilities of Abyssinia in view of the fact that since her entry into the League twelve years ago she has entirely ignored the conditions under which her entry was accepted. I still believe that a solution could be found by direct negotiations between Britain, France and Italy through a representative friendly to Mussolini, but it is as well not to ignore the fact that without a solution he will be quite unamenable to coercion.

It is a regrettable fact that at present we are regarded in Europe and in Italy as the enemy of Italy. The one bright spot during this controversy has been Sir Samuel Hoare's spontaneous and friendly letter to Signor Mussolini, but it is of no use for Ministers to make speeches expressing goodwill to the Italian people, who only point to the hostile attitude of our delegation at Geneva, the concentration of British, and only British, military and naval forces in the Mediterranean, the militant views of some of the most eminent and right reverend members of the Episcopate, the beating of the war drums by the trade unionists and Socialists, and the fact that no similar action was taken in the incidents of Corfu, Memel, Chaco and Manchukuo. We have estranged Japan, our former ally, who rendered great service during the War in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, by a futile embargo on arms which had to be cancelled within a week, and now we have forfeited the friendship of yet another great ally, whose friendship and support we shall certainly need in the not far distant future.

As for the League of Nations and its structure, I need not discuss the recognised fact that the League is not the body which was contemplated by the Treaty of Versailles. That was to have comprised all the nations of the world who would naturally have given great moral influence and force to such an institution. Unfortunately the League lost its status from the moment that the United States refused to enter it. Since then there have been other defections from the League, so that of the seven great Powers, Great Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, only four remain. If the very drastic embargoes on Italian produce as proposed by Mr. Eden at Geneva are enforced, the probable result will be that Italy also will leave the League. There will then remain only Great Britain and France, for I do not count Russia, since her motives are suspect, and her only policy is to disseminate Bolshevism by revolution and chaos in constitutional States of Europe.

We hear a good deal of the phrase "collective security." Sir Samuel Hoare in his recent speech at Geneva made it quite clear that it does not exist. How can it exist, with the United States, Germany, Japan and Brazil all outside the League? I have much sympathy with France, our friend and ally, who is torn in two directions. She, as always, is ready to defend her own soil, but the eyes of the sentries of France are not looking towards tie Alps but to the Rhine. If we were wise we should be looking there, too. The smaller States are impotent to help, and if it came to fighting they probably would not help even if they could. If our country is dragged into war all the horrors of 1914–1918 will be re-enacted, and they will, this time, be infinitely worse. Two wrongs do not make a right, and our country whose scars are not yet healed, wants peace. There will be a complete League of Peace in Europe only when the four great nations of Western Europe are joined together in complete renunciation of war. To achieve this the hand of friendship must be extended to Germany by Great Britain, France and Italy, but unhappily the day is not yet. I am not in any way the enemy of the League of Nations—I have been a delegate to Geneva for two years myself—but it is quite clear, for reasons that I need not here enumerate, that the constitution of the League of Nations should, in the near future, be reconsidered and radically amended in a more practical form, in the light of experience gained since its inception.

As for the present situation, Italy has incurred the stigma of being designated by fifty nations as the aggressor. This blot on her escutcheon will remain, and will undoubtedly have a great moral effect. Economic sanctions have been imposed, and the net of embargoes has been stretched almost to strangle point in imperilling the unity of the League. Signor Mussolini has declared openly that military sanctions mean war. I believe he means what he says. To provoke war with Italy by military sanctions, and thus to extend the area of war, would be not only a breach of the principles of the League, whose aim it is to prevent war, but also of the Kellogg Pact, which renounces war as an instrument of policy. This country, having proceeded to the extreme limit with economic sanctions, has fulfilled its obligations 'under the Covenant while observing the restrictions of the Kellogg Pact. Nobody in this country, except the firebrands, wants war with Italy.

