§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (VISCOUNT HALIFAX) rose to move to resolve, that this House welcomes the intention of His Majesty's Government to bring the Anglo-Italian Agreement into force. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the Resolution standing on the Paper in my name, and I would like to make it plain, at the outset, that I do not conceive this debate to be concerned with the question of the merits or demerits of the Anglo-Italian Agreement itself, for that question has already been decided by Parliament in May last, with overwhelming approval. The question that now arises is whether or not this is the moment to bring that Agreement into force. There are two preliminary aspects of that question—particular and preliminary—on which I must say a word or two. There is, first, the strictly Spanish aspect, and secondly, there is the question that of course is intimately linked with or arises out of the Agreement—namely, the recognition of Italian sovereignty in Ethiopia; and I must say a word or two on each before dealing with the more general considerations.
§ May I first of all say something with regard to the Spanish aspect of this question? His Majesty's Government, as we all know, have been pledged to await settlement of the Spanish question before bringing this Agreement into force. That, as your Lordships will remember, was made clear to the Italian Government at the time of the signature of the Agreement in April, and that is the position accordingly that obtains to-day. Repeated attempts have been made, certainly in another place and I think here, to secure from His Majesty's Government a firm definition of what they mean by "settlement," and that has obviously been difficult, not, let me assure your Lordships, because there has been any intention or desire on the part of His Majesty's Government to be evasive, but 1622 because that definition was, and is necessarily, as your Lordships will readily recognise, dependent upon circumstances. If I may state it quite plainly to your Lordships, I would state it like this. Settlement in that connection must have meant something different from the end of a purely civil war and had to be judged in relation to the consideration that had been held to justify the imposition of the original condition. I say that for this reason. It is quite obvious that there is no intrinsic connection between the Anglo-Italian Agreement and the Spanish Civil War, except the connection that arose from the fear that civil war in Spain might lead to international complications.
§ I am well aware that there is a body of opinion, which I have no doubt we shall hear voiced with great sincerity in this debate, that regards the bringing into force of this Agreement as a blow struck by His Majesty's Government at the Spanish Government. But, with all respect to the sincerity of that view, and with all respect to the strength with which it is held, I venture to think that it proceeds from an essential confusion of thought. As I see it, it rests upon two assumptions, both of which I believe to be without foundation. The first assumption is that to which I referred just now, that the Anglo-Italian Agreement and the Spanish question are naturally linked together, which I do not think they are, except from the point of view of the danger of Spain starting a European conflagration. The second assumption which I believe to be without foundation is this: A great many people assume that what His Majesty's Government do or do not do about the Anglo-Italian Agreement could have at this moment, and might have had in past months, a decisive effect upon the fortunes of the Spanish Government, waging their struggle in Spain. I realise to the full, as I have said, the strength of the feeling on this question, and how much those who have that feeling are moved by the humanitarian side of the problem and the events to which this civil war has given rise; but in being so moved they are by no means alone, and it is worth while perhaps, by way of parenthesis, reminding your Lordships, and through you a wider audience, of what in fact has been the record in the humanitarian field of His Majesty's Government. I think it is no mean one.1623
§ In the early days of the war we initiated proposals for the organisation of Spanish relief on an international basis, and when later on the International Commission for the Relief of Spanish Refugee Children was formed you will recollect that we contributed £10,000 to it, and we are now about to double that contribution. We have also contributed between £7,000 and £8,000 to the Spanish section of the International Red Cross. Since the beginning of the war the ships of His Majesty's Navy have evacuated no fewer than some 30,000 Spanish refugees, and I believe I am right in stating that 150 refugees from the Cuban Embassy in Madrid will be travelling to France to-morrow in one of His Majesty's vessels. Our representatives in Spain, and in particular the Acting Consul at Madrid, have been tireless in their efforts to relieve the sufferings of non-combatants in various ways, and our Embassies at Barcelona and Hendaye have negotiated a considerable number of small exchanges of prisoners and hostages. Moreover, your Lordships know that the Commission recently appointed under the Chairmanship of Field-Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode is doing everything it can to achieve an exchange, which it is hoped will be on a considerably larger scale.
§ One other word on another side of what may be called the humanitarian aspect: We have repeatedly urged the contending parties in Spain to refrain from bombing civilian areas and to adopt a policy of greater leniency towards their political and military prisoners, and we have invited other Governments also to associate themselves with us in taking similar action. I am glad to note, as have we all, that since the appointment by His Majesty's Government of the Commission, which is at the service of both contending parties, for the investigation of aerial bombardment, and which has already issued five Reports, there have been no air raids on civilian areas comparable in scale with those which took place earlier in the war. As regards the future, it is hardly necessary to say that so long as this war continues it is not the intention of His Majesty's Government to relax in any way its interest in the welfare of the non-combatant section of the Spanish population. In the meantime we are considering 1624 whether there are any steps which we can take to ensure the safe passage into Spanish territory of provisions destined for distribution to non-combatants by certain approved relief organisations.
§ I said that I fully understood how strong was the feeling of the Party for whom the noble Lord opposite speaks in regard to these several humanitarian considerations, but—and this is the point that I want to emphasize with all the force that I can summon—it has never been true, and it is not true to-day, that the Anglo-Italian Agreement had the lever value that some think to make Italy desist from supporting General Franco and his fortunes. Signor Mussolini has always made it plain from the time of the first conversations between His Majesty's Government and the Italian Government that, for reasons known to us all—whether we approve of them or not—he was not prepared to see General Franco defeated. He has always made it plain, on the other hand, that he would assist, as he has been assisting, the work of the Non-Intervention Committee, and it is not his fault that greater progress has not been made by that Committee in bringing its plans into operation. We, as is known, have followed throughout all this business a different line, a line of absolute non-intervention; and we have been assisted in doing that by the fact that the Anglo-Italian Agreement and the Non-Intervention Committee's Plan are separate and distinct. The Non-Intervention Committee's Plan seeks a solution of the Spanish problem by the withdrawal of volunteers on both sides, while observing absolute impartiality between the parties, and it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to do all they can to bring the Non-Intervention Plan into operation as soon as possible.
Therefore, whether or not General Franco should receive belligerent rights, that question has nothing whatever to do with the Anglo-Italian Agreement, but is a matter that, under the terms of the Non-Intervention Committee's Plan, to which we are party, is dependent upon the progress that that machinery finds it possible to make. On the other hand, the Agreement is an engagement directly between His Majesty's Government and the Italian Government. It embraces many questions of European interest out-
side Spain, and it is not directly, I repeat, concerned with the question of non-intervention in Spain, except in so far as the Spanish question and the civil war might appear likely to threaten general European complications. It was for those reasons that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, speaking in another place on July 26, used the words that are not now any longer unfamiliar to your Lordships. He said:
If His Majesty's Government think that Spain has ceased to be a menace to the peace of Europe, I think we shall regard that as a settlement of the Spanish question.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I certainly would if I had it, but I have not got it. If the noble Viscount has got it and will read it, I feel every confidence that it will not destroy the force of what I have said. When the Prime Minister said that, things were already moving in that direction. On July 5 all the interested Powers, including Italy, had accepted the British Plan, and it will be within your Lordships' recollection what has happened since. The Spanish Government have announced their intention of securing the withdrawal of the International Brigade. I do not know what the International Brigade numbers. Signor Mussolini has not only let it be known that he would withdraw half the Italian infantry, 10,000 men, from Spain, but has actually withdrawn them. That has been purely unilateral action and has not been the result of pressure exercised upon him from any quarter.
It is very easy to excite a natural resentment by arguing that an Italian air force or Italian pilots still remain to bomb British ships. There is a good deal to be said about that, but if I were to say it it would not be novel, and I should not expect the universal agreement of noble Lords opposite in what I should have to say. It is perfectly easy also to argue, and it is quite true, that Italian men and material and aircraft still remain in Spain. On that the only observation at this stage that I permit myself is that it is not only Italian men and material but the men and material of many other nationalities that are still to be found on one side or the other in Spain. And what is more relevant 1626 to observe is that Signor Mussolini has declared his intention not only of ultimate withdrawal when the Non-Intervention Plan comes into execution, but by voluntarily and immediately effecting the actual withdrawal of 10,000 men, half the Italian infantry, has given earnest of his good intentions and made a large contribution, as I think, towards eliminating the Spanish question as a source of international friction. Moreover, he has assured His Majesty's Government that the remaining Italian forces, whatever they are, of all categories will depart when the Non-Intervention Committee's Plan comes into execution, that no further Italian troops will be sent to Spain, and that the Italian Government have never for a moment had the idea of sending air forces in compensation for the withdrawal of infantry that they were making.
That brings me to the other particular aspect of the question on which I must say a word or two, and that is the complaint that I anticipate, that the bringing of the Agreement into force involves the recognition of Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia. Your Lordships will not forget that in May last a large majority of the Council of the League of Nations expressed a definite and decisive view that the question of the recognition of the Italian position in Ethiopia was one for each nation to decide for itself. It is the fact to-day that of all European countries there are only two—ourselves and Soviet Russia—who have up to now refrained from according other than de facto recognition. The last country to recognise Italy's sovereignty over Ethiopia is France, which has recently decided to accredit a new Ambassador to the King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia. It is the intention of His Majesty's Government to keep in line with the French Government on this matter, and new credentials on similar lines will therefore be issued as soon as possible to Lord Perth, thereby according our legal recognition to Italian sovereignty over Ethiopia. I may perhaps add that when we informed the French Government of our intention to issue fresh letters of credence to Lord Perth and to bring the Anglo-Italian Agreement into force, the French Foreign Minister authorised me to say that the French Government welcomed generally anything that might contribute to the improvement of Anglo-Italian relations. 1627 As your Lordships may be aware, that view has also been expressed with great force and great directness by the Prime Ministers both of Australia and of the Union of South Africa.
I would like those of you who may be interested in this particular side of the problem to look squarely at what are the actual facts. As long ago as December, 1936—just on two years ago—His Majesty's Government acknowledged the de facto existence of Italian sovereignty. In the two years that have passed since then nothing has happened there or elsewhere to cause His Majesty's Government to question that fact of the practical sovereignty of Italy. With all respect I would say that it is really no good crying over spilt milk that no human agency can put back in the jug. If it is a fact, let us recognise it as a legal fact, and clear up once for all the innumerable outstanding questions that arise. So long as this legal fact is not recognised by us, it does no good to anybody, but merely makes for friction between this Government and the Italian Government and adds overwhelmingly to the difficulties of administration in the British territories concerned with boundary questions and the like adjoining Ethiopia.
I said a moment ago that I disclaimed any intention of going into the merits or demerits of the Agreement in view of the fact that they have already been debated, but perhaps I may say, in passing, just a word or two about the Agreement. Apart from the general purpose of the Agreement to place the relations of the two countries on a more satisfactory and secure footing, is it of no advantage that we should have solemnly reaffirmed the delaration made by us—Italy and this country—in January, 1937, regarding the status quo in the Western Mediterranean, and that Italy should once again reaffirm her assurance that the integrity of the present territories of Spain should in all circumstances remain intact and unmodified? Is it, I would ask, of no value that we should show so far our mutual confidence in each other to the extent of exchanging military information regarding our respective forces in those areas of the Mediterranean and of the Near East where the boundaries of our Empires meet, or that we should regulate those relations in regard to certain areas in the Middle East? Again, I cannot think that it 1628 is of small value that our two Governments should undertake that any attempt by either of them to employ the methods of publicity or propaganda that may be at their disposal in order to injure the interests of the other would be inconsistent with the good relations that it is the object of the Agreement to establish and to maintain. And, again, I cannot think it is of small value that the Italian Government should, as soon as the Agreement comes into force, agree to accede to the London Naval Treaty. These are only some of the points that arise, and which are covered by the Agreement.
