§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion of Lord Marley, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty for Papers with reference to the Halo-Abyssinian dispute.
§ THE UNDER-SECRETARY OP STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (EARL STANHOPE)
My Lords, the noble Marquess who leads the House dealt so fully and so clearly with the general policy of the Government in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute that I feel sure the House will not desire me to traverse the same ground again. Rather, I think, your Lordships would prefer that I should endeavour to deal with some of the points which were raised in yesterday's debate and with some of the criticisms of the policy of His Majesty's Government which have been made elsewhere. May I begin by saying how glad I was to hear the noble Lord who leads the Opposition say on behalf of the Labour Party that his Party is not hostile to Italy, and that Italy's form of government is her own affair? England has been accused, not only in Italy but in other countries, of taking up a strong attitude because she has been impelled to do so by Socialists and by Freemasons, and that we are opposed to the Fascist form of government. I need not enlarge on flat point in your Lordships' House. We all know that it is absurd, and I was glad to get this very strong confirmation in the debate of yesterday from the noble Lord opposite, to show that at any rate his 1135 Party is not impelled by any motives against any form of government.
Of course, there are many of us who are opposed to the Nazi form of government or to the Fascist form of government, and others who are as strongly opposed to the Soviet form of government, but none of us is inclined for that reason to interfere with the internal affairs Germany or of Italy or of Russia. All that we do say—and I think that the noble Lord opposite would agree with me in this, much as he professes to dislike this Government—is that we prefer our own form of government rather than any of those to which I have referred, and that all that we intend is that none of those forms of government shall be introduced into this country. So far indeed from this country being hostile to Italy, we are, as many of your Lordships remarked yesterday, bound to Italy by many historic ties. They are ties not only of history but of sentiment, and we are tied indeed on account of other reasons too—namely, that His Majesty's Government believe very strongly that it is to the advantage of Europe, and therefore to the advantage of this country, that Italy should be strong, contented and stable.
The sole reason why we have taken up the attitude which we have lies in Italy's action in regard to the Covenant and to the other treaties to which she had signed her name. We are not saying that because a treaty has been signed it should never be altered, but we are saying that a treaty, once it is signed, must be adhered to and cannot be broken by one nation, and least of all by the use of force. The noble Lord, Lord Snell, remarked that our zeal for the League of Nations was somewhat sudden, and others have asked—I think it was rather suggested by some remarks of the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe—Why did not you take similar action in regard to Manchuria and in the Chaco war? I should be taking up too much of your Lordships' time if I were to go into those two questions in detail, but perhaps I may briefly put it in this way. Both of them were entirely dissimilar to the case which we are now considering.
In the Manchurian dispute China and Japan were never technically at war. Diplomatic relations were never interrupted. China never withdrew her 1136 Minister from Tokyo, and the League in its Report of February 24, 1933, did not pronounce Japan guilty in the sense of declaring that she had resorted to war in disregard of the Covenant. Article 16 therefore did not and could not come into operation. One might remark also that even if sanctions had been brought into operation it is extremely doubtful whether they could have been made effective. Your Lordships will remember that the two great neighbours of Japan, the U.S.S.R. and the United States were neither of them at that time Members of the League of Nations, and therefore they would have been outside any action which the League of Nations might have taken. But the fact remains that sanctions could not have been applied under the Covenant by reason of the fact that Japan had not been found guilty by the League, and that there was no actual state of war between China and Japan.
As regards the Chaco dispute, that is a type of case almost exactly opposite. In that case both Bolivia and Paraguay were equally responsible for hostilities. Neither of them reported the action of the other side to the League of Nations, and neither side appealed to the League, either under Article 11 or Article 15. When the war first began the League left it to the conciliation of countries chiefly in South America, but generally in the American Continent, but those efforts of mediation failed. Then the League sent out a Committee to enquire into the matter, and they came to the conclusion that if the supply of arms were cut off from both sides then it might be possible to stop the war. As a result an embargo on arms to both countries was imposed by the League, in which this country of course took its part; and that remained in force until eventually Bolivia accepted the League's recommendations and the embargo was raised against Bolivia but was retained against Paraguay, who had refused what the League had proposed. Now in the present case Abyssinia appealed to the League. She accepted in principle the League recommendations for settlement on the basis of collective assistance, while Italy refused to accept the League's proposals; and when without further delay Italy invaded Abyssinia, the League had no alternative but to name Italy as the aggressor, with all the 1137 consequences that ensued from that decision.
I come now to another criticism which was made yesterday, voiced partly, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, and also by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, in -which they said that it had been remarked by many people that the League ought to have taken action sooner, and that this country ought to have impelled it to do so. My reply to that is so voluminous that I rather hesitate to put it before the House. But, for my own information, a few nights ago I drew up a diary of events, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to read short extracts from it to bring home to the House how very rapid the action has been throughout. Your Lordships will remember that there was a joint Anglo-Ethiopian Boundary Commission which was visiting areas to settle the grazing rights of tribes of British Somaliland and Abyssinian tribes. They are nomadic tribes who wander backwards and forwards across the frontier. That Commission arrived before Walwal at noon on November 23 of last year. It then found that the wells at Walwal were in the occupation of an Italian force, and that force refused to grant them access to the wells. There was some discussion between the British officer who was on that Commission and the Italian officer in charge on the other side, and complaints were made by the British officer. But he took no action, and the Joint Commission retired to Ado two days later, on November 25. Unfortunately the big escort which had been provided by Ethiopia for the protection of the Commission was left behind opposite Walwal.
News of the refusal of access to the wells was received in London on the 28th, and as a consequence His Majesty's Ambassador in Rome interviewed Signor Suvich on December 4 on instructions received from the Foreign Office, and suggested an early demarcation of the disputed frontier. Your Lordships will realise that there was very little pause there, because instructions had to be sent to our Ambassador and he had to make an appointment with Signor Suvich before an interview could take place. The details I have given show how quick must have been the action of the Foreign Office. Time after time when information was received 1138 in London, almost immediately action was taken either in London or in Rome. On December 5 occurred a serious encounter at Walwal between the escort of the Commission, which, as I have remarked, was left behind, and the Italian forces in that area. On December 10, five days later, our Ambassador in Rome expressed to Signor Suvich a hope that the question would be settled amicably, and received an affirmative reply. He again pressed for the delimitation of the boundary, and of course that also was pressed by our Minister at Addis Ababa. On December 25, Christmas Day, a very suitable day, a démarche was made in London by the Italian Chargé d'Affaires stating that Italy wished to settle the whole Abyssinian matter and was most anxious to avoid trouble in that area. Three days later our Ambassador again saw Signor Suvich suggesting methods for a peaceful settlement of the Walwal dispute. Unfortunately on the same day there came the alleged attack on Gerlogubi, not very far from Walwal.
On January 11 the Council met at Geneva in the ordinary course of events, and the matter came up before them, because on December 14 the Emperor of Ethiopia had referred the whole question to the League for arbitration and settlement; but on January 19 the Italian and Ethiopian representatives at Geneva wrote saying that a settlement might be sought for under the procedure of the Italian-Ethiopian Treaty of Friendship of 1928. I think your Lordships will agree that the League would have been behaving most wrongly if they had interfered in what seemed most likely to be a satisfactory settlement arrived at between the two protagonists in this unfortunate dispute. On January 29 there occurred a further clash at Gerlogubi. On February 11, less than a fortnight afterwards, Italy announced the mobilisation of two divisions for service in East Africa as a measure of precaution. I think it was the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who suggested that perhaps the League might have taken action before Italy had become committed by sending troops. I think your Lordships will realise how early the first and very large contingent of troops were sent out by Italy, long before, as I hope I have succeeded in showing, it would have been possible for the League to take any action at all.
1139 On that day, and three days later, our Ambassador in Rome again saw Signor Suvich, and urged prudence in view of the European situation, while on February 21 the then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Sir John Simon, spoke very seriously to the Italian Ambassador in London of the increasing interest of British public opinion in the situation and also in Italian intentions. That, I think, was the first time that any reference had been made to any action outside the Walwal incident itself, but, as your Lordships will see, it came at a very early date. On February 27, six days later, the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign Office again spoke seriously to the Italian Ambassador over the delays in the matter of arbitration, and stated that Italy was exposing herself to public criticism here. On February 28, our Ambassador saw Signor Mussolini himself. It has been remarked by some people that perhaps Signor Mussolini may have been misled by not getting very full reports from his Ambassador in London. I am not, of course, in a position to know what the Ambassador has been sending back to his Government, but from the way in which he performs his duties at this end I have very little doubt that he is more than capable of putting the situation in the clearest possible light to those in authority in Italy. But in this case our Ambassador, as I say, saw Signor Mussolini himself, and he called attention to the dangers of Italian policy which would not be understood by public opinion in England, and he left a Memorandum with Signor Mussolini going into the points in greater detail. That was followed by a reply from Signor Mussolini in which I can, at any rate, say he appreciated the friendly spirit which had inspired the British observations.
May I remind your Lordships that all through those months we were becoming increasingly alarmed at the situation in Europe in view of the threatened action in Germany to reimpose conscription, and what was in our minds at that time was not a dispute in Abyssinia but possible reactions that might occur in Europe. Therefore it is the more striking that we should refer particularly to the dangers that might arise from Italy becoming involved in a struggle in Abyssinia and the effect on general 1140 European politics. On April 10–14 occurred the Stresa Conference. I do not propose to go into that matter now, because your Lordships will see that it was dealt with very fully by the Secretary of State in another place, and probably most of your Lordships have already read that speech. But I must remind your Lordships that that Conference was called for one specific purpose—namely, to try and get unity between the three Western nations of Europe as to the action that should be taken at the special Session of the League which had been called for April 15. It was not entirely an easy matter to get agreement, as I think is generally known, at any rate as regards the wording of the resolution to be put forward, and time was far too short to bring anything else forward than the matter to be discussed, which was the action that should be taken at Geneva with regard to Germany.
I would further remind your Lordships that as the result of that Conference, and of the meeting of the League Council a few days later, a Committee was set up to deal with what action should be taken with a nation which broke the Covenant, how far diplomatic, financial and economic sanctions would be imposed on a country and how far they would be effective. That was supported by both France and Italy, in fact I rather think those two nations were the proposers of the whole scheme; and we naturally hoped that the agreement arrived at at Stresa for the fulfilment of obligations under a treaty would have its due effect on those in Italy in any action they might think of taking later on in Abyssinia. The question of Abyssinia was referred to by officials at the Stresa Conference, but it was not referred to between Ministers. It was mentioned at the Special Session of the League at Geneva, but the Italian delegate then signified his intention to put into operation as speedily as possible the procedure for conciliation and arbitration under Article 5 of the Italo-Ethiopian Treaty of 1928, to which I have referred.