What then remains to be done to stop the war? Only economic pressure without relaxation—the pressure of time and events and the moral weight of ostracism in the Council of Nations. At the same time every opening must be seized and effort made to stop the war by conciliation and agreement. The whole atmosphere, however, is fraught with danger to peace, and in the absence of any definite assurance from His Majesty's Government I appeal to them in the present crisis to hold back from the slippery slope leading to war, and to be careful to avoid imposing any sanction upon Italy, such as blockade or interference with shipping, which could be interpreted as being of a military character and which would precipitate war and possibly a general conflagration in Europe. In making this appeal I am confident that I am voicing the views of a silent but very important and considerable section of our people.


My Lords, as one to whom Italy is dear, and who has in the past had the closest association with the Italian Army, I hope I may in a very few sentences put before your Lordships my views on this, to me, very sad situation. I make no attempt to dispute the verdict of the League. The Covenant was broken; but even after conviction it is always permissible, at any rate under military law, for a prisoner's friend to say what he can in mitigation of the punishment. In the first place, I have never been able to find in any English newspaper a full statement of the Italian case. Of course it was fully presented to all the Members of the League Assembly, but the ordinary man in the street, like myself, has never had it put before him, so far as T have been able to discover. Whether that was the fault of Italian propaganda, or whether it was deliberately withheld, I do not know, but it did not seem to me to be fair, and so I wrote to my friend Marshal Badoglio, and in his reply—please forgive the faulty English—which I will read, he says this: For us Abyssinia has always represented the thorn in the flesh that has painfully entered in action each time that there have been European complications. Several times with great expense we have been obliged to mobilise in Eritrea and Somaliland. The time has arrived for us to take away this thorn and acquire in this land conditions such as will assure us in the future from any surprise. That may perhaps, in some small degree, answer the charge of the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who considered that Italy had received no provocation.

What do we do in similar circumstances? We at once organise an expeditionary force and reassume complete control as quickly as possible, driving the roads of civilisation into the hostile areas—and judging from what I myself saw last year in the North-West Province, I am quite certain that we are right. I am well aware that Abyssinia belongs to the League of Nations, and that the Afridis, Waziris, Mahsuds and Upper Mohmands do not. That is true, but war being no longer an instrument of policy, there is at any rate some analogy, and if there is a large beam in the eye of Italy, there is certainly a little mote in ours. I have read that the sole desire of all the League Assembly is to stop this war, and I am sure it is the wish of all, but I cannot bring myself to understand how in the name of logic and commonsense the rearming of one side can possibly hasten that most desirable end. Surely the better way would be the withholding of arms and munitions from both sides. At any rate, then you do not run the somewhat stultifying risk—and it is a very considerable risk—that the arms and machine-guns intended for one side eventually become the property of the other. It is a very noble British trait to want to support the under-dog, but sometimes in separating two fighting dogs you get very badly bitten. Thank God nobody has been bitten yet, for the teeth of Italy are very sharp.

It has always been the fashion in this country to belittle Italy's efforts in the War and to decry their fighting qualities. There never was a greater mistake. It is true that the Italian Second Army was routed at Caporetto by the onslaught of six German divisions, but the whole line was re-established by the Italians alone. It was not the arrival of French and British reinforcements that re-established the line. I had a peace march from Mantua to the Piave River. If you think I am biased let me give you the opinion of General von Below, the brother of General Otto von Below, who commanded that onslaught. I met him in Washington at the Conference and I asked him why they did not make a much larger success of the battle of Caporetto. He said: "I attribute it in great measure to the self-sacrifice of the Italian Cavalry, who at great cost to themselves blew up the bridges over the Tagliamento and other rivers and delayed our advance." So much for defence. Then in attack. It is quite true that the British Corps was the first to cross the river at the last attack, but how did we get there? We were ferried across the river by Italian boatmen, across a seven-knot current in the face of the enemy. And then in the final advance, in spite of 2,000 casualties in the first 36 hours, the Italian Tenth Army, which I had the honour to command, never wavered, never caused me a moment's anxiety, and fought on to victory. I trust, therefore, your Lordships will not think I am exaggerating when I say that Italy's teeth are sharp, especially when you consider that since 1918 the training, equipment and morale of the country are even higher than they were then.

