§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
A matter which is seriously agitating a large number of people in this country at the moment is the question of the possible recession of territories held by His Majesty's Government under mandate in various parts of the world and it is with the hope of getting a clear and unequivocal statement from the Government that I am raising this question. Up to the present we have had but cold comfort. We had a very disquieting speech by the late Minister without Portfolio almost as soon as he had left office, in which he told us that we must learn to look upon the British Empire in an entirely new light. He made that speech coming fresh from the Cabinet and presumably in their confidence. Other propositions made by Members of the Government were not sufficiently definite or comforting. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is true, said that the Government never contemplated that these Mandates should be handed back to the country which originally owned these territories, but he did not say that it would not be contemplated while the present Government were in office, and we are entitled to ask for a pledge that as long as the Government remain in office they will not consider the recession of any of these territories. It is impossible to ask them to pledge subsequent administrations but at least they can do this for their own period of office.
There is no benefit in leaving the question in abeyance. The Secretary of State for the Colonies has in the past made perfectly clear statements about the Crown Colonies, but no statement has yet been made regarding the mandated territories. The one particular Mandate which is in everybody's mind when any question of recession arises is Tanganyika. All the others worth having are outside the jurisdiction of this House. What was German South-West Africa was ceded to the Union of South Africa and that Government has been perfectly clear on the subject that it will not hand the territories back in any circumstances whatever. Australia and New Zealand have been equally clear about the 82 Mandates which were handed to them, and Belgium has also been equally clear about the Mandate entrusted to her. Surely with this consensus of opinion outside it is within the power of the Government of Great Britain to make an equally clear and definite statement.
We cannot possibly justify any bartering of the British Empire as if it were real estate, for any benefit real or imaginary. What benefit, what price, could be obtained which would make such a recession worth while? Take the most extreme possibility of asking Germany to destroy her fleet for the return of Tanganyika; and not build another fleet. The recession would be permanent but the destruction of the fleet would be only temporary, as was the last destruction of her fleet. There is nothing which would justify handing over these territories, and there is no price which would justify our handing over the peoples of these territories to a Government which we know is unlikely to live up to the standards which these peoples have been enjoying. There is no possibility of consulting their views on the subject because the bulk of these populations are illiterate; and many of them do not even know what German administration is like.
It is 18 years since we took over these territories and that is a generation in native life; they are more short-lived on the whole than we are. There is, therefore, a generation which knows nothing about German administration. But we know perfectly well what would be the fate of these people if they were transferred back to the Power which once had these territories. We are not ignorant of the means by which Tanganyika was originally annexed. While Britain went into British East Africa without fighting, practically without bloodshed at all, a peaceful and quiet annexation, there was a slaughter of over 70,000 Africans when Germany annexed Tanganyika, a quite unnecessary slaughter; and there is nothing to make us believe that the Nazi regime would be any milder than the old Imperial rule of Germany. The odds are that it would be less mild. And we have our duty to these peoples to consider, and our duty to our own race when dealing with the question of these Mandates.
A bribe if offered and taken will not purchase that which is desired. We 83 should learn from our own history of King Ethelred that it does not pay to pay danegeld. It does not pay to-day to leave it in any doubt as to whether we are ready to pay or not. I hope for the sake of this country's pride in itself that we shall inform the world that we are still an Imperial race and still consider the defence of our own possessions. Our trans-African rule is already likely to be seriously imperilled because the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government has placed a hostile Power to the north of our East African territories, and it would be more seriously imperilled if there is any possibility of placing another hostile Power to the south. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to give a specific answer to this one question: Do His Majesty's Government intend at any time during their period of office to consider the question of the readjustment of mandated territories?
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. AMERY
I am glad that the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) has raised this transcendently important issue before the House on the first opportunity open to him. I am not sure that it would have been necessary for him to do so if the only statement of Government policy had been the answer of the Colonial Secretary a little time ago, an answer entirely consonant with his general attitude towards Imperial policy. But since then we have had statements in another place and in this House which are only calculated to create grave disquiet in our minds. We had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer just before the Easter Recess an elaborate and, if I may say so, a somewhat embarrassed and circumlocutory statement, the gist of which was that while we should never hand over purely British territory there was a difference so great between British Colonies and Protectorates and Mandated territories that somehow or other the inference was left in our minds that as regards the latter we had an open and an uncertain mind. I admit that there are important distinctions between our position in Tanganyika and that in Kenya and any British colony, but whatever the distinctions are they are entirely irrelevant to the question as to whether we are justified, either in policy or in morals, in handing over territories which we occupy 84 as a right, and, what is far more vital, handing over peoples who live happily and contentedly under the British flag, and who have become accustomed to our rule —neglecting the peculiar and solemn obligations which we, have undertaken under the Mandate—to a rule which nobody is going to suggest is likely to be more beneficial or more disinterested than Our Own.
There is a widespread notion that these are territories over which Germany has some sort of residual right, territories temporarily transferred to the League, which has temporarily assigned them to other Powers, who are tenants at will of the League, and that, therefore, it is a perfectly natural proceeding to put an end to this temporary situation and revive Germany's latent claim. There is not a shadow of justification for that proposition. These territories were not in the first instance surrendered by Germany to the League; they were ceded by Germany outright to the major Allied and Associated Powers who then proceeded to distribute them among themselves. The word "distribute" was used in rather a peculiar sense, since the territories were distributed to those who had actually conquered them, and it may be a matter for lawyers to say whether the distribution was final and final sovereignty rests with those who hold the territories, or whether there is still a latent claim on the part of other major Allied and Associated Powers to them. All I would say in that connection is that if any question of a transfer could arise, the other Allied and Associated Powers, such as Italy and Japan, would have a much prior claim to any Power that was neither an ally nor associate, nor is to-day a Member of the League of Nations.
Obviously, we distributed the territories subject to a very important condition—the condition that we should govern them on principles laid down and defined by the League, and for which the League is guarantor. It is in that respect, and in that respect only, that the League comes into the picture. That certainly does give the League, not a power to suggest and still less to order transfer on our part, but to sustain a very weighty objection to any suggestion on our part that we should transfer them for purely political motives, in an attempt to conciliate those who demand them. The League would be fully entitled to 85 object to our doing any such thing unless it was clearly shown that the change would be to the advantage of the people concerned.
My hon. Friend has pointed out that every other Power concerned has given a straight and direct answer and has said it is not going to consider handing over territory. Why should we hand over territory? After all, every one of our Allies on the Continent gained some major object for which it entered the War. We alone, for all our sacrifices of men and money, have taken over responsibilities which have certainly not been a profit to us so far, but which have at any rate the ultimate advantage that they have given us a measure of strategic security. To have eliminated Germany from East Africa and from the Indian Ocean is a, very vital matter. To have secured territorial continuity between the great Dominion of the Union of South Africa and our territories further North, and our whole position in the Middle East, is something.
I know there is another argument, which was suggested originally in a speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) at Geneva. It is the argument of the suffocated nation which has no access to raw materials. A precious lot of nonsense talk of that nature is! I wonder who these suffocated nations are? I notice that the most prosperous nation in the whole of Europe to-day is perhaps Sweden, which has not one square inch of colonial territory, but which has pursued a prudent and successful economic and financial policy. On the other hand, Holland, which has an immense Empire, as a result of pursuing a somewhat different monetary policy is perhaps in greater difficulties than any country in Europe. And what of Germany? Germany had a great Colonial Empire once. Did that affect her suffocation or non-suffocation? Did it afford a great outlet for her teeming millions? Before the War one two-hundredth part of Germany's imports came from her colonies and just over one two-hundredth part of her exports went to those colonies. And what of her migration? Of the total of German migration in the ten years before the War, one German emigrant out of 800 went to a German colony to settle, and of the total increase in Germany's 86 population during those ten years, one out of every 20,000 went to her colonies. At the outbreak of the War the total German population of the German colonies, including 3,000 military police, was under 20,000.
What is the good of suggesting that the return of some or even of all of her colonies will make a material difference to an economic situation which has resulted from quite different causes? It is a situation which is the result of her monetary policy, the result of a policy of internal inflation and external deflation. There is a shortage of imports of foodstuffs, such as butter, perhaps, but that is because so much of German credit is required for raw materials for very different purposes—required for the purpose of asking us to hand back colonies, required for the purpose, now avowed, that in spite of the War which she provoked and lost, Germany is to be put back, at the expense of everybody else, in the position in which she stood before the Great War. To yield one inch to that claim will not promote the cause of peace in Europe. It is in the interests of peace that I hope my right hon. Friend will give that clear statement for which my hon. Friend has asked.