I frankly confess that, overriding them all, there seems to me to be the psychological advantage, on the one hand, of an honest attempt to restore the state of mutual friendship and trust which for so long characterised the relationship of our two countries, and, on the other hand, of taking a further and important step towards the general improvement of wider international relations. I must say a few words, with your Lordships' permission, upon what seem to me to be the wider issues that are here involved. As I have said, I judge this matter by the test of whether or not Spain is now to be reckoned a menace to the peace of Europe. In every one of the debates on this subject that have taken place no warning has been more gravely or more constantly addressed to His Majesty's Government than the warning of how great would be the danger from Spain in the event of European war. By the side of that, and correcting that, is it not necessary now to put the fact that when European war was, in fact, threatened at the end of September both sides in Spain, so far from showing any signs of trying to utilise the occasion for enlarging the background of their own struggle, at once took every step to protect themselves from such developments? The Government side at once decided to try and divest themselves of foreign troops, and General Franco at once proclaimed his neutrality and stated that he would not violate the French frontier unless he was himself attacked from that quarter.
If Europe was not plunged into Armageddon by the Czech crisis, does anyone seriously suppose that the peoples and rulers of Europe, with that experience behind them, are now going to fly at each other's throats over a civil war in Spain? I do not think anyone could 1629 seriously maintain that, for this reason, that it is not now to Spain that the eyes of the peoples and leaders of Europe are directed. They are directed to the much more urgent problem of their own internal situation and the much wider problems that have been opened up by the changes in the map of Europe which have taken place and are taking place at the present time. Therefore my conclusion to all that lay-out of facts is one that I do not think can be seriously challenged, that from the international point of view the Spanish conflict is losing, if it has not already lost, the importance that it was thought to have as a potential powder magazine of Europe.
The second thing I would say is this. I think there would be a very wide measure of agreement that the hope was right, whatever might have been thought about the precedent circumstances, that Munich was to be a starting point of new relationships, that it was to show the way to the adjustment of differences through consultation, and to show the way to greater confidence and to relations of greater understanding. I ask whether it is not worth while to take a step which is calculated to remove suspicions between two great countries and make some contribution to a happier state not only in the Mediterranean but also in Near and Middle East. There are plenty of people always ready enough to protest effusively their sympathy for the general cause of peace, but immediately it comes to the point of taking any practical or constructive step many are apt to hold up their hands in horror and fall back upon what are often quite impracticable generalities, and that gives no hope to anybody.
I do not myself forget that when the issue of peace or war faced Europe on the morning of the 28th September last, it was Signor Mussolini who came down on the side of peace, and it was his prompt response to our Prime Minister's appeal that saved Europe from what all are agreed might have been the end of European civilisation as we know it to-day. And I ask this simple question. Is there anybody here who thinks that he would have been in a position to take that action if the Anglo-Italian Agreement had not been signed last April? If anything of that kind of progress is to have a chance, I do venture to insist upon the necessity, so far as I may, of restraint of language when we are discussing these international 1630 affairs. Nothing is more certain than that provocative expression of opinion on one side immediately provokes provocative retort, and the greater the authority behind the language the greater the evil that the language does. The present moment makes great demands upon us all for cool judgment, for the attempt to see things straight and as they are, and for great care in refraining from making a difficult situation more difficult.
On that there are two general comments only that I wish to make. The first is one that perhaps I may make not without an element of self-interest. I readily admit that criticism of any Government is helpful, and may serve a most useful purpose on certain conditions. Governments, of course, expect criticism. They are rather like the proverbial donkey of the Irishman and would think that the world had gone astray if blows ceased to rain upon their shoulders. But criticism to be valuable must, I think, be the outcome of constructive thought and of a desire to lend constructive assistance to the public interest. Criticism that is evidently inspired rather by a desire to turn these difficulties to narrower purposes and to bring division where all sorts of people want greater unity serves no useful purpose and is merely mischievous. The second thing I would say is this. It is really unprofitable to utter insults and challenges and at the same time expect to arrive at settlement. The things do not go together.
Speaking with great respect of the Labour Party, I recognise how much I have owed to the leaders of that Party during recent strenuous weeks and months for the most considerate restraint of those on whom certain responsibilities lay, but the noble Lord who leads that Party here will not mind my saying that his Party seems to me not infrequently to be torn between two conflicting emotions. On the one side they must, as reasonable men, recognise the need of peace through accommodation even with Dictators; and on the other side, they are often urged forward by an imperative impulse, as it seems to me, towards criticism and condemnation of totalitarian philosophy, whatever the consequences for international relations and ultimately for international peace. I think that in deciding their line on these matters they must really make up their minds which 1631 of these two horses they ultimately prefer to ride, because they cannot ride both.
I venture to suggest that the policy of His Majesty's Government is quite plain, and I think the feeling of the country is much more unanimous about it than we might sometimes be led to suppose. I believe that, beneath and outside all our differences that express themselves in newspapers or in debates or the like, we really all share in deep devotion to the way of life that we have made our own, and which, if need ever arose, we should all as one man defend together. And, if that is so, I suggest that it is with the future that we are all principally concerned. I do not think as a matter of fact that our action in this matter would excite much opposition unless it were thought our action in regard to this Anglo-Italian business betokened some divergence of thought upon issues much more fundamental than the actual question of the Anglo-Italian Agreement. I do not believe that any such divergence of fundamentals in fact exists. We all—the noble Lord opposite and I—with absolute equality desire to see the world freed from the anxieties that have recently overshadowed its thought. We all desire to see our country, in making every effort it can to that end, remain true to the things that have made it an idea worth serving, even if we cannot at any time secure full and universal acceptance of our own ideals by all other peoples. If we do sincerely believe, as I fancy we must, that at bottom most of us have much the same sense of values about the things that matter most, I would earnestly hope that we should not allow any efforts for peace, which is the purpose of us all, to become matters of acrimonious Party controversy.
I am convinced, and I hope that perhaps what I have said may have done something to convince your Lordships, that the action of His Majesty's Government in this matter does truly give us the opportunity of making progress and is not fairly to be held open to the charges either of implied disloyalty to British principles or of inflicting practical mischief upon any cause through which those principles seem to be to-day expressed. I am also convinced—and this is my last word—that to-day this country needs all the unity of spirit that it can command, and it is for these reasons that I hope, in spite of what I know the noble Lord 1632 opposite is now going to say, that your Lordships may feel able unanimously to accept the Resolution which I now move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House welcomes the intention of His Majesty's Government to bring the Anglo-Italian Agreement into force.—(Viscount Halifax.)
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, because I had no opportunity of doing so yester- day or the day before, I hope your Lordships will not think it out of place if, from my position here, I very heartily congratulate the noble Earl the Leader of the House on the great position that he has assumed. I hope your Lordships will derive some comfort from his advent to that great office owing to the appropriate fighting spirit with which he has begun his career. So long as his broadsides are directed to Epping rather than to myself and my friends on these Benches, we shall give him all the support that his attacks may merit.
The noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has moved this Motion with all the dignity and persuasiveness that we have learned to expect from him. No man, so far as I know, can make a better showing of a questionable or bad case. I feel that the noble Viscount has excelled himself today in the art of covering up weaknesses and in the art of suggesting that, after all, if fault there be, it lies with people other than His Majesty's Government. We on the Labour Benches are, of course, for this occasion the Arabian donkeys on whose backs these unmerited blows fall, but I do not really understand why it was necessary for the noble Viscount to admonish me before I had committed any sin to-day, or indeed to level blows at my Party. If any Government ever had a Party in opposition which placed restraint upon itself in a time of national emergency, my Party has supplied it. Our efforts at self-suppression may not have appeared dramatic, but they have been intensely painful to those of us who have had to suffer.
In spite of the admonition of the noble Viscount, I am pot going to fall for the persuasive case that he has placed before your Lordships. You will notice, if you read this Motion carefully, that Parliament is not to approach this whole matter as an open question. The Government tell us in so many words that they are 1633 going to do it and that all that we have to do is to sign on the dotted line for something that is inevitable. It seems to me that the contact which His Majesty's Government have recently had with Dictators is likely to curb a fine democratic tradition that Parliament itself is the supreme authority and not an Executive, however distinguished it may be. We are, on this occasion, apparently expected to become the dutiful menials of that Executive and we are warned in a genial way that it would be impolite even to discuss what is placed before us.
We are expected to welcome this Agreement which is put before us. I suggest that a welcome is too much to ask of us. We may tolerate it, we may feel it necessary to accept it, but I hope even your Lordships' House will retain the courage not to welcome such an Agreement on this occasion. Further, I think we were told that on this festive occasion it would be bad form to remind the Government either of its own past or of the events which have led up to the present situation. "Let the dead bury their dead." Today's needs do not require the assent of yesterday, and what we do to-day must nave no relationship to the policy which has led up to this necessity. When this Resolution is reduced to ordinary political experience it means that we are called upon to-day to set aside a long and glorious tradition in the name of expediency. We are expected to embrace these proposals as though they had some basic ethical value and to agree to conditions that I believe our fathers would have died rather than have accepted. What we are really asked to do is to welcome the fact that the moral order of the world has suffered defeat, that pagan force rules the world and that our only duty is to accept the world as we find it. With great deference to the noble Viscount and to your Lordships' House, I find myself unable to do that.
Let me come to the two divisions of the subject to which the noble Viscount directed his remarks. He has reminded your Lordships that some time ago the most solemn assurances were given that the British Government regarded a settlement of the Spanish question as a prerequisite of the entry into force of the Agreement between the two Governments. Has there been such a settlement? What has been the settlement that has taken place? Have the Italians, for example, 1634 stopped killing Spaniards? Have the Italians taken away their Moors from Spanish territory? Have Italian aeroplanes stopped civilising Spanish women and children? The facts as we know them are quite otherwise. We know that in Spain to-day there are far more Italian fighting forces and equipment than have been taken away. I do not care to trust to my own suspected judgment in these matters, but in another place yesterday the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said:We have been told that 10,000 Italian infantrymen have been withdrawn, and everyone welcomed that, but the main contribution of Italy to the Salamanca authorities"—
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Surely the noble Lord is aware that it is completely out of order here to quote textually from a debate in another place. Mr. Speaker there is always most active in at once stopping any quotation from a debate in your Lordships' House. I am very sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but that is the rule here, though it has not always been strictly observed.
§ LORD SNELL
I feel that all that has been done is that 10,000 war-weary soldiers have been removed, and we are not clear that there has not been a renewal of men and of equipment. What I thought was meant by a settlement, and what I think every normal Englishman meant by a settlement, was the end of the war: that—if it is possible to refer to a debate that took place yesterday—the Spanish people should be left to shape their own destinies without interference from outside. That assault which has been made on a free people has been a great misfortune. I do not know whether the noble Viscount is well grounded—he has information, of course, that I cannot hope to have—in his belief that further withdrawals will take place, hope that may be so. I should like to have the withdrawals first, and then we should welcome the Pact after that had taken place. I have not, as I say, access to that information, but I hope it may be so.
Then in regard to Italian good faith: We have not had the privilege of meeting Signor Mussolini or of gazing in ecstasy on that winning countenance. It may be that all he has promised will take place. But I should like to ask His Majesty's Government to make sure that promises 1635 will be honoured, and incidentally they might explain to us how it comes about that previous promises have not been kept. I thought the policy which our country ought to adopt was that of Spain for the Spaniards. We have not, I think, any guarantee at the present time that that is what will happen. I should like to ask whether the Italian organisation of provocation in Palestine is to end as a part of this Agreement; whether the Mediterranean is to remain a free channel for the commerce of the world, without domination and intimidation from Italy or any other Power. Finally, so far as Spain is concerned I should like to express my own belief that the Spanish people have made a stand of heroic quality and endurance for the freedom to govern their own country as they like. What they have done is to me one of the few inspiring things in this sad world. Against the assembled forces of internal dissension and outside oppressors they have done all that brave men could do, and if foreign intervention were removed from them they would be able by their own efforts to clear up the situation in Spain in a month's time.
