Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Sir Samuel Hoare)
For some months past illness has taken from our midst one of the best known figures in British Parliamentary life. When we had marked Mr. Arthur Henderson's changed aspect many of us feared that we should not see him at Westminster again. Our anxieties have been confirmed, and the seat is now empty of one who for half a century played a, high and an honourable part in our public life. Of Mr. Henderson's great services to his party it is not for me to speak. Suffice it for a Conservative opponent to say of him that by helping to ensure the full representation of Labour in the Imperial Parliament he rendered a great service to the cause of constitutional government. Nor could I speak from personal experience of his work during the War or his work at the Home Office. It is rather his record at the Foreign Office, my own Department, that I have in mind. There he is remembered, not only for his industry and courtesy but for the part that he played in more than one great event. The honour in which he was held by the statesmen of the world was shown by his appointment as President of the Disarmament Conference, a post that, if energy and sympathy could have ensured success, would have achieved great and immediate results. To-day we grieve for one of the oldest Members of the House, for a man who, in spite of difficulties, carved out for himself a great career and held with dignity and credit two of the highest offices of the State and deserved well of his party and his country. To his wife and his family, themselves trusted and worthy servants of the community, we offer our most sincere sympathy.
Events have moved rapidly since I addressed the House on the international situation on the eve of the Summer Adjournment. It will be remembered that I then warned hon. Members of the gravity of the Abyssinian controversy and of our double intention to carry out the Covenant, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to explore every permissible 18 line of settlement and conciliation. Since then events have followed in quick succession. There was, first of all, the meeting of the representatives of the three signatories of the 1906 Treaty; there followed the meetings of the Council of the League and its committees; there next came the meeting of the great Assembly and its almost unanimous conclusion, and, after the Assembly, further meetings of the Council, another meeting of the Assembly, and the verdict upon the merits of the controversy by more than 50 sovereign States. In the meanwhile war had begun between Italy and Abyssinia, the grave reactions of which I forecasted to the House when I addressed hon Members at the beginning of August; and, as the inevitable result of these events, there have followed the discussions and agreements upon economic action under Article 16 of the Covenant. Seldom can a period that in normal times is devoted to rest and recreation have been so fully, charged with unpleasant, unprecedented, and often dangerous issues.
One point, however, emerges firm and constant from this troubled background. While events have been moving with great volume and rapidity, our policy has remained unchanged. I purposely use the phrase "our policy" rather than the phrase "the policy of His Majesty's Government," for it was made clear in both the previous Debates upon foreign affairs that the policy of loyalty to our League obligations was approved by almost everyone in the House. In neither of those Debates, while speech after speech was made in favour of that policy, was a word said against it. I think I may justly claim on that account that it is the policy, not of one party, but of the House as a whole. Indeed, I think I may go further and, when I remember the unprecedented expressions of public support, I can claim that not only is it the policy of this House, but it is also the policy of the great majority of men and women in the country as a whole.
Nor is this general support confined to these shores. Amidst all these baffling and dispiriting conditions, the one comforting fact, to those of us who were faced by them, was the unbroken solidarity of the British Empire and particularly the unanimity of the great 19 Dominions. Let those prophets of misfortune who marked down the Empire for dissolution and decay note this fact of overwhelming importance in one of the most critical situations that has faced us since the War. Representatives of the Dominions, acting as co-equals, forming their own opinions for themselves, with no dictation from the mother country, considering for themselves their own interests and their own obligations, have, it may be along different lines, reached the same conclusions that we have reached and have once again shown that in a moment of dark trial we and they have the same outlook upon the great principles of international conduct.
Some of our foreign friends have been surprised by the width, breadth, and depth of these expressions of opinion. Their eyes were too firmly fixed upon the past. They thought too much of the hesitations and uncertainties inevitably involved in situations more obscure than the situation with which we are dealing. They harped particularly upon our refusal to undertake new commitments. Sir, because we refused to pledge ourselves to definite actions in hypothetical situations, they believed that our actions would always be indefinite in a clear and concrete case. They did not realise the depth of the faith and hope that we have in the League as an instrument for bringing about a better ordered world. They underrated our feeling for the League as an impartial organisation rather than as an organisation directed against this or that country or this or that group of countries. They failed also to understand that we look to the League as an instrument not only for preventing war but for removing the causes of war. And, lastly, they failed to understand that most of us regard the League as the bridge between Great Britain and Europe and that if this bridge is gravely weakened or destroyed, co-operation between us and the Continent will become difficult and dangerous. This position we have tried, day after day, week after week, to make clear to the members of the League and to the world as a whole. I tried in particular to make it clear in the Note that we sent on the subject to the French Government; and, side by side with these constant efforts to make our position clear, we have shown ourselves day after day and week 20 after week determined to uphold the letter and spirit of the Covenant.
Let us see for a moment how far the League has endured the strain to which it has been put. We need neither ignore the weaknesses, hesitations and mistakes, if there be any, that have been committed; nor, again, should we as practical men expect miracles from an organisation put to the most difficult of all tests, and put to this difficult test upon the first occasion of its comparatively short life. It was obvious from the outset that a system of collective security would be very difficult to work quickly and, indeed, would be very difficult to work at all when it is remembered that collective action means a common purpose and a common decision by more than 50 States differing the one with the other, and often rivals the one with the other. It will have been seen that even upon occasions of minor controversy it is a matter of great difficulty to bring collective action into operation. When, however, the controversy raises major issues between the League and one of its most powerful members, there is a real temptation to throw up the task as hopeless, and to claim that in such a controversy many of the essential parts of the Covenant cannot be applied. The temptation, in this case, has been very strong, and some there are in Europe that have tended to succumb to it. Even for ourselves the temptation is a very real one.
There are other countries that have more to gain from the League than has the British Empire. The obligations of the Covenant not only increase our commitments at a time when we want no further commitments, but, as recent events have shown, they create controversies between Powers that have always been friendly to each other and economic complications no one wants, particularly at a time when we are just beginning to emerge from a great economic depression. Have not the experiences of the last two months brought these disadvantages into constant and obvious prominence? We have found ourselves differing from a country with which we formerly had no differences at all. We have observed others of our friends doubting and traducing our purpose. We have seen ourselves involved in courses of action that in the days of isolation we 21 should never have taken, and in commitments from which in the past we should have kept ourselves free. These are serious disadvantages and they might well have tempted us to take the line of least resistance, to admit the failure of the conception of collective security, to disinterest ourselves from the Abyssinian controversy, and to say to the world that the Covenant cannot in such a case as this be applied at all. There are, in fact, elements in the countries of some of our collaborators that have taken this line, and taken it violently. There is no denying the immediate and facile attractiveness of such a line of policy. It would have been just as easy for us, as for others, to extricate ourselves from these hateful controversies and to flatter ourselves that in a world of sentiment we were the only realists. In point of fact, setting aside for the moment the moral obligations that bind us, we should not have been realists at all if we had taken this line. Indeed, it is those who do take it who are themselves living in a world of dismal illusion.
The League cannot be said to have failed until the provisions of the Covenant have been tried out. Nor is it wise to sit still and let the League fail without making the greatest effort of which we are capable to avert such a calamity. If the League does fail, the world at large, and Europe in particular, will be faced with a period of almost unrelieved danger and gloom. The attempt made with such faith and fervour after the War to eliminate war as an instrument of national policy will have been successfully frustrated. The great endeavour to ensure the inevitable failure of aggression will have been gravely compromised. The hope of a new and better world will have become more remote. There was a cry on the Continent early in this century that spread across Germany—"World power or decline." We say to-day—"World peace or destruction." These are the reasons why we have been constantly trying to make the provisions of the Covenant succeed, and these, as the House knows, are the only reasons that have prompted our action. No thought of Imperial interest has entered into our calculations at all. Least of all have we ever regarded the controversy as an opportunity for attacking Fascism. Countries must settle for themselves their own forms of government. 22 We have not the least intention of interfering with the domestic affairs of other countries.
With the sole motive of maintaining the principles of the Covenant we have taken our full part in the discussions at Geneva. We have taken our full part, and some of our critics have suggested that we have taken more than our full part. Already the myth is being created that we are the only people who do anything at Geneva at all, that every proposal comes from the British Government, that in particular my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs is constantly going beyond the instructions of the Government and taking a lead where it would be wise that no lead should be taken. Let me once and for all dissipate this myth and everything to do with it. My right hon. Friend, with great ability, has been carrying out the policy of a united Government. As for any differences, such as I saw suggested in one of the organs of the Press yesterday, between him and me, the only difference between us is that while I express my views dully and drably and with little emotion, he adds brilliance and charm to everything he says. And as for the charge that representatives of Great Britain are taking the lead at Geneva, let me say definitely and frankly to the House that the representatives of Great Britain and the representatives of the British Empire can never take a secondary part in any great international discussion. The representatives of a great Empire cannot abdicate their responsibilities or disguise their views.
As a matter of tact, however, while we have been freely and boldly expressing our views representatives of several other countries have been taking a most important and prominent part in the discussions. It is unfortunate, in my view, that those discussions were not held in public. If they had been it would have been impossible to create the myth that we alone are active, and it would have been impossible to spread abroad in certain sections of the Continental Press the gross and malicious misrepresentations that we have noticed in recent weeks. A great Empire like ours is bound to have its enemies. There are many who are jealous of the position that we hold in the world. There are many who wish to 23 make trouble in Europe and to embroil us with our friends. It is such as these who are trying to make it appear that Great Britain is attempting to use the League for its selfish ends and is bent upon mobilising its machinery for the humiliation of Italy. The men who tell lies of this kind are not only libelling our action, they are doing something much more serious. By traducing the motives of a member of the League that is honestly trying to carry out its obligations they are doing their best to destroy the League itself. Of these I would only say what a very brilliant French writer, Marcel Proust, said of a malicious critic: "His eyes sparkled with stupidity."
Let me turn from this criticism to an opposite line of attack. The critics of whom I have been speaking say the League has been trying to do too much, in particular, that Great Britain has been trying to do too much. Let me pass to the critics who say the League has been trying to do too little, and that in particular Great Britain is doing too little. "Look" they say, "at the League. Look in particular at one of its most important members, Great Britain, and observe these long days and weeks and months of talk while troops were pouring into the Italian Colonies, whilst it was obvious to everyone that Italy was bent upon war. Why did not the League act earlier and why, when it has acted, has it not acted more resolutely? Particularly, why is it only in these last few weeks or months that the British Government have woken up to the gravity of the Abyssinian controversy and have made their view clear to the Italian Government?"
Let me deal with these criticisms one by one. Let me begin with the criticisms against the British Government. Sometimes these criticisms take a more subtle form than that which I have just described. They take the form that is always taken by an Opposition in attacking a Government. They attempt to drive a wedge between one section of a Government and another, possibly between one member of a Government and another, and they take the form of making it appear as though there were two dispensations, the, one differing in capacity from the other, the one dispensation when my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was in this role, the 24 other the dispensation when I succeeded him. They try to give the impression that while both of us, in their view, are, no doubt, futile people, one period has been more active than the other. There is no foundation whatever for these criticisms. There has been, if I may use another Biblical expression, a complete concordance between these two dispensations. Since the very moment when this controversy started, now nearly a year ago, there has not been a week, there has scarcely been a day, when we have not made our position as clear as crystal to the Italian Government, and when we have not let it be known to the world that we regarded the crisis as one that was fraught with issues of the greatest danger.
I have before me a detailed list of all the representations that now, for nearly a year, we have made upon the subject to the Italian Government. I daresay during the Debate we may go further into those details, but let me for a moment say that never at any period of this time was the Italian Government in doubt as to the attitude of the British Government. Let me, in particular, allude to two specific criticisms that are urged against us in this respect. The House will see how groundless they are. It has been stated that in January of this year the Italian Government asked us certain questions as to our interests in Abyssinia, and that we gave the Italian Government no answer. Secondly, it has been stated that at the Stresa Conference nothing was said about the Abyssinian controversy. Let me give the House the actual facts of what took place in both these instances. In January of this year the French and Italian Governments came to an agreement in Rome, part of which related to Abyssinia. Under this agreement France disinterested herself economically in Abyssinia, except for certain undertakings and except for a specified zone covering the French railway from Djibouti to Addis Ababa. On 29th January the Italian Government, in bringing the substance of this agreement informally to the notice of His Majesty's Government through the Italian Embassy in London, intimated that they would be glad to exchange views with the United Kingdom concerning the mutual and harmonious development of British and Italian interests in Abyssinia.
25 It has been alleged in Italian circles that we took no notice of this invitation. The fact is that it was most seriously considered and that a special Committee was set up to review the whole field of Anglo-Abyssinian relations and British interests in that country, in order that we might decide upon our course of action. This investigation, which necessitated the taking of evidence of expert and experienced witnesses and the consultation of the Governments of the Sudan and Kenya, naturally and normally occupied some time; and if no specific reply has been returned to the Italian initiative, it is because the rapid development of Italian activities in regard to Abyssinia precluded calm and considered discussion of these questions of detail. No instantaneous reply was possible and none was asked; indeed there could have been no occasion for special haste if no special Italian activities had been contemplated. His Majesty's Government could scarcely have embarked on a course of action which might have given the impression that they were preserving existing British interests in Abyssinia—which in any event are fully secured by Treaty—at the cost of endangering the security of that country.
As to the Stresa Conference, the facts are as follow: In March, that is to say at the moment that the world was resounding with the declaration of German rearmament—Europe at that time was thinking of nothing but the declaration of German rearmament—it was rightly felt that the acute problems of the hour called for the closest consultation and co-operation between France, Italy, and the United Kingdom. At the Conference at Stresa in April, steps were taken which it was hoped would ensure the maintenance of this co-operation. It has lately been suggested in certain quarters—may I say, by those whose wisdom comes after the event?—that the Abyssinian question should have been included in the agenda. It is not true that this subject was not mentioned there. It was not, indeed, formally discussed at the Conference itself, which had in fact little enough time to deal with the problems to which I have referred, but it was discussed between members of the two delegations. The Italian Government were then—this is the important part—as before and after, in possession of our views, and the hope of an amicable 26 settlement between Italy and Abyssinia was still strongly entertained, while the immediate and all-important objective was to secure unity between France, Italy and the United Kingdom in Europe. Indeed it was hoped that this object, not lightly achieved, would be regarded as a precious inducement to do nothing which might imperil it. It seemed legitimate to suppose that the resultant collaboration between the three Governments would facilitate the solution not only of purely European questions, but of all important political issues in which all three were jointly interested. The fact that these hopes have not materialised does not mean that they should not have been entertained. They were, and should have been, entertained by every reasonable man. The House may take it from me that from the very moment when this controvery started, now nearly a year ago, we have left the Italian Government in no doubt whatever as to our attitude.
I pass from the criticisms of His Majesty's Government to the criticisms of the League as a whole. "Ah," say the critics, "look at this slow-motion picture at Geneva. Committee after committee, council after council, word after word, line upon line, weeks and weeks of talk, and in the meanwhile troops pouring into Africa and the war actually begun." Let us look at the actual picture and let us keep its main features in proper perspective. I maintain that the League, being an organ for the preservation of peace, had upon it this incumbent duty—so long as there was a chance of conciliation it was the duty of the League to maintain the path of conciliation. I further maintain that until the month of August the door of conciliation was still open, and that, that being so, it would have been contrary to the principles of the League to bolt it and bar it by an ultimatum or abrupt action. I go further and say that if an attempt had been made to take abrupt action of this kind in the month of August there would not have been collective agreement behind it to make it possible.
As to the League's machinery, I would not for a moment underrate the difficulties. I would not for a moment suggest that there are not many people in the world who would not have preferred that it should have acted more quickly and perhaps with greater resolution. But let us look at the facts as they 27 are. Here is a great institution. It has existed for only a very short period of time. Here is a great institution the strength of which depends not only upon the constituent Governments, but upon the men and women who inhabit the countries the Governments of which form the League. That is to say, the League cannot go beyond the public opinion in the country of the member States. Secondly, however much we may hope from the League, can any of us expect that an organ as complex as this can establish its position in the world in the space of a few years and without the long period of growth that has been needed for almost every other great institution in the world?
There have been hesitations and uncertainties at Geneva. Who would have expected otherwise, with more than 50 States discussing a totally new problem in the world, and in face of one of the greatest difficulties which have confronted us in our generation? I go so far as to say that it is a good thing that there have been these hesitations and doubts, that they at least show that the member States are taking the League seriously and are thinking, each for himself, of the League in the form of a concrete organisation affecting his particular State. My wonder is not that the League has worked slowly or that it has worked with hesitation, but, in face of these difficulties, that it has worked at all.
Here was a controversy, as I said just now, affecting particularly one of the great Powers of the League, and affecting indirectly other great Powers. Here was a controversy that concerned a part of Africa with which scarcely any of the member States had any connection at all. What wonder, in view of these unprecedented conditions, that there should have been doubts and hesitations, and that it should have taken days, and it may be weeks, to arrive at agreed action. None the less, in spite of these difficulties, agreed action has been taken and collective action has been approved.
Let me say again that if the purposes of the Covenant are to be fulfilled, all the members of the League must play their part. I have in previous speeches in this House and at Geneva laid stress on the fact that His Majesty's Government are prepared to play their part to 28 the full, but on the clear understanding that the part that they play is a joint part, and that the risks and responsibilities incurred are accepted and shared by the other members of the League. As it is, a large measure of agreement has been reached. It has been reached first of all on the merits of the dispute—a unique event in the history of the world, a verdict by more than 50 sovereign States upon the merits of the controversy. Secondly, it has been reached upon the arms embargo, the withdrawal of credit and, subject to the considered views of the various Governments, certain methods of economic pressure.
No doubt any action of this kind is open to a double line of criticism. There are those who say that action of this kind will be ineffective and futile, and there are those who say that it will lead directly to military sanctions and to war. I disagree with both these lines of criticism. I do not believe that economic pressure of this kind will, in the circumstances, be ineffective. I believe, on the other hand, that if it is collectively applied and the States that are not members of the League do not attempt to frustrate it—and I have no reason to think that they will frustrate it—it will definitely shorten the duration of the war. The House will have observed the kind of economic pressure that is being considered at Geneva: an embargo on munitions and certain key commodities, an embargo on credit and an embargo on Italian exports. So far as the British Government are concerned, we have had actual experience of the effect of action of this kind in the past, and it is well worth noting that we have not found it ineffective. Incidentally, I would repeat what the Prime Minister said at question time, namely, that action of this kind can, we are advised, be taken by Order in Council under the Treaty of Peace Act. But if action of this kind is to be effective it must, in the first place, be really collective. Member States must take their share of the risks, the inconveniences and the losses. And, in the second place, all member States must co-operate to resist an attack upon any one State for the action that it has taken to defend the Covenant.
This second necessity prompted us to clear up the position without any possibility of doubt. It was on this account 29 that communications passed between the French Government and ourselves. The French answer is the answer that we felt sure it would be. Their answer has been completely satisfactory, and the solidarity of the two countries is firmly established. They interpret Article 16 as we interpret it. In the event of an isolated attack, inconceivable though such madness might be, we and they and the rest of the League stand together and resist it with our full and united force.
I will pass from the question of economic pressure to the question of so-called military sanctions. This is clearly a delicate matter, and much harm has been done by ignorant talk on this subject. I will say frankly that, in my view, the pre-condition for the enforcement of such sanctions, namely, collective agreement at Geneva, has never existed. Military sanctions, like economic sanctions, can only be applied collectively, and so far as we are concerned we have made it clear from the beginning of the controversy that though we are prepared to take our full share as a loyal member of the League, we are only prepared to take our share in collective action. I emphasise the word "collective" as it is the essence and soul of the League. Only by this essence can the League live—not by ringing bells or blowing whistles for policemen from outside. We are not prepared, and we do not intend, to act alone. Further, from the beginning of the present deliberations at Geneva until now, there has been no discussion of military sanctions, and no such measures, therefore, have formed any part of our policy. I make the statement with special emphasis, as there have been misconceptions both at home and abroad regarding the matter of sanctions. The action that we have been considering, which we believe it to be our solemn obligation to consider, is not military but economic. The distinction is that between a boycott and a war. Nobody in this House can believe that anybody in Europe desires a war.
The Prime Minister has already again spoken for this country when he made it plain, in disproof of alien slanders, that this country will not contemplate an isolated war, the idea of which some misrepresentative persons at home or abroad would seem to attribute to us. Between these forms of action there is a very wide distinction. It has been appreciated by Signor Mussolini himself. In 30 his speech on the occasion of the national mobilisation of the Italian people, on 2nd October, he said—I quote his words:Against economic sanctions we shall set our discipline, our frugality and spirit of sacrifice. To military sanctions we shall reply with military measures. To acts of war we shall reply with acts of war.On this essential point he is under no misunderstanding. His Majesty's Government made it clear from the start that they were ready to perform their full duties as a member of the League but that they will take no isolated action whatever, and as M. Laval has recognised in his recent speech at Clermont-Ferrand, we have never even proposed to the French Government the consideration of any military measures.
How unscrupulous, in view of these facts, is it for the propagandists to hold us up as the warmongers who are determined to plunge the world into a general conflagration. As practical men, and I believe also as sympathetic friends conscious of each other's difficulties, we have tried to deal with facts as they are. It would have been easy for us, knowing from the start that certain countries would not approve military sanctions, to say we were ready for the most extreme measures but that others were weak-kneed. We have not made and we will not make any such provocative statement. We have tried to avoid recriminations and we have tried, in particular, to avoid any action or the discussion of any action that was impracticable in present conditions and might yet extend the duration, the danger and the disaster of the war. But we have felt and we still feel what has, in truth, been present to the mind of every man in every member State of the League, that we cannot condone a multiple breach of treaties and let the League survive. Our difficulty has been that in some foreign quarters, though most people fully understand the existence of the dilemma, they have not the courage to face it, and so they shrink at one and the same time from acting up to their obligations under the League and from repudiating the League altogether. The League, let us remember, is a great instrument of peace. Let the critics remember this fact when they say that we ought to block the Suez Canal and cut the Italian communications.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Do my hon. Friends opposite mean that we should do this alone? I hear one still small voice in response to that question. If they do mean that we should take this action alone, what becomes of collective action? What is the good of talking of measures of this kind that may set a spark to very inflammable material, when we know that there is no collective agreement behind them upon which we can base our action? No wise man will wish to throw a spark into this inflammable material by threats that cannot be collectively carried out or, if they were carried out, would turn the Abyssinian into a European war. The economic pressure that is now proposed is intended not to expand but to limit the war; not to extend its duration but to shorten it. In the meanwhile, not a day or week should pass without the members of the League showing their readiness to find an honourable settlement of this unhappy controversy. I take this opportunity of emphasising this need to search for some means of an honourable settlement within the framework of the League.
The House will remember that I have never adopted a partisan or extreme attitude during this controversy. I was the first public man, so far as I know, outside Italy who admitted the Italian case for expansion and economic development. I went further. Bearing in mind the immense importance of these economic problems, I stated at the Assembly meeting in Geneva that we realised that the question of Colonial raw materials was creating trouble and anxiety in the world, and was likely, if it was not investigated, to create more trouble in the future; and I made the offer, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, to investigate this question—to investigate it with sincerity and good will and with a desire, if we can, to remove the sources of future trouble.
I quote these instances to show that throughout this controversy I have attempted to look at the problem as a whole, and not a day has passed, or perhaps I should say not a week has passed, without my trying to find some opportunity of satisfactory settlement for all three parties. For let us remember that there are three parties to this question. There is the League, there is Abyssinia, and there is Italy. There is still a breathing space before this economic pressure 32 can be applied. Can it be used for another attempt at such a settlement? Italy is still a member of the League. I welcome that fact. Cannot this eleventh hour be so used as to make it unnecessary for us to proceed further along the unattractive road of economic action against a fellow-member, an old friend, and a former ally?
I know not whether there is hope in what I say or not. I would neither stir up hopes that are unjustified nor excite fears that may equally be unjustified. But what I do know is that a great experiment is being tried in the world. For the first time the system of collective action and collective security is being tested in face of a great crisis. Perhaps, when we are further from the dust and heat of this controversy, we shall look back on this experiment as one of the greatest that has been attempted for many generations. If it succeeds, an immense gain will have been achieved for the peace of the world. If it fails, a heavy disappointment will have fallen on all those who desire to eliminate war as an instrument of national policy, and a heavy responsibility upon those who have wavered in the cause. Whichever of these results ensue—I pray it may be the first—I am certain we must not live in a world of illusion. If we can depend upon collective action, let us know it; if we cannot depend upon it, let us also know it, and let us further know who are the loyal supporters of collective security and who are those who whilst shouting for it in theory, attack and abuse those who wish to apply it in practice.