In conclusion, let the Government make no mistake as to the temper of the country on a question such as this. If you begin to touch the question of handing over people who live under our Flag, you are touching one of those primal instincts which are far stronger than any Government can control through its majority. My right hon. Friend will remember that when, in order to promote a settlement in Abyssinia, there was suggested the cession of a little strip of sandy desert and a few thousand nomads who might or might not have been under our protection, the temper of the House and of the country was unmistakable. It would be far different if there were any question of handing over great territories where millions of natives live happily under British rule, where men of our own race have taken up land and industries and committed their whole future in the belief that our rule was permanent. I believe that any question of that sort would sweep away any Government. Therefore, I do ask my right hon. Friend to give to us now and at once that unequivocal and straightforward 87 assurance which I know his whole instinct and nature would bid him give.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Captain F. E. GUEST
I wish to take part in this discussion for a few minutes for two reasons. One is that I am personally very much concerned with the fate of this territory, having spent two very hot years of the War in it trying to help in a small way to get it. The second reason is that I have acquired property in the territory. It is, therefore, obvious that my comments will be limited, although they will be very sincere. It is, however, not only my personal point of view that I put forward. I have a great many British friends who have invested a great deal of money in Tanganyika Territory. [Interruption.] It does not seem to me that there is any harm in that. They were colonists in the true sense of the word. They went out to the new mandated territory, which was placed under British control, and settled there, and they invested a great deal of money in coffee, sisal and various other products. As I know these people and to some extent represent them in this House, I am bound to press the request to the Colonial Secretary, which has been so ably put forward and so ably supported, that a definite answer should be given as to what is the Government's policy in this connection.
There is one other side of this question on which nobody could speak better than my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Grigg), who held the great position of Governor of a neighbouring territory. It is that the problem of Tanganyika and that of Kenya are interwoven and are becoming one. My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that during the last ten years the interlocking of these two territories by means of railways, Customs and the Post Office has led to their becoming a single problem. I think that when the Minister replies he must take great care that he does not undo all the work of those who have administered these territories for him with great success.
I shall never rest until I get an answer from the Colonial Secretary. To-day is not the occasion for raising the matter in great detail, but it would not be difficult for those of us who know the country to detain the House for a very long time on the details. I hope the Colonial 88 Secretary will realise that there are Members in this House who will not be put off with references to the Mandate being a Mandate in the colloquial sense. I do not know what that means, but it must mean something. Thai expression was used only a few weeks ago by a responsible Minister for the Crown when referring to the Mandate.
I believe we are being bluffed by Germany all along the line. We are being bluffed in Europe, and we shall be bluffed if we do not take care in our Colonial Empire. I take the view that this is the time to put up a bold front. Britain should not give way. She should keep to her tenets and to her agreements—the word alliances is one which perhaps cannot be used—but in no circumstances should she give way before the storm which has been created and which is sweeping Europe to-day.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID GRENFELL
I rise only for a few moments to say, on behalf of my colleagues on this side of the House, that we deprecate the means by which a subject as important as this has been brought before the House. A Motion on the Adjournment on a day such as this is not the occasion for discussing this very important question. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) has some responsibility, and he has expressed what he described as the apprehensions of the people of this country as a result of some answers given to the House in speeches made from the Government benches. If this is really a matter of great public and national concern, ought not the stage to be set for a Debate under more statesmanlike auspices than is the case to-night?
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
Will the hon. Gentleman give us some promise, so far as the Opposition is concerned, that an opportunity will be found on a Supply Day for a full discussion on this matter?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
The right hon. Gentleman ought not to ask for favours from this side of the House. After all, this is a matter for the Government, and the supporters of the Government ought to make a demand to the Government concerning it. I have heard the hon. Member for Smethwick speak more convincingly and with much more conviction on other occasions, and I think that this 89 evening he was talking with his tongue in his cheek and that his purpose was to irritate the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary. I am not defending the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope the House will agree with me that to-night we are trying to approach by a short cut a problem which is much too large to be disposed of in this kind of extempore discussion. This is a vital world question, affecting the international situation, and it is no use trying to rush through a discussion of this kind and to get a hurried reply from the Colonial Secretary and then to think that the Government have been tied down to something definite by that means.
The hon. Member who opened the discussion did not help his case by many of his arguments. He said that a trust had been reposed in us in respect of these Mandated territories and that we had willingly accepted that trust, which imposed upon us a duty to the peoples in those territories. He said that our duty was to remain there and to give those people the benefit of good government. That sounds very well, and the hon. Member tried to put the best appearance on his case, but he then went on to say that the people of Tanganyika had been won over to allegiance to this country by gentle means and without bloodshed. He was not then giving us the history of the transference, as it was given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke afterwards and who said he had fought in that place.
§ Mr. WISE
I was referring to Kenya Colony, which we occupied in the most peaceful possible way. The Tanganyika Territory was occupied by Germany and the subsequent War, to which my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Drake Division of Plymouth (Captain Guest) referred, was between England and Germany and not between England and the native population.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
Tanganyika was not won over by peaceful means. There was very heavy fighting and loss of life there and coloured peoples in that part of the world fought against each other.
§ Captain GUEST
The hon. Gentleman will perhaps permit me to interrupt. I was there and he was not there, and he will allow me to tell him that the territory of Tanganyika was eventually 90 occupied by British and South Africans, assisted to a certain extent by black East African troops.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
And they fought against black East African troops under German officers. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman commanded one set of native people who fought against another set of native people commanded by Germans. It was a conquest by one set of native levies fighting against another set of native levies. What have those people gained after all the fighting? They have been transferred from government by Germany to government by Britain, but the interests of the people themselves seems to be entirely neglected and forgotten by some Members of this House.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) seizes every opportunity for the expression of Imperialistic opinion, and it was not surprising to find him in his place and on his feet this evening. He voiced the British claim to these lands and made a strong plea for the perpetuation of our authority over them. He said that there was no shadow of justification for the argument that Germany had any right to the return of Tanganyika, and that Germany had ceded the territory willingly in the post-war period. That may be the right hon. Gentleman's version, it may be the English version, but it is not the German version of the transaction. The Germans say that they signed the Treaty of Versailles under duress, and as a conquered nation were compelled to give up Alsace-Lorraine and other territories and their colonies. That is a position which must not be ignored.
The right hon. Gentleman takes pride in the expansion of the British Empire. He is built that way and has lived in that kind of atmosphere, and one would not expect him to speak in any other way, but do not let him forget that the same type of mind exists in Germany and that people in Germany are just as prone to speak in that way as people in this country. But then an astounding statement was made, a statement which will not make for peace or international understanding. The right hon. Gentleman asked, "Why should not we keep Tanganyika, since every one of the Allies gained some major object for which they had entered the War?" Why 91 should not we, he asked, gain some major object? Did this country enter the War with any major or minor object of taking German territory?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
If the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech to-morrow he will see that it is a mass of inconsistencies. He asked, why should we not get a reward for the part we played in the War? In the next breath he said it was a fallacy to argue that Germany was suffocated by lack of room to expand and pointed out that Sweden, one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, had no colonies. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Does he value the colonial possessions of this country? Does he think that they are of economic advantage to this country or that they are an advantage to us as an outlet for surplus population? If so, let him say so. But once he makes that contention he is compelled to the conclusion that 'colonies would be of equal value to Germany. If they are an advantage at all they would be an advantage to Germany as well as to this country. If Sweden can prosper without foreign possessions, why should not this country deliver up part of our foreign possessions and especially some part of that monopoly and exclusive right that we possess in regard to territories which we have acquired?
§ Mr. MANDER
Would the hon. Gentleman be willing to hand over to the German Nazi Government any people now under British control?
§ Mr. GRENFELL
I shall say exactly what I think on that point before I conclude. I am no friend of the Nazi Government, and I have said so on every occasion when I have spoken on the matter in this Housse. I do not want to hand any body of people over to German, French or Italian domination. I think there is a much larger view to be taken of this problem and that a larger responsibility faces Britain and Germany and all the other great nations of the world to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook also said that 92 Germany had had colonies before the War while Sweden had not, and that Sweden was prosperous to-day, in 1936, without any colonies. Then, he asked why was Germany not prosperous in 1936? He argued that when Germany had possession of these very territories, they did not provide any outlet for her surplus population, and that the German people did not emigrate to them but went elsewhere. He asked why should not Germany, within her own domestic frontiers, rebuild her economic organisation, and said that we must not concede anything to Germany in this matter and that in the interest of world peace we could not begin to compromise on this question. The right hon. Gentleman became almost passionate at that point. Any German listening to him would be driven into a mood very different from the peaceful mood which the right hon. Gentleman apparently wishes to inculcate. A German would be driven at once to resentment by that speech. It would engender in the German mind the most determined hostility. A German would at once want to go to war if he thought that all the people in this country were imbued with the sentiments of the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman did not do himself or the cause of Imperialism justice. I can claim that I am a better Imperialist than he because I am not so narrow-minded, so selfish or so unwilling to recognise that Britain is not the only country in the world, and that these possessions are not strictly ours by prescriptive right, but are a responsibility which has been accepted by us. We have inherited certain responsibilities which we are bound to discharge for the benefit of the people concerned as well as of ourselves. But I think the most fatal argument that could be used in the circumstances of to-day is the argument of the soldier-politician which we heard from the right hon. and gallant Member for the Drake Division (Captain Guest). He spoke, as a soldier, in terms of conquest and coercion, and not one suggestion did he make regarding the finer ideals of Imperialism of which we hear from time to time. We, on this side, hold a view of Imperialism which recognises the facts. It is not the people who are in this House to-day, it is not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) and his 93 colleagues who are responsible for the building up of the Colonial system. The right hon. Gentleman has a passing responsibility which may not last very long. I hope he will be discharged of his trust very soon. But he or someone in his place must discharge that trust for the time being. There are possessions scattered over five Continents, the relations of which to this country and to the rest of the world present a problem which must be solved by some accepted and amicable understanding among all the nations vitally concerned. That is the new idea of Imperialism, and I think it is the idea that we on this side hold.