In conclusion, I trust we shall not provoke our old Italian friends and allies to such desperation as to cause years of bitterness, if nothing worse. I hope we shall go no further in the application of sanctions than our friends the French and other Members of the League, and I trust that at the very earliest opportunity, at the first sign of the lifting of the heavy clouds, we may not be unmindful of Italy's help to us in the past nor forget, as Lord Hardinge has so rightly said, that a clay may come when Italy may once again prove to be to us a very present help in trouble.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will have listened with extreme interest to the very generous tribute paid by the noble Earl, Lord Cavan, to the Italian Army which he himself commanded with such distinction. If I may say so, a good deal of the earlier part of our discussion dealt in abstractions. If I may respectfully do so, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to the actual facts which now confront us, and, as I have indicated, I have some interesting and new information to communicate to your Lordships. I must apologise to the House for having written to The Times newspaper before telling this House what I knew. But I happened to know, through an indirect source, that great quantities of arms and ammunition destined for the Abyssinian ruling caste was likely to be embarked at any moment, and I thought it only fair to give a warning that I would urge His Majesty's Government to take every possible step to induce the League of Nations to reimpose the embargo. I notice -that the noble Earl, Lord Cavan, also urges that. But I think what I can say will make it appear that to allow the arms to be imported for the use of the Abyssinian ruling caste is really a thing so wicked and so wrong that I am sure this country will not want to be a party to it.

I do not propose to enter into the strategic aspect of this question. I am only dealing with what, as I -see it, are the rights and wrongs of this matter especially with regard to this arms embargo. I have consulted men of great diplomatic experience, and others with legal experience, and one who allows me to quote him, Lord Southborough, a member of this House, who had much to do with the question of embargoes during the War when he was a Lord of the Admiralty. Every one of them has told me that the removal of the embargo on the. importation of arms into Abyssinia and the words of Mr. Anthony Eden in his broadcast make war, in their judgment, unless we retrace our steps, not only possible but probable, and in the view of some of them, quite certain. The reason is that it is of course a tremendous thing to do, when people are actually in conflict, to give arms to one side and refuse them to the other. It has been regarded as an act of war, and I think the present Prime Minister when he said "Sanctions mean war" had in mind the giving of arms to one side- and withholding them from the other. So it comes to this, that what we have to decide to-day in this House is whether the people of this country shall go to war with the people of Italy.

It has nothing whatever to do with Signor Mussolini or the Fascist régime. The people are so united, they are so certain of the justice of their cause, that no change of Government or the death of any number of ruling people would make the least difference. I think that those who have been to Italy recently will testify with one voice that what I say is true, and that, as it has been put to me, these young Italian soldiers and -the men who lead them are as convinced as are the people left at home that in their service to King and country they are fighting for a righteous cause. They are just as sure of the justice of their cause as we were in 1914.

I do not know if the members of your Lordships' House saw a very remarkable front-page article in The Times last month, called "A Roman Calm in Italy." I confess I read that with great interest and, having been recently in Italy, I can say that, so far as I know, every word was true. With great impartiality The Times gave it prominence, and this is what they said about these young fellows into the hands of whose enemies we are going to supply arms to shoot with. After remarking that the Prime Minister of Italy "needless to say was never so popular as he is to-day, particularly among the young," the writer goes on: It would be a great mistake to doubt the sincerity, the courage, and the patriotic idealism of these young men. Then in very eloquent words he describes the starting of these young men in the evening light-, three ships of them, for this great adventure in Eritrea and Abyssinia, and he says: The mothers remain long on the quayside following with tearful, if proud, eyes the ships that are disappearing. …. How many of the figli di mamma will return again? How many will remain there? This is what the Italian people are thinking now—40,000,000 of them, who in the War lost 600,000 men fighting on our side. Do you suppose they regard in a calm, dispassionate way the sending of modern arms of precision to their enemies?

And here I would like to dispel the ridiculous illusion that it is a nice thing to sympathise with the under-dog. I believe that the Italian troops are so well trained and so well led, and that the arrangements they have made are so well devised, that they will manage to win through; but let no one think it is an easy task. Let us see who these people are whom they are fighting against. A million armed men of the fiercest fighting stock far and away left in the world. I have been studying them for many a long year. When I was at Cambridge the Battle of Gallabat was fought. Everybody has forgotten that battle, but it is true to say it was the bloodiest battle since the Christian era began. I believe that the best view is that the casualties as given by Barclay in his book are greatly under-stated. The man who knows more about it than anybody else, Wingate, is of opinion that of the 230,000 men engaged, half of them Abyssinian tribes and half the Dervish remnant afterwards commanded by the Mahdi, 175,000 were killed.

