§ 349 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I believe it will be the general wish of the House that I should initiate a Debate on Foreign Affairs this afternoon by making a statement as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government as affected by recent events in Europe. I deliberately choose the word "attitude" rather than "policy," because I cannot imagine that any events would change the fundamental basis of British foreign policy which is the maintenance and preservation of peace and the establishment of a sense of confidence that peace will, in fact, be maintained. That must, I think, always be the aim of any Government of this country, because, as has so often been said, peace is the greatest interest of the British Empire. But that does not mean that nothing would make us fight. We are bound by certain Treaty obligations which would entail upon us the necessity of fighting if the occasion arose, and I hope no one doubts that we should be prepared, in such an event, to fulfil those obligations. Then there are certain vital interests of this country for which, if they were menaced, we should fight—for the defence of British territories and the communications which are vital to our national existence. There are other cases, too, in which we might fight, if we were clear that either we must fight or else abandon, once and for all, the hope of averting the destruction of those things which we hold most dear—our liberty and the right to live our lives according to the standards which our national traditions and our national character have prescribed for us.
All the same, our object must always be to preserve these things which we consider essential without recourse to war, if that be possible, because we know that in war there are no winners. There is nothing but suffering and ruin for those 1400 who are involved, and even if we ourselves were not involved, with our world-wide ramifications of trade and finance, we could not fail to be involved in the consequences of war and the destruction of life and property which sooner or later must react upon ourselves. The problem, then, is how are we to achieve this purpose of maintaining peace in a world in which conditions are constantly changing and in which, therefore, we must from time to time change our own methods in order to meet new situations as they arise?
For a long time a majority of the people of this country cherished the belief that in the League of Nations we had found an instrument which was capable of enforcing and maintaining peace. Some recent words of mine have, in some quarters, been taken to mean that there has been a sudden change in the attitude of His Majesty's Government, not only to that thesis that the League could give us security, but to the League itself; that we had thrown over the League and that we had abandoned it as one of the principal elements in our policy. I do not deny that my original belief in the League as an effective instrument for preserving peace has been profoundly shaken. That arises from the present condition of the League itself. But it has not arisen from any recent events. As long ago as June, 1936, speaking in London, I referred to the failure of the policy of collective security to prevent war, to stop war once it had begun, or to save the victims of aggression. I went on to say:There is no reason why, because the policy of collective security, in the circumstances in which it was tried, has failed we should, therefore, abandon the idea of the League and give up the ideals for which the League stands. But if we have retained any vestige of common sense, surely we must admit that we have tried to impose upon the League a task which was beyond its powers to fulfil.I have not changed the views that I expressed nearly two years ago. I have not ceased to believe in the possibility that the League might be so revivified and so strengthened as to serve as an effective instrument for the preservation of peace. But I say that is not the position to-day. It is interesting to observe that while I have not changed my views, others, who did not share them at the time, have since come round to my way 1401 of thinking. Let me quote a few words from a journal published not many weeks ago:The League has, for the moment, ceased to be an instrument of collective security. It remains as a useful machine of international collaboration in a score of fields, and it supplies means of conciliation by which disputes between its members can be peacefully adjusted. But as a method of enforcing peace and restraining aggression, the League, in practice, no longer exists. It may be restored and revived, but the facts to-day have to be faced to-day.Do hon. Members opposite accept that statement of the position?
§ The Prime Minister
I am sure they recognise the source from which I have drawn those words. They might, indeed, have come from a speech of my own, but, as a matter of fact, they are drawn from a leading article, and, I think in the circumstances, I should say a courageous article, in the "Daily Herald." I hope hon. Members opposite will be prepared to accept from their own organ what, perhaps, I could hardly expect them to accept from me, and that they will be willing to face to-day these hard facts. Since I am looking now, not for differences, but for agreement, may I not hope that hon. Members opposite will also agree with me that the best thing we could do for the League would be to nurse it back to health, not only because its original aims were right, but because, if only we could make It wide enough and strong enough to fulfil the functions for which it was originally designed, it might yet become the surest and most effective guarantee for peace that the world has yet devised?
It may be contended that I am giving too restricted an interpretation of the phrase "collective security." After all, for practical purposes it is not necessary? for collective security to ensure the cooperation of every one of the 58 nations which still remain members of the League, provided that we can get the co-operation of a sufficient number to present a front of overwhelming power to any potential aggressor. Indeed, it might plausibly be argued that to deal with a smaller number of nations and to dispense with the somewhat slow and cumbrous machinery of Geneva might be 1402 a way of dealing with the problem of the lightning strokes of modem warlike operations, far simpler than the older method of collective security through the League as a whole. I think that from the practical point of view there is much to be said for a proposition of that kind.
I would make only two observations upon it. The first is this: However completely we encase such a proposal as that in the Covenant of the League, however wholeheartedly the League may be prepared to give its sanction and approval to such a project as a matter of fact it does not differ from the old alliances of pre-war days which we thought we had abandoned in favour of something better. A second observation that I would like to make is that the value of such alliances as that, as a deterrent to possible aggression, must obviously depend upon their military efficiency, upon the numbers and equipment of the forces that can be mobilised, on their distribution in relation to the area in which they might have to be employed, and on the amount of preparation and co-ordination of plans which it might be possible to achieve beforehand.
But there is one conclusion which, I think, emerges from that brief review. I stress it because it seems to me to be a corollary both of the failure of the League for the moment to provide us with collective security, and also of the conditions which would alone make any form of collective security effective as a deterrent. The conclusion I draw is this: That if Great Britain is to make a substantial contribution towards the establishment of what I have described once again as our greatest interest, she must be strongly armed for defence and for counter-offence. Sometimes it has seemed to me that hon. Members opposite were endeavouring to make some distinction between the purposes for which our armaments can be used. I could understand that if it were contemplated that in any circumstances these armaments could be used for purposes of aggression, or, indeed, for any purposes which were inconsistent with the spirit of the Covenant. But we all know that there is no question with us of anything of the kind. If that be so, I cannot myself see any object in trying to make a difference between armaments required for self-defence and armaments required for the purpose of fulfilling international obligations.
1403 If ever the time comes when the world establishes an international police force which will inspire us all with full confidence in its capacity to keep the peace, then there will be no need for us to trouble our heads about our own defence; it will be done for us. But until that day comes—I am afraid it is a great way off yet—we must think first of the safety of this country and the safety of the peoples for whom we are responsible. When we have made what seems to us to be adequate provision for all that, then the size and the strength of the forces which we have built up will be a measure of the contribution which we can make to collective action for peace, whatever form that action may take. I would add only this last word. The value of any guarantee which we may give or of any treaty obligation into which we may enter must in the last resort depend upon our ability to implement the obligations or the guarantees upon which we have entered.
I now turn to the situation with which we are more particularly concerned this afternoon. His Majesty's Government have expressed the view that recent events in Austria have created a new situation, and we think it right to state the conclusions to which consideration of these events has led us. We have already placed on record our judgment upon the action taken by the German Government. I have nothing to add to that. But the consequences still remain. There has been a profound disturbance of international confidence. In these circumstances the problem before Europe, to which in the opinion of His Majesty's Government it is their most urgent duty to direct their attention, is how best to restore this shaken confidence, how to maintain the rule of law in international affairs, how to seek peaceful solutions to questions that continue to cause anxiety. Of these the one which is necessarily most present to many minds is that which concerns the relations between the Government of Czechoslovakia and the German minority in that country; and it is probable that a solution of this question, if it could be achieved, would go far to re-establish a sense of stability over an area much wider than that immediately concerned.
Accordingly, the Government have given special attention to this matter, and in particular they have fully considered 1404 the question whether the United Kingdom, in addition to those obligations by which she is already bound by the Covenant of the League and the Treaty of Locarno, should, as a further contribution towards preserving peace in Europe, now undertake new and specific commitments in Europe, and in particular such a commitment in relation to Czechoslovakia. I think it is right that I should here remind the House what are our existing commitments, which might lead to the use of our arms for purposes other than our own defence and the defence of territories of other parts of the British Commonwealth of Nations. They are, first of all, the defence of France and Belgium against unprovoked aggression in accordance with our existing obligations under the Treaty of Locarno, as reaffirmed in the arrangement which was drawn up in London on 19th March, 1936. We have also obligations by treaty to Portugal, Iraq and Egypt. Those are our definite obligations to particular countries.
There remains another case in which we may have to use our arms, a case which is of a more general character but which may have no less significance. It is the case arising under the Covenant of the League of Nations which was accurately defined by the former Foreign Secretary when he said:In addition, our armaments may be used in bringing help to a victim of aggression in any case where in our judgment it would be proper under the provisions of the Covenant to do so.The case might, for example, include Czechoslovakia. The ex-Foreign Secretary went on to say:I use the word 'may' deliberately, since in such an instance there is no automatic obligation to take military action. It is moreover right that this should be so, for nations cannot be expected to incur automatic military obligations save for areas where their vital interests are concerned.His Majesty's Government stand by these declarations. They have acknowledged that in present circumstances the ability of the League to fulfil all the functions originally contemplated for it is reduced; but this is not to be interpreted as meaning that His Majesty's Government would in no circumstances intervene as a member of the League for the restoration of peace or the maintenance of international order if circumstances were such as to make it appropriate for them to do so. And I cannot but feel that the course and 1405 development of any dispute, should such unhappily arise, would be greatly influenced by the knowledge that such action as it may be in the power of Great Britain to take will be determined by His Majesty's Government of the day in accordance with the principles laid down in the Covenant.
The question now arises, whether we should go further. Should we forthwith give an assurance to France that, in the event of her being called upon by reason of German aggression on Czechoslovakia to implement her obligations under the Franco-Czechoslovak Treaty, we would immediately employ our full military force on her behalf? Or, alternatively, should we at once declare our readiness to take military action in resistance to any forcible interference with the independence and integrity of Czechoslovakia, and invite any other nations, which might so desire, to associate themselves with us in such a declaration?
From a consideration of these two alternatives it clearly emerges that under either of them the decision as to whether or not this country should find itself involved in war would be automatically removed from the discretion of His Majesty's Government, and the suggested guarantee would apply irrespective of the circumstances by which it was brought into operation, and over which His Majesty's Government might not have been able to exercise any control. This position is not one that His Majesty's Government could see their way to accept, in relation to an area where their vital interests are not concerned in the same degree as they are in the case of France and Belgium; it is certainly not the position that results from the Covenant. For these reasons His Majesty's Government feel themselves unable to give the prior guarantee suggested.
But while plainly stating this decision I would add this. Where peace and war are concerned, legal obligations are not alone involved, and, if war broke out, it would be unlikely to be confined to those who have assumed such obligations. It would be quite impossible to say where it would end and what Governments might become involved. The inexorable pressure of facts might well prove more powerful than formal pronouncements, and in that event it would be well within 1406 the bounds of probability that other countries, besides those which were parties to the original dispute, would almost immediately become involved. This is especially true in the case of two countries like Great Britain and France, with long associations of friendship, with interests closely interwoven, devoted to the same ideals of democratic liberty, and determined to uphold them.
It remains for His Majesty's Government to state their attitude in regard to the proposal made by the Government of the U.S.S.R. that an early conference should be held for the purpose of discussion with certain other Powers of the practical measures which in their opinion the circumstances demand. His Majesty's Government would warmly welcome the assembly of any conference, at which it might be expected that all European nations would consent to be represented, and at which it might therefore be found possible to discuss matters in regard to which anxiety is at present felt. In present circumstances, however, they are obliged to recognise that no such expectation can be entertained, and the Soviet Government do not, in fact, appear to entertain it. Their proposal would appear to involve less a consultation with a view to settlement than a concerting of action against an eventuality that has not yet arisen. Its object would appear to be to negotiate such mutual undertakings in advance to resist aggression, as I have referred to, which, for the reasons I have already given, His Majesty's Government for their part are unwilling to accept. Apart from this. His Majesty's Government are of opinion that the indirect, but none the less inevitable, consequence of such action as is proposed by the Soviet Government would be to aggravate the tendency towards the establishment of exclusive groups of nations, which must, in the view of His Majesty's Government, be inimical to the prospects of European peace.
Great Britain has repeatedly borne witness to the principles on which she considers the peace of the world depends. We do not believe that any stable order can be established unless by one means or other recognition can be secured for certain general principles. The first is that differences between nations should be resolved by peaceful settlement and not by methods of force. The second, 1407 admittedly of no less importance, is that a peaceful settlement, to be enduring, must be based on justice. Holding these views successive British Governments have accepted the full obligations of the Covenant of the League of Nations, and done their best to discharge them; they have acceded to special instruments designed to pledge the nations afresh to refrain from resort to aggressive war; and they have reinforced the general obligations thus undertaken by specific undertakings within the framework of the League towards countries, with whom they enjoy special relations or in which they have special interest. On the other side they have constantly lent, and are prepared to continue to lend, their influence to the revision of relations between nations, established by treaty or otherwise, which appeared to demand review. They will continue, whether by way of action through the League or by direct diplomatic effort, to exert all their influence on the side of bringing to peaceful and orderly solutions any issues liable to interrupt friendly relations between nations.
So far as Czechoslovakia is concerned, it seems to His Majesty's Government that now is the time when all the resources of diplomacy should be enlisted in the cause of peace. They have been glad to take note of and in no way underrate the definite assurances given by the German Government as to their attitude. On the other side they have observed with satisfaction that the Government of Czechoslovakia are addressing themselves to the practical steps that can be taken within the framework of the Czechoslovak constitution to meet the reasonable wishes of the German minority. For their part, His Majesty's Government will at all times be ready to render any help in their power, by whatever means might seem most appropriate, towards the solution of questions likely to cause difficulty between the German and Czechoslovak Governments. In the meantime, there is no need to assume the use of force, or, indeed, to talk about it. Such talk is to be strongly deprecated. Not only can it do no good; it is bound to do harm. It must interfere with the progress of diplomacy, and it must increase feelings of insecurity and uncertainty.
There is another subject which is of such great importance that the House will 1408 rightly expect me to make reference to it. With regard to the unhappy situation in Spain the policy of His Majesty's Government has been plainly declared. That policy has consistently, from the outbreak of the conflict, been one of non-intervention in Spanish affairs and loyal observance of our obligations under the Non-intervention Agreement. This policy was adopted in view of the dangerous international situation which threatened to develop with the first signs of civil strife in Spain. From the early stages of the conflict the prospect of open and active assistance to both Spanish parties from outside constituted a real menace to the peace of Europe. If nothing had been done to check this process, it might well have culminated in a general European war. His Majesty's Government, acting in concert with the French Government, came to the conclusion that the only way to avert this very serious threat was by doing their utmost to induce other European Powers to fall in with their own determination to adopt a completely impartial attitude to both parties in Spain and to refrain from giving material assistance to either side.
His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the fact that repeated infringements of the practice of non-intervention from more than one quarter have taken place, and they deeply regret it. But serious as are these infringements, they do not alter the judgment of His Majesty's Government that the policy of non-intervention, even though infractions of this policy may take place, affords the best means of avoiding a major conflagration. In the meanwhile. His Majesty's Government, in a spirit of complete impartiality, have devoted their efforts to such humanitarian work as has been possible for the benefit of the Spanish people as a whole. They have greatly deplored the excesses committed during this strife as affecting the civilian population, and they have taken every opportunity which presented itself to convey to both sides their strong disapproval of the employment of such methods which have earned public condemnation and are contrary to the rules of international law. It will be within the recollection of the House that so recently as on 18th March last I expressed in this House my horror and disgust at the indiscriminate bombing which was 1409 being carried out at Barcelona at that time, and strong representations have since been made to the Salamanca authorities on this matter in conjunction with the French Government.
I do not propose on the present occasion to enter upon a discussion of our conversations with the Italian Government. They have been carried a considerable distance and the results are full of encouragement to those who, like His Majesty's Government, regard appeasement in Europe as an objective to which the efforts of all men of good will should be directed. The House will remember that just before these conversations were opened, the Italian Government informed us of their acceptance of the British formula for the withdrawal of volunteers and the granting of belligerent rights. While gladly welcoming this assurance, I impressed upon the Italian Government, through their Ambassador, the necessity, if the conversations were to succeed, not only that they should lend whatever help they could along with others, in the bringing into operation of the withdrawal plan, but that in the meantime the situation in Spain should not be materially altered by Italy sending fresh reinforcements. It was never demanded or expected of the Italian Government that they should effect a unilateral withdrawal, and I think it right to say that, during these last weeks while the conversations have been proceeding, His Majesty's Government are satisfied of the fulfilment by the Italian Government of the conditions which had been indicated to them.
The Italian Government have now again asserted their willingness loyally to assist in the execution of the British plan, and, what is perhaps most important, they have repeated a declaration which they made some time ago and which was made public here at the time, to the effect that Italy has no territorial, political, or economic aims in Spain or in the Balearic Islands. His Majesty's Government place full reliance upon the intention of the Italian Government to make good their assurances. They believe that, with the spirit of mutual confidence, in which both Governments are addressing themselves to the task, it will be possible through these conversations to reach complete agreement.
In an earlier passage of my speech I referred to the obligations, legal or moral, 1410 which lie upon us. We recognise that these obligations imply also that we should be in a position to fulfil them, and we have made and are making strenuous efforts to that end. Nevertheless, in accordance with our expressed intention of reviewing our programme from time to time in the light of changing circumstances, we have considered the position afresh, and we have decided that still further efforts are now called for. These efforts must be devoted to increasing production and accelerating the completion of the rearmament programme. The details of that programme have been from time to time laid before Parliament. Recently, in connection with the Estimates for the Defence Departments, statements have been submitted to the House of Commons as to the steps to be taken in the next financial year. The existing programme, however, has been carried out with the intention of interfering as little as possible with normal trade. In practice, notwithstanding this limitation, an increasing degree of priority over civil work has been gradually accorded to rearmament orders, with the result that in some cases the execution of orders for home and export trade has been delayed. The additional skilled and semi-skilled labour required by the programme has occasionally had to be provided by withdrawing labour from other activities. Only by such means has it been possible to undertake the large-scale programme of production which, in spite of some delays, is now continuously and rapidly increasing in volume.
We had hoped that further acceleration, with its consequent interference with normal commercial work, might have been avoided, but, as I have already said, we have always made it clear that the Defence programme was flexible and was subject to review from time to time in the light of changes in the international situation. We have now come to the conclusion that in the present circumstances acceleration of existing plans has become essential and, moreover, that there must be an increase in some parts of the programme, especially in that of the Royal Air Force and the anti-aircraft defences. In order to bring about the progress which we feel to be necessary, men and materials will be required, and rearmament work must have first priority in the nation's effort. The full and rapid 1411 equipment of the nation for self-defence must be its primary aim.
I gratefully acknowledge the way in which workers and employers have cooperated in carrying out the programme hitherto. Such co-operation will be even more necessary for bringing to practical and early fruition the plans to which I have referred, and the Government are confident that they can rely on the continued help and good-will of all concerned. In the view of the Government, it is not for them to try to dictate to the great industries the detailed action which will be necessary for overcoming difficulties. It is in accordance with our traditions that these industries themselves, through their joint machinery, should work out the details in the manner which is likely to be most effective. Steps are already being taken to inform organised workers and organised employers of the nature of the demands which the accelerated plans will make upon their industries, and thus to place them in a position to devise practical methods for meeting those demands by mutual arrangements and with a minimum of Government interference. By such means it is expected that the volume of production, which in the new circumstances is not sufficient for our needs, will be substantially increased.
The building operations necessary for the expansion of the three Services will be expedited. This will facilitate the process of recruitment of Naval, Military, and Air Force personnel. The action already indicated will serve to accelerate the production of Naval equipment. Similar measures will be taken for completing at the earliest date possible the erection of new factories. Further capacity with a view to advancing the output of antiaircraft and other guns will be put in hand. This priority will also enable us to expedite the programme of air-raid precautions. The satisfactory response to the appeal for recruits in connection with air-raid precautions is evidence of the widespread interest that is being taken throughout the country in this urgent question. By these and other measures within the Defence Departments themselves for the purpose of ensuring full and adequate co-operation with industry, we are satisfied that we shall be able to facilitate production and secure the necessary acceleration of the Defence programme.