The only other matter upon which I desire to say a word or two is that of Abyssinia. Here, I think, we pass somewhat out of the realm of politics and material things, for it becomes to us a question of morals and of eternal justice. We are asked to welcome the annexation of this land to Italy. We are asked to recognise Italian sovereignty over this territory, to put it in another way. It was the last of the free African States, and I very much wanted one African State at least to be free to develop on the lines of its own genius—
§ LORD SNELL
In a speech on a very difficult matter it is important not to be led into words that might be injurious rather than helpful. Now we are told that Italy is in possession of Ethiopia. 1636 But is she? I am not convinced that the hold of Italy over Abyssinia is in any way effective. We know that there is a great organised opposition against her power there. We know, too, that the Italian people have not found Abyssinia the rich and promising El Dorado that they expected, and what the Italians themselves feel about it may be indicated by the fact that they are now going to offer it to the Jews to develop, which shows the barren and unpromising character of their occupation. I wanted to ask whether any conditions are going to be attached to this recognition, respecting either the organisation of a black army in Ethiopia, or the treatment of a brave people who have fallen in the noble cause of fighting for their freedom.
My concluding word is just this. The noble Viscount chided us that as critics we never made any suggestions. I do not believe I have ever addressed your Lordships' House in the way of criticism without trying to add to it something which I thought ought to be done. If this Italian Agreement is part of a general settlement, if it is merely an item in a considered plan which is going to reorganise the world on a better basis, then this Agreement might be tolerated on that assumption. The peace of the world, so earnestly desired, is dear to us all, and I would compromise with my own conscience at least in the hope that the coming good would excuse what I think is the present evil, but I cannot welcome, as this Resolution asks me to do, an arrangement which I believe is based upon wrong, and with no promise in it for the future peace and happiness of the world.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, there is a captivating simplicity in the terms of the Motion read by the noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but when the details come to be considered the complications seem entirely to destroy that simplicity. It is quite true that everybody, in general terms, would welcome an Agreement with Italy. Italy is the one great European country with which we have never been at war, and in the last hundred years we have fought side by side on more than one field of battle. Our cultural sympathies are also well known to us all. But when we are 1637 asked to welcome this particular Agreement it appears to me that we are invited to approve of the entire policy which, during the last few years, has led up to this Agreement. That I for one find impossible, and therefore I could not possibly give my vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Viscount.
I wish to say a word about Abyssinia, though not at any great length, because, as the noble Lord who has just spoken has pointed out, that has ceased to be a question of current importance, although undoubtedly one of current interest on the moral side. We all have to agree that the Italian occupation of Abyssinia has been an undisguised and unabashed conquest of a weaker country by a stronger, of a kind which has been undertaken during the last four hundred years by most European countries; but it had been hoped that a different spirit had arisen in great European countries, and, whether through the agency of the League of Nations or in obedience to any of the pacts on which agreement has been made, that such an absolutely open aggression upon a weaker enemy had become impossible. However that has not proved to be the case, and it is undoubtedly true that sooner or later the occupation and possession of Abyssinia by Italy would have to be admitted, subject to the fact, no doubt, raised by the noble Lord, as to whether that possession can as yet be regarded as absolutely secured.
Then the imperial title of Ethiopia is to be assumed by the King of Italy. In passing I think we cannot help expressing our profound sympathy with the recent holder of that title, both on account of his misfortunes and of the manner in which he has faced them. Whether the addition of this particular title adds much dignity to the House of Savoy with all its brave traditions is another question. I can remember, although I was then not yet a member of your Lordships' House, the assumption of the imperial title of India by Her Majesty Queen Victoria and the debates which took place in this House on that occasion. The Opposition, by no means of a partisan character, was largely inspired by the fear that the assumption of the title of Emperor would be regarded as something higher than that of the Sovereign of this country, and it was said with truth that there was no greater title than that of the King of England. However that may be, I do not think there 1638 will be any desire to invite his present Majesty to assume the title of Emperor of Nigeria, although, as a matter of fact, the great Mahomedan Emirates of Northern Nigeria represent a good deal more real sovereignty than do the Abyssinian chieftainships to which the title of Ras or Kinglet is attached.
I pass from that to a few words on the question of Spain, with which this Motion is far more directly concerned. It has been argued by the noble Viscount that the Italian Agreement ought to come into force concurrently with a settlement of the question of Spain, and that that settlement could be treated as having arrived when the Spanish question ceased to be a menace to the peace of Europe. A great many people—I should have thought most people—were under the impression that a settlement of the question meant the withdrawal of foreign troops, but, somewhat to my surprise, and I think to the surprise of many people, that reading of the condition seems to have been set aside. And perhaps it has been set aside with some reason if what His Majesty's Government want, in order to ensure a settlement with Italy, is the conclusion of the Spanish war in favour of what some call the Nationalists and others call the insurgents. Because, as the noble Viscount so clearly stated, Signor Mussolini has made it evident that, though he is willing to withdraw troops, they must not be withdrawn in such a manner or to such an extent as will prevent General Franco and his Party from gaining the ultimate victory and obtaining the government of Spain.
One is tempted then to ask what is the meaning of any withdrawal, what is the real substance in the withdrawal of these 10,000 men, if it is understood that a sufficiently large Italian force, whether composed mainly of troops of the line or mainly of other arms, is left in Spain to ensure the victory of that particular side. I would just ask the noble Viscount this: I do not know whether it was impossible, but supposing that the Russian Government had sent from the Baltic to the Bay of Biscay a convoy of transports containing an army corps of Russian volunteers, carrying also guns, munitions and aeroplanes, all done in the name of non-in-tervention—would that have created the European crisis which it was so important to avoid by turning a blind eye to the Italian expedition? And if not, I should 1639 like to know why not, because I confess there is no difference that I can see between the two cases.
It is quite true, or I believe it to be true, that it is the case of the Nationalists that the other people began it. The first armed forces and munitions which were landed were landed from revolutionary sources on behalf of the Government, which is entirely a revolutionary Government in the sense that it is inspired by the precedent of the French Revolution modified by the subsequent tenets of revolutionaries of the nineteenth century. But I think there are two answers to that. In the first place those imports were on a very minor scale—I have always understood chiefly of small arms landed at Barcelona and handed out to all the riff-raff of that town—and also that they were in the possession, whether you like it or not, of the Government of the country, who were therefore entitled, if they chose, to buy arms and munitions and supplies of any kind. It is of course equally possible to argue that those who disliked the views and actions of that revolutionary Government, anticlerical, anti-landlord, anti-bourgeois, were entitled to rise and rebel against it. That I do not dispute for a moment. But that does not to my mind in any way cover the ground to which so much objection is taken—that of the vast and surely completely unauthorised scale to which intervention has grown during these last few years.
The noble Viscount seemed to think it was possible to carry on a policy on two entirely separate lines, one of complete non-intervention, the other that of pursuing the course of European peace, leaving the question of intervention or nonintervention altogether aside. I confess I do not see how it is possible to keep those two balls in the air at once, and the noble Viscount's exposition of how that was done or might be done I confess failed to convince me. I really, therefore, cannot think that the conditions on which it was agreed that this settlement with Italy should be brought about have been in fact carried through, and therefore, as I said at the beginning of my remarks, it will be impossible for me to give a vote in favour of the Motion of the noble Viscount. Somewhere or other in the works of a famous Italian of an earlier generation, Machiavelli, he says, in speaking of treaties, that it is a mistake to 1640 expect too much of a treaty and that what you have to do is to examine all the most unfortunate and unfavourable issues which may be involved and, if you can, get the least unfavourable of these in your settlement; then you have to be pretty well contented. Possibly that is the position which His Majesty's Government have to take up, though it is not at all necessary for the Italians to take it up, because by this Agreement, it seems to me, they have got everything they could possibly desire.
§ LORD LLOYD
My Lords, I rise to say in a very few words that I am in entire agreement with my noble friend's policy in regard to this Anglo-Italian Agreement. It was my misfortune to be unable to get down to the House in time to hear my noble friend's statement, but presumably it did not differ in any essential respect from the statement made in another place by the Prime Minister yesterday. I am sure your Lordships would not wish any one of us to-day to re-discuss the details of the Treaty which were debated some months ago in your Lordships' House. But, lest I be misunderstood, I should like to state very briefly my reasons for supporting the Government in this matter.
I should like to remind some noble Lords opposite that I have never attempted to justify or condone Italian policy in Abyssinia. I have always been in favour of friendly relations with Italy, but I have never attempted to condone or justify what Italy did in Abyssinia. As I have said before in this House, if His Majesty's Government had felt able, at the time when the action originally occurred, to defend Abyssinia by force of arms in defence of our agreements, I should have absolutely understood, and if our power had been deemed sufficient at that time to intervene swiftly and successfully I should have supported the action. But owing to the disarmament policy, from which, I repeat, so many of our grave evils to-day flow, I must suppose from the Government's action or non-action at that time that it was not considered possible in the general situation so to have acted. Instead of this, for a long period we had impotent, nagging, and half-hearted sanctions, because, after all, many of us know how half-hearted many of these sanctions were. Essential commodities for munitions were going under the 1641 Government's nose sometimes through Germany, sometimes through other agencies, to Italy which could perfectly well have been stopped by the Government if they had chosen. For these impotent, hesitating sanctions, if I could not take military action, I should merely have substituted a clear protest, and once Abyssinia had been conquered I should have accepted the fait accompli—one policy or the other. I differed from the Government's policy at that time because it seemed to me we did not pursue either the one course or the other.
Some people have attempted to compare Italy's action in Abyssinia with Germany's action on the Rhine, with the rape of Austria or with her recent action with regard to Czechoslovakia. There was, of course, one thing in common between all these, and that was a broken pledge. Nobody is going to deny that for a moment, I presume; but that is the only thing in common. It is a very important thing, but it is the only one. On the other hand people are too apt to forget that Italy's claims in Abyssinia, for one thing, were based on a series of well-established treaties, many of which if not most of which—I have not had time to look them up recently—were made with the cognisance and approval of the British Government. That makes a big difference. There was another big difference. I for one have always welcomed the substitution of civilised rule in a country like Abyssinia for one of infamously bad government where slave-trading and slave—running have been a scourge to the people. Perhaps you will think that is too realistic a policy, but the happiness and welfare of a great number of people like the Abyssinians—at any rate the comparative happiness, because I do not know that they are very happy now—seem to me to weigh something in the balance.
As against and in addition to all that I confess quite candidly that there is another thing that weighs with me very much, and that is British interests. I believe that it is, and always has been, a vital strategic interest to have friendly relations with Italy, and I believe that such relations are as much in the Italian interest as our own. It is surely rank folly to quarrel with a Power which has been friendly by disposition and by habit and whose people, as I know, through the difficult clays we have been facing in the 1642 last few years, have, in so tar as they have adopted an unfriendly attitude towards us, adopted it with the greatest reluctance and the greatest difficulty. One of the most interesting things to see for anyone who reads the Italian Press carefully—my noble friend Lord Rennell, who knows it better than I do, will endorse this—was the way in which the Italian people snatched at the opportunity of restoring good relations with us, irrespective of the Governments on either side.
There is one caveat I should like to enter. I would ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he would give us some assurance in regard to the following. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, has just said that you cannot expect too much of a treaty. I hope, at any rate, we shall be able to expect this much. Those of us who follow Eastern policy at all closely have grave anxieties about the situation in the Red Sea, and I hope the noble Viscount on the Front Bench will be able to assure us that it is quite understood that this Treaty gives a clear understanding that any further what I shall call "Albanianising" of the Yemen will cease, that occupation of islands round Perim will be discontinued, and that any unfriendly activities such as have certainly been going on in the last year or two on the Red Sea coast, and indeed a little further north, by radio, pen, speech, and Press, will have a final quietus.