There was some value in Imperialism in the old days. I do not think our Imperial system was built up with that idea, but there was some value in the idea of extending the area of administration and control over a wider variety of natural products, of extending the area of markets, of extending the area for purposes of defence and mutual strength. To-day we have all these possessions and we have Imperial responsibilities, and we on this side would like to interpret those responsibilities in the light of the twentieth century and not in the light of the seventeenth century, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook does. The main value of Colonial possessions may be indicated under four heads. First they provide an outlet for the surplus population of the colonising country. The increasing populations of Japan, Germany, Italy and Britain can find scope in less densely populated countries. There is some advantage in extending your authority over unpopulated areas capable of development where your own people can be set to work to produce commodities which are not obtainable at home. All these territories in different parts of the world vary greatly in climate and soil, in conditions, in mineral resources and so forth, and that there is some advantage in going as far afield as you can in order that people may obtain employment and produce the complementary commodities which a higher standard of living requires.
That is one side of the question but in the argument that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook used that case has broken down in its application to Germany. It has broken down in its application to Japan and 94 in instance after instance. The second reason is that of access to raw materials and primary products. The tropical products of Africa are necessities in the colder climates of Europe and North America. Northern and southern countries can exchange their products when there is that connection which colonising gives between one part of the world and another. The third reason is scope for the investment of surplus capital. The hon. and gallant Member referred to a friend of his who had taken his money to Tanganyika because he hoped to get there more favourable conditions than he could get at home. The fourth reason—and this is the vital one at present—is the provision of an outlet for the surplus population and surplus manufactured goods of the colonising eoun, tries.
We believe that all these four aims can be achieved without the idea of conquest, or rivalry between State and State. I am not one who believes that Europe is over-populated. Germany is not nearly as thickly populated as Belgium or as this country. Countries are not prosperous because of the conditions of population. They are prosperous because they have effective machinery for production and effective systems for the marketing and exchange of goods. The kind of Imperialism which is championed so sturdily by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook has gone. Insistence on that kind of Imperialism means war. We shall be very fortunate if in Europe we are able to avert a war in the next few years. A crisis is impending, and one of the causes is the mistaken idea of the value of colonies. The German people are taught by false propaganda to believe that they are suffering because of want of room to expand. Right hon. Gentlemen here are insisting that we cannot part with one square inch of territory, regardless of the fact that we administer 25 per cent. of the world and that 27 per cent. of the people of the world are under the British flag. That kind of assertion will lead to intensity of rivalry and certainty of war.
All these four legitimate aims of expansion can be fulfilled by expansion by agreement, and I suggest that it is now time that this Government, or whoever is responsible for speaking for this country, with its vast possessions, should 95 support the hint given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a recent speech. I will give the House an instance in my own experience as a Britisher who is very proud of his country. I had occasion to go to Austria in March, 1934, and there was an exhibition in Vienna. I went into that exhibition and saw the section run under the auspices of the British Government. I was invited to see tableau after tableau showing happy and contented natives enjoying life under British rule. I saw them gathering cocoa beans and picking cotton. I discovered from these advertisements of the British Colonial Office, in poor, miserable, starving Vienna, that 60 per cent. of the cotton of the world was grown under the British flag, that 45 per cent. of the rubber, 90 per cent. of the nickel, 40 per cent. of the lead, and 40 per cent. of the copper of the world were produced under the British flag—a monopoly of world commodities under British administration in British possessions. I said, "This is stupid propaganda." I imagined the Austrian subjects seeing this propaganda of the great power and might of the British Empire, and I thought that it was the kind of propaganda that made us unpopular and presented us in a selfish light to the world.
That is the wrong kind of propaganda. The time has come when the Government of this country should tell the world that these territories to which we have access should be equally free of access to everybody else. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are."] They were, but they are not now. There is no open door now. Ottawa and other agreements have changed all that. We should say to these people that they are welcome to go to these territories on the same terms as ourselves, that they have equal right of access to raw materials as we have, that they are equally free to invest their surplus capital if they have any. We should say, "You have the same right of marketing in these territories as we have." [HON. MEMBERS: "They have."] They have not. We warn the Government that we shall come back to this question and take a definite stand on it. We urge on the Colonial Secretary not to give way to a policy of rabid, stupid Imperialism which must make trouble for the rest of the world.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the COLONIES (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I would warn my hon. Friend at the outset that if the Opposition had their way I would be no longer responsible for this policy. He concluded by warning me that the Opposition will take the earliest opportunity of raising certain issues that he has defined. I want to urge the Opposition, not because they are the Opposition but because of the impression that will be created in certain countries I shall mention, of the ignorance of the existing state of affairs as just displayed by the hon. Member. It does not matter what may be said in this country as between the Government and the Opposition, but it does matter, and it is vital in the interests of justice and fairplay, that no foreign country should misunderstand, misinterpret and deliberately use statements made in this House by alleged responsible people—
§ Mr. THOMAS
On your side. My hon. Friend has stated something to-night that could be proclaimed in Germany tomorrow as representing the British Labour party, the alternative government and indicated as a statement of things uttered to this House as facts that are an absolute travesty of facts. It is necessary that Germany should be under no misapprehension. First, the statement on migration and the assumption of my hon. Friend that the Mandated Territories, so far as Germany is concerned, were looked upon by then; as an avenue for colonial expansion. A more ludicrous statement on the Mandated Territories was never made. Germany never so looked upon them, or used them or took advantage of her opportunity so to use them. As a matter of fact, it is only an infinitesimal percentage of the German population that has ever been in the Mandated Territories, except officials.
§ Mr. GRENFELL
Has the right hon. Gentleman listened to any speeches or read any newspapers in Germany for the last six months?
§ Mr. THOMAS
This is a new argument. Am I called upon as representing the Government to state my case on the basis of Nazi propaganda? Would the hon. Member have me do that?
§ Mr. THOMAS
Exactly, The hon. Member would have me deal with the facts, and I am dealing with the facts and not with what has appeared in any newspaper. Therefore, I repeat what I have said about this talk of Germany looking upon the Colonies as merely an expansion for her people. Previous to the War all experience proves that Germany had not looked upon them in that light. Secondly, my hon. Friend says "I am putting myself in the German mind; I want to view this question from the German standpoint." But he hastened to add, "Not from the Nazi point of view." Does he not take the German standpoint as the Nazi view? He said, "Look at your raw materials." Well, look at them. Can anyone challenge me when I say that, so far as Germany or any other foreign country is concerned, there is not one particle of raw material of any sort or kind that she could obtain prior to the territories being handed over to mandates now administered by us that she cannot obtain to-day. If that cannot be challenged, is it not dangerous for my hon. Friend to speak as he has done? It is my duty, as representing the Government, not only to make that clear to this country, but to make it quite clear abroad, and I repeat that any raw materials of any sort or kind that Germany wanted since the mandate was taken over by us she was not only free and at liberty to obtain, but she could obtain them on precisely the same terms as ourselves.
Then my hon. Friend mentioned Ottawa. He ought to have remembered that he must not mix things up, and he must not allow the Germans to trade on any of his statements by conveying that the Ottawa provisions had anything to do with mandated territories. They had not, and not only so, but they could not. Therefore, I am correcting him for the purpose of the Opposition not being misrepresented in Germany, as they may well be, by emphasising, first—and it is necessary to make it clear beyond a shadow of doubt—that if anyone alleges that Germany is suffering from a lack of raw materials from any of her previous Colonies now under mandate to us, it is not true. If she had wanted any of those raw materials, she could have got them on precisely the same terms as we could. If she prefers to spend her money in other directions, it is her business, but we are 98 not to blame for it. Therefore, I hope I have cleared away those two misapprehensions.
Then I come to a third aspect of the question, which I feel that those who are raising the issue were entitled to raise. We are not dealing in this matter with a mere commodity like cattle. We are dealing with human beings, we are dealing with men and women and children, of all classes and all creeds, and you have no right, in dealing with human beings, to assume that you can deal with them merely on the basis of a commodity. That is why my hon. Friend was entitled to point out that there ought to be no doubt in the mind of anybody with regard to this matter, and it is fair also that I should say that there is doubt. I have received within the past three days communications from responsible firms. It is no good the Opposition saying these are capitalist concerns. Do not let us forget, so far as Tanganyika is concerned —I am using that as one simple illustration—that there has been more development, more prosperity, and more hope given to Tanganyika since the mandate than in any previous history, even when it was under Germany. Over £9,000,000 has been spent in development, and we must not assume that that is merely a development for the benefit of the capitalist alone. They are an expenditure and a development that have brought prosperity to that particular territory, and you have no right to assume that you can simply ignore that investment and that interest.
There is a large number of people who believe that there is a great future for Tanganyika, and they have written to me in this spirit and have said, "Under the mandate we were prepared to invest in, and to recommend the development of, Tanganyika, but if there is any doubt or ambiguity in this matter, we hesitate to do it." That is a natural and obvious apprehension, and I have had to take it into consideration. I have replied within the last two days to a specific request made by a responsible company who contemplate even at this moment a further investment of £1,000,000 new capital in Tanganyika, and I have told them, while they must be the best judges of their own particular business, that so far as the political situation is concerned, I had no reason to believe for one moment that 99 there was anything to warrant my saying it was inadvisable for them to go on. I said that not only on my own responsibility, but I said it with the concurrence of the Treasury as well.