Five years later I found myself wandering about the desert on a camel with McMurdo, a relative of mine and Lord Kitchener's greatest friend. His task was to suppress the slave trade going on in Egypt and Abyssinia, and I saw a good deal of those chieftains to whom we gave money for turning King's evidence in order to stop the slave trade and also to support us in the attack on the Mahdi. I remember asking which of these two sets of men, the Dervishes or the Abyssinians, were the fiercer. I asked the same question of a much-travelled man whose name I shall give to the Government, as I have given all the information in my power already to-day. What was the difference? My friend said: "Oh, certainly the Abyssinians are the more cruel." My friend, of whom I asked the question last week, confirmed that. "Oh, yes, the Abyssinians are the more cruel," he said. "Why? "I asked. "Well," he said," the rule of the Dervishes, which they did not break, was that you always kill before you mutilate. The rule of the Abyssinians is to mutilate while alive, and then to bury in the sand to die. That is the difference."

There are now one million of these people, and I do hope that any people who wish to hold public meetings against the Italians, in view of the fact that war is very near, will remember that these desperate, ferocious men, to the number of one million, are now face to face with these gallant boys from Italy. Ought we really to send arms to this million who are the ruling caste in Ethiopia? They are called "The Conquerors" all over Ethiopia. What have they done with their power? Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, in a speech to which we all listened with great interest, said something about the slavery that still survives. The best information comes from Lord Noel-Buxton, who was in this House to-day. The thing is pretty horrible and it is so widespread that the unfortunate people are suffering in a way that no nation in the world suffers now. Lord Noel-Buxton says—I have the quotation here: Abominable cruelties are known to occur and, which is far more serious, raiding and kidnapping still continue. The open sore of the slave traffic, as Livingstone described it, is not a thing of the past; the evidence is incontrovertible.

Perhaps the House may be interested in a more recent traveller. He says that the slave track still continues at Gondar. It has been driven underground, but "Gondar is still the centre of the slave traffic." That was written about six months ago: Gondar is still the centre of the slave traffic. Slave police are stationed there, so the famous slave market in the main square has disappeared, but he who wants a slave in Gondar can have it for the asking. In the dealers' cellars, which are the most terrible places in the world, the male and female slaves are kept naked to allow the buyers to judge them better, and they are manacled by chains to the pillars. Here the dealers offer them for sale. The cells of the Spanish Inquisition and Ivan the Terrible were nurseries compared with the secret slave market of Gondar, which exists only because these Abyssinians were liberated without a transition period. He says it is rather stupid to try and do things too quickly. This book was written by a man who was hospitably entertained by the Emperor. It is written largely from the Abyssinian point of view and that is what he says happens under the régime of these million men to whom we are going to supply arms.

I hope that anybody at any public meeting, anybody who wishes to inveigh against the Italians, and say, "If war must come, let it come," will understand the people they will be fighting for. These men! I do not want to weary the House, but I felt so strongly about it, having studied the subject, that I tried to think what I had best do as a member of your Lordships' House to get at the truth. Those who take the Abyssinian side, clerical as well as lay, have said that things were getting much better, and that if you left them alone the Abyssinians would work out their own salvation. On the other hand, I had heard that things were in many respects worse. Like my noble friend Lord Cavan, I suddenly bethought me of this fact, that most people think all politicians are incapable of speaking the truth, and a great many diplomats have a similar condemnation, but they tend to believe soldiers. So I managed to send to General de Bono a telegram to this effect: "Speaking as one soldier to another, I want to know what the true facts are now that you have had such an immense number of surrenders and that you must have heard a great many hundreds of statements from those who have surrendered to you." It is this which is a new fact that I want His Majesty's Government to take into consideration, and the League of Nations too.