I shall be very glad if my noble friend can give us some indication as to whether we are not justified under this Agreement to hope for this. I personally am not too anxious about it. I am certain that the Italian people want friendly relations with us. I have had the honour of some acquaintance with the Leader of the Italian Government, and I believe that wish is shared by him. It does not always seem from his expressions to be very likely, but I am confident it is true, and I believe that this Treaty is going to be of great value to this country strategically and politically. I for one congratulate His Majesty's Government on having put it into force. I am not deterred from my congratulations by the knowledge that the conditions which were laid down have not, in my judgment, been fulfilled. I do not think anybody could pretend they have, but I think that in the end it will be to the good that this Treaty has been entered into, and I congratulate my noble friend on it.
§ LORD RENNELL
My Lords, in the interesting debate that was concluded in your Lordships' House yesterday it was gratifying to find that in discussing a grave national issue there was no evidence of any Party spirit. I could wish that to-day also, in considering the Resolution that has been put forward by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, we might think that it could be considered without regard to the past, but on its merits and without any spirit of prejudice. Mistakes have, of course, been made in our relations with Italy—on both sides, in my opinion—in the handling of events which have resulted in a political tension between two nations which, after almost a century (in a sense more than a century) of cordial understanding and co-operation, would have seemed almost impossible to anticipate. Prejudicial estimates of motives have been advanced without any real justification, and susceptibilities aroused in people in whom genuine temperamental differences from our own have never before presented any obstacle to genuine friendship. But let me assure your Lordships, as one who can speak with real knowledge of a country which I first visited, I am afraid, even a little more than seventy years ago, and where I have resided for a certain number of months every year since I left the Embassy at Rome in 1919, that I have not found any alteration in the feeling of the masses of the Italian people towards this country, or any diminution of their confidence in the stabilising influence of a country that they will always respect; or, indeed, I may say, anything but the keenest desire to restore those traditional relations of mutual confidence, a suspension of which is regarded I think almost universally as unnatural.
I have more than once advanced criticisms on the indefiniteness and lack of coherence in our own policy since the initial error made by Italy and supported by France in insisting, in spite of our protest, on including in the League of Nations an African country, which in our opinion—and I have no doubt that opinion was right—was not yet ripe at that time for membership of that body. I shall not, therefore, recapitulate now the story of recent years. It will suffice, I think, if I say that careful and continuous study of the previous and subsequent succession of events seems to me to leave little doubt that but for that insistence 1644 occasion for the tension which has arisen would never have come about. The intention to invade Abyssinia, and the very vast preparations to do so, were of course obvious to every careful observer at least a year before that invasion took place. We were not, I am perfectly well aware, alone in inducing Ethiopia to withdraw her protest against the menace, which she was entitled to put forward under the terms of the Covenant, in virtue of a procedure which could only result in loss of time, but when the League actually and tardily took the matter up we were left practically alone to be the mouthpiece for the invocation of sanctions which, being only partially imposed, were bound to be ineffectual, and the odium which they aroused in an ill-informed country was almost exclusively directed against ourselves.
There was yet a chance for either party to withdraw from a situation which was obviously distasteful to both presented by the Hoare-Laval proposals, but the almost sacrosanct reverence attached to the Covenant, which had already twice failed in its main object, in a country which would not realise that the logic of morals is always weaker than the logic of force, led to their abandonment. It has long been obvious that if appeasement and reconciliation were to make any progress in Western Europe it was imperative to terminate a situation which there could be no justification in prolonging, unless it were to indicate a platonic disapproval of the disregard of a Covenant certain prescriptions of which have always seemed to me more likely to menace than to guarantee security. With his practical clarity of political vision the Prime Minister realised that the time had come to take action in this sense, and the Anglo-Italian Agreement was drafted.
Personally I could have wished that it might have come into force without conditions. The time lost in waiting for the fulfilment of those conditions has not been advantageous to our foreign relations in general. The Prime Minister has now stated that he considers those conditions are in actual process of fulfilment, and I should therefore like to see a unanimous vote in favour of the Resolution. Let us try to see with the same clear vision of future possibilities as the Prime Minister. Though long out of active service, I still preserve many contacts abroad, and I cannot doubt the sincerity of the en- 1645 thusiasm with which his attitude has been approved by the mass of European feeling. In some countries the people had long been kept in ignorance of so much that was going on around them that the events of the last weeks have considerably opened their eyes. They have realised that a lack of patience at a critical moment, a failure to appreciate the difficulties of an opponent, one false step on the edge of an abyss, might have plunged them again into war to which they are all, I am convinced, heart and soul opposed. The people may, I think it is now probable, have in the near future a greater voice in decisions.
Abroad, at any rate, there seems to be immense confidence in the leadership of the Prime Minister and that confidence appears to be shared by the Leaders in other countries also. A letter was brought to my knowledge only yesterday from a correspondent in Italy, who wrote:If Mr. Chamberlain were to come to Rome now the Pope would have to canonise him.The keystone has been replaced in the arch of the bridge over which Signor Mussolini and the Prime Minister could meet, and the Prime Minister has testified to the great value of the good-will and cooperation which Signor Mussolini displayed in doing so. He has signed an understanding of the highest significance with the Leader in Germany. The outlook today, believe me, is brighter. Let us not suffer recriminations and suspicions to place any further obstacles on the road which leads to conciliation and peace.
§ LORD MARLEY
My Lords, the noble Viscount the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has, I think, accused the Opposition of essential confusion of thought, or something of that kind. I am not at all sure that there is not a good deal of essential confusion of thought throughout the country on the question of foreign affairs, and I should at least like to make my own position clear in a brief contribution to the debate on the subject before your Lordships. I have no objection whatever, and indeed I offer support, to the principle of an Agreement between this country and Italy. I do not like totalitarian Governments. I particularly object to the cruelties that they have inflicted upon the Jewish minorities in their countries and upon their political opponents. But I would like to be con- 1646 sistent in this matter, and I am aware that, when noble Lords opposite opposed any agreement with the Soviet Union because they disliked that form of government, I took an opposite point of view. Therefore, although I do not like totalitarian government I believe that that is no reason why we should not come to an Agreement between Great Britain and Italy.
I would not desire to beat the donkey to which the noble Viscount has compared the Government on that issue. I would spare the Government ass in this matter, because for one reason any blows I might rain upon its shoulders would be not at all painful. But what I take exception to is the time chosen for ratifying the Agreement. I do not think there is any member of your Lordships' House who could possibly accept the statement that the position in Spain has been settled. The position in Spain is clearly not settled, and I am inclined to think that one point in the noble Viscount's speech indicated his acceptance of that view. He stated that the Government intended to double their grant to help the refugees. I welcome that promise, because the money is badly needed, but it seems to indicate at least a fear that there may be even more need for that grant in the immediate future.
I think it is a little too early to ratify this Agreement and I find myself entirely out of agreement with the noble Viscount on one point. He said that this had no lever value. I suppose he meant by that, that we could not by holding up our Agreement with Italy secure any better terms in Spain. I do not believe that that is quite the case. I cannot help thinking that in making that statement the noble Viscount was on rather weak ground. As I understood his argument, it was that as Signor Mussolini supported the Non-Intervention Plan therefore he was already committed to carrying out the terms of that Plan as soon as it come into force, and that he was not responsible therefore for holding it up. But, after all, the responsibility for holding it up is the non-acceptance of the Non-Intervention Plan by General Franco, and I suppose there is no one in this House who would deny that Signor Mussolini must have considerable powers of persuasion with General Franco in this matter. Therefore I am inclined to think that there is—or at least there would have 1647 been—a very considerable lever value in this Agreement, and I for one profoundly regret that we have not been able in a very gentle and friendly way to make use to some extent of that lever value to secure a settlement in Spain.
I say that not because I am concerned for the moment with oue side or the other in Spain. I am concerned with what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, emphasized in his speech—namely, British interests. I cannot help thinking that British interests are liable to be in the course of being sacrificed by what we may now see to be the almost inevitable result of the Spanish conflict. The Italian and the German support of the Nationalist Government in Spain will now continue, and it may increase. I see that the Spanish Government claim that it has already increased. Therefore, we cannot but foresee the possibility at least of the defeat of the Spanish Government. I understand that one of the effects of any such decision as the granting of belligerent rights will give the right to the Nationalists or insurgents to secure the support of Italian warships in interfering with the food supply to the Government side. I am not at all sure that we have not already seen the beginning of that in the recent attack on a ship off Cromer. I do not know, but it would appear at least to be possible.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but I cannot help thinking that he has misconceived my argument. I was careful to say that there was no connection whatever between the granting of belligerent rights to General Franco and the bringing into force of this Agreement.
§ LORD MARLEY
I am very much obliged to the noble Viscount. That removes a great fear I had that any such grant might give an unsatisfactory and unfair solution to the Spanish problem. I welcome enormously that statement, and already I feel happier, to some extent, about what we are discussing.
Now let me take another point in which British interests may be profoundly affected. We all know that this Government are concerned with the prosperity of this country, and it is only natural that they should expect, as a result of their comparatively open attitude on the 1648 Spanish situation, that this country would be called in to help in the reconstruction of Spain when this unhappy war is over. I see in The Times leading article to-day that that wish is mentioned in a sentence: The Times says that the Governments that have taken no side will obviously be best equipped to lend a helping hand in Spain. I cannot help thinking that that is a false belief. We must remember that if in fact the Nationalists win in Spain, they will owe a very deep debt to those who have aided them—namely, the Italians and the Germans. Already, we know, the Germans are installed and are engaged in planning for the reconstruction of Spain, and they demand in return for their machinery the raw materials—the iron, copper, mercury, lead, and so on—which are such an important factor in Spain. We know, similarly, that an insurgent victory would mean in all probability, if not a territorial modification of the Spanish situation, at any rate the risk of a territorial modification of Spanish Morocco, which, it is suggested, is at least being very anxiously looked at by the Germans and/or the Italians.
That brings me to the last point I want to make: the vital effect on British interests of leaving in Spain a domination by Germans or Italians which might, in the unhappy event of a conflagration in which the British Empire was involved, seriously affect our strategic position. We are told that they have no territorial ambitions. We are told that General Franco, in the last crisis, immediately declared for neutrality. I would remind the House that the Spanish Government declared for neutrality in the last Great War, but that did not prevent the Spanish Government giving what assistance they could to the side in the Great War which was opposed to the Allies. In this case how much greater would be the power with which an actually hostile though a nominally neutral Spain might be able to affect our security. The threat to France from the air occupation by Germany and Italy of the northern frontiers of Spain is obvious to anybody who considers it, and I suppose may even have had some effect in the last crisis. The communications between France and Africa must be affected by the control, if not the occupation, by Italy and Germany of the Balearic Isles.
1649 I would venture to suggest that if any members of your Lordships' House who are interested in the possibility of the closing of the Mediterranean through the occupation or control by Germany or Italy of Spain, care to consider the effect on British trade, they will find that there may be a very dangerous threat to British interests if the emergence of a free Government in Spain, as our Government hopes, is not in fact realised. It is because I think that we are giving up this lever at too early a date that I fear we are running the risk that the result of the Spanish situation may be against the interests of our country. I would remind your Lordships of the position of Gibraltar. We have had debates within the last few months on the threat to Gibraltar of guns in a hostile territory. There is also a small factor which has not been realised, and that is that ever since this country has held Gibraltar there has never been a settlement of the question of territorial waters between Great Britain and the Spanish Government. The whole of the commercial anchorage of Gibraltar lies within the normally-accepted three-mile limit of the territorial waters in Spain.