Once again, I think your Lordships will agree, it was the business of the League, if they meant not to interfere, to endeavour to promote a settlement direct between Italy and Abyssinia in this dispute. The Council therefore decided 1141 that the matter should be allowed to rest. Sir John Simon, however, suggested that the arbitrators, which it was proposed to appoint to go into the whole question of the Walwal dispute, should be appointed without any delay, and that it would be most unfortunate if they had not been appointed before the Council Diet again for its ordinary Session in May. Then numerous interviews took place both in London and in Rome, but on the 7th May there was a second Italian mobilisation of regular and Blackshirt divisions. Eventually, on the lath May, the Italians appointed their two arbitrators, but they objected to the Ethiopian representatives because they were non-Ethiopians. Once more grave conversations took place in Rome between our Ambassador and Signor Mussolini in which our Ambassador warned the latter that he might weaken or destroy the League if he went to war in Ethiopia. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that no-Oiling more frank or direct than that could possibly have been said by an Ambassador to the head of a friendly State. I do not know that need weary your Lordships further by going into this. All I need perhaps say is that the League succeeded in persuading Italy to agree to non-Ethiopian representatives on the Commission of Arbitration, and that at a meeting on 25th May they decided that that arbitration must be concluded by August 25 and that if agreement had not been reached by July 23, or if the arbitrators had not agreed on the appointment of the fifth representative on the Conciliation Committee, then the Council of the League should meet.
§ LORD OLIVIER
The noble Earl has just made an important point as regards the communication made to Italy as to the serious aspect of this matter, and I should like to ask him at what date that was done and did the Italian Government then intimate they had any cause for war with Abyssinia other than the question about Walwal?
§ EARL STANHOPE
My recollection is that there was only the question of Walwal, and it was not until some time later that we realised there might be a more serious question in view of what was described as the imminence of an attack on the Italian Colonies.
§ LORD OLIVIER
Did the Italian Government indicate at any time that they had these other grievances and that they were going to war on those grievances and not on Walwal?
§ EARL STANHOPE
I do not think that occurred until my right honourable friend Mr. Eden visited Rome about June 24. As far as my recollection goes, it was only then that we understood that Italy feared an attack on her Colonies and that therefore she felt she must put an end to the threat. I think it was about the end of June it happened. I am not quite certain, but I think it was about that date. From June 24 and 25, when Mr. Eden was at Rome, matters began to progress with much greater rapidity, and on July 24 our Ambassador delivered a Note in Rome which then referred to Italy's position under the Treaties and the position of the League of Nations, and went into the matter in considerable detail. That was answered in a long note from Signor Mussolini. I think your Lordships are cognisant with what went on from July 31–the meetings in Paris, the meetings of the Council in Geneva (which did not meet on July 25, but met, I think, on August 3), and then again later on in August, and on September 4.
From what I have said—and I am afraid I have wearied your Lordships by this long recital—I hope the House will agree that our representations both in Rome and in London have been numerous, frank and ' outspoken, and I would remind your Lordships, and particularly those who rather object to these, I think they call them "stunt visits," that the action we took was almost entirely by the ordinary diplomatic methods through our respective Ambassadors and their Notes and the League. It is perhaps for that reason that some people in this country are still inclined to think that we might have talked to Italy sooner, or perhaps more frankly. It is, of course, the disadvantage of diplomatic procedure that it is not published, and therefore members of the public know nothing about it. I think it right to tell your Lordships in this great detail, briefly as I have, the action which has been taken by the Foreign Office here and by the Government to show that we left no stone unturned to make clear our position in regard to this matter, and that the League also certainly 1143 cannot be blamed for not having taken the matter in hand sooner than it did.
The noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, who was here yesterday, stated that he was not an enemy of the League. I should think he could hardly be described as a friend. It seemed to me that he thought that, certain great nations having left the League and another never having joined it, the League was really nothing more than a deformity and ought to be knocked on the head. It is, of course, true that the League's task has been made infinitely more difficult by reason of the fact that it is not universal, but it is not for us to despair until we have tested it and have been forced to realise that it has failed. It has certainly not failed yet. I can agree with Lord Hardinge when he stated that this country wants peace. So do the Government, not only in Europe but in Ethiopia. I cannot agree with him when he says our delegation has shown unveiled hostility against Italy. As a Member of the League we have had to take our part against the country which has been declared the aggressor. We have done nothing more than our part. Naturally it has had to be a prominent one, because the position which this country and its Empire occupies in the world is such that anything that a representative does at Geneva cannot fail to come into prominence, but if the country had been able to see the proceedings of the Committees which have been sitting in private they would have realised that it is very far indeed from true to say that this country has invariably taken the lead. Other countries have taken their full share, and it is the strength of the League at the present moment that it is not confined to the action of this country or to the lead that this country has given alone.
I have already remarked that we have no hostility against Italy or its Government, but we are grieved that an old friend and ally should have so disregarded the treaties she has signed. The noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, complained that it was the British Fleet and the British Fleet alone that had been concentrated in the Mediterranean. If he had had the opportunity that I have had of reading daily a prècis of the foreign Press, I think he would have wondered that that increase in our Forces both by land and sea was not made 1144 sooner, for the attacks and threats against this country have been going on in the Italian Press not for weeks but for months past. And it has not been threats only. The increase in the Italian forces in Libya has been very considerable indeed and we should have been entirely failing in our duty not only to this country but to Egypt if we had not taken the measures of precaution which we have taken. When he thinks that our Fleet is there to blockade the Suez Canal it can only be because he and others do not believe the reiterated statements which have been made by the Prime Minister and by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that we intend to confine our action to that taken by other countries—collective action. And by collective action I mean not merely that a vote is given at Geneva but that action should be taken by each country to carry its vote into effect. We are not prepared to act as sole agents for the League of Nations on behalf of other countries, and we feel strongly that each nation must take its full part. Military sanctions, blockade, or the cutting of communications have never been discussed at Geneva and, as the Secretary of State said yesterday in another place, the condition for enforcement of such sanctions—namely, collective agreement—has never existed.
I welcome the tribute which my noble friend the gallant Field-Marshal Lord Cavan paid yesterday to the gallantry of the Italian Army. I only hope that he and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, will use their influence to bring home to those in authority in Italy that this war was not necessary to enable us to realise that fact, and that the true friends of Italy deplore, apart from other reasons, this dissipation of her wealth and her manhood which, unless it is stopped, must cause us all grave concern. I regret on the other hand the alarmist opinions expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, and I do not share them. "How wrong" he says, "to be thinking and talking of blockade." But it is not the members of His Majesty's Government who are thinking and talking of blockade. It is the noble Lord himself and the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, and others, and I hope strongly that he will stop doing it because it is undoubtedly a most dangerous practice.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
With deep respect, yesterday I saw the noble Earl at the Foreign Office and I then told him that this talk and rumour of blockade was not my idea at all but came to me from official sources which had reached the Italian Government. I repeat that. It is completely wrong to say that I or Lord Hardinge had anything whatever to do with suggesting blockade. If he will look into the records at the Foreign Office he will find that the Italian Government were quite right in their aprehensions. I hope and pray that those apprehensions were ill founded, but they were right.
§ EARL STANHOPE
I am most grateful to the noble Lord for kindly coming to see me, but the story he told me has, I can assure him, absolutely no foundation whatever. No one in authority there has thought of blockade. At any rate if he has it has been entirely unofficial and certainly on no instructions that he has received from the Government here and on nothing that has been suggested. My noble friend claimed a good many virtues for soldiers and I agree that they have them, but I hope he will not claim a monopoly of them. After all, politicians, and perhaps still more diplomats, have knowledge and I would remind him that we have our Legation in Addis Ababa. When he came to sec me in my room yesterday one of the two Foreign Office officials who were there had been in Addis Ababa for about a year and a half and, indeed, had been back in this country less than six months. Therefore we are, of course, fully aware of the situation which exists in Ethiopia.
We know that the internal condition of that country leaves very much indeed to be desired and that slavery still exists. But the Emperor is doing his best, though progress is necessarily slow under the conditions there with a country virtually devoid of communications and with no administrative machinery of any sort or kind, while feudatory chieftains make these difficulties extreme. I am convinced in my own mind that he is doing his best. If noble Lords refer to the proposals put forward by the Committee of Five they will realise, I think, that the Report they made shows clearly that the Committee definitely realised the situation in Ethiopia, because quite obviously proposals such as they made could not have been suggested for any 1146 State other than one very backward indeed. Therefore I feel, and I hope I shall get the noble Lord to agree with me, that the appointment of a Commission would be really superfluous. We fully realise the situation in that country and to send out a Commission in the circumstances of the case would, I think, get us very little further information.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
If my noble friend will forgive me, the matter is of such immense importance as by common consent we are on the verge of war.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
I think that is right. I suggested that an entirely new and unexpected factor had arisen which made it desirable for this country now to enquire into the position. None of the officials at Addis Ababa could possibly know what was going on so long as the people were under the tyranny of the present rulers at Addis Ababa. Now that they are free to speak would it not be wise to enquire somehow—I do not care how—whether it is true or false that conditions are such that the majority of the people wish to escape from that tyranny?
§ EARL STANHOPE
May I point out to my noble friend that the area occupied by Italian forces up to date is something less than 2 per cent. of the whole area of the country? My mathematics are not very strong, but as far as I can make out the population said by him to inhabit that country is such that they are of a density of 25 to the square mile. Those who know Ethiopia are extremely doubtful therefore of my noble friend's statistics generally and do not feel that any inquiry in one small corner of the country is going to get us a true picture as regards the country as a whole. We are fully aware that some of these hereditary chieftains quite likely may welcome the advance of the Italians. Others, on the other hand, may resist them to the death. It is well known that the chieftain who went over to the Italians was jealous of neighbouring chieftains, and he has never been particularly friendly to the reigning house of Abyssinia.