But, whether the League succeeds or fails, I am quite certain that we are entering upon a new and an uncharted chapter of international relations. The changes that have recently taken place have forced problems upon governments that none of us can afford to shirk. The great depression from which we are only now beginning to emerge has left us with a formidable inheritance of economic troubles. The worship of force in many parts of the world compels us, in the interests of world peace, to look to our own defences. The attacks upon collective security threaten a hard struggle for those who are determined to create a better ordered world. The crisis with which we are confronted is not the crisis of a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months; it is a symptom of 33 wider and deeper and more protracted movements, that can only be controlled by steady pressure and a constant determination to face the facts of a changed and changing world. It is because our eyes are fixed so intently and so anxiously upon this future that the Government, with a great body of support behind them, are fighting for the League and the principles of the Covenant. It is because our eyes are fixed so intently upon the future that we pray that the principles of collective action will be upheld, and a way speedily found to end this hateful controversy.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Before dealing with the very important statement that has been made by the Foreign Secretary, I would like, on behalf of my party, to add some words to the generous tribute that he paid to our late colleague, Arthur Henderson. Arthur Henderson rendered outstanding services to his party, to his country, and to the world. If not the architect, he was the chief builder of the Labour party. For five and twenty years he was its secretary. Under his care it rose from a small group to a national party, challenging its older rivals for the confidence of the country. To carry through such a task needed no small qualities of head and heart, and it might well have been in itself a sufficient lifework for a man. But Arthur Henderson was more than a great party organiser; he was a great political leader, and a distinguished Member of this House for 30 years. As chief Whip and Leader of a party in this House, he learned the working of democratic government, and he upheld the traditions of this House. He was a statesman who held high office in three administrations, in war and in peace. On many occasions he met with fellow Socialists on the Continent, and it was no surprise to us that he came so much to the fore in 1924, 1929, and afterwards, in foreign affairs.
When he became Foreign Secretary he stood out as a great advocate of peace and disarmament. It is not for me at this moment to appraise in detail his services to that cause. It is sufficient to say that his work and qualities were so well known that he was chosen by the representatives of the nations at Geneva to preside over the deliberations of the Disarmament Conference. But 34 during the last four years he had perhaps given the most devoted service of all, because, suffering under constant disability and often great pain, he devoted himself to the cause of disarmament and peace. He placed it above his comfort, even his life, and he died with his work uncompleted. It needed great qualities in a working ironworker to rise to preside over the Assembly of the nations. What were those qualities? I would say, first and foremost, character and integrity. He was a man of strong religious convictions, which guided him throughout his career. Secondly, loyalty and unselfishness to cause and to colleagues. I would stress his practical common sense, which, without losing the vision of what might be, saw what could be accomplished. Lastly, I would stress that he was a very human person, with great human sympathy, and that he commanded the respect and affection of his colleagues. I would join in the expressions of our sympathy with his widow and his family, and would express our sense of loss and our gratitude for his life.
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary has given us a most important statement on the very critical state of international affairs. I think the first thing that one feels, in discussing the present situation, is our amazement at the mad folly that has broken the peace, at the madness of the action which has endangered the whole world. I think that the responsibility of the man who orders recourse to war is greater to-day than at any other time in history, because of the greater integration of the world, and because of the enormously more dangerous materials that there are in the world to-day; and I think that we in this House should express our sympathy for the victims of this action—for the people of Abyssinia, men, women and children, and for the Italians, too, who are being led to the slaughter. I think that, while we express our abhorrence at this act of aggression, we should take care that nothing should draw us to frame an indictment against a whole people. There can be nothing worse at this time than to try to rouse national passion. The issue with which the world is faced is bigger than any matter between different nations. We are not concerned at the present moment with the condition of government in Abyssinia or 35 the condition of government in Italy. The over-mastering matter with which we have to deal is the vindication of the rule of law against the rule of force, and of the protection of the international system against a relapse into anarchy. We on this side repudiate altogether any views as to the civilising mission of any Power. It is an old excuse of Imperialist Powers. But, equally as we detest Imperialism, we do not intend in the least that anyone should make this occasion an opportunity for attack on the form of government that is at present maintained in Italy. That would merely he to lead on to further strife. I do not believe you can destroy Fascism, or any other form of government, by attack from without. I think it will fall by its own inherent rottenness.
We have stated plainly our attitude towards the system of the League of Nations and collective security there-under. When in office we supported and endeavoured to enhance the League's authority, and in opposition we have unremittingly urged the Government to make support of the League the whole basis of its policy. I emphasise the point, the whole basis of its policy, because to my mind you cannot follow at one and the same time the system of the League of Nations and the system of old-fashioned Imperialism. We base our policy on the facts of the modern world, which in our view lead imperatively to subordination of national sovereignties to the League and ultimately to a co-operative commonwealth of the world. We believe that in a state of the world so closely linked together as is the world of to-day you must have some authority other than the will of individual Powers. You must have a rule of law, and that rule of law must be obeyed. I think there has been a division of opinion on the other side on this matter. We have had discussions very often on the League and there have been two views expressed, one regarding the League of Nations as something that is leading on to a government of the world, and the other which, put shortly, is that the League of Nations is a very convenient debating place but, while accepting it as a mart for the exchange of ideas, the nations should go on and follow out their ordinary old-fashioned Imperialist policies. This 36 difference in the party opposite has paralysed its foreign policy and it has accounted to a large extent for the situation in which the world and the League are to-day.
We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's stand for the Covenant at Geneva. We welcome the general rally of public opinion to League principles. We recognise the immense importance of the peace ballot. I am sure that the mass of public opinion in this country is against Imperialism and is looking forward to a new world. There have been conversions to collective security, but I hardly like to put them down to the peace ballot. I doubt if that blinding flash, like that which Saul saw on the way to Damascus, that suddenly came over the "Daily Express" can be attributed entirely to the peace ballot. I think one has to recognise that there is grave ground for suspicion, and we on this side cannot at all acquit the Government of responsibility for the present state of affairs. This Abyssinian question has not come like a bolt from the blue. It did not become critical in August or September when the Foreign Secretary first spoke out. There is a long history behind the dealings of Western Powers with Abyssinia. There are bargainings of all kind and there are agreements of all kinds. There were Imperialist bargainings during the War, there were Imperialist bargainings in 1925 and 1926, and Imperialist bargainings have been going on all the time. I notice that the Foreign Secretary talked about conversations with regard to Abyssinia. I think he said that France disinterested herself from Abyssinia. That is another way of saying she gave Italy a free hand.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
That action of France seems to me to belong to the pre-League of Nations era. A nation cannot disinterest itself altogether because it is bound by the Covenant. I was rather distressed throughout the speech of the Foreign Secretary because I think only once did he mention that there might be an Abyssinian point of view. He seemed to think all the time that it was a question of discussion between this Power and that Power. I say that this Government must take its share of responsibility. The new system inaugurated by the League, the collective system, is definitely based 37 on the idea that in the event of aggression all the League States should stand together. The right hon. Gentleman stressed that point to-day—the need that all should stand together against the aggressor. The strength or weakness of the League depends entirely on how wholeheartedly those obligations are fulfilled. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Abyssinian matter was one about which most of the States knew very little. It is precisely in that kind of condition that you ought to have full League action. I have always dissented from the view that I have heard put forward from the other side very often that you should try to localise these responsibilities. To my mind the essential thing about the League is that it should be universal, that is to say, that any one Member of the League should feel that the other States have an obligation towards it whether it is a near neighbour or not, or whether this or that State has any particular interest of its own. The whole point of League action is that it should not be dictated by the private interests of any particular States, but that it should be in support of public law.
This Government had not been in office long before the Sino-Japanese dispute arose. I was very much surprised at the Foreign Secretary saying that it was a unique event that Italy had been found the aggressor in Abyssinia. He had forgotten the case of China and Japan. There Japan was declared the aggressor. No sanctions followed whatsoever. The action of the aggressor was condoned. I noticed a pertinent sentence in the "Sunday Times," a Conservative paper, in an article devoted to the support of Government action on this occasion. It asked this question:Since when has it been a valid excuse for our running away from a duty agreed on in concert with other Powers that the offender might fire a gun? Such a principle, if acted on at home, would soon break up all ordered society.The answer is simple. Since we have had a National Government—since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) constituted himself the apologist for Japan. There was no question of anyone urging military sanctions against Japan. Why was there no question of economic sanctions against Japan? Why was not the matter raised? Why did not this Government 38 feel that it was vitally affected because the whole position of the League depended on it? When we urged that economic sanctions should be applied to Japan, the answer of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was exactly the same that caused such indignation on the part of the Foreign Secretary. They said, "You are clamouring for war." The right hon. Gentleman is getting some of the same medicine now. It is the stock-in-trade of the Imperialist to say that anyone who wants to support the rule of law is clamouring for war. It will be interesting to find out whether in his new sphere of action the right hon. Gentleman the Member far Spen Valley finds the same kind of thing being urged against him—whether he receives numbers of indignant letters from smash-and-grab raiders saying that if he arrests one of them and puts him in prison he is clamouring for war.
Why is there such a different attitude altogether in this dispute from that in the Sino-Japanese dispute? Is there one law for Asia and another for Africa? Is it the change in personnel from the Members for Seaham (Mr. R. MacDonald) and Spen Valley to those for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) and Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), or is it the nearness of Egypt and the Sudan that makes the difference? The plain fact is that the failure to act in the Sino-Japanese affair is the direct cause of the present position. It is a very old story. You shirk dealing with the advocate of force and you find it all the more difficult later on. A city in the United States that failed to deal with gunmen at the start finds it more and more difficult. The fact is that this Government, which is now standing for the League after four years, acquiesced openly in forcible action by Japan; that this Government encouraged every kind of forceful action, and that it is responsible for that very factor which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned at the end of his speech. He said that there was this danger of belief in force arising. They are the people who allowed Japan to get away with it. Everywhere this Government has condoned the action of force. That is the first count in our indictment of the Government. It is all very well for the. Foreign Secretary to say, "We found such and such an event and we handled it in such and such a way. 39 We have had a very difficult time." I Am sorry for him, but he has to stand up for the sins of omission and commission of his predecessors.
The second point is the handling of this Italo-Abyssinian dispute. The right hon. Gentleman said that he made it perfectly plain to Signor Mussolini in January what the attitude of this Government was. He says that there was a Franco-Italian Agreement and that the matter was being seriously considered and discussed. Yes, but it was being discussed by Imperialist Powers, discussing how they could do a deal. The right hon. Gentleman says that this matter was raised at Stresa. I understand it was discussed by some officials here and there. The matter was getting urgent by then. A three days' discussion between the great Powers, one of which was obviously preparing for aggression, and the matter was never mentioned by any of the members. What does it look like? It looks to most people like condonation.
The trouble about the Government is that they thought this affair could be settled by a deal in the old Imperialist method, by a discussion between two or three big Powers, whereas the matter ought to have been brought to the League of Nations at once. The question of economic sanctions was rendered very difficult by the fact that time was allowed to elapse—that so many horses got out of the stable before they even attempted to repair the lock; and the door of the stable is still open. Signor Mussolini was allowed to carry on. He was allowed to get in all the stores he wanted, to send his troops to Africa, and then at last the matter came before the League. What is the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman? It is not, "Here we have two States in the League. Here is a case of aggression and one has applied to us to deal with it in the League and see where suspicion lies." On the contrary, they try the old method of buying off the aggressor. It never has worked. It is the old game of this Government—give them something; offer them a little more. As soon as they get one offer they want more. It did not seem likely that Signor Mussolini was going to abate his demands. So the matter slipped on until at last the right hon. Gentleman took action.
Our accusation is not with regard to his speech of September. We say that 40 that speech should have been made in January. I cannot believe that, if the Government had taken as firm a line in January as they did in September, Signor Mussolini would ever have embarked on this adventure. He never thought that the world was in earnest. The trouble is that this Government acted on Imperialist lines month after month and week after week until the Italian Government was so deeply involved that it was too difficult to extricate it. The right hon. Gentleman explained that economic sanctions were all very well but that they were very dangerous in an armed world. Why have we an armed world? Again the record of the Government in the Disarmament Conference is a record of delay in the last three or four years. They allowed the law of the League of Nations to be flouted. They have allowed armaments to go on. We have Lord Londonderry paying himself a high tribute as the principal opponent of the abolition of bombing from the air. He was for weeks a representative, on behalf of this Government, of the Disarmament Conference.
In the world that has re-armed this Government has to take a share of responsibility. Countries have not disarmed. This country has never disarmed. I suppose we have disarmed to the extent of spending a few million pounds less since the Armistice. I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned the need for dealing with economic affairs. He mentioned the question of raw materials and so forth. But we must remember that it was this Government which called the World Economic Conference and absolutely nothing tangible was put forward there. There is only one expression for the Government's policy, and it is the same all through their foreign policy—too late. The four years' record of this Government is a history of wasted opportunities.
The Prime Minister has spoken of the dangers of the present position in the world. I wish he had asserted himself earlier. I wish that instead of leaving it to hypothetical young men he had taken the matter in hand himself. I think that wise action might very well have prevented the rearming of Germany. Courageous action would have prevented the rape of China. Appro- 41 priate action by this country would have saved many of the democracies of Europe. We should not then have seen Austria as a tame vassal of Italy, unable to fulfil her obligations to the League. Now the Government come forward and ask for the support of the country as if they were good architects of a worthy structure. In drawing this indictment against the Government we are far from saying that they are alone responsible, but we have stressed over and over again that the responsibility of the Government is heavy because of their position in the world. We have said over and over again that if the Government took a stand for the League of Nations it would rally the rest of the nations behind it. That was proved in September.
What we want to know is, why, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was our Foreign Secretary, we always took a place in the background? Why did we allow the dictators to take the centre of the stage and strut alone, while peace and the League and Great Britain were left behind? I was glad that the right hon. Gentleman pointed out so plainly that you cannot be in the League and have the advantages of collective security without the obligations of collective security. I do not think that is realised by all countries on the Continent of Europe. There are countries that pin their faith to the League, but seem to think that it is merely a convenient instrument for their own interests. We hold that the League should not be regarded as established for supporting the interests of this or that country, but of all countries. We think that no State can afford to play fast and loose with League principles and that the justice and security demanded by the largest and most powerful country must be afforded to the small country.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether we can have a White Paper giving us a full account of these proceedings in the Italo-Abyssinian question? We do not want to do the right hon. Gentleman any injustice. We should like to see exactly what was said to Signor Mussolini in January to warn him. We should like to follow this out. And we should like to know exactly when the sanctions that it is proposed this country should put into force will be put into force, because there are no 42 sanctions at present. I understand the Government think they have complete power to put them into force, and I want to know when they are going to do so, because time runs on and all this time is taken up by the aggressor getting everything he wants. The question is asked, "Will economic sanctions be effective"? They are effective when they are applied promptly, fully, and whole-heartedly, but if you allow a long delay it may mean that although ultimately effective you will not stop this war, and we want this war stopped; so does everybody. I believe this war would never have arisen if economic sanctions had been applied at once. I am disturbed at present by the line taken by the Government. I want to know just what the Government mean by declaring their neutrality in this dispute. We understand that this country is going to fulfil the conditions of neutrality with regard to Italy in accordance with the treaties of 1907 in respect to Italian shipping and so forth.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
The whole conception of neutrality, as I understand it, passed away with the coming of the League. With the declaration of an aggressor nation, that nation could not be treated as if you were purely neutral. You are not neutral. You are engaged in applying sanctions. It is not for us to lay down or to suggest what sanctions can be applied. We want effective sanctions, effectively applied and laid down, and, of course, as the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly says, to be effective they have got to be applied by the vast majority of the League. We support economic sanctions. We support the League system. But what we want to know from the Government is what is their general foreign policy besides this immediate matter.
We all hope that sanctions will be successful, but what is going to be the Government's policy after that because you are still in a dangerous position; and let no man think that if we get rid of this trouble we shall not have another problem to deal with. You have to face 43 up to the question as to whether you are going in for collective security and making the League a reality or not and we ask the Government to do certain very definite things. We ask them, first of all, to get rid of every taint and suspicion of our being ourselves interested in the matter. It is no good the right hon. Gentleman saying, "Of course, everybody knows we are disinterested." I suggest he should make a gesture. Let us get rid of any idea that we are interested in Abyssinia, by scrapping any advantages we have under Treaties of the past. We have a record of the past, a record in dealing with Abyssinia, in which it appears that we would support Italian claims and Italy would support our claims. That is the old Imperialist bargain.
I should like to make our attitude plain with regard to this matter. I am told that one of our great anxieties is the question of Egypt and the supply of water from the Nile. That should not be a matter for us, but for the League. As long as we have this indeterminate relationship to Egypt, then Egypt should be in the League. For my part, I would see the Sudan administered in accordance with the mandates of the League; administered by us under mandate. But as long as you have these entangling Imperialist connections, so long will you be liable to have your bona fides suspect. The kind of settlement of this question that we want is one which is not going to be imposed on Abyssinia but agreed to by Abyssinia. It must not end by a general carving up of Abyssinia among Imperialist Powers. The settlement must be such as will vindicate the principle of the League. I wish we could go a good deal further than the Foreign Secretary has gone already in dealing with the economic conditions, because I am sure that you will never get over any of these questions until you have dealt with the underlying economic conditions that are disturbing the peace of Europe.
Further, this occasion should be taken for a great leap forward towards disarmament and not towards increased armaments. I thought that the conclusion of the speech of the Secretary of State was very menacing. He talked of his hopes of success of the collective system, but he was obviously contemplating at the same time what has been 44 announced by other Ministers—a large programme of increased armaments for this country. We do not believe in the least that that is the way in which you are going to get peace. We have the greatest distrust of the present Government in this matter. In our view, their four years has been a betrayal of the League. There may have been a late repentance, but the whole course of their administration of foreign affairs has been to let down the League. They are not entirely responsible, but they must bear their responsibility for the drift back into war. At the present time I do not know whether they really are going to stand firm on the League. There is too much talk backwards and forwards, and there are suggestions that, after all, this whole matter can be settled. Of course, you can settle it—it is only an Abyssinian dispute—in one way or another. You can sell out to Italy. But the old Abyssinian dispute is only one particular example of a number of disputes that may arise, in which the whole question will be as to whether there can be restraint of the aggressor, and whether the League system of collective security will stand. That is really what is at stake at the present time.
There are two other matters that give me great concern as to whether the Government are really in earnest, The first is that, in the midst of this international crisis, they are plunging into a general election; and the second is that they appear to be seeking the occasion of this dispute to go in for a huge armaments programme. We do not desire for a moment the continuing of this House. It is totally unrepresentative. It was assembled by means of a trick. It owes its composition to a most flagrant campaign of misrepresentation. We do not desire a continuance of this Government either. We are ready and eager to meet them at the polls, but I am sorry that the thing is being done in this way. After all, this country is a very important stronghold of democratic Government, and democratic Government can be killed in more ways than one. It can be bludgeoned by dictators. But it can be destroyed by lack of faith. Where you have politicians who at a moment's notice throw over all their principles and join with the other side thus shaking faith in democracy, and where you have responsible statesmen, instead of giving the 45 country the opportunity of forming a calm judgment on policies, going to the country on stunts of one kind or another, there too you have the destruction of democracy.
The second point is that, judging by the Press—and the Prime Minister says that we must take these things from the Press; we took the date of the Election from the Press, and so we take the rest from the Press—the campaign now is to be one for piling up armaments for this country. Just as last time the scare was that there was a threat to the small man's security in the savings banks, so we shall have much talk of a threat to this country and the need for larger armaments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said that he has made up his mind that he will be able to pay out enough money for this purpose. Money that he could not find for life, he can find for death. Our position with regard to armaments has been perfectly plain in this House. We are the party who do not stand for unilateral disarmament. We have stated that we are prepared to support such an amount of armaments in this country as is necessary to fulfil our obligations and responsibilities under the League. We have never suggested that we should carry out our League duties and at the same time have no armaments. But we have never yet been asked in this House to provide armaments for carrying out our League duties. We have had many debates on defence armaments. All proposals have always been put forward on the old lines of balancing and comparison with other countries.
We come to that remarkable document which was given as a Memorandum on Defence. It might have been—I dare say some of it was—compiled in pre-War days. We are now told that we must have great armaments, and they say that we have hitherto been following a policy of unilateral disarmament. That is absolutely and entirely untrue. We have spent nearly £2,000,000,000 since the Armistice on armaments, and you call that unilateral disarmament! But, on the other hand, when Ministers get up they tell us that the arms we have are at present insufficient for our need. We have not disarmed. I think that the only country that did disarm fully was Denmark. We are prepared always to consider what arms are needed for this 46 country, but we are not prepared to give the Government a blank cheque to rearm. I should like to know something more about this armament programme. I hope that we shall have something given to us before the Debate is over so that we may kno[...] something about it. I should like to [...]ow how the money is going to be spent. For the most part, I think that it is likely to be spent in totally uncorrelated efforts.
We shall also demand that whatever armaments are needed for this country shall not be the subject of private profit. We were told that there was to be no profit from the increased Air Force. Enormous profits have been made in the City in merely floating and capitalising aircraft companies. We are not persuaded in the least that the way to safety is by piling up armaments. We do not believe that in this there is such a thing as national defence. We think that you have to go forward to disarmament, and not to the piling up of armaments. The Government propose to go to the country. Last time they asked for a doctor's mandate. This time they will ask for an undertaker's mandate. I am certain that if the League succeeds in this dispute the way ought to lead to disarmament.
The issues that are facing us are very grave. I hope that the Government will stand firm on the League policy and that the rule of law will be vindicated. I do not know how other hon. Members feel, but I feel deeply the oppression of the danger of another war breaking out. The people of Europe are like people living in a village in a valley where there is a great mass of water held up by a dam. There is always a danger that the dam may burst and the water overwhelm them. As I see it at the present time, up on the dam there are lunatics feverishly working at absolutely mad designs. Over the hills the villagers seem independent or mostly concerned only with maintaining that little bit of their own sector, their little bit of national security, instead of realising that, if one part of the dam goes, the whole will go. We want to see that frail defence strengthened, and we think that the occasion should be seized for strengthening the League. We realise that its foundations are very weak and are built on the shifting sands of the Versailles Treaty. We realise the weakness of its position, with imperialist 47 States dominated by Imperialist ideas. But, frail as it is, it is the one thing standing between us at the moment, and another world war, and it can only be made efficacious to the people of the world if it is strengthened, if it is made far more effective, far more of a real League, and not a mere federation and, above all, if it is strengthened on its economic side as well as on its political side. We believe that the principle which we desire to see applied at home, the principle of economic justice, must be applied abroad. We shall go into this fight with our programme of Socialism and peace absolutely convinced that the true policy is that if you want Socialism you must have peace, and if you want peace you must have Socialism.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
As was suggested during the brief Question Time to-day, some of us think that it is embarrassing for the House not to know whether this Debate is to be the only Debate to take place before the Dissolution. It is the tradition of the House of Commons that when questions of foreign policy are before it, every step is taken to secure some unanimity of tone and of effort and that highly controversial questions should not be brought to the forefront. If the Dissolution is to take place this week, there are very highly controversial questions which must be discussed, and I urged upon the Prime Minister this afternoon that a separate opportunity should be given for such debate rather than endeavour to combine discussions of that kind with the Debate upon foreign policy. He did not give me a negative reply, and I shall venture to assume that the House will have an opportunity of that kind. For that reason, I shall not embark upon those other wider matters to-day. But I wish the House and the Government to understand that it would be wrong to expect the House of Commons to submit to the Dissolution with no opportunity for discussing matters relating to the depressed areas, the unemployment regulations and many other matters of keen domestic interest.
The Foreign Secretary gave us, at the beginning of his speech to-day, a brief review of the events since last we met 48 to debate these matters in August. The points of agreement in the House and in the country are clear, and the agreement is remarkably complete. The matters on which I think there is no controversy in this great issue may be very briefly summarised. We are all agreed that it was essential that the League should intervene in the Italian-Abyssinian dispute. The Covenant most clearly commanded such intervention. If Italy had grievances against Abyssinia her duty was to submit them to the League and to require redress at its hands. The fact that there may have been grievances, and in some particulars a sound case, was no possible reason for the League closing its eyes to the whole matter, and, so to speak, non-suiting the plaintiff when Abyssinia appealed to the League for its protection.