I emphasise that for this reason, that the real problem put to me at this moment is, What is the exact position? I answered a few weeks ago by saying that the Government had not considered, and were not considering, the question of handing over these territories. There was some doubt at the moment as to whether I intended that statement to apply, not only to Crown Colonies, but to mandated territories as well. The answer that I give to-night is that when I made that statement, it was made with the full authority of the Government, and it applied to the mandated territories equally as well as to the Crown Colonies. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have been called upon to supplement that statement in any way, had not a specific question been put to him. So far as the Government are concerned, the statement that I made I made with the full responsibility of the Government. I made it with the authority of the Cabinet, and so far as the Government were concerned, that was the position, and had not the question been raised again, there would have been no need for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have said anything.
§ Mr. THOMAS
My statement was clear and definite, but a specific question was put by my right hon. Friend to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in his reply, referred to my statement as being the policy of the Government, but he went on to explain the difference between Crown Colonies and mandated territories, and I think he used the phrase "speaking in a colloquial sense." My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) will perhaps remember that the Chancellor of the Exchequer borrowed his phrase, because on the very first occasion that these words, "colloquial sense," were used, they were used by my right hon. Friend in trying to define the same difference. The Chancellor borrowed the words of my right hon. Friend, and he used them in 100 precisely the same sense as my right hon. Friend used them.
I hope I have conveyed to the House and to the world, first, this clear statement, that if any foreign country, Germany or any other, makes any claim that so far as the mandated territories are concerned they do not enjoy all the advantages and privileges that we enjoy, it will not be a statement of fact. If any Member of the Opposition uses the same words as my hon. Friend used, he will be using words that are not true, and I want Germany and every other foreign country to understand that clearly. Secondly, I say that we have administered our trust fairly and equitably, and I go beyond that and say that those natives for whom we are now responsible welcome our administration.
Thirdly, I say that when the question of transferring any mandate arises, if it ever arises—up to now it has not arisen and I want to emphasise that it certainly will not be raised by us, but if, on the other hand, the question is raised—it will be a question not for us alone to determine. Please remember that Australia has a mandate, that New Zealand has a mandate, and that South Africa has a mandate, and so far as the British Governments are concerned, they certainly will not consider handing over any of their mandates unless the whole question, so far as Empire mandates are concerned, is also reviewed. But beyond that it is not only a question of the Empire itself; there are also foreign mandates, held by France and Belgium. Therefore, I hope the House will not look upon this as merely a bartering point, but will keep in mind that there is a great human problem. The inhabitants must be consulted, and the inhabitants' interests must be considered. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had that clearly in mind when he said that the interests of the inhabitants would always be safeguarded, and I only hope that tie House will not expect me to commit this or any, other Government to saying that we will not do this, that, or the other. All I will say is that the Government's policy is as I have stated We have not considered and we are not considering this question, but if it is raised by any other people it will be our duty to consider the circumstances again, but not attempt to bind anyone.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
When my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary had got about three-quarters through his speech, I was feeling very exhilarated by his breezy style. It was a great satisfaction to hear him expose the many very patent errors which bulked largely in the impromptu extempore speech, as he called it, of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). Indeed, so successful was my right hon. Friend in flinging the arguments back across the Table, and so robust were the sentiments he expressed on many topics, one really felt that in these days when they talk about the retirement of a Prime Minister, if the Conservative party had to look for a champion he was, at that stage in his speech, at any rate, not disqualifying himself from that position. As my right hon. Friend approached the latter part of his speech—the last lap, I might say—he flagged terribly. It was quite evident that while he was dealing with the attacks of his old friends across the way he was very much master of the situation, but when he came to give the assurances which have been asked for by Members on this side of the House, we saw the spectacle of a good man wrestling with adversity. My right hon. Friend floundered about from one side to the other and he did what one is often forced to do in these circumstances—he tried to have the best of both worlds.
What was the impression which my right hon. Friend gave? It was certainly that this was not a closed question. I very much regret that that was the impression left upon my mind. That is exactly why this Debate has been raised, and I think we owe a debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) for having taken advantage of this opportunity. I do not at all agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that this is not a fitting occasion to raise this matter. Parliamentary time is much congested, and here we had an opportunity which might not easily recur. The Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Liberal party have the disposition of 20 Supply days, and very often, I am glad to say, they consider the general wishes of the House in exercising that power. They also have the opportunity of Votes of Censure and opportunities of practically guiding the discussions on going into Committee of Supply, and on 102 other questions. Many Members who sit on this side, however, have no means whatever of bringing forward questions. Sometimes they may number as many as the Labour party, and yet they have no means of bringing them forward. Therefore, they are not only justified but bound to take advantage of what otherwise would have been a wasted evening from six o'clock onwards to inaugurate a discussion which has been of considerable interest and of real importance, and which has been attended by a large number of earnest Members of the House. Therefore, I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for having done it.
What is the anxiety that is in our minds? It is the very anxiety which the last five minutes of the Colonial Secretary's speech emphasised: the question is not a closed question. It ought to be. If there were any question about which the Government should have a clear, definite, resolute conviction, it is this particular question. A door should be either open or shut. It should not be flapping to and fro to see whether there is anyone pushing or whether he is pushing hard enough. We could have no greater danger at this time than the excitement of all kinds of hopes and expectations in the breasts of powerful people abroad, and then, when they come and propose their plans, as they may do very soon, and quote all you have said, you will perhaps be forced by Parliamentary pressure to give the plain answer which ought to be given now. Then the matter will have got into a much more serious condition, and you will have reached a stage when something in the nature of an affront may take the place of what at the present time can be a very reasonable, simple and easy diplomatic negation. Therefore, I very much regret the last part of my right hon. Friend's speech. Not only does it justify this Debate, but it makes it clear that the matter cannot stop here. Some of my hon. and right hon. Friends who take a great interest in this matter will do their utmost to clarify this issue.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend has his heart in the right place on this subject, and I trust that he will do his utmost to represent to his colleagues what has passed in this Debate. What is the use of telling us, with regard to 103 some person who is to invest money in Tanganyika, that the right hon. Gentleman was able to say, "On the whole, you may go ahead; you need not be worried"? Nobody supposes that if this colony were transferred the actual investments of British subjects would be at once expropriated. The mere fact that this matter has been discussed in these terms shows how extremely uncertain the position is. I was disappointed in the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night. I do not read into it more than it meant. With a great deal of that answer I agree. I thought that my right hon. Friend marshalled in a very calm and effective manner a large number of defensive positions and set up a great number of conditions which would have to be satisfied before it was possible that any transfer could take place. But, believe me, you will do far better to say that you are not going to have any transfers. That is the path of safety. If you go dangling these things about you will have many a strong hand reaching out to clutch them from you.
We have succeeded to some extent this evening, but let it be merely a preliminary debate which the fortunes of the afternoon have given us. This subject must be pressed forward on every occasion and by all the opportunities that the procedure of the House permits. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for some of the statements he has made, and I earnestly hope that we may have his continued aid and assistance in this matter, but I must not leave him under the impression that the words he used in the latter part of his speech leave anything but a feeling of grave anxiety on the part of many Members.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. MANDER
Before I pass to the subject which I have given notice to raise, that of Abyssinia, I should like to say a word about the question we have been debating. I was one of those who heard with great alarm the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other night, because it seemed to imply that under certain conditions at a certain time the Government might be prepared to hand over Tanganyika and other territories to Germany. I do not often find myself in association with 104 some of my hon. Friends on the other side, but the point where I join with them very strongly on this question is that it is absolutely unthinkable that we should hand over any human beings of whom we have the care or guardianship or trusteeship to the care of the present Nazi Government with their cruel, ruthless and inhuman methods of treating other human beings. It would be a most shameful thing to do. It would be far better if the Government were to say openly, "We are not, going to do it; do not let us discuss it or talk about it any more. It is a closed question."
At the risk of receiving a rebuff from the Labour Front Bench I am going to venture to continue the Debate to-night on a matter of at least as great importance as the one we have been discussing. It seems to me that this is an admirable opportunity for Back Benchers, very often crowded out of foreign affairs Debates by Front Benchers, who naturally speak at considerable length. This is a good occasion for back benchers to express the strong feelings that exist in different part of the country about the position in Abyssinia. I have no desire to embarrass the Government, but I want to encourage them to go along on the line they are at present attempting to pursue. We are seeing enacted in the world one of the most monstrous crimes that has ever been perpetrated. The whole future of civilisation is at stake in what is happening in Abyssinia. I do not want to refer to the past or to any mistakes that have been made, but I would like to quote a passage used by the Prime Minister in his speech at Worcester on Saturday, when he said:Collective security will never work unless all the nations that take part in it are prepared simultaneously to threaten with sanctions and to fight if necessary an aggressor.One cannot help feeling very disappointed that it has only just dawned on the Prime Minister that that is the situation. It was perfectly obvious from the beginning that that was the position, and that if we were not prepared to use force, if it were necessary, we should never have started on the path of sanctions at all. Nothing has done more harm to the working of the collective system in the last few months than the known policy of the British Government that they were not prepared to take any action which might 105 involve them in having to reply to a military attack by Italy. It is no use pretending that you can have effective sanctions unless you are prepared in the long run to stand up and hit back if you are struck by a bully.