The noble Lord suggested that we should refuse to allow arms to be imported to Ethiopia for the purposes of self-defence. I do not think he quite 1147 realises that if we do that we should ourselves be breaking at least one treaty: that of 1930, by which we, France and Italy bind ourselves to allow arms to be imported into Ethiopia under certain very definite conditions. They have to be applied for by the Ethiopian Government, they have to be sealed, they have to be registered to see that they do not fall into unauthorised hands. But we are committed, if the Government of Ethiopia ask for arms to be imported for purposes of self-defence, to allow those arms to go through our various Colonial territories. What is more, the League decided on the 11th of this month—all the Members of the Committee voting for the Resolution with the exception of Hungary, whose representative did not vote against it but merely refrained from voting—that the embargo on arms which had been imposed by several countries, including this one, should be removed as far as Ethiopia was concerned and that arms should therefore be allowed to go there. The noble Lord suggested that by allowing arms to be sent to Ethiopia we were encouraging the retention of slavery. Every one of us is anxious to abolish slavery, but I doubt whether anybody will get many supporters for the policy that the right method is to disregard treaties and, armed with all the appliances of military science, to go to war with a nation whose rulers have accepted the proposals put forward by the Committee of Five.
I forget which of your Lordships stated that the Committee of Five took no note whatever of Italy's rights as agreed to by arrangement with this country and with France, or by treaty. May I say that I am afraid that is quite incorrect? At the end of the Report of the Committee of Five there is a paragraph in which both we and France agree that wewill look with favour on the conclusion of economic agreements between Italy and Ethiopia, on condition that the existing rights of French and British nationals and protected persons are respected by the two parties, and that the recognised interests of France and the United Kingdom under all agreements already in force are safeguarded.And we point out, of course, that we are claiming nothing which might be accorded to Italy in that respect. I apologise to your Lordships for being longer than I meant to be. The noble 1148 Marquess, Lord Crewe, asked that the Government should press on with terms of settlement fair to Italy, Abyssinia and Europe. This, of course, is a matter for the League of Nations, but I can assure the House that we shall lose no opportunity of endeavouring to obtain a just settlement at the earliest possible moment. We have, of course, no desire whatever to penalise Italy for her wrongful act, but on the other hand we must not be unfair to Ethiopia.
Now I turn to another question. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Snell, remarked that his Party had sacrificed itself to obtain unity and the common good. I have no doubt that the Labour Party supported the Government from patriotic motives, but it has supported the Government also because it realised that if it had not done so its prospects at the forthcoming Election would have been even worse than they are now.
§ EARL STANHOPE
We shall see. The country has been almost solidly behind the Government in this connection, and not only this country but also, as I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, who spoke last night, will be glad to hear, the representatives of His Majesty's self-governing Dominions as well. They have been solidly behind each step the Government have taken, and we have throughout been in full consultation with them. The noble Lord opposite professes dislike of this Government, but although he said that his chances at the next Election were not too bad, he seemed extraordinarily unwilling to face it.
§ EARL STANHOPE
And, in fact, he seemed very much disturbed that we should have proposed an Election at this moment. No doubt there are divisions in the Socialist Party on this question—
§ EARL STANHOPE
—and that is nothing new. May I remind the House that on March 13 last, when we were talking about the trade in arms, I made a speech in which I reviewed the proposals which have been put forward by various members of the Party opposite, and I remarked then that the views put forward 1149 by the noble Lord, Lord Ponson—bywhom I am sorry to see no longer on the Front Bench—seemed to correspond more faithfully with those of Mr. Lansbury than they did with those of either Mr. Attlee or Sir Stafford Cripps. I happened to quote also the opinions of Colonel Wedgwood, and I was reminded that Colonel Wedgwood was an independent member of the Labour Party. My retort to that was that it was very difficult to know who was a member of the Labour Party, and that we should no doubt have to wait until their next annual conference before we knew who was a member of the Labour Party and who was not. I am not sure that I know now, but I do know that they have changed their Leaders in both Houses of Parliament. As to what their policy is in regard to arms, sanctions or anything else, I am still not quite certain. The doubt is not really confined to the question that is before the House at this moment, because if you go into the question of whether it is to be "Socialism in Our Time," or whether it is to be nationalisation of the banks, or whether it is to be compensation for nationalisation or not, I think we shall find equal division. Therefore, when they complain of the Government holding an Election now, they ought to be most grateful to them, because the more rope we give them the greater will be the drop they will get!
Of course, that is not the reason why we are holding an Election now. I admit that to some Parties that might be an incentive, but we think that our majority will be quite adequate without taking measures of that kind. I am not in the Cabinet, and therefore not in a position to know what the reasons for an immediate Election are, but from the diplomatic point of view I can put forward more than an adequate reason. I admit that I am being rash in this. I am being rash in trying to foresee what is likely to be the course of events in the near future. As I see it, economic sanctions are likely to be somewhat slow in their action. I think it may be some months before the effect of them comes to be felt severely. In that I may be wrong; it may come sooner than I think. But if it takes some months, that will come almost simultaneously with the disillusionment which I feel certain will sweep over Italy when she realises what 1150 she has taken on. She is attempting to conquer a country rather larger than France, peopled by those who are accustomed to fighting, and an intolerable country for climatic and, still more, for military reasons. Therefore I think it very possible that by the turn of next year we may find proposals to arrive at a settlement.
Personally I strongly hope, as I am sure all your Lordships do, that that settlement will come much sooner, but this seems to be a most likely time, and therefore the worst possible time to hold an Election in this country. So, from the diplomatic point of view at any rate, the sooner an Election comes and we get a Government again with a term of office to deal with the question, the better from the diplomatic point of view. It is the view of every one of us, whatever our Party prepossessions may be, that this country should have a Government established with strong public support behind it to deal with the difficult problems that will then arise. That is a, feeling which I believe is common to all of us.
I apologise for having been somewhat discursive in my 'remarks and for having gone perhaps beyond the bounds of the debate in saying what I have said of the Party opposite, bet I wanted to show that from the diplomatic point of view a General Election now is of advantage, not merely to the Government but also to the country and to Europe generally: that in taking the action which we have taken we have not been slow to seize every opportunity which was available to endeavour to bring this unfortunate dispute to an end; and that neither the Government of this country nor, we believe, the League of Nations can be blamed for having lost any possible opportunity of doing their best to bring it to a conclusion.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I feel rather embarrassed in addressing the House from rather a new angle. I should like to preface my remarks by thanking the noble Marquess the Leader of the House for the very kind references which he made to me yesterday, and I would also thank the noble Marquess who sits on the Liberal Benches. If I have been able to discharge the duties of Leader of the Opposition at all adequately, it has been because of the sympathy and consideration that I have received from all of your Lordships who 1151 attend our debates and because of the loyalty and help I have received from my colleagues on these Benches; and, I would also add because of the assistance I have received from the officials of the House, whom I have bombarded from time to time with unanswerable questions.
While I feel physically rather uncomfortable, at the same time I feel emboldened by a release from all reticence and restrictions, of which I hope I shall take advantage fully. The noble Earl who has just addressed the House gives me an opportunity in the controversial remarks which he addressed to your Lordships at the end of his speech with regard to the General Election. I would only say what my view about it is. It differs from the noble Earl's, and it differs from that of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. My view is that if the Labour Party had adopted my views on this matter, in the next Parliament I should not have been Leader of the Opposition but I should have been Leader of the House; because I can assure the Government that they are misled by votes at conferences, that the deep feeling of this country is that you are playing with fire, and that the country is determined that you shall not let it go down the slippery slope any further.
We talk a different language now but the meaning is the old meaning. I do not believe that there is one person in a hundred who knows what "sanctions" mean. I doubt whether the Government knows what "sanctions" mean. How can they? They have never exercised this power under Article 16 of the Covenant. They do not know whither it is going to lead them; they have not an idea. No, my Lords; we have got to analyse this matter very much more carefully and let the country understand what it is the Government are trying to do before we can ascertain what the country thinks about it, and if only one could do that—if I could divide myself up into a hundred people in the next few weeks and explain to the country what this really means—I think the views which the noble Earl holds about the General Election would be very different.
The war between Italy and Abyssinia could not be stopped, and therefore it was decided to take up Article 16 (which a great many people have not read) and 1152 carry out literally what it laid down: sanctions economic, financial, and, if need be, military. To be effective these sanctions must be drastic. The more drastic they are the greater complexity there must be in their organisation. We are told we must not talk of blockade, but you are not going to have drastic sanctions without blockade; the Prime Minister said on May 18 that there is no such thing as a sanction that will work that does not mean war. The Prime Minister has altered his language on several occasions. I differ from the noble Earl with regard to a speech which was made yesterday—I did not hear it, but I read it very carefully as I read all the speeches that I was not able to hear—and that was the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge, which I thought extremely wise, extremely farsighted, coming from a man who has had great diplomatic experience. So good may your Lordships see that it was, that I myself have had to tear up some of my notes.
If this policy is continued I do not think it will solve the problem of Italy's ambitions in the future. It certainly will have very serious repercussions on international relations in Europe. It may extend the area of warfare, and the amount of dislocation in the world economic conditions we cannot foresee; and I think on the whole that it is likely to break the League of Nations. It is friends of the League who, by their vociferous demand for sanctions coupled with the further demand that Great Britain should take the lead, I think have rendered the League a very bad service and they may have placed their country in the unenviable position of bearing the heaviest burden and being pointed to as the chief enemy. It has already happened. Further than that, it may lead to very unfortunate disputes and recriminations between friends whose relations have been perfectly good up to now.
The worshippers of the League of Nations worship the letter rather more than the spirit. They regard the Covenant as sacrosanct and verbally inspired, and the last word in the establishment of the supremacy of international authority, whereas the Covenant is only part of the Treaty of Versailles. It was a first attempt at trying to secure peace by collective action. It was drafted by men who were intoxicated by victory, who had 1153 won a "war to end war," "a war to crush German militarism," "a war to make Europe safe for democracy." And the men who signed the Treaty thought that they had done all that—they were convinced that they had done it—by superior military force, and therefore they put force behind the sanctions in Article 16. As we know, none of those objects has been achieved at all, and those who are still alive of those who signed it see what a mistake they made. Nobody attempts to defend the Treaty of Versailles, which has been changed and broken and defied in all directions. But the Covenant remains. I am a believer in the League of Nations; I believed in the, League of Nations before it was formed; but to suppose that this infant of sixteen years can prevent war and easily stop war is straining it to breaking point. It seemed quite plausible to the framers when they put the Article on paper, but in drafting it they envisaged a League of All Nations, anyhow of all the great nations, and unanimity for action when the proved aggressor broke his pledges.