Secondly, I think most of us are agreed that the duty of initiative did lie upon the British Government. Someone must lead the League. It is a weakness of the League system that there is no normal organisation for anyone to take the initiative in grave international issues. In a Parliament such as this there is the Government. Even in a Congress like that of the United States where the Government is not present, through party affiliations it has its representatives who present Bills and take action and invite support. The League has no such functionary, and therefore some one Power or some group of Powers must come forward and take the initiative. In this case it could not have been one or even many of the smaller Powers, because they would be told: "You are not able to take effective action, and it is ridiculous that you should try to plunge the League into these difficulties." We all know the delicacy of the situation of France vis-a-vis Italy and in view of the dangers facing her possibly in Central Europe. Consequently, it devolved upon this country to take the lead. The fact that we have interests in East Africa, while it was not the reason why we took the initiative was not a reason to debar us from taking the initiative. If in any controversy no Power is to say a word if it has any interest of its own in the part of the world concerned, the League will be a complete futility.
We are all agreed that we are animated by no spirit of hostility towards Italy. We are agreed that we are not seeking to 49 overthrow the Fascist regime. We have our views as to the wisdom and value of that system of government. So far as Italy's domestic affairs are concerned they are the concern of the Italians, but when Italy, no matter what its regime, whether democratic or Fascist, deliberately breaks the Covenant of the League, of which we are all signatories, and breaks the Pact of Paris, of which we are all signatories, then it is not one Power but every one of the Powers which is concerned. We are also all agreed that the League could only arrive at one conclusion, namely, that Italy had engaged in an aggressive war in breach of the Covenant. Next, we must hold that economic sanctions as provided in the Covenant were the right recourse in the first instance, and we must approve the action of the Government in reinforcing the British Fleet in the Mediterranean and in reinforcing the garrisons in Malta and Egypt against the possibilities of other eventualities.
All this is agreed in the House and in the country although a few voices are heard in a contrary sense. No doubt the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), in the course of the Debate, will give the House his opinion, which he has made public recently on more than one occasion. A few voices have been raised for what I can only describe as an ignoble policy, the policy of surrender. When Signor Mussolini stamps his foot, 50 nations are to run away. He breaks his obligations under the Covenant and Britain and the other nations are to abandon their obligations under the Covenant. I think the case has only to be stated to be repudiated. The honour of Britain and the honour of all the signatories to the Pact and the Covenant are engaged, and for us to repudiate our obligations would be a derogation from the high traditions of British policy.
When the Foreign Secretary, in the most memorable speech at Geneva in September, came forward and in clear and definite language stated the attitude which this country would take, his speech was received at Geneva by the great majority of States represented there with keen satisfaction, and also, perhaps, with a little surprise. We have during the last three years adopted at Geneva a policy which has been frequently one of weakness and vacillation, and when at last 50 Britain came forward and said, plump, that she intended to uphold the Covenant and to see this matter through, the other nations were as surprised as they were gratified. We are only doing now what we have promised to do from the very outset, and the reception of the right hon. Gentleman's statement throughout this country and throughout the world, while gratifying as to our action in the present, is a reflection upon our inaction in the past.
With respect to what the Foreign Secretary has said to-day as to the course taken by the Government in relation to the Italians during the earlier months of this year, I am bound to say that his account did not sound very convincing. It is a question not merely of what may be said but in what tone it is said and with what emphasis and with what authority. At what date was it said to Signor Mussolini: "Let it be clearly understood that if you go forward in Abyssinia Great Britain will stand by the letter and the spirit of the Covenant and will be prepared to put into force whatever articles of the Covenant may be required by the necessities of the case. Our attitude will be uncompromisingly one of a loyal member of the League ready to act up to its obligations"? Was that said to him in that tone, and with that emphasis at that time? The Foreign Secretary did not give us that impression, and unless that assurance is given the Government cannot expect to be exempt from criticism on that ground.
Now as to the situation. I must say that the speech of the Foreign Secretary to-day, quite correct in all its professions, was not a very robust speech. He told us that economic sanctions are difficult and may cause great inconvenience. There is no agreement at all at Geneva for going beyond those sanctions. If the League fails it will be a very great disaster. We, as we are all agreed, are not prepared to act alone. He left the impression that he was exceedingly uneasy about the situation and that he thought the failure of the League quite a possibility. He did not say: "The League must not fail, and as far as in us lies it shall not fait." He gave the impression that there is a danger that the British Government at Geneva may fall back into the mood of weakness and vacillation which has at 51 times characterised it during the three years that have gone by.
He said, "We are not prepared to act alone," and everyone agrees with that. Not only would it put an undue burden upon this country to take upon its own shoulders all the immense liabilities that solitary action would involve, but if this country did act alone that would be in itself a confession of the failure of collective security. British solitary action would not be the vindication of the League. British solitary action would not be a safeguard for the future. It would simply mean that in the League collective action had failed and that one nation had taken the alternative of performing a duty that should devolve upon all. Therefore, we are all agreed wholeheartedly that it is not a matter for this country by itself to take in hand.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he hoped that there might be an opportunity even now to secure a stoppage of the war, without the imposition of economic sanctions. Let us all hope so, but do not let the economic sanctions be delayed owing to that possibility or in order to engage in fresh and prolonged negotiations. I trust that we shall be told that what was said by the right hon. Gentleman did not for a moment imply that the actual application of sanctions would be delayed or suspended for a single day longer than is necessary, but if in the meantime some agreement can be reached and the war stopped and peace restored, we shall all whole-heartedly rejoice. That would obviate the application of sanctions, and we should be only too glad.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Let me clear up any doubt there may have been in my speech on that point. I was not contemplating any delay of sanctions in any way, but there must be an interval of time before they can be applied.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I am glad to have elicited that explanation, which is completely satisfactory. But we have to contemplate the possibility, and it is a possibility, that economic sanctions will not be effective. Any country which is at war is able in a most remarkable fashion to continue the war in disregard of all sorts of extreme economic difficulties and even without any visible financial resources, and it is quite 52 possible that all the financial difficulties and difficulties of supplies and of exports with which Italy may be faced may not prevent her continuing her operations in East Africa long enough to overcome the resistance of the Abyssinians. How long that resistance will endure we cannot tell, but we must contemplate the fact that the war is going on, that thousands and thousands of Abyssinians are being killed and that more and more of the territory of Abyssinia is actually being occupied by Italian armies, and that there is a prospect that the aggressor will be triumphant and the League humiliated. That is an eventuality which is intolerable, and I do not believe that public opinion in this country would endure it. If week after week passes and month after month, and while these events are happening, ship after ship is bringing supplies and reinforcements and ammunition to the Italian forces in Abyssinia, across the Mediterranean, through the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea past the port of Aden, and landing them to carry on that campaign. I do not believe that this country or the world could tolerate a situation of that character.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY PAGE CROFT
What would the right hon. Gentleman do in those circumstances?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
Take the same lead at Geneva for enforcing further sanctions as the right hon. Gentleman has for enforcing economic sanctions. Let the League decide whether it would prefer to see the whole of this great effort to maintain the peace of the world collapse ignominiously or prefer to put the situation clearly before the Italians, who have far more to lose than anyone else. They have 200,000 men in East Africa, and the situation from a strategic point of view is not an agreeable one. I had not intended to go into these details—[interruption]—but I have had to do so in order to answer the interruption of the hon. and gallant Member. I had not intended to go into these details because language of this sort ought really to be avoided in the Parliaments of Europe.
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman—this is rather important—whether he is prepared to use force of arms against Italy to enforce sanctions if they do not prove effective without force of arms?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
No one wishes to use force of arms; everyone hopes that other methods will be effective. I was putting the other consideration, that if it became clear to the whole world that they are wholly ineffective and a failure, what then? I was endeavouring to say what action we should take, and I regret that by the interruption I have been led into a disquisition on these matters which I certainly had not intended to engage upon. The Foreign Secretary said that he hoped negotiations might take place now which would lead to an honourable settlement. So we all hope. But it must be a settlement which is honourable. I would refer to two declarations which have been made. One appears in the Report of the Committee of Five of the League of Nations which embodies this paragraph with regard to the Abyssinians:In view of the obligation of every member of the League to respect the independence of the other members, any plan of assistance should receive the previous consent of the Ethiopian Government.That is the view of the League. I quote also the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, who said:Any settlement should be freely assented to by the Abyssinians in the fulness of her sovereignty and without anything being, imposed on her contrary to her independence or integrity.I gather that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs adheres to that view. Those must be the conditions of anything which can fairly be called an honourable settlement. If Italy now puts forward a claim which the Emperor of Abyssinia could not reasonably be expected to accept, that could not be the basis of a settlement. If terms were put forward and the Emperor rejected them and the opinion of the world said that he was right in rejecting them, and if after that the League were to withdraw its assistance and remove its sanctions and compel him to accept them, again it would be a flagrant failure of the collective system to ensure a just settlement. So far with regard to the conditions of the moment. But I beg the House and each Member in it to consider in this time of crisis what light this conflict throws upon the prospects of the future.
The Foreign Secretary said a few words as to the state of the world to-day and the possible ways by which the tension and unrest which are now so formidable 54 might be removed. It is essential that we should develop what may be termed a constructive peace policy. If we were to say to the other countries, "We now believe that all grievances must be settled through law, and not through war, that the age of violence is over and that war must not be used as an instrument of policy," we are bound, as a corollary, to provide some means by which legitimate grievances can be remedied. What is the economic position of the various countries among whom mankind is divided? Three-quarters of the whole land area of the world is possessed by nine political units, and the other 50 nations are left with one quarter. There are 55,000,000 square miles of land on this globe, and the British Empire, Russia, the United States of America, the French Empire, Brazil, China, and the colonies of Holland, Belgium and Portugal occupy three-quarters of the whole area. Countries such as Japan, Germany, and Italy are practically excluded.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The right hon. and gallant Member says it is a good thing they are excluded, I presume because they are militaristic countries?
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
The right hon. Gentleman means well, but he is very often irrelevant. I take it his argument is that because these countries are militarist the rest of the world should do nothing to increase their economic prosperity. In effect, he says that unless they guarantee us peace we shall not help them to prosperity; and they reply, "Unless you help us to be prosperous we shall not guarantee peace." You get into a circular argument from which there is no escape. We say, let prosperity come first and peace will come after. The right hon. and gallant Member says, "No, you are militaristic countries, you are shut out from three-quarters of the world and you must take it at that. That is a fatal position, which will inevitably lead to a continuance of unrest and sooner or later to serious trouble. I say that if Japan with 90,000,000 of population, Germany with 70,000,000 and other countries like Poland with 55 30,000,000—a population rapidly growing in numbers—if they can find no means of access to purchasing the raw materials they need for their manufactures and their foodstuffs in order to maintain a high standard of living, they will be compelled to burst the bonds with which you are trying to confine them.
I do not propose to go into all the details of these arguments but to state my own conclusion that these grievances cannot in the present state of the world be effectively remedied by any territorial readjustments or transfer of mandates. Although something might be done in those directions they will not effectively meet the requirements of these great populations. A solution, if it comes at all, must necessarily be on economic lines, as the Foreign Secretary stated in a speech at Geneva some time ago. I rejoice to find that at last the Foreign Secretary is beginning to lay emphasis upon this aspect of world affairs. For the first time at Geneva, on 11th September, in a speech which reverberated round the world, he showed that he and the British Government were conscious that this was one of the great problems of mankind to-day, and again in the broadcast to America he went further and emphasised the point, and declared that the economic situation of the world was the true cause of the unrest, and that until effective measures were taken we should not obtain a restoration of tranquillity. The Chancellor of the Exchequer used similar language not long ago.
I know that whenever we on these benches refer to these matters we are supposed to have a peculiar obsession and that we find it impossible to keep out King Charles's head. When we resigned because of the Ottawa Agreements we were told that we were taking an eccentric course. Now it is begining to be seen that this is the central issue of the whole situation. The Ottawa Agreements, now repudiated by the Canadian people, as Mr. Bennett has declared, were taken by the world as a gesture on the part of Britain that we were determined to make our Empire into a closed system, dependent on inter-Imperial trade, keeping our Colonies and Dominions as preserves for our own manufactures and suppliers of our own requirements. That has been undoubtedly 56 one of the causes of the uneasiness and unrest which have prevailed among the rest of these countries. Gradually they see the world being closed against them. That is a main cause of the extreme unrest which exists to-day, as well as the fervour of intense national patriotism. So I would on this occasion urge most strongly on the House of Commons that we should now and in the future give our minds to this problem. Unless we listen now, some day there will come an explosion. Some day you will find that Germany, perhaps, gathering round her a group of other dissatisfied Powers, will make some demand that cannot be met and then you will have a cataclysm. Those who will not listen now will have to bear then the responsibility for what may befall.
Mere armaments are no alternative to a policy. The world has never found security or peace in the piling up of armaments. We must, of course, have adequate defences, otherwise we should simply be handing over the world to the militarists. If the peace-loving democratic Powers like Britain, France and the United States were to disarm and if the militarist Powers were to increase their armaments, the affairs of mankind would be handed over to them. Peace must have its realists as well as war. But no solution is to be found merely in a policy of that kind. We here wish to add our tribute to those which have already been paid by the Foreign Secretary and the Leader of the Opposition to Mr. Arthur Henderson whose death we all so deeply deplore. He spent the last years of his life in a most sincere, earnest and persistent effort to bring the nations together in the cause of disarmament. Unhappily it must be admitted that, at all events for the time being, that effort has failed. But to regard the whole question as closed because that effort has failed and merely to take refuge in piling up armaments here, knowing that the only result will be that other nations will respond by still further increases in their armaments, is a counsel of pure despair.
That brings us back to the question of Abyssinia and Italy and the saving of the collective system. If the League fails it is admitted that we shall have to adopt a different policy, either of isolation or of alliances, in either case involving a great increase of armaments. 57 It follows, we agree, that should the League fail we must increase greatly our armaments. But it also follows that if the League succeeds there will not be the same necessity for greatly increasing our armaments. Hon. Members cannot say at one and the same time that if the collective system fails we must have more arms because we shall have no friends and that if the League succeeds we must also have more arms because we shall have so many friends to support. Yet I seem to see that tendency on the part of some hon. Members of this House and speakers outside its walls. It is of vital importance that at this juncture the League shall succeed and its success is the only hope for putting any restraint upon a great increase of our national armaments with a colossal expenditure devolving upon our taxpayers.
These being the conditions, it appears to me that this is not the moment at which the nation can be asked, in a serious and considered fashion, to give any judgment upon this question of armaments. The whole matter is at this moment in the balance. We do not know what the outcome will be. We do not know whether the League will succeed or fail. If it succeeds, we can adopt one policy. If it fails, we shall have to adopt another. Yet at the very time when the whole issue is in the balance the Government dissolves Parliament, goes to the nation and asks for a mandate for the next five years. It is unfair to the democracy. The Prime Minister is continually expressing his faith in self-government and his respect for the electorate. Is it right that he should ask them for a verdict at the very moment when the facts cannot be before them on which such a verdict should be given? Perhaps on another occasion some other speaker from these benches will have an opportunity of developing further this argument. As I said at the beginning, I do not propose to go into it to-day. I end by declaring that, so far as we are concerned, the immediate measures that have been taken and are in contemplation by the Government for the enforcement of economic sanctions have our complete and unqualified support and that any further measures which, with vigour and energy, they may effectively take to bring this lamentable conflict to an end, will also receive our full endorsement.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Having the privilege of following the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken and the Leader of the Opposition in a debate, one would normally select from their speeches those points which could be most easily answered, and I must frankly say that I have never listened to two speeches which I thought could be more easily answered, so far as differences of opinion with the Government are concerned, than the two speeches to which the House has just listened. But this is a very important and serious occasion upon which it is not desirable that we should show too much difference in our opinions and one must make every allowance for the fact that on the eve of an Election, a constituent of Opposition oratory must necessarily be a certain amount of carping criticism. We must, however, congratulate the Leader of the Liberal Opposition on one really remarkable achievement. He succeeded in relating the Italo-Abyssinian conflict to the Ottawa Agreements and the subject of Free Trade. For the reason I have just mentioned, namely that I do not wish to make a debating speech in answer to the right hon. Gentleman, he will excuse me if I do not ask him what on earth Mr. Bennett's defeat and Mr. Mackenzie King's victory in Canada have to do with the subject which is under review to-day—the lamentable state of affairs at present existing in the North-East corner of Africa.
I should like to say, in the first place, that in common with most supporters of the Government and indeed most Members of the House, I find myself in complete agreement with what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said. He made a very clear and statesmanlike exposition of a very difficult situation and I agree not only with the tenor of his speech but with every nuance of it. There is no question that Italy's methods of dealing with the situation in Abyssinia is indefensible. But I must refer to a matter which it is, perhaps, unpopular to refer to at this moment and in doing so I emphasise the fact that it in no way justifies the action which Italy has taken. What I wish to refer to is the uncontrollable savagery of much of the rule of the Abyssinians over subject races in their own country.
I am one of the few Members of this House who have visited Abyssinia. Not 59 many years ago in the course of a big-game hunting expedition I crossed the frontier from the Sudan into Abyssinia, and I assure the House that it was the fact in those days and I believe it was the fact for many years afterwards, that for scores, almost hundreds of miles on both sides of the frontier, slave-raiding was carried on by the Abyssinians in a way which is hardly believable. Whole tribes, such as that of the Shankallas, were not only deprived of their man power, but women and children too were seized by the Abyssinian raiders and the whole country devastated. For many years the Governments of Uganda and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, no doubt on instructions from home, pursued a sort of "hush, hush" policy. I remember myself before the War asking questions in this House and finding the greatest difficulty in getting at the facts about the way in which our fellow subjects of the negroid races in Africa—with whom I personally have great sympathy, knowing something about them—were being treated by the Abyssinian raiders.
It is only fair to the head of the present regime in Abyssinia to say that he has made substantial efforts to bring that state of affairs to an end. But we should be humbugs and the House as a whole would be hypocritical, if in this Debate someone did not voice our abhorrence of it. We should make clear—although I am sure it is not necessary to do so in the case of His Majesty's Government—to all whom it may concern that when this terrible crisis has been brought to an end some steps should be taken by an international commission, or in some other way, to assist the Abyssinian authorities in the efforts which, at any rate the Emperor and his immediate advisers are making, to end that practice. This is no new question for me to raise. I have asked about it again and again and I ask hon. Members to believe me when I say that we are not helping our cause at the League of Nations and we are not helping our very substantial case against Italy by ignoring this ingredient in the situation.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Is it not the case that a commission appointed by the League of Nations indicated that the same conditions of affairs prevailed in Eritrea, in Italian territory?
§ Earl WINTERTON
I think the hon. Gentleman is exaggerating the effect of that commission's report. I do not think they said anything like that. I have already said, however, that two wrongs do not make a right, and if mine were the only voice in this House to be raised on this matter and if it were the most unpopular thing that could be done on this occasion, I should still say what I have said. Let us be plain about it. Let us recognise that the British people, with all their great virtues, have a reputation abroad for being hypocritical. It is said that they deliberately ignore unpleasant facts. Do not let us ignore this unpleasant fact when we know that it exists. Great admirer as I am of the Arabs, who are one branch of the Semitic peoples, I am afraid that the Semitic peoples do not always treat properly the subject races whom they control. People talk of the "Abyssinians" but it is almost as sensible to talk of the "Abyssinians" as to talk of the "Indians." There are dozens of races in Abyssinia. The ruling race is a very small one which, gradually, as a result of the Emperor Menelik's conquests and policy of consolidation, has obtained a large amount of territory which has no connection whatever with Abyssinia.
The answer, of course, to what I have said is undoubtedly that by the proposals which were made at Geneva and which unfortunately were not accepted by the Italians, this state of affairs would have been brought to an end. It is only fair to the Abyssinian Government and to the Emperor, for whom I personally have a great admiration, to say that as far as one can gather from the Press he was willing to accept a measure of international control, similar to that which exists in Egypt and other countries. I believe that he is an enlightened and far-seeing man and that it would have strengthened his hands in bringing to an end the state of affairs which I have described. I do not wish to labour the point but I thought it was only right that some person should give vent to his feelings about a state of things which is no credit to the League of Nations and is certainly no credit to Italy, one of the countries which encouraged the Abyssinians and indeed proposed Abyssinia for membership of the League of Nations.
As I have already said, I wholeheartedly support the Government in this 61 matter, but I must say that I doubt if British public opinion in and out of this House is yet fully alive to the real facts behind, if I may use a convenient German phrase, the Facaden Politique of the European situation, because British public opinion, as is evidenced by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, believes in a solidarity of international opinion which is no doubt an ideal to work for, but which, in fact, does not exist to-day. What is the central fact of the situation in Europe to-day? Let not the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party lose sight of that fact in this discussion over the Italo-Abyssinian conflict. We have three great dictatorships, immensely powerful, far more powerful than any of the pre-War Empires. The Kaiser, the Emperor Francis Joseph, never had a control over public opinion, over the youth of his country, that Mussolini, Stalin, and Hitler have to-day. That is a gigantic fact that we have these three great and powerful countries, where, with every use of propaganda, with the radio, cinema, and schools, they are teaching one lesson, and one lesson alone. Let us not differ on either side in this matter. I am not trying to score a party point. The Bolshevik or Soviet régime, the Nazi régime, and the Fascist régime have ultimately the same object, namely, the consolidation of the whole people into a single canalised line of action, and upon the line of action which these three countries take in the next four years depends the peace of Europe to a far greater extent than does any question of Franco-German relations.
I am not going to criticise any of them. I only ask the House to note two things—first, the power of these three dictatorships, and, secondly, the mistake of receiving this potent fact in the manner in which until recently we have received it in this House. We have treated the matter as half a joke. We have laughed at dictators and dictatorships. I have heard jokes made across the Floor by way of interruption against all three of these men. It may be funny in this House, but it is not very funny, when you consider our relationships with those countries. To treat them as half a joke does not seem to me to deal rightly with the situation. Whatever else it is, it is not funny; and, having treated them as a joke, hon. Members on all sides get up 62 and say; "Force settles nothing," or "These men do not really mean what they say." I do not think it is true to say that force settles nothing. It settles a great deal. If you have a war, it settles the issue of that war, and the nation with the greatest force wins the war. That may be an unpopular thing to say in the British House of Commons in the year 1935, but it is true, and it is untrue to say in that bald way that force settles nothing. There are other elements besides force, such as the moral issues of the situation, but to say that force settles nothing is simply not true.
Again, when it is suggested that these men, these heads of States, do not mean what they say, that also is not true. One of the greatest mistakes this House has made—and I do not care whether I am popular or unpopular in saying this—is that this House in foreign affairs has been wrong in suggesting that Mussolini, in particular, did not mean what he said. Obviously he means what he says and means to attain certain objects, and it is at once our task and our difficulty, which has been admirably performed by the Foreign Secretary, to dissuade him from attaining that object at any rate in the particular way in which he wishes to attain it. We have made it plain that we are willing genuinely to meet any economic grievances that may exist, but in qualification and reservation of that may I say that raw materials are open to these countries now. It is not a lack of raw materials, but a lack of money with which to purchase them, which is the difficulty of these countries.
Some people talk as if Herr Hitler would be satisfied to have returned to him a few hundred square miles of territory under our mandate which was taken from Germany during the war. I have been in Germany twice since the Nazi rebellion, and I know a great many Germans, including some Nazis. That is not the impression that I have gained. They would like that thrown in as a sop, but Germany wants expansion on the Continent of Europe. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in trying to buttress his case—I am sorry he has left the House, because I should like to have asked him a question about it—referred to Russia, as one of the countries with a large land territory, innocently, almost naively, ignorant of the fact that the Germans are using exactly the same argument. They 63 say, "What about the Ukraine? It would be very useful to us or to our present friends in Poland." I think any back bench Member should be very careful about going too far into details and about crossing the t's and dotting the i's and so on, but as one who has been a Member of this House for 30 years and who has taken a great interest in foreign policy, I would warn hon. Members against falling into the delusion that we shall buy off any of these countries by giving them a few hundred miles of British territory.
Another thing that these countries want—and you cannot go into any of them without hearing it—is free admission, for their Nationals without the restrictions at present imposed upon them by the great primary producing countries, which are the United States of America and the Dominions. We have no power in the matter. We cannot ask a single Dominion to allow a single German, Italian, or other national into their country. It was one of the powers, among others, which we gave away when we signed the Statute of Westminster. I am not quarrelling with the fact; I am merely stating it. Nor can we say to the United States, "You must admit Italian subjects." One of the main reasons for the economic difficulties in Italy to-day is the fact that whereas before the war millions, literally, of Italians in the United States of America—probably seven or eight millions—used to remit money to Italy, and a great number of them went over there for a portion of the year and came back again, that most valuable invisible export for Italy has been absolutely swept away.