Finally, in this connection, without any territorial ambitions in Spain it is quite possible for Spanish ports to be used, in repayment for the debt which General Franco owes to Germany and Italy for their support, as submarine bases, which might have the most serious effect on British trade coming round the Cape, coming round from the Far East, from Australia, by the threat of submarine or air attack from bases in Vigo, Pontevedra and other Spanish ports. It is therefore purely in line with British interests and the danger to them that I feel that a profound mistake is being made in bringing this Agreement into force at this time. Had we been able to wait a little, had there not possibly been electoral demands, had it not been for the building up of a case, which is unhappily necessary in this country, we should have been far better off if we had been able to delay. I only hope that my fears are ill-founded and that the hopes of the Government are justified, but it is because of my fears that I am not able to support this Motion.
THE EARL OF CAVAN
My Lords, having been in Italy as a member of the Anglo-Italian War Graves Commission within one week of the crisis, I hope your 1650 Lordships will allow me to give you a few of the impressions that I there formed. I should like in parenthesis to draw your Lordships' attention to the very great strength, even after twenty years, of the bond of our common heritage of the dead, not only between ourselves and our Allies in the late War, but between ourselves, Germany, Turkey and Bulgaria. That, I think, is a wonderful tribute to the work of Sir Fabian Ware and his Commission.
When I was in Italy I had wonderful opportunities. I had talks with all classes, with Their Majesties the King and Queen, with Signor Mussolini, with the Under-Secretary of State for War, General Pariani, with the Foreign Secretary, Count Ciano. Further, I talked with Marshal Caviglia, a very old colleague of mine, and many old soldier friends of 1918. Lastly, but by no means the least important, I talked with the widows and children of the fallen in the Asiago district. In each of the five cemeteries that we visited there, these women came to me and wrung my hand with tears of thankfulness for peace. The children outside our hotel lined up and shouted "Pace, Pace," as we came through. Aeroplanes from Italy's great Air Force, when we were at those cemeteries, dropped flowers on our heads, and as I laid our wreath upon the tomb of the Italian Unknown Warrior, our two National Anthems, following each other, sounded to me like a hymn of hope. I am quite sure that if any of your Lordships had been with me you could have formed but two impressions of Italy—thankfulness for peace, and an intense and sincere desire for friendship with Great Britain.
Now what are we asked to do? To recognise the Abyssinian conquest in return for the withdrawal of 10,000 men from Spain. As I see it, with the plain eyes of a simple soldier, Abyssinia is definitely under the control of the Italians, and I think 10,000 men are 10,000 men. If I had been in command of an army corps on either side in Spain, and if I was asked to give up 10,000 men, I should have said it was impossible. I am convinced that one generous gesture now to our old friends and Allies will meet with a very full response. I say this deliberately, from experience, because I know how that great-hearted people always respond to the encouraging word. When I was first sent to Italy in their 1651 darkest days in October, 1917, Sir William Robertson said to me: "I want you to put new heart into their divisions." Four months later, when General Plumer was recalled to stem the German assault in France, he said: "Do your best to help and encourage them, and they will serve you well." Were they not proved to be right? Did not Italy completely defeat the grand attack of the Austrian army in June, 1918, and was not Italy the first of our Allies to bring about the blessed word "Armistice" on November 4, 1918, by her victory of Vittorio Veneto? My Lords, we want friends, not enemies, in Europe.
With regard to my interview with Signor Mussolini, some of your Lordships will perhaps know that long room in the Palazzo Venezia, where he has his desk at the extreme end. To me, anxious as I was to do the civil and correct thing, it was a great problem as to whether to salute on entering the door, and then introduce the delegation, or to march boldly up the twenty or twenty-four paces between me and the desk before taking notice of the great man; but all that trouble was unnecessary, for the moment we were introduced he got up and advanced to meet us, shook me warmly by the hand and said: "I am glad to see you," with emphasis on the "am." I then introduced the delegation, and thanked him for all the hospitality we had received, ending up by saying: "Sir, speaking as a soldier to a soldier, I beg to thank you for your timely intervention at Munich at a decisive moment." He again got hold of my hand, and after I had told him of the work of the Commission, he said: "I wish you goodbye, I love England, and I would like to put our relations on a new basis." I think we should help him to do so, and therefore I welcome with all my heart the decision of the Government.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
My Lords, we have listened to one of those speeches which are far better than an eloquent oration. They are the kind of speeches which influence your view, even your strongest convictions, if they are in any way contrary to what has been said. I can say with absolute truth that nothing, I believe, could be more desirable than the restoration of complete good relations between this country and Italy. I most heartily agree with what 1652 the noble and gallant Earl said when he said that we want friends. That is quite true. As I shall have occasion to point out in a moment, I think the situation is exceedingly anxious for this country. I do not think it has been so anxious since the close of the Napoleonic wars. I believe it is intensely serious, and it is for that reason, I confess, that I have my doubts as to the wisdom of the step which the Government have taken.
The Prime Minister said, on an occasion which we can only refer to indirectly, that in international affairs one thing led to another. I entirely agree. You cannot deal with any incident in international affairs without considering not only the immediate result and the consequences of the actual step taken, but also what will be the ultimate result and the indirect consequences of what is done. In this particular case—and I am going to be as brief as I can—I should agree with the Foreign Secretary in saying that the direct effect is not very considerable. We have decided in this House and the other House to approve the Anglo-Italian Agreement, and the recognition of Abyssinia. That is a question which has been decided, though I personally was very doubtful, to put it mildly, as to the wisdom of that step. Abyssinia has been sentenced, and this may be regarded as the execution, but it is not more than that. But even so I think there are some considerations which even on this subject, directly considered, ought to be borne in mind.
Undoubtedly when the Agreement was laid before us great stress was laid upon the proposition that it was not to come into force until there had been a withdrawal of the Italian assistance to Franco. I am not dealing with the exact wording, but I think that is the clear sense of the wording. It was laid before us and the other House upon that distinct understanding. I do not think there could be any serious doubt about it. I know my noble friend the Foreign Secretary quoted a passage from a speech made by the Prime Minister on July 26, and I am afraid he thought my interruption a little impertinent, but it was not intended to be impertinent at all, but merely to clear up what seemed to me the ambiguity of the speech. The words he quoted have been quoted very often, and were these:If His Majesty's Government think that Spain has ceased to be a menace to the peace 1653 of Europe, I think we shall regard that as a settlement of the Spanish question.I think, in fairness, the previous sentence ought to be quoted. The Prime Minister was being pressed to say what was a "settlement." He had explained previously:We shall do all that we possibly can to facilitate the withdrawal of the foreign volunteers from Spain, in order that that country may cease to offer any threat to the peace of Europe.He was pressed again to say exactly what "settlement" meant, and in declining to define what he meant by a settlement he said:I would like to see what happens when the volunteers are withdrawn.Then came that passage which has been quoted.
I confess, reading that fairly, it seems to me that the Prime Minister said perfectly clearly that before the volunteers were withdrawn there could be no question of this Agreement coming into force, but if after that withdrawal we were satisfied that there had been a settlement of the Spanish question then we should be prepared to recognise Abyssinia. I may have entirely misunderstood the Prime Minister, but that, I think, was what was understood by the audience to which he then spoke.
§ VISCOUNT HALIFAX
I do not want to interrupt my noble friend. Of course he has quoted the words as they stand quite correctly, but I think it is perhaps important that he should not leave an impression on the House that is, I think he would agree, an impression different from what was at We time those words were used probably the accurate meaning of them. At that time, as he knows perfectly well, the minds of all those who were concerned with this matter were upon the bringing into operation of the Non-Intervention Committee's Plan, and the basis of that Plan was that when what was called "a substantial number" of volunteers was withdrawn then everything else followed and the machine would work, and General Franco would get belligerent rights, and all the rest of it. The only point I am concerned to make clear—and I am quite sure the noble Viscount will not disagree with it—is that it would be wrong if there was any impression left in people's minds that these words meant at that time that all 1654 the volunteers had to be withdrawn before anything else could happen. That was never so.
§ VISCOUNT CECIL OF CHELWOOD
Of course I accept instantly what the Foreign Secretary tells me. Unfortunately I was not present when these words were used; I can only judge by the language as reported. I do not wish to press the matter unduly, because these wrangles about what exactly was said interest the House of Commons and possibly your Lordships, but they interest no one else in the country. They are part of the ordinary Parliamentary small arms, and of no particular importance. But, putting aside anything that the Prime Minister may have said, I do think that the statement that a withdrawal of 10,000 men amounts to a settlement of the Spanish question is a very serious statement. The Foreign Secretary has said perfectly truly that the question of the Non-Intervention Agreement is separate from this question. But the action taken here will certainly be used as an argument why the Non-Intervention proposal should come into force without any further withdrawal of these troops. If it is said, "Withdraw 10,000 men and at once you have a settlement of this question," then you can scarcely argue that the condition of the Non-Intervention Committee that there should be a substantial withdrawal has not been fulfilled. That is the importance of it. Of course, I must take exactly what the Government tell me is their intention in this matter, but I do think this is a frightfully important question.
I cannot help feeling that if this is really going to operate as a great asset to General Franco, and if it is so regarded, as I fear it will be regarded—I am very ready to accept the Foreign Secretary's statement that that is not the object or intention, but I am very much afraid that that will be the effect—the result will be that once again we shall be in the presence of an international question in which you have had the forces (I am sorry to use these phrases but they are essential to make my point clear) the forces of democracy on one side and the forces of absolute government on the other side, and in which, in point of fact, after a controversy, the British Government have put their influence on the side of the forces of absolute government. That is what I am afraid will be the effect of the 1655 Government's action. Now that seems to be a very serious matter. I am not the least impressed by the fact that we are told that General Franco declared his neutrality just before the Munich Agreement. He was in a frightful position. If he supported either side, and the other side had won in what he thought was going to be a tremendous controversy, and possibly a war, he would have been in a very serious position; and that he should have thought that on the whole the safest thing was to declare his neutrality does not seem to me to indicate at all that that is going to operate always and that, supposing he becomes the ruler of Spain—which I hope he will not—he will always act with absolute neutrality as between a Fascist Government and a Government like our own.
I may be unduly nervous about these matters, but I am exceedingly anxious about the position we have been brought into by the events of the last few years. I cannot tell the House how anxious I am on the subject. What has happened? In Africa we took action which, so I am informed, was universally regarded by the black races of Africa as the abandonment of a black race who were fighting for their independence because we were either unwilling or unable to resist a perfectly indefensible aggression by a white race. I am assured by those who speak as though they knew that that has produced a tremendous effect throughout Africa. The Government have better information no doubt than I have, and they may say that no such effect has been produced; but that is the information which reaches me from several sources. That is one thing. Some noble Lord, I think it was my noble friend Lord Lloyd, said that in this matter we ought to regard British interests, but no one will doubt that the alienation of the black races of Africa would be a terrific blow to British interests. We have always been regarded with friendship by those races. Our record in the question of the slave trade and other matters has given us a tremendous prestige. If we were to lose that, we should lose a very valuable asset—I am not putting it higher than that, though I do in fact have other motives for regretting that decision.
Take Asia. What has happened there? We have certainly been closely allied with China. We have expressed on two 1656 occasions—in the Manchurian fight and in the present fight—our conviction that she was suffering from a grave aggression. We have read lectures—or perhaps that is an offensive way of putting it, we have made solemn condemnations of the action of Japan, and yet we have stood by while a war, waged with a ruthlessness which I think has very rarely been exceeded, has been going on, thousands and tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of people have been slaughtered and tortured, and their women outraged; and we have been unable to do anything. That seems to me a very serious matter, and if—which I again say I hope profoundly will not happen—Japan should be victorious and China should be ultimately beaten, driven by slaughter and starvation to make peace, is not that going to have a tremendous effect on our position in China?