Bear in mind, it came as a complete surprise to the Italians, as I told the Foreign Office this morning, when these particular tribes in the Tigré surrendered to them. They thought that other prominent tribes would come over to their side as they advanced, but they expected keen opposition here, so that the news which they now have of the immense amount of country they occupy was quite unexpected by them. It was not known—I would impress this upon the Leader of the House—it could not have been known to the League of Nations when they met and recommended people to send arms to the Abyssinians. I put to General de Bono three questions. First, is it true or is it false that slaves, men, women, and children, are being captured, and that the slave trade continues with unabated vigour, affecting hundreds of thousands of people and, of course, causing infinite misery, especially to women and children? Secondly, I asked, is it true or is it false that anyone who attempts to resist these awful raids is murdered instantly, tortured, mutilated, or all three? And, finally, is it true or is it false that, if the first two statements are true, as a consequence hundreds of thousands, and one has heard rumoured almost millions, of these people, denizens of Ethiopia, are longing so much to be delivered that they have even overcome their dread of the white man, not altogether ill-founded, in order that any one, they care not who, may deliver them from this awful slavery under which they suffer—men, women and children, and especially the women and children?

I got a reply from General de Bono on Sunday evening. In the telegram I addressed to him I said: "If you can get the information from the officers and men who are in the front line, and who know what has happened and can tell me what you get from them, it will be that which will impress the House of Lords, if they are good enough to hear me, and the country, if my words may reach the people in the country." This is what General de Bono says: I desire to confirm emphatically that there is not the slightest shadow of truth in the reports from Addis Ababa concerning alleged air bombardment or ill-treatment of the native population. No impartial person can possibly believe them. Equally false are the statements made in Geneva concerning alleged destructions and massacres which are reported as having taken place during our advance. The Italian Command has taken every measure to protect lives and properties. The damages and losses which the native population has incurred will be fully compensated. These are reports from the officers and men of the Italian Army.

General de Bono also says: The advance of our troops is welcomed with sincerest and most touching enthusiasm not only by those Ethiopian populations which have been reduced to a state of slavery during the last decades, but also by the Amharic population, who consider the Italians their liberators. Every day in the territories occupied by us religious authorities and native population greet the arrival of the Italians with the warmest sympathy. We have found these Abyssinians in a. state of utter misery, underfed and ill. Their conditions and their way of living confirm all that has been published by the British Anti-Slavery Society on the subject. The Italian 'Military Command have immediately freed all slaves in the occupied areas and have taken measures to eradicate slavery in every form. This work of civilisation will be carried on together with our advance. Every assistance, food, clothing and medicines, is given, and will be given, to the needy and starving population. Now comes something which I know will interest the House and which I ascertained only this morning. Three days ago the Commander-in-Chief—I presume Marshal Badoglio—telegraphed to Signor Mussolini, the head of the Italian Government, about the food supply for the people under his protection. He said he heard from a sure source, though perhaps I had better not say what that source was, but it was a source worthy of credence, that a blockade of some kind, the closing of the Suez Canal or some other measure, was likely to be taken at any time. The Marshal added: This puts me under a great embarrassment. As you know I have enough food collected for the whole of the Army for months to come, but I do not see how I can also feed one hundred and twenty thousand men, women and children who have come under our protection. Signor Mussolini, as it seems to me to his eternal honour, replied, I believe last night, as follows: We must take that risk. Continue to feed the native population as before. That is very striking. I asked whether it was likely, but for my chancing to hear it, that would ever have been published. I was told, "No, it was never meant to see the light. "I said: "It is such a striking thing, because, as in a flash, it reveals what the position would be if war broke out." I asked whether I might state it and the reply was "Yes." There it is: I give it to the House.

How many of these people are there? The area of the country which has been occupied by the Italian troops—that is, up till yesterday—operating from Eritrea is roughly 9,600 kilometres (about 3,750 square miles). The depth of the advance on the right wing (Western) is about 50 kilometres (about 32 miles) from the Italo-Ethiopian frontier, and the depth of the advance on the left wing (East) is about 120 kilometres (75 miles). It is estimated that the population in this area is about 100,000 people. The slaves freed up to now are over 20,000. The Military Command reports this morning that the number of refugees surrendered is 20,000, and it appears probable that this number is largely exceeded. These people are all being fed and nourished and given medical comforts by the Italian troops, greatly to their own surprise.