We have never faced these facts at all. I am not criticising what the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary said. He was right in saying it, but in this as in so many other matters people have read into the speeches on foreign affairs made by our Government leaders much more than they contained. We have to remember the difficulties of the situation. As I know something of Nazi Germany, I can say that the most dangerous thing you can do at the present time is to say to the Germans, "Yes, you are a badly treated people; you must have expansion." They will take you at your word one of these days, and you will be faced with a situation in which you will have 64 to decide what is going to happen, if the countries on the East of Germany and the countries so laboriously, and in some cases so haphazardly, created by the peace treaties are invaded. Let us be very cautious what we say on these subjects, in the circumstances as we see them in Europe to-day, and with Germany out of the League.
Not a reference was made to that fact in the two speeches from the Opposition to-day. "You must depend," says the right hon. Gentleman, "on collective security." But Germany has nothing to do with collective security, at any rate through the League of Nations. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman would deal with that situation. By all means depend on collective security, upon what collective security there is. There is genuinely no difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on that matter. Die-hard Tory though I may be, I believe up to the hilt in collective security, if it exists.
§ Earl WINTERTON
That is the sort of foolish criticism, if I may say so, which we get in this country. I am sorry to attack the hon. Gentleman, who knows that I have no personal feeling in the matter, but that is the kind of self-deception of which a certain kind of Englishman, or Welshman, is so fond. "You ought to make it," he says. I suppose he thinks we have an omnipotent power to bring Germany back into the League, to bring Japan back into the League, that we can bring the United States into the League, that we can settle the Pacific question, the appalling difficulties that exist between Japan and the United States. The hon. Gentleman should read the book which was recently written by one who occupied an honoured position at the Foreign Office, in which he calls attention to the great difficulties in which the Foreign Secretary of this country is placed by the fact that, on the one hand, individual Members of this House expect the British Government to be omnipotent and, on the other hand, do not supply that Government, at any rate in peace time, with the materials in the matter of defence forces which alone can make a nation strong. They expect them to interfere in every quarrel all over the world. Napier says, in his great "History of the Peninsular War," that 65 the British people are at one and the same time the most unmilitary and the most warlike people in Europe. There is truth in that remark to-day. If you were to read the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), you would suppose we had such force that we could put down our band and say to any nation, "If you do not do this, we will starve you out." Talk of that kind is the best way to bring about a general conflagration in Europe.
In my opinion, we should continue to support the League and follow the wise course which my right hon. Friend has laid down. May I, as an old personal friend, pay him this compliment, that one of the things about him that most pleases me is that he is not a sentimental rhetorician. We have had too many sentimental rhetoricians on foreign affairs in this House and in this country since the war. I am not referring to any individual. I agree entirely with the course which my right hon. Friend has taken, but there is a complete answer to what the right hon. Gentleman opposite said in his last few words, when he thought he would put the party on this side in a dilemma by saying that if the League failed, then indeed there would be need for more armaments, but that if it succeeded, how could we go to the country and say there was need for more armaments? There is a very simple answer. The Navy to-day is, I think, equal to the task imposed upon it in peace and war, the task of endeavouring to preserve peace in peace time, of defending these islands, and of taking its part with the navies of other nations in the League of Nations; but that will certainly not be true of the Navy three or four years hence unless the programme of building is accelerated. That is a fact which everybody knows, and can be proved up to the hilt by figures and statistics. This is denied by no single naval authority—and they are not all "merchants of death," as they are so pleasantly described in the "News-Chronicle." One must not refer to a newspaper, but these same "merchants of death" are being invited by Opposition Members to supply Abyssinia with arms, so they have their use, apparently. It is not a question of the views of any armament firms. It is a fact, and I repeat that if we are to do our task and 66 our duty in Europe as I wish to see us do it, we must have forces which are adequate to that task.
There is not the faintest doubt that were our forces more adequate than they are to-day our power would be increased thereby. Going among foreigners I find the greatest difficulty in explaining how it is that at one and the same time we say that we are prepared to defend the right and allow the state of recruiting in our forces to be what it is. One foreigner in particular said to me, "How can you persuade the people of Europe that you are really in earnest when you have brought pacificism to such a length that no Minister of Labour would be able to hold office in any government for a week if he did what every Continental minister in a similar position would do, that is, put up recruiting notices in the Employment Exchanges?" I frankly do not know the answer to the question, and the only answer I gave him was, "You must not always take things at their face value. If you argue from some of the speeches made by Front Bench Members in all parts of the House that Great Britain would not be prepared in the last resort to defend the right on its own behalf or on behalf of other countries, you are greatly mistaken." That is the message that should go out from this Debate, because everyone agrees with it. People may differ as to the circumstances, but, except for a handful of people, we have, I hope, made it plain to the world that we are prepared to defend our pledged word to the utmost resort.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I hope that the House will forgive me for intervening in this Debate, but I would not be either true to myself or quite respectful to my colleagues if I did not take some part. The first thing I would like to say is that I am speaking from this part of the House because I most profoundly disagree with the use of the sanction of war either by the League of Nations or unilaterally by our own Government. I understand from the Secretary of State to-day that there is no question, and never has been any question, of the Government acting unilaterally, and that the question of military sanctions has not even been discussed between this Government and the French Government. I am very glad indeed to hear that statement, because that 67 is the matter on which I feel most deeply. I cannot judge, and no one can judge, whether economic sanctions will bring about war. As I think Mussolini once said, it depends on the kind of economic sanctions and if economic sanctions mean a blockade of any kind it will be an act of war. The fact that the sanctions proposed and imposed might lead to war and that my friends were prepared with the League to enter such a war, caused me to make up my mind that my place was not as the leader of the party, because if it came to that I should have to retire. I think that it is much better to deal with a situation of that kind before it arises rather than wait until it does arise.
The right hon. Gentleman the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has brought the House up against a proposition which people like myself, whether we are a handful or a large number, hold very strongly. It is that war settles nothing, that all wars leave at the end the seeds of future wars. We maintain that there is no need to ransack history to prove that, but that the affairs of our own lifetime, especially of the last 20 years, prove it conclusively. The last war ended in a tremendous victory for the Allies, of whom we were a part. That war coat in human life 13,000,000 dead in the armed forces, 20,000,000 wounded, 3,000,000 prisoners, 9,000,000 orphans, 5,000,000 widows, and 10,000,000 homeless. In addition, there was that innumerable multitude that no man can number who were killed or murdered through the blockade by the Central Powers of Russia after the Armistice. There is no account of those, nor of the millions who were killed by plague and pestilence, which in this country we called influenza, but which swept through the East as a plague always does. The Noble Lord also told us that we were not quite realists because we did not realise the number of dictators in Europe. There are not three; there are probably a dozen or more ruling over big and small States. The men in the War were sacrificed on both sides to make the world safe for democracy. They have made the world safe for the most brutal autocracy mankind has ever known.
Therefore, whatever you may prove to me as to what was done centuries ago, war has not settled anything in the period 68 in which we are living. Force has not accomplished the end which it set out to accomplish. I heard during the War many a sermon and speech to the effect that it was a fight for freedom and that once the German autocracy was destroyed the world would be safe. But no one in the House can say that the world is safe for democracy to-day. The world is in the grip of a worse militarism than before the War. All the nations are armed to the teeth and are trying to get advantage over one another in discoveries of ways by which to destroy one another. I am told that this is due to dictatorship, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) seemed to assume that if there were Free Trade this sort of thing might not happen. I would remind him that it did happen under a Free Trade regime in this country. Only in this Parliament have we become thorough-going Protectionists. It does not matter whether nations live under economic Free Trade or under economic Protection war seems to be the ultimate end of human relationships. The last War, the greatest war of all, has proved the utter futility of war to get rid of war. That is where I take my stand in this matter. I take my stand, as most hon. Members know—and I am not going to obtrude it on the House to-day—on the fact that the Christion religion is based, not on war, but on peace, love and brotherhood. The Noble Lord, however, would call that rhetoric, and I will not say anything about it. I am sorry he has left the House because he says he is a great realist. I want to know what more realism there is in his doctrine of security than there is in mine. If those millions were sacrificed in the War and anything had been gained; if you could show me any little thing that was gained by it, I might begin, old as I am, to reconsider my view. But it is because the Christian ethic is so realist that I stand here and say that you are pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp if you think that by rearming or by getting nations to unite in order to force something on other people you will not fail as all such things have failed in the past.
§ Captain Sir IAN FRASER
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to ask him a genuine and sincere question? He raises the point whether any good has 69 come out of defences. Is it not a fact that if we had not had any arms, and if young men had not been willing to fight, we would be under German domination and have lost our freedom?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has put a question which I have answered at least a hundred times at public meetings. I do not believe anything of the kind. I think that wars arise from conditions which would be cleared out of the way if men were sensible. I am certain that if we had not entered into the War the Germans would not have gone to war against us. No intelligent student of affairs would say that when the attack was made in 1914 Germany welcomed having to fight Great Britain at the same time. The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite beside the point for a further reason. We are told by everyone on the opposite side that the country is unsafe, that we must be prepared, if necessary, if the conditions arise, to go to war again and perhaps sacrifice even more life than was sacrificed in the last War. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman thinks that we gained security through those sacrifices, I disagree with him. If he could show me that we are safer to-day and will not have to pile up armaments in order to do the business all over again, and fail again—as, in my judgment, we should—I would be willing to listen to the arguments and consider changing my view.
I want to challenge the notion that the doctrine of pacificism, the alternative to militarism, is not a realist theory of life. The theory of militarism has been proved wrong, and it has been demonstrated after every war that the seeds of future war have been left. Otherwise, we would not be in the plight in which we are to-day. I maintain that the time has come when humanity, led by civilised Christian people, should move along a different line. That is the point to which I wish to come next. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, when he speaks to-morrow, he will not tell the nation—I think we are entitled to know—who are the enemies whom the Government think we may have to fight, collectively or individually? If we are to have a new Navy is it to fight in the Pacific against Japan? If we are to go on building an enormous Air Force and increase our land forces whom are we 70 going to fight? Which nation do we think is likely to cause us to fight?
The last time we had a really big Debate on foreign affairs it centred round Germany, and I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman to tell us tomorrow how it came about that within a few weeks of the country being warned of a terrible danger from Germany the Government, in spite of a treaty, helped Germany to break that treaty by making the new Anglo-German Naval Agreement? I am only an ordinary person and, therefore, perhaps I do not understand the heights and the depths and the breadth of diplomacy, but honestly I cannot understand the fear and trembling expressed in the speeches a few weeks before that Agreement was made or, indeed, the making of that Agreement. And I do not know now who it is that we are going to fight when we have this great Air Force, or who is going to fight us, or what they are going to fight us about. I think the Government ought to find out. I once said in this House that if I went to Geneva, stupid as it may sound and seem, I should ask the assembled nations why they wanted to arm. I was told that that was a very dangerous question. I think it is a very common sense question to ask. Why should nations want to arm? Why do they want to fight? I believe, and I think nearly everyone else feels, that it is very largely a question of what is called economics.
I wrote a letter to the "Times" which I am glad to think produced some discussion of the question of raw materials and markets and migration generally. Mr. Cordell Hull, the Secretary of State in America, our own Foreign Secretary and other leading men have discussed this question and have all said that it is one that must be dealt with. Why should it not be dealt with now? Even during a strike or a, lock-out we are told, "You must get the parties together." Why should we not, long before any dispute may arise with Germany in regard to the Ukraine or "the Corridor," or Memel, or anywhere else, call another conference and definitely ask each nation to put its case on the table in order to see whether it cannot be met? The right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who is not here, is one of the authors of the so-called Treaty 71 of Peace. There is not a man or woman in this House who will defend that Treaty now, not a single one. It was made under conditions of hatred and bitterness and vengeance which, I believe, all Europe and all the world would like to grow out of and forget.
Surely it is not asking too much to ask that before we go on arming, and before someone puts a match to the magazine which we are told exists in Europe, we should call together the nations and ask that the whole question of the Versailles Treaty settlements—all the questions relating to them—should be reconsidered. When I spoke in this way to one right hon. Gentleman in this House he said to me, "Yes, but supposing the other people will not do so and so." I do not know what would happen then, except that I know the conscience of the British Empire and nation would be quite clear in the knowledge that we had done our best to avert the catastrophe which everybody tells us is looming in the near future. I ask the Government and the House whether it is any less common sense to discuss these matters than to spend our time discussing how we are going to prevent a war arising because those conditions exist.
I come to another matter. I deny altogether the pleasant theory that is embodied in the line,God who made us mighty, make us mightier yet.I do not think God had anything to do with any war, either of conquest or anything else. I think that is the spirit of the Nazis, the cry: "We are the chosen race to rule the various parts of the earth." What I am going to say now will be very unpopular in the House, but I should like to tell the House that it is not so unpopular outside. I want our country, especially at this juncture to make a very big and generous gesture to the world. I shall not repeat the figures showing how much territory there is under the British flag or weigh up the advantages or disadvantages to the peoples who live under that flag, but I am going to say that, whether this House believes it or not, the thing you call civilisation is at the crisis of its fate, and that I do not believe the problem can be settled by what you call collective security or by the force of arms. Some nation ought to take action, and it ought 72 to be our nation, because we are the most powerful nation and we have a great deal that we can give. Not give away other people's territory or place people who are under our flag under the flag of somebody else. I have never said that, and have no idea of asking that it shall be done, but I want the League of Nations to become a League of Nations not merely for the purpose of stopping a war when it starts, but of removing the causes of war.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite said something about that to-day and also inferred it in his broadcast to America and in his speech at Geneva; but inferences are not enough. He said, as the Noble Lord said, that it is not so much a question of raw materials as of finding out what to do with the goods which have been produced from the raw materials. We all agree about that; but am I to be told that the wit of man can devise collective schemes of slaughter and cannot devise collective schemes for preserving human life by distributing the abundance that mankind is able to produce? Am I to be told at this time of day, that a suggestion that the nations of the world should be invited by Great Britain to come into conference on the basis of sharing the world with one another and the opening up of markets for each other is a stupid, pacifist, silly, sentimental notion and that mankind is not capable of doing it? I believe mankind is capable of doing it whenever one nation will take the lead, and I want our nation to take the lead. I want us to say that the days of domination are finished, that the days of what is known as Imperialism are finished for us and that we are ready to put our all into the pool of common service with the nations of the world.
Just think, every year millions die of starvation and the results of starvation in India—that is under our flag. No one can deny, too, that every year other millions in China die from the same causes. We are a great leading race. We are a race who, with the Americans and the Italians, have provided marvellous inventions, made marvellous scientific discoveries; yet the one thing we do not know how to do is to distribute the abundance these gifts give us, although there are multitudes of people needing them. Stupid as it may sound to this House—and I repeat that it does not 73 sound so stupid to ordinary people in the street—I say that unless some nation leads the way, unless some people blaze the trail for a new life in the sphere of international relationships, the day of doom is near. It does not matter very much to us older men, because we shall not be in the fighting line and we may not be anywhere near when that day comes; but to the youth of this generation and to the children of this generation it means everything; and it will come unless we are willing to say that we are not going to put our trust in armaments, or in a collective security based on armaments, but, instead, are going to strive might and main to forge a new system of co-operation in the world. We fight in the economic world and that leads to fighting in the other sense. We want now to start along the lines of co-operative service, to start along the lines that we pray about here every day. We want to start along lines which will show to the world that because we believe in this faith, because we believe it was given to us in order to enable the world to live in peace and amity, we are going to be as enthusiastic and as determined in finding a way out of this difficulty as we are when we are engaged in human slaughter. Give a tithe of the thought, give a tithe of the energy, give a tithe of the determination to win this fight for co-operation among men as you give to the fight to kill men, and you will win.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The House always listens to the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) with the greatest respect. We all recognise in him an idealist of the utmost sincerity, and those who are his strongest political opponents admire the integrity with which he has pursued those ideals, and is pursuing them at the present moment. That we disagree with them does not mean that we in any way disdain the motives which actuate him. My right hon. Friend has also claimed to be a realist. I cannot agree with him entirely, however, because I so fundamentally disagree with the conclusions at which he arrives. But I would like to say to him that I should be the last to say that there is not a very great deal of realism in the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman. What I admire most about him is the courage with which he 74 goes down to the fundamentals of the appalling evil which is threatening the world at the present moment, and on his criticism of the present system I am perhaps more in agreement with him than he would expect. But I would not go as far as he does when he says that war has settled nothing. I think that that is an exaggeration. But I do think that it is true to say that war is an incredibly stupid method of trying to settle international disputes, and that war can never be a satisfactory solution if we can possibly devise a better system.
But where I think his philosophy breaks down is that you are up against a large section of mentality in a great many countries of the world which entirely repudiates the whole of his philosophy. What I cannot understand about him is this. If he thinks that armies and navies are wicked and futile, how can he justify the existence of policemen? The internal function of our policemen is precisely the same as that for which this country maintains its Army, Navy and Air Force. My right hon. Friend shakes his head, but that does not dispose of the question. He was a member of a Cabinet which maintained a police force in this country. Why did they maintain a police force? Because they knew that unless you have policemen there are people in this country who are so wicked that they will plunder and oppress their neighbours, and the only way to meet their activities and their force is by bringing a stronger force against them. It is for that reason that in all countries of the world police are necessary, although the great majority of people may be law-abiding citizens, and when we maintain an army and a navy we maintain them for precisely the same reason—because we recognise that there is a large section in the world which will not submit to argument, to the dictates of justice, and which can only be answered with the argument of force. That is the dilemma we are in. I am not arguing that the system of armaments is an ideal system, but the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman entirely breaks down when you get up against the mentality of men like Signor Mussolini or Herr Hitler. The only country in the history of the world that I am aware of which followed the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman is Korea, which entirely disarmed, with the result that it lost its 75 national independence. I think that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for St. Pancras (Sir I. Fraser) was perfectly right in his interruption. If we had not stood up against the German power, this country would have lost its independence.
I rise for a short time to express my warm support of the action that the Government have taken in this very difficult crisis. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and some of my other friends, who feel that a grave mistake is being made. The whole League of Nations experiment has been an experiment in collective security. I have always supported the League of Nations and been a Member of the League of Nations' Union because I sympathise to a certain extent with the expressions of opinion which the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley has just made. I felt in common with many others after the last war that if anything could possibly be devised to prevent that catastrophe occurring again it was worth trying, and that it was the bounden duty of every man to support such an experiment. I never entertained sanguine hopes about the League, but I have always felt that it should be given a full trial, and that the experiment of trying to set up the principle of collective security is one that should certainly be tried. That is the policy which the Government have followed. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley and the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) both showed with the utmost clarity that individual action on the part of this country would be the negation of collective security. The whole success of the League of Nations experiment depends on our keeping step with the other members of the League. The moment this country assumes any obligation which is not assumed by the other members of the League it will at that moment have broken the principle of collective security. What is happening now is that collective security is having its acid test. We are learning a great many lessons. The whole process, apart from the tragedy of Abyssinia herself, is immensely important educationally for civilisation.
We have already realised some of the shortcomings of the League of Nations as at present organised for its task. It seems to me that the machinery of the League is much too clumsy in regard to 76 the early stages of any dispute, and that you require some amendment which, for instance, would have enabled the sort of action which has been taken during the last six weeks to have been taken last February or March. At present the constitution of the League does not allow it, because unanimity is essential in the early stages. If the League is going to survive—for that is what is on trial—there will have to be some amendment of its constitution to enable it to act in the decisive manner in which it has been acting, long before that crisis has arrived. The second lesson is that when the crisis does come the League acts much too slowly. I have been thinking during the last few days what would have happened if the League had been in existence in its present form in August, 1914. It seems quite clear that the Germans would have got to Paris long before the League could have got going. So if the League is to survive it seems very desirable that some reconstruction of its machinery should be gradually evolved to enable it to act more decisively in the early stages of a dispute.
We must all realise more than we ever realised before that the League can never be what its authors hoped it would be as long as some of the greatest Powers are outside of it. Although this experience has been of the utmost importance as an educational experience, as a politician I cannot help viewing the future with the utmost gloom. It seems to me that, whatever happens now, we are in for a major disaster. There are some of my hon. Friends who seem to view with equanimity the possibility of the Italians being defeated in Abyssinia. That seems to me to be the worst thing that could happen. You would still have done the same injury to the League of Nations, you would have had all the repercussions of white versus black in Africa, and all the incalculable events in Europe. The defeat of Italy by Abyssinia seems to me the worst thing that could happen. The second worst thing is the victory of Italy in Abyssinia. If they get away with it, as the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) pointed out, you will have smashed the League of Nations. The right hon. Gentleman advocated that if that appeared likely to happen this country should advocate in the Council of the 77 League the employment of military sanctions. But that avenue has already been explored.
No one could listen to what the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said on that subject without realising that if you are going to continue on the policy of collective security the employment of military sanctions is out of the question, because there is not the slightest prospect of getting that unanimity which is essential. So that it seems to me that when the right hon. Member for Darwen brought that forward as a practical contribution to the problem, he was departing from realities, and I should like to hear from my hon. Friend who hopes to speak later, the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), what the attitude of the Liberal Party about this matter is. I take it that they agree with the Government that collective responsibility demands the united action of all the principal members of the League. If some of the principal members have made it plain that they are not prepared to go to the length of military sanctions in order to enforce the decisions of the League, then collective responsibility has broken down at that point, and that is the situation with which we are faced.
The right hon. Member for Darwen skated off from that very difficult point on to—to use a mixed metaphor—King Charles's head, and he got back to Ottawa. It is no use pretending that Ottawa has had the slightest effect on this international situation at the present moment. I do not know whether he intended to go as far as that, but his words were open to that construction, when he said that a method ought to be made, as was also said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), by which the resources of the world were not denied to any great nation. That is the policy that the Government have announced, and it is very comfortable to know that that is a matter on which all the political parties are agreed.
I do not believe that that will remove the danger which we all know to be present. It is not, as a matter of fact, correct that the raw materials of the world are being withheld from any country. That is a complete delusion. Producers of raw materials all over the world are only too anxious to sell their raw materials. The difficulty is that they 78 cannot find purchasers for them. Although I warmly support the gesture of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I do not believe that that will be a solution of the problem. The question of territorial readjustment is absolutely outside the bounds of practical politics. Even if there were any party in this country who desired to hand over bits of the British Empire to any foreign country—and I do not believe there is—the British Empire is not willing to be handed over to other people. What right have you to hand over parts of Central, Africa to the Italians or to anybody else? From the point of view of colonisation that would be of no use to them. If you are going to hand over the countries in which white men can live, I wonder what the inhabitants of our Dominions are going to say about it? The whole thing is absolutely divorced from reality.
You are again up against a complete deadlock. I hope that the Government will persevere in what I have described as the process of education. That is the real thing that is necessary. World public opinion should be educated and exercised in the power of collective security. It is surely wrong to think that in one generation you can exorcise the spirit of war, which has been with mankind for thousands of years. If, as I hope, we are at the beginning of a new chapter in civilisation, and there is a future for collective responsibility, the process of that growth of the sense of collective responsibility and of the League of Nations functioning adequately, must necessarily be slow and long. The great thing is not to lose, patience and courage. That is why I think the spirit in which His Majesty's Government have tackled the question is so right and so wise. They have not held out exaggerated hopes and they have not used extreme language. They have simply led on the peoples of the world as far and as fast as they could go. That seems to be the right course to pursue, and I hope that the Government will persevere in it. I hope that they will also see that this country is adequately armed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen said that in certain eventualities no serious rearmament would be necessary. I totally disagree with that point of view. The outstanding lesson of the whole of this incident is that this country must be 79 armed adequately to our responsibilities and to our interests. If we had had a more adequate Armament the present situation would not have arisen.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Because armaments are what impress some people and are the only things that impress some statesmen. If Signor Mussolini had realised that we were going to move the British Fleet to the Mediterranean, and if he had realised that earlier, he might possibly not have gone so far.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent anything that I have said. I suggested that if Signor Mussolini had realised that we were prepared to move the British Fleet into the Mediterranean, he would not have gone so far. Rearmament is absolutely necessary now because the next crisis with which the League of Nations is likely to be faced may be with a nation a great deal more powerful than Italy. We cannot rely on having only to deal with a Power which is so very much weaker than England or France as Italy. It seems to me and to all my friends here that if we are to lead the nations of the world forward in the doctrine of collective responsibility it is absolutely necessary that we should have armaments behind us equivalent to that position and influence about which I have spoken, and to our responsibilities in the world. If the German fleet had been rebuilt we could not have done what we have done during the last few weeks. This country has been left in a state of the most dangerous unpreparedness. We all know that it was a generous gesture 80 of this and previous Governments to try to lead the world forward in the path of disarmament, but, like the generous gesture we made in regard to Free Trade 60 years ago, it has not been followed by the rest of the world. It is clear now that if this country is to speak with the authority which properly belongs to it we must have armaments that are adequate to that position.