1412 His Majesty's Government do not differ from those who feel that the increase of armaments alone is no sure guarantee for peace. They earnestly hope that it may yet be possible to arrive at a reasonable balance of armaments by agreement rather than by free and unlimited competition. They have, on the other hand, felt it right to make their view known that in the present state of the world reliance upon the assertion of loyalty to the principles of the Covenant was not enough, in the absence of practical strength by which those professions might be supported. Accordingly, the policy of His Majesty's Government recognises, and is based upon, the necessity both of working untiringly to strengthen the cause of peace, and also of taking all steps requisite to make this country strong enough to meet whatever call may be made upon it. In their view the knowledge in all parts of the world that such steps are being taken with determination and despatch will be a valuable contribution towards international reassurance.
I have endeavoured in what I have said to give to this House and to the world as full an indication as possible of the attitude of the Government upon the subjects which are at present occupying the thoughts of all nations. If I have not said all that hon. Members would like to hear from me, I would ask them to remember that, whether I would or no, I am inevitably speaking to a larger audience than is gathered here in this Chamber, and that whereas our thinking here is done openly, the thinking of other nations goes on behind closed doors. I do not expect that the decisions at which His Majesty's Government have arrived will be acceptable in all quarters of the House. Yet I have tried to put them in an unprovocative form, because I cannot think that there can be any difference of opinion among us as to what I have described as the fundamental basis of British policy, the preservation of peace and the association of peace with justice. We believe that in pursuance of that policy force should be our last resort and not our first. In spite of the shocks to which we have been subjected, we still hold to the truth of that maxim. We still intend to employ ourselves, and to urge others to employ, the methods of reason and diplomacy rather than those of menace and of force.
1413 Speaking here with all the knowledge that only the Government of the day can possess, and with a full sense of the responsibility which in such times as these must rest on the shoulders of those who administer the affairs of this great country, I affirm my conviction that the course we have decided to pursue is the best, and, indeed, the only one which is likely to lead us to our goal.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
Everybody in this House will agree that our aim is the preservation of peace, but an aim is not the same as a policy. You may aim at peace, but you may differ as to the policy which is to secure peace. I thought that right from the start the Prime Minister was confused in his mind between aims and policies, and having followed his speech out very closely I could not discern anything in it in the nature of a policy which made for peace. I could not find any approach to any policy to establish peace on firm foundations. I found the acceptance of certain principles, and then I found them immediately discarded. I found the Prime Minister stating very strongly the principle that the rule of force should give way to the rule of law, that he did not believe in the arbitrament of force, but in actual fact he yields to force all the time. He is proceeding on a policy of negotiation with persons who have shown their belief in force and who exercise force even while he is negotiating with them. I am really surprised that a Prime Minister who experienced what our Prime Minister experienced recently in his negotiations with Germany and the occurrence in Austria, despite all the professions which we had of good faith, should express himself with that amazing credulity.
What possible reason has the right hon. Gentleman for placing full reliance upon the Italian Government? After all, his late Foreign Secretary had a great deal more experience than he has both of foreign affairs and of Signor Mussolini, and he recited in this House, in the memory of all of us, the numbers of occasions on which he had received pledge after pledge and those pledges had been broken. What evidence has the right hon. Gentleman, beyond this assurance that he has had from Signor Mussolini, that at this present time he is not actively engaged in intervention in Spain? Of course he is. Only this week we had a 1414 report that on 12th March an Italian-named ship Antonio Pigafetta landed at Algeciras 14 tanks and 12 chaser aeroplanes. That is one out of many instances, and everybody knows it except the Government. The Prime Minister asked us in a speech the other day to try to get rid of unreality and cant in connection with the League of Nations. Cannot we get rid of unreality and cant about non-intervention? I am sure that everybody in the House was ashamed at seeing an unfortunate Under-Secretary put up to make a series of statements that he did not know this, had never heard of that, and had no knowledge of the other thing. It was disgraceful. This is not new.
Ever since this Non-intervention Agreement has been running case after case has been put before the Government, and case after case has been found to be proved later, although denied at the time. Oh, yes, the Prime Minister's loyalty to his friend is so great that he is for the moment more Roman than the Romans, because his Government denies the actions in which 11 Duce glories. The Prime Minister is founding his policy on trying to come to arrangements with people in those circumstances. That is, I understand, his method of seeking peace. He seeks it by, in effect, disregarding the very first principle that he laid down, that is, the recognition of the rule of law, and acknowledging always force. That really is the issue we have to face at the present time, the question of whether the world is to be ruled by force or by the rule of law. That position was extremely well put, I thought, in a leading article in a Conservative newspaper, the "Yorkshire Post." Speaking in anticipation of this Debate they said:What is needed is an indisputable reaffirmation of our intention to maintain the claims of international law, not by doing lip-service to it as an institution which we hope some day to see re-established, but by indicating that we stand firmly for liberty against aggression, as we have done in the past. This is the most essential need as a deterrent to further experiments in the use of brute force for political objects. It is clear that a plain statement by the British Government will do much to-day to rally resistance in Europe to the threatened collapse of international morality.The late Foreign Secretary, who, after all, has a considerable knowledge and experience of foreign affairs, said:I do not believe that we can make progress in European appeasement if we allow 1415 the impression to gain currency that we yield to constant pressure.That was before the Austrian affair. If it was true then, it is doubly true now. Every successful exercise of force makes it harder to effect peaceful change. If the law-breaker finds that he can make his living with impunity by breaking the law, it is extremely difficult to get him to take up honest work, and if the person who is engaged in honest work does not get the reward of that honest work, it is extremely hard to prevent him from slipping into illegal courses. What we have seen through these post-war years is just that double process.
The victorious Powers who made the Treaty of Versailles constantly refused to reason what is now being yielded to force, and in doing so they sapped the rule of law just as much as those who are now yielding to force. I say, therefore, that the course that the Prime Minister is taking is one of yielding to force, and he will not get successful conversations as long as what those who believe in force desire can be got by forcible methods. He is, in fact, destroying the very method which he himself supports. The Prime Minister said justly that merely standing by the rule of law was not enough, that you must have justice besides, and then began to deal with the question of Czechoslovakia, but we never heard anything about the question of Czechoslovakia until a threat was being used. You have example after example of this kind of threat, and our complaint against the Government is that they have all along allowed affairs to drift, and have never tried to deal with either the political or economic causes of unrest.
It is quite true, as the Prime Minister said, that we are discussing these very grave matters in an armed world, and it is perhaps remarkable that people are only just beginning to realise that we are living in the conditions that were the normal conditions of pre-war diplomacy. Right up to 1914 you had an anarchic world of armed Powers. Diplomatists carried on their work with the knowledge of armed force behind them. Negotiations proceeded, but there was force in the background to be used to endeavour to obtain a particular object, and the statesman had to weigh up just what amount of force was on his side and what amount of pressure could be brought to bear, and 1416 how far it was possible to risk the danger of an outbreak. The only restraint was a common fear of world war. In 1914 they went too far, they risked it and they had a world war.
That was the condition of anarchy which prevailed right up to the world war. To-day we are back in those conditions. We were free from those conditions right up to 1931. I see some hon. Members smile. I do not know whether anyone will suggest that there was a threat of an outbreak of world war prior to 1931. There were several dangerous incidents which were successfully stopped by the intervention of the League of Nations, and there was not the immense mass of arms that there is now. Then you had a League of Nations, and a League of Nations may I say, that worked, because the people there wanted it to work. The Prime Minister asked us to try to be realists and to realise that it has broken down. It has broken down because it was betrayed by the people who ought to have worked it, and by no people more than by the present Government. The Prime Minister told us that the system of collective security under the League has hopelessly broken down. The League has broken down as long as it is in the hands of people who do not want to work it. I say that ever since the National Government came in they have made no real attempt to work it.
The Prime Minister gave us a very elaborate disquisition as to the exact occasions on which this country might find itself forced to take up arms. It was all so involved and so subtle that I thought he must have got the Chancellor of the Exchequer to draft his speech for him. We wanted a much plainer statement. His main point was that you could not come to any agreement because you were then putting the question of peace and war into hands other than those of the Government of this country for decision. He proceeded to demonstrate that when you did not do that you were at the mercy of the circumstances of geography and the political situation. He gave us no alternative by saying: "If you say this it will bring you into war, but if you do not say it you will be safe." What he said was: "You might take an obligation which might mean war but, if you did not, there was a great probability that in the end you might drift and be pulled into it." The Prime Minister 1417 has merely left us and the world in a 1914 situation.
We believe that there is nothing quite so dangerous as a policy of weakness, drift and uncertainty. The Prime Minister has given no certainty to this country or any appearance of strength. [Interruption.] When I say "strength" hon. Members opposite always think that the word means some reckless display of force. It does not mean that. It means that in the pronouncements of our Government there should be a note of resolution and confidence. I do not find that note. The Prime Minister suggested that there was a possibility of forming some group of States within the League for the purpose of collective security, but he rejected that possibility, as he rejected everything in regard to collective security, on the curious plea that if a number of States joined together for collective security they would be unequal to their task.
Having said that, he then proposed that we should face whatever dangers there may be single-handed and, quite logically, he demanded enormous armaments. I do not believe that you can get the security of this country in isolalation. The Prime Minister did not say that he stood for isolation, but what he said came to isolation. It comes to isolation if you are never prepared to say whether you are prepared to stand with anybody else, because no one else will ever say that they will ever stand with you. Perhaps the most characteristic thing that the Prime Minister said was that it did not make any difference whether it was in the League or not, it was just an old-time alliance. That statement showed what I have had to comment upon before—the Prime Minister's entire unconsciousness of the imponderables. He never seems to understand anything in the slightest degree beyond the facts. He seems to think only of the material, and never of those imponderables that are so enormously important.
He does not understand the immense feeling there is behind the principles of the League and the immense difference it makes to people whether they are to be called upon to make sacrifices for an ideal or for a little bit of British property. Similarly he draws a distinction always between British interests, which are in fact material interests, and 1418 other interests. I would like to quote from the remarkable speech of Mr. Cordell Hull. The speech is worth recalling because there you have a great people drawn very much from our own stock and inheriting a great many or our traditions of liberty. On this point Mr. Cordell Hull said:The interest and concern of the United States …are not measured alone by the number of American citizens residing in a particular country or by the volume of investment and trade or by exceptional conditions peculiar to the particular area. There is a much broader and more fundamental interest, which is that orderly processes in international relationships based on the principles to which I have referred be maintained. Isolation is not a means to security; it is a fruitful source of insecurity. The momentous question is whether the doctrine of force shall become enthroned once more and bring in its wake inexorably international anarchy and a relapse into barbarism; or whether this and other peaceful nations fervently attached to the principles which underlie international order shall work unceasingly—singly or in co-operation with each other … to promote and preserve law, order, morality, and justice as the unshakeable bases of civilized international relations.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition gives way.
§ Mr. Attlee
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will read my speech in the morning. I was not dealing at that moment with the point which he made. Perhaps he did not quite follow me. I was dealing with the importance of basing peace in the world on the preservation of moral principle, and I said that that brought an immense force behind those who believed in the League of Nations. I was emphasising the difference between an alliance of the old time and a definite alliance in support of the principles of the League.
On these benches we have always taken our stand on the principles of the Covenant of the League. We believe that the maintenance of the rule of law is of supreme interest to the safety of this country. Only by that can you preserve the safety of this country. What dis- 1419 appointed me about the Prime Minister's speech was that although he did lip-service to the principle, in effect he actually threw over that conception as one which should guide the action of this country. Far more disappointing was that he did not seem to realise the full gravity of the situation and the need for positive, and not mere negative action. If you analyse the Prime Minister's speech it comes to certain vague assurances that in particular circumstances this country might possibly stand by someone else, a very vague distant dream that, sometime or other, another new League might be built up, and the immediate piling up of armaments.
What then? After all, the Prime Minister must speak as a statesman, and take a view beyond the next few months. Every statesman has to look very carefully at the immediate future and its dangers, but on a great occasion like this we expect that there should be some looking forward, and therefore some hope given to the people of this country that peace can be secured. Does anyone suppose that the immediate negotiations with Signor Mussolini on the basis of conceding to him his spoils will establish peace? I gather that the talks with Berlin have come to a conclusion; I do not know on what principle they will be begun again. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman has no policy whatever for laying firm the foundations of peace.
§ Mr. Attlee
During all these years the situation has been steadily slipping down into world anarchy again, and no real effort has been made to deal with the causes that make war. We hold that changes may be necessary. They may be changes in the political organisation of Europe, but they should not be brought about by the brute force of one Power acting on its own. They should be brought about by consultation between Powers who have come together on the basis of consultation, and not on the basis of the mere exercise of force. We believe in the maintenance of force, not to keep things in an uneasy equilibrium, but to deal with the causes of war; above all, with the economic causes of war. When we discussed this matter in December last, the Prime Minister said that it was better 1420 to try to settle the political difficulties before we dealt with the economic difficulties. He has not been very successful with the political difficulties. Perhaps he had better turn and try to deal with the economic difficulties.
One of the outstanding factors in the world situation is widespread poverty in great countries, like Poland, Italy and Germany. [An HON. MEMBER: "Britain."] There is widespread economic evil, and until the evil is dealt with you will not get peace in Europe. Governments that fail to give any satisfaction at home tend to embark upon adventure abroad. The latest example is the Government of Poland, a country where there is intense suffering. That Government obtained an easy piece of prestige against their neighbour Lithuania. The best judges in foreign affairs hold that that was done for internal success rather than for external success. That is an incident on a comparatively small scale, but none the less it was the use of force and was a change brought about by force. It is only another example of the world anarchy in which we are placed. The Prime Minister has offered us nothing to deal with the immediate situation. He has not said a word that will stabilise. We believe it is right that France, Britain and the other Powers in the League should say, without any doubt, that they will stand firm against aggression. We say that that is not enough, but that there must be at once a calling together of the nations in order to try to deal with these causes of war.
There is one other matter to which I want to refer and that is the Spanish struggle. You cannot settle this world unrest without the Spanish struggle being dealt with. The Prime Minister has merely told us that he is going to carry on the farce—he did not use that word, but it is a farce—of non-intervention. It is abundantly plain to everyone that this is an aggravated act of aggression, and I believe it would clear the air if we did away with the farce of non-intervention and restored to the Spanish Government the right to defend themselves against aggression. We cannot separate that from the Central European situation. It looks to me as though the Prime Minister's one idea is to gain a little time while he tries to pile up more armaments. But I fear that, while he is piling up more armaments, he is entirely losing 1421 hold of the strategic situation. In Central Europe and in the Mediterranean he will have lost more than he can gain from piling up armaments.
It seems to me that, at the best, his policy means only a postponement of war. We want a positive policy for peace, and to get that peace this country ought to be prepared to deal with the utmost generosity with other countries. We have had a rejection of the Soviet Russian proposal for a conference, and the Prime Minister has rejected the suggestion that we made for a meeting of the League of Nations. There is a rejection of every attempt to bring this matter before the nations so that they can discuss and try to save the situation before they all fall into this gulf. Our indictment against the Government is that it is not sufficient to say that we are going to keep out of war and all hazard of war, while at the same time we are steadily sliding down to war. What is needed is a positive policy of peace, based on a resolute standing by agreements and the plighted word, and a readiness to deal fairly and justly with all nations in Europe and, above all, to deal with the economic causes that lie at the basis of world unrest.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Sir Archibald Sinclair
I am not going to pretend that I came down to the House expecting the Prime Minister to make the kind of speech which he would have made if I had drafted it for him, but I did think that he would make a speech which would be clear, and would give a clear message to the country and to the world with regard to the policy which his Government proposes to follow. In that I was both disappointed and surprised. On the one hand he told us that we had received assurances in regard to German policy in Central Europe to which we should attach due weight, and that we must not assume the use of force against Czechoslovakia or any other country in Europe. He told us, too, that the conversations with Italy were going very well, and that, as regards Spain, all the Italian assurances were being fulfilled. He said that there was no need to call other nations into conference to deal with the possibility of aggression. He then went on to remind us that the armaments programme was flexible. What did he say then? That is was going to be reduced? 1422 Not at all. He said that it was going to be redoubled. Surely that conclusion is inconsistent with the other parts of his speech?
The Prime Minister went on to declare his attachment to the League of Nations, but declared that it cannot give us security. He thinks it is even dangerous to use it in order to combine within a system of mutual assistance those nations which feel themselves threatened by aggression. He gives us two arguments against it. The first is that if, as he said, such a system were encased within the Covenant of the League, it would be too much like the old pre-War alliances. It would, however, differ from the old pre-War alliances in two main respects. In the first place, it would be solely for the purpose of resisting aggression; and, in the second place, it would be an alliance the doors of which were open to any other nation to come in, only on the condition that they would submit to third-party judgment in all international disputes. The other consideration which the Prime Minister said we must take into account before we accepted such an invitation as we have received from the Soviet Government would be the strength and equipment and the range of the resources of the different Powers that would come into such an arrangement, and, he added, the amount of preparation and co-ordination which could be done beforehand. Is that a reason against having such a conference? Surely there would be no more powerful reason for it.
§ The Prime Minister
The right hon. Baronet's memory has misled him. The observations to which he is referring were not directed to the conference at all; they were directed to the system of alliances.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
That is exactly the object of the conference which the Soviet Government proposed. The invitation said:The Soviet Government, being conscious of its obligations under the Covenant of the League, the Briand-Kellogg Pact, and its treaties of mutual assistance, I am in a position to state on its behalf that the Soviet Government is prepared to participate in collective action the scope of which should be decided in conjunction with the Soviet Government, and which should have as its aim the stopping of the further development of aggression and the elimination of the increased danger of a new world slaughter.1423 These are precisely the objects of the conference which the Soviet Government has in mind, and, if we are to have that co-ordination and preparation which the Prime Minister desiderates, the sooner such a conference is called the better.
The right hon. Gentleman went on to speak of the necessity of trying to base peace on justice. He was very emphatic that the main object of his policy was peace. The second was to give confidence in the world that peace would be maintained, and that peace should be based upon justice. Unless I am misunderstanding him, that means that he wishes to make an effort to harmonise the interests of different nations in the world on the basis of the rule of law, to raise international disputes to the plane of the common interests of mankind, and to settle them there on the basis of third-party judgment. What, then, are we witnessing now? The Prime Minister is always asking us to be realists, to look at the facts as they are. What are we witnessing in Abyssinia, China, Danzig, Spain, Austria? What we are witnessing is the application of force by strong nations, in defiance of treaties and pledges, to assert their national will and to impose upon weaker nations and upon the world in general a settlement in accordance with the national interests and views of the strong.
I would ask the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is going to reply to the Debate, what the Government are prepared to do in order to assert the principle which the Prime Minister laid down in his speech and in which the Government profess to believe, as against the principle upon which Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini are now acting. I ask that question for two reasons—not only because I believe that the principles of the Covenant of the League and of international good faith are the only ones upon which peace can be securely established, but also because, if Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini continue unhindered to act on their principle, we shall soon have to number ourselves among its victims. If the principle of force can be justified in Central Europe and in Spain, both by success and by the necessity of suppressing Bolshevism, it may be applied against other nations in Central Europe or in Eastern Europe to- 1424 morrow, and against France or Great Britain—the greatest prize of all—the day after. Let us, then, assert, and rally support for, the principle of the Covenant of the League of Nations before all our potential Allies in resisting the application of force, whether in Spain or in Central or Eastern Europe are beaten or terrorised into submission.
It is no wonder that the Prime Minister admits that we cannot disinterest ourselves in the situation in Czechoslovakia or in Central Europe. But before I come to speak more generally on that subject, I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he is to reply, whether he would tell me about those pledges which the Prime Minister, when he last spoke on this subject, said were given by the German Government to the Czechoslovakian Government. He told us on 24th March that three pledges had been given to the Czechoslovakian Government by the German Government. The first was that the German Government would do all in its power to improve relations between the two Governments. That pledge was given by General Goering. The second pledge, which was also given by General Goering, was that German troops would not be allowed to advance nearer to the Czechoslovakian frontier than 15 kilometres, and the German Government asked that the Czech Government should not, therefore, mobilise. The Czech Government agreed not to mobilise. I think, from what we have been told both here and in another place, that those two pledges were repeated to and noted by the British Ambassador in Berlin. I understand that a third pledge was given by Baron von Neurath to the Czech Minister in Berlin. It was that the German-Czechoslovakian Arbitration Treaty, which was one of the Locarno group of treaties, would be continued in force. I am not quite clear whether that assurance has also been conveyed to and noted by the British Government, and should be obliged if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would make that clear.