See what a strange position we are in in running the risk of war and even talking about a blockade! On the one hand you have six million bloodthirsty tyrants—there is no doubt about the facts now—to wham you propose to send arms. On the other side there is a perfectly honourable and humane army of people like ourselves. You would not know an Italian battalion from a battalion of English troops. There are 150,000 mouths to feed and these people are completely isolated. They will stand or fall with the Italian army as they have come under Italian protection. They are assured of food. That is rather a fine thing, I think, is it not? You wish to enforce your blockade. What is right and what is wrong in this matter? As I say, I do not know anything about the strategic aspect, and I do not pretend to be a clergyman or to have any exhaustive knowledge, but in my heart I know that it is a wicked thing to send arms, or to connive at sending arms, to these cruel, brutal men while denying them to the others who are playing an honourable part. You are condemning them if your plan succeeds. What do you send the arms there for? For the Abyssinians to look at? No. Your obvious intention must be that they will be able to use them with effect against their Italian foe. That must be the object. Bear in mind that rifles, aeroplanes and tanks are very valuable in daylight. I have spent so many years in front line warfare that I know this. But I also know that when darkness comes numbers tell. What shall we think of ourselves if by some chance disaster befalls our brave Italian friends and, as a result, the chains of these million slaves are rivetted upon them again for generations? Massacre beyond precedent will take place without doubt—massacre and mutiliation of all these 150,000 men. That will follow as the night the day. Are you going to run that risk? I implore the Churches, above all, to stop this wicked wrong.

What practical step are we going to take? I put forward to the Government this morning—and I think perhaps they were not entirely unimpressed with its possibility—a suggestion. I have assumed that the Italian officers and men are speaking the truth, and if they are, all that I have said follows as a consequence. But still, perhaps you might ask whether all this is really true. It is very easy to find out. A swift cruiser and an aeroplane will enable a small Commission to go out to Eritrea and look round; and, if you like, look round the Anglo-Egyptian-Sudan territory as well, and see the people there, but especially the people in Eritrea. They could see Ras Gugsa, a very intelligent man, who has been here. They could see the Italian officers returned from the front. Of course they could not go to the theatre of war or get an armistice, because neither side in their own interests would agree to that, but a Commission could go to places where they could see all those concerned, see these officers and men and ascertain whether they are speaking the truth.

Ras Gugsa says: I presented myself to the Italian Command with my men and arms not as a prisoner but as a friend. From the time of the Shoan invasion, which was started forty years ago, all the population of Ethiopia, formerly independent under their local rulers, are suffering under the most infamous of oppressions. For decades we have been the slaves of our oppressors from Addis Ababa. The martyrdom of Ethiopia from Menelik to Ras Tafari is one of the most tragic pages in the history of humanity. We welcome the Italians as liberators, convinced that only European civilization—— here he agrees with the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge— can put an end to slavery and to the present anarchy, opening for Abyssinia a. new era of justice and peace". The kind of Commission I suggest could very easily be formed. We should have such a man, say, as Sir Reginald Wingate, if be were well enough, but we know he is not, a man of wide experience, with a similar man from France—there are many men in France with wide experience—and it has been suggested to me that it would be wise to include a representative from the British Anti-Slavery Society. They could find out the truth and report to the League of Nations. But in the meantime, stop this cursed traffic in arms sent to these brutal men. If the Government would say yes to my suggestion, I should be deeply relieved, but if they do not, I shall never rest until what I conceive to be a great moral wrong has been put right.


My Lords, my excuse for inflicting myself upon you at a somewhat late hour is that I am speaking not so much in my own behalf but as the mouthpiece of what I believe to be a very large, although up to the present inarticulate, body of feeling in this country. I speak in particular in behalf of the Imperial Policy Group, which has a considerable following both in your Lordships' House, in another place, and in the country. The debate to-day, while very interesting, has, especially towards its concluding stages, taken a turn which has surprised me.