Therefore, whatever happens, it has been proved that we have allowed our armaments to fall to a position in which England has ceased to carry the weight to which we are entitled, and which it, is the will of the people of this country to exercise in the councils of the world. If we are to play our part—and none are more keen than the Liberal party that we should do so—we must have armaments in order to ensure that what is decreed by international agreement can be backed by force if necessary. The position is relatively the same as that of the policeman at home. Unless you have a force to back your agreements, your agreements will be treated as scraps of paper. That is the lesson of 1914 and of 1935. I hope, therefore, that the Government will go forward in their policy of collective responsibility, but that they will see to it immediately that this country has behind it, and behind its voice when it goes to Geneva, adequate armaments by land, sea or air in order to enforce, if necessary, the authority of this nation.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) referred to the danger that would be created if Italy were defeated, but surely there is only one thing that matters in connection with this dispute, and that is that there must be a victory for the League. How that can be reconciled with a victory for Italy I do not see. We need to concentrate our minds on the League part of the situation, and other things will then take their proper places. I naturally listened with the very greatest interest and pleasure to the speech made by the Secretary of State because he was putting forward, on behalf of the Government, the policy which some of us have, for the last four year, been urging the Government to adopt. Although it is only in the last four months that the Government have, with energy, adopted 81 this policy, one is only too delighted to find that they are pressing it forward in the wholly admirable way in which they have been doing that at Geneva. Apart from any party considerations, I want to say unreservedly that I think the policy being pursued by the Government in connection with the League of Nations will have the whole-hearted support of every element in this country. I hope there will be no backsliding, but that the Government will go forward resolutely to the end on the same splendid lines which they have been adopting during the last few months. That kind of policy has made this country "mightier yet," in a better rendering of those words than is generally given to them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for League of Nations Affairs will be given an unopposed return at the General Election in order that he may go right back to Geneva and carry on the splendid work and the leadership which he has been pursuing.
It is a great change and a splendid thing to see this country once in a while leading the world as we ought to do and are so well able to do. It is a very great change from the experience of the last few years when we were cutting such a lamentable figure among the nations assembled at Geneva. While the Government have been cautious and wise in getting general consent towards the sanctions that they have adopted up to the present time, I hope that there is not going to be any slackening or going back. I was somewhat alarmed to see a recent development. The Minister for League of Nations Affairs has used words to the effect that sanctions must be immediate and effective, but it was a little surprising to find that after the embargo upon Italian exports had been agreed upon an interval of something like 10 days was allowed, although that had been agreed upon to permit the nations to discuss the proposal at home. On 31st October the meeting is to be held only for the purpose of deciding when the sanctions shall be put into effect. I cannot help thinking that there has been a change of attitude, possibly owing to opposition from some States out there, and that the immediate drive forward which seemed to flow from the words used by the Minister for League of Nations Affairs has not been able to take effect. I hope that we shall not come to the position 82 in which the only sanctions to be applied are those which are satisfactory to and which are agreed to by Signor Mussolini. From the quotation given by the Secretary of State it seemed to me that he almost envisaged that situation. Surely the sanctions that we ought to have in operation are those which Signor Mussolini does not like. That is the only kind that will be effective, and the fact that Signor Mussolini says, "I do not mind your doing so and so" is pretty good evidence that those sanctions will not affect the situation.
The Secretary of State mentioned the surprise which many States expressed at the attitude which we are now taking. We do not want to go into recriminations and criticisms of the past, but I cannot help thinking that those foreign statesmen have a good deal of foundation for their surprise. I cannot help remembering that in connection with the Manchurian crisis the then Secretary of State sat down with words to the effect that he would take care that, whatever happened, his country was not in any way involved. That is a very different statement from the clear recognition of our obligations which comes from the present Secretary of State. Then there was a remarkable speech made by the present Prime Minister at Glasgow on the 23rd November last year, when he used these words:A collective peace system, in my view, is perfectly impracticable.Now he is basing the whole of his national policy upon the collective system. That makes one rather doubtful whether this new mood will persist. I hope it will. I cannot help thinking that one very good reason which has encouraged and stimulated the Government in their present course is the National Peace Ballot, and the fact that it was thereby disclosed that, however you like to analyse and criticise the figures, no fewer than 12,000,000 people thought it worth while one way or another to give their opinion on the League of Nations and that 97 per cent. of them were in favour of backing the League. The Government, facing a general election, naturally will not overlook the fact that there are 12,000,000 votes going, and that they desire to have as many of them as possible. It is a very satisfactory state of affairs, and I hope that it will continue.
83 Some reference has already been made to the alleged and understood policy of the Government with regard to re-armament. I can quite understand that if the League fails, in the present stress and strain, re-armament on a considerable scale will have to take place, but, if it succeeds, surely that must lead the way to a reassembly of the Disarmament Conference and to international agreement to reduce armaments, based on the collective system. I am not giving that merely as my opinion; I am going to quote a Member of the Cabinet. The First Commissioner of Works, speaking at Stafford on the 3rd October, used these words:But if the League fails now, it is perfectly clear to me that we are in for a very big bill to pay—for you to pay—to restore and strengthen the defences of our Empire. I believe that is the issue which has been raised. That is the issue that will be discussed in all its aspects in the next few weeks and months. My belief is that, if the League is successful, we may not have to do a very great deal. But we shall even then have to do something, because the facts are pretty clear writ.That is a Member of the Cabinet, speaking quite recently:My belief is that, if the League is successful, we may not have to do a very great deal.There is one question in connection with re-armament and the wider interests of a general election which I think ought to be answered. Is it a fact, as stated, and as desired, no doubt, by himself, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) is going back into the Government? Is he going to be First Lord of the Admiralty? I think the people of this country are entitled to know that before they give their vote. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman himself would be quite willing to place his services at the disposal of the Government, and would regard the Cabinet as really incomplete without his undoubted talents; but the country may take a different view—I am sure they do—and I think the country is entitled to some guidance as to whether this addition is to be made.
Something has been said in this Debate as to the necessity for economic changes to meet the difficulties of surplus population and economic needs, but I cannot help thinking that that point is rather exaggerated, when one remembers 84 that Great Britain, France and the United States, with almost unlimited territory for surplus population, are in just the same economic difficulties as other countries. It has not helped them out of their difficulties. There is also the fact that, although Italy has had in Eritrea for the last 50 years 2,000 square miles of territory that could be populated by her subjects, there are only something like 400 Italians living there at the present time. Surely, the issue with regard to Italy is simply one of military glory for military glory's sake; it is purely political, and not really economic.
Some reference has been made to the imperfections that have come to light in the working of the League technique in the present dispute. One thing is quite clear. If it is working properly, as I hope it will on future occasions, some action ought long ago to have been taken under Articles X and XI of the Covenant, which declare that in case of any threat of war, the League may take:any action that may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations.Under that provision, obviously action should have been taken a long time ago to prevent the military preparations that were being made by Italy. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether it is proposed to bring into operation the Convention on Financial Assistance for States that are the subjects of aggression. There certainly would seem to be a good case for inquiry as to whether Abyssinia should be helped in that way at the present time. It seems to me that in view of the fact that at a very critical moment we saw fit to deprive her of the munitions she desired to purchase, we are under a special obligation to do all we can at the present time to enable her to make up the deficiencies and arm herself. The nations at the present time have to choose between one side and the other; they have either to stand for the League system or for the chaos for themselves and all others that is bound to ensue if the League collapses. I cannot see any reason why in the near future as the great military strength of Germany increases as it is doing every day, and every night, too, Germany should not march into Memel, and no doubt later into Danzig, the Polish Corridor, Austria, and, in course of time, France too, and I cannot see how under those conditions she 85 can expect or any of those countries can expect this country or the other Members of the League to lift a finger on their behalf. It has got to operate now in all cases, or, clearly, it is going to break down altogether, and I cannot help thinking that those Members of the League who are now unwilling to fulfil their obligations are running a very great risk, and are going to lose the sympathy of many people in this country who otherwise will have done all they could to assist them in their special difficulties.
It is sometimes said, and no doubt it will be said in this Debate, that sanctions mean war. I venture to say that the exact opposite is the truth. It is the belief that sanctions are not going to operate that means war. The certainty that they are going to operate in every case, in any part of the world, always, undoubtedly means peace, because no nation is going to risk the certainty of meeting overwhelming force. Have we not to get it into people's minds that in the next war the odds will be 50 to 1? If that is certain, there is not going to be a war. I cannot help thinking that the best example of the operation of the collective system is the British Empire at the present time. There are many attractive and remote spots, entirely undefended, that other countries would like to take, but they are never touched, for the very good reason that it is known that the whole collective system of the British Empire would come into effect at once, that the whole of our Army, Navy and Air Force would be there to protect that outlying spot. We want to see the collective security system which exists in the British Empire gradually extended to the whole world. To my mind the right principle in the application of sanctions is the police principle—the minimum pressure, the minimum force that is necessary, but all the force that is necessary. If we find in due course that the economic pressure that we are putting on in one way or another is not effective, and if troops are still going through the Suez Canal and thousands of Abyssinians are being slaughtered every day as the result of this breach of treaty, surely we must do all we can to see that steps are taken for the one thing that would really bring the war to an end—the severing of communications. It has been made quite clear, I think for the first time, by the Secretary of State to-day, that France is 86 unwilling to co-operate with us in any circumstances in the application of a sanction of that kind. That is a very serious and important statement. It is what I read into the right hon. Gentleman's statement. If it is not so, I shall be very glad to be put right.
§ Miss RATHBONE
Did not the right hon. Gentleman say that the matter had never even been discussed with France? If it has never been discussed with France, how can we know what France thinks about it?
§ Mr. MANDER
What I meant was that the details of the working out of military sanctions have not been discussed because privately it was understood that it would be waste of time to do so, since France could not be relied upon to co-operate. I believe that that is the situation; if it is not so, I shall be very grad to be corrected. We cannot act alone; clearly no one would suggest that; but I say that the duty is incumbent upon us, as supporters of the collective system, to put France up against it, as we have been doing all along—to make her choose every time whether she is going to rely on Italy or on Great Britain and the League of Nations. If that is done, she is bound to come down every time on the side of the League. If the collective system is in danger of collapsing through failure to take this action, I hope we shall show courage and resolution at Geneva and intimate to France that we regard as a test question the question of co-operation to stop the war in the only way then available through League action. If she is not willing to do that, then she can no longer rely on our support in any difficulty in which she may find herself. I think it is clearly understood, from what the Foreign Secretary said to-day, that, when he suggested the discussion of terms of settlement, he did not for a moment contemplate anything outside what has already been recommended and approved of by the Council of the League. To go beyond that would be a defeat of the League and a victory of the aggressor. I cannot believe that he meant to say anything else but that, because it would be quite inconsistent with the admirable policy which the Government have been pursuing on this matter right from the beginning.
87 At the present time we are at a high moment of history. According as the events of the next few months shape themselves, so will the lives of millions of our fellow-citizens throughout the world be affected. They will either, if the League succeeds, live long, useful and happy lives, or, if it fails, will be slaughtered and blown to pieces, as has been the case during the present generation. The whole question is whether we have yet learned, whether the world has yet learned, the lesson of choosing the only clear course that is marked out for the suppression of war in the world through the collective system of the League, or whether it will be necessary for another 10,000,000 to be slaughtered in the same way before that lesson is learned. I hope that the Government, by fearlessly pursuing the course they have adopted during the last few months, will yet save this country and the world from immeasurable disaster.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. MICHAEL BEAUMONT
The speech we have just heard is one that we should have expected to hear from the hon. Member with his burning, passionate enthusiasm for the League system. It was the speech of an enthusiast who is prepared to use all the phrases and threats of militarism to bolster up his particular method of securing peace. He urged the closing of the Suez Canal. He used a very significant phrase. He said we must put France up against it every time.
§ Mr. MANDER
The Government have made it clear at Geneva and elsewhere that they propose to carry out all their obligations to the full, including I understand the severing of communications if necessary, provided that it is collective and that the other nations will come along with them.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I entirely agree, but what the hon. Member is proposing is that we should use blackmail to make the other countries come along with us.
§ Mr. BEAUMONT
I know the hon. Member would not put it like that, but that is what it amounts to. That is a 88 point of view, perfectly understandable, that is held by a great many people. I want to look at this situation from an entirely different standpoint. I was profoundly interested in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). We all appreciate his sincerity, and with much of what he said we all agree. I agree most profoundly that, of all futilities, the war to end war was the must futile. But I found myself wondering why he ever consented to belong to a Government which had signed the Covenant of the League of Nations, and how be could be, as I believe he is, a prominent member of the League of Nations Union with all its implications, not excepting the Covenant. I have always gravely doubted the wisdom and efficacy of the League Covenant. I have always taken the view that there was very grave danger that we should be placed ultimately in a position when we should have to choose between engaging in another world war of League States versus anti-League States or of seeing the system of sanctions and the whole system of the League fail. I believe both those things would be disastrous. After all we have done I should dislike to see the system of collective security fail. I should dislike still more entering into another war on its behalf, partly because I believe it would destroy everything that the post-War generation is trying to build up. I do not believe for a minute that the severing of communications between Italy and Africa would end the war. It would merely widen its scope. I believe you would enter on a situation of which no man could foresee the end. I believe this would be brought about in all honesty as the result of the League Covenant, and I think, when all this is over, we shall have to consider our position with regard to the League and whether we shall not have to say in effect, "Can we be pledged in certain eventualities to sacrifice our youth to an organisation which, while it admittedly outlaws the rule of force and outlaws war, puts no other means of settling disputes in its place?"
To my mind the gravest part of this situation is that no response whatever by any other country has been made to what was, in my view, the most significant and the most important part of the Foreign Secretary's speech in which 89 he referred to the fact that conditions were not static and that methods must be found for redressing grievances. The tragedy of the League of Nations is that never in its history has it sanctioned a change of any sort except when it has been faced with a fait accompli or a threat. It has been said that the correct course for Italy was to place its grievances before the League of Nations. That, I admit, was the correct course, but does anyone seriously believe that a settlement would have been proposed by the appropriate committee if Italy had taken that course? If he does, I think he is extremely optimistic. It was almost inevitable that two other nations, Austria and Hungary, should decline to fulfil their obligations but, after all, is there not something to be said for them? They came into the League of Nations because they knew they would get no consideration if they did not. They believe that the Treaty on which it is founded is a treaty which has taken away what they consider their rights and liberties. Are they expected to have any feeling of loyalty towards it? It is unnatural that these things should happen, and I think they might well have been foreseen by those who drew up the Covenant. It may be that we shall have to say when this is over that we cannot continue in a situation such as this, that we must have a League to which people will adhere because they love it, and not because they fear it—a League based on the justice of its decisions rather than its sanctions and its fears.
But this is all for the future. The salient point now is that, whether we like the League or whether we do not, we have given our word, and to that word we must adhere. I am not going to enter into the question as to whether our juridical obligations would press us to go further than we are going or not so far. It is for the Government to get advice and to find out how far in fact we are committed. But, whatever the cost, it is never right and, to put it at the lowest, it never pays to go back on your word. For these reasons I, in common with the last speaker, whole heartedly support the Government's action. I believe that we are doing something unpleasant which we are forced to do. I believe the Government have handled this thing with considerable skill. Of course, it is easy enough 90 to criticise. The ordinary, average Member has not the access to information which the Government have and we are not in the middle of things at Geneva, and the nation is getting an erroneous idea from the Press. Some, like myself, are frightened of going too far. Some, like the last speaker, are frightened of not going far enough. I think, whether you like it or not, you have to trust the Government to find what is in fact the right and the middle path. Two things appear to me essential. The first is that we must keep our word, and the second is that we must do everything in our power to prevent the conflict spreading into a European war, which would defeat the hon. Member's ends as well as mine. In these circumstances the only thing we can do is to support and trust the Government to find, to use the hackneyed and time-honoured phrase once used by a predecessor in my constituency—I refer to Lord Beaconsfield—"Peace with honour."
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. McGOVERN
I have listened to a considerable amount of the Debate, and I cannot but feel that there is a great deal of shadow boxing going on. There is really no difference of opinion among the three political parties, the Government, the Liberals and the Labour party. They are all agreed on the application of sanctions, some believing that trade and financial sanctions will be all that is required, and others saying that it may entail military sanctions and you will have to be prepared to go the whole hog. We are debating this question previous to a general election. The Government are doing what they are entitled to do and selecting the most appropriate moment for themselves to face the electors in the hope that they may be sent back. The Leader of the Opposition has said that this is a trick election. I have never known any election to be other than a trick election. Go back and see the scares on which the nation has voted in previous contests. In January, 1910, it was "Down with the House of Lords". They are quite safe yet. In December, 1910, it was "The land for the people". The only land they got was in France. In 1918 it was "Hang the Kaiser"; in 1922 the new deal and "A land fit for heroes"; in 1924, the red letter and the Bolshevist peril; in 1929, "We can cure 91 unemployment"; in 1931, "Your post office savings are in danger", and in 1935, "Defend Abyssinia". It is because you realise that the nation is mostly made up of fools that you are able to impose upon them and play upon their credulity by asking them to engage in contests of that kind.
The Government are intending to go to the country. We say that the duty of the Opposition is not to whine about the Government going to the country but to put up a challenging force always anxious to give its 500 or 600 candidates an opportunity of returning into the arena to take part in the political hurly-burly and battle of life. It is not fair to their candidates that they should be running about making speeches about a trick election. They ought to take advantage of a trick election by raising the issues that appear to them to be the real issues. Is it not because they themselves have no real issue at the present time that they are in opposition to the Government? They agree with the Government in this policy of the League of Nations. I have always taken the view that the League of Nations was a sham and a fraud from beginning to end. I never believed the League of Nations stood for anything. There never has been, there is not now, and there never can be a League of Nations in which all the representatives of capitalist governments can agree on any one thing.
We saw, as was stated by the Leader of the Opposition, a World Economic Conference taking place a few years ago, to which the representatives of 65 nations came. The Prime Minister at that time, now the Leader of the House, made an opening speech expressing the hope that the deliberations of the delegates would be eminently successful and would contribute to the solving of the difficulties of unemployment, finance and trade throughout the world. It was apparent to any person who examined the speeches made that the Conference was soon in difficulties and was ready to disperse, because no two nations could agree on any one thing. Yet in this war you are expecting these 65 nations, who could not agree in an Economic Conference, to constitute themselves into a League of Nations and be eminently successful. All wars in the modern world are based on our economic foundations. The Conference 92 flopped at that time and the League of Nations flops now. People say, with regard to the Abyssinian dispute, that if the League of Nations exercised its power in a collective way it would mean not war but peace.
I will concede this to any defender of the League of Nations in this House or in the country—that if the League of Nations was a League in which all the members could unite against the aggressor, that would ensure peace. But we have to take a realistic view of the League of Nations. Germany is not in the League. America is not in the League. Japan is not in the League. Austria and Hungary to all intents and purposes might as well not be in the League, and we have a large number of the smaller nations who with the first applications of sanctions come along and say, "Who is going to compensate us for the loss of trade?" They are looking to the larger nations to compensate them for the loss of trade by the application of sanctions in the punishment of an aggressor. Therefore we find that this League of Nations is nothing less than a gigantic fraud from beginning to end. It was not brought into being for the purpose of being an effective instrument for preventing war. It came into being, in a war-weary world, after the last War. Politicians realised that they had appealed to mass public opinion in this country against war when they said, "Will you refuse to make the supreme sacrifice in order that your son need not to have to go through this thing again? Would you refuse to fight to end war?" That War was at an end. It was to satisfy mass opinion that the League of Nations was created, with the idea of creating confidence in the minds of the people that war was at an end, and justifying themselves in having undergone that great Armageddon of 1914 to 1918. The League of Nations is not effective. It cannot be effective, and those who say that you have to apply sanctions in order to prevent Italy from carrying on in Abyssinia have to realise that it is simply a question of steps until you adopt military sanctions.
If I believed in sanctions I would say to the British Government, "Your failure has been that you have not brought before the League of Nations, and got the representative there prepared to face the issue, the question of the use of military force 93 to prevent Italy from carrying on in Abyssinia." What is the alternative? The alternative is, as some people are already saying, to close the Suez Canal; to blockade Italy. But Signor Mussolini, having put 300,000 or 400,000 soldiers in the field, cannot desert them. If the lines of communication are cut, if Italy is blockaded, then Mussolini's alternative is to try to hack his way through. That means the submarine, the warship and the aeroplane, in order to burst the band that is being tightly tied round Italy. Therefore the alternative is war. I ask those who stand for sanctions whether, having applied trade and military sanctions, they are going to refuse to face the alternative of going ahead with the use of force? Sanctions mean warfare and the leaders of the Trade Union Congress admitted that. The leaders of the Labour party admitted that. The men who represented it on the front bench left the front bench because they were satisfied that it was committing the country to a policy of war.
What are the Government being blamed for to-day? They are being blamed for not being warlike enough. That is a transformation. I have heard Liberal speakers to-day. They remind me of the man speaking at a public meeting who went on for so long that someone told the chairman to get him down. The chairman replied that he had already pulled his coat tails but it was no good. The chairman was told to hit the man on the head with his stick. Just as he was about to do so the speaker moved and the chairman struck another man on the head and knocked him unconscious. They tried to revive him and as he recovered he said, "Hit me again; I can still hear him." That reminds me of the Liberals. They go on. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton East (Mr. Mander) has got the name in this House of being a bloodthirsty man, and I believe his complaint against the Government is that in order to ensure peace they have not gone to war.
The last war was to end wars. This is going to be the war to stop war. I have no time for that. When at the Trade Unions Congress Mr. Bevin went forward to the rostrum with the votes in his hand of 500,000 transport workers for sanctions, he had never consulted one transport worker as to where he stood in 94 the issue, and he committed the bodies of these men to an expedition for Abyssinia. If Mr. Bevin wants war let him give his body for war. When I advocate war I will give my own carcass for war but not before. Members may talk of Mussolini. If these men had the power they would outdo Mussolini—these so-called democrats. They do not represent the common people of this country. I go from one end of the country to another addressing meetings, week-end after week-end during the Recess, and the rank and file of the working class have repudiated entirely the policy of the leader of the party enunciated to-day. That is why they are afraid to go to the country. They cannot stand and defend a sanctions policy of war, the policy of throwing working-class bodies into the struggle again. They talk more like retired Admirals and Generals than leaders of the working-class movement. They go on shouting bloodthirsty threats, and the joke of it is that a number of them earned their stripes in the Labour movement as conscientious objectors. The Abyssinian dispute to us is an Imperialist quarrel between Britain and Italy. Abyssinian independence has gone long ago. In 1906 this country and France and Italy discussed the carving up of Abyssinia. In 1923 Abyssinia was compelled to protest to the League of Nations against Great Britain, France and Italy carving up their territory.
The hon. Member for East Hull (Brigadier-General Nation), as reported in the "Daily Mail" to-day, sums up the situation. He said we have got to deal with Italy now because we cannot allow her to dump herself down in Abyssinia. It is threatening British interests and we may be compelled to deal with her at a later date. There is the cat out of the bag. That is our position—that this country is not thinking in terms of poor little Abyssinia. This country has its bag full of poor little Abyssinians, in India, Africa and Ireland. These territories are only held by the threat of the rifle, the sword, poison gas and the bomb. Therefore I do not believe that this country is actuated by any high moral motives. During 50 years in Queen Victoria's reign this country had 32 wars, large and small. We waged war on people in every part of the world and we come out now as the old gentleman of 95 80 who has lived a riotous life beginning to moralise to the rest of the world.
Mussolini is playing the same game as Britain has played. Italy is struggling within the framework of capitalism to obtain colonies in the same way as Britain has obtained them. An Empire must continually be on the alert to defend every part of that Empire. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) says that foreigners are amazed and wonder at us not being able to put up recruiting posters in Employment Exchanges. I said, in an interjection, that we did not require to. You apply your means test. That is your recruiting threat, and it is a much more effective recruiting poster than anything on the Continent—compelling people to do your work in the Army, Navy and Air Force.
I cannot get away from this point of view, expressed in connection with this dispute. Every speaker I have heard has side-stepped the issue. The Leader of the Opposition side-stepped it from beginning to end. He was afraid to make the real challenge to the Government that he ought to have made. We say it is regrettable that there is a war in Abyssinia between Italy and Abyssinia. We say that the duty of the statesmen of the world is to confine it to the narrowest limits. It is not going to make it better by throwing the whole of the British nation into the struggle against Italy, and then Germany jumping off into Austria and Memel, Japan jumping into China, and every nation trying to extend its territory and involving the whole of the nations of the world in a blood bath. We are not standing for that. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has said that he refuses to send or urge one single Birmingham lad to give his life for Abyssinia. We say that we refuse to stand for, or encourage British workers giving their lives in a war of this kind, a rival controversy that is taking place between imperialist nations, Britain and Italy, and that Abyssinian independence is not in the picture.