I will come to Central Europe. I know that it is almost indecent to express any doubt about the Munich arrangements. I can only say for myself that we suffered when that Munich Agreement was made the greatest disaster which has occurred to us since the battle of Austerlitz. That is my conviction. I may be entirely wrong but that seems to me to be the truth. I do not wish to keep up hostility to this or that country, but, after all, of whom are we afraid here? Of course, it is Germany. Suppose the German Army were removed, should we be spending £1,500,000,000 on rearmament? Of course we should not. That is what we are afraid of. We are afraid of German strength and we are uncertain—I do not want to put it higher—whether that strength will be used against us. That is the reason why we are rearming. There is no other possible reason that can be suggested. We are not afraid of France, we are not afraid of Russia as things stand—we might have been, but we are not—we are not afraid, at least yet, of Italy. There is only one country we are afraid of.
And what have we done in Czechoslovakia? We have handed over a country with a very large Army, with a passionate belief in independence, a country whose people were our friends right through, during the War and after the War, in every effort for peace that we have made. It has gone, and with it has gone not only Czechoslovakia but the whole of our posi- 1657 tion in the South-East of Europe. That seems to me a tremendously serious position. Are we going to do the same in Spain, in the Western Mediterranean? I hope not. I hope the Foreign Secretary is right, and that this step is in no sense the prelude to anything of that kind, but I admit I am exceedingly anxious on the point.
My noble friend, in his extraordinarily convincing manner, had a passage about peace and democracy, and how we were not going to give up our belief in either, to which we were passionately attached. He said—and I entirely agree with him—there was practical unanimity in the country. Yes, but we must not make the position too difficult. It may be that there is no fear of an attempt by Germany, and that our rearmament is quite unnecessary. I am not against rearmament. It may be that we should look upon this as the first step in a new era of understanding, but I cannot myself think that this is the right way to encourage a new era of understanding. I do not think, apart from the repugnance everyone has to such a policy, that you will build a general understanding on the basis of our always sacrificing our friends in order to placate, I will not say our enemies, but those of whom we are afraid. I cannot think that is going to be a good policy. Is there evidence to show that, in fact, it is producing that result? I am afraid I see none. We have had a number of speeches delivered in Germany since. We have had one from Herr Goebbels, who is supposed to be one of the most influential men in Germany. He said, "You think that Mr. Chamberlain came to Godesberg or Munich because he wanted to. Not at all. He came because he was afraid. He dare not resist the threat "—I am paraphrasing but I do not think I am paraphrasing wrongly—of I forget how many million men he cited as Germany's strength.
My noble and gallant friend (Lord Cavan), if he will allow me to call him so, in a very eloquent passage said that Signor Mussolini had said that he was a friend of England. I forget the exact phrase he used, but it was something to that effect. I should like to believe it. In a sense it is true, but his newspapers, which are all under his control, are certainly rather inconsistent with that statement of Signor Mussolini. They are not like our newspapers, they are absolutely 1658 under his control, and they do not publish anything of which he does not approve. They have been full for months past, and have not ceased since Munich, of the most violent attacks on us. I confess that this policy seems to me hazardous in the extreme. It seems to me we are putting our heads into the lion's mouth. Sometimes that answers, sometimes the lion does not take advantage of that position, but sometimes he does, and I am afraid—deeply afraid—lest we have not gone so far and given the lion such temptation that we cannot rely upon his moderation.
I know that possibly some of your Lordships may think I have spoken with undue pessimism, and that I have made the position worse than it is. That is the difficulty we are in, in the form of government under which we live. If we see something being done, which is, as we think, quite wrong in the foreign affairs of our country, if we protest we must give the reasons, and these reasons cannot fail to be possibly inconvenient, certainly disagreeable, to those who are conducting the negotiations. Yet if we stand aside and do not do that, and the disaster which we fear may happen does happen, then we should be reproached bitterly, and rightly, with not having used our constitutional position and tried to avoid that result. I am most anxious that there should be at this moment national unity in what I think should be a supreme effort to increase the armaments of the country. I must submit very seriously to the Government, who I believe desire that unity as much as I do, that they cannot hope to obtain it unless they can conduct their foreign policy in such a way as will seem to us, at any rate, reasonable and proper in the circumstances. You may say that all this is the carping criticism of the moment, but, after all, look back to 1931. Compare the state of the world, the state of Europe, and the state of this country then and now. I am sure that the comparison will fill you with the gravest anxiety and misgiving. You may say it is not the fault of this country or that, or of this man or that, but if you are honest and look things fairly in the face, and compare what has actually been done, I do not think you will say that the policy pursued by the National Government during these years has been free from blame.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, the noble Viscount asks us to look back to 1931. The speech to which we have just listened would mean that we should never have peace in this world. If you go forward to shake hands with a man you are told you are putting your head in the lion's mouth. The noble Viscount tells us to look back to 1931, but we are now discussing friendship with Italy. Look back to a few years later when the noble Viscount was the apostle who preached sanctions threatening to lead to war, and said in answer to me in this House, as he will well remember, that he would not flinch from imposing sanctions leading to war with Italy. I say praise be to Providence that his advice was not followed and that, instead of having had a bloody war with Italy, the end of which nobody could foresee, and on which we were on the very verge, as your Lordships will remember, we are now present to make a treaty of amity with Italy.
I would not have risen in this debate but for the fact that what is called the moral issue was raised in an acute form by the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Snell. He said in effect that if we acquiesced in this proposal there would be humiliation, that our children and grandchildren would be humiliated by what we were doing. It seems to me that that is a brutal thing to say of those of us who do not take his view. I admit I am only what Kipling called a rough and tough soldier, but my conscience is very far from being seared. I do have a conscience of sorts, and in my heart and soul I believe that what we are doing now is an act of justice, and if I did not believe that I would not vote for this Motion. How dare our opponents assume that we are all acting against our consciences for the material advantage of making peace with Italy? What is their justification?
I turn to the speech of the noble Lord. Surely it cannot be the Spanish question, because there you are dealing, not with moral values, but with numbers. You say that if 20,000 troops are brought away it is all right, but if only 10,000 are returned it is not. Where is there anything of morals in that question of numbers? Or is it Abyssinia, on which the most reverend Primate will remember he and I for the first and last time in our lives had a difference? But look- 1660 ing back at it must our consciences be seared? I interrupted the noble Lord by one sentence. He mistook words that were spoken in conversation between myself and my noble friends Viscount Samuel and the Marquess of Crewe. I used the word "Sudan." It is true that you might claim unprovoked aggression on the part of Italy, but there is another side to that. It is also true that we are guilty of a crime against the whole moral code if we arrogate to ourselves the rôle of inducing people to condemn Italy for what that country has done in Abyssinia, seeing that practically the whole of our Empire has been obtained by what is termed unprovoked aggression. "Oh," you say, "but that was before the League of Nations." I think it was Bernard Shaw who hit the nail on the head. He said that when you talk abour moral issues in this matter, you must all remember that if the burglar says at the end of a prosperous career: "Let us agree that there shall be no more burglary," the answer is "Hand over your booty before you talk morals."
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
On the contrary. I have never suggested that. I say that, before we find fault with Italy for having taken Abyssinia, before we say one word in condemnation we are bound in honour to hand over as much as we have taken by the same methods as she adopted in Abyssinia. Otherwise what one should do would be to adopt the Christian principle—find fault with nobody, to remove the beam from one's own eye before criticising others. Are we going to condemn the Italian people with whom we seek to make friends because they did a thing which we have done over and over again ourselves? I say no, not until you do what you are bound to do. The Lord Chancellor will agree that in a Court of Equity he who goes into that Court must do so with clean hands. Until we have got clean hands let us leave this question of morals alone.
I was in Italy at the same time as my noble friend Lord Cavan. He was talking to Signor Mussolini and others and I was having the advantage of conversations with people of all sorts, including peasants. I can confirm what he said. I also had an opportunity of meeting the 1661 people at the head of that State and from the conversations which I had with men and women of all kinds in Italy, where I was for some weeks, I can confirm that there is one universal wish amongst the Italian people, as they put it to me, to "resume our ancient friendship with England." My noble friends on that Bench may say," Oh; that is all very well, but Signor Mussolini is an autocrat, and we are democrats, and we won't shake hands with autocracy." But the greatest autocrats cannot succeed any more than the democrats can unless their people are behind them. I am here to tell your Lordships, having many contacts with Italy all my life, that it really is true that there is a natural affinity and friendship between the English and Italian people, and that their rulers have only to say the word and automatically friendship follows. We cannot say that of many groups of people in this world, but it really is true of the Italians. So, while I protest against any suggestion that we are doing anything contrary to morals in supporting and welcoming this Agreement, I would beg of this House with deep respect, speaking with some knowledge of the Italian people spread over sixty years, to take time by the forelock, and take Italy by the hand and make friends with Italy for ever.
§ VISCOUNT STONEHAVEN
My Lords, I would not have ventured to address your Lordships after the speech of my noble and gallant friend (Lord Mottistone) if it had not been for the speech of the noble Viscount opposite (Viscount Cecil of Chelwood). He made some statements which I do think were a little unfortunate, if he will allow me to say so with respect. He referred to the position created in Africa owing to what I think he said was our desertion of an independent African race. It is not fair to treat us and the League of Nations as interchangeable terms, which is what the noble Viscount did. We did not desert anybody. It was the League of Nations that deserted Abyssinia. So far from the noble Viscount being correct in his estimate of the effect on the Africans, I had occasion in 1036 to travel across Africa from East to West and up from the Zambesi to the North coast, and the idea that any African, except perhaps a few extra-educated ones, were paying the slightest attention to events in Abyssinia is a complete delusion. A friend of mine 1662 who happened to be on an expedition on the Abyssinian border asked the Hamran Arabs whether they had any news of the war, and their reply was "No, we have no news, but we hope the Abyssinians are getting a good hammering." That does not at all appear to be the view of the noble Viscount, and, he will forgive me for saying so, possibly it is based on pure theory. It ought to have been so, but it was not so.
The impotence of the League of Nations was discovered very early on. I object strongly to our being tarred with the League of Nations brush and being made to assume responsibility, of which we had exactly one-fifty-second part and no more, the rest being shared by the other fifty-one nations. The noble Lord also referred to the withdrawal of 10,000 men from General Franco and somehow or other he seemed to think that would be an asset. I prefer to accept the view of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal. How the withdrawal of 10,000 men can be claimed as an asset passes my comprehension. It is rather curious that, although this debate is on a Motion to agree to the Government Anglo-Italian Treaty, so far as noble Lords on the other side are concerned, seven-eighths of it has been taken up with references to Spain or Abyssinia, the importance of Italy being minimised.
Stress has been laid by several noble Lords on the other side on the extent of the intervention of Italy in Spanish affairs. I am always amazed that they should believe that they can get away with that so easily and that no reference is made to the equally blatant interference or intervention on the other side. I would like whoever replies for the Government in this debate to say whether this statement which appeared in the Press a few days ago is correct:It is only fair to remember that in the early days of the Non-Intervention Committee Germany and Italy put forward the proposal that no foreign volunteers should be permitted to enter Spain. Why was this useful proposal allowed to drop? France was organising and equipping at Perpignan and elsewhere the powerful international force which has since rendered such splendid servic to the Republican cause—has indeed, proved the mainstay of Republican defence. It was only after this force had defeated the Nationalist attack on Madrid that General Franco appealed to Germany and Italy for help, and that foreign intervention on a large scale in his favour began.1663 It surely is not fair, as noble Lords and their friends in and out of Parliament are doing, to talk of intervention in Spain as if it were all on one side. I think, bearing in mind how strongly Signor Mussolini feels about the need for preventing a Bolshevik State being established in the Mediterranean, that it speaks volumes for the importance which he attaches to the Anglo-Italian Treaty that he should have consented to the condition of the withdrawal of troops from Spain. More than that, there is not merely the question of the volunteers but the amount of the material that the Spanish Government are receiving. It is certainly not less than that which is being sent to General Franco, as statements in the Press have shown.