I opposed the idea of force being placed as the ultimate sanction because I did not think that the League of Nations, which was an institution formed in order to secure peace, should be used as a bludgeon, as an attempt is now being made to use it, in order to stop war. I do not believe there is any settlement or solution that can be effected by force, always bearing in mind what modern force means. I think we really must be more critical with regard to the methods of the League of Nations if we hope to make it eventually into an efficient instrument for consolidating peace. I am no believer in the old-fashioned methods of secret diplomacy, and I think the League of Nations renders a great service in affording a meeting place for the representatives of all nations and the exhibition to the world of the full circumstances of any dispute that is in question. At the same time I think we must recognise the fact that those advantages are accompanied by certain disadvantages. There is a tendency, owing to modern forms of publicity, for the ill-informed public in all nations to lose their sense of proportion, to magnify the outbreak of warfare between two belligerents and to inflame unnecessarily 1154 opinion elsewhere. I do not believe that any war in the history of the world has had more publicity, or been more criticised, or more widely broadcasted, or more freely made into headlines in newspapers, or more generally made matter of discussion in every community and family in the country. That may be good, but it does undoubtedly give people a very false sense of proportion.
In times past, let us remember, the acquisitions which have gone to make up the British Empire were effected under the name of police measures, punitive expeditions, and justifiable conquests without any outside interference. We were always judges in our own disputes. That was the old method. It was not a good method, and we must realise that to-day some of our past exploits would not have come off. I doubt if the very small expedition in 1867 of Lord Napier to Magdala—it was done with a comparatively small army and only one engagement and effected its purpose—I very much doubt whether, if under modern conditions that had been placed before an international authority, and been under discussion for three or four months, it would not have been magnified into something out of all proportion to what it was so that it might have led to very much more serious bloodshed.
We have got to face the fact that whereas in times past we could choose our wars, in the present circumstances we have got to be in every war. As my noble friend Lord Cecil said in one of his speeches not long ago, a war anywhere must be a war everywhere. I do not believe that that is a method of keeping the peace of the world; but it is certainly true that if we contemplate under Article 16 of the Covenant enforcing these sanctions we must be prepared for a war that is going to be such a conflagration, considering the inflammatory materials about, that the end of it cannot be foreseen. Force seems to be a short cut. Force destroys lives but not ideas. The achievements of force to-day are ephemeral, misleading, purely negative, and utterly futile, and whatever high purpose, whatever high ideal you may pretend is your objective, whatever high authority, human or divine, you invoke as blessing your enterprise, the result is bound to be barren.
1155 My Lords, we are loud in our protestations and declarations that we have nothing but friendship for the Italian people—I am tired of hearing it repeated—yet by our action we are going to make them suffer by insufficient food, while the culprit, as in all wars, will not have to suffer at all. The Italians will have to tighten their belts while their Leader will not have a cutlet less for dinner, and will still have his macaroni, which we shall not have. The Italian people are in a cleft stick. If they do not obey their Dictator they will be suppressed and shot, and if they do obey him they will be starved at home or killed abroad. As they are only allowed to hear his version of the story naturally they obey him. No people in these days can pierce by their vision the thick veil of lying propaganda released by their Government which accompanies every war. I find it very disturbing to see all the old symptoms returning. Little or no advance has been made against the doctrine that force alone can meet force, and that force can achieve a high purpose. But very great advance has been made in the development of force itself; that is to say, in the diabolical engines for the wholesale massacre of innocent people.
I want to say a word about the Church, although the representatives of the Church are not here to-day. The Church is in the forefront, as usual. I should have liked to remind the most reverend Primate, had he been here, whose utterances, as also those of the Archbishop of York, I have read with care and with great dismay, that it is the great nations who profess Christianity who are the chief war-makers and lawbreakers; that it is the great nations who profess Christianity who are the great arms manufacturers; that the Christian message is in this respect no nearer, I would say, further from fulfilment, than it was one thousand years ago, and that is because those chiefly entrusted with the propaganda of Christian doctrine always fail when the testing time comes. They line up on the side of secular authority, and some even bring out their Old Testaments to justify their bellicose indignation. I do not, however, take my stand on the shifting sands of what goes by the name of religion. I do not take my stand on morality. I am just as moral and just as immoral as anyone else. My appeal 1156 is based on expediency and common sense, on foresight as to the ultimate even more than on the immediate, on wise diplomacy, and on a refusal to accept the fallacious doctrine that by the sacrifice of hundreds and perhaps thousands of human lives any good purpose can be served whatsoever.
But why do I talk about force? The Government do not know where they are going. Sir Samuel Hoare is in a car driven by someone else, the maker of which he does not know, and over the speed of which he has got no control. We talk about force because the Government made a show of force by moving the Fleet about in the Mediterranean. That was not done by the League of Nations. When the noble Earl spoke about Italian threats he meant, I presume, the threats of the Italian Press. Are nations going to arm against other nations whenever the Press of one nation publishes threats? If so, we must prepare for an armed camp such as has never been dreamed about.
§ EARL STANHOPE
May I remind the noble Lord that I also talked about reinforcements being sent into Libya.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
I quite agree that we have ideas about the sanity of the ruler of Italy to-day, but does anyone in the Government suppose that Mussolini thought he would take on Great Britain as well as Abyssinia? The idea is so farcical and absurd and the movements of the British Fleet and the advertisement of its movements so ill-judged that we are justified in talking about force, because the Government brought force into the picture. And we are bound by this Covenant! The Government have come forward very late in the day with this great bold policy. When an undecided man makes up his mind to be bold it is extraordinary how often he selects the wrong opportunity; and this is exactly what the Government have done. The last four years have been wasted in the Disarmament Conference. A more hopeless method of trying to solve the problem could not have been imagined. In your Lordships' House I ridiculed the idea of attempting to regulate war by a qualitative or quantitative arrangement of armaments. Of course, it was beginning at the wrong end. It is not the weapon, it is not the quality or the quantity of weapons, that 1157 has to be dealt with, but the motive which makes a Government or a nation desire to use weapons at all; and in the Disarmament Conference the British Government cut a very sorry figure.
While I am talking of conferences let me say that I appreciate the fact that Sir Samuel Hoare does see that these initial problems must be faced. In his broadcast to America he made an ext-tremely wise proposal as to how these matters should be settled. Mr. Lansbury has gone up and down the country, protesting that the method to adopt is to open out to the whole world the resources which this world gives the people, and that round a table, frankly asking the countries what their claims are and what their grievances are—by that means alone can we get rid of the motive which makes thorn want to arm. The revision of treaties has been delayed too long. We were told time after time that we must not talk about it. My Lords, the revision of treaties must be faced. The iniquitous Treaties of Versailles and Trianon and the others are not worth the paper they are written on, and the Powers must get together and see where the shoe pinches, and those that have must be prepared to sacrifice. That is where the testing time will come, the testing time for us. We who have got what we want will have to sacrifice something, and unless we are prepared to do that we cannot expect other nations to be satisfied. Our Imperialism is a black mark against us, and the rival Imperial-isms that we are attempting to stop will not be stopped unless we show that we are ready to make some sacrifice.
I want to get to close quarters with this question of sanctions. I want to get to close quarters with Article 16. Not what it means—it is quite clear what it means—not what you ought to do, because you can see that you ought to carry it out; but what you can do. Now the framers of Article 16 really never faced that problem at all. They conceived in their dreams an all-inclusive League, unanimity among the Members of the League, and, immediately the League decision was made, a ringed fence round the offending Power, all communications cut off immediately. Of course if that had been possible nobody would have risked doing any action that might be interpreted by the Council of the League as an act of aggression, and 1158 we never should have had war at all. But they were dreamers, and of course they were under the impression that the great force which they used in the Great War had accomplished all the high purposes which they conceived, whereas it had accomplished none of them at all.
But this question of immediacy is very important. The League is not all-inclusive. Those who are in the League are not unanimous, and it has been found impossible that those enforcements should be immediate. The noble Earl just now very clearly set out for us date by date, month by month, the exact course of events, showing that there had been no real avoidable delay on the part of the Government or on the part of the League. I think he was quite right. I have never accused either the Government or the League of delay. I think they have done it remarkably quickly—October 7 was the date on which Italy was declared to be the aggressor. But that is not Article 16: you cannot do it immediately. That cuts the ground from under your feet straight away. And you cannot do it unanimously. You have got two very bad leaks, Austria and Switzerland, because nations, as I should have thought we realised by now, must be actuated in the long run by self-interest more than by altruism. Yon have got these two leaks, and these leaks may in time, as the pressure goes on, become streams. Let me say that by that method, and with this reluctance on the part of Powers, by these recriminations between the Powers, by the demand that has been made in some quarters that sanctions shall be taken against the non-cooperating Powers—more bad blood between the nations Members of the League—in all these circumstances, it is useless to say that you are going gradually to let the pincers surround Italy and that they are then going to throw up the sponge and say: "Oh, you have won; we are going to give in."
How can any Government suppose that this is going to happen? Cannot they see the complications? Cannot they see the possible trouble there will be between us and other nations? Do not they know that the Press in this country is already pointing the finger at France, saying that France is not playing the game and not coming alongside of us, when M. Laval to my mind is doing his very utmost in the only channel that is likely to be 1159 profitable, and that is in the diplomatic channel of conciliation? Anything short of carrying out Article 16 literatim and verbatim is bound to fail; and not only bound to fail, but is very likely to lead to very serious consequences, which are appearing on the horizon at present.
I think the embargo on arms came too late. If an embargo on arms to the belligerents, either one or the other or both, could have been imposed under Article 15 of the Covenant then it might have been effective. But while there has been this delay about Arms the armament firms have been busy making hay while the sun shines, in their usual dispassionate readiness to supply any customer, even should he prove to be an enemy of their own country. They are always ready to do that, and they have been doing it very effectively. A published list shows with what engines the nations confront one another in the second quarter of the twentieth century in Christian countries. The Government are attempting to implement an Article of the Covenant which has never yet been used. It is an experiment, and a very dangerous experiment. Take the Italian unprovoked aggression in Tripoli, in 1912 I think it was. It was condemned by us and by our Press, but it passed with no interference, and nobody remembers it to-day. The present unprovoked aggression against Abyssinia looks very much like leading to a world war. Facts must be faced, the possibilities, the probabilities reckoned with in this attempt to check an aggressive Imperialism which those responsible for it declare to be only an attempt to follow our example.
But should not the policeman stop and arrest a burglar and bring him under the arm of the law for punishment? I have been pursuing this policeman for sixteen years, and I thought I had finished him off, but he always bobs up, and I even heard him in the speech of my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition. I heard an echo of him when the noble Lord said there must be force behind the arm of the law. Do let me try, if I can, to nail this false coin to the counter once and for all. If somebody steals some silver spoons, the policeman goes to his house, arrests him, gives the spoons back to the owner, the man is brought up before the magistrate, and gets six months. That is a perfectly regular and 1160 perfectly right use of force. What the policeman does not do is to burn down the houses in the street of all the other inhabitants, let the man go scot free, and not give the owner back the spoons. That is what war does. You are not going to reach Signor Mussolini any more than you reached the Kaiser, but you are going possibly to bring suffering and death to hundreds and thousands of people.