Even the Committee of Three have offered Italy tracts of territory. They not only offered railways, the post office, the police, the Blue and White Niles and the telegraph services, but everything. What was left for Abyssinia? If the Abyssinian 96 natives and the Italian workers had intelligence they would simply throw down their rifles and refuse to fight. That is the only way to end war. If the Italian workers had the intelligence to use machine guns on Mussolini and the Italian ruling class, it would be a more intelligent thing than going out to Africa and slaughtering poor subjected natives in that locality. If the natives of Abyssinia had intelligence they would tell the Emperor and his chiefs to go to the front and face the Italian hordes, and that they had nothing to lose. No matter who wins in this dispute the natives of Abyssinia are going to lose. They are only the pawns of the game being used by capitalist Britain and capitalist Italy.
We in this House have no heart or part in the conspiracy to throw the working class into the struggle. I believe that the die is cast, and that war is going to take place between Britain, the so-called remnants of the League of Nations and Italy. The only thing I would say about the National Government is that they are rushing the election, and that when it is over sanctions can go on. Then if they discover that sanctions are of no use and that Italy is going ahead, they can call for military action and throw the workers on to the battlefield. If that sort of thing takes place, I hope that the working class of this country will refuse to go, whether encouraged by trade union leaders, bishops or any other persons, and that they will refuse to fight in a struggle of that kind. If trade union leaders want war, let them go and fight. I will say that at least Liberals and Tories who have advocated war have generally taken part in war, but when working-class leaders begin to support war, they are looking for some cushy job, or a job in a Coalition Government in order to escape war.
You have no right to speak of the working class and say that the workers stand for military sanctions. You have no right to go to the poll and say to a poor innocent woman on the doorstep "Are you in favour of peace?", and receive the answer, "Yes, I am in favour of peace." "Do you believe in preventing the aggressor from making war on another member of the League?" "Yes, I am in favour of that." "Are you in favour of the application of sanctions 97 to prevent war?" The good woman does not know what sanctions are, whether, for instance, they are something wrapped up in paper or not, and she says "Yes," because she thinks that it is something which is going to prevent war. They say, "There you are, the people are behind us, and they stand for the application of military sanctions." That is a sham and a delusion. The people to-day are getting to know what sanctions are. The word "sanctions" is a new name for war. That is what sanctions are.
The people will not be hoodwinked, and those who attempt to lead this nation into war will discover a revulsion of feeling and a revolt which will sweep the Government out of existence. The workers have been trained by you to use rifles in the past. You have in your institutions—I saw them not many weeks ago—men who are blind, and who have been driven insane. They are lying on beds and only know that they are alive. You see on the faces of some of them a look of cruelty and ferocity, and on others fear. They practically gave their lives to prevent their sons from undergoing another blood bath, and yet you come along and say, "You are expected to do the same thing again."
We say, as a group, that you cannot abolish war so long as you have the capitalist system in operation. It is an illusion to think that any capitalist League of Nations, with its contradictory and conflicting interests, can unite itself against any one aggressor. The private ownership of the means of life is the real cause of war. It is the ownership and control of oil, gold, potash and coal. When they want another stir-up of things they use the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. They talk about him and his great and heroic achievements. He has done nothing at all. He has simply gone from Moscow to Berlin, to Austria, to France and round about from place to place, but he has accomplished nothing at all. He cannot accomplish anything. He is only the servant of his masters, the capitalist class. He has to obey the bankers and those who "run" and dominate this country. He has to act at their bidding, and any Government owned and controlled by the capitalist class has to carry on their job and dirty work. We do not stand for another war over Abyssinia. That is the one settled 98 policy of the Independent Labour Party. We do not approve of sanctions of any kind. We say, "Confine the conflict to Africa." It does not matter to the native in Abyssinia whether it is Mussolini or the Emperor; they are both equally bloodthirsty and tyrannical persons. There is nothing to choose between them. We are not interested in them. The people will be exploited, plundered, robbed and murdered under either dictator. I appeal to the Labour Party to apply reason to this situation.
The League of Nations, now that the leading nations are out of it, has been proved a fraud and a failure, as it was bound to be. Cut the cackle and say to the leading classes of this country, "The League of Nations is an ineffective instrument. We wash our hands of it, and refuse to commit our party to warfare. We stand out against war and the capitalist system."
§ Mr. McGOVERN
That point is put to us often. Russia has entered the League of Nations. That is Russia's affair. I do not mind Russia doing what she wants to do, but I think that it is an act of impertinence for Russia to think that she is going to dominate the whole of the working-class movements of the world. Let her join the League of Nations. Lenin said that it was a League of bandits and a thieves' kitchen. I believe that when Lenin said that he was saying the truth. Litvinoff, in a desire for a peace system in Russia, has attempted to tie himself up to capitalist nations in order to get that security. No capitalist country would go to war to defend Russia. They would use Russia, but would never be used by Russia. Therefore, I would say to Russia that the only thing with which she has to defend herself is military and physical power, plus the consciousness of the working classes of the world that would rise and revolt if they threatened war on Russia. I believe that war on Russia threatened by Germany would produce a first-class revolution in Germany, which would give an opportunity to the German people to overthrow Hitler, and to do the job which they only half did after the Great War. Russia ties herself to France, and she is seeking to tie herself to Britain in a military alliance. In Russia they 99 have secured the overthrow of their masters. That which applies to Russia does not apply to Britain. We are carrying on the conflict against capitalism.
We do not say, "Send me to the House of Commons and I will back the National Government in war." If you said that you would be repudiated. I know the feeling and revulsion growing in the country against war, and as far as Abyssinia is concerned, we say that we shall have no heart or part in a war between two Imperialist powers or two capitalist nations. We have the pacifist attitude, although we are not pacifists. We have never been pacifists. We believe that it may be essential to use force to dethrone the ruling class, but we say that force should not be the major operation. There should be a change of mind first. You are never going to get a change of mind if you pander to every single thing that takes place in this country.
The Labour party, in my estimation, have failed in this situation, because they have not a clear conception of their duty in the working-class movement. A large number of their leaders were war mongers in the last War. You cannot be an anti-militarist during peace time and a war monger during war. It is a case of swimming against the tide, which is a difficult thing to do. The Labour party have sold the pass. Their leaders have gone over completely. They might as well on this issue go to the country as part of the National Government, because if you stand for the application of military sanctions, then in order to back that up you cannot stand against a great armaments programme. If you are in favour of the use of armaments you must be in favour of the most effective mechanised Army, Navy and Air Force you can produce to meet the situation.
We do not know the fortunes of the ballot box, but even if this were the last speech that I should make in this House I say frankly that my job as a working-class agitator is to lead the working class in revolt against the capitalist class, and not to leave them behind the capitalist class in war. We will carry on the struggle of enlightening and stimulating the working class to discontent and to operate for the overthrow of the capitalist system. We are not in favour of a tremendous display of force. We say that 100 rifles as well as defending capitalism can overthrow capitalism, and we ask the workers to bear that in mind for the struggles that lie ahead.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Sir HENRY FILDES
It is some years since I had the opportunity of addressing this Assembly. I listened with very great interest to many of the speeches that have been delivered, and I am reminded of a notice that I once saw displayed on a chapel in a road in London, to the effect that: "The Rev. John Jones will preach here next Sunday. Subject, 'Have we learned the lesson of the great depression?' Mrs. Brown will sing 'Search me, O God.'" I can only be very thankful that the speeches in this Assembly are not more fully reported in the newspapers. If the policies of the hon. Members whom I have heard to-night were all incorporated into a national policy for this country, the Government's policy would be like a dog's breakfast, all bits and scraps.
I am here to tell the Government that the people of this country expect them first of all to do their utmost to maintain the League of Nations in action, imperfect though it may be, and to leave no stone unturned in order that sooner or later a perfect machine may be evolved for substituting arbitration for armed force as a means of settling the difficulties of the world. The League is not perfect, we all know, but the alternative is of such a character that our Government would indeed fail in their duty to the people if they did not make the support of the League a cardinal point of their policy. I hope that before the Debate closes, somebody will tell us whether it would be quite in order for the League of Nations to put an embargo on all petrol going into Italy, and into Central Africa. If that importation could be stopped, it would inflict greater penalty upon Italy than any refusal to buy Italian lemons, as one hon. Member indicated, and would give an indication to the world that the League of Nations intend to suppress as far as possible the activities of a nation which has been guilty of this outrageous attack on a fellow member of the League. The Government must stand by the League of Nations, which is imperfect, and try to improve it. If I did not believe that the Government in essentials were standing 101 100 per cent. behind peace and the achievement of peace and the abolition of armed force eventually, I should not be here speaking in support of the National Government or voting for them. I thank the House for listening to me.
§ 8.32 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
Although that was not a maiden speech, I should like to say how much I enjoyed the wit and cogency of the hon. Member who has just spoken. I found it a little difficult to understand the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). I wonder where he could find in the world people to agree with him.
We shall see, possibly within three weeks, how many electors of Shettleston agree with him. He objects to an incomplete League of capitalist States, but it was pointed out to him, quite fairly, that that is not the view that contemporary Russia takes. It would take a long time to set up in the world a league of Socialist and Communist Governments. Does he wish us to wait until he and the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) have spread their widely varying views of the Socialist State before we can rid the world of anarchy If that had to be our task would indeed take a long time.
Unlike the hon. Member, I think that Great Britain is entitled to have and to confess that she has interests in the world. I do not shrink from admitting that the British Empire and the League of Nations are mutually dependent. I would ask the hon. Member to bear in mind that in any fighting that might be caused by sustaining the Covenant of the League of Nations, I, like another hon. Member who spoke earlier to-night, might certainly be involved. Perhaps the hon. Member will remember that while I am unfolding an argument entirely contrary to his own.
Earlier to-day the House listened with its customary respect to a speech from the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). His chief theme seemed to be that war settles nothing. There is some truth in that, at least to this extent, that it seldom or never yields what the aggressor expects 102 it to yield. War has been defined as an international duel. While it may be true to say that war does not settle anything or yield that which is expected of it, it is true to say that force settles a great deal. Within our national boundaries it keeps the community orderly and makes the life of citizens tolerable. Indeed, I think the immediate task before the family of nations is to discover and apply the proper use of force. On the other hand, I do not agree with the analogy which was advanced by the noble Lord the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). I do not think a national force can be likened to a police force, because a national force may be used to break the law whereas the police forces are never so used.
But I cannot understand what the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley really wishes the Abyssinians to do today. Does he really think it is a practicable policy to invite that dauntless and indomitable people to-morrow to lay down their arms and surrender to the Italians? The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) referred to the primitive conditions which prevail in that country. That is admitted, but is anything known in Abyssinia so savage in practice as the unprovoked action of the Italians? The Noble Lord warned the House against the excuses which are advanced for the aggression of various States. I think we ought to take with many grains of salt the plea that Italy needs expansion. Italy, I believe, has a density of population of 390 to the square mile. In this country, England, we stand as dense as 650 to the square mile, yet this country is the centre of, and to some extent controls, vast unexploited areas of the globe. Therefore, I suggest that the mere possession or acquisition of territory do not by themselves constitute a remedy for unemployment or over-population. I would ask hon. Members never to underrate the power of British prestige in the world. Mark the measure of agreement which has been secured at this almost the first effort to obtain collective action about sanctions, the measure of agreement secured by the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. Frankly, I rise tonight to support His Majesty's Government—
There is a reason for the change, if there be a change, and I will show the hon. Member and the House the cause underlying that change. Ever since the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) became Foreign Secretary our foreign policy has been correct, chivalrous and inspired. We have heard a good deal to-day about armaments and it has been said that their dimensions and their use depend on policy. If I felt that I had been wrong on previous occasions in the present Parliament in voting against an increase in our armaments I should be the first to admit it, but I am prepared, if necessary, to justify my action. In July of last year I voted against our first step in the armaments race because at that time the Disarmament Conference was neither moribund nor buried. Here is the oblique reply made by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), who has since been promoted to the Home Office:I cannot help thinking that there are some crowded towns in the Midlands and in the North, constituents which voted, without distinction of party, for the return to this House of hon. Members sitting in different places to support the National Government, towns at present quite open and unprovided against a possibility of air attack, which will be much inteested to see how their faithful representatives comport themselves on this occasion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1934; col. 2443, Vol. 292.]"Open and unprovided against air attack!"—Did not the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) say on a famous and historic night:I think it is well also for the man in the street to realise that there is no power on earth that can protect him from being bombed. Whatever he may be told to the contrary the bomber will always get through."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1932; col. 632, Vol. 270.]If that be a true statement there can be no final protection against bombing merely by the construction of counter bombers. Earlier in the present year the White Paper on defence filled me with irritation and despair. It seemed to epitomise that political paralysis which fell at one period upon the MacDonald Government. Under the sovereign initials J. R. M. there was served up to the country a pudding of prewar platitudes. There was one phrase in particular which demanded a very strong stomach of its reader: 104Ineffective defence means not only waste but defeat.I think it deplorable that such a question-begging sentence should appear in a serious State paper. There is no defence in isolation; that is generally conceded. The only possible future defence must depend on collective security; and the MacDonald Government seemed to be killing by implication the very policy which their successors have publicly unfurled as their banner at Geneva. How was I to know that this simple Simony was to end so quickly? Then on the Air Estimates I ventured to vote against an increase, but I said that I would make my vote dependent on the Government's reply to my plea for support at Geneva for an international air police force. I will quote the reply given by the right hon. Member for Hythe (Sir P. Sassoon).Here I may also answer another question of the hon. Member for West Leeds about our long-range policy and what we are doing about an international police force. The hon. Member knows as well as I do that an international police force is a very visionary thing at the moment. If we could only succeed in getting the Western Air Pact established, that would be for the moment the international Air Force of Europe."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd July, 1935; col. 1620, Vol. 304.]Although I earnestly hope that when this Government is returned, as it will be by an overwhelming majority at the polls, it will press for a western air pact of mutual guarantee. It is wrong to imagine that this western air pact is in any sense a substitute for an international air force. Indeed, the national forces on which the pact would be founded would, in the nature of the case, be the very antithesis of an international air force. But that is the past, and 11th September has been generally felt throughout the country to be a turning point in our foreign policy. The Foreign Secretary by the speech before the Assembly at Geneva created in this country a virtually united nation, and I am disposed to trust the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Chelsea and the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). If they really feel they need their hands strengthened in pursuit of a League policy I am not the one cantankerously or churlishly to seek to deny to them that measure of armaments which they require. But we should reserve to ourselves the 105 traditional right of this House carefully to scrutinise every estimate presented to us. We are entering without doubt days of difficulty, danger, and delicacy. It is a good thing to know—and I think it is necessary to stress this—that our foreign policy is today in the hands of honourable and clear-headed men. In representing the national policy today in this crisis they need all the loyalty we can give them. The right hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee), upon whose elevation I venture to congratulate him, referred in a recent speech in the country to the death-bed repentance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Does he not know that there is joy in Heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance? The ninety and nine just persons who may conceivably constitute the Parliamentary Labour party in the next House of Commons may indeed be glad that it was not a Labour Cabinet which had to decide how to treat the unjust and unprovoked aggression of Italy.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse said today that he could not acquit the Government of all blame. I wonder what attitude would have been assumed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Bristol had they been the twin heads of a Labour Government in this present emergency. We heard today from the Foreign Secretary the statement that we have not particularly much to gain from maintaining the League of Nations. I think, with great respect, that statement requires modification. The chief interest of the British Empire is peace and no nation and no association of nations stands to gain more from the maintenance of the League than the British Empire and the United Kingdom. Let us not forget that under the terms of Article XVI Italy has been convicted of an act of war against all members of the League. I believe that the States members would best serve the causes of their own dignified authority, of justice, and of humanity by rapid and drastic action.
The Foreign Secretary said he believed that these economic sanctions would be effective. I put this point to the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. How soon does he imagine that these economic 106 measures will avail to strangle the war effort of Italy? The League's immediate task is to end the bloodshed and, with a full consciousness of the necessity for collective action, I would say tonight that I, personally, am for severing communications between Italy and her African colonies. Probably, almost certainly, Great Britain could achieve this operation single-handed, but she must act at least with France in the name of the League. His Majesty's Government have deservedly won the highest praise for their efforts and leadership. I could wish them now to say to France, "Co-operate with us in denying to Italian vessels access to the Suez Canal. If you cannot join us to-day you may find opinion in Great Britain reluctant in any future emergency to discharge those obligations which guarantee your security." That kind of submission to France was described earlier to-day as blackmail. It is not blackmail. It is assuring and sharing the security of Europe.
§ Mr. RADFORD
The hon. Gentleman said he would advise that step to be taken in order to end the bloodshed immediately. Does he call the substitution of bloodshed between European Powers for bloodshed between Italy and Abyssinia, the ending of bloodshed?
I do not for one moment accept the hon. Member's proposition that that kind of naval sanction would involve bloodshed. I do not believe that Italy's navy is so suicidal as to run, as against an iron wall, upon the combined strengths of the French and British navies just north of the Suez Canal. There is no doubt about our physical power in combination with France and as far as my knowledge can carry me—and I submit this very humbly—I believe our legal competence is no less clearly established. The Treaty of 1888 would not, I believe, arise, if under sub-section (ii) of Article XVI we prevented Italian vessels coming within three miles of the northern mouth of the Canal. In any event, if the Treaty of 1888 is an obstacle to the effective working of Article XVI, then Article XX of the Covenant, unless its language is mere fustian, must be held to abrogate the obstructive treaty.
But the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), whom I do not see in his place 107 although I informed him that I was going to criticise him, said the other day that he would not send a single Birmingham lad to his death for the sake of Abyssinia. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, hon. Members may applaud that statement but there are some comments which I have to make upon it. Incidentally, the right hon. Gentleman without informing me, or I believe any of my fellow Members a few months ago described in Leeds those who had organised the peace ballot as "political gangsters." Many of us will be grateful for that bouquet. We may be certain, whether it is Birmingham or Leeds or London, or whatever other part of the country is mentioned, that no lad is going to be safe if the first and last fragments of collective security are finally shattered and dissolved. I have no immediate tie with Birmingham. My main interest happens to lie in Leeds. Nor can I, perhaps, be described in any sense as a lad. But I am still competent, if necessary, to wield a rifle and I do not share the pacifism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook to the extent of shrinking in the last necessity from upholding, by any means, our country's solemn obligations.
No one can predict how this emergency may end. I think it is extremely unlikely but it is just possible that there might be fighting, which might involve some of us in this House. From that warfare indeed some of us might not come back. But whatever the issue of that conflict or any future conflict, whatever elder statesmen are in power when the League and this country win the final engagement, I beg them, I earnestly entreat them, not to allow hostilities to culminate in another Treaty of Versailles. If one looks a long way ahead there is profound truth in much that is said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley. He has, as it were reached the truth in a single bound. But we have to discover first where to put force. We have to put force in the right place and then perhaps we may eliminate the use of force. The first thing is to establish justice in the world. The League's immediate task is to see that Abyssinia is justly treated. When you have enthroned justice, you may open the door to love.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. MOLSON
I am sure the Government must have been extremely surprised and very much gratified to find, after having reconciled the official Opposition and the Liberal Opposition and, indeed, most of the country, that they have now been successful in rallying to their banner my hon. Friend the Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams). If anything could have given them greater satisfaction than that, it must have been to find the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) among the small number of people in this country who criticise their action. I should like, speaking on behalf of the three parties whom the hon. Member for Shettleston described as being united in support of the Government's policy, to take mild exception to his claim that he and his two colleagues are the only Members of the House who are really competent to express the opinion of the masses and that it is those three Members and not the three parties in this House who accurately voice the point of view of the country. It is only one further indication of the fact that the hon. Member differs from his two colleagues only in that he does not enjoy a sense of humour.
I have only on two previous occasions ventured to intervene in Foreign Office debates and on each occasion it, has been to urge the Government to bring about closer and more intimate relations with Italy in order that these two countries, who are guarantors of the Treaty of Locarno, might use their influence as honest brokers to bring about happier relations between France and Germany. I say that to show that I have no animus against Italy.
Like most other speakers today, I rise to say how heartily I support the policy which the Government have followed up to the present time in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. I listened with interest and admiration to the speech by the Foreign Secretary. Those of us who saw his work at the India Office saw something of the Inflexibility of his character and know that the lines which he has once adopted he will pursue to the logical end. I was only sorry that in discussing sanctions today he did not say anything about the need for sanctions being effective and immediately effective. He drew a distinction 109 between economic and military sanctions. I do not believe it is really possible to draw any such distinction and certainly he did not draw the distinction which perhaps is drawn in Article 16 of the Covenant between paragraph I and paragraph 2. It seems to me that the only real distinction is between effective and ineffective sanctions. If the sanctions are effective, and certainly if we carry out the letter of the Covenant—the prevention of all financial, commercial, and personal intercourse between the nationals of the Covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State, whether a member of the League or not"—sanctions of that kind will probably provoke the aggressor into armed resistance. If, on the other hand, the sanctions were ineffective, then, in order to carry out the spirit and the letter of the Covenant, it would be necessary to supplement those sanctions by something which would make them effective. I feel that there is a danger that the League, in its natural and proper desire not to use any more force in these sanctions than is necessary for the purpose, has tended to forget that the principle at stake is collective security and not collective punishment. When I heard the Foreign Secretary refer to the steady and increasing pressure of those economic sanctions, I felt that that was of very little comfort to the Abyssinians at the present time. It is rather the position of a man who has been mauled by a lion, and it may be satisfactory to him, but it is not entirely consoling, to know that that lion will be tracked and ultimately shot. I do not wish to overstate my case. It is obviously of importance in this test case that it shall be shown that in the long run aggression and defiance of the consensus of opinion of the League does not pay, but there is one step further than that, which I believe we have got to go. There is no possibility of getting any kind of disarmament which is based upon a belief in collective security unless the victim of the aggression obtains immediate support, and I feel that every day, every week, and every month that the present invasion of Abyssinia goes on makes it less likely that any power in Europe will be willing to agree to disarmament in reliance on the support of the League of Nations.
110 We who are supporters of the League can claim that, largely due to the courage and tact of my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs, during the last three or four weeks the League has achieved a success which six months ago the so-called realists would have said was impossible. It is the first time in history—a very notable fact—that a country has been condemned almost unanimously by the nations of the world, but I would point out that that very fact makes possible a disaster that would be far greater than a refusal to carry out or obligations; that is, that after a solemn condemnation of Italy, a military dictatorship, resolutely led, may be able successfully to defy the consensus of opinion of the world, and that this incident should finally end with terms for Italy more favourable than those which were offered to her before the invasion began. It is for that reason that I was very glad to note that the Foreign Secretary did not say that military sanctions in the last resort were ruled out. I do not admit that they are rightly called military sanctions, but only that they are sanctions which may prove necessary if economic sanctions should not prove effective.
I entirely agree that we cannot act alone and that we must insist upon collective action by all the nations in the League, but I understand that to mean that we should be justified in using our naval units with the naval units of France and of Russia to stop transports, if they were acting under the direction and with the sanction of the League of Nations. I do not understand that principle to mean that, because it would not be possible for Switzerland, Sweden, or Norway to bear the same burden in discharging those responsibilities, that is a, reason why we should refuse to carry them out. I think the principle of collective security implies that those who have great power and great resources should be willing to bear the greater part of the burden of carrying out the common duties of the League.
There is one other point which I do not think has been raised at Geneva by my right hon. Friend the Minister for League of Nations Affairs. I refer to the wording of Article 10 of the Covenant, namely:The members of the League undertake to preserve as against external aggression 111 the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all the members of the League.If that is carried out in the letter and in the spirit, it means that in this case we shall do all that can be done, not merely, as was said by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, to shorten the war as much as possible, but also to make certain that the war shall end in the preservation of the integrity of Abyssinia. For that reason I say that, as I understand Article 10, the matter should be considered whether the loyal members of the League should not give financial assistance to Abyssinia, in order to obtain arms.
I have tried to express my feeling that what is of the most vital urgency is that the sanctions shall not only be in the long run effective, but that they shall be made promptly effective. In order that that may be so, it is obviously necessary that we should have the full and hearty co-operation of France, and I would like to make one or two observations about the attitude of France during the last few weeks. Perhaps it is really unnecessary to add to what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) in an interview which he gave to a French newspaper. No one can speak with as much authority, and few of those of us who count ourselves as friends of France would have spoken with so much moderation.