It seems to me that we have great cause for being interested in the independence and integrity of Czechoslovakia—at least as much as we had to be interested in the independence and integrity of Serbia in 1914. Czechoslovakia has sworn friends, pledged to go to her support if she is the victim of unprovoked aggression. With- 1425 in the last few weeks these pledges have been repeated, in the most formal manner, by the Soviet Government and the Government of France. Only yesterday, M. Paul-Boncour, the French Foreign Minister, repeated these pledges under interrogation in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French Senate. If France had to fulfil these pledges, we in this House all know that we should have to stand by France. But Herr Hitler has passed from objective to objective by a series of dramatic strokes of force. He gambles, frequently against the advice of his political and military counsellors. So far, he has been successful every time, and, as his recent speeches show, he is, not unnaturally, greatly impressed by the superiority of his judgment over that of his advisers. Both he and Signor Mussolini regard this country as decadent and irresolute—and I am not surprised that His Majesty's Government have created that impression. Signor Mussolini's deputy at the head of the Italian Air Ministry has just stated so in an official report to the Italian Chamber on the relative strength and spirit of the air forces of this country and Italy.
In such circumstances, Herr Hitler may well make the mistake of counting Britain out of a European struggle in which France was engaged on behalf of Czechoslovakia. He may run the risk of provoking a war. He may have to pay the penalty for doing it, but we shall have to pay our share of the penalty for our irresolution in not making our policy abundantly plain. The principal vice of the Prime Minister's statement was exactly that—its vagueness and irresolution. The parts which were emphasised, and which were greeted with crashing cheers from the Government side, were the phrases in which he said that we would not go one step beyond the admittedly vague obligation which bound us under the Covenant of the League. That is the part which will be emphasised in the foreign Press—the Press of Germany—to-morrow. Therefore, I say that one indispensable way—it is not, of course, the complete policy of constructive peace which I want the Government to pursue—one indispensable way of averting war is to make it clear beforehand to Germany that if, in our opinion, Czechoslovakia is the victim of unprovoked aggression—and we, of course, 1426 must retain our freedom of decision as to whether aggression is unprovoked—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—certainly, but there would be a great deal of difference between an announcement on these positive lines and the Prime Minister's negative announcement—and if France fulfils her pledges to Czechoslovakia, as she undoubtedly would, we should hold ourselves bound to support France. If we make that declaration, we shall not have done enough to ensure peace or to stop the march of aggression, but we shall have averted one dangerously possible cause of war.
Now let me turn to the situation in Spain, which, as I stated in the first speech I made in this series of Debates, is the next victim on the list of these aggressor Powers, and where the interests of this country are so vitally engaged. It is now abundantly clear that the intervention of Italy and Germany has been intensified in recent weeks. In the "Times," on 22nd March, there was published an official communication from the Spanish Embassy in London giving a long list—not a vague allegation that arms had been imported or troops had arrived on certain dates, but the names of the actual ships, with their cargoes, the number of men they carried, the ports at which they arrived and the dates on which they arrived. Here is a long list of alleged infractions of the Non-intervention Agreement. When we ask the Government, at Question Time, Are they looking into these things? they say that This is a matter for the Non-intervention Committee; and when we ask them when did the Committee last look into these things, we are told, in November, 1936. Is not that a fantastic farce? No wonder that we have official protests from the Spanish Government, and that it is announced in the newspapers this morning that only yesterday the Spanish Ambassador went to the Foreign Office and complained of the dispatch by Germany and Italy of large quantities of war materials and aeroplanes for the purpose of the recent offensive.
By what right does the Prime Minister come to this House and tell us, merely on the assurances of Signor Mussolini, whose assurances in the past have not proved very reliable, that this intervention has not continued? Before he takes the responsibility of making that 1427 statement, he ought at least to investigate the charges made by the Spanish Government, for their statements are at least as worthy of credence as the Italian Government's. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether these allegations are being actively investigated or not; not whether they are being referred to the Non-intervention Committe, because that will, in the opinion of this House, and I believe of the country, be regared as an evasion of their responsibility by the Government. We want to know whether they are investigating these allegations, whether they will bring them to the notice of the Committee on the earliest occasion possible, and whether they will report to this House on their truth or inaccuracy, as the case may be.
The recent intensification of German and Italian efforts in Spain has not been surprising to me, nor I believe, can it have surprised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), because he made it clear in his resignation speech that the Government ought never to have entered into these negotiations without securing the withdrawal of, at any rate, some part of the Italian troops in Spain. Achievement, he said, not promise, was the basis on which the Government ought alone to have entered into negotiations with the Italian Government. But unless the Prime Minister makes a thorough investigation of these allegations, he has not fulfilled the assurances that he gave to Parliament when he told us that he was entering into negotiations with the Italian Government. Let me read the assurances he gave, and read them in their context. The House will remember that, in giving the House these assurances, he referred to the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears), who had stated that Herr Hitler hadsaid emphatically that he and Signor Mussolini would impose a Nationalist victory in Spain. Herr Hitler made that statement yesterday afternoon. Yesterday morning the Italian Ambassador, we are told, had orders to go to the Prime Minister and declare that the Italian Government were prepared to discuss the withdrawal of volunteers. Somebody is being fooled? Who is it?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1938; col. 144, Vol. 332.]It is not necessary for me to reply to that question. It is now quite clear to the House and the country who it is. 1428 The Prime Minister, referring to that speech later on that evening—he referred to it in a most derogatory way, for he said that it reflected the whole attitude of the party opposite—went on to say:I would point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that, assuming for the sake of argument he is correct that the assurances given to us by the Italian Government are not to be depended upon and will not be fulfilled, then there will be no agreement. Not only did I tell Count Grandi that a settlement in Spain was a necessary and essential element in any agreement that we might make, but I pointed out to him that if we made an agreement we could not ourselves go to the League and ask the League to approve that agreement if in the meantime anything had been done by the Italian Government in regard to Spain which had altered the situation in favour of General Franco, either by sending reinforcements to Spain or by failing to implement the assurances and the undertakings that they had given when they accepted the British formula. No intimation could be plainer than that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1938; col. 152; Vol. 332.]Now we ask the Prime Minister to fulfil his pledge. If I may say so, with great respect, it is no good his applauding that assurance and endorsing it. It is necessary for him to make an immediate and thorough investigation into the allegations which have been made officially by the Spanish Government and supported in a large number of reliable British newspapers, that, in fact, these breaches of the Non-intervention Agreement still continue in Spain. The Prime Minister tells us that Signor Mussolini has assured him that there has been no breach. It is very odd that the national directorate of the Fascist party should have passed a resolution yesterday which seems to be based on quite different information from that of the Prime Minister. I do not know whether it was derived from the same source, but this is the information which the national directorate of the Fascist party received and put into a resolution yesterday:The directorate of the party stresses with pride, before the Blackshirts and Italian people, the valour of the legionaries, who are once again an essential factor in the victory' in Spain. The participation of the 23rd March division in the battle in which it is engaged is a good augury, and illuminates to-day's historical date.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
That proves that, in fact, the Italian troops, in spite of the 1429 acceptance in principle of the British formula for the withdrawal of volunteers in Spain, are not only taking a leading part, but are an essential factor, in the successes which General Franco has been obtaining. The Prime Minister did not give to Parliament the impression, when he told them about the undertakings and assurances given by the Italian Government to him, that they would be free, without infringing those undertakings and assurances, to remain "an essential factor in General Franco's victories." I do not believe that Parliament knew that the Prime Minister would regard that as being within the limits of the assurances which he, as he told us, had extracted from the Italian Government. I believe that the least that Parliament expected was—not necessarily that the Italian troops would be withdrawn from Spain, though that is what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington would have liked, as, I believe, would the majority of this House, or at any rate a great many of us on this side—but that Italian troops should not be left in the front line heavily reinforced, as we have reason to believe, with troops and guns and aeroplanes. That is asserted officially by the Spanish Government, and is, I believe, a breach of the undertakings which were given by Signor Mussolini to the Prime Minister, or at any rate that is Parliament's understanding of those undertakings.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
When I sit down I will hand the hon. and gallant Gentleman the cutting from the "Times." [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not let the House know?"] Certainly. I thought it would delay the House, but if the House wants me to read it I will. I have the cutting here, and if any hon. Member wants to see it, I shall be glad to show it to him. I say that, if in these circumstances the Prime Minister remains satisfied, if he does nothing to express his strong disapproval of the Italian Government's action, and if he does not insist upon the withdrawal of the troops from the fighting line in Spain while these negotiations are going on, it must greatly strengthen the suspicion of the public that, behind the mask of non-intervention, he is deliberately conniving at the success of 1430 General Franco and his foreign allies in Spain.
There was much in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week to foster the same suspicion. Intervention, he said to the party above the Gangway, was the only alternative to non-intervention. I have repeatedly stated the paradox, but it is true, I believe, that intervention is not the only alternative to non-intervention, and if there is one Member of this House who knows that, it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I find it difficult to acquit the Chancellor of the Exchequer of being a little disingenuous in making that statement. He knows that the abandonment of the non-intervention agreement would not necessarily involve intervention. It would restore us to the position in which the usual practice of international law would come into effect, and that would mean that this country would be permitted, but not obliged, to allow arms to be sold to the Spanish Government. It would be prohibited from allowing arms to be sold to the insurgents unless, of course, we recognsie the belligerent rights of the insurgents. I believe that the policy which this country would like to see followed, and certainly the policy which is in harmony with its interests, would be to restore to the Spanish Government in this crisis, unless the Italian troops are withdrawn within a time limit, its right to buy arms to defend itself, and to withhold that right from General Franco, who is profiting so greatly from the intervention of Italy and Germany in the affairs of Spain.
We are invited by the Government to cherish the belief that if General Franco wins, he will turn on his German and Italian allies, send them packing out of the country, and come to Britain for financial help and economic and political co-operation. I believe the contrary will be the case. Only yesterday, in a message to Herr Hitler, General Franco expressed his lasting gratitude for the help he has received from his foreign allies. If he should win he will want their help in holding down the country. Nor do I place any greater reliance upon Signor Mussolini's undertakings to respect the independence and integrity of Spain. Statesmen do not take their decisions or fulfil their pledges in a theoretical vacuum. In the anarchy of power politics they are subject to the dynamic of events, 1431 and Italian and German intervention in Spain is striking economic, strategic and political roots in Spain. If General Franco wins, who will pull them up? Sixty years ago we went to a country at the other end of the Mediterranean—Egypt. The leaders of both the great parties in the State declared that our occupation of Egypt was only temporary. Mr. Gladstone said in 1882, when he was asked whether we contemplated an indefinite occupation of Egypt;Undoubtedly, of all things in the world, that is the thing which we are not going to do. It would be absolutely at variance with all the principles and views of His Majesty's Government.Let me quote the views of the Conservative leaders. Lord Derby said:We have steadily kept in view the fact that our occupation was temporary and provisional only, and that our object must be to put the Egyptian administration into such a position that, guarded and guaranteed from external interference,—it is not guarded and guaranteed from Bolshevism in this case—it should be able to stand alone.[An HON. MEMBER: "That is what we have done!"] And that is exactly what Signor Mussolini may do in Spain. Lord Salisbury announced in the House of Lords on 10th June of that year:We have engaged, subject to certain conditions, which I shall state, to withdraw from Egypt at the expiration of three years, from the ratification of the Convention—and we shall.We have found it impossible. We had struck roots there, and we could not pull them up. Signor Mussolini may find it impossible, and he will have to guard Spain from these external dangers, which, in their case, happen to be that convenient bogy Bolshevism. I see no safety in the assurances that Signor Mussolini has given to the Government that he will leave Spain. Signor Mussolini's foreign policy has brought the Germans to the Brenner, an event which has chilled the enthusiasm of every thoughtful Member of his party. He may bring his armies away or part of them, but if he does, thousands of Italian soldiers will leave their bones in Spain. Gold and foreign exchange have been lavished on the country and the Italian people will ask each other, why? Does anyone suggest that, if General Franco wins, Signor Mussolini will not insist on 1432 getting a price for his help in economic and strategic advantages in Spain?
Therefore, we ought not to continue to help General Franco by refusing to prevent his receiving organised bodies of troops and large quantities of aeroplanes and munitions from Italy and Germany while we ourselves refuse to send munitions to the Spanish Government and use our influence with France and with Russia to restrain them from sending a comparable measure of help to the legitimate Spanish Government, whose Ambassador is received by His Majesty at the Court of St. James as representing the constitutional government of Spain. In my first speech on the Spanish civil war I begged the Government to seek for an opportunity of mediation, and I have frequently repeated that plea. Spain is being torn by extremists both of whom only represent an insignificant fraction of the Spanish people. The withdrawal of Italian troops and aeroplanes from the firing line and an armistice should be a condition of the continuation of the talks in Rome.
The constructive peace policy of the Government should follow two main lines. We should rally the peace-loving Powers in a system of mutual assistance against aggression. The Prime Minister said that the public is inclined to think that the League of Nations can even now give security. I do not know who has told them that. I have not, but I have said that it is the duty of the Government to do all they can to create such a system of mutual assistance against aggression. Then, I would say, make it clear that, if Germany and Italy agree to disarmament and to the submission of all disputes to third party judgment, we will co-operate with them in setting up at once international commissions to consider their grievances, such as the problem of colonies, and that, on the lines of the Van Zeeland Report, we would, in cooperation with Germany and Italy, set about curing the disease of economic nationalism with all its symptoms of quotas, tariffs, and exchange restrictions. The policy of the Government is negative. They want to avoid, but they are drifting towards, war. War can be averted only by a constructive policy of peace.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Opposition shows that he has gone a long way from the position of the Liberals of 1914. He apparently wants to interfere in Czechoslovakia, and he wants intervention in Spain. But the right hon. Gentleman disapproves of the non-intervention policy of the Government. I wonder what Mr. Gladstone would have said to his speech to-day.
§ Mr. Lambert
I could reply, but I am not bothered by the right hon. Gentleman. We are not on land taxes now. I think that the country is extremely fortunate inasmuch as it has a cool, collected Prime Minister at the head, with a solid majority in the House of Commons. The speech that he has delivered this afternoon will bring assurance to the reasoning classes in the country. I have never been one of the Prime Minister's party, but I assure him that, in the last few weeks, he has done a very great service to his country. He has this afternoon defined our position, and for my part, as a Liberal, I do not want commitments on the Continent. I want to keep out of them. I believe in being strong and a good neighbour. Good neighbours are not always interfering in the affairs of their neighbours.
We are told that we must not have anything to do with Germany, Italy or Russia. The Governments of Germany, Italy and Russia are internal affairs of their own. I am glad that I do not live in any of those countries. I am very grateful that I live in this free country of England. I was very much relieved when the late Foreign Secretary resigned. We had too many perambulations on the Continent. I never believed in them. Foreign Ministers in the past did not go on these missions. I remember Lord Rosebery once saying something about a meeting at a wayside inn, but the great Foreign Secretaries, Salisbury, Rosebery and Sir Edward Grey, one of the greatest, never went abroad. They trusted to their Ambassadors, and I cannot understand why we cannot do that to-day.
The Leader of the Opposition said that the League of Nations was all very well up to 1931. Europe since then has become all turmoil. Why? Because the 1434 League of Nations never functioned. You can never have a League which is only functioning one way. The League of Nations to function properly must be able to remedy injustice. Nobody can say that the League has remedied any injustice, nor did it bring about disarmament. Therefore, the League has failed. Since 1931 the results of League policy have been that Hitler is now in power. If the League of Nations could have functioned as it should have functioned, there need never have been Hitler and a totalitarian State in Germany. What, therefore, is the use of the Leader of the Opposition saying that up to 1931 the world was all right? We had then made ready for Hitler and his cohorts.
The League, all the way through, treated Germany as a State with a degree of inferiority. To treat 65,000,000 of people as an inferior race is an impossibility. In my judgment the League can function to-day only when independent nations agree to refer their differences to it. It has functioned in more than one case very successfully, for instance in the Saar. Everybody agreed there to abide by the decision of the League, but to-day few nations agree to abide by its decisions. It is impossible for the League of Nations to-day to enforce peace by waging war. In the last War we had France, Russia, Italy, Japan, the British Empire, America and Belgium all on one side. That was a League of Nations, but they were nearly defeated. To-day Japan, Germany and Italy are out of the League. If the League attempted to fight those Powers I imagine it is possible the League would be defeated. If hon. Members will only think the matter out they will see that it is impossible to ask the League to enforce peace.
§ Mr. Lambert
I am not afraid of being left alone. I would far rather be left alone than have to stand for other people's commitments. There are commitments made by France which I hope this country will never have to implement. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that we are weak. I do not agree with him. I regard the British Empire as being a very strong entity in the world, and we are becoming stronger. The ex-Kaiser once thought that he would be 1435 able to ignore Britain, but we came out victorious. The right hon. Gentleman talked about our implementing the French commitments in Czechoslovakia. I do not agree. I have not the greatest confidence in the French Government. There are too many changes there. Possibly, since the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has gone there to have an interview with the Prime Minister of France, there may be a little change.
§ Mr. Lambert
I thought the right hon. Gentleman said that we had to implement France's engagements with Czechoslovakia.
§ Mr. Lambert
I should be very sorry if we had to implement all France's commitments, especially the one with Soviet Russia. There must be something wrong with Russia, otherwise there would not be so many people shot. What nation is going to attack Britain? I cannot think of any nation that wants to attack us. That is why I want to keep out of all these commitments. Hitler is a very remarkable man, and sometimes I wonder what the ex-Kaiser thinks of it when a man who has risen from being an obscure Austrian corporal has greater control over modern Germany than the All-Highest had. I cannot believe that Hitler is going to attack this country.
§ Mr. Lambert
Why are we rearming? For safety. I am always in favour of safety. I never wavered about a strong Navy prior to 1914. I never waver today. We must have a strong Britain, and I hope that the Germans will not be such fools as to attack us. I do not think they will.
§ Mr. Lambert
I do not think so. He will have trouble enough of his own. Do not make any mistake about it; the dictators' position is not an entirely happy one. It is all very well while he is bringing Germany up to a high pinnacle of power from her former position, when she 1436 was regarded as an inferior people. He is a very clever man and I think he will have sufficient intelligence not to attack the British Empire. The late First Lord of the Admiralty in the Labour Government has been sarcastically jovial at my expense. The Labour manifesto said they will never have any dealings with Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy.
§ Mr. Lambert
I have the quotation. Let me make clear to the right hon. Gentleman his own party's programme.The British Labour movement affirms its uncompromising opposition to any agreement with either Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany.That was published in the Press on the 24th February. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read on."] I am limited for time. There have been a good many changes in this House, and some time a Labour Government will come into office. That time may be some years distant, but when they do come into office they will have these pledges to eat. There are 70,000,000 Germans and Austrians, and 40,000,000 Italians. Do the Labour party always mean to keep up a festering sore and to go on bickering and jangling with a 110,000,000 people? If so what armaments will be wanted? I want hon. Members opposite to look at realities. If they are going to make enemies of 70,000,000 Germans and 40,000,000 Italians, I do not know what is going to happen. Dictators come and go, but peoples remain. Therefore, I ask the Labour party not to treat 110,000,000 people as if they were plague spots. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about Russia?"] I do not want to interfere with Russia. Russia's Government must be its own concern. I am quite impartial about it. Hon. Members opposite may be able to explain the situation in Russia, but I cannot understand it. I do not understand the shootings that are going on.