The Government, after constant failure to improve the international situation during the last four years, are now turning to a rearmed Europe, and they are bringing rearmament into their policy at the General Election. All supporters of the League, of course, must be with them, all those who support sanctions certainly must be with them, because if we are going to have a world war at intervals we want a lot of armaments; there is no doubt about that. I think the Government have made a very unfortunate move in confusing this serious international situation with an electoral manoeuvre, but as a matter of fact it was a temptation that was too much for them. They had to take it; I quite see that. I wonder if the people will understand the issue; I rather doubt it. I certainly look forward with dismay to a situation which is going to distract all our attention from our tremendous and pressing task of reconstruction at home and force the national attention on an attempt to regulate the quarrels of other nations and check the ambitions of unscrupulous dictators, an attempt which can only succeed by immediate universal co-operation, and this wise statesmanship ought to have seen at the outset was not possible.
No, my Lords, if rearmament is going to take place, do remember that every gun that you store, every bombing aeroplane you turn out, every submarine and tank you manufacture, every explosive and gas and every machine-gun, rifle, and cartridge produced is only helping to plunge such civilisation as we have into the dust. Force, as it exists to-day, force without valour, without honour, without glory, mechanised, barbarous, diabolical force, is the emblem of barbarism, and no excuses can ever get rid of that fact. Until we finally and emphatically turn our backs on it there will be no peace in the world at all. I want attention to be devoted to matters at home. I want our money to be devoted to the strengthening of our own country. We need not 1161 strain our vision to African deserts or to the shores of the Adriatic. We have only got to look at our own door. All our energy, our enterprise, and our money should be expended on that great fight, a real remunerative fight, with wealth-giving and health-giving results; hut it is a fight that must be unremitting.
I still believe that the Party to which I have the honour to belong is best adapted to devote itself to this great cause. It is a combat which may not bring immediate profit to any individual, but it will bring immeasurable benefit to the people and to the nation in the long run. For the moment my Party are disturbed and divided yet again by an international crisis, the complexity of which cannot be fathomed, and also I would say by their hatred of Fascism, and yet they know, surely, that Fascism is not going to be crushed by any exterior force it must fall through its own interior rottenness. But my Party will emerge to continue its work sufficiently fortified to understand that wars and rumours of wars are presented -from time to time in alluring disguises and are only vain distractions which must delay again and again the real struggle for the liberation, in a juster social system, of the latent capacities of the mass of our own people and for the satisfaction of their urgent needs. I differed from my noble friends fundamentally on this question. I foresaw that the policy which was being adopted, much as people may regret it, must lead to the use of force whether in blockade or in other forms of warfare, and as I feel convinced, and have been convinced during the whole of my public life, that no good can come to any country from such a course, in all fairness I had to resign my position.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
My Lords yesterday your Lordships listened to what I may call the orthodox analysis of the present dispute over Abyssinia, when the noble Marquess who leads this House and the Leader of the Opposition made the case for law against anarchy in international affairs. Lord Hardinge of Penshurst and Lord Cavan viewed the problem, in the one case through the eyes of the old diplomacy and in the other through the eyes of a very devoted and loyal friend of Italy. To-day Lord Ponsonby has made what I may call the 1162 orthodox statement for pacifism, and I am going to venture, with your Lordships' leave, to try and make a contribution as to the basis upon which this deplorable conflict may be ended.
First I would like to say a word or two about a justification that fell from the lips of the Secretary of State, and again this afternoon from the noble Earl who spoke first, as to what is called the delay of the Government in facing this issue. There have been very elaborate explanations of that delay, but I do not think any of them go to the root of the problem. I do not think there is any dispute that in February they knew that Signor Mussolini intended to deal with the Abyssinian question by war. The question which many of us ask is not whether the Government expressed anxiety about that situation, but whether it made clear early enough to the Italian Government, and the Government's friends abroad, that it intended to stand by its obligations under the League and that in going ahead Italy must realise the situation by which it was surrounded and that the other Members of the League must begin to clear their minds for the action which might be necessary. That question has never been answered either in this House or in another place.
I venture to think that what happened is this. No doubt partly because of the pre-occupations over the German crisis, the Government had never intended to stand by its obligations in the way it has done. I think that is quite clear from the famous White Paper which was published last March. This sentence appears there:… the existing international machinery for the maintenance of peace cannot be relied upon as a protection against an aggressor.That was the view of the Government in March. I think what happened was that the eleven million balloters who were ranged behind my noble friend Lord Cecil, and an impending Election in front of them, forced them to take a plunge which they had not considered and the full effects of which they had not yet realised. I do not mind admitting to your Lordships that I have been very doubtful for some time as to the efficacy of what may be called a Sanctions League. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, it is entirely one thing to have a League which 1163 is universal, it is entirely another to apply sanctions or to think of applying sanctions in a League which has not got in it the United States or Japan or Brazil, and has lost Germany because we allowed the League of Nations to be turned into an anti-German instrument for so long.
I felt doubt about the policy of sanctions in the first place because economic sanctions must necessarily be slow, may be ineffective, and must inevitably exacerbate feeling all over the world. They have none of that characteristic of irresistibility which is the true characteristic of police action. In the second place sanctions, as has often been said in this House, are an attempt to coerce a sovereign State against its will and, therefore, immediately bring war into the picture. Therefore I have felt for some time grave doubt as to whether it was possible to conduct the League on the basis of Article 16 without its being a universal League. I share very much the view so eloquently expressed by General Smuts in this country a year ago, when he implored this country not to turn the League into an international war office. But that is not the situation with which we are confronted to-day. On September 11 the British Government took its stand wholeheartedly on the Covenant of the League, and since then events have developed, and we have entered into legal and moral obligations to a great number of nations which we cannot possibly ignore. The speech of Sir Samuel Hoare is a tremendous fact, and in my view, having taken that stand, we ought to see it through.
I say we cannot afford to fail, and for two reasons. Failure to make effective the decision of this Government and of the League to restrain an aggressor nation from obtaining its will is not only the end of the League and the hopes which surround the League, but I think it is not going to be very far short of the end of the British Empire. If it is possible for a Dictator nation to proceed on an act which is admittedly one of unprovoked aggression and, first of all, to defy the collective efforts of the world to prevent that war, then to defy the collective efforts of the world to end the war, and, finally, to say that the British Empire, having taken the responsibility of inviting the world to stop it can be 1164 brushed on one side, and if that Dictator can go through to the end without interference—I repeat that if that is possible no such damaging blow would have been given to this Commonwealth since the attacks on Yorktown.
I am going to ask one or two questions, though it would not be reasonable to expect the Government to give an answer. If you like they are rhetorical questions, but they are questions which, I think, have got to be faced. I hope the economic sanctions will suffice. I confess I was horrified at the lightness with which the Government's spokesman this afternoon said that he did not contemplate their having any appreciable effect until next year. It seems to me that if we are going to pursue a policy of economic sanctions, which admittedly have as their consequence the maximum of irritation between the nations, and they are going to have almost no effect, that is the most certain way of getting into a war and the most certain way in the long run to get into a world war.
Are we going on for three months, for six months, for twelve months? Are we going to pour arms into Abyssinia, arming a people which has been well described by my noble friend on my right (Lord Mottistone), for twelve months and do nothing about it? No, my Lords, it is quite impossible, in my view, having started on this line, to stand on one side and do nothing for six or twelve months but inflict only feeble economic sanctions which inflame and exacerbate everybody and which, in my view, will end in extending the war all over the world. That is why I think those who wish the severance of economic connection between East Africa and Italy are advocating a policy which may prevent war and preserve the peace. I do not want to say any more about it to-day but, looking at the problem as I try to do with the eyes of a practical man, it seems to me that unless we can bring this conflict to an end on a real basis of peace discussion by the end of this year the last state of this world will be immeasurably worse than it is to-day. If such action can bring the war to an end, without extending the war, on the basis of true peacemaking, I do not think we ought to hesitate to take it or invite the League to take it. That is the way, or may be the way, to prevent war, and I ask your 1165 Lordships to consider that aspect of the question.
Now may I come to the problem of peace. I venture to think that the issues in this dispute go far deeper than the narrow question which seems to lie between Italy and Abyssinia, and that, unless we widen the discussion, the Abyssinian crisis will end in nothing but disaster, whereas if we do widen it, it may prove to be the beginning of a discussion which may embrace first Italy and then perhaps Germany, and the beginning of a real post-war peace-making. I have taken some pains to look at the Italian problem because it seems important to me that one should face the case of both sides. I think that Italy has some case against Abyssinia—perhaps the same kind of case that we in Kenya and the Sudan had against Abyssinia, and possibly a good deal more—unrest and threats from a, people under very slight control.
Then consider these facts and figures about the Italian people. The population of Italy has increased since the beginning of this century from 33 million to 43 million. Between 1900 and 1913 an average of 670,000 Italians left Italy every year, and in 1913 no fewer than 872,000 Italians left Italy to cross the Atlantic. In the last few years, taking reimmigration into account, there has been no emigration from Italy at all and on the whole her population has been increasing at a more rapid rate. Since 1930 Italian exports have diminished by 57 per cent. There is a problem of immense seriousness and if we are going to prevent a repetition of this kind of thing in the world, these problems must be faced. I would certainly make it perfectly clear and I would go further than the Secretary of State in saying that we would welcome at a Peace Conference a discussion of every aspect of the Italian problem. On the other hand I cannot refrain from saying that I believe that the making of statements in the Italian Press about the British Empire has contributed not a little to the situation in which we stand. There is no doubt that there is an aspect of 'what may be called Fascist Imperialism aimed directly at this country. If there is feeling in this country at all it is not due to any enmity on the part of Italy but to some very injudicious propaganda coming 1166 from high quarters about the nature of the British Empire as a stranded whale.