During the last two years there has been a current of opinion in this country in the direction of our undertaking more explicit commitments in order to maintain the collective system, but the attitude of France during the last few weeks has caused a very severe setback to that movement. I do not believe that in the long run it is possible for France to do anything but keep pace with us in supporting the Covenant of the League. In the first place, there is France's logical position. What has been her position in Europe ever since the War? She has been standing on the letter of the Treaty of Versailles and of the Covenant. Germany, on the other hand, has been saying, "You ought to modify the letter of the law in order to bring it into harmony with the changed facts of the situation since 1919." In this Abyssinian dispute 112 it is Abyssinia which is claiming to stand on the letter of her rights under the Covenant of the League of Nations, and it is Italy who says that she was one of the nations who were disappointed at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, that she is a virile and expanding nation, and that it is necessary to modify the legal rights of Abyssinia in order to meet her legitimate aspirations. It is obviously impossible for France to stand on the letter of the present legal situation in Europe and also to admit the force of Italy's argument in the case of Abyssinia.
In the second place, France, fearing—I think naturally and legitimately—that Germany might seek to alter the present situation in Europe by force of arms, has been endeavouring ever since the War to obtain the most full and explicit undertakings on the part of other nations, and in particular of Britain, as to what amount of support she could rely upon in the event of her being the victim of aggression. Now exactly the same situation has arisen in the case of Abyssinia, and yet France is the most unwilling of the nations effectively and forcefully to go to the assistance of that victim of aggression. In the third place, I find it difficult to understand the attitude of the French Government because they do not seem to realise that if Signor Mussolini as the head of a totalitarian state in Italy, is able to defy the League of Nations and to do so successfully, it will obviously be the greatest encouragement to Herr Hitler to do the same in the case of Germany. It seems to me that during these last few weeks Monsieur Laval has been going through all the motions of sanctions without any desire to make them effective, and there has been an attempt to make a solemn pantomime of it. I can understand his natural reluctance to sacrifice the agreement which he made in January. It was not only a diplomatic triumph for France, but a great personal success for himself, but it is obviously impossible for anyone to have his cake and eat it.
If the Foreign Secretary follows the same policy that has been pursued until now, it will be obvious to France that she really has no choice unless, in the first place, she wishes to give up the whole of her logical position in Europe in which she takes the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant of the League of Nations as the 113 basis of her policy; and, secondly, because it would mean the choice between the friendship of Italy and the friendship and co-operation of this country. We are sometimes accused in this country, and I think with some justice, of having regarded the League of Nations as a way of getting security on the cheap, and we have allowed our armaments to fall below what is now necessary. In the last few weeks it has become apparent that in the case of France the League of Nations has been regarded as the basis of French policy for what France can get herself. When it is a matter of giving the same guarantees of security to other members of the League, we find this strange and regrettable reluctance.
If we are to defend, as I think we must, the status quo, it is because in any system of law possession is defended as such. It is only after possession has been defended that a court will go on to consider the rights of property. If my watch is stolen from me I can go to the courts for their protection, and it is only after the watch has been restored to me that any question can be raised as to how I came by that watch and whether I came by it legally, but that must afterwards be considered.
I was therefore very glad that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary in two speeches lately has referred to the need for making some provision whereby the nations may be given some opportunity for economic expansion. In his first speech at Geneva he referred to the question of the supply of raw materials, but in his broadcast speech to America the other day he came, I think, nearer to the real crux of the difficulty of the situation. It is not that these nations are in any danger of being denied raw materials; it is that they are in a difficulty over obtaining markets for their manufactured goods. We should return in the case of Africa to the principle of the open door. Two complete changes of policy have been made by this Government which I deeply regret. The first was the application of the Ottawa Agreements to the Crown Colonies; and the second step, and one that was far graver because I think that it was morally indefensible, was the imposition of quotas upon Japanese piece goods on the Crown Colonies, in several cases in face of the express disapproval of the Legislatures of 114 those Colonies. It is in the direction of making all the Colonies of Africa open to the exports of all countries upon equal terms that I see a real hope for the future.
My right hon. Friend in his broadcast to America the other day referred once more to the need for a lowering of tariff barriers. I would have nothing to do with pressing for the lowering of tariff barriers in British Colonies unless we were given some fair and adequate return in the shape of a reduction of the duties in French Colonies. I hope also that there might be a means of obtaining some reduction of duties in European countries. Something has been said today of a surrender of British territories to unsatisfied powers. Anything of that kind I should deeply regret and strongly oppose. Today, except in the North-East and North-West, Africa is practically a demilitarised continent. There is, as far as I know, only one naval base in Africa, and there are not more than two or three air bases. If there were any surrendering of African territory to Italy or Germany, I have very little doubt that it would result in the spread of militarisation into that continent. I believe the real hope for the future is rather in the direction of the open door in Africa, which I hope may afford a means of negotiating for a lowering of tariff barriers elsewhere. This would be to the economic advantage of those countries, like Italy and Germany, which are at present suffering from economic compression, and it would, I think, be at any rate one step in the direction of the pacification of that part of the world.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Sir HUGH O'NEILL
I hope the House will not take it amiss if, before saying a word or two on the subject of this Debate, I refer to the passing today of a great Parliamentarian with whom I was associated in this House for some years. I refer to Lord Carson. I am certain that Members of this House, from whatever party they may come, will agree that Parliament has, by his passing, lost the one great House of Commons man of this century, a man who inspired the devotion of those who followed his leadership and who was essentially loyal to Great Britain; and I am certain that the House will not think it presumptious of me, on this occasion, 115 to mention this before saying a word or two in the Debate.
One cannot help feeling that the world is watching to-day a great drama at Geneva. We are entering upon the testing time of the League of Nations, and all people throughout the world are watching to see whether or not it is going to win or to lose. I personally have always been a strong supporter of the League of Nations. I have been for some years president of a local branch of the League of Nations Union, and remembering as I do, in common with many Members of this House, the War, I have done all I could to try to promote the League of Nations, which, after all, is the only thing which stands between us and the horrors of another similar war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs made today, if I may say so, an admirable speech, as a result of which I believe that the prospects in Europe will be brighter. The League is undergoing its great trial, and, after all, one cannot but realise that the League of Nations today is, unfortunately, a very different body from the one which we visualised after the Great War. One of the ironies of the position is that the United States which, after all, was more responsible for the conception of the League of Nations than any other country in the world, should not be a member of it. Germany is not a member. Japan is not a member. The League of Nations is, consequently, a somewhat emasculated body, and when we consider what it is I suppose that it has not done so badly during the last few weeks. My right hon. Friend explained very fully the difficulties which obviously face the League in this very critical period. I can imagine how difficult it must be to get anything like unanimity among some 53 or 54 nations, and we have not got unanimity, but with the League as it is there are over 50 countries which have agreed that in this controversy Italy is the aggressor and that certain sanctions should be imposed against her.
It is true that some States are dissentients—Austria and Hungary and, I believe, Albania; and the League has also, as the hon. Gentleman who preceded me stated, had to face great difficulty in the attitude of France. I agree with 116 him that the attitude of France has been very disappointing indeed to those who are supporters of the League of Nations. There has been a hesitation, there has been a "havering," there has been a reluctance to fulfil the definite obligations of the Covenant, which many of us who are friends of France have been sorry to see, but that, I hope, has now been rectified by the recent note from M. Laval in reply to questions from this Government. May I ask my right hon. Friend a point upon which I am not quite clear? Has the reply of the French Government to our question as regards naval assistance been published or not; and, if not, is it the intention to publish it? I am not quite clear on that point. I rather assume that, as the question was not published, the answer will not be published, but it does seem to me that the French answer to this question must be of such paramount importance to this country, and, indeed, to all countries who are concerned today at Geneva, that one would like to know what answer the French Government has given to our request as regards naval assistance in case of necessity. I do not in any way want to press for the answer, but we do hear something about secret diplomacy and the disadvantages arising from what passes between governments without the knowledge of the Parliaments and peoples of the countries concerned, and I personally hope that it may be possible for the French reply to our question to be made public, so that we may all know exactly where we stand.
My right hon. Friend said in his speech that we had not initiated very much at the League of Nations, that we had merely been acting in close conformity with the other members of the League in pursuance of our obligations under the Covenant of the League. I think nobody will deny that the whole initiative and the driving force of whatever the League has done within these last few weeks has come from Britain. One wonders what would have happened in the League of Nations if Britain had not taken the leading part. I doubt very much whether the League would have done anything, because so many of the other member States have obviously been reluctant to shoulder their responsibilities. One is glad and proud to think that this great country has been responsible for whatever drive there has been and whatever 117 success has been achieved, and that without it very little indeed would have been done in the recent meetings at Geneva.
With regard to economic sanctions, my right hon. Friend referred to the possibility of a settlement between Italy and Abyssinia before the time came for putting economic sanctions into operation. That means that there is to be a delay before economic sanctions are made effective, and I understand this is to be at any rate until 31st October. Everybody in the House and in the country who wishes to see the League of Nations effective, and to see it triumph, desires that these economic sanctions should be pressed if no settlement can come, and should be made effective. It is no use barking if you are unable to bite and do not intend to bite, and, much as we all desire a settlement, I hope that my right hon. Friend and the Minister for League of Nations Affairs are determined, if no settlement can be reached, to do all that they can to get other nations in Europe, in conjunction with ourselves, to make these economic sanctions a really effective step and something which will help towards bringing about the end of this unfortunate war.
Many Members to-day have referred to what would happen if the League of Nations succeeds. In my view, if the League of Nations succeeds it means that there must be a settlement with the concurrence of Abyssinia and Italy and of the League of Nations. If that happens, then I think we can say that the League will have succeeded in this first trial which it has had to face. If it does succeed I most devoutly hope, and all Members who support the League will agree, that afterwards it may be possible so to enlarge the League of Nations as to bring in those great Powers who are now out of it, and who may again come in if it has been able to achieve success in this issue, so that in the future the League will be a larger and more powerful and altogether a grander instrument than it is at present.
Suppose that the League of Nations fails. In my view the League will have failed if Italy and Abyssinia make a separate peace. Obviously, if peace is reached direct between the two belligerent parties without the concurrence of the League we must envisage the fact that the League of Nations has failed. What 118 then? The other day the Prime Minister said that even if the League failed he would still go on trying to bring about some similar organisation in Europe, that he would still hope against hope that the possibility of aggressive war would cease. It seems to me that sooner or later one's patience is exhausted, and if the League of Nations really does fail on this issue we shall be bound to reconsider our position, to reconsider whether we can continue membership of a so-called League of Nations which will have been unable to fulfil the tasks on which it is now engaged. In that case we should obviously be free of all other commitments in Europe which at present bind us.
In any case, whether the League of Nations fails or whether it succeeds, I strongly agree with those who say—and indeed it is now the Government who say it—that the time has come when this country must be certain that it is sufficiently strong in its defensive forces to meet whatever dangers may be before it. We have been disarming unilaterally for many years, but other countries have not disarmed, and the time has come, and I am glad to note that the Government fully realise the fact, when we have to take whatever measures may be necessary to bring up our forces to what may be required to carry out not only the defence of our great and far-flung Empire, but our obligations on the Continent and elsewhere. I understand there is likely to be a General Election before long, and I presume that one of the issues at that election when it takes place will be this question of strengthening our defensive forces. I hope that when the Government approach that matter they will not do so in any halfhearted spirit, and that, if necessary, they will promote a loan, taking advantage of the present state of the money market in which loans can be raised very cheaply. I hope that the Government will raise a defensive loan in order to cover what must, of necessity, unfortunately be a very heavy expenditure, and which we shall have to face in regard to armaments in the years to come.
I would say a word of warning. I said a few moments ago that, in my belief, the speech of the Foreign Secretary would lead to a great improvement in the international situation. Difficult 119 though the position is, it is at this moment far from hopeless. It seems to me that there are three main features which may lead us to a certain amount of cheerfulness. One has been the speech of the Foreign Secretary to-day, a very conciliatory speech, which, I hope, will find a repercussion in the Italian Government. Secondly, we have the French efforts for peace going on continuously both inside and outside the League of Nations. Thirdly, we have the rather remarkable and very cogent fact that, in spite of everything, Italy remains a member of the League of Nations. Consequently one cannot help thinking, grave though the situation undoubtedly is, that there are rays of hope in the immediate future. I hope that, as a result of the speech of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon, we shall be carried still further towards a settlement within the League which all persons who support the League can support. The Debate today, so far as it has gone, has shown, as was indeed well-known, a remarkable unanimity in support of the policy of the Government. If that policy is continued on the same lines, one can only hope and pray that before long this difficult international situation will be satisfactorily cleared up.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Major NATHAN
In the speech of the Foreign Secretary this afternoon there was not, as might have been expected, a plain statement of the case either against Italy's aggression or of what had taken place at the meetings of the Council and of the Assembly of the League of Nations. The speech was rather a defence of the Government, and of what seems, from the record given to us by the Foreign Secretary, to be a perplexed groping for a policy. Had the Government had from the beginning a clear and well defined objective, and had they realised well beforehand the course which they intended to pursue in order to reach that objective, the present situation might well be very different from what it is. This House has been called together, in anticipation of the date upon which it would have normally have reassembled, for the purpose of discussing the situation arising out of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. The House has cause for complaint against the Government that no statement and no White Paper have been issued for the 120 information of Members as to what has taken place. The result is that hon. Members are dependent entirely upon the reports in the newspapers. We have no official information, and there was little in the speech of the Foreign Secretary to give us information upon plain matters of fact as to what has been said and done at Geneva. The speech was, as I say, a laboured defence of an insufficiently considered policy. If we had a White Paper setting out the position we might expect to find incorporated in it details of the proposals that have been put before the Council and the Assembly, and adopted by them or their sub-committees. No such thing has happened. There has been general discussion in the House today on the subject of sanctions but neither from the Front Bench nor from any other quarter of the House has there been any statement as to what the sanctions are to which the House is to be invited—if indeed it is to be invited at all—to assent as a result of the deliberations at Geneva.
The Prime Minister, in answer to a question this afternoon, stated that the sanctions would be imposed under an Order in Council to be issued under the Treaty of Peace Act, 1919, but the Prime Minister has not told us and the Foreign Secretary has not told us, nor have hon. Members, apart from their position as members of the public, any information, as to what sanctions are proposed. Like other hon. Members I have studied what has appeared in the Press on the subject of the proposed sanctions. On the whole those sanctions do not seem very formidable or very likely to be effective—or immediately effective. Far from being immediately effective there has, in substance, been issued to the Italian Government an invitation to make them ineffective. The whole world knows that the sanctions, such as they are, are not to become effective in any case until after the end of this month. Only at the end of this month will the responsible body and organ of the League meet for the purpose of deciding when those sanctions are to be imposed. Meanwhile there is an interval. Let me take what seem to me to be conditions that prevent the present proposals from being really forcible and effective sanctions. There is nothing, so far as the League is concerned or so far as our domestic law is concerned, to prevent Italy from raising 121 in this country now, and for this country to afford to Italy, any credits which they might feel inclined to grant.
I have seen it suggested, and I gather, from the Foreign Secretary's laughter, that he apparently agrees with the suggestion, which is false, that it is impossible for Italy to raise credits in this country now. There may be some difference of opinion as to how far credit of this amount or that amount is really useful to Italy, but let me equally assure him—and this may surprise him—that there is not the least difficulty in raising in this country substantial credits. The exact amount I cannot give, and apparently the Foreign Secretary does not know it, but he may take it that substantial credits can be raised in this country. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I have no reason to think that the sources of my information are better than his; it would be a shameful thing were it true; but does he realise that for some time past, for reasons into which I need not enter here, Italians have been making large investments in countries outside the League—that private persons have been making large investments outside Italy? Notices have appeared in the Press with regard to some of them. Surprise was expressed, I think it was in the "Times," at the very large investments which Italy had in, for instance, Poland. It will also be known to the Foreign Secretary and to hon. Members that the Italian Government have taken steps, I will not say to distrain, but to put what I would call a sort of lien upon the foreign assets of Italian subjects—nominally upon Italian subjects resident outside Italy as well as Italian subjects inside Italy. Every Italian subject inside Italy—I say nothing about those outside—can at the present moment, on the security of investments in this country, whether in real property or otherwise, raise by way of bank loan or otherwise any credit that he requires, in the same way as if no sanctions were in the air at all.
There may be a difference of opinion—there is plenty of room for it—as to the amount which is thus available among the territories of the League Powers, but the Foreign Secretary may take it from me, if he will, that the amounts are comparatively large, and certainly surprisingly large. Until recently there was very little idea how large were the investments 122 which, over a comparatively recent period, Italians had been making in the territories of League Powers. All those investments are at present available to Italy for the raising of credits and there is nothing in our law, nor is there anything as far as I know, but here I say frankly I am subject to correction by the Foreign Secretary, in the law of other League Powers, which would prevent the raising of sums in that way at this time, and at any time before the sanctions become actually effective by the domestic law of the land where they are being enforced. There is a very large gap there, and we know that Italy has already taken advantage of that situation some little time ago, before, indeed, the sanctions were actually on foot, so far as France is concerned, and with the assistance of the Bank of France. There seems to me, therefore, to be a really large gap in the whole sanction arrangements so far as they have gone. It may, of course, be, and I do not doubt that it will be, that, when it is decided that the sanctions shall become operative, that gap will be filled, but meanwhile it remains, and until the sanctions are in force Italy is as free to raise credits here, if she has the security upon which to do it, as if no sanctions were even in contemplation, much less defined by the organs of the League.
As I have said we must rely upon the information that we can obtain from the Press as to the nature of the sanctions. We have been told that they are to be made enforceable in this country by an Order in Council issued under the Treaty of Peace Act, 1919. There seems to me, and I think there will seem to other Members also, to be something a little ironical in the fact that an Order in Council is to be issued under a Treaty of Peace Act to damnify, not those who were our enemies in the late War, but those who were our friends and our allies. As far as I remember, the only Orders issued under that Act were Orders issued for the purpose of regulating the sequestration of German property in this country. I should have hoped that the Government would have put before the House special legislation which would have enabled us to discuss the subject-matter of these sanctions. Under the Treaty of Peace Act, an Order is issued. It does not come before the 123 House of Commons at all, though it is true that it can be discussed within 21 days of its issue; but by then this House of Commons, if rumour speaks truly, will no longer have any existence. The result will be that a Government deriving its authority from this Parliament will be issuing Orders for which it is not answerable to this Parliament. And let it be remembered that the Order can not only make provision for the organisation of the sanctions and for their enforcement, but also for imposing penalties for breach of the Order. It is, I think a novel procedure that a Government should face an expiring Parliament with the suggestion that sanctions are to be imposed without this House having any opportunity of discussing them, by methods which are not to be revealed to this House, and with penalties for non-observance upon which this House it to have no opportunity at all of expressing a judgment. It is a novel procedure in our constitutional history. I greatly regret that the Government should not have introduced a Bill, or even placed upon the Table the draft Order, so that we might at least have had an opportunity of seeing what it contains, what are the actual sanctions which it is proposed to enforce, and what are the penalties to be imposed upon British citizens for any breach of the Order.
I agree with those who have said that sanctions must be effective, and must be effective at once. For the reasons I have indicated, and for others, it is clear that they will not be effective at once. It is not even proposed that they should come into operation until next month at the earliest, and whether they will be effective or not lies in the realm of conjecture. At least they cannot be effective for a long time to come. How do we come to be in the position of having to impose sanctions under a Treaty of Peace Act against one of our allies in the War which led to that peace? The real fact of the matter is that, although the Foreign Secretary has proclaimed, in his very notable speech at Geneva, that the Government are and always have been profoundly attached to the League of Nations and the principles embodied in the Covenant, nobody has believed it. Mussolini has flouted the League because there was so little evidence that Great 124 Britain had any faith in it. The Government, it is true, is supporting it now but, judging by its past record, it is impossible to say how long that support will last. It is, indeed, a last minute repentance. The Government have by their neglect of the League in the past contributed to the present international situation. I hope they are going to remain firm in their adherence to the League and the Covenant. We hear talk of negotiations with a view to reaching a settlement. I trust that the negotiations will be within the framework of the League, and I earnestly hope, for I consider that it will be fatal otherwise, that Signor Mussolini will not, as a result of any negotiations and any settlement resulting from them, be in any better position than had his aggression never taken place. It would be fatal to the League were he to be advantaged as the result of this grave breach of international law.
No one has believed that Great Britain under this Government was sincerely attached to the League. Look at the outstanding points of the last few years. Take the peace ballot. It will be long before the people of the country forget the speech made by the Home Secretary when he said that those who were advocating the peace ballot were determined by hook or by crook to get an answer satisfactory to them. It is true that he subsequently withdrew in part what he had said but he never withdrew that, because he could not. He was giving voice to the opinions of those upon those benches. Then there was the Naval Treaty with Germany, to which little reference has been made to-day but which certainly affected the mind of M. Laval. The Government have a responsibility there. Above all, there is the position that the Government took up in regard to the Sino-Japanese dispute. Why did not the Home Secretary then make the speech which the present Foreign Secretary made at Geneva last month? He has in his time framed many acid indictments. He has never framed an indictment so acid and so convincing as that which must be written now on his own heart and mind, for there sits the man of all others to whom the present situation is due. Had he acted differently we might not now find ourselves discussing sanctions and war.
125 It is not only the past actions, or failures to act, of the former Foreign Secretary. There are grave questions of policy adopted by this Government which have had their effect on the general situation. I remember, when Protection and Ottawa were discussed, saying that the House could take its choice. It could have Protection or it could have an Empire but it could not have both Protection and an Empire. That prophecy has proved true. The closing of the open door of the markets of the Colonies and the Dominions to other nations has had its effect in producing the present situation. I do not know if hon. Members have read a very remarkable memorandum by the late Sir Eyre Crowe, a very distinguished permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, published among the Official Documents leading up to the great War—a bad omen. Sir Eyre Crowe pointed out in 1912 that the British Empire would only be tolerated by the other nations of the world as long as it observed the open door, and he went on to show how, if that open door were not left sufficiently ajar, war was the inevitable outcome.
The Foreign Secretary at Geneva the other day, and again to-night, has referred to the proposal that raw materials should be made more available to the other countries of the world, but why does he make that suggestion only now? It is not a new suggestion. It has for some time past formed part of the programme of this party. As long ago as 1919, at the very first meeting of the Assembly of the League of Nations, the question was raised by the Italian representative. In its present actions Italy has been influenced, no doubt, by its failure 16 years ago. The question was raised again at the Economic Conference of 1927. What has the Government done about it? Last month the Foreign Secretary said it was a subject for prolonged inquiry. Why has not that inquiry taken place already? The Government seems to me to be justly subject to grave criticism upon that count. It is not an exaggeration to say that the road to Ottawa has led to Adowa. In all these matters the Government has been too late. "Too late": that is its epitaph. It was too late in settling reparations. It was too late in conceding equality of status to Germany. It was 126 too late in presenting our disarmament proposals to Geneva. It was too late in withdrawing the ill-begotten proposal for retaining the right to bomb from the air for police purposes. It was too late in this dispute in saying where Britain stands. It was too late in bringing the matter before the League. It was too late in proposing sanctions. It was too late in dealing with the matter of access to raw material. It was too late in removing the embargo upon arms to Abyssinia. The words "Too late" have been written by this Government across the Continent of Africa. Let us hope that they will not be so written elsewhere.
The right hon. Gentleman to-day said: "Let us see if the League will work." I pray most sincerely that it may. If it does, then all this talk about rearmament will go by the board. At last we shall be able to have a truce in the building of instruments of war and shall be able to devote ourselves to the creation of the machinery of peace. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in one of those mischievous speeches which he sometimes makes on the public platform, speaking either at Kelso or Glasgow the other day—I forget which, it may have been both—said that Great Britain had not sufficient armaments for its self-respect. He said that we must embark upon a programme of rearmament. The "Times," in a leading article a couple of days ago, rebuked him and those like him for suggesting that this country was too weak or the defence forces inadequate for dealing with any situation which is in sight. It may be that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was going on to say that the making of armaments was a new industry for the distressed areas. But not even that now—some day he said a beginning may be made, perhaps in a few years' time. That is the programme of the Government through the mouth of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. With regard to armaments, let me say frankly and openly that we stand in this position, that armaments must not go below the lowest standard compatible with national safety. But equally they must not go beyond the standard which is the lowest compatible with national safety. If the hopes of the Foreign Secretary are fulfilled, if the League is successful in this grave matter on which it has embarked, the case for 127 rearmament will have gone and the brighter day, when we may hope to see really effective disarmament, will have dawned.
§ 10.9 p.m.