We have bad many references to the League of Nations, to Locarno, to the Kellogg Pact and to various treaties. But no one, as far as I can recollect—and I have been here throughout the whole of the debate—has made any reference to what I suggest is a subject of some importance. That is, what effect will a. war, if it break out, have upon Great Britain and the British Empire. I am aware that references to the British Empire nowadays are considered rather out of date and possibly in poor taste, but all the same, we have still an Empire and I think its interests are worthy of some slight consideration to-day.

The noble Marquess was of course perfectly correct when he observed that the quarrel is not one between this country and Italy but between the League of Nations and Italy. Theoretically that is certainly the case, but I am going to submit to your Lordships that if war were to break out—which we must all pray heaven it will not—it will be very much a case of war between ourselves and Italy rather than between the League of Nations and Italy, because as far as I can see this country is the only one which is in the least likely to put any armed sanctions into effect or to carry on a war if it were forced upon us by the other party to the dispute. Of the fifty countries which have unanimously expressed disapproval of the line of conduct taken by Italy—and I associate myself entirely with that disapproval—many are so far removed from the scene of likely hostilities as to be perfectly useless and others are too small to be of any use. The only country which could afford any real assistance is France, and I think it is pretty obvious that any French Government which endeavoured to participate in armed intervention against Italy would have little chance of surviving many clays. Therefore, as far as I can see, 95 per cent. of the coercion against Italy would have to be carried out by this country. As far as rights and wrongs are concerned, it is perfectly true that right would be on our side, but we have to remember that the blood than would be shed would be mostly that of our soldiers and it would be very little consolation to any of our men suffering from terrible wounds to tell them that right was on our side. No one of our men killed would be any the less dead because right was on our side!

Furthermore, when we come to consider the question of sanctions, I think it is very obvious that economic sanctions in any form are only too likely to lead to war. Many quotations have been read already and I do not want to weary your Lordships, but there is one quotation from the Prime Minister, not a very long one, which I think is very much to the point. Mr. Baldwin said on February 2, 1934: An economic sanction is very difficult to bring into effect without blockade. Blockade is an act of war and any country, unless it is absolutely impotent, which you blockade will fight you for it. That is a very clear statement, with which it would be very difficult for anyone to disagree. Another difficulty arises. What is a military sanction, what actually is an economic sanction, and who is to be the judge? Suppose we, at the behest of the League of Nations, put into operation sanctions which we considered to be purely economic but which Signor Mussolini considered to be of a military character, what is to happen? What is to happen, for example, if Italian warships start to search ships or possibly scuttle a ship making for the Suez Canal? That, I suggest, is not a very far-fetched possibility. We must envisage the possibility that what are called economic sanctions may directly or indirectly lead to armed conflict, and of that armed conflict I suggest that this country would have to bear the major part.

That is why I hope that, while the Government will do everything in their power to bring this unfortunate war between Italy and Abyssinia to a very speedy conclusion, they will proceed with the utmost caution. Otherwise we are likely to find ourselves, before we know where we are, involved in actual armed conflict. Economic sanctions of a certain kind can be imposed possibly without danger if we merely restrain Italy from importing necessaries of war such as nickel and copper, and especially petrol and oils of a similar nature; but should we make any attempt to deter Italian vessels bearing food or munitions from going through the Suez Canal, I think indeed that we should be running risks altogether out of proportion to the benefits which we should get.

After all, as has already been pointed out by the noble Viscount., Lord Hardinge, if war does come, who can say where it will stop? We may find ourselves facing and in the midst of a European conflagration even more dangerous than that which took place between the years 1914 and 1918. In such a conflict we should have to bear the brunt of the struggle and should lose another generation when we are recovering with great difficulty from the loss of a former generation during the War years from 1914 to 1918. We should pile up another debt which would cripple, if not entirely destroy, our hard-won prosperity. That would be a price too great to pay for a collective security which has been proved to be very largely imaginary. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will proceed with the utmost caution, lest in attempting to do good they do evil which will prove to be utterly irreparable.


My Lords, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Earl Stanhope.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.