What can we do to retrieve the terrible position in which the world finds itself? What can we do now? There are infinite difficulties, but I do not admit that the situation is hopeless. I agree that it largely depends on the personality of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. I believe that we have in the present Foreign Secretary a man who passionately believes in the collective system and who will do everything in his power to make it succeed. Is not the position this, that if Italy now defeats the League she defeats Great Britain—a most humiliating position for this great country? We are not in the habit of being defeated and we are certainly not in the habit of being defeated by Italy. The time has now come when we cannot shirk the issue any more.
If civilisation is to be saved, a heroic effort must now be made, to use a colloquial term, to get a "show down" in the next few weeks. I realise that until the French elections are over it is not possible to take any definite action. We have to get over that period. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] There are obvious practical difficulties. It is exasperating to have to wait a day, but it is clear that we are in such a position now that we have to get those elections over. But there should be no delay afterwards. I realise to the full that the attitude of the French during the last few months has been exasperating in the extreme, and that they have driven the vast majority of the people of this country into violent opposition to the French people and the French Government. It is difficult to get, them to show any sympathy or willingness to co-operate in present conditions. But in fairness to France we have to ask ourselves, "Have we always been so clear and so definite in our statements about our willingness to carry out our obligations under the Covenant of the League as to make the French feel they could rely on us in all circumstances, and throw aside the friendship of Italy, which was a very real thing to them?" In justice to France we have to bear that point in 106 mind, because I believe that in the long run our interests are rather with France than with any other country on the Continent.
I suggest that at the first Council meeting to be held at Geneva, at the beginning of May, the British Government should state clearly and openly before the world that we are prepared to carry out definitely and clearly and precisely all our obligations under the Covenant of the League, to resist aggression by Germany not only against France, but any country that she may attack. We should leave no doubt about that and do it, supporting it with Staff Conversations, if you like. Then, after having made our position absolutely clear, we ought to say to France, "We will act in that way if you, on your part, will come in with us and take whatever action is necessary to defeat the aggressor in Abyssinia, join with us and all the other nations in applying whatever sanctions may now be necessary." They would have to be fairly drastic sanctions if they are to do any good, whether it be a question of oil, or shipping or ports, or the prevention of Italian ships with poison gas and munitions and troops going through the Suez Canal—an action which, in my opinion, ought to have been taken six months ago. If it had been taken the whole trouble would now be over and Hitler would never have gone into the Rhineland. Some hon. Members will probably say, "Sanctions mean war." [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] Yes, I thought so. I venture to say that the precise opposite really represents the position. It is the belief that sanctions will not be applied or that they will be applied ineffectually or half-heartedly—that means war. The knowledge of the certainty that they will be applied effectually means peace, because nobody is going to stand up against the certainty of the application of sanctions.
One could not have a better illustration of it than this. Why did not Mussolini, when he wanted territory in Africa, go to Kenya instead of Abyssinia? Kenya would have been as valuable and as useful to him. He did not go there because he knew that the moment he did so the automatic, immediate, simultaneous sanctions of the whole might of the British Empire would be employed. There is a very real, practical illustration of the working of automatic sanctions, limited, in this case, 107 to the British Empire. The next step, I venture to suggest would be this: If, after we had made our position clear on those lines, France still says, "No, we are not interested in Abyssinia, we are going to give that up; Abyssinia must make the best terms she can and be sacrificed," we ought to give two years' notice to leave the League of Nations. It would have become a mockery and a sham, the collective system. The League of Nations would have brought not security, but disaster, to a country that relied absolutely on it and played the game in every way.
There would be an interval of two years, and I dare say that during those two years many countries in Europe would have cause to reconsider their position; but it is no good to go on pretending that we are joining in a great collective system if it has turned out to be a sham and other countries are not willing to take their part with us. If we really did go out of the League it would mean that we should have to turn to a. policy, a terrible policy, I think, of the maximum amount of isolation that is possible in the circumstances. It would, of course, be armed isolation. It would be futile in the long run, but it would be the best alternative to the League that would be available. If the League fails there can be no doubt that another world war will come rapidly towards us. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was talking to-day about placing some of the burdens upon posterity, but there is not going to be any posterity unless we are able to make the League effective, and thereby prevent war breaking out.
The right policy for us is to take the risk now, the risk to which the Prime Minister alluded in his speech at Worcester the other day, and do our utmost for the only thing in the world worth while, the League of Nations. It is the only institution that the people of this country will ever back in a political sense. If the League fails now we shall have to come back to it, we shall have to return to the only true path that exists for salvation in the world, and the only question is: Have we learned the lesson yet? Was the sacrifice of 10,000,000 lives sufficient, or have we to go through it all over again and have another 5,000,000 or 10,000,000 people slaughtered before we come back, inevitably, to the only pos- 108 sible method? I hope that the Foreign Secretary will do his utmost and persevere nobly, as I believe he does, to carry out his policy and the policy of the Government, and stake all on making the League effective now in our day.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. A. HENDERSON
I am sure that hon. Members on this side of the House will agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has just said. Since we raised this issue just before the Easter holiday it has become increasingly evident that within a, very short time the Italan Army will be in more or less complete occupation of Abyssinia. It is no use people in this country or in any other country taking the view that Abyssinia's troubles concern merely Abyssinia. The question was first raised at Geneva as far back as January, 1935. The Emperor of Abyssinia reported to the League Council that Italy had committed an act of aggression against his State and asked for the application of Article 11 of the Covenant of the League. Subsequently the League established a Committee of Conciliation, and on several occasions we have been told, in effect, by the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that time must be given to allow the machinery of conciliation to operate. On a former occasion he referred me to the resolutions of 1921, and suggested that sanctions had to be imposed stage by stage, progressively as he termed it. No one on this side of the House would object to the settlement of this terrible dispute by conciliation, although I personally have never been able to understand how conciliation would be likely to succeed, because it must mean satisfying both Italy and Abyssinia. How it would be possible to maintain the integrity of the Covenant and at the same time satisfy the country which has been declared the aggressor, and a country which has broken all the pledges it has made, seems to me to be beyond understanding.
Even so, it would have been a fair proposition to say, "We will try the method of conciliation provided that Italy marks time, so to speak." There have been objections to an intensification of sanctions, because that might impede this policy of conciliation, but there has been no cessation of military activity on the part of Italy. We are told there must 109 be no intensification of economic pressure, but all the time there has been an intensification of military pressure against Abyssinia. The result to-day, 15 months after Abyssinia first complained to the League Council, is that all that has happened is the imposition of four sanctions, imposed as far back as October, and six months after the first imposition of economic sanctions we find the Italian armies within a few miles of the capital of Abyssinia. It has been suggested, it was suggested yesterday—
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ 8 p.m.
I was dealing with the question of conciliation and I was pointing out that there was no cessation of the attempt on the part of Italy to secure a victory over the Abyssinian armies. I was also pointing out that the economic sanctions which had been imposed had in no way been strengthened by the League Council since they were first imposed in October last year. I have called the attention of the Noble Lord on previous occasions, to the fact that, under Article 16, a good deal more could be done by the League if it had desired. There is no reason why Ambassadors should not be withdrawn or why there should not be a complete embargo upon all exports from League countries into Italy. If I am told that that requires collective action, I will agree that the more countries adopting that policy the more effective the policy will be. I have been unable to understand what has gone wrong with the machinery of the League. Why has it slowed down during the past few months? Who is responsible for slowing it down? Has the League realised its impotence in the face of a powerful nation like Italy? Is it that some countries are loth to carry out their obligations under the Covenant or are all the nations waiting for one another to take the lead?
The Noble Lord knows that immediately one country has been declared the aggressor under the Covenant that act of aggression constitutes an act of war against all the other members of the League. I do not attach too much importance to the efficacy of sanctions by 110 one nation alone, but I would rather see our own country accepting her obligations under the Covenant and carrying out, or seeking to carry out, those obligations, even though that meant unilateral action. When we talk about sanctions we are told that sanctions mean war. Why should they? Economic sanctions merely mean that there shall be withheld from the aggressor country commodities which can be supplied by the country imposing the sanctions, and all that it would mean would be that our country would refuse to supply Italy with the oil, coal, iron or steel commodities which she requires for war purposes. Merely to withhold the supply of oil does not, according to the rules of international law, constitute an act of war, and whether Italy would be prepared to take action and use military force to attack the possessions of this country, or of any other country which withheld supplies, is another matter. I hope that this country, even though the League be not prepared to extend the scope of its sanctions policy, will refuse to have anything to do with the supplying of oil or of any other war commodities to Italy until she ceases to attack the Abyssinian nation.
If I am told that that will lead to war, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman who spoke before me that it is far better to face the realities of the situation. If we take the view that the League is a sham and a mockery, let us be frank with the world and say so, but if, on the other hand, we take the view that things have gone wrong because some nations are not prepared to accept their obligations, let us separate the sheep from the goats and find out which nations are prepared to honour their obligations under the Covenant and which are not prepared to do so. Those nations who are prepared to honour their bond should be prepared to take the consequences. The position cannot be any worse than it would be if no League of Nations were in existence. I realise that the argument which I have advanced will be open to criticism on the ground that Great Britain would be having to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the other nations, but we should have the consolation of knowing that our action was evidence to the whole civilised world that, after the pledges we gave when we signed the Covenant of the League of Nations, this country is not prepared to dishonour its bond and re- 111 pudiate its obligations, but is prepared to take risks in order to further the ideals of peace.