As regards Abyssinia also, I think noble Lords were not quite fair to Italy. The League of Nations, as usual, refused to take notice of the complaints of the Abyssinians or of the Italians. The matter was put off in the true League of Nations form, and the Italians not unnaturally lost patience. Then there came something for which we, or the Government of the day, were very much to blame. When the Stresa Conference was held, though Abyssinia had been a burning subject, not one word was said about it by the British representatives who attended that Conference. It was not unnatural that Signor Mussolini should have thought that as sanctions were not enforced in connection with Japan they would not be enforced against Italy. That was not an unnatural supposition. Indeed, the enforcement of sanctions depends entirely on convenience. There is no fixed principle of sanctions at all. I do not think the League of Nations has any fixed principles in any case.
Be that as it may, the present proposal of the Government so far from justifying the extremely gloomy remarks of the noble Viscount opposite appear to be the first ray of light, the first break in the clouds that have been settling down more and more over the world since it has been dominated by the muddle and make-believe that emanate from Geneva. I can only hope that having broken through that with great courage and wisdom the Prime Minister will continue the good work. Surely, it is important to remember how much we gain by our understanding with Italy. My noble 1664 friend Lord Rennell from his long experience has pointed out a considerable number of gains, and my noble friend Lord Lloyd did the same, but there are two very plain and very important gains to which attention has not yet been drawn.
In the first place it shatters that isolation from which we were suffering, which was nothing of an advantage to us and was becoming a danger. We now have once more firm friends in the combination of States which hitherto had been growing more and more consolidated against us. Secondly, do not let us forget that Italians have shown in the past that they are not fair weather friends. It was not by their wish that we fell out, and remember—if I may venture to recall it—that during the South African war the Italians were among the very few nations who were not hostile to us. The Prime Minister, in his praiseworthy attempt, as I think, to find a new road out of the impasse into which this mad worship of the League of Nations has brought us has adopted the common-sense line of going to see the men who really do govern the States with which we must trade and with whom we must live and be on good terms. Surely there can be no greater advantage and no greater help in dealing with Germany than to have on your side as a friend and supporter the man whom Herr Hitler has described as his best friend in the world.
My Lords, I set such high value on the friendship of Italy that, like my noble friend Lord Rennell, I regret that the approaches to this friendship have been sown with conditions. These matters, one would have thought, might have been regarded as a thing of the past and left as such. The very existence of these conditions has provoked on the opposite side the raising of further difficulties and the raising of further bad blood with another nation. After all, what is to be gained by importing into this discussion of friendship with Italy an attack, thinly veiled, on Nationalist Spain? And not only thinly veiled, but so founded on misapprehension, and I might almost add on misrepresentation of the facts, that it becomes a positive attack on the ruler of what is, after all, 80 per cent. of the country of Spain.
1665 I will only quote one or two instances. We are told in one breath after another that if, as a consequence of the Italian Agreement, belligerent rights were granted—to both sides, I presume—in Spain, that might involve the active interference of Italian warships in sinking, I believe it was suggested, neutral shipping. I am no authority on International Law, but I am pretty positive that the granting of belligerent rights would not allow a nation which was not concerned in the war to sink neutral shipping. Then we were told that as one condition of their support the Germans in this case, and not the Italians, would demand compensation by being given an exclusive position with regard to the iron ore and metals of Spain. What is that founded on except a sheer malicious supposition? In actual fact, if noble Lords would take the trouble to look at the trade figures, they would find that the exports of iron ore to this country during the first six months of 1938 are quite notably in excess of the exports of iron ore from Spain to this country in the first six months of 1936, before the civil war took place. If Germany were going to bring pressure to have the exclusive rights over iron ore, why has she not done it this year, at a time when she would require iron ore above all other times for the rearmament policy in which she is engaged?
Then it was suggested that territorial modifications in Spanish Morocco would be, the price of German, and Italian assist ance to General Franco. That is, of course, to ignore the Note, as recent as August 15, 1938, which General Franco sent from his Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the British Agency at Burgos. I apologise for quoting his words; he says that his Government takethis opportunity of making known to the world … that [the Nationalist Government] solemnly reiterates its former affirmations that it is fighting for the greatness and independence of the country and does not consent, and never will consent, to the slightest mortgage on its soil. … It will defend at all times, to the last handful, its territory, its protectorates and its Colonies, if any one dares to make an attempt against them.General Franco is one of the people who has always stood by his word, and in making that declaration he made it not only to the outside world but also to his own people. Even if he were not inclined to stand by his word, he would suffer at the hands of his own people if he went 1666 back on that promise. No one has any right to say that the promise will not hold good.
Last of all—and I do detest this making of bad blood with foreign countries—a most ungrateful reference was made to the conduct of the Spanish Government during the Great War. Do noble Louis forget that Spain was the principal granary and raw material depot for France all through the Great War? Do noble Lords forget that Spain interned German warships? And have noble Lords forgotten the magnificent work of King Alfonso, who organised a bureau for the help and succour of prisoners of war throughout the whole world? Those are the points that I wish to make. They should not have arisen in this debate, but as they have arisen, it is desirable that we should not start our talks with Spain on the same evil basis as that on which we have had before to deal with other countries.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rennell, said in the course of his interesting speech that he hoped that the debate on this Motion would be conducted on its merits and without any kind of Party bias. Up till now that hope has been realised in all the speeches that have been made, and I certainly intend to the best of my ability to continue the same practice. Another interesting common feature of the speeches that have been made from both sides of your Lordships' House is that every speaker without exception has expressed a profound desire for agreement and understanding with Italy. The critics of the Government do not differ from those who are responsible for our present policy in that respect, but rather on what constitutes the nature and scope of a satisfactory and durable Agreement. But I am sure that noble Lords opposite appreciate that no responsible person, however critical he may be, wishes to prolong a state of tension or friction between two great Powers, whatever their forms of government may be, for a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Phillimore, the desire to avoid making bad blood with foreign countries, but I cannot help thinking that perhaps his eloquent defence of Nationalist or insurgent Spain might not have been altogether pleasing to the legitimate Government of that country.
1667 My fundamental criticism of the Agreement that the Government have reached with Italy is that it violates the axiom of diplomacy that you never confer a benefit on another country without receiving at least an equivalent benefit in return. According to the Munich Agreement the heavy price that was paid—and everyone admitted that the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia was a heavy price and that the great increase in the power and prestige of Germany was a possible danger to Europe later on—was justified by the avoidance of war. At any rate, that is what those who are in authority at the moment tell us, and it is difficult for others to say that they are mistaken. No benefit as great as peace accrues from the Agreement into which we have entered with the Italian Government.
Let us examine quite clearly what the advantages and disadvantages are on both sides. On the one hand, Mussolini gets the inreased prestige in Europe and Africa that the recognition of his Abyssinian Empire will bring, and, as many noble Lords have pointed out, that is a state of affairs which he has desired for a long time past and which is, in his view at any rate, a great advantage for Italy. We gain, according to the terms of the Agreement, a cessation of the anti-British propaganda that has been conducted for some time past by the Italian Government, and the withdrawal of 10,000 men from Spain, which was probably the result of a desire to come to terms as soon as possible. Now I profoundly hope that propaganda of all kinds, both printed and spoken, tending to undermine British authority in the Mediterranean and the Near East, may cease in the future. But we are bound to remember that for many months past the Italian Government have fomented trouble in Palestine and that our difficulties there are largely due to agitators, to money provided from elsewhere; and we cannot forget that Signor Mussolini—I hope with no intentions that would be contrary to our interests—has actually assumed the role of protector and patron of the Arabs. Let us hope, however, that that again is a concrete gain, and a permanent gain for us.
I think it is exceedingly probable that when this Agreement was signed at the end of April of this year the Prime Minister did not ratify it, or bring it to Parliament 1668 for ratification, immediately, because he hoped that the Plan of the Non-Intervention Committee for the withdrawal of volunteers on both sides would be implemented during the course of the summer, and in that way we would have realised the wish, I think of all parties, that foreign intervention in Spain should cease. That state of affairs, unfortunately, as Lord Plymouth will remember, in spite of his extremely industrious and persevering endeavour to obtain agreement on both sides, was not brought about, principally because General Franco refused to accept the recommendations of the Non-Intervention Committee.
The Prime Minister was then confronted by a position in which he was unable to get effective withdrawal of the foreign forces in Spain, and at the same time he was bound by a condition which has been attached to the full ratification of the Anglo-Italian Agreement. I may be wrong, but that is what I am inclined to think was the true fact of the case; but if a settlement, as it has been termed, in Spain was in fact only regarded as the removal of any danger of a general conflagration in Europe resulting from the war in Spain, then surely there was no reason why the Agreement should not have been ratified immediately. I cannot believe, although it has been stated in another place as the reason for this delay, that the Spanish war is any less a danger to the peace of Europe at the present time than it was six months ago.
The only argument I think that could be produced for that assertion is that the Spanish Government has dismissed a few thousand foreign volunteers fighting on its side, and Signor Mussolini has removed ten thousand of his troops from Spanish soil. Of course those of your Lordships who are experts in military affairs realise, and have said already, that ten thousand men are by no means a negligible quantity in any war that may be going on. At the same time I think the noble Earl, who is a great authority in that matter, would agree that when the bulk of the Italian army remains in Spain, and the whole of the Italian air force and the Italian artillery, pilots, gunners and Italian technicians, no one can say that intervention is not continuing on a very considerable scale, certainly on one side in the war in Spain.
I profoundly hoped, and I believe many members of the Government hoped, 1669 some time ago, that the quid pro quo we should get for this Agreement would be the real evacuation of Italian troops and munitions of war from Spain, the Balearic Islands and Morocco, because we were aware of the profound importance of Spain and its dependencies from the point of view of the Western Mediterranean, and from the point of view of the security of France. It is not our business to tell the French on what their security depends, but it is our business to estimate the value of a more than friend, an ally, and we cannot forget that the war of 1870 was fought by the French in order to prevent a Hohenzollern, a German Prince, from ascending the throne of Spain. That moreover was in the days before the military aeroplane had been invented, and so no doubt our friends across the Channel do attach great importance to an independent Spain as a source of security for themselves.
I am also sure there will be complete agreement, from the point of view of our trade routes in the Mediterranean, that there should be no unfriendly Power which would interfere with our trade ships, either in the Straits or in the course of their voyaging across the Mediterranean, and although I think we should credit without reserve the assertion of Signor Mussolini that he does not intend to infringe the sovereignty and independence of Spain in years to come, it is very difficult to believe that he could have spent millions of Italian lire, and sacrificed thousands of Italian lives, without any expectation of advantage as a result of the final issue of the Spanish war. That is I think a reason for very grave apprehension on our part, so long as there is any foreign interference in that part of the Mediterranean.
A second advantage to us which I should have liked to accrue from this Agreement would have been a real guarantee of immunity for British ships from attack from the air on their lawful occasions in Spanish ports. I know, of course, it will be argued that the Italian Government is not directly in control of the aeroplanes which do the damage. The damage has been extensive. I think fifty British seamen have been killed and 150 wounded, and several million pounds worth of British property destroyed, and not one penny of compensation has been paid. That is the state of affairs. The 'planes are Italian, the pilots are Italian, 1670 but the Italian Government is not directly responsible for their actions. At the same time one cannot help supposing and believing that if Signor Mussolini had whispered a word of friendly advice into the ear of General Franco, British shipping and sailors might have benefited very considerably in months to come. That is why one would have wished that a friendly agreement had been reached on that point before this very general concession and advantage had been given to the Italian Government. It is unfortunately the case that there are some in Italy and I know Italians myself—not many, and I do not regard them as representative of the Italian people—who do regard the British Empire as being in a weak and possibly decadent state, and who would treat any Agreement that was not a good bargain from our point of view as being a further indication of weakness, and therefore a further encouragement to demands that would be contrary to our national and Imperial interests.