Reference has been made to the Prime Minister's direct negotiations with Italy. I am delighted that he has begun to negotiate and to cut through the web of diplomacy. If he does not succeed, things will not be worse than they are to-day. I have heard it said that the Prime Minister has gambled. Good. I am glad he has gambled for peace. That is infinitely better than gambling for 1437 war. I am a warm supporter of the Prime Minister in his policy. I have sat in the House of Commons with Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, and with Sir Austen Chamberlain, and I can say with confidence and truth that the Prime Minister is the first Chamberlain to make me an ardent Chamberlainite. If he can bring appeasement to distracted Europe he will earn the gratitude of mankind.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Major Milner
We shall all agree with the last words of the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert). We all hope for appeasement. The rest of his speech appeared to me to be an unjustified attack on the League of Nations which, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, is like all human institutions, governed by the action or inaction of those nations which are members of the League. The right hon. Gentleman said that he is for absolute safety, that is his reason for rearming, although he does not expect any attack from any quarter. I should have thought it was safer to be associated with 54 nations who are at present in the League of Nations than to stand alone, as may well be our fate. The right hon. Gentleman also misrepresented the manifesto which was issued by the British Labour movement. This is what it said—the right hon. Gentleman did not read the whole of it:The British Labour movement reaffirms its uncompromising opposition to any agreement with either Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany on the basis indicated by the Prime Minister in his statement to Parliament. This is not the time for concessions to dictators. We need a clear declaration that Britain stands for the enforcement of treaties against lawless force and against aggressive interference in the internal affairs of independent States.What we require, what the late Foreign Secretary required, is some guarantee by way of action that any conclusions arrived at by such negotiations will be carried out. When I heard the Prime Minister this afternoon I was irresistibly reminded of a portion of Hamlet's soliloquy:Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;And thus the native hue of resolutionIs sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought;And enterprises of great pith and moment,With this regard, their currents turn away,And lose the name of action.The Prime Minister to me appeared to "lose the name of action." His speech 1438 was wholly negative, except in one particular, the provision of arms, increased arms, and yet more arms. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of reviving the League of Nations, but he did not indicate in any shape or form that he was intending to take or had the slightest idea how to take any steps towards reviving the League. He spoke of the necessity for a sense of confidence, but he gave us no indication of any step or action on the part of the Government to create greater confidence, except the provision of arms. He paid lip service to the League and endeavoured to retrieve his past mistakes on that subject, but refused point-blank to accept the invitation of the Russian Government to do something to reconstruct some league or alliance to resist aggression. He confined himself to giving us long lists of instances where this country is under an obligation, but also indicated that we should feel ourselves under an obligation to fight when our vital interests are affected.
In my submission our vital interests are affected to-day, and the question of Spain is the acid test in this regard. If we are to form an opinion as to the present situation we must look a little wider than we have done hitherto. We should look, for instance, to what Herr Hitler is aiming at. What does he say is his aim? It is set out remorselessly item by item in "Mein Kampf." You will find that the one and over-riding principle in that testimony is the occupation of new territories if necessary by force. On page I we are told:The sword is our plough, and out of the tears of war is raised the daily bread of our descendants.On the same page the absorption and occupation of Austria are also set out. He-also says:An essential requirement of territorial expansion is the destruction of France.Is there any Member of the House who will not agree that the destruction of France is of vital moment to us? Lord Baldwin said that our frontiers are on the Rhine, and if it is agreed that the existence of a democratic and independent France is vital to this country then I submit that that country is threatened to-day if the control of Spain falls into Fascist hands. Surely I do not need to labour that point. In that event France would have three boundaries instead of two. Frankly, I cannot understand why 1439 or how, or on what grounds, His Majesty's Government can possibly suggest, as the Prime Minister did a few days ago, that a Franco victory in Spain would not matter to this country. It is the duty of the Government to tell us the reasons for their belief that such a victory would not be prejudicial to many vital interests of this country. In his book Herr Hitler makes clear the course of events he intends to further, if possible. He proposes to absorb Austria first, as he has; then Spain, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria and no doubt Danzig. When he has succeeded he will have every requisite for a successful war against France and Great Britain; many more requisites for war than Germany and Austria had in the last War. He will have oil and access to the Mediterranean, so that the blockade, which in my view was the real decisive factor in the last War, will not be as effective as it was in that War. He will have a vast army of 150,000,000 people to draw upon. He will command Spain, if it is under the control of Italy or Franco and be in command of the routes to Africa and Morocco and in control of the Straits of Gibraltar.
If that happens Italian submarines could raid the Mediterranean with impunity, Italian troops could occupy or threaten Egypt; and Malta and Cyprus could not survive. He would be able to have naval bases at Corunna and Vigo, threatening our western sea routes, and the result would be that France and ourselves would be completely isolated. If that happens and if France goes, where should we be in this small island of ours? London would be within five minutes of myriads of raiding aeroplanes, our vital lines of communication could be easily cut, and we should have nothing left but to fight and die, or submit ourselves to an alien domination. For these reasons I submit that the question of Spain is of vital interest to this country.
For some hundreds of years we have favoured what is known as the balance of power, and in its time and generation that policy has served us well. I mean the policy enunciated by Fox, the policy that no Power should be allowed to become dominant and a danger to the liberty of Europe. For 200 years we have never permitted any Power or Powers to dominate the Mediterranean. Why 1440 should we at this stage depart from a policy which has served us so well? I submit that to-day this country should enter into a defensive alliance with all who would join us in guaranteeing mutual security against aggression, that in particular we should state in precise and definite terms that we will not countenance foreign occupation or control of Spain, and that, failing compliance with the Non-intervention Agreement by other nations within 14 days, the British Government will agree to the restoration to the Spanish Government of the right to obtain arms.
The Under-Secretary of State admitted yesterday that no complaint had been made of any breach of the agreement by the Fascist Powers for over a year, although breaches have been public knowledge throughout the whole of that time. In spite of that, we are to-day without any guarantee in any shape or form, sitting round a table with those who have repeatedly dishonoured pledges and broken promises. Surely, it is time to end that farce, and I hope that even now the Government, if only out of a sense of outraged dignity, will withdraw from the Non-intervention Agreement and permit the Spanish Government to obtain arms where it can. If such a declaration were made, if we made efforts to obtain allies—there are still 54 nations in the League of Nations—if we made it clear that we were prepared to uphold the Covenant of the League and to resist aggression shoulder to shoulder with other nations, the world would know where we stood.
Certainly, the world does not know today any more than it did yesterday where the Government stand, because the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister has reserved to the Government, in all cases except, I assume, where we are bound by treaty, discretion to decide whether we shall or shall not resist aggression. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] My submission is that it is that very uncertainty which means war, and which almost invariably in our history has resulted in war. Certainty as to the action we shall or shall not take would give the greatest probability of peace. I have been reading the life of Lord Beaconsfield. I hope that hon. Members opposite will cheer when I read a quotation from one of Lord Beaconsfield's speeches. Lord Beacons-field informed the Russian Government, as I suggest other governments should be 1441 informed to-day, that His Majesty's Government were not prepared to witness with indifference the passing of Constantinople into other hands than those of its then possessors. Lord Beaconsfield went to the Berlin Congress, and on his return, it was found that this country had entered into an agreement with Turkey to defend Turkey's Asiatic dominions against any form of aggression from Russia. What was the explanation which Lord Beacons-field gave for the assumption of that responsibility; a responsibility more serious, I think, than that which we are inviting the Government to undertake to-day? The quotation is a long one, but I hope the House will permit me to read it, as I think it is very appropriate to the present situation. On 27th July, 1878, Lord Beaconsfield said:It is said that we have increased, and dangerously increased, our responsibilities as a nation by that convention. In the first place, I deny that we have increased our responsibilities by that convention. I maintain that by that convention we have lessened our responsibilities. Suppose now, for example, the settlement of Europe had not included the convention of Constantinople and the occupation of the Isle of Cyprus; suppose it had been limited to the mere Treaty of Berlin, what under all probable circumstances might then have occurred? In 10, 15, it might be in 20 years, the power and resources of Russia having revived, some quarrel would again have occurred, Bulgarian or otherwise, and in all probability the armies of Russia would have been assailing the Ottoman dominions both in Europe and Asia, and enveloping and enclosing the city of Constantinople and its all-powerful position.He went on:Well, what would be the probable conduct, under these circumstances, of the Government of this country, whoever the Ministers might be, whatever party might be in power? I fear there might be hesitation for a time, a want of decision, a want of firmness; but no one doubts"—any more than anyone doubts to-day—that ultimately England would have said, This will never do; we must prevent the conquest of Asia Minor; we must interfere in this matter and arrest the course of Russia.' Well, that being the case, I say it is extremely important that this country should take a step beforehand which should indicate what the policy of England would be; that you should not have your Ministers meeting in a council chamber, hesitating and doubting, and considering contingencies, and then acting at last, but acting perhaps too late. I say. therefore, that the responsibilities of this country have not been increased; the responsibilities already existed. Though I, for one, would never shrink from increasing the responsibilities of this country if they are responsibilities which ought to be under- 1442 taken the responsibilities of this country are practically diminished by the course we have taken.Concluding, Lord Beaconsfield said:My lords and gentlemen, one of the results of my attending the Congress of Berlin has been to prove, what I always suspected to be an absolute fact, that neither the Crimean War nor this horrible devastating war which has just terminated would have taken place if England had spoken with the necessary firmness.In my submission, war would be less likely if the Government of this country to-day would speak with the necessary firmness. The position which arises to-day, and the difficulty with which the Government are faced, has frequently occurred in our history. I would remind the House that it is now the considered opinion of the great majority of authorities that the Great War itself would not have occurred if the Government of this country had stated its position with firmness. In a recent book written by a German historian, who went through the whole of the documents and facts relating to the commencement of the War, the following conclusion is stated:Great Britain was the dominant factor on both sides and was in control of the situation. Had she immediately and clearly stated her position, world peace would have been saved.I submit that, as stated by that great German authority and as stated by Lord Beaconsfield, the right course for us to follow in the present situation is to state precisely where this country will stand in certain eventualities. Our responsibilities already exist, and they would not be increased by stating our position, by marshalling our friends and by saying, in appropriate cases, "Thus far and no farther." That attitude is a defensive one, and not an offensive one, as hon. Members opposite may try to make out. Hon. Members on this side, like hon. Members in all parts of the House, I am sure, do not desire war. We do not intend or desire to fight anyone, but if we are attacked, surely it is better to stand shoulder to shoulder with others against the aggressor, so that his blood may be upon his own head.
That is not a warlike policy, but a policy which gives the greatest likelihood of peace. It is a policy which, among other things, is directed, I believe, to bring peace-loving nations such as the 1443 United States of America to our help. I was told the other day that the American people always trust the British people, but never a British Government. I think that there is a great deal of truth in that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Particularly this Government."] My hon. Friend says "Particularly this Government," but I do not want to be too hard on the Government in present circumstances. I could say some very hard things about them, but this is not the appropriate occasion on which to do so. I believe that if this country would stand on principle, instead of leaving our hands free so that we might adopt an opportunist attitude when the occasion arose, the American people would certainly sympathise with us, and that little by little, as in the last War, they might, in certain eventualities, be brought into our orbit and to our assistance if we required such assistance.
Many hon. Members fought in the last War—the war to end war, the war to save democracy. Let us not, 20 years later, have it on our souls that we, in our time and generation, were not willing to play our part, that those who died and suffered did so in vain, and that we learned nothing from the Great War. Let us in our time, prepared or unprepared, stand for right, for principles and for justice to small nations. Do not let us—as I feel the Government are doing to-day—evade, shuffle and wriggle out of our plain responsibilities. Let us, while standing with other nations against aggressors, take the lead by taking active steps to remedy the grievances and injustices of the nations wherever they may exist. Let us set an example in that respect. Let us, with other nations, hold in one hand the sword of Damocles against those who attack us or our friends, while holding—and using—the scales of justice fairly in the other hand. Above all, do not let us sacrifice the future to the present. The people of this country want peace, but not peace at any price. They prefer to keep liberty even at the price of peace, and not merely to put off the evil day when our last state will, in all human probability, be worse than our first. I submit that it is the bounden duty of the Government at the present time to interpret the spirit of our people. I believe I have stated it correctly. It is the 1444 Government's duty, in that spirit, to seek peace and to ensue it.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
The Prime Minister, in what I think it is not presumptuous for me to describe as a very fine speech, set before us the object which is in all our minds, namely, how to prevent war. A country like ours, possessed of immense territory and wealth, whose defences have been neglected, cannot avoid war by dilating upon its horrors, or even by a continuous display of pacific qualities, or by ignoring the fate of the victims of aggression elsewhere. War will be avoided, in present circumstances, only by the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor. If our defences are weak, we must seek allies and, of course, if we seek allies, as my right hon. Friend and "landlord" the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has pointed out, alliances involve commitments. But the increase of commitments may be justified if it is followed by a still greater increase of deterrents against aggression.
I was, however, very glad to hear the Prime Minister reaffirm in such direct terms our arrangements for mutual defence with the French Republic. Evidently they amount to a defensive alliance. Why not say so? Why not make it effective by a military convention of the most detailed character? Are we, once again, to have all the disadvantages of an alliance without its advantages, and to have commitments without full security? Great Britain and France have to stand together for mutual protection. Why should not the conditions be worked out precisely and the broad facts made public? Everyone knows, for instance, that our Air Force is tripled in deterrent effectiveness if it operates from French bases, and, as I pointed out in the House three weeks ago, the fact that an attack upon this country would bring the attacker into conflict with the French Army is another great security to us here. We are obliged in return to go to the aid of France, and hitherto we have always been better than our word.
Here, then, is the great security for the two countries. Proclaim it. Do not conceal it. Proclaim it, implement it, work it out in thorough detail. Treat the defensive problems of the two countries as if they were one. Then you will have a great deterrent against unprovoked aggression, and if the deterrent 1445 fails to deter, you will have a highly organised method of coping with the aggressor. The present rulers of Germany will hesitate long before they attack the British Empire and the French Republic if those are woven together for defence purposes into one very powerful unit. Having gone so far, there is no safe halting-place short of an open defensive alliance with France, not with loose obligations, but with defined obligations on both sides and complete inter-staff arrangements. Even an isolationist would, I think, go so far as to say, "If we have to mix ourselves up with the Continent, let us, at any rate, get the maximum of safety from our commitments."
Then we come to the case of Czechoslovakia. There has been a lot of talk about giving a guarantee, but I should be sorry if the grave issue now open in Europe were to turn solely about that point, cardinal though it be. Far wider decisions are called for; far larger interests are at stake. I listened with the utmost attention to all that my right hon. Friend said about our relations to Czechoslovakia, and it seems to me that he has gone a long way in making a commitment. First, I was very glad to hear him reaffirm his adherence and that of the Government to the obligations of the Covenant of the League. Under the Covenant of the League, we are not obliged to go to war for Czechoslovakia. But we are obliged not to be neutral, in the sense of being indifferent, if Czechoslovakia is the victim of unprovoked aggression. The Prime Minister, though I have not his words written down, seemed to me to go further than those mere obligations of the League, and to indicate how very real was the interest which we took in affairs in that part of the world. Lord Halifax, speaking in another place, used language which is particularly important coming from the head of the Foreign Office. He said he had asked Field-Marshal Goering to repeat to him the assurances which he (Field-Marshal Goering) had given to the Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia, and that this had been done by the German Government, and then Lord Halifax said:By those assurances, solemnly given and more than once repeated, we naturally expect the German Government to abide, and if indeed they desire to see European peace maintained, as I earnestly hope they do, there is no quarter in Europe in which it is more vital that undertakings should be scrupulously respected.1446 We not only have, therefore, the general obligations of the Covenant of the League, but we have this particular reference to special assurances given and received and noted. There is a third aspect. We have our agreement, which I have described, and of which the Prime Minister has reminded us, with France, and if France is attacked by Germany for going to the rescue of Czechoslovakia. No one can say that we shall not be involved— not legally, not as a matter of bond but by the force of events. The Prime Minister used language—and again I am trusting only to the impression which his words made upon me—which undoubtedly had the effect of making it perfectly plain that the course of war once started could not be limited, that no one could tell what would happen, that other countries would be drawn in, and he mentioned specially France and Great Britain as two countries which might be involved.
Taking all these points together, I cannot doubt that we have considerable commitments, and, personally, I am very thankful for any words that have been used which sustain that point of view. But this seems to be another case, if I may say so—and my criticism is not intended to be of a hostile character, because I recognise that a very considerable advance has been made on any previous declaration which we have had—of making very considerable commitments without gaining the full proportion of deterrent value. We are not taking the fullest steps in our power to stop the event occurring, and yet we are liable to suffer from it if it occurs. We are liable not only to be drawn in but to be drawn in, perhaps, late in the day, and very likely in unfavourable circumstances. It is really for consideration whether, having gone so far, the bolder course might not be the safer. All attempts to bridge a 12-foot stream by an 8-foot plank are doomed to failure, and the plank is lost. It is a concession, no doubt, to bring forward a 9-foot plank, but again, that may be lost. The great point in view, however, is to achieve the object, to produce the effect of an adequate deterrent.
I would like to point out to the House that the question does not turn upon an automatic or permanent pledge. I can well see the disadvantages of that, as the Prime Minister has explained them to us, but what I should be inclined to ask, and 1447 what I would ask if these matters could be at any time reconsidered, is not that a permanent or automatic pledge should be given, but that now, on this present occasion, in the circumstances which surround us at the moment, with the rape of Austria before our eyes, Great Britain should have said, and should still say, "If the Germans march in upon this State of Czechoslovakia without even waiting for an impartial examination, perhaps by a commission of the League of Nations, or some other body into the position of the Sudeten Deutch and the remedies offered for their grievances—if in those circumstances an act of violent aggression were committed upon this country, then we should feel, on this occasion, and in this emergency, bound to act with France in resisting it." Such a declaration, although limited to this particular emergency, although limited until a tribunal has examined the position and until the negotiations now proceeding have reached their conclusion—such an assurance would, I believe, do a great deal to stabilise the position in Europe, and I cannot see that it would very seriously add to our risks.
I must say that I myself have not felt during this crisis that there is an immediate danger of a major land war breaking out about Czechoslovakia. I know it is very rash to make such a statement, but when there is so much natural, but misdirected, alarm in the country, now on one point and now on another, one must run some risks in stating one's honest opinion. At any rate, that is the assumption on which I base my argument this afternoon, and I will give my reasons to the House. The first reason is that, in the opinion of many good judges, Germany is not ready this year for such an ordeal as a major land war. The second reason carries more conviction to me, because obviously the first is based upon facts which one cannot measure and secrets which one cannot probe. The second is that I cannot see that it would be to the interest of the rulers of Germany to provoke such a war.
Are they not getting all they want without it? Are they not achieving a long succession of most important objectives without firing a single shot? Is there any limit to the economic and political pressure which, without actually using military force, Germany will be able to 1448 bring to bear upon this unhappy State? She can be convulsed politically, she can be strangled economically, she is practically surrounded by superior forces, and, unless something is done to mitigate the circumstances, she will be forced to make continuous surrenders, far beyond the bounds of what any impartial tribunal would consider just or right, until finally her sovereignty, her independence, her integrity have been destroyed. Why then should the rulers of Germany strike a military blow? Why should they incur the risk of a major war?
Moreover, I think it is to be considered that there are other, even more tempting lines of advance open to Germany's ambitions. A serious disturbance among the Hungarian population in the Rumanian province of Transylvania, might offer a pretext for the entry of German troops, at a Hungarian invitation or without it. Then all the possibilities of the oil and food of Rumania would be open. Here, again, force may be avoided and virtual annexation may be veiled in the form of an enforced alliance—an obligatory alliance. In the meantime the control of Vienna enables the economic fortunes of all the States of the Danubian Basin to be manipulated, exploited and controlled so as to favour German designs, and for the benefit of German finance, trade and arms. Why, then, should Germany go to the one place where she would encounter the veto of France and Russia, which has also made very definite assurances? I submit these facts to the House to sustain the point that I do not think the Government would have run very much risk if they had added the full force of Great Britain to the French declaration about Czechoslovakia. They would not greatly have increased their commitments and they would have made assurance double sure. But much greater advantages would have followed if that course had been adopted, and may still follow if the right policy is adopted at present. The story of this year is not ended at Czechoslovakia. It is not ended this month.
The might behind the German dictator increases daily. His appetite may grow with eating. The forces of law and freedom have for a long time known nothing but rebuffs, failures and humiliations. Their influence would be immensely increased by any signs of concerted action and initiative and combination. The fact 1449 that Britain and France combined together at such a moment in such a cause would give them the strength and authority that they need in order to convince wavering States that they might find a good company of determined people to whom they might join themselves upon the basis of the Covenant and in accordance with its principles. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend speak upon this idea of alliances to carry out the purposes of the Covenant, and within the ambit of its principles, in a serious manner, and certainly seeking to examine it in a practical spirit. On the morrow of such a proof of unity as could be given between Great Britain and France we might be able to make such an arrangement, or begin to make it, for the effective fulfilment of the Covenant. We might have a group of Powers, as it were Mandatories of the League who would be the guardians of civilisation and, once this was set up strong and real, it would liberate us, at least over a long period, from the torments of uncertainty and anxiety which we now have to endure. Joint action on this occasion would make easier and safer the problem of dealing with the next occasion. Joint action in this field, if successful, would certainly pave the way to more effective joint action in the enforcement of the non-intervention policy in Spain. Nations that have joined together to meet one particular emergency may well find, when they look around, that they have assembled forces sufficient to deal with other emergencies not yet before us, and thus we may gather an ever-growing mass, ranged under standards of law and justice, submitting themselves to principles that they are ready to enforce and thus, by military and moral means combined, we may once more regain the ascendant and the initiative for the free peoples of the world and throughout the Empire.