It may be that the world is not yet ready for the system that we term collective security. It may be that, in this country and in other countries, merely lip service has been paid to the League of Nations, but now is the time to apply the test. The Abyssinian nation are entitled to the protection and support of every Member State of the League of Nations. It is no use saying that we cannot move unless France moves with us. If France is the stumbling block, let the world be told, and if France be not prepared to honour her obligations under the Covenant so far as Abyssinia is concerned, she may be faced with similar results when she expects other nations to take action in regard to the Locarno Treaties. Locarno is part of, and is contained within, the Covenant of the League of Nations. I would say to the French nation that if they destroy the Covenant of the League of Nations as the result of leaving Abyssinia to its fate, she will destroy the sanctity of all treaties, pacts and obligations as well as the rule of international law.
Our civilisation has come to the parting of the ways. Either we go straight ahead, taking all the risks in a determination to safeguard the peace of the world, even at the expense and the risk of trouble in the immediate future—it is far better to have trouble in the immediate future and to make it clear beyond doubt that the nations of the world will not allow one nation to attack another—or we return to the insecurity that we experienced before the outbreak of the Great War, with the system of alliances, the balance of power, the policy of isolation, large armaments and the eventual clash of forces, of policies and national aspirations which will, sooner or later, bring us back to where we were prior to the Armageddon of 1914.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I intervene for a few moments only in order that the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) may realise that we are sympathetic to the proposal that he has put forward. This is a subject of some magnitude which must be debated with proper preparation, but I would point out 112 to the Under-Secretary that the fact that the subject has been raised on this very unusual occasion is an indication that British foreign policy at this moment stands in a position of greater humiliation than I can recall. Looking back upon the last 12 months we cannot say that the position is due to the action of a series of nations over whom we have no control because, as a matter of fact, the situation has arisen out of the volition and the initiative of the British Government. It was the British Government whose Foreign Secretary made the historic speech at Geneva in December of last year and started the present phase of the sanctions issue. It was the National Government who insisted upon having the General Election on this subject, as a result of which many hon. Members would not hold their seats if any other issue had been put forward. The position we have reached is not due to our having to accept the views of other countries. Having started this issue in such a manner and on our own account, we should have taken a far more decisive action from September onwards than any that we have adopted.
The doctrine which was repeated only yesterday—that is why I rise, because the doctrine was repeated yesterday—that Great Britain would act, but only pari passu with all other countries and just on the same level, means that we would take no particular initiative but would act just as other countries were acting and in the same way. In that doctrine we give the leadership to other countries and, as a matter of fact, it is actually giving the leadership to France. The report of the experts committee on the oil sanction was a very melancholy document to read. It told us that in 3½ months it would have been effective, and therefore if it had been imposed at the same time as the other sanctions the war would have been over, instead of this most humiliating discussion taking place.
There is another point to be taken into account in relation to the melancholy plight in which the people of Abyssinia now find themselves. I have read the best military appreciation upon the position and it is by no means yet certain that Italy has conquered the whole of Abyssinia or that there will not be a long-drawn-out resistance in the West of Abyssinia, as in the case of other peoples 113 who have been up against Spain or France and when their main armies have been conquered and their capitals invested. Under those conditions, I venture to say from internal evidence that Italy would have to keep her army, hundreds of thousands of men, in the country. There is plenty of internal evidence that Italy is not in a position to wage a long-drawn-out conflict in Abyssinia or anywhere else. It. is strange that British passengers are travelling in Italian ships, and water is coming to Italy from British possessions. Somaliland is very prosperous on account of its exports for the assistance of Italy in Abyssinia. There is no reason why that should continue. That is why I do not like the phrase used yesterday by the Foreign Secretary:His Majesty's Government are ready and willing to consider, together with their fellow members of the League, the imposition of any further economic and financial sanctions that may be considered necessary.That is the attitude which has given the leadership to other countries. Let His Majesty's Government, at the next meeting of the League, make proposals themselves, and put them forward with whatever authority they still have left.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. RAIKES
I agree with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) on one point, and on one point alone. That is that we have reached a stage at which the issue in regard to our position in the League and in regard to Abyssinia cannot be shirked. But the view that I desire to put before the Government is entirely opposite to the views which have been expressed from the Labour benches and by the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton. One thing is certain, and that is that economic sanctions of the type which the League is prepared to put on have failed utterly, and I think it is our duty, when we are looking at the future, to consider why they have failed. It has been said that there is no reason why sanctions should mean war if all the nations joined in dealing with the question, but from the very-start of this problem in Abyssinia we have been faced by the fact that only half a League would come in. A number of the great nations of the world are outside the League, and, if sanctions come down to brute force, you cannot measure their advantage by the number of small nations without armaments that 114 could be induced to support the League; it has to be measured by the extent to which the great nations of Europe and of the world could be got to play their part in these sanctions.
It took all the efforts and eloquence of our present Foreign Secretary and our late Foreign Secretary to get the League as a whole, and to get France—and France, after all, is the only other great Mediterranean Power with whom we could deal with Italy—even to move in regard to those comparatively minor economic sanctions that were put on. I grant that, supposing there had been a war that was likely to extend over a number of years, financial and economic sanctions of that character might in the long run have played a considerable part, but in a quick war they have been shown to be completely ineffective. After all these months it has been impossible to get one step beyond the sanctions that were put on in the first two months, and, now that Italy has practically won the war, is there the slightest likelihood or possibility that the League of Nations as a whole will consider further economic sanctions, or will be prepared to consider backing them with military sanctions? The only way to put Italy out of Abyssinia to-day would be by force, and there is not one nation in Europe or in the world that is prepared to face that issue.
§ Mr. RAIKES
No, but it has already been pointed out by France herself how unwilling she has been even to adopt these minor sanctions. At the present time great nations like Germany and Japan are outside the League. Do hon. Members opposite suggest that Great Britain, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia should advance in a solemn cohort against Italy—
§ Mr. RAIKES
—and possibly we should find ourselves marching against Turkey, and against Germany, and against—
§ Mr. RAIKES
I agree that we might get Yugoslavia and Turkey, but, if various nations one after another were 115 to start unilateral action, Germany or Japan might be found slipping in on the other side, and the League of Nations, instead of being an instrument of peace, would create a first-class war—possibly the last war that this civilisation would know. I should be prepared to agree if we had a League that was capable of working and contained the whole of the great Powers of the world, but we have not such a League, and to talk to-day about increasing sanctions and making further gestures is to beat the air, because, so far as complete collective security is concerned, the League has shown, over this Abyssinian issue, that collective security does not exist to-day.
We are left with two alternatives. It is no use buoying ourselves up with the idea that we can make gestures. So far as Abyssinia is concerned, we have in a way been a worse friend to her than we might have been an enemy, because Abyssinia, in the early stages of this war, believed that the League could and would take effective action in her support; but it became more and more evident that the League was not prepared to work, and, indeed, could not work, on those lines. When the late Foreign Secretary had to resign his office last December, he was at any rate working for terms which were far more favourable to Abyssinia than Abyssinia will ever get with all the moral platitudes of the League behind her. I was very much struck by one remark that the right hon. Gentleman made in the course of his speech in December. He said that so often in the past had some small nation been encouraged, by realising that the moral spirit of Britain was on its side, to carry on, hoping for greater and still greater support, only to find that its last state was worse than its first. From the point of view of Abyssinia, a settlement last December, humiliating as it might have been to the League of Nations, would have been far better than the settlement she will have to face now.
I do not believe, however, that, because the machinery of the League has broken down in this instance, the League need of necessity fail completely for the future, but I believe that one lesson which this country and the world will learn will be that the League Covenant must be revised before the League can really mean anything at all. What is 116 everybody's business in the League is nobody's business. We have seen that exemplified in the discussions at Geneva. We have seen that the nations of the world as a whole are not prepared to "go the whole hog" and, it may be, risk a war and their own lies, in support of some principle which does not really directly touch them. Until we have faced that issue, any talk about collective security is very largely "bunkum." On the other hand it may, indeed, be possible, if we learn our lesson from Abyssinia, by realising the League Covenant, that is to say, by giving limited responsibility to nations instead of unlimited responsibility collectively, to get nations prepared to take part in regional pacts within their own zones and within their own interests and prepared to take a part in keeping the peace if there is aggression within their area. Otherwise, drift on as we are drifting to-day, and every nation in Europe will tear up any treat or covenant it likes and it will know that the present League machiner is not applicable, is not suitable, and cannot work to maintain peace by force. For that reason I have put a view which is not often heard in the House but which, I believe, is going to grow in intensity in the next few months, that a revised League Covenant, with responsibilities definitely limited, is the only way in which the League can survive and Europe can be saved from chaos or from a complete breaking of all treaties at all times.
§ 8.26 p.m.
Mr. VYVYAN ADAMS
Whatever the official Opposition may think about important questions being raised on an occasion like this, I am very grateful to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) because this is the first occasion since the General Election that I have succeeded in catching Mr. Speaker's eye to speak on the matter of Italy and Abyssinian or Germany; if I have tried once I have tried at least 10 times. However, I think the House should be congratulated on having been hitherto spared my unfortunate and worthless remarks. I was interested in listening to the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes) and I conjectured, as I listened, why he continued to support a Government which states constantly that it has founded and is founding its foreign policy on the Covenant of 117 the League of Nations in its present form. I agree with him that the League of Nations will not be deserving of respect if it cannot sustain the reign of law. However, I do not know how any system of law can be sustained without rules, and without sanctions to sustain those rules; and surely the coercion of Italy was hardly promoted by the scandalous Hoare-Laval proposals which arrested those very oil sanctions which would admittedly have been effective to stop the bloodshed and the warfare.