§ Miss RATHBONE
The last speaker has cast against the Secretary of State the charge of tardy action, which the right hon. Gentleman in his speech repudiated with some heat. And yet I think we must acknowledge that if the voice of the great majority of thoughtful citizens in this country could have made itself heard in two words at the time he made his great speech at Geneva those two words would have been first "At last" and then "Too late." The right hon. Gentleman, with loyalty to his predecessors, has repudiated the charge. He told us of the warnings that were given to Mussolini several months ago, beginning last January. But, after all, the adequacy of those warnings must be judged by the results. Signor Mussolini did not take warning. Either he disbelieved the intention of the British Government to take strong action or he disbelieved in the power of the British Government to carry the rest of the League with it. The right hon. Gentleman implied indeed that he could not, in fact, speak out as strongly last April or when the Council met last June as he did in September, because he felt then that he could not carry the rest of the League of Nations with him, that public opinion was not ripe. But what was at that time being done to ripen public opinion? Has it not been the disadvantage of the method which has been tried until recently of negotiations carried on by leading statesmen behind the scenes that it has failed to influence public opinion so as to give the driving force that was necessary?
Suppose it could have been made plain to the whole world some months ago, in January or even June, that it must be collective security for all or for none and that if the League failed in this dispute not only the Covenant but the Locarno Treaties must be reconsidered, is it conceivable either that Mussolini would have ignored the warning or that other countries would have turned a deaf ear? At that time Italy was not committed; she had not sent her soldiers to Africa, had not spent her money; and it was not a choice for other countries 128 of retaining friendship with Italy or loyalty to the League. For years past the assumption has been, apparently, at Geneva that strong action should only be taken in face of aggression when aggression had actually taken place. Article 11, which makes preventive action possible, has been practically ignored. Let me quote an instance of this. After the Stresa Conference the League appointed a committee to deal with that very question of preventive sanctions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has said publicly that that committee has never even met, but it must have met because it appointed two sub-committees, both of which have reported. The strange thing is that so little has been thought about them that those reports have not even been printed. I asked in July that they might be made available to Members of the House, and was told that they were only reports to the main committee.
The last and most effective memorandum issued by the League on this matter, that of M. Brouckere, expressly laid down that:the whole spirit of the Covenant protests against the idea of the inaction of the League until the crime has been committed.and that:the surest outcome of such delay would be the destruction of the League itself and the death of all the hopes which the nations have built on it.He then goes on to quote the relevant articles. It seems, however, that since 1928, the date of M. Brouckere's memorandum, the whole idea of preventive sanctions, indeed of economic sanctions generally, has been put into cold storage. Is that not perhaps some explanation of the difficulty found now in applying the economic sanctions promptly and effectively? In the unprinted report of the sub-committee which was published the other day I noticed one sentence which, I think, perhaps affords some clue to the neglect of this subject:Restrictive measures of this kind are only too likely to involve some of those engaged in production or dealing in the designated commodities in the participating countries in loss. It would not be possible to measure such loss or to compensate it and the fact that sacrifices might be imposed upon private interests is one which must not be overlooked.129 Precisely; and is it not just because the whole question of economic sanctions, until quite recently, has been left to the discussion of experts who are themselves connected with financial and commercial interests likely to be prejudiced, that the subject has been so ignored? Suppose the public generally had been seized of the idea that in economic sanctions there was an enormously powerful potential weapon against war, is it not probable that they would have brought such pressure to bear on the experts of the League that they would have found some means of overcoming this form of opposition which sees a positive danger that private interests may be affected?
We are approaching a General Election. I hope that the Government will remember that the public is perfectly aware that the inconsistencies and the delays in the past dealing with this dispute have not been merely due to inconsistencies and differences of opinion within the League, but also to differences of opinion in the Cabinet itself. The public realise that in the Cabinet there are two parties, one which really believes and trusts in the League, and one which disbelieves in it and regards it as a sentimental delusion which can be turned to good account as a means of persuading the electorate to consent to great increases of armaments. I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to remember that large numbers of people, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, are going in the next few weeks to vote for the present Government largely because they believe that they are voting for the policy of the right hon. Gentleman and for his colleague the Member for the League of Nations. If they should find afterwards that the policy of the Government that is to be—of the Government that will no doubt issue out of the election—is, in fact, not the policy of the right hon. Gentleman but the policy of the other faction in the Cabinet, there will be bitter disillusion and a sense of betrayal which will visit itself upon the whole of the Government, and even upon those Members of it who are believed to have been persuaded against their own judgment to succumb to the opinion of those who believe more in making it easy for Italy and easy for France than in loyalty to the Government. On the other hand what have the Government to wait for? How can the issue be affected by the 130 General Election? We know that it can only affirm the mandate given already in all sorts of ways, in the peace ballot and by the Trades Union Council, for actively dealing with the dispute so that the authority of the League may be vindicated, and the obligations of honour which we have undertaken may be carried out.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
The House has seldom discussed a matter of such importance on a question of foreign relations. It is not an occasion to examine the Government's general policy, but a very urgent and momentous issue comes to be decided, not in this House but in another Assembly, and in the other assemblies of the nations associated with the League of Nations. This is the beginning of a, long series of Parliamentary discussions, we hope, in which the subject of the future relations of the nations of the world will be debated. The peace of Britain is immediately involved. It is unfortunate that this Debate is staged so hurriedly and in such an unsettled temper. The Government have decided upon an election, and I am under the impression that they are out to win the election and not to make secure the peace of the world. From all that I have heard this afternoon there has been no attempt on the part of Government spokesmen to enlighten the House and to give satisfactory reasons for the step the Government are taking. Ostensibly, they are out to seek a mandate for peace and security, but there has been no suggestion in the speeches that I have beard to-day that the Government are as strongly wedded to the principle of collective security as they have professed to be. I have been disappointed by recent speeches on behalf of the Government. The Prime Minister seldom disappoints me, but I have been very disappointed with his last two speeches outside this House. I hope that to-morrow he will be a little more explicit than on recent occasions in discussing this very important question.
I want to deal with the speech made by the Foreign Secretary this afternoon. He was not quite as happy to-day as he was in July, before the House adjourned. I went away far happier in July with regard to my hopes for the future relations of Europe than I had been for 131 some time. I thought that the Foreign Secretary had given us a lead which the House appreciated, the echoes of which were heard in all the villages and towns of this country. Great hope was raised in the minds of our people, because the Foreign Secretary had brought an entirely new spirit, we believed, into the subject of foreign affairs. He began his speech to-day by stating that the League of Nations will not have failed until the Articles of the Covenant have been fully tried out. I agree with that statement entirely. That is why I stand on this side of the House and why I have remained for a very long time firm in the opinion, and firm in my personal responsibility and determination, that every Article in the Covenant shall be fully tried before it is deemed a failure. The future of the League is a very important thing, and I hesitate to believe that this House and the people of this country will come to the conclusion that this wonderful instrument, which came out of our experience of four and a-half years of war, from 1914 to 1918, is inadequate for its purpose until it has been fully tried.
The Foreign Secretary said that if we accept calmly the failure of the League we must contemplate the results of that failure. He said that it would be either world peace or destruction. I do not think that any speaker can be charged with exaggeration if he describes the situation in those terms. It is not mere rhetoric to use those terms. The plight of the world as I see it without the League of Nations fills me with consternation. I could not look a month ahead without anxiety of mind and soul if I believed that the League of Nations was to be set aside. Therefore, I want to keep this institution. It is not very easy, and when one hears speeches such as that of the right hon. Gentleman one's confidence is somewhat shaken.
It is sometimes said that British motives are not as disinterested as we profess them to be. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said that sometimes we were charged abroad with being hypocrites; I have heard that charge made in this House. Our motives in this matter are very important. A great deal depends on the disinterestedness and purity of our 132 motives and the nature of the services we can give to the League of Nations if it is to succeed. The Foreign Secretary referred to our Empire, and here I want to examine the charge which is sometimes made in regard to the British Empire. We are not responsible for the British Empire. We stumbled upon our Empire. In years gone by our people went abroad in search of adventure and new lands, there were no plans of conquest. It was not the capitalist thing which it is sometimes described to be. It grew, and we have inherited it. I do not look upon Imperialism in quite the same light as some of our people, although I deplore the evils of Imperialism as strongly as most people.
The right hon. Gentleman said that a great Empire like ours must have enemies. It was a serious admission to make. If it must have enemies because it is large and is an Empire, and because it is part of an Imperialistic system, it is very important and gives some foundation for the criticism of some people. But it places a great responsibility upon us to comport ourselves within the League of Nations in a manner which will gain respect for ourselves and our Empire. That is the lesson I gather from the assertion made by the right hon. Gentleman. We have a large portion of the earth's surface. A map shows that at once. There are large tracts of the earth where our people can carry on their work and retain their citizenship without let or hindrance. That places a great responsibility upon us. If the League of Nations is an institution in which we can play our part, let us see that our Imperialism is not a cause of the failure of the scheme. We must show that our membership of the League is consistent with our Imperial connections.
The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the criticism of those who said that the League has been doing too little. I belong to those critics. It has done too little and has not declared its purpose in time. It is highly important, if you have a dispute with your neighbour, that you should declare at once where you stand, and in the present dispute we have delayed our declaration as to where we stand, thus causing uncertainty, doubt and suspicion. I do not wish to add to, the difficulties of the League of Nations. 133 I regard it as the one instrument of peace in the world. I heard this afternoon of the two dispensations. I am not an expert in Scripture. I am sorry that a bad memory and perhaps a lack of close contact have made me forget a great many of the Scriptural lessons which I learned in my early days. But when I heard of the two dispensations I came to one conclusion, namely, that neither would satisfy me. I think the Book of Samuel began very well this afternoon. It was better than that of Simon, but I am very doubtful indeed about the concluding chapters. The Foreign Secretary ought to consider twice before making a statement such as he made this afternoon that we have no thoughts of Imperial interests. What a preposterous statement.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
This controversy has gone on for at least nine months. I think the Wal Wal incident occurred in December last, and there has been controversy even since. Does the Foreign Secretary expect us in this House to believe him or expect people outside to believe him when he says that there has been no thought of Imperial interests on our part? I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that that may be a good one for the marines but it is not good enough for this House. Really, I would ask for the sake of the reputation of his office and the reputation of all of us here, not to say that we are not interested in Imperial considerations in this matter. Let him note the speeches of his own colleagues. The President of the Board of Trade, for instance, made a speech in Cornwall which referred to those considerations, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that it only brings us into disrepute when we change our tune from one audience to another in different parts of the world. It is not convincing.
I agree that it is the duty of the League to maintain its own Covenant but Signor Mussolini has made its duty a very difficult one. I have no hatred or dislike towards the Italian people. I have worked with Italian, German and French people and with people from almost every nation in Europe and I have made friends among them all. I have not the slightest antipathy to the Italian nation. I believe they are just 134 as good as any other nation. But they suffer from a form of government which has expressed itself in violent declarations, declarations which make it almost impossible to treat with that Government on these difficult and delicate questions. Let us remember that Signor Mussolini in July declared that with Geneva, without Geneva or against Geneva there was only one solution for the problem of Abyssinia. That solution apparently is that Signor Mussolini should be allowed to transport troops 2,000 or 3,000 miles away in sufficient numbers to destroy a small country which is comparatively defenceless and is certainly incapable of conducting military operations on a large scale. It is an attack on a weak nation for which there is no justification and it is a brutal thing to do.
I think we have to examine the question of whether we have not duties to fulfil in connection with that attack by one nation on another. Apart from the League do we take sides to protect the weak against the strong? That is a question which deserves attention by Members of this House and by the people of this country. The Government, apparently, are willing to play their part to the full. We know how far that takes us. I have no hesitation in saying that I am willing that the Government should play their part within the League to the full. I think there is no value at all in a pledge unless you carry out that pledge. It may be that it is unfortunate that a pledge was given, but we have all lived with those pledges for 16 years. I agree with the pledge, and I agree with the Minister that this Government and this country must play their part within the Covenant of the League to the full.
The right hon. Gentleman said that so far we have agreed only to apply sanctions, embargoes on Italian exports, on arms, and so on, and he appears to be satisfied with that. Is he satisfied that the position of the League can be maintained by the sanctions already determined and those which he contemplates will be applied in the next few weeks or months? The right hon. Gentleman deprecated extreme measures, and so do I. I do not think anyone should say anything that would create difficulties by violence of speech, but I think the time is due for us to speak frankly. We are going to have an election. The Government seek to renew 135 the confidence of the country in them, and I am perfectly sure they will not. Quite apart from this question, the Government have largely forfeited the country's confidence, but on this issue, if the Government stick to the League of Nations, I would like to give them my confidence—on this issue. Nobody in this country wants to take away from the Government the confidence that a Government should have to fulfil the pledges, not of the Government only, but of the nation as a whole, and I resent very strongly the idea that we have to have an election and that there is a division on the Floor of this House on this one issue.
I think the attitude of the Government towards foreign nations will be worked out as time goes on. At all events, I am inclined to be charitable, because the right hon. Gentleman probably has the most difficult job that any Minister has had in the last few years. It is much more difficult than the job which the right hon. Gentleman the previous Foreign Secretary was expected to do, but which he did not do, on the occasion of the Japan-Manchuria incidents. I think his task was easier than that of the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary, because there have been changs in Europe since then and no one decides the country's conduct in relation to Italy and Abyssinia without the knowledge that behind there is looming a very much larger question and danger to the peace of the world. I have the fullest sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not wish to say anything that would create difficulties for him, but he wants economic pressure and he thinks economic pressure will be enough. That is why he quoted sanctions. But let the right hon. Gentleman and the House remember that, while there are many of us who deplore the idea that sanctions might carry us into military or naval operations—I do not want that; that is the farthest thing from my mind, and I would like to believe that sanctions could be confined entirely to the economic realm—even economic sanctions may become in their final application as harmful as military and naval sanctions. If you blockade a country and that country determines to go on within itself, relying on some substitutes for ordinary materials, that 136 country can suffer very much indeed without a single shot being fired by those enforcing the blockade. You do not dispense with cruelty and hardship when you change the form of your sanctions.
The right hon. Gentleman said he hoped that by this means, after a period of pressure of economic sanctions, an honourable settlement could be obtained within the League. I am very concerned to know, and I hope towards the end of this Debate we shall be told, what he means by an "honourable settlement." What kind of settlement is an honourable settlement? We have not been told yet, and I am very anxious indeed to know. When the right hon. Gentleman prejudiced his assertion very much by saying that he was among the first to admit the Italian case for expansion, he was treading on very dangerous ground indeed. What amount of expansion would Italy be entitled to have? Where is she to expand? At whose expense is she to expand? What are the means for giving her the expansion, and who are to employ those means? What are the means to be supplied to persuade an unwilling party that Italy is to have room to expand at that party's expense? All these are very vital questions indeed. I hope that we shall hear more of this from the Prime Minister when he speaks to-morrow. He cannot leave the country in doubt as to what we mean. Are we now preparing for a get-away which will satisfy Italy, but which will be at the expense of Abyssinia?
The right hon. Gentleman the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham is an old Parliamentary hand who has been here 30 years and has learned very much, but never has he displayed his Parliamentary cunning to better effect than he did to-night. He started by working his way by stages to a full advocacy of an increase of armaments. He first invited the House to be sympathetic on the subject of slavery in Abyssinia. He then spoke of dictators in Europe and said that when they talk of force we must take them seriously. It was a plausible line of approach and sounded very well indeed. These dictators he said, needed expansion and he mentioned Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini, who he said, are seeking new worlds to conquer and new countries for development. He said that we must take these people seriously, and that the need for expansion was due to lack of raw materials. He said that we could not buy 137 them off—and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to this—by giving a few hundred square miles of territory which we hold somewhere in the world as a bribe. He said that we should arm ourselves strongly and hold on to the Empire, for there was no collective security. I looked at the Noble Lord struggling manfully not to look like the hypocrite of whom he had spoken earlier in his speech, and I wondered whether there was after all honesty in politics even in this House. I regard his speech as a most dangerous, provocative and wicked speech, made with the smiling assurance of a person who knows his Parliamentary job.
I now come to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), a man whom I respect possibly more than any one in the political life of this country. He carried us all in his avowal of a great faith, a faith much above my reach and standard. We admire his great battle for peace and economic and social justice, and nobody pays readier tribute to him than I do. He is right in saying that war does not cure war, and equally right in stating the case against armaments. We join with him in his desire to recast the world's economic system, believing, as he does, that there is no security while this futile cause of war exists. We differ only in the emphasis we place upon the League. I regard the League as the best system for preventing war in the world as it is. I want the League for the part it will play in rebuilding the new world which he has in his mind and of which we have occasional glimpses in our best vision. We come back to this dispute between Italy and Abyssinia, which started at the end of last year when Italy denied the League and the Kellogg Pact and all her obligations. There were speeches and newspaper articles which convinced students that Italy meant to go to Abyssinia. There has never been an attempt to deceive us on that subject fur fundamentally it was Italy's demand for expansion and colonisation.
The Abyssinian claim to liberty and independence, with which there has been no lack of sympathy, has been long threatened. Abyssinia has been threatened for more than half-a-century, and invasions of her territory have taken place. There she lives, perched up above 138 the level of Africa, almost inaccessible in her exalted insularity, and there she is, harmless to the rest of the world, giving no offence to any of her neighbours and offering no threat to their comfort and safety. But there are in Abyssinia, it is assumed, resources to be exploited, territory to be occupied, people to be set to work, young men to be trained for soldiers. Britain and France already own colonies for these very same reasons, and employ their resources and people to the same purposes. Italy lacks coal and oil, metals and food and she wants, as she terms it, expansion. She seems determined to repudiate the rights of the Abyssinian people entirely, and, judging by the extent of her military preparations, she is prepared to wipe out the Abyssinian population altogether in order to attain her ends.
We come to the League of Nations vis-a-vis this problem. The League has been very much weakened in the matter of the assertion of sovereign rights by what took place between Japan and Manchuria. That was the occasion of a concession to Imperialism by Imperialists. The right hon. Gentleman there was too sympathetic to this new idea of Japan. I say that without wishing to do the slightest injustice to him and his loyalty to the League. It was territory far away and the view was that Japan should have room to expand and the Manchurians might be resigned to the occupation, and might even come to feel pride in their new associations; but it was a violation of the League, and the defence of the League was not undertaken by the right hon. Gentleman at that time. This was a concession to Imperialism made by ourselves, among other Imperialist countries, and it inflicted serious injury on the League and brought the League and the Covenant into almost complete contempt.
When we come to Signor Mussolini it is said that he offered to make a deal in January of this year. The right hon. Gentleman has made an explanation on that point, but did Mussolini offer to make a deal? It is said that investigations had to be made and that they required a long time, but did Mussolini offer to make a deal, behind the back of the League, at the expense of Abyssinia? We should like an answer to that question, because we feel that if any member of the League made an offer to a fellow 139 member of the League to join in some kind of attack to despoil a third member of the League that it would be the business of that second party to report that transaction to the League. One cannot defend the League when contemplating action of that kind, and we have run away from the League ourselves by not reporting that matter to the League. Since then, I gather, there have been conversations all over the world—everywhere except in Addis Ababa, to find out what standard of liberty and independence is claimed. The Abyssinians have been described by Signor Mussolini as "blacks." That would not be the word in Italian, but the word when translated means that the people are blacks, and it is said that because they are blacks they have no right to be in the League of Nations, although they are members of the League, and the conversations, apparently, are centred upon London, Paris and Rome—conversations between London and Paris, Paris and Rome, and Italy and Britain. The conversations are confined to those countries.
An attempt is being made to try to find the minimum demand of Signor Mussolini without the slightest regard to the minimum demands of the people at Addis Ababa. I believe the demands of the people of Abyssinia would be complete independence and complete liberty. I can conceive of no other demands. I have a conception of the sense of dual loyalty, because I am a Welshman and an Englishman at the same time, but as a Welshman, I understand this insistence on nationality in a way which, I am sure, the average Englishman does not understand. A small nation like Abyssinia, with a long tradition of independence, with a great deal of pride, even if a backward nation, in its powers and capacity—the minimum demands of that country would be complete immunity from attack by Italy or anybody else. The Government knows very well that it could not dare to face this country with a repudiation of the League of Nations. If there is to be a deal I predict that deal will be after the election. They will not dare to make a deal before. The peace ballot told the Government and us as individual members that this country wants peace and would detest the idea of returning to the hateful system of 140 haggling and bargaining with other people's goods. We do not believe that this country now wants its representatives to resort to an international thieves' kitchen. That is the tendency we are witnessing at the present time. I want to save the League. Picture Europe without the League. The Kilkenny cats fought until only their tails were left. Only the tails of Europe would be left without the League of Nations.
I speak not as an Imperialist or as one who desires to extend the British Empire. Suppose Mussolini gets his way and obtains a concession that gives him the occupation of Abyssinia and the right to exploit it. His stock in the bazaars of the East will be infinitely higher than the stock of anybody in the world. His fame will be known everywhere and there will be Eastern countries who will look to him for friendship, and repudiate the friendship and protection which this country has been offering them in the past. How long will Egypt stay British if Mussolini gets his way? How long will he stay away from a foothold on the Arabian peninsula where there is oil and room for expansion? These problems will be multiplied a hundredfold. I speak not as an Imperialist but as one who wants peace. You cannot involve the British Empire in a scramble without embroiling the rest of the world. I do not want British possessions to be the cause of the breakdown. There will be no Empire, no prosperity, no security, no liberties; fear will lead to rearmament, bankruptcy and destruction.
Let me come back to what I believe is the only way to economic security. I will call it, with the greatest compliment to the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, the Lansbury way. No one has popularised the idea of economic rearrangement more than the right hon. Gentleman. He has spoken in this House and at a hundred meetings. He has never lost a single opportunity during the last three or four years of bringing forward this very important subject. First of all, you must stop aggression and conquest. Suppose the Lansbury way is tried and you get all the nations of Europe round the table. There they start outlining their economic problems and showing their economic claims. Those claims would rise like mountains and dwarf the people sitting around the table unless 141 there was an assurance that whatever resulted would not be found along the lines of force. That is the first thing. You must stop all threat of force. That relief would be reciprocated among all the nations of the world.
So this is the first problem, the problem of stopping aggression and conquest. I would do that by economic sanctions and I believe they would succeed. If the League applies economic sanctions calmly and firmly the League will have its way. With a League firmly united even Signor Mussolini, who has won his battles in Abyssinia, can be brought to book. We are past the old phase of rival Imperialisms. That is too dangerous and must mean war. You cannot go on with that. The alternative is working on the idea of a whole world estate with one single government if you like, one single board of management on which all the nations of the world are represented and will have equal rights, in capital and labour, to improve natural conditions. Mr. George Bernard Shaw, in a letter in the "Times," says that he is glad to see that the Italians are building roads in Abyssinia. I would like to see roads built in every country of the world. There is ample capital and there are idle people everywhere in the world. There is a lot of work to be done for civilisation by constructive work of a civilian character in order to improve natural conditions and improve the amenities of the world. That is ambitious enough even for Signor Mussolini. Economic nationalism is not enough. Imperialism is selfishness writ large. We have to face a new economic order in which we shall find economic co-operation between all the nations of the world. Capitalism cannot do that. I will not indulge in diatribes at the expense of capitalism, because I have lived in a capitalist world and I am as much responsible as anybody for the capitalist system.
We are witnessing to-day in this House the effects of the capitalist system. We are having it on every platform to-day, and we shall have it on every platform at the next election. Capitalism cannot deal with the problem of surplus production of all kinds. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture is fighting manfully against it to restrict production, whereas the capitalist system insists upon 142 a growing production, despite the incapacity of the world to consume. Despite rivalries in diplomatic efforts and in military preparation that is the dilemma of the capitalist system itself. It will burn and destroy what it has already made before it will admit its failure. There is now a proposal to borrow £150,000,000 to be burnt in armaments, and to let the next and future generations pay for the armaments which will be destroyed to-day. Would right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen please sit down to examine this problem alone, without the assistance of the "Daily Mail," the "Daily Express" and all such misleading journals of this country. I believe they would come to the conclusion, to which I have come, that the capitalist system is breaking down and can only save itself by the destruction of war, which we all fear—mortally fear.
This world bonfire, to which we are asked to make a contribution of an additional £150,000,000, is a thing which we ought to fight like the very plague. Hon. Members will be going to election. I shall go to the election with a clear conscience. I shall stand for peace. I am as much a peace lover as anybody. I stand for the operation of the peace machinery, although it is not a perfect machine, and I shall do my bit to try to shore it up and work for better conditions without pulling the structure down. I shall try to preserve the peace of the world, if it is only by carrying a little bricks and mortar for the erection of a new world structure where economic and social security—
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.