Do not let anyone suppose that this is a mere question of hardening one's heart and keeping a stiff upper lip, and standing by to see Czechoslovakia poleaxed or tortured as Austria has been. Something more than that particular kind of fortitude will be needed from us. It is not only Czechoslovakia that will suffer. Look at the States of the Danube Basin. First and foremost there is Yugoslavia. That is a most powerful and virile State, three-quarters of whose martial people are un- 1450 doubtedly in the fullest sympathy with the democracy of France and Great Britain, and are animated by an ardent hatred of Nazi or Fascist rule. They have a rooted desire to maintain themselves in their independence. Is nothing being done to ascertain what Yugoslavia would do? Is nothing being done to ascertain what it would do assuming that Great Britain and France are prepared to interest themselves in the problems of the Danube Basin? Yugoslavia might well be gained and I am told that, being gained, the effect on Bulgaria would probably be to draw her into the same orbit. Then there is Rumania, so directly menaced by the potential German movement to the East. These three countries left alone at present, convinced that there is no will power operating against the dictators, will fall one by one into the Nazi grip and system. What then will be the position of Greece and Turkey?
I ask these questions hoping that they may be carefully considered. Is it not possible that decided action by France and Great Britain would rally the whole of these five States as well as Czechoslovakia, all of whom have powerful armies, who together aggregate 75,000,000 of people, who have several millions of fighting men already trained, who have immense resources, who all wish to dwell in peace within their habitation, who individually may be broken by defeat and despoiled but, united, constitute an immense resisting power. Can nothing be done to keep them secure and free to unite them in their own interests, in French and British interests or, above all, in the interests of peace? Are we really going to let the whole of these tremendous possibilities fall away without a concerted effort of any kind? If we do, do not suppose for a moment that we shall ourselves have escaped our perils. On the contrary, we shall have multiplied our perils, for a very obvious reason. At present Germany might contemplate a short war but, once she has laid hands on these countries and extended her power to the Black Sea, the Nazi regime will be able to feed itself indefinitely however long war may last, and thus we may weaken the deterrent force against war of that blockade to which the hon. Member who has just spoken referred. We should have removed another of the deterrents that stand between us and war. The Nazification of the whole of the Danube States is a danger 1451 of the first capital magnitude to the British Empire. Is it all to go for nothing? Is it all to be whistled down the wind? If so, we shall repent in blood and tears our imprudence and our lack of force and energy.
I have set the issue before the House in terms which do not shirk realities. It has been said by almost all speakers that, if we do not stand up to the dictators now, we shall only prepare the day when we shall have to stand up to them under far more adverse conditions. Two years ago it was safe, three years ago it was easy and four years ago a mere despatch might have rectified the position. But where shall we be a year hence? Where shall we be in 1940? In these next few months all these powerful countries will be deciding whether they will rally, as they would desire to do, to the standards of civilisation which still fly from Geneva, or whether they will be forced to throw in their lot and adopt the system and the doctrines of the Nazi Powers. On the other hand, their freedom and their union would be of the greatest value and importance. The Prime Minister spoke about the negotiations with Italy. I forbear to comment upon them, because I prefer to await the results when they are presented to us. I know no more effective means of aiding those negotiations than the creation of a Danubian block, and nothing that would make it more likely that any engagement entered into would bear fruit and be effective in the hour of serious need. I thank the House for allowing me to develop a rather complicated argument, but it seemed indispensable that we should realise how precious and how vital these days are. No stone should be left unturned. I trust that the Government will do their utmost. If it is too late, the evil is upon us, but do not let any chance be thrown away of endeavouring to save this great area from being overrun, exploited and despoiled.
I now come to the second aspect of the deterrents which we are assembling against aggression, namely, national defence. I welcome very much the announcement that the Prime Minister has made in this respect, and particularly his decision to consult the trade unions. I know that he is averse from hasty decisions. No one can say that this is a hasty decision in the third year of rearmament. I was very 1452 glad also to hear the reassurance that drastic action will be taken to augment the speed of our air programme, of our air-raid precautions system and of our anti-aircraft artillery. It is only a fortnight ago that my right hon. Friend told us he was satisfied that we were making the best and the most effective use of our resources. However, it appears that there were other resources not being used which now will be used in a greater effort. I regret very much that these additional resources have not been applied during the last two years, when the Air programme was seen to be trailing so far behind. Not only did we start two years too late, but the second two years have been traversed at only half-speed. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, whom I see modestly seated in the far extremity of the bench, said a fortnight ago in rebuking me:I detected in Mr. Churchill's demands a fundamental difference of opinion with the Government, for he contemplates a great deal more interference with industry than has hitherto taken place.I was sorry to be told I was in fundamental difference with the Government, and I am glad to know from the Prime Minister's statement that this particular fundamental difference is likely very soon to be removed. However, I must say I do not feel even now, after this latest decision, that the problem of rearmament is being dealt with on right lines. Is the method of organisation to be employed adapted to a nation-wide effort? Ought there not to be created, however tardily, a Ministry of Supply? Ought there not to be created a far more effective Ministry of Defence? Are there not problems pressing for solution which can be handled only by a Minister of Defence? Ought there not to be a Defence of the Realm Act passed giving the necessary powers to divert industry, as far as may be necessary, from the ordinary channels of commerce so as to fit our rearmament in with the needs of our export trade and yet make sure that rearmament has the supreme priority?
I will venture to echo the question which was posed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) last week. Is our system of government, the organisation of the Government, adapted to the present fierce, swift movement of events? Twenty-two gentlemen 1453 of blameless party character sitting round an overcrowded table, each having a voice—is that a system which can reach decisions from week to week and cope with the problems descending upon us and with the men at the head of the dictator States? It broke down hopelessly in the War. But is this peace in which we are living? Is it not war without cannons firing? Is it not war of a decisive character where victories are gained and territories conquered, and where ascendancy and dominance are established over large populations with extraordinary rapidity? If we are to prevent this bloodless war being turned into a bloody war, ought not His Majesty's Government to adopt a system more on the level with the crisis period in which we live?
Let me give a warning drawn from our recent experiences. Very likely this immediate crisis will pass, will dissipate itself and calm down. After a boa constrictor has devoured its prey it often has a considerable digestive period. It was so after the revelation of the secret German Air Force. There was a pause. It was so after German conscription was proclaimed in breach of the Treaty. It was so after the Rhineland was forcibly occupied. The House may recall that we were told how glad we ought to be because there would be no question of fortifying it. Now, after Austria has been struck down, we are all disturbed and alarmed but in a little while there may be another pause There may not—we cannot tell. But if there is a pause, then people will be saying, "There now, see now the alarmists have been confuted; Europe has calmed down, it has all blown over, and the war scare has passed away." My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will perhaps repeat what he said a few weeks ago that the tension in Europe is greatly relaxed. The "Times" will write a leading article to say how silly those people look who on the morrow of the Austrian incorporation raised a clamour for exceptional action in foreign policy and home defence, and how wise the Government were not to let themselves be carried away by this passing incident.
All this time the vast degeneration of the forces of Parliamentary democracy will be proceeding throughout Europe. Every six weeks another corps will be added to the German army. All this time important countries, great rail and river 1454 communications will pass under the control of the German General Staff. All this time populations will be continually reduced to the rigours of Nazi domination and assimilated to that system. All this time the forces of conquest and intimidation will be consolidated, towering up soon in real and not make-believe strength and superiority. Then presently will come another stroke. Upon whom? Our questions with Germany are unsettled and unanswered. We cannot tell. What I dread is that the impulse now given to active effort may pass away when the dangers are not diminishing, but accumulating and gathering all the time as country after country is involved in the Nazi system, and as their vast preparations reach their final perfection.
For five years I have talked to the House on these matters, not with very great success. I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly the stairway which leads to a dark gulf. It is a fine broad stairway at the beginning, but after a bit the. carpet ends. A little further on there are. only flagstones, and a little further on still these break beneath your feet. Look back over the last five years. It is true that great mistakes were made in the years immediately after the War. At Locarno we laid the foundation from which a great forward movement could have been made. Look back upon the last five years, since, that is to say, Germany began to rearm in earnest and openly to seek revenge. If we study the history of Rome and Carthage, we can understand what happened and why. It is not difficult to understand and form an intelligent view about the three Punic Wars; but if mortal catastrophe should overtake the British nation and the British Empire, historians a thousand years hence will still be baffled by the mystery of our affairs. They will never understand how it was that a victorious nation, with everything in hand, suffered themselves to be brought low and to cast away all that they had gained by measureless sacrifice and absolute victory—" gone with the wind."
Now the victors are the vanquished, and those who threw down their arms in the field and sued for an armistice are striding on to world mastery. That is the position, that is the terrible transformation that has taken place bit by bit. I rejoice to hear from the Prime Minister 1455 that a further supreme effort is to be made to place us in a position of security: Now is the time at last to rouse the nation. Perhaps it is the last time it can be roused with a chance of preventing war, or with a chance of coming through to victory should our efforts to prevent war fail. We should lay aside every hindrance to endeavour by uniting the whole force and spirit of our people to raise again a great British nation standing up before all the world, for such a nation, rising in its ancient vigour, can even at this hour save civilisation.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Petherick
I find it very difficult to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), who so moved the House in the great peroration to which we have just listened. It would, therefore, seem to some hon. Members almost an impertinence to attempt to follow him at all, but whenever my right hon. Friend speaks I always seem to detect through the rolling rhetoric of the elder statesman the rattle of the sabre of the subaltern of cavalry. What is the policy which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward? It is the old one which he has been advocating, in common with many other hon. Members, for some years, namely, the subjugation of Germany and her complete encirclement. If he thinks that he will keep peace and ensue it by such a policy, I for one, with all respect to him, would say that he is wrong. He also took up a certain matter with which the Prime Minister dealt, and I seemed to hear murmurings of Machiavelli in the way he dealt with it. He practically suggested that the Prime Minister had given a commitment so far as Czechoslovakia was concerned, and he seemed very pleased that that was so. Others of us who listened to the Prime Minister have come away with a somewhat different impression of his speech.
I start from the point of view of one who does not profess to be an internationalist. I believe that the right definition of British foreign policy was made 200 years ago by Lord Bolingbroke who defined it as "British interests abroad." We do not rule the world from Westminster. It is unfortunate, from the point of view of some people, that we do not. Other Governments are responsible for the people under their control. There- 1456 fore we must regard every step that we take in this country from the point of view of the interests of our own people at home and in the Empire. There has been over this last week a welcome slackening of tension in Europe and it has given us time—the whole country as well as the Government—to sit down and consider as calmly and as objectively as it is possible to consider anything in these troublous times the policy in which we believe and should attempt to follow. I believe that, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we can at least look forward for some little time to a period of comparative calm, unless some unfortunate incident should arise, which it may at any time—if I may use the simile, if "Sam drops his musket."
The Prime Minister has been accused to-day of having no policy, but his general policy has been made abundantly clear. His main policy, stated generally, is one of appeasement, of doing everything possible on the part of this country to bring about a further slackening of tension, and to enable the various countries to get together in an endeavour to find some common agreement on a peaceful policy. I may mention two particular aspects of the Government's policy. We may point to both Spain and Italy. He made it clear that all the time, so far as Spain is concerned, the Government's policy has been one of strict neutrality and one of trying to extend that neutrality to other countries by means of the Nonintervention Agreement. So far as Italy is concerned, the Prime Minister, very courageously risking a great deal of obloquy from hon. Members, only a few weeks ago insisted, quite rightly, on trying to heal at least one breach which is causing us much trouble in Europe, by starting negotiations once again with Italy.
In my view, the main question before us to-day, the main issue of this Debate, is the question whether we should or should not as a country give a commitment, absolute or conditional, or even temporary, as my right hon. Friend suggested just now, in defence of Czechoslovakia. I thought that was a very extraordinary suggestion, if I may say so, that my right hon. Friend put forward. I understand that it is rather like giving a six months' guarantee of an overdraft—that the right hon. Gentleman was suggesting that we should give, in these very 1457 difficult circumstances, until things calm down, some temporary guarantee for the defence of Czechoslovakia. There are three main aspects of foreign policy—the near, the middle, and the far—and I believe that both the extremes may be very dangerous. If you look at foreign policy from too near a viewpoint, you may well become infected, as unfortunately this country was nearly a week ago, by something akin to a panic, and you may be led into making the most rapid decisions which you may everlastingly regret. You may take certain steps which may be internationally valuable debating points, and you may win a minor diplomatic victory, but at a very great cost. If, on the other hand, you take too long a view, it seems to me that your view may become blurred.
To illustrate this point, I remember hearing in this House a few weeks ago a very eminent business man from the Far East whose interests were very much taken up in this Japanese-Chinese War, and he made the great mistake of looking too far ahead, as my right hon. Friend may well have done just now. This gentleman, a man of great knowledge, proceeded first to make a present of the whole of China to the Japanese, then he allowed the Japanese to go on by easy stages to, I think, Australia, Cochin China and Siam, and finally made them a present of India. My right hon. Friend has certainly alarmed many people in this House by his atttitude so far as Germany is concerned. He asks us to disbelieve everything that Herr Hitler and the whole of the Nazi party have been built up on, which is the Germanisation of German territory. They deny, and I believe with justice, that they are anxious to annex further great territories inhabited by races which are non-German. I think it is quite possible and natural that they will endeavour to bring them into their diplomatic orbit, and indeed I agree. We should also try to do the same.
Duchess of Atholl
The hon. Member said that the Germans did not want to bring anybody under their control except German races. Does he mean that Austria was formerly under the rule of Germany, or that Czechoslovakia was?
§ Mr. Petherick
If you go back to the whole history of Germany, there is some doubt whether Austria was or was not 1458 ever a part of the Germanic Empire, but I think that even the Noble Lady would not deny that the Austrians are German-speaking people and are certainly of the Germanic race. I am not attempting to excuse the recent action of the German Government—on the contrary, I should strongly oppose and condemn it—but that is another matter. I am trying to say that you may well take too long a view and assume a great German Reich stretching from the North Sea—Drang nach Osten—perhaps even to India. Surely this is one great danger of countries stretching like that over races and countries which are not of their race, creating a minority problem, and a very grave minority problem, wherever that extension takes place.
We in this country know the difficulties of minority problems. Take Ireland, for instance, on which I need not dilate tonight. And would any hon. Member who had experience of the last War not prefer to hold a long and, it may be, tenuous line with a battalion of your own people on whom you could count, rather than have next door to you in the line a battalion coming from a different race, secretly hostile to you, who at the best might let you down by collapsing at a grave moment and who at the worst might easily go over to the enemy? I think we forget this when we are considering this problem of minorities, and it may well be said that both Louis Quatorze and Napoleon Bonaparte were largely destroyed, not only by British arms, but by the fact that Napoleon particularly against the advice consistently given by Talleyrand, insisted on putting in his own nominees to rule the countries that he had conquered. It was not by any means only British arms that Napoleon was conquered, but by the fact that he raised wherever he went a number of bitterly hostile countries, pacified for the moment, but waiting for the happy time when they could pounce on him.
No hon. or right hon. Member of this House would dare to be dogmatic so far as this question of a commitment to Czechoslovakia is concerned. You cannot be dogmatic unless at the same time you set up as an amateur prophet, and only a very foolish man would, I think, dare to do that. All that we can say, on the question of deciding which is the best thing to do so far as Czechoslovakia is concerned, is that it is a choice of 1459 evils. With all the confidence that one can have in the circumstances, I believe that if the Prime Minister had given an unqualified commitment, he would have been engaging in a gigantic gamble with the lives of his fellow countrymen. Suppose, for instance, the Czechs themselves were responsible for a war breaking out. Suppose they had been engaging in persecution for some years and suppose, on the other hand, the other side were responsible for some trumpery frontier incident which finally led to war. Then either we should have to fight, if a commitment had been made, in a cause of which we did not approve or, it might be, heartily disliked, or else we should have to withdraw with a possible loss of honour. After all, as has been said tonight by one hon. Member, à propos of the causes of the last War, even now it is not established that Germany was mainly responsible for the last War, though I believe she was. Many neutral and dispassionate people believe that she was not even mainly responsible.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Can the hon. Member point to any single statement by an hon. Member of this House asking that such a commitment as that should be made on the part of His Majesty's Government?
§ Mr. Petherick
I understood that that was the main thesis of hon. and right hon. Members opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I am delighted to hear that that is not the case, because there has been a good deal of trouble caused in the country recently by rumours of resignations and splits in the Cabinet, by headlines in the newspapers, and by action by the Labour party and the Opposition Liberal party, all with the object in view, as I understood, of trying to get the Prime Minister to make a definite commitment for the defence of Czechoslovakia.
§ Mr. Petherick
Who is going to say what is or is not unprovoked aggression? Surely we must use our own discretion in deciding whether an aggression is or is not unprovoked.
§ Mr. Petherick
The League of Nations always provides very considerable delay before any stern action can be taken, and it may well be that Czechoslovakia would be overrun long before the League of Nations was in a position to make up its mind about the question of aggression. There are two other features in this situation, one of which the Prime Minister pointed out. Although I believe the power of this country is very gravely underestimated in some quarters, we are still a strong and powerful nation, and we are growing more strong and powerful every day; nevertheless we are not in a position to implement unlimited commitments in different parts of the world at the present time. Therefore, if we cannot implement unlimited commitments, surely we should not in honour make them. Are we sure too that we should have the people of this country behind us in such a step? I should say that there is a grave doubt about it. Everyone is apt to say that the country is thinking as he himself thinks; nevertheless every hon. Member opposite would, I feel sure, agree that there is a great section of the people of this country who are against these unlimited commitments.
Furthermore, there is the Empire to consider. At least two countries are against such commitments, so far as we are able to ascertain from the sources at the disposal of an ordinary Member of Parliament, and it is extremely doubtful whether the other great countries of the Empire would support us in such an action. And if a commitment for the defence of Czechoslovakia, why stop there? Why not bring in Hungary, and why not, as my right hon. Friend said, Yugoslavia, and indeed the whole of the Balkans? It is the policy of unlimited commitments which my right hon. Friend and others are advocating.
Is it not the policy of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which is a Covenant not against aggression generally, but against any particular victim?
§ Mr. Petherick
Before I come to that question, I think it is quite wrong to say, as some are saying, that always in history we have intervened when a country has got too strong, although we have done so on occasions. May I read two quotations 1461 taken from different periods of English history which have a strong bearing upon my argument and upon the present situation? The first is from Bolingbroke, written some 200 years ago, and about 20 years after the Marlborough Wars which interest the right hon. Gentleman:As we ought not to aim at any acquisition of territory on the Continent, it may be to our interest to watch the secret workings of the several councils abroad; to advise and warn; to abet, and oppose; but it never can be our due interest easily and officiously to enter into action, much less into engagements that imply action and expense.The hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) gave us a quotation from Lord Beaconsfield, and I cap it with another which is peculiarly applicable to the situation to-day, perhaps the most apt quotation it would be possible to make. This is what he said in his speech after his re-election in 1865:The abstention of England from any unnecessary intervention in the affairs of Europe is the consequence, not of her decline of power, but of her increased strength. England is no longer a mere European power; she is the metropolis of a great maritime Empire, extending to the boundaries of the farthest ocean. It is not that England has taken refuge in a state of apathy, that she now almost systematically declines to interfere in the affairs of the Continent of Europe. England is as ready"—this might be the present Prime Minister speaking—and as willing to interfere as in the old days, when the necessity requires it.The Prime Minister quite rightly said that he would not give a declaration in favour of a commitment to defend Czechoslovakia, but he equally rightly refused to say that we would not intervene, reserving the freedom of action of this country to intervene or not when circumstances arise.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry to interrupt again, but is it not a fact that when Russia went into the Balkans at the time of the Treaty of San Stefano Lord Beaconsfield made it clear that he would intervene, and that it was because of that threat of intervention that he was able to get the Russians to retreat from the position they had taken up?
§ Mr. Petherick
That was another occasion, I think I am right in saying. We always hear of wars that have happened, but not of the wars that do not happen. So far as Constantinople, which 1462 was mentioned to-night, is concerned, it was at that time and still is a vital British interest—was declared by Lord Beaconsfield to be one—as in the case of guaranteeing the integrity of France. There are certain absolutely vital British interests—I need not enumerate them—which we shall always defend. So far as commitments in Central Europe are concerned, if I may paraphrase Oliver Cromwell, the great hero of Mr. Isaac Foot, the hon. Member's father, I would say, "Trust in God and keep your paper dry." [HON. MEMBERS: "Paper?"] Yes, paper. In these particular circumstances we have also to have large reserves of perfectly dry powder in case anything goes wrong; but that is another matter.