The two questions that have been raised to-night are intimately germane and closely interwoven. I think the problem in foreign affairs might be expressed in this single sentence, that Germany—that is to say, the Nazi Government, because the two things have now, unfortunately, become identical—may try to repeat within measurable time what seems likely to be Italy's successful example of brutal and ruthless aggression. I should like to quote what I think should be the guiding policy of the Government in the words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) delivered in this honourable House on 11th July last. I listened to them with a feeling of intense exaltation, and so too apparently did the whole of the House of Commons if cheers are any indication of its collective feeling. Towards the end of his, speech the right hon. Gentleman said:We are coming very near to what may be a test case for the League as to whether it does mean collective security, whether it does mean anything for anyone or nothing for anyone. It is not to be supposed that the League may be flouted under the eyes of Europe, that League methods can be repudiated, a policy of force and conflict engaged in, and that the League can pass all that by because it happens to occur in Africa and not in Europe without thereby destroying the value of collective security, not for Africa only but for Europe. I take an example.Then my right hon. Friend spoke of Austria. Further on he said:The value of the Covenant to Austria, and to the Powers that are interested in Austria, is exactly the value that the League can secure for it when Abyssinia comes to plead at the Council, and it is idle to suppose that what is at stake in this matter is merely a quarrel between Abyssinia and Italy—a quarrel which might or might not affect our interests. What is at stake is the system of collective security.118 And this was the peroration of the speech:In the last resort we have to take our decision at the Council table at Geneva. We have to take the risk of saying we are prepared to fulfil our obligations under the Covenant if others will do the same. We ought to say that openly to the Council even at the risk that others may refuse. Even if we have to use that language, and others are offended by it, and we come home empty-handed, that much we owe to the honour of the British name and to the efforts that our successive Governments have made to make the League of Nations a real force in international life in the interests of peace and security for us all." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th July, 1935; col. 568, Vol. 304.]If the Ethiopian question on 11th July was a, test case it is no less a test case to-day and the mistake, if a mistake has been made by ourselves, seems to me to rest in our not having said last autumn how far we were prepared to go. "The whole way with the whole lot," to use the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), seems to me to-day, and has always seemed to me, the right policy. On 22nd October last, some time before the General Election, on one of the occasions when before that interlude I troubled the House on this question, I said I thought we should seek authority from the Council to bar the Canal. I explained, to the accompaniment of some isolationist interruptions from a Member from one of the Manchester divisions, how I thought it was both physically and legally feasible. It is as plain to-day as it has ever been that, to put it at the very lowest, it will be the height of folly if the States members of the League allow Italy now to reap the reward of her barbarous and intensified aggression. As in all disputes, wherever they occur over the globe, you cannot separate this question from the general interest which Great Britain and the British Empire have in peace. The Italians, if they are so minded, are already able to take a bath in the waters of Lake Tsana. They need it. Perhaps there is not yet any immediate danger of their doing anything to the head waters of the Nile, though frankly I would put nothing past the users of poison gas.
When it is suggested that oil sanctions are going to cause war, One fact always seems to be forgotten, that the States members of the League will be depriving the aggressor of that vital fuel by which 119 Italy could carry her aggression against her European neighbours. In any event is it not time to face this fact, that a law which allows the law-breaker to determine the degree of pressure to be applied to him is clearly no law at all. But I doubt whether, the military situation being what it is in Ethiopia, anything short of denial of access to the Suez Canal will now prevail. For that measure we have the power. Have we, I wonder, the courage to make that proposal before the Council at Geneva? All the while the Nazis in Germany, the central danger to civilisation, are waiting, watching and working. I should like to say how glad I have been that there has been no weakening on the part of the Government over the Staff Conversations. The Nazi Government in Germany has already got away with far too much while our own Press, which is supposed to be so famous for its independence, has sung for the law-breaker a paean which has varied from piano to fortissimo.
There is a current of opinion running through this country which is roughly expressed in the notion that Germany has not had a. square deal. I am one of those who in 1932 and early in 1933 urged the giving of equality to Germany by the qualitative disarmament of the victorious Powers down to her own level. In those days Germany was impotent, vanquished and democratic. That cannot be said to-day. She is heavily-armed, ruthless and totalitarian; to all her neighbours she causes terror, and to most of them she may constitute a danger. When I hear all this talk of "giving Germany a square deal," I wonder what would happen if she realised her ambitions on the continent of Europe. She would then undoubtedly demand back her colonies. There are people in this country who contemplate returning them to her quite regardless of the interests of the natives who would become subjects of the Nazi régime.
Is it likely that when Germany had resumed her former position of a great imperial power with vast oversea responsibilities, she would any longer observe the Anglo-German Naval Agreement under which she is allowed in certain circumstances 100 per cent. of our submarine tonnage? Is there any guarantee that the violator of the Treaty of Locarno would stop short of a 120 1,000 per cent. of that tonnage? Give Germany a square deal! What we have to avoid doing is presenting her with a square meal. If we do not to-day make a reality both in Europe and in North Eastern Africa of the principle of collective security, if we, in a word, do not dedicate the strength of all to the defence of each, we are deferring a collision whose momentum may be increased by the postponement. Germany is really the central and underlying problem—Italy is really an item in the European problem. I wish in my last words to emphasise the danger implicit in the Nazi system in Germany. Never to my mind has there been a danger more manifest than that which Nazi Germany to-day presents to Christendom. I wonder if all hon. Members present in the House at this moment read the other day the Germanised version of the Sermon on the Mount by Bishop Muller. In his foreword he wrote:For you my comrades of the Third Reich, I have Germanised, not translated, the Sermon on the Mount.Perhaps I may be allowed to read his interpretation of two of the Beatitudes. The first one:Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.The Germanised version is:Blessed is he who at all times is a good comrade. He will succeed in the world.The next:Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.The Germanised version is:Blessed are they who keep peace with their compatriots. They do God's will.There is much more besides, but when one sees the terrible disease which is spread through Germany, the denial of everything which we had thought had been confirmed by many centuries of ordinarily accepted decent practice, I think that it is fair to say that never was there a more pitiable self-deception than is to-day being practised in this country by thousands of our generous-hearted fellow-countrymen. If they can be persuaded to show themselves not hostile to the proposition that Britain will stand with other countries in the path both of the aggressor Italy to-day, and of a potentially aggressive Germany to-morrow—then there will be in fact no realisation of that frightful danger— 121 aggression by Germany in Central Europe. If that condition is not established, we may have to intervene yet again to stem an avalanche upon the continent of Europe that we have been too late to stop.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. RILEY
I wish to associate myself with the congratulations to the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) for introducing a discussion on this subject to-night, and also to associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for West Leeds (Mr. V. Adams) as to the Nazi regime in general. This is bound up with the issue which faces this House and the country at the present moment. One cannot help feeling that the paucity of Members interested in this question to-night and present in this House is far removed from the deep feeling which exists in the country. Thousands of people of good will are feeling a sense of deep humiliation at the impotency to which our country and other countries are now being subjected in face of the situation produced by Italy in Abyssinia. I would emphasise the necessity of the Government really facing the question of whether a consistent and courageous policy of carrying out the commitments of our own and other Governments, who are Members of the League, is to be pursued, or whether such a policy is to be dropped.
One listened with a great feeling of sadness to the pessimistic speech of the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes). It was a sort of confession of helplessness because Italy, for the time being, has carried the day. It is true that Italy has succeeded in subjugating a comparatively unarmed and undeveloped nation by great and superior forces, but it does not relieve us—this country and the League of Nations—from insisting that in no circumstances shall Italy, the declared aggressor and criminal in this matter, be allowed to dictate terms of peace except it be a peace formulated by the League of Nations, of which we are members. That is the point I want to stress to-night and to impress upon the Noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. It is said that sanctions so far have not been effective. Is that any reason why they should not be made as effective as possible? When a country and a Government have been 122 declared the aggressor under the statutes of the Covenant, we are not only pledged to go to the defence of the country which has to face the aggressor but also to apply sanctions in the fullest extent, and to cut off all relations with the country which has adopted the attitude of aggressor.
I would ask the Under-Secretary what are the difficulties that stand in the way of our own Government taking the lead at Geneva and asking the 50 other countries who are members of the League to join with us, this country taking the lead, in withdrawing diplomatic representatives from Italy straight away? Why should not our diplomatic representatives be withdrawn? Why should we not ask all those 50 countries, as provided under Article 16, to ostracise Italy as long as she remains a deliberate aggressor, and until such time as she is prepared to conform to her obligations as a Member of the League? Why should not the Council of the League, led by our own Government, or our own representatives at Geneva, seek agreement on these matters from all the Member States? Why should we not propose that among the 50 nations there should be common agreement that Ambassadors and Consuls should be withdrawn from Italy and diplomatic relations broken off, that there should be a stoppage of trains at the frontiers, and that telephonic, telegraphic and postal communication with Italy should be brought to an end until such time as Italy is prepared to accept conditions formulated by the League. It may be said that France is the only other great country in addition to ourselves in the League and that it is improbable that France would come into line with ourselves. It is difficult to visualise how, if we could get anything like unanimity among the other States within the League, France would stand out. Certainly it is our bounden duty to pursue the policy of sanctions until Italy is prepared to recognise her obligations, to accept peace and to make reparation for her aggression under conditions formulated by the League.