It is therefore on the nature and scope of the Agreement and on the time of its ratification rather than on the principle of the Agreement itself that I think all the critics of the Government differ from the policy that is now being pursued; and I profoundly hope that the Government will appreciate that in strongly opposing what we feel to be another mistake in our foreign policy we desire as ardently as they do themselves that this country should be in a position, thanks to its strength in defence, to enter into fair negotiations for lasting appeasement with all major European Powers, and other Powers indeed, as soon as that can be effected. At the same time we are desperately apprehensive of any policy that would appear to sacrifice the interests and prospects of our own country in order to reach a very hypothetical and temporary state of harmony, which may indeed be disturbed after a not very long period as a result of the Agreement that the Government expected would bring lasting peace.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD MAUGHAM)
My Lords, this debate has now lasted three and a quarter hours, and in that time I suspect your Lordships will think you have heard almost everything that can be said on the subject and that most of the arguments that have been presented in approval of the 1671 Anglo-Italian Agreement have already been used. There are some things, however, which I think may be said, and the first I should like to deal with in an endeavour to answer the questions that have been asked of the Government. The first point is that in relation to the question put by the noble Lord who represents the Opposition in regard to native troops. He will find, if he will study the White Paper, that that is already dealt with by Annex 6, which he will find on page 22 of the White Paper. There is a reassurance by the Italian Government that natives of Italian East Africa will "not be compelled to undertake military duty other than local policing and territorial defence." That, I think, then is disposed of.
There was another question, which I think was in reference to the position in Abyssinia, and the noble Lord wished, quite properly, to know whether in the view of the Government Abyssinia was wholly under the control of the Italian forces. In regard to that the answer is that the greater part of Abyssinia is under that control. There is, however, a small portion which is not yet under the control of the Italian troops, and with regard to that the answer must therefore be that in that part Italy is not in control.
At the same time I should like in reference to that answer to make this observation. The question whether the sovereignty of Italy over Ethiopia should be admitted by this country or not is very largely a question of law, and perhaps on this occasion I may once in a way be thankful that I am a lawyer. I would observe this, that there is a very great difference between the case of a country where there are two recognised Governments in particular territory, who are in control as well as in occupation and who are carrying on an organised government, and the case of Abyssinia, where the troops who are engaged in fighting the Italians in the comparatively small area to which I have referred are not really an organised Government in the sense in which the Negus was at Addis Ababa, nor are they of course in any sense a Government like the Government the Italian State has set up in that country. And you have to bear in mind that it is the interest of any country that wants to have any relation, whether of trade or commerce or otherwise, with such a 1672 country as Abyssinia, to have an organised Government with which a contact can be made, which can be appealed to if anything goes wrong, and which is responsible for keeping order in that territory. That you can get from the Italian Government except in regard to the area I have mentioned, where, it may be, it will take some time before the Italian troops are completely in control. But you will not get it from any other rival Government, because there is none such.
Now I want to say something in reference to what I think is a complete misapprehension which exists on the Front Labour Bench in this House. The misapprehension is that the 10,000 troops that have already been withdrawn by Italy constitute an end of the matter from the point of view of His Majesty's Government, and that it is on account of the withdrawal of those troops that the Government have taken the view that there has been a settlement of the Spanish question. Of course that is completely wrong. There is not any foundation for that at all. The position is this, that nobody on the Government side, and I believe no sensible person at all in this country, thought that Signor Mussolini would be willing to make a unilateral withdrawal of all his troops in Spain and to leave the volunteers who were supporting what is still called the Government of Spain—
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
—in control or actively assisting that Government. That would be ridiculous. It seems to me to have no good sense at all. We all know—those who want to know anything about it—that there were a number of foreign people—it does not matter where they came from—who went to Barcelona and have been assisting the Spanish Government there and elsewhere to the utmost of their power. It is also known that subsequent to that people from two other countries went to assist General Franco. Does anybody think that Signor Mussolini could have been asked to withdraw his troops unilaterally? That has no good sense behind it at all. But what was thought was that if Signor Mussolini gave plain proof of his intention to withdraw his troops part passu with a withdrawal from the other side 1673 that would be sufficient to show that this quasi-invasion of Spain by three foreign Powers was coming to an end.
It is quite wrong to suppose that the 10,000 troops represent the whole story. The Italian Government, together with the other persons represented on the Non-Intervention Committee, have accepted the British Plan for the withdrawal of volunteers, and accordingly, presuming that Plan is carried out, the whole of the Italian troops will disappear pari passu with the troops that belong to another country. It is again perfectly wrong to suppose that there has been no other promise given by Signor Mussolini with regard to what is going to happen during the period following the withdrawal of the 10,000 troops and the complete withdrawal of volunteers from Spain, because there has been a definite assurance given by Signor Mussolini that the remaining Italian troops of all categories will be withdrawn when the Non-Intervention Plan comes into operation, that no further Italian troops are going to be sent to Spain, and that the Italian Government have never a moment had the notion of replacing by other troops the 10,000 who have hem withdrawn. It is again quite a mistake to represent these troops as wounded or wasted soldiers who are no longer any use. The photographs in the illustrated papers are sufficient to show that that is a baseless idea. As a matter of fact, these 10,000 are in addition to 2,000 who had already been taken away because of illness or wounds.
For my part I welcome what I cannot help thinking was one of the most eloquent speeches pronounced for a long time in this House by the noble and gallant Earl (Lord Cavan) who sits on the Cross Benches. I welcome his statement as a soldier of what conclusion we may draw from the withdrawal of 10,000 able-bodied soldiers from one's forces when one has in all only some 20,000 infantrymen, and that therefore we may accept this gesture, followed up by the operations of the Non-Intervention Committee, as plainly demonstrating that one's adventure in that war is coming to an end. I believe the suspicions which have been voiced in this House by noble Lords with reference to the gesture to which I have referred are without foundation.
Let me say one word about the bombing of ships. It is true that there has been such bombing, but there is no 1674 ground, so far as the Government know, to suppose that the bombing has been the act of the Italian Government. It is true that some of these aeroplanes have been lent, and no doubt a number has been sold, to the Spanish people under General Franco. The same is true about the very large number of aeroplanes now in the hands of the Spanish Government, and these two bodies are engaged in waging war according to their ideas of how best to wage it. But that is not a matter which one could expect the Italian Government to put in this settlement. We know quite well that the Agreement is drawn up to last, and it does not contain anything about the bombing of ships for the reason that Signor Mussolini is not in charge of that matter.
Let me say a word in regard to the recognition of the sovereignty of Ethiopia. It is suggested that recognition is an act contrary to moral and eternal justice. I should like to ask why. Is the Italian Government never going to be recognised as the sovereign of that country? Is it a policy that has ever been adopted by any civilised country up to the present that if a country has, if you like, been wrongly attacked and captured, when the capture is effected, and the country is substantially in the hands of the conqueror, and recognised government on the ordinary basis is set up, other countries are not to recognise the de facto sovereignty of the conqueror? I have heard in this House the most astounding doctrines, it seems to me, as to what countries ought to do according to ordinary ideas of public International Law in cases such as we have before us here. It is perfectly new, and I would submit absolutely wrong in the interests of civilisation, that when you have an accomplished fact, various other countries in the world should make up their own minds whether the conquest is a proper one, whether they approve of it, and consequently whether they can recognise the sovereignty of those who are successful. I would submit that that is without any good reason of any sort or kind and that it should be rejected.
My noble friend Lord Lloyd asked a question with regard to the Yemen, being desirous of knowing whether any step had been taken to safeguard British interests. As a matter of fact Articles 1 and 2 of the Agreement provide a satisfactory method for that being done. They state: 1675Neither Party will conclude any agreement or take any action which might in any way impair the independence or integrity of Saudi Arabia or of the Yemen."Neither Party will obtain or seek to obtain a privileged position of a political character in any territory which at present belongs to Saudi Arabia or to the Yemen or in any territory which either of those States may hereafter acquire.Propaganda was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, and others. They will find in Annexe 4 to the Agreement, on page 20 of the White Paper, a statement that:The two Governments welcome the opportunity afforded by the present occasion to place on record their agreement that any attempt by either of them to employ the methods of publicity or propaganda at its disposal in order to injure the interests of the other would be inconsistent with the good relations which it is the object of the present Agreement to establish and maintain between the two Governments and the peoples of their respective countries.That, I think, deals with the question of propaganda.
Now what is there that remains with regard to the criticism which has been made of this Agreement? I have noticed that some of the objectors say: "It is too soon to bring it into force. Why seize the present time for entering into this Agreement? "Well, it was signed on the r6th April last after an exceedingly long series of discussions between the British Ambassador in Rome and Count Ciano, and, ever since, the Government have been asked when they intended to put it into force. It may be that it would not have been put into force now but for the crisis which led to the proceedings at Munich. But any noble Lord whose mind is not biased with suspicion of or dislike or hatred for these Continental nations who have totalitarian forms of government must see for himself that Munich has entirely changed the atmosphere of Europe at the present time. The Agreement is one with Italy, and Signor Mussolini is greatly concerned in it. It was he, as has already been stated in this House and in the other place, who, on the 28th September last, less than five weeks ago, took a step which resulted in Herr Hitler delaying the mobilisation which he had ordered. This was followed by a rapid turn of affairs at Munich, where the four Powers got together. When you have an act like that I think it is extraordinary that you should hear that people are still full of 1676 suspicion against the Leaders of States which at so recent a time played so important a part in preventing a world war.
A totalitarian State is in a very different position, as we all know, to a State such as our own. Signor Mussolini has naturally been very impatient with regard to bringing this Agreement into force. We have had reason to fear that he had a suspicion that His Majesty's Government did not intend ever to bring it into force. Taking that fact into account and combining with it the circumstances I have mentioned with regard to the atmosphere created at Munich by the Prime Minister, we had I think the most ample ground for saying: "This is the moment; we will not delay; we are started on the road to peace and we intend to pursue it." It is not, of course, that we believe that this is the end of the efforts of the Prime Minister or of His Majesty's Government. Nothing of the kind. This is one of the first steps on a difficult road. It has got to be taken and the time is opportune, and nobody can be so good a judge of that time as the Prime Minister, who has played such a great part in preserving peace in Europe.
The noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, whose honesty of thought and many other qualities we all recognise, has told us how terribly anxious he is, and how continuously, as he said, he was disturbed by the state in which the world now is, and he drew a picture of the four great territorial steps that had been taken during the last three or four years. I do not think that the noble Viscount can imagine that the British Government could have gone to war to prevent what has happened in Manchukuo, in Abyssinia, in China and in Czechoslovakia. It is incredible that Britain should go to war all over the world, wherever it may be, because something has been done which is shocking to our sense of justice. At any rate, if that is the view of the noble Viscount I do not think he will get the people of this country to agree with him. It would mean that we should never be at peace. But one thing that the noble Viscount said is true. The position of things in the world is not satisfactory. There are danger spots, and there are possibilities of war—a war into which we might ourselves be dragged—and it is for that very reason and in order 1677 to prevent that terrible eventuality that this Agreement is presented to you for your approval.
Perhaps before sitting down I might say one other thing. To-morrow week many of us are going to be present at or near the Cenotaph in Whitehall. We shall then be thinking of the millions of gallant soldiers and sailors who lost their lives in the Great War. If there were another war on anything like that scale there would have to be, I suppose, some other cenotaph and some other ceremonial; but your Lordships will realise that the cenotaph of the next war will be of a different character. Over a million soldiers and sailors were killed in the last War. There might be as many killed in the next war, but there will also be killed more innocent citizens than all those men
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Motion agreed to accordingly.