I do not wish to enter upon a discussion of the League of Nations, because I have already been too long. The question of peace or war may be a moral question, but the question of the machinery for keeping the peace is, to my mind, a purely political one. When the United States refused to come in, the League of Nations became nothing more than a big alliance, to my mind. It may be claimed that a big alliance is better than a small alliance, and I agree, provided that two qualifications are fulfilled—that is, that you can count not only on the good faith of each component part but upon the strength of those component parts also. If we followed the full League policy we should have some 50 different obligations and, it seems to me, very little security. When I hear hon. Members opposite talking of collective security, I cannot help feeling that it always was a misnomer. They regard it as though it was something dynamic. Collective security is not dynamic, it is the state you hope to obtain through common action, and, unfortunately, it is common action which has always failed in the past.
As the Prime Minister has reminded us, in this country we are all agreed about supporting the principles of the League, having an intense dislike of aggressive warfare in any form and a determination to do what we can to uphold the rule of law. We also have a great faith in our Parliamentary institutions and a love of freedom. Therefore, it has always seemed so melancholy to me, when Members belonging to different parties have so much in agreement regarding international 1463 affairs, that we cannot come to an agreement on the question of the final reason for which British arms should be used. In common, I suppose, with many other people, I hope of good will, I have been trying for some time to find a bridge on which we could meet. We are all agreed that it is a melancholy necessity to have to rearm up to the hilt, and we are all agreed that we should fight if necessary for any part of the British Empire and to fulfil our treaty obligations. We are agreed also that we should defend France and Belgium against unprovoked aggression. It is the discretionary purpose for which British arms may be used on which there is the disagreement.
In these very grave times through which the world is passing, can we not endeavour to come to some common agreement on that third category of purposes for which British arms would be used? It is melancholy that there should be disagreement, not on principles, but on the machinery by which we maintain peace, and, therefore, I sincerely hope that in the next few months it may be possible to have conversations, perhaps between the leaders of the various parties, to endeavour to come to some common agreement, on what are relatively trivial matters when we consider the whole of the future of Great Britain, the Empire and the world. I heartily welcome the Prime Minister's speech to-day; I think it was a very wise one and a courageous one, and I am sure that it will receive great support in the country.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick) except to remind him, when he speaks of the League of Nations in what I regard as almost contemptuous terms, that he and the fellow Members of his party pledged themselves at the last election to make the League of Nations the keystone of their foreign policy. If on a fundamental matter of this kind he has changed his views, then, in accordance with the Parliamentary institutions of this country, it is his duty to resign his seat and to fight again on this issue. And not only is it the plain duty of the hon. Gentleman; it is the plain duty of the Government. In 1935 they secured a mandate from the country to make the League 1464 of Nations the keystone of their foreign policy—to stand by the League, to implement the Covenant. It was on that promise and pledge that they secured a majority, but now they are throwing that promise over and changing their policy, and they should resign and go to the country. We on this side should welcome an opportunity of deciding the issue at the bar of public opinion.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) has left, because we always listen to him with respect. Every time he speaks we learn a good deal, because he has had a wide and intimate experience of foreign affairs and public life, and has a wide knowledge of the world, but I have noticed that although his reviews of events are always so embracing and excellent there is an omission of references to Spain. He always attaches great importance to the relationship between this country and France. I believe he proceeds on the assumption that it is essential for the safety of this country that we shall not only be in the closest association with France, but that France and ourselves shall be strong enough to resist defeat by any other Power, and if he had been here I should have asked whether he did hot think that recent events in Spain had considerably weakened the power of France to resist her enemies, and that therefore we ought to be paying more attention to what is happening in Spain. Not only are the Spanish people being drowned in blood, by the intervention of Germany and Italy, but the defeat of Spain and the establishment of German and Italian troops in the Pyrenees would weaken France immensely. By the logic of the right hon. Gentleman and others in this House, anything that weakens France will weaken England, too. Therefore, the defeat of the Spanish Government, by weakening France, will definitely weaken this country.
I also welcome the right hon. Gentle-man's speech because, though he is one of the oldest Members of the House, he is one of the few Members opposite who realises the changes there have been in the Europe in which we live. Many Members opposite still think, apparently, that we are living in the Europe of 1910 and 1912. We are living in a Europe in which there are forces—unloosed probably by the last War—which are seeking to domin- 1465 ate Europe and to destroy democracy. The Prime Minister, at the close of his speech this evening, said that he was conscious that he was speaking not merely to this House but to the world. I think he was right. Europe and the wrold have been waiting for the word of England, and it falls to the Prime Minister to utter that word. In the world outside there are two forces—the forces which seek to preserve democracy and liberty and freedom, and to use them to build a better life, a life of tolerance, a life in which there is equality of opportunity, the life which we here believe will fully flower only under a co-operative system; and there are other forces which seek to cramp life and to destroy democracy.
Whether we like it or not there are those two forces, the democratic forces and the Fascist forces, and both were listening to the Prime Minister, especially the democratic forces. I have the feeling that the democratic countries have waited in vain, and will hear the speech of the Prime Minister with dismay. It contains no promise, no pledge, that this country will stand by those democratic forces in Europe whose defeat, if they are defeated, will eventually bring about the defeat of this country. Therefore, I say that the outside world will hear on the wireless to-night and read in the Press to-morrow the speech of the Prime Minister with feelings of dismay. What has been the outstanding fact in Europe in the last four or five years, since 1931? I do not stop to deal with the point that it was in 1931 that the Labour Government were driven out of office and the present Government came in. Since 1931, international relationships in Europe have consistently worsened and international tension has become greater year by year. Since 1931 the democratic countries of Europe have been on the retreat and the Fascist Powers have been marching on. Each year, and now almost each month, witnesses a new defeat for the forces of Democracy and a new win for the powers of Fascisism. We have discussed Czechoslovakia for the last year or two. Month by month conquests have been made; recently Austria, then, may be, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. I believe that Czechoslovakia will lose her freedom and sovereignty by the same way in which Austria was treated, the method of economic encirclement.
1466 The method which has been pursued in Austria and Czechoslovakia and other countries has reached a culminating point in the triumph which is reported to-day from Danzig. This free State was set up at the end of the War and its sovereignty was guaranteed by this country and other countries, as was the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia. We read in the newspapers to-day of the alarm and concern which exists in Danzig because to-day, to-morrow or within the next few days, the complete subjugation of Danzig to Nazi rule will be celebrated. I saw the twin method of the Fascists at work in Danzig 18 months ago, and other people have seen it working in other parts of the world. The method which the Fascist Powers use is first to sustain Fascist propaganda within the country concerned. In the days gone by that was called by the Communist International "boring from within." It goes on in this country. Germany has financed Fascist propaganda in Britain. Eighteen months ago the Home Secretary, in reply to a question which I sent him, agreed that Fascists were being supported from abroad in this country. They have not made much progress, at least on the surface, but there are forces at work quietly and secretly.
The Germans finance propaganda and follow the method of boring from within and sledging from without. There are Fascists in this country. I notice that there has been a meeting in London. I believe it was held last evening. It is reported in the Press to-day. The hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and the hon. and gallant Member for Chippenham (Captain Cazalet) were there, speaking in the meeting. The Prime Minister will be interested to read that the man whose actions he said last Friday filled him with horror and disgust were described by his hon. and gallant Friends as a gallant Christian gentleman. "Kind, courteous and gentle" were the words used by those who spoke at the Queen's Hall in respect of the man who has been killing and maiming, bombing women and children in Barcelona and filling the Prime Minister and every other decent man with horror and disgust. Since 1931 those twin forces have been financing propaganda. I remember what was said by German miners who were in the Miners' Federation attached to our Inter- 1467 national when they spoke of the money which was being poured out in subtle propaganda and appeals in that portion of Czechoslovakia where trouble might arise. It goes on all over Europe. The Democracies have been in retreat since 1931.
When are the Democracies going to stand together? I do not think that any word you could use could cover the fact that there is a struggle between the two forces—between Fascism which seeks to dominate Europe and Democracy which we believe is the only promise for better days. We believe that the way to preserve peace is to organise the forces of Democracy. The workers are being asked to help. The Prime Minister met the Trades Union Congress last night and made an appeal to them. I do not want to say a word about the negotiations that are proceeding, but this evening I asked the Prime Minister in a supplementary question whether he did not realise that there was grave apprehension among the workers of this country as to the purpose of the arms which were being piled up. I would like to read a pronouncement which was made by the Trades Union Congress upon the Spanish position to which the Prime Minister referred this afternoon. His speech held out no hope to the Spanish people and was a direct encouragement to Italy and Germany, by reason of what it omitted to say, to go on to the final conquest of Spain. The Trades Union Congress are now being asked to make sacrifices. The engineers, and perhaps one of these days the miners, are to be asked to make sacrifices. The Trades Union Congress has said:The British Labour movement holds that the Spanish Government is defending democracy against Fascism and is entitled to the support of all democrats and Socialists. It holds that if we have Fascism in Spain it would be a tragedy and a disaster in itself, and Would also be an encouragement to Germany and Italy to repeat the same tactics elsewhere, or even to make a direct attack on France which would find itself encircled by three Fascist Powers.They regard a victory for the Spanish people as a victory for democracy. As one who has had 20 years experience of intimate association with the workers of this country I can tell the House that the Spanish struggle has stirred our working-class people more than anything that has happened in the last 20 years. The Government have come to our people and are 1468 asking them to make sacrifices, but our people remember that the Home Secretary described the struggle of the Spanish people for freedom as a faction fight, and that Members of the party on the other side have described Franco as a Christian gentleman, gentle and courteous. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Oh, yes. I want to urge upon hon. Members opposite that the Prime Minister's speech this afternoon, and other speeches, show that you have all made up your minds that there is to be a war. If a war comes, you know in the final analysis that whether you win it or not will depend not upon how full your arsenals are, but upon the spirit of your people.
What the Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon was perfectly true in his criticism of the Prime Minister, who seems somehow to miss completely the imponderable things, and to have a mechanistic and materialistic outlook. If we are to have victory against the antidemocratic forces, it will only be by rallying the people, and particularly the working-class people. It is the spirit in which they look upon these things that matters. If they regard the Government as having betrayed the Spanish people, do you think you can appeal to them successfully to make sacrifices for you? What are these arms for? Do you think you can get the workers of this country to fight for your Tanganyika, as some of you want, when you refuse to support Spain? Can you not realise that the workers of this country are prepared to face the prospect of another war only if it is in defence of Democracy and freedom? Democracy and freedom have no frontiers. Wherever the fight for them takes place, that is our struggle.
We have had to fight for Democracy and freedom, and for everything we hold dear in this country. The right to organise, the right of meeting, freedom of speech and of the Press, and other things that make this England worth fighting for, are things that we have won. We witness other people fighting for those common rights, and we realise that the struggle of the Spanish people and of other people for liberty and freedom meets with scorn from that side of the House. Let me warn hon. Members, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and others, that the workers of this country will rally to the side of the Government only if the Government are prepared to stand for the 1469 principles of the League of Nations and for collective security. We regard those principles as the only safeguard for the freedom of the Democracies and as the only things that are worth making sacrifices for.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Viscount Wolmer
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Gentleman with very great interest and a large measure of sympathy. I do not propose to traverse what he has said about Spain, but I should like to suggest to him that the Spanish problem is a great deal more complicated and difficult than his remarks would lead anyone to suppose. I would remind him that the policy of the Prime Minister in regard to Spain has been, and I believe still is, the policy favoured by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who has lately become the idol of the Socialist and Liberal parties, and to whose opinions hon. Members opposite have recently been paying very great respect. I believe that the policy which the late Foreign Secretary followed in regard to Spain has been the cause of averting a European war which might otherwise have occurred. It is a very difficult subject, upon which we might perhaps agree to differ.
I come back to that part of Europe which is our main subject, and which is filling the mind of every one of us and of the whole of England at this moment. I do not often have the privilege of agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party, but I did absolutely agree with him to-night when he said that if Czechoslovakia were wantonly attacked by Germany, and if France and Russia implemented their pledge to go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia, it would be impossible for this country to keep out. I believe that to be absolutely true, and I ask any hon. Gentleman who does not agree to contemplate the situation that would then arise. The imponderable influences of which the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has so truly spoken would be swinging the democracy of England beside the democracy of France with a force which no Government could possibly resist, and within a very short number of hours we should find ourselves exactly where we found ourselves in 1914, that is to say, side by side with the French Republic.
1470 Then the right hon. Baronet went on to ask, "If you really believe that, why do you not say so now? Why do you not give the same pledge that France and Russia have given?" And, although he did not say so, I think he insinuated that we ought not again to commit the mistake that some people hold was committed by Sir Edward Grey in not making the attitude of England clear to the Continent in 1914. I think the right hon. Baronet, although he was too good a Liberal and too great an admirer of Sir Edward Grey to say so, insinuated that, and the same analogy has certainly been drawn by speakers from the Labour benches this afternoon.
I do not think, however, that it is in the least fair to accuse the Government of committing the mistake which I, personally, think Sir Edward Grey made. What is the criticism of Sir Edward Grey? It is, as I understand it, twofold. The first criticism is that he never told England, he never told Parliament, he did not even tell all his Cabinet colleagues, the exact commitments that we had with France and the great tension that we had with Germany during the eight years 1906–14. Public opinion in the summer of 1914 was not in the least prepared for the sort of situation that developed. The second and, I think, more usual criticism against him is that, during the last week or 10 days of July, 1914, he did not sufficiently in time make clear to Germany what action we should take. It certainly is not fair to accuse the present Prime Minister of making any such mistake as that. The present Prime Minister has left England and this House in no sort of doubt as to what are the commitments, moral and textual, of this country; and he has also made it as plain as it seems to me to be possible in the circumstances at the moment what our attitude, to quote his own word, is likely to be if certain events occur. If Sir Edward Grey had taken England as much into his confidence in the years 1906–14 as the present Prime Minister has, certainly the first part of the criticism to which I have referred could not have been made against him.
Happily, we have not reached an immediate crisis comparable with that of the latter days of July, 1914. The Prime Minister has refused to give a pledge that would tie our hands completely in circumstances the exact nature of which we 1471 cannot foresee, and which might be entirely beyond our control. I do not think any reasonable man can criticise him for that attitude, and really, if one examines the speeches made in this House this afternoon, it does not seem to me that any great party in the State would care to take that responsibility which the Prime Minister has refused to take. In fact, it seems to me that there is a very wide measure of agreement between all parties, as, indeed, I think there is in the country, as to what our foreign policy ought to be. I think we have always, as a nation, been conscious of the faults in the Versailles Treaty; we have always been conscious that certain features of it, like the Polish Corridor or Danzig, could not be permanent, and we were never in accord in years gone by with the policy of some of our late Allies of trying to beat down, as we used to say in England, the German people. That vein of feeling has always been very strong in this country, and we have always sought for a general appeasement in Europe.
As I understand the Prime Minister's policy, it is that there should be one last effort at appeasement. He has refused to allow the very strong feelings that have been engendered by the Abyssinian incident, by events in Spain, and by the collapse of the League of Nations, to deter him from making a last effort to get an appeasement of Europe on a surer foundation than the Versailles Treaty provided, and one which would really be a settlement, because it could be wholeheartedly accepted by all parties. I believe he has the country with him in that policy. Neither Herr Hitler nor Signor Mussolini is a fool, and I cannot help feeling that they must realise that, if they shut the door altogether to a general appeasement, they will make a war in the near future inevitable, when exactly the same forces will be ranged against one another, and it will be a world war between the free nations and the Fascist nations. It can, in my judgment, have only one result, because, although they are less likely to be well prepared at the commencement of such a war, the resources of the free nations are immeasurably greater than the resources of the dictator States; and, just as I believe it would be impossible for England to keep out of a European war, so I believe it will be impossible for the 1472 other great Anglo-Saxon democratic country to keep out of a world war. Therefore, I feel that there is everything to support the policy which the Prime Minister is pursuing at the present moment, of trying to get a settlement which will be a lasting settlement. But if that attempt fails, then I hope and believe that our Government will pursue a policy on the lines advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in that great speech which he delivered to-night, I think that, if the prospect of a real settlement in Europe now fails, there will be no other course open to us than to form an alliance with all the free nations in Europe—
§ Viscount Wolmer
I agree with the hon. Member that we must act in time. I do not think it is sufficient to rely on the Covenant of the League of Nations. We want a definite alliance—within the Covenant of the League of course; but a definite and specific alliance by which the Danubian and, I hope, the Scandinavian States and England and France will pledge themselves to go each to the other's assistance in the event of an attack by other States—and I would not mind mentioning those other States. We have got to the stage when we have cause to call a spade a spade, or a bayonet a bayonet. It seems to me that that is the course we shall have to take if the Prime Minister's great effort for appeasement now fails. If we take it, we must do so wholeheartedly, in the spirit of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping this evening.
We must realise that, in the next war, it is possible for England to make a much greater contribution than in the early part of the War of 1914: for this reason, that it seems to me that the next war is to be a mechanised war, a war of aeroplanes and machine guns. When it is a question of turning out aeroplanes, this country, if put to it, can turn out as many as any country in Europe. It will not be a case of the small British army against the large conscript armies of Europe, but the industrial capacity of this country against the industrial capacities of other countries. In that, we stand in a position of much greater relative strength than we stood in 1914. But have we yet visualised the 1473 scale on which that output of aeroplanes will have to take place? I do not know how many aeroplanes have been turned out in the last 12 months, but they can be numbered in hundreds. During the same period we have turned out motor cars which can be numbered in scores of thousands.
I believe that our output of aeroplanes in the next war, and in the period before the next war, will have to be more on the level of our output of motor cars at the present moment. If you are going in for the mass production of aeroplanes, obviously two industrial nations preparing against each other, fighting against each other, will turn over their whole resources, which is more or less the measure of their motor car resources. Therefore, output will have to be on a very much greater scale. One hon. Member just now raised the question of whether democracy was likely to survive. I agree with him. I believe that if the present effort for appeasement fails, it will be a question of whether democracy can survive. To my mind it can only survive if all democratic nations work together, and if they are prepared to make the same sacrifices and go to the same lengths of military preparation as the dictator States have gone. It is not use hoping that democracy can be defended unless it puts its entire heart into the task of defence.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I have listened to a large number of speeches this evening. I listened to the statement of the Prime Minister, and I say that it was the most selfish speech that I have ever heard in this House or at any time in public life. It showed, from his angle, a complete, utter disregard for any nation's interests, except the Imperialist interests and ambitions within the British Empire. I have listened to a great deal of talk from Conservative Members about freedom and democracy. When they say freedom and democracy, they mean, in my opinion, only the freedom of the British ruling class to exploit the people of this country and native labour in Africa, India and elsewhere. When they say that they stand for democracy, I can only say that I would be willing to be converted to their point of view if I saw that they had any leanings towards democracy.
§ Mr. McGovern
I should be very sorry if that included the hon. Member. At the same time, I have watched this Government and its supporters operating in this House, in the country and throughout the world. I have seen no desire to help democracy, or towards helping the progress of any free people to raise their standards of life or to give democracy any real opportunity of expression or development. I have watched, for the best part of two years, the Spanish working class struggling in mud, blood and tears, in order to preserve a certain amount of freedom, to enlarge upon it and to establish in that unhappy country some form of government that would give to the people a forward move, and I have seen every operation, every line of activity, every declaration being made by Members of the Government and their friends to prevent that people from getting that expression and opportunity. Not only are they not willing to assist them to maintain their freedom, but they are actively engaged in a scheme of double-dealing as shameless as has ever taken place in the world at large. We see their sham non-intervention policy, that has been a policy of active assistance to Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, and has debarred at every point the people of Spain from getting the weapons to defend themselves against the assault of these brutal beasts of the jungle.