§ 8:48 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Viscount Cranborne)
In the past, before 1914, it was the rarest thing to have a Debate on foreign affairs. Two Debates in a year would, I think, have been regarded as a very high average. But we live in 123 difficult times now when problems are more complex, and it is universally recognised that they affect more nearly every man and woman in the country. Therefore, we have very frequent Debates on foreign affairs. We had two in the last week before the Recess, the last of which took place after my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary left for Geneva. Now, when he is hardly out of his aeroplane on the way back, we have another. In the circumstances, I feel sure that the House will understand that it is not possible for me to-night to add a very great deal to what has already been said by my right hon. Friend yesterday at Geneva. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) recognised that fact and that his intention—so I understood from his speech—in raising the question was not so much to get information from the Government as to make perfectly clear to the country and the world the very strong views that are held by Members of this House in these dark and difficult days.
I understood my hon. Friend to say that he thought it was essential that His Majesty's Government should in no way weaken collective action at the present time. I thought that after my right hon. Friend's speech yesterday he would have had no very great qualms about that, but if he requires any additional assurance I shall be very glad to give it to him and the House this evening. There has been no change in the view of His Majesty's Government on this question. They still stand firmly by the declarations they have made in the past. They have always said that this Abyssinian dispute is not a dispute between Italy and England. If I may say so with all deference to my hon. Friend, he did not do a great service to this country in that respect this evening. He indicated that a victory for Italy would be a defeat of England. That is not so, and it is a very unwise thing to have said in this House or anywhere else. We are acting in this dispute not as England, but as a member of the League. Victory for Italy might be regarded as a defeat of the League, but that it would be a defeat for England as against Italy is an untrue and a most unwise thing to say.
§ Mr. MANDER
I said that it would be a defeat for England as a leading member of the League of Nations.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
That is not quite the way the hon. Member put it before. It is true that we are only in this dispute, and we have only been in this dispute, as a loyal member of the League. We have always regarded it as a dispute between Italy and the League arising out of Italy's violation of the Covenant, and that situaiton has not changed. In the belief of His Majesty's Government and of Members of the House Italy is still violating the Covenant. Moreover, the situation has lately become more acute, not only because of the progress of the war, but because of the alleged use of gas by the Italian military authorities in violation of the Protocol of 1935. I fully recognise that there are apologists for Italy in this country and elsewhere who say that gas is used only as a reprisal for Abyssinian atrocities, but I do not believe that that argument will convince this House. We were told by the same people when Italy first entered Abyssinia that she went on a civilising mission.
If it turns out that gas has been used, and that Abyssinian atrocities have as a result been followed by Italian gas, then, so far from a forward nation civilising a backward nation, some of us must feel that it is a case of a backward nation barbarising a civilised nation. If it turns out that gas has been. used—it is not definitely proved by the League as yet, but I am afraid that there is very little doubt that it has been used—then His Majesty's Government must take the view that there should be no relaxation of the action of the League in this dispute; no relaxation of any kind. We still remain ready—if I may repeat a remark made by my right hon. Friend yesterday, in a different form—to impose any financial or economic sanctions on which there is general agreement at Geneva. I recognise that a number of people in this country and a number of hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate think that that is not enough. There have been accusations against His Majesty's Government, that their action in this dispute has been weak-kneed. I confess that I, and I think a great many other Members of this House, are getting tired of that kind of argument. Everybody knows, not only in this country, but in 125 every country, and certainly it is well known at Geneva, that we above all other countries have taken the lead. We have only to look at the Italian newspapers to see that. We find that they level all their attacks upon England. Hon. Members do no service to their own country or to the League by making accusations of that kind.
Can the Under-Secretary tell us whether yesterday or during the proceedings last week at Geneva the Foreign Secretary proposed any further additional sanctions? He has said that the Government were willing to consider any further economic and financial sanctions that may be considered necessary to be effective, but did the Foreign Secretary himself make any proposals as to what further sanctions would be effective and desirable, or did he leave the initiative to somebody else?
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary some time ago at Geneva said that we were ready to impose oil sanctions. It is not our doing that they were not imposed, and there is no doubt either at Geneva or throughout Europe that the British Government have taken a foremost place in this dispute. The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) I am sure did not wish to mislead the House in what he said regarding the oil sanctions. I understood him to say that the Oil Committee stated that oil sanctions could have been made effective in three and a-half months. That is not what the Oil Committee really did say. They said that such an embargo if it were universally applied would become fully effective, that is, if it were applied not merely by members of the League but by the United States of America and by all other nations. They went on, to say:If such an embargo were applied by the States Members of the Co-ordination Committee alone, the only effect which it could have on Italy would be to render the purchase of petroleum more difficult and expensive.If the League had put on an oil embargo in January without the co-operation of the United States it would not have had the effect which the right hon. Gentleman indicated.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I did not go fully into that matter, and the statement of the Under-Secretary is correct. But if I had gone into further detail I should have 126 said that in January there was every indication from official sources, including President Roosevelt, that the United States would have acted with us.
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
I do not think that there was any indication of that nature. I am not going to say that it is not possible that the United States would have adopted such action, but there was no indication of that kind.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
May I remind the Under-Secretary of the statements of Mr. Cordell Hull and Mr. Ickes, the Secretary for Labour, on that point?
§ Viscount CRANBORNE
All I can say is that the information in the hands of His Majesty's Government gave no reason to suppose that the United States Government were ready to co-operate at that time. I do not say that in any criticism of the United States. They are not members of the League and are entitled to take what view they like on questions of this kind. But I would urge hon. Members to think carefully before they make statements in foreign affairs Debates of this kind as to the actions of His Majesty's Government in this dispute. Obviously there are causes for criticism, but I think hon. Members will recognise that throughout the dispute the leading part has been played by the British Government, and it is not due to them that further action has not been taken. Certain hon. Members would go even further. I think I detected a slight tendency in that direction in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson). They would have the British Government act alone. They say that if other people will not go on, we should go on without them. They consider that we should act alone and close the Suez Canal, and that we should act alone and impose oil sanctions. I think I also detected this tendency in the question of the hon. Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone). She considers that His Majesty's Government should act alone and impose oil sanctions. That policy is heroic but it is not collective.
This country cannot ride two horses at the same time. If it is felt that collective action is ineffective, then the proper way is to advocate that this country should leave the League and build immense armaments and pursue an individualist policy—a Palmerstonian policy. It would be very difficult and 127 very expensive. It would not solve the present dispute or meet the present crisis. Abyssinians would still be bombed and still be gassed. No one would say that Lord Palmerston was a weak-kneed or timid Foreign Minister, but in the present crisis he would have said that he would only take action where national interests were involved. In this case we have aid again and again that our interests in this dispute are solely our obligations under the League of Nations. Nobody has said that we ought to have immense collective obligations and that on the top of that we should pile up individual responsibilities as well. If we did that the only result would be that we should place a burden on the country that it could not conceivably carry. Moreover the situation to-day is not the same as it was at the end of the 19th century. In present circumstances we cannot limit our interests or define our own vital interests. All international trade depends on peace. Our own trade is world-wide, and therefore a war in any part of the world must affect our vital interests. The main lesson of the Great War of 1914 was that in any first-class war no country can keep out. Japan and the United States, who had no direct interest in the original conflict, were gradually dragged in.
There is only one way in which to get complete security and that is by a worldwide collective system. An individualist system is no longer any good for us or for any other nation; we must have a collective system if the peace of the world is to be secured, and it is to that end, I believe, that all parties in this country are aiming. Of course we must all recognise the limitations of the present League of Nations. They have been painful and obvious to us during the present dispute. What we can say is that the Covenant is an advance in one particular direction. It lays down a common standard of morality in international affairs. It is true that this common standard is not universally recognised. There are countries who are not members of the League who do not recognise it, and members of the League who have one standard of morality for themselves and another standard for other people. We 128 are accustomed to that in our own private life, but the fact remains that there is a standard laid down in. the Covenant which is accepted by the vast majority of the people in this country and many other countries of the world. It is there, and I believe that if it is supported it has come to stay in the world.
If I amasked how long it will be before this standard of morality will be found completely and truly effective, it is, of course, very hard to say. However, we can judge to a certain extent by the analogy of our own history. A hundred years ago duelling was regarded as a very proper way of settling disputes; now it is a relic of the past. A hundred years ago the entries into London were haunted by highwaymen; now even the most timid of motorists can afford to cross Blackheath without any great tremors. I hope the House will not think that I am flippant in giving analogies of such small scope in a Debate of this gravity. I certainly do not mean to be flippant.
I assure the House that His Majesty's Government have the very greatest sense of the gravity of this matter. They wish neither to ignore nor to minimise the grim realities of the Abyssinian situation to-day. It is something which none of us can afford to ignore, but we must recognise that Rome was not built in a day. If we have a new ideal of international structure, it must inevitably take time completely to establish it. But I submit to hon. Members that for that reason we ought not to abandon it. If you abandon advances in civilisation of this kind, you merely sink back into barbarism. I do suggest to the House that in spite of setbacks, in spite of disappointments and in spite of tragedies of the kind with which we are faced at the present time, we must keep this aim strongly before us. I can assure the House that it is towards that goal that the Government intend to move, and it is to that purpose that they will devote their very best efforts.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes after Nine o'Clock.