Now may I turn to the Abyssinian side? Nobody will dispute that a settlement must retain complete independence at any rate for that part of Abyssinia which is genuinely Ethiopian. But I confess that when I read some of the reports by British Consular officials about some of the things which go on in the outside parts of Abyssinia I think that the proposals of the Committee of Five may not go far enough to ensure that Abyssinia is freed from some of the evils, such as slavery and slave-raiding, which exist today, when Abyssinia has one foot in the League of Nations and the other in the Dark Ages. May I read one passage from a book by Mr. Hodson who was Consul for Ethiopia from 1914 to 1927? He says:It was sad to see the country in such a state for, from all accounts, there had been a teeming and prosperous population in the old days. I was told by an Abyssinian official that the population of Kafa, formerly 250,000 was now reduced to 10,000 … This information was reliable as he had access to official registers … The province has been Christian for hundreds of years … They told me that their country had been devastated by robbers and slave raiders whose modus operandi in many cases was to surround huts, kill the old men and women and carry off the children … He told me that when the Emperor Lij Yasu had visited the district some years before he had captured no less than 8,000 slaves, also that each soldier who had caught slaves had been allowed to keep one slave in every three for himself. …My firm conviction is that by wise and careful administration these provinces could ultimately be built up again; but not under the present régime … Under present conditions a Governor, knowing his tenure of office to be uncertain, pursues the policy of both living upon the country and making a profit out of it, and when he leaves for another province he takes everything he can get with him.Our policy is constructive; the Abyssinian policy is wholly destructive. I speak with knowledge for I was for seven years in Southern Abyssinia and there I knew of three tribes … which were practically wiped out … Shortly afterwards I read in the Press that at the League of Nations Assembly, the delegates had received the Abyssinian delegates with cheers and applause … It was the irony of fate that just about this time—in direct defiance of the orders of the Central Government of course—the Abyssinians were devastating our country as won as their own.That is an aspect of this problem which the League of Nations cannot ignore and I venture to think that, if we are to 1167 find a remedy for that situation, there must be a certain measure of force in the hands of the League of Nations to make the remedy effective. It is not a case of any reluctance on the part of the present Emperor, who seems a wise, humane man, but there is no possibility of his getting rid of slavery unless he has infinitely more power at his back than he now possesses. One of the reasons why I hope support will be given to the expedition of the Red Cross to help Abyssinians is that it will not only help those who are wounded but bring a certain standard of humanity into the practices of a very backward race.
I feel that we have before us a bigger problem than the one which has been in the forefront of discussion in the last few weeks. If I may summarise it, I would say it arises from the fact that whereas, since 1850, 50 million Europeans have left Europe, to-day there is no emigration at all; from the fact that whereas in the last century there was relatively free movement of people, free trade for food and manufactures, and free movement of capital, to-day that is cut down to one-third. Unless the League of Nations can not merely consider the revision of treaties—that is a relatively minor matter—but can face the fundamental issues which lie at the base of modern unrest and can find remedies which will result in true disarmament, then we are going to drift into a far worse war than the last. In my view, the practical policy for His Majesty's Government therefore is to make it perfectly clear in the first place that, having embarked on the line they have embarked upon, they mean to see the thing through, because nothing but disaster to us and the world can follow beating a retreat through fear of an embattled Dictator; secondly, to promote a basis of settlement far larger than has hitherto been discussed; and thirdly, to take any action which may be necessary in bringing about a cessation of hostilities and the assembly of a true Peace Conference without extending the war.
§ LORD HOWARD OF PENRITH
My Lords, I venture to intervene shortly in this critical debate because I probably suffer in this matter more from divided allegiance than any other member of this House. I have been from its inception a convinced supporter of the League of Nations and the collective system by 1168 means of which united action for preservation from war should be taken. By this I mean to say not only union iii discussions and in passing resolutions, which are certainly of the utmost importance in expressing the opinions generally held by the nations whose representatives are gathered at Geneva, but also in some definite preventive action to be taken by all those and other nations which may wish to join with them to prevent aggression and war. I have also lived much in Italy since my schooldays, and my affection and admiration for Italy is not by any means restricted to the hero of the noble Leader of the Opposition, Mazzini, but goes a great deal further back. I have also had such close and familiar contact with friends and with relatives in that country that I can imagine nothing that would be a greater affliction to me than anything like war between this country and that. This, then, must be my excuse for taking up the valuable time of your Lordships for a few minutes this afternoon.
I have listened, as far as I was able, with great attention to the debate in this House last night and also to-day, and have followed the different lines of thought then expressed. They are, of course, familiar to us already through articles and letters which have appeared in the Press for the last few months. I shall not attempt to recapitulate any part of them or, indeed, to comment upon them in detail, as this is quite unnecessary. But, having been constrained to make up my own mind in the difficult and, I might almost say, harrowing circumstances in which I find myself placed with regard to this controversy, I venture now to submit to your Lordships one or two considerations as to a line of policy which I hope may obviate the two irreparable disasters with which we are faced on account of circumstances for which I am convinced His Majesty's Government are in no serious sense to blame.
One of the things, however, that struck me most yesterday was what my old chief, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, said, when he expressed the opinion that much of the present trouble—I would go further and say perhaps all of the present trouble—might have been avoided if the procedure which has to be followed in times of crisis by the League of Nations were 1169 other than it is. To a very great extent I agreed with him, although not in all the conclusions he reached. What I do, however, very strongly feel on this subject, though I do not wish to weary your Lordships with arguments of a. general character when we are dealing with a crisis which needs immediate decisions, is that, had we a system of procedure by which necessary collective action could be taken, not only for conciliation and settlement, of disputes when war threatened but quickly and decisively when hostilities were actually engaged and had we a system of procedure—and to this point I attach especial importance—under which every intending violator of the Covenant or the Kellogg Pact knew positively beforehand that when the violations he was meditating actually took place, certain definite and prearranged action would be taken by all Members of the League and other nations which cared to co-operate in the prevention of war, he would almost undoubtedly feel that the risk, of carrying on a campaign, no matter how small, under the difficulties produced by general, or nearly general, financial and economic sanctions would be so great that war would not be worth while.
Further than this, it seems to me to be of absolute necessity, if the system of the League for the prevention of war is to be saved from falling into ruin, that each Member of the League should pledge himself to carry out the obligations of the Covenant, not only in one part of the world which may happen to be nearest to his own interests but also in any part of the world where hostilities may break out; simply because, without the knowledge on the part of the other Members of the League that they will be backed up by all their partners in the League in whatever action may be considered necessary and appropriate, there can never exist, so far as I can see, that sense of security throughout the nations of the world generally which, as our experience of the past has by now clearly taught us, is imperative if we 'are to have economic security and with it a general revival of prosperity, and if we are also to have such feeling of security as will make a general scheme of serious disarmament possible or justifiable.
One of the things, if I may say so, with regard to which I am inclined seriously to criticise the past policy followed by 1170 our Government since the Great War is its continued refusal to commit itself to the thesis which is essential for the real utility of the League—namely, that all Members must accept the proposition that wherever war breaks out they are responsible for certain definite collective measures which will have to be taken to put an end to it. What we need is collective security everywhere, and not selective security, which is what we have had up to the present. The fact that any such general sense of security does not at present exist is, in my humble opinion, one of the principal reasons why the head of the Italian Government has ventured at the present time to attack another Member of the League, whatever excuses he may make for doing so, and has continually in public speeches expressed his contempt for the League and all its works. His belief that the League was little more than a Tower of Babel, a mere talking-shop, has not, indeed, been confirmed, but at the same time we must realise that, in spite of his repeated declarations that ho would pay no attention to it—owing to the present structure of the League, which Lord Hardinge criticised—he has been able to gamble on what he believed to be the divisions that must arise among its Members as soon as action was required. I believe on some occasion Napoleon exclaimed: "Take from me anything but time!" We have in this particular case handed out time to Signor Mussolini by the bucketful, and it is not difficult to foresee that the same thing will happen again unless our procedure is radically modified. In this matter I do not at all wish to criticise His Majesty's Government, for I feel the delay is purely due to the procedure which has to be followed by the League.
I noticed in yesterday's debate that most of the speakers, including the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, were of the opinion—with which I entirely agree—that Italy had many grievances as against Abyssinia and, more generally, as against the present distribution of colonies and raw materials necessary for her industries. I was glad to note this sympathetic attitude towards a great people and country which certainly have not shared the advantages of other European nations in regard to the settlement of the savage and backward portions of the globe. I am, in respect of the necessity of such settlement, a 1171 convinced and, I must say, an entirely unrepentant Imperialist. I am sure, for instance, that the great Republic of America is far more useful in the hands of its present inhabitants than it would be had British colonists never descended upon it more than 300 years ago and had the European races left it in the hands of its aboriginal possessors. That seems to me so obvious a proposition that I should doubt if even the most fanatical anti-Imperialist, no matter to what Party he belonged, would dispute it. I saw that yesterday in The Times this view was even more emphatically, but somewhat crudely, expressed by Mr. Bernard Shaw. I therefore rejoiced to hear speakers in various parts of the House openly expressing their sympathy with Italy on account of her obvious need for colonies and raw materials.
Now the conclusion of these views which I have endeavoured to set forth is this. I desire with the whole force of my being to see the League of Nations, however imperfect its structure may be at present, continue in existence, for it is undoubtedly the best machine we have to hand for the prevention of war by conciliatory, diplomatic and other measures. I desire to see it so consolidated and strengthened by the outcome of this crisis that those nations who have preferred to leave it since its foundation will speedily be converted to the belief that it is in their best interests to join up again. I believe that if all question of sanctions against Italy in face of the publicly-expressed opinion of fifty-odd nations were to be dropped, we should undoubtedly have to return to the prewar conditions of armaments and alliances and balance of power, with the certain prospect of another world war within a very few years.
I believe also that if Italy, in the present temper of her all-powerful chief, should be driven to extremes by some rash and intemperate action on the part of the League in applying sanctions, and if, as the result of a fatal blunder of this kind, the League should become generally discredited, it would be equally likely to disappear for many years as a political machine of any high importance, though I hope and believe it might continue as a permanent conference for the settlement of all sorts of very useful questions, a work which it has carried out admirably up to the present. I have, 1172 further, a strong conviction that should measures be carried so far against the Italian Government that grave famine and distress occurred amongst the people of Italy it is not at all improbable that revolution and even civil war might be the result. This clearly would not tend to pacify Europe or to increase that security which we all aim at and desire for the recovery of the world.
It is therefore along this line of thought that I would venture to appeal to His Majesty's Government to-day. I have read with unalloyed satisfaction the statement that the Government will not support any proposal of military sanctions. Such a policy in the present or indeed any circumstances would, in my opinion, shatter all hopes of the increase of confidence in the League in the minds of the majority of men. One of the most satisfactory things about the present situation is, in the first place, the unanimous support of the great Dominions for the policy of the League and also the general sympathy which I understand is being expressed in the United States with that policy. Do not let us by any intemperate action gamble away these great assets of support.