The Prime Minister has said that there were three or four points which we had to consider. The first was the maintenance of peace. I think that the representatives of all parties will agree that the maintenance of peace is a thing we should all strive for, and it should be only second, from their point of view, to the maintenance and development of the rights of nations throughout the world to live in harmony and peace, and to get the opportunity to enjoy the freedom that they profess to defend. This country has earned for itself throughout the ages the name of "perfidious Albion." I have never seen this country so entitled to that name as it has been within recent years. The Government are prepared to sell every friend and every nation in the world as long as they can preserve, in the end, their own material interests in the different parts of the 1475 world. They will, in the end, get to the stage at which they will be without the friendship or high opinion of any person. They will be looked upon with the greatest amount of contempt, because they have linked themselves with a policy that had proposed to defend everyone of these nations, but, as they saw them being attacked and trampled under foot, had deserted them and left them to their fate.
I am not surprised at the policy that is being pursued. There are some people in the world, I suppose, who think, as Bernard Shaw expressed it in one of the London papers, that this policy of the large nations swallowing the small nations is a natural development. Some people liken it to the development of the great trusts and combines in industry, commerce and banking, which gradually swallow the small man, and say that we must expect the same policy to be pursued abroad by the large nations swallowing the small nations. Whether or not that is a policy which we are entitled to expect, it is a policy that the Government have promised to prevent, because they have given their word at election times, on the hoardings, in election addresses and in speeches, that they are prepared to stand for freedom and democracy and to preserve the rights of the small nations.
We are told that we must establish confidence in Europe. I cannot see confidence being established in Europe if a policy of that description is allowed to operate where every small nation will be gobbled up by Imperialist competitors, whom, in the end, we believe we are going to meet on the battlefield. The Prime Minister said that we must develop friendship. Friendship with whom? Friendship with Hitler and Mussolini? They are two of the greatest three-card tricksters that the world has ever known. They are, in working-class language, a bunch of liars in whom no one can have any faith. They simply pen their names to paper and give their word that they are going to carry out a policy, and the ink is hardly dry or the word has hardly been given before a policy quite different from that to which they have given their word is being pursued.
The Prime Minister said that we had no reason to suspect that they will not 1476 keep their word. Whom is he attempting to delude? Is he deluding himself? He is certainly not deluding any person that I know in this country. Every person I meet, whether Conservative, Labour, Liberal, Socialist or Communist, agrees that the greatest system of lying and duplicity of which any person could ever have dreamed is being carried on by statesmen to-day. We see aeroplanes, munitions, tanks and every form of war material going into Spain to drench the Spanish people in a sea of blood, destroying children by the hundred, blowing them limb from limb with bombs manufactured in Italy and in Germany, and German and Italian officers carrying out these bombing raids in the most savage and brutal manner. And the Prime Minister says that we have no reason to disbelieve the word of these men. Their every action is contradictory of the policy which they are seeking to pursue. I can only see the possibility of the Government of this country playing, what they have played from time to time, a watiting game, and of preparing their resources and material for offensive purposes, so that when the hour strikes to meet these people, they will meet them on terms that will ensure success for themselves and their allies. Their allies will be fewer by that time, and the opportunity will be a great deal less.
I would have taken a fundamentally different attitude in any coming war if I had seen the British Government giving aid to the Spanish people to defeat Mussolini, Hitler and Franco. While they might not have taken the class point of view that I take, it would have shown that, at least, they were prepared to defend democratic institutions and opportunities of expression for the Spanish people, and in that respect they would have been regarded as not being of the brutal type of Hitler and Mussolini. But we have men on the Government Benches who profess to stand for the maintenance of the British Empire, and who, from their own angle go into the country and address meetings bolstering up those who are menacing the interests of that same Empire. They went to Queen's Hall last night and made declarations about this gallant little gentleman.
§ Mr. McGovern
This gallant little Christian gentleman. If I know anything about Christianity, I would be ashamed to claim Franco as a supporter of Christianity. It is declarations of that kind which almost make me physically sick, especially when I hear people talking in that way about Franco, a brutal butcher of the worst description, and murderer of women and children by the hundreds. We hear men who claim to be English gentlemen, with interests in this country, demanding on other occasions that declarations must be given by the Government never to surrender one inch of territory in the British Empire, either to Hitler or to Mussolini, and yet, at the same time, they are pursuing a policy which is resulting in handing over into the arms of these people the opportunity of stabbing this country and its ruling classes in the back, and undermining the Colonial Empire throughout the world. These men are known by the company they keep. They have sympathy with the Fascists. There are a large number of people in this House who cheer from time to time the victories of Franco, and they must not expect that the workers of this country are so dull-witted that they do not notice it. They will not forget, when the Government get into further difficulties at a later stage and say to them, "Let us all unite as comrades and fight for freedom and democracy," that we have allowed Spanish men, women and children to be drowned in a sea of blood by the brutal force of those same Fascist Powers. Not only that. They have pursued a line in recent years which will not win the admiration of the working classes.
I do not know what policy will be pursued by the general mass movements in this country if war comes. I can only speak for myself and those immediately associated with me, when I say that we shall not support any war for the defence of the British Empire. We shall not support any war to make the continuation of the enslavement of the African and Indian peoples secure for capitalists and bankers in this country. The attitude that we shall adopt towards such a war, if it comes, will be the same attitude that the Government adopt towards the smaller nations. It is not their affair to butt in to assist these smaller nations in order to save democracy, and it will not be in our interests to save them from 1478 the fate which awaits them at the hands of the blustering and more brutal type of dictatorships throughout the world.
§ Mr. McGovern
Yes, but I am prepared to say that as the class conflict develops in this country, as the Capitalist system sinks into a greater state of decay, concentration camps are as possible from the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) and his friends as they are from Franco, Hitler and Mussolini on the Continent. They have the Fascist mind, which is produced by their material interests, and when those interests are endangered, then will be produced the weapons which are now sheathed. It will not be for democracy, it will not be for freedom, it will not be to ensure certain standards for the working classes of this country. The right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite have sent their investigators into the homes of the unemployed in the country to discover what extra pennies were going into those homes; they have put those people on the basis of starvation, they have applied the means test, and they have refused to receive deputations of workers and unemployed men. Then they come along and say, "Boys, roll up, we are all in it; it is a general struggle for freedom and democracy."
I am not carried away by those meaningless, glib phrases which come from the mouths of potential and probable Fascists. If war comes, we shall oppose it, because every man who fell in that war would have fallen to decide whether Britain was going to have an empire or whether Hitler or Mussolini were going to enlarge their empires. Our duty is not to fight for the British capitalist, ruling-class interests, but for working-class interests, and the Capitalists' hour of danger is our hour of opportunity, when we can undermine and overthrow them. There is only one thing of which I am confident—if a world war comes, I am confident that there is a grand chance that neither Fascist dictatorships nor Capitalist democracies will survive that brutal assault. The workers of this country are in no state of mind to roll up in their millions and to give their lives on behalf and in defence of Capitalist interests in India, Egypt, Africa or in this 1479 country. I am prepared in that war to fight to the last landlord, the last Capitalist and the last banker; I am prepared to see every Member of the Cabinet and the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Bournemouth and his friends off at Victoria and to sing, "We don't want to lose you, but we think you ought to go."
That is my policy in war. I will take the chance, in a capitalist-imperialist war, in this country, as the workers of the world take their chances, in other countries. The workers of Germany, Italy, Austria, Czechoslovakia, France and Britain should realise that if they march into war under capitalist domination, they should march out of that war under working-class domination and working-class leadership, having thrown off those who created the war. That is our line, and we will watch developments in this country. Difficulties are bound to come. Our hearts go out in sympathy and our hands are joined by bonds of freedom, with the Spanish workers who are fighting their battle for real democracy and real freedom, while the Government have stood by and allowed them to be drenched in a sea of blood. We say, "Give us the proof that you stand for democracy, and we shall be prepared to stand behind you. If you allow democracy to go as you are allowing it to go in Spain, you can go the same way in your time."
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
I cannot say honestly that I agree with a single word of the speech of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). If there was one thing more than another with which I disagreed, it was his remark about the speech which the Prime Minister delivered to-day. As I listened to my right hon. Friend's speech, I thought that we were indeed fortunate in this country in having two Prime Ministers in succession who, in moments of crisis, could speak with the voice of Britain. That is the impression which I have. If further proof of the power and force of that speech were needed, it was to be found in the somewhat spiritless reply which we heard from the Leader of the Opposition. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said a great many things in his speech, but the one on which I wish to comment is his 1480 complaint that the League of Nations has not functioned since the year 1931. I have a vague suspicion as to why the right hon. Gentleman chose that particular year to mark the beginning of the deterioration of the League of Nations, but I do not agree with him in the reasons which he gave for that deterioration taking place.
I do not expect hon. Members opposite to agree with me, but if I were asked, I would give two reasons for the deterioration which has taken place in the League of Nations during the last 10 years. In the first place, I would say that it started deteriorating when it turned to the idea of judgments and penalties instead of conciliatory methods; and in the second place (it is remarkable, but nevertheless true, and something which it is worth pondering over) deterioration set in from the moment Soviet Russia was admitted to membership. One thing which the Leader of the Opposition did not do to-day, but which he has frequently done in the past and which is indeed part of the stock-in-trade of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, was to give a list of those occasions on which the League has failed from the beginning, a list comprising Manchuria, the Rhineland, Abyssinia, Spain, China, Austria and so on, the implication being that His Majesty's Government were solely to blame on each occasion. The implication also is that hon. Members opposite were free from all blame on those occasions. I will go into only one of those cases—the invasion of the Rhine-land in March, 1936. That I regard as having been the turning point in postwar history.
We know now, and a great many people knew at the time, that it was nothing more or less than a bluff; that Herr Hitler was playing that card against the advice of his army chiefs; and that had there been any signs of mobilisation or marching by the French Army, the German troops would have been withdrawn, with consequences which might have spared us a great deal of subsequent trouble. But France did not mobolise or march. She wished to ascertain what public opinion was in this country, for she had already had experience at the time of the entry into the Ruhr of what it meant to forfeit the confidence of the public of this country. Therefore, she waited, and the moment was 1481 lost. What was public opinion of this country at that time? Hon. Members will remember that the public as a whole was dead against our taking any steps, and that the cant phrase which went round was that Herr Hitler was invading only his own back-yard.
Moreover, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite were not then as keen on taking violent action as they have been since. I have looked up what the Leader of the Opposition said at that time. I find that after a statement had been made by the late Foreign Secretary, in which an account was given of what had happened, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rose and said that it was an important and a vital matter, that time was required to consider it and that he assumed that in due course a Debate on the subject might be allowed. They are unexceptional phrases, and I take no exception to them, but they are very different from the sort of language which the right hon. Gentleman uses now, two years later. At that time there was an opportunity, if a firm stand had been taken in this country, for something to have been done. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who in these days causes sparks to fly when he talks about the necessity of making a bold stand, of striking a firm attitude in the face of the dictators said, on that occasion:Everyone knows that Signor Mussolini made a statement which was somewhat overshadowed by Herr Hitler's later statement, a statement that ought to be accepted at its face value. Herr Hitler made a statement, sinning with one hand and holding out the olive branch with the other, which ought to be taken at its face value. These may prove to be the most important gestures which have yet been made, if they are followed up, for a solution of the difficulty that now faces us. It is idle to say that those statements were insincere. If they were insincere, we have to prove it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1936; col. 1976, Vol. 309.]That is the sort of language which surprises us to hear in these days; and yet it is only two years ago. They, too, ft must not be forgotten, have belonged to the great shiver sisterhood in their time. I come to my second point. It is plain from the words of the right hon. Member for Wakefield which I have just quoted, that even in those far off days he was prepared to shake hands with Herr Hitler but was not prepared to do as much for Signor Mussolini; and that has been the 1482 consistent attitude of hon. Members opposite ever since, but it is an attitude, I submit, which is in fact the reverse of common-sense. I have always held that friendship with Italy was not only desirable but eminently practicable, but I do not now, any more than in the days of the invasion of the Ruhr, feel the same with regard to Germany. That is why I was opposed to such steps as the visit of Lord Halifax to Berlin, and that is why I was, and am still, opposed to those ladies and gentlemen who write to the "Times" advocating either abject surrender or else bashfully offering propitiating little nosegays of spring flowers. And that is why I welcomed the decision of the Cabinet to enter into conversations with Italy.
After all, historically, traditionally and culturally, we have a great deal in common with the Italian people, and to maintain that the same can be said of ourselves and the German people argues, I submit, a fundamental misconception of the character of that great and dangerous people. May I say in passing that it is inaccurate and wholly misleading to say, as the Leader of the Opposition said the other day, that because Germany has invaded Austria, therefore, the policy of His Majesty's Government has fallen to the ground like a house of cards. As far as I am aware, we have not entered, and indeed have never entered, into conversations with Germany. It is idle to suggest, for example— a great deal has been made out of it in speeches by hon. Members opposite—that the other day, while the late German Ambassador was in London and events were taking place on the Continent, that conversations were broken off suddenly. Herr von Ribbentrop was not here to enter into conversations but for the sole purpose of presenting his letters of recall.
Lastly, I suggest that we do nothing to loosen and everything to strengthen the ties which bind us to France. I foresee in the near future a danger coming from both sides of the House that these ties may, in fact, be loosened. On this side of the House there is a growing tendency to resent the assistance which has undoubtedly been given by the French Popular Front Government to the Barcelona Government, and on that head I will only say that we ought not to forget that there are' just as many people in France who are in favour of maintaining 1483 the non-intervention policy as there are in this country. On the other side of the House, the danger I foresee is, in the event of a change of Government in France, a reversal of opinion among hon. Members opposite to that of indifference to the necessity of being friends with France which always existed among them up to the time of the advent of M. Blum to power. We cannot change our friends, as the Opposition want us to do, according to the kind of Government they happen to possess, unless, of course, the new Government turns out to be definitely hostile to us. It follows then, that if our foreign policy is based on veering friendships dependent on the kind of government which other countries have, we are running a serious risk of falling out with France, and if we fall out with France the very existence of ourselves and France is immediately at stake.
It is not as though we have not warning examples before us. May I mention one? From 1921 to 1923 when I still had the honour of serving in the diplomatic service I was in Athens. We were at loggerheads with France, thanks to one of those periodical quarrels between the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and M. Poincaré. Everything in the Near East was at sixes and sevens, and as if that were not sufficient, we committed the additional folly of adopting M. Venizelos as a sort of pet. Having encouraged him and the Greeks to go into Asia Minor, one would have thought we should have continued to countenance them, once they were there, under his successor King Constantine, and in that case have saved a great deal of bloodshed and suffering. But we did not. Let me give a more recent instance, somewhat nearer home. A Labour Government was in power in this country in 1929 and it will be within the recollection of hon. Members that it came in on a direct reversal of the policy of the Conservative Government which preceded it. That is to say, it came in on a policy of adulation of the United States, vaguely encouraging gestures to Germany and hostility to France. That was first shown by Mr. Snowden in his famous "No" to the French Finance Minister at The Hague, whereby he became something in the nature of a national hero.
1484 What happened then? The then Prime Minister went to Washington to talk with Mr. Hoover about the coming Naval Conference in London upon which great store was set. He did not go by way of Paris. He went straight out to America, and came straight back again. The Conference was called, and was wrecked by the non-co-operation of the French, which was quite deliberate, because they had been left out from the start. The result was that the Labour Government fell and Germany collapsed. These are examples, and ought to act as warnings. I hope that whatever happens we will remain as close as possible to France, our natural friend. And I am sure there is no reason to entertain any doubt on that score so far as His Majesty's Government is concerned.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Henderson
I hope the hon. Member who has just sat down will forgive me if I disagree with his resumé of recent history as regards France. Those of us who sit on these benches have never been like the weathercock as far as our relations with France are concerned. What we have sought to do has been to relate our policy towards France with peaceful relations with other countries. If the hon. Gentleman will make inquiries he will find that relations between ourselves and France, between the years 1929–31, were never closer or more cordial. The then Foreign Minister of France and the Foreign Minister of this country were working very closely together, and the records, which are now extant, will corroborate my statement to that effect. I hope the hon. Gentleman, before he makes that statement again, will check up what he has said.
Another historical misstatement which he made was that there had been deterioration in the League of Nations during the last 10 years. He quoted as evidence of his statement, first, the fact that the League had concerned itself with sanctions and penalties. I take it he was referring to the policy of sanctions against Italy. Sanctions were not imposed against Italy until the end of 1935. As regards the entry of Russia into the League, that did not take place until the middle of 1934. Unfortunately for his argument the position of the League had begun to deteriorate because of the ineffectiveness of our own Government and other Governments at Geneva in February, 1932, following 1485 the invasion of China by Japan. So that my hon. Friend has not been top of the class to-night in history.
§ Captain McEwen
I was referring to the "high-water mark" of the League, which was from 1925 until 1930, when its prestige rested on the settlement of three disputes—the Polish-Lithuanian dispute, the Greco-Bulgarian dispute and the Turco-Greek dispute. All those disputes were settled by conciliation alone, and there was no talk of judgment or penalties.
§ Mr. Henderson
Obviously there was no talk of penalties at that time because there were no acts of aggression. It is equally true to say that at that time the League was at the zenith of its power and prestige, and if that power and prestige had been employed in 1932 to bring Japan to her senses we might have escaped a good deal of what has happened since. Listening to the Debate tonight I have heard a number of speeches from the Government side congratulating the Prime Minister for refusing to give a pledge to Czechoslovakia or to France in respect of Czechoslovakia. They seem to take a great deal of credit from that refusal, but they are entirely oblivious of the fact that we are already pledged to Czechoslovakia as we are to every other country belonging to the League. All that would happen in the event of a pledge being given to Czechoslovakia is that it would constitute a specific pledge which would impose no greater obligations on this country than are imposed by our general pledge under the League Covenant.
It is a little late in the day for hon. Members opposite to state that they welcome this refusal on the part of His Majesty's Government to give this specific pledge to Czechoslovakia as if it were inherently wrong to give any pledge at all. If hon. Members take that view, they should be honest with the other countries represented at Geneva and should say they are not in favour of any pledge being given by this country to any country outside the Low Countries, and let the League of Nations face up to the situation which would be created if that were done. With regard to the refusal of the Prime Minister and the welcome it has met with from his supporters I would like to say that I am not sure whether hon. Members realise what the Prime 1486 Minister actually said, because while he refused to give a specific pledge he did warn off Germany so far as Czechoslovakia was concerned. He reiterated the adherence of His Majesty's Government to the Covenant of the League which is, in effect, adherence by the Government to the general pledge given by this country and other countries when they subscribed to the Covenant.
The Prime Minister also went so far as to warn the country that in the event of war taking place in Central Europe it would be difficult for this country to keep out of it, which seems to suggest that we had better prepare to participate in the next European war, in the event of German aggression against Czechoslovakia. I would put this point to hon. Members opposite. If this pledge were given, it would not carry our commitments any further than they exist to-day, but it might emphasise to Germany and others, potential aggressors, that in the year 1938 the British Government has reconsidered the position and is prepared to give this additional pledge to Czechoslovakia. But as for rendering us more likely to be brought into war, we are already committed under the Covenant.
Another hon. Member accused this party of seeking to subjugate Germany because of our hatred of the Nazi doctrines. There will be common agreement that we have to face new international issues to-day. Practically from the day on which the Treaty of Versailles was signed, there has been considerable sympathy in this country with what we thought was the unfairness and injustice done to Germany by many of the onerous provisions of that treaty. I believe the reason why we have, to some extent, been misunderstood in France and other European countries is that, in our anxiety as a nation to remedy what we thought was the injustice to Germany arising under the treaty, we appeared to drift somewhat from our close relationship with France, and even appeared indifferent and unsympathetic to the French point of view. That position no longer exists.
To-day we are faced with potential, naked aggression on the part of a Germany animated by a new policy of Pan-Germanism. Whatever we may say about the merits of the recent annexation of Austria, we must realise these facts. The 3,500,000 Germans who live in Czecho- 1487 slovakia, the 500,000 Germans in Hungary, the 250,000 Germans in Denmark and the 500,000 Germans in Poland, never inhabited Germany as we know it, and the Treaty of Versailles has not affected their position in that respect. The Germans who live in these countries other than Denmark were citizens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Whatever mistake was made—and this is a very debatable point—by the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, public opinion in this country ought to realise the fact that these 10,000,000 Germans to whom the present German leaders continually refer, were never inhabitants or citizens of the country which we know as Germany. We know from the speeches of German leaders to-day that they intend, if they can, to extend the German borders until they include all these outside Germans. If that should be done it will only create further minority problems. Instead of having German minorities in three or four countries there will be minorities of Magyars, Czechs and Poles. There are 1,250,000 Poles in Germany to-day, but one never hears Herr Hitler talking about the territory in which they live being restored to Poland.