Let us therefore in so far as the application of some sanctions is necessary—and I believe it to be necessary—restrict them to those categories which cannot be, under International Law, necessarily considered as acts of war. Sanctions need not necessarily be considered as acts of war. Really the definition of "sanction" is "a measure taken for the enforcement of law." I have heard many people ask what sanctions really are. Until we understand that, it is very easy for us, I think, to mistake sanctions as being penalties imposed. I believe that is not so, and I think that anybody who turned up the word "sanction" in any law dictionary would find that that is actually the proper definition. If acts of war are to come then let them come quite clearly from the other side. But I would definitely state that in my opinion the financial and economic sanctions which have so far been mentioned do not constitute acts of war. Any country can refuse imports from any other country; any country can refuse loans or credits to any other country, any country can refuse to export certain definite products to any other country if it believes this to be in its own interests. Such restrictive 1173 actions have been taken before now without, if I am not mistaken—though I am speaking under correction—necessarily being considered as acts of war. I therefore feel that pressure of this kind if applied temporarily would be quite sufficient to bring any belligerent to reason without offending the public opinion of the world, and I sincerely hope that if sanctions of this kind unfortunately have to be applied, they will be applied reasonably and temperately. The measures taken should be such as to avoid every possible risk of hostilities, unless indeed we are living in a house of madmen. It is rather we than the other side who need time now.
Secondly, I would like to appeal to His Majesty's Government to do all they can to pursue the policy they have announced of reaching a solution reasonable for Italy. I have no time now to attempt to describe the sentiments of the Italian people with regard to the attitude which they have been taught to believe, quite unfairly, is that of Great Britain towards this question. In my humble opinion the necessity of bringing hostilities in Abyssinia to an immediate conclusion, and therefore of applying immediate and most stringent measures, is far less important than that of obtaining our objective, peace not only in Abyssinia but in all parts of the world by avoiding the intolerable calamity of a war with Italy, the aftermath of which, however successful a war may be in its immediate object, is quite incalculable. I do not think that I have been led to these conclusions by my own personal sentiments, though it is indeed difficult and perhaps impossible to dissociate oneself altogether from one's feelings in these matters. I have tried at least so far as possible to look at this question rationally and objectively, considering it all the time from the point of view of trying to find the best way to reach the ultimate aim of all of us, which is world peace.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Marley, certainly opens up a very much wider field than simply that of the halo-Abyssinian dispute, since it compels us to consider other issues regarding the League of Nations besides that one upon which it has already come to a decision; and it is in that respect that I have ventured to rise to address you to-day.
1174 Although I am one of the probably very few members of this House who are familiar with both the countries concerned, I had not, in view of that decision of the League, intended to enter into any discussion on the merits of that dispute. Nor shall I do so now, in spite of some of the speeches I heard yesterday, feeling that if one oneself or one's family may have a difference with an intimate friend to whom one is sincerely attached, due to a different angle of vision and therefore surely ephemeral, it is not only a question of taste and decency but also a test of the value of that friendship to maintain a discreet silence. But there is one point arising from some of the speeches to which I listened yesterday upon which I should like to say one very brief word.
We most of us know from old and unhappy experience that when war breaks out in the world or is impending, every kind of story will be circulated to the detriment of an antagonist. We may even with regret remember ourselves during our own wars, and not least during the Great War, having given currency to rumours which in calmer moments we could realise had been fantastic and in any case prejudiced. Not a few such stories have been repeated to me in recent weeks and months. Unfortunately, in the uncivilised sections of Africa there is still no difficulty in collecting evidence of savage barbarism. But I was not greatly impressed by opinions which were quoted to us yesterday as to whether an Abyssinian or a Dervish might excel in refinements of cruelty. I am convinced that during the actual condition of war it is well to accept all stories of atrocities with a certain amount of reserve, especially when they can be traced to either of the belligerents. There is no more kindly or warm-hearted people on earth than the Italian people. It is within my memory that after the Great War they made an immediate and generous effort to help the children of their former enemies in Austria. No one who knows them would think of them as lacking in any way the quality of humanity, so that needs no discussion.
But in common fairness also to the Abyssinians, who have no one to speak for them, and who should not be confused with the barbarous tribes dwelling on the borders of their central country, 1175 I might refer to a personal experience. I was in Ethiopia myself only a short time after the battle of Adowa, and I came across large bodies of Italian prisoners on their way down to the coast. I had an opportunity of speaking to their officers. They told me that they had had a very trying life "but," they said, "the Abyssinians have given us what they could," and indeed they had not much to give. From them at any rate I heard no stories of barbarous treatment. It was from the Egyptian Coptic Archbishop, who gave us a great deal of valuable information, that we learned most about the country, and he told us that the Emperor Menelik, who was endeavouring at that time to suppress slave raiding by penalties which seemed to us at any rate very drastic for even such a grave offence, had sent out a message or form of proclamation that when billeting Italian prisoners in the various settlements, if there arose a dispute between an Italian prisoner and an Abyssinian, the matter would not be tried but the Abyssinian would always be in the wrong.
That is all I propose to say with regard to the parties to the dispute. What I had in mind to draw attention to, to-day, are rather certain important points which affect the attitude of the League of Nations on this ocasion. I do not know whether, when this debate is summed up at the end, it may be possible for the Government to give us some light on the subject. The first point is whether in the handling this matter has received the League did or did not fail to take the timely action prescribed in the Covenant until preparations for aggression had reached an intensity which made the resort to war practically inevitable. With regard to that first point, I am sorry that I shall have to quote a certain number of texts and dates. In Article 10 of the Covenant, the Article under which Members of the League undertake to preserve, as against external aggression, the territorial integrity and political independence of all Members of the League, it is definitely laid down that not only in cases of such aggression, but in the case of any threat or danger of such aggression, the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled. The terms of this Article connote therefore vigilance on the part of the Council.
1176 The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in his statesmanlike speech yesterday, defended the League against the charge of slowness in action. It is there, and only there, that I do not find myself in complete agreement with his exposition, any more than I can agree with what was said on the same subject to-day by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. In the speech of the noble Marquess, the Leader of the House, yesterday, he took as his point of departure the frontier incident at Walwal. I shall have to ask your Lordships to accompany me a considerable distance further back. In my opinion, for more than a year past, the threat or danger of aggression was evident. All through the summer of 1934 warlike engines and military stores were being shipped from Italian ports to East Africa in quantities which seemed quite disproportionate to any requirements for the local defence of colonies. These were accompanied or followed by the despatch of thousands of workmen, to carry out duties for which no necessity had previously been apparent.
In the beginning of the year, a coming campaign against Ethiopia began to be pretty generally discussed. On 5th December occurred the conflict between Italian and Abyssinian forces at Walwal, followed by protests from both sides, and on 14th December Ethiopia warned the League by telegram of the danger of the situation. Then on 11th January of this year Ethiopia appealed to the League, in virtue of Article 11 of the Covenant, which declares any war or threat of war a matter of concern to the whole League, which shall take any action deemed wise or effectual to safeguard peace. It is further laid down in that Article that on the request of any Member the Secretary-General shall forthwith summon a meeting of the Council. From that time onwards, whether owing to fear that Italy might leave the League, or whatever other reason, some influence that I cannot specify or detect seems to have been at work to deter the League from facing fairly and squarely the issue raised under Article 11, and to divert it into an investigation of the Walwal frontier incident.
Ethiopia was induced to withdraw her appeal in favour of negotiations under the 1928 Treaty. The Italian Government 1177 informed the Abyssinian Government on February 13 that Italy had no aggressive intentions. None the less, four days later the despatch of large contingents of regular troops and volunteers began. I am perfectly well aware that His Majesty's Government had already expressed, and continued throughout the earlier part of the year, at various intervals, to express, through the proper channels, their grave concern. The charge therefore that Italy was kept in ignorance of this country's views has no substance. I hope I am not thought to be making any effort to criticise the action of His Majesty's Government, which has been entirely adequate, and which I entirely support. It is the action, or rather the inaction, of the League that I have in mind. In the middle of March Ethiopia again appealed to the League in virtue of Articles 10 and 15, which clearly define the procedure it should follow in case of any threat or danger of aggression, or of a dispute likely to lead to a rupture, not submitted to arbitration. When on April 15 a special Council of the League assembled at Geneva to consider the question of German rearmament this appeal was also withdrawn, pending an arbitration by a Conciliation Committee such as was contemplated by the 1928 Treaty.
The regular meeting of the Council was only convened on May 20. It did no more than agree to a Conciliation Commission of four members, two from either Party, though it seemed evident enough that Italy would insist on restricting its latitude of decision to the frontier incident. A further month was allowed to pass before that Commission got to work. Meanwhile, certain proposals made to Italy by Mr. Eden were rejected, as might have been anticipated. The Commission actually met on June 25 and, as it was obvious it would be divided as to the terms of reference, adjourned a fortnight later. All this time unprecedented shipments of troops to East Africa continued. Three further weeks passed before the Council assembled again and made provision for a new Commission, with a fifth arbitrator. A month later the -new Commission decided that responsibility for the Walwal incident could not be imputed to either party. Now by this time we were arrived at the beginning of September and no effort had been attempted to deal with what had been 1178 from the first the real issue—namely, the menace of war, now intensified by the landing on the spot of many divisions and numbers of tanks and aeroplanes. So that by the time Sir Samuel Hoare delivered his very impressive address in Geneva on September 11 Italy's preparations had progressed on so vast a scale that it could hardly be anticipated she would then recede.
A Five-Power Committee drew up proposals for settlement, which Ethiopia accepted but Italy rejected. And only then at last the League Council, observing all clue forms, appointed a Committee of Thirteen in execution of Article 13 of the Covenant. But within a week, on October 2, the invasion of Abyssinian territory had begun. Now, therefore, the question must arise in every one's mind whether, in view of the various appeals made by the Ethiopian Government and the evident intentions of Italy, the League had acted with adequate promptitude in putting into action the machinery which the Covenant contemplated to meet a menace of war, and whether it did not rather allow itself to be side-tracked until aggression actually took place.