While we have to realise the danger of the situation, I was sorry that the Prime Minister did not find it possible to make some reference to the two problems with which we are faced, namely, the Central European problem and the Spanish problem, in what I might call a constructive sense. Many of us, as we on this side have declared, are prepared to provide all the armaments necessary to enable this country to carry out its obligations under the Covenant of the League. There are two ways of dealing with aggression—by permitting the aggressor to do what he wants or by resisting the aggressor. There may be a third method of making it unnecessary for the aggression to take place. Both political and economic appeasement throughout Europe is the most vital question of the day. [Interruption.] An hon. Member asks me why I do not get my party to say so. I am afraid he has not been listening to the speeches made from these benches. What I was about to say was this: Is it not time that Article 19 of the Covenant was put into operation? That Article permits the League to deal with any questions or conditions which 1488 are likely to endanger world peace. Whether we give a specific pledge to Czechoslovakia or a pledge to France in respect of Czechoslovakia, it would appear that in the event of Germany unlawfully committing an act of aggression against Czechoslovakia, France would be involved by reason of her commitments, not only under the Covenant, but under the Franco-Czechoslovakian pact and in the event of France being involved, this country also will be involved.
§ Mr. Henderson
There is no doubt about that, and if the hon. Member will take the trouble to read the Prime Minister's speech carefully, he will find it is clear that, in the Prime Minister's view, this country would be involved in the event of a war taking place as a result of German aggression against Czechoslovakia followed by assistance given by France under her Treaty obligations. If we and other League countries are to be involved, is it not right that the League should say to the various countries in Central Europe "Will you not try to put your own houses in order? "
§ Mr. Loftus
Surely Article 19 is inoperative owing to the rule that the Assembly must be unanimous?
§ Mr. Henderson
I think the hon. Member is referring to Article 11, which does require unanimity. Article 16 also requires unanimity, but the view is held by most experts at Geneva that a majority of the Assembly would justify the operation of Article 19.
§ Mr. Henderson
There may be difference of opinion about it, but I believe that our own experts take the view that a majority of the Assembly would be entitled to ask the nations to operate Article 19. Be that as it may, I suggest that now is the time for the League, first through the Council and secondly through the Assembly to call upon the nations in Central Europe to meet and see whether it is not possible to hammer out some sort of settlement. An attempt was made in 1934, initiated by Signor Mussolini and it was felt that there was a chance of a successful conference then. Unfortunately as a result of the invasion of Abyssinia, the international situation changed and 1489 the proposed Danubian Conference has not been held. I believe if it could be held, even though it appears that there is such a wide divergence of view between Czechoslovakia and Hungary, it might be possible to secure some sort of agreement in view of the common danger which faces them to-day. In any event, I cannot see what harm would be done by the attempt.
§ Mr. Lipson
Does the hon. Member not think that that call should be made to the nations before this country is asked to give a definite pledge?
§ Mr. Henderson
In my opinion this country is pledged to-day as far as Czechoslovakia is concerned. We are pledged under Articles 10 and 16 of the Covenant to go to the assistance of any country belonging to the League whose political independence and territorial integrity is violated by another. As I have previously stated I do not think the position would be very much changed it a specific pledge were given. It would have more a psychological than a juridical value. The Prime Minister this afternoon said that the Government stood by the Covenant. I should like to know whether that means all the Articles of the Covenant. Do they stand by Article 10, which guarantees the political independence and territorial integrity of all member States of the League? I should be obliged if I could have an answer to that question. It is a platitude to say, "We stand by the Covenant of the League," unless the Government is prepared to act and fulfil its obligations under the Covenant, assuming that other nations are prepared to do likewise.
I am sorry that the Prime Minister has found it impossible to modify the policy of the Government with regard to Spain It may be that there is considerable difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on this question, but are we not entitled to ask the Government, which is responsible for the policy of non-intervention, to take steps to see that there is no intervention, and can there be any doubt after what has taken place during recent weeks that Germans and Italians are interfering in the Spanish civil war? Can there be any doubt that hundreds of unfortunate civilians have been slaughtered in Barcelona by bombs dropped by German and Italian aeroplanes, probably most of them piloted by German and Italian pilots? Some of us 1490 know from our own experience in the last War what it means to be under machine-gun fire from aeroplanes. I hope I shall never have the experience again, and I certainly sympathise with the unfortunate Spanish soldiers who have been subjected to this constant attack from the air. If they had been Spanish aeroplanes piloted by Spanish airmen, I do not think we could have had very much to say, but I think we are entitled to object to this intervention on the part of Germany and Italy.
The Government keep on saying, "If you stop this policy of non-intervention you are going to involve the country in the risk of war." Supposing that to be correct, is it not all the more reason for the Government to do all they can to prevent this intervention on the part of Germany and Italy? Is it not their duty to make representations to them with regard to the fact that they have sent these hundreds of aeroplanes, tanks and heavy artillery? I hope that, even if the Government are not prepared to modify their policy with regard to nonintervention, they will take a firm stand not only with Signor Mussolini but with Herr Hitler, and state plainly that they are going to reserve their full freedom of action unless both withdraw their armed forces. If that is not sufficient, they should go to Geneva. After all, it is aggression. It is a breach of the Covenant of the League because, whatever our views on the merits of the war, the Spanish Government are the lawfully constituted Government, they are members of the League, their Ambassador is represented here, and we are entitled to ask the Government to raise the matter with the League Council, and bring evidence of this aggression to their notice, and let concerted action be taken by all the nations represented there to neutralise these acts of aggression.
§ Mr. Henderson
Under Article 16 of the Covenant, to which the hon. Lady's party was responsible for appending our signature, economic sanctions and moral and financial pressure could be brought to bear, and it would be possible for the nations who are represented at Geneva to dissociate themselves from any moral responsibility for what is taking place in 1491 Spain. The Minister may not think that is a very sound suggestion, but it is far better than having to accept a certain measure of moral responsibility for the slaughter that is taking place. I hope the Government realise that, if they want a common front in this country against any potential aggressor, they can achieve it only provided there is unity of purpose, and at present there is no unity of purpose between the Government and this side of the House, so far as Spain is concerned.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Raikes
I feel bound to disagree with one point that the hon. Member has made. He said that we are sufficiently guaranteed to-day under the Covenant of the League of Nations for Czechoslovakia, and that if we gave the additional guarantee that has been asked by a number of people it would put us in no different position from that which we are actually in. If we gave a definite pledge to-day, it would mean that automatically, if war broke out in Czechoslovakia, we should have to come in. On the other hand, under the League Covenant, as in a more lucid moment the hon. Member himself admitted, you have to have a unanimous decision before you can bring either Article 11 or Article 16 into operation. In view of what happened in regard to the difficulty over Abyssinia, when the League was stronger than it is now, there is as much chance of it coming to a unanimous decision—
§ Mr. A. Henderson
The hon. Member does not seem to realise that it is possible for any country to take action under the Covenant following an act of aggression without waiting for the Council. Immediately an act of aggression has taken place it constitutes an act of war against all members of the League.
§ Mr. Raikes
I am fully aware that any individual member of the League can at once act without a meeting of the Council, but there is no automatic force upon any member of the League to act. Under the suggested pledge to Czechoslovakia there would be an immediate automatic demand upon this country to act, and the hon. Member knows it quite as well as I do.
§ Mr. Henderson
Article 16 provides that, immediately there is an act of aggression, an act of war is committed 1492 against all members of the League, which undertakes immediately to enforce sanctions. I agree that the military sanction is ultimate, but there is an immediate obligation to take action by way of economic and financial sanctions.
§ Mr. Raikes
Article 16 was used in regard to Abyssinia. I remember very well at the period when sanctions were taken off, a Minister got up and we were told that, quite apart from the fact that a number of countries had never employed. sanctions from the start, this country was practically the only country that had kept on limited sanctions during the period of that war.
I was a little shocked—and I am not easily shocked by the Opposition—when the Leader of the Opposition stated in so many words that League principles had been betrayed by Great Britain. He knows perfectly well, as does the hon. Member for Kingswinford, that the one country that has even sacrificed the balance of power in Europe for the sake of the League has been England. We literally drove Italy out of the Stresa front because we felt bound under the Covenant to employ certain sanctions, although many people believed that by taking that lead we were putting the peace of Europe in jeopardy. That is why the work which the Prime Minister is doing to-day to bring Italy back into some form of Stresa front once again is a work of the most vital importance.
We have heard so much about bringing the democratic Powers together. Who are the democratic Powers that have got armies? There is England and France, but, apart from those, the democratic Powers by themselves in Europe are weak. If we are to maintain the peace of Europe we have to get a really heavy balance of power against the one State which is to-day a real danger to the peace of Europe. I refer without hesitation to Germany. I believe that it would be a mistake to give a pledge in regard to Czechoslovakia at the present time. I do not think Germany means to jump at the moment unless we make a reckless pledge. We should not give a pledge that we are ourselves unable to fulfil. Our country has not been educated about Czechoslovakia and the Empire is divided over it; and if we once adopt a policy which divorces England from the Empire it will bring the Empire down.
1493 Germany is unlikely to jump in the course of the next 12 months. Time is on our side to-day, and if there is some new blunder in German diplomacy—and Heaven knows it is full of blunders—it means that some new force may come in on the side of peace. Italy and the Catholic forces within Germany are being alienated by Hitler every day, and the greater the persecutions the more allies are created for Britain and peace. Once we can detach the Catholic Powers and the Powers in the Balkans, and once we can get a real balance on the side of pacification by the support of States, which may be self-interested States, but which we have taught that their best hope of salvation Ties in a peaceful Europe, Germany will be bound to come into a pact because she will have reached the position when she can no longer dominate Europe. That is the policy of the Government to-day. The alternative is to drift into war, State against State, democracy against totalitarian State, in the course of the next year. The alternative to that is to bring in every State, whether a democratic Power or not, which is in favour of the peace of Europe against the one Power that is a danger to Europe. If the Prime Minister, criticised as he is to-day, can achieve this, he will do down to history as the wonder of his age.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Riley
I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman is a supporter of Russia. I was referring to hon. Members who support collaboration with the Fascist Powers. I tried to ascertain the other day, in making a survey of the European situation, the relative alignments of the Powers supporting the Fascist countries and the Powers not supporting them. I found that in Europe, excluding the part of Asia attached to Russia, there are 520,000,000 people. In the countries which form the Rome-Berlin axis there are 117,000,000. There are 75,000,000 in Germany and Austria, and 43,000,000 in Italy. On the other hand, outside the 1494 Rome-Berlin axis there are 420,000,000. That is to say, there are three to one in population and man power in the non-Fascist countries. Surely in face of this situation, one would imagine that a country like ours, standing for the preservation of democracy, would have its interest in the direction of collaborating with the non-Fascist nations and not so much with the Fascist.
I do not want to urge that there should be antagonism even towards the Fascist countries. We on this side stand for the appeasement of Europe and we want understanding with all nations, even including the Fascist and Nazi Powers. We are also, at the same time, against aggression, because we know that we cannot approach appeasement so long as aggression threatens. If aggression has to be faced we cannot sit down and do nothing. The way, therefore, to get appeasement, is to be in a position to prevent aggression taking place. It is in regard to that point that I was interested in the Prime Minister's statement to-day. In the opening part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that he was not concerned about stating a policy, but was concerned about stating an attitude. As I understand our case against the Government, it is that we have had enough attitude and that we want more policy. What the country wants is something more than attitude. It wants a clear definite policy which the public and the world can understand.
As I understood the Prime Minister in defence of his attitude, he said that after all we had had assurances, and he referred to a statement by General Goering giving a definite assurance that there would be no hostile intention on the part of Germany towards Czechoslovakia. Surely the Prime Minister knows quite well that that kind of thing has been said before and has been violated. He must know that at the first meeting between Herr Hitler and Chancellor Schuschnigg in July of 1936, when the former invited the latter to come to some friendly arrangement, Herr Hitler said, "I am prepared to guarantee the independence of Austria." It is true that he asked Herr Von Schuschnigg, as a kind of recompense, to declare that Austria was a Germanic State, but there was the pledge given by Hitler in 1936 that he would guarantee the independence of Austria. Yet, only a fortnight ago, that independ- 1495 ence went, and the Prime Minister now says that we must accept an assurance given in face of the events of the last fortnight. I put it to the Prime Minister that his attitude is not justified by the facts.
The important point that I want to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman and the Government is the point which was referred to by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). All of us must have visualised the tragic change which has come over Europe as a result of the recent events in Austria. We all know now that if we look at the map of Europe, we see that great block of territory stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, without a break, right across Europe. The whole of the countries in the East are cut away from access to the countries in the West, except under conditions which may be laid down by some international convention, but otherwise the collaboration of all those Eastern countries with the West will now be dependent upon, or conditioned by, the Rome-Berlin axis. That has altered the whole situation in Europe, and it means that those countries to which the right hon. Member for Epping referred—Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia—are now subject to the pressure which may be applied by that great geographical fact that they are cut away from the West and have got to be conditioned by Germany. We know that some of those nations may be a little semi-Fascist, but they are still independent nations and love their independence as much as we do. Therefore, is it not wise, before it is too late, to cultivate their co-operation and to seek to get them combined with us in a common understanding? I should like the Prime Minister to realise that his best line of policy will be to use, not only the League of Nations, but his own Government as well, to mobilise as wide a co-operation as possible of all the countries outside the Rome-Berlin axis, in order to put up a political front against the pressure of the great Fascist Powers.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I want to begin by saying a few words about the situation in Spain and the statement which the Prime Minister made this afternoon. A great 1496 part of his foreign policy turns round his negotiations with Signor Mussolini, wheeras those negotiations, in our view, ought to turn round the situation in Spain. A month ago he gave a pledge to this House which was founded on the fact that Signor Mussolini had accepted the British formula for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Spain, and that pledge was that no change should be made in the situation in Spain,either by sending fresh reinforcements to Franco or by failing to implement the arrangements contemplated by the British formula."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1938; cols. 62–3, Vol. 332.]Five weeks almost have gone since the Prime Minister gave that pledge, and nothing has been done to implement the British formula. I go so far as to say that Signor Mussolini has not really accepted the formula at all, for as I understand the matter he has rejected the basic figure of 20,000 upon which the whole operation of the formula depends. In those five weeks not only has there been no withdrawal of troops, but there has been no step forward, even in the paper negotiations, towards the basis on which this withdrawal should occur. We believe that since 21st February a change has been made by the introduction of new material to General Franco, and I want, if I may, to indulge in a little inductive reasoning. In December last the Spanish Government made an offensive against Teruel. It was bitterly resisted, but it succeeded, and it was such a blow to General Franco's pride that he made desperate counter-attacks, a counter-offensive which went on for more than a month. So anxious was he to have the world, and above all Spain, believe that he had not been beaten, that he made, the untrue wireless statement on 1st January that Teruel had been recaptured by his troops. That battle went on till the end of January or thereabouts, and it ended with the victory of the Government again.
Is it not certain that in a battle to which he attached such immense importance he would have thrown in every scrap of raw material which he possessed? Yet at that time we all know, for every journalist told us and the facts spoke for themselves, that the superiority of material on the side of Franco, while considerable, was not overwhelming. We know in particular that the superiority 1497 in the air was not very great, that there was a superiority in bombers but, if anything, a superiority on the side of the Government in fighting aircraft. On 22nd January, when the battle was drawing to a close, the "Times" corresepondent reported as follows from Barcelona:The Republicans now have fleets of small fast fighter aeroplanes, made in Spain, which are piloted by Spaniards, mere boys between 18 and 22, trained in Spain.He went on to say:The capture of Teruel was evidently directed by an all-Spanish staff.In the recent battles, in the offensives which are now called in Italy "The victory of Teruel," Franco's material has been absolutely overwhelming. Last week I talked in Paris with a French journalist who had been behind the front. He said that it was generous to the Government to say that they had one-sixth of the aviation which was at the disposal of General Franco. He said that l80 heavy bombers were used in a single action in a single afternoon, most of them German, the rest Italian. It is significant that on 28th February, one week after the Prime Minister made his speech, the "Times" correspondent in Barcelona reported that the insurgents had been employing a number of new types of aeroplane, one being a large bulletproof fighter fitted with seven machine guns and a turret gun. We have the evidence of the Italian Press.
The hon. Member has said that General Franco's aeroplanes were German or Italian. Will he say where the Government forces got their aeroplanes from?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I quoted the "Times" as saying that at the battle of Teruel they used aeroplanes which had been made in Spain. I also said, which is a fact, that at the present time the Government can hardly send their aircraft into the air at all because of the inferiority in which they find themselves to-day. I am going to quote from the "Corriere della Sera" of 10th March a description of the advance of two brigades of Arabs, that is to say, Italian troops. The paper says:One saw giant convoys of moving artillery and columns of Fiats along the road which goes down to Cortes.1498 It Spoke also of theVery violent preparation of the Legionary Artillery and the air squadrons, which have brought about the immediate destruction of the line of enemy fortifications.On 11th March the same paper said:The attack of the Legionaries was made after a terrifying concentration of hundreds of cannons.If General Franco had all that material in January and February, why did he not use it then? I end this part of what I want to say by reading a quotation from the "Popolo d'Italia," or I will try to translate it. I have the copy of that paper for 17th March:General Morro, reporting to the Italian Chamber on the battle of Teruel, said that recently the Commander-in-Chief of the Nationalist aerial forces in Spain gave out a message in which he declared that 75 per cent. of the victory at Teruel was due to aviation and, he went on to say, above all due to the Legionary,"—That is, the Italian—aviation, which he defined as magnificent in its efficiency, its courage and its precision.At that point the paper records that the Duce, the President, the Ministers and the Deputies rose to their feet and cheered. We believe that General Franco was overstating his case when he said about 10 days ago that this offensive, run by Italians and Germans with, as we believe, vast new supplies of materials of war, had definitely won the war for him, but we do believe that it has made a great change in the situation in Spain, and that that change has been made in violation of the pledges which Signor Mussolini gave to the Prime Minister. We believe that for that reason the Prime Minister's policy of negotiating with Signor Mussolini is, or ought to be, in ruins, and that he will never get an agreement from those negotiations to which the British people will agre.
I turn from the Spanish problem to the general problem of armaments and war, which, as I have said before in this House, is really, I believe, the whole substance of international politics at the present day. I do not propose to say that any hon. Member on the other side of the House wants war, and I hope that if I plead, as we all plead on this side, for the application of the Covenant, that no hon. Member opposite will say that we want war. No one in his senses wants war. We all loathe and detest war. We regard it with such horror that I, 1499 for my part, find it difficult to take much interest in the outcome if it once starts. We fought the last war to destroy militarism and autocracy in Prussia. Look at the results we achieved. I believe that if the next war were fought by the methods of Guernica and Barcelona we should emerge with a civilisation which would be morally and spiritually, if not materially, shattered, with a world in which sadistic cruelty would have become almost the principle of government which it seems to be in some countries to-day.
Our purpose is to prevent the outbreak of war. The difference between us and hon. Members opposite is as to the method of doing it. We face to-day a risk of war. Why are we engaged in this Debate? Because two weeks ago this House and the nation felt that they had come very near to war; because of the brutal invasion of Austria, which had been long prepared and which was suddenly carried out for the reason that the vast majority of Austrians were about to vote against incorporation in the Reich; because that invasion had thrown the world into an international crisis and everybody believed that a new statement of British foreign policy was required. I had a feeling in the Debate 10 days ago that many Members in many different quarters of the House had come to think that we were in that crisis because we had abandoned the policy of collective security through the League. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am only saying what was my feeling about the Debate, which was that many Members did have that feeling as they had not had it before, and that in that Debate, oppressed by a sense of being near to war, they did more than ever before share the conviction which appeared in the election manifesto of the Government in 1935 that only collective security by collective action can save us from a return to the old system which resulted in the Great War.
I cite that not to say that the Government have gone back on their pledge, but because I am convinced that it is the fundamental truth about international affairs to-day, and if our sense of that conviction that collective security is necessary is a little less urgent to-night than it was 10 days ago I believe it is because we feel that the international situation is a little less grave, that we are not so 1500 immediately faced by another serious crisis as we were then, and have a certain hope that now we may somehow scrape through. I am not suggesting that the international situation is, in essence, less grave than it was 10 days ago. Nothing has happened to relieve it, and I think that for those who wish to see the facts the Austrian invasion has cast a searchlight on what is almost certain to be the evolution of international affairs.
The Prime Minister this