I feel the hour is advancing and I shall leave out certain other points on which I had some intention of addressing your Lordships, but there is one which is of course interesting, that is, the question of whether the agreement stipulated in Article 16 (3) mutually to support one another in resisting any special measures aimed at one of their number by the Covenant-breaking: State does not bind all Members of the League automatically and without conditions. It is perfectly true that there is perhaps some lack of clarity in the drafting of paragraph 3 which imposes this obligation. It might be contended that the reference here is not to economic and financial sanctions, since mutual support to minimise loss and inconvenience arising therefrom is dealt with in the previous sentence. It may be only of general application. It is perhaps arguable that the reference may be to the preceding paragraph 2, contemplating military sanctions. Exchanges of view as to the interpretation of this particular Article no doubt may have been necessary. Of course to the plain man of unofficial mind it does seem strange that a very direct question should have required an 1179 answer of nine and a half pages, but supposing the answer itself is satisfactory there is no reason, of course, to complain of prolixity. And here it may be permissible for me to say how cordially I have welcomed the fact that Ambassadors of long and tried experience have again been taking part in negotiations and that the result at a critical moment has been to relieve an existing tension.
The Leader of the House also drew attention to the fact that an effort has been made in several quarters to represent this dispute as one between Italy and Great Britain, instead of between Italy and the League. I think the ground has been cut under the feet of anybody who tries to put that forward now. But I do notice that in Rome a familiar pen has two days ago drawn attention to Britain's persistent initiative at Geneva. The implication is rather disingenuous. Obviously, in major issues under discussion there, an initiative from one of the great Powers would be anticipated. If Italy is eliminated, only three now remain in the League. Russia has shown an inclination towards even more drastic measures, and France has evidently preferred to leave the initiative to ourselves. I noticed that the Secretary of State pointed out in his speech yesterday that there are other countries which have more to gain from the League than ourselves. It has, indeed, been sometimes questioned whether our fidelity to the League has not sometimes resulted in our being associated in collective action which we might in our own individual interests have preferred to avoid. However that may be, we have loyally adhered to our obligations under the Covenant to which we subscribed, and the maintenance of the League of Nations is the avowed and accepted policy of the country.
But, my Lords, I cannot refrain from saying that in my opinion the League can only achieve its ideal purpose if all its Members act up to their obligations, and are ready when necessary to make some sacrifice of individual interests in a common cause. Whether or not in the present instance a more timely intervention of the League would have been successful must remain an open question. It has in any case failed to prevent war. It now remains to be seen whether its subsequent actions, which all must recog 1180 rise as having been energetic and rapid, will succeed in circumscribing the area of war and terminating it as quickly as possible, in a manner which will recognise national dignity and self-respect on one side, with consideration for the lives and the rights of a primitive but ancient people, whose isolation has left them behind in the progress of civilisation, but for whose membership of the League Italy is herself primarily responsible, on the other. If the League can succeed in doing this it will enhance its prestige and justify those who place faith in it and uphold its principles in spite of a very sincere reluctance to find themselves in opposition to an old and very valued friend.
§ LORD NOEL-BUXTON
My Lords, those of us who have visited Abyssinia must feel indebted to Sir Samuel Hoare for the recognition that he has given to the peculiar position of Abyssinia. He has not treated this Abyssinian case as a simple matter of League discipline, of rebellion against the League, he has taken into account the abnormal conditions with which we have to deal. I am very glad that he has also associated the Abyssinian question with the general colonial question and the rights of Italy to expansion. They go together to my mind, and I should like to show how from these Benches we regard them as associated. To take the peculiar case to which Abyssinia belongs first, I think there is a certain danger in the demand we see expressed by various newspapers to-day that when it comes to a question of terms not one inch of Abyssinia shall remain under Italian occupation, and that the League should refuse to treat till the last Italian soldier is out of the country and withdraw the terms put forward at Geneva. We see quoted Article 10, with regard to territorial and political independence, and it is, perhaps, natural that those who see merely in this matter a function of the League against an unruly Member, in protection of a Member, should feel that it is a simple case as might have been the protection of Belgium had there been a League in 1914.
There is a certain danger that the public will treat the matter in that way, whereas if they saw the implications of the work at Geneva of the so-called Committee of Five they would realise that the case of Abyssinia is a totally different 1181 one. The Committee proposed a drastic system of supervision, and that implied that already there exists a need of supervision in Abyssinia—indeed, it has long been overdue. The terms of the Committee of Five seem to be regarded in some quarters as a sort of concession to Italy. They were, of course, a possible means of satisfying Italy that her needs were being met, but they were not in any sense a concession. They were good on their merits. I rather think I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, that they were by no means too stiff. They perhaps lacked a good deal of clearness. It is quite true, as he said, that it would be possible under a system set up by these terms for the Abyssinian Ruler to veto the appointment of every single Italian. On the face of it, he has the power under these terms to veto the appointment of any particular adviser. I think it would have been perfectly reasonable if these terms had been expanded rather than contracted. The authority of the advisers might very well have been made more clear.
Abyssinia was never a normal Member of the League. One hesitates naturally to utter any criticism of a State which is the victim of aggression, and it is truly stated that the Emperor of Abyssinia has clone his best. I think he has worked hard to bring about reform, but he has found it well nigh impossible. It is true, as my noble friend Lord Mottistone said yesterday, that those concerned with slavery had been very gravely concerned about what was passing in Abyssinia. The facts cannot be denied; they were brought out in this House even so lately as last July in the debate on slavery. We opposed the entry of Abyssinia into the League largely on slavery grounds. We have been immensely troubled with raids from Abyssinia into Kenya and the Sudan. It is only very recently for the time that they have ceased. Perhaps we have been too patient in our treatment of them, and the Italians might very naturally have been less patient than ourselves.
The Emperor made a very good gesture in appointing a British ex-official to advise him in regard to slavery. It is already nearly two years since that official felt compelled to resign his post because he was obstructed on every hand and utterly unable to carry out slavery reform. Lord Lothian mentioned the 1182 matter of the depopulation of great Provinces in the South-West of Abyssinia, and an interesting thing has happened just lately in connection with that. The Emperor only two or three weeks ago appointed a British subject, Colonel Sandford, resident near Addis Ababa, to go down to those distant Provinces and act as adviser to the newly-appointed Governor. It is the case that he did that in the hope of impressing public opinion in this country. It is a perfectly sound step, but it illustrates the complete failure with which he has met up till now in regard to stopping the conditions of deplorable disorder which prevail in those depopulated areas. It is not so very long since Sir Robert Coryndon, who was Governor of Kenya, stated in his Report that things would never be right on the frontiers between Abyssinia and British territories until the Southern parts of Abyssinia were removed from direct Abyssinian rule.
In view of all these facts it is no good concealing that Italy might very well have appealed to the League with a very strong case on the ground of the condition of Abyssinia, and also on the ground of her own right to the fulfilment of promises and her colonial sharing rights. Sir Samuel Hoare stated the other clay that in the present negotiations we had shown our willingness to endeavour to ensure for Italy some territorial satisfaction by reasonable and legitimate arrangements with Abyssinia. He went even as far as that. Italy would have had an overwhelming case if she had brought it before the League in an orderly way; but I feel bound to differ from Lord Mottistone in the conclusions that he draws in regard to Italian action. Because he has learned scandalous facts in regard to disorder in Abyssinia, he would justify Italy in her policy. But is Italy invading Abyssinia in order to free slaves? I am very much afraid that Italy has been, as the noble Earl, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, knows, by no means to the fore in years past in helping to bring about slavery reform. He is familiar with what has happened in Geneva, and he will remember, for instance, that in 1926, when a new Convention about suppressing slave traffic in the Red Sea was under discussion, and Sir Austen Chamberlain: urged that the Convention should be 1183 stiffened so that to carry slaves in dhows should be regarded as an act of piracy and should be treated as such, it was Italy which not, only gave no help but opposed that policy.
Italy is rather a tardy convert to antislavery enthusiasm. Now when you have the League at last, very late in the day, much too late in the day, coming forward with a scheme which would deal with internal conditions in Abyssinia, Lord Mottistone will not deny that Italy insisted on the other method of going to war. I do not see how that could possibly be treated in any other way than that in which it has been treated. Sir Samuel Hoare very properly said that the fact that Italy needs expansion, and that complaints are being made against the Abyssinian Government, is not sufficient cause for plunging into a war; and it seems to me that aggression, whatever may be the internal conditions, must be penalised. Perhaps it is idle to speculate at this stage on the military future, but whenever the end comes, and the time for mediation or negotiation comes, the League must, be brought in. Therefore it is a problem worth considering, how is penalisation to be combined with other principles of the Covenant—the welfare of natives, the revision of treaties under Article 19. It seems to me that that does not point to withdrawing the terms proposed by the Committee of Five. Penalisation will be secured if Italy's war aims fail.
If Italy gets no more than she could have got without war and she suffers all the expense and loss incidental to the war, that in itself will be a gigantic failure. Therefore the welfare of Abyssinia, as proposed by the Committee of Five, can be pursued without any fear that that will be a gain for Italy. Let us not look to the withdrawal of the League terms. It may be necessary, if we are to avoid Italian annexation, to provide some other means of administration, and I think we have got to face the possible necessity of a League administration. There has been experience of that in the Saar. It would be a certain new venture, but I think, to get a good settlement, we shall have to face the need of a League Colonial Service (not at all an impossible thing) otherwise it may be difficult to avoid certain Italian annexation. Granting that the chief aim we 1184 must have in view is collective security and the prevention of war in future, there are other aims that we must bear in mind when we think about the moment of mediation.
We must also think, as Mr. Eden has pointed out, of stopping the war. There is daily suffering on a colossal scale. That must be taken into account. There is also the welfare of the natives to be considered. To insist that nothing shall be proposed until every Italian soldier has withdrawn would prolong the war, would prolong suffering, would mean the sacrifice in the future of those non-Abyssinian tribes, perhaps two-thirds or more of the population of Abyssinia, whose welfare has suffered in the past and for whom better conditions have long been overdue. Moreover, such a settlement—a complete re-establishment of Abyssinian sovereignty without any League control—would inevitably sow the seeds of renewed trouble in the future.
Just a word on the wider question that Sir Samuel Hoare raised in connection with the Abyssinian question. He associated it with the general matter of colonial claims. He admitted the right of Italy to expand, and specially spoke of conferring with other States on access to materials. The Labour Party has always urged, long before these days, that world peace requires a readjustment of the questions that Sir Samuel Hoare, to the surprise of many, raised in his famous speech. There are many aspects of the question. We on these Benches, whatever our views on the use of force, welcome most cordially his intention to bring those questions forward, and I should like to urge that the conference he has in view should not wait for the end of the war. It might very well he pursued at the earliest possible moment, because League action against war and a conference on colonial claims really go together. They are tied together and they are both essential to a policy of peace.
THE EARL OF LUCAN
; My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(The Earl of Lucan.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly till to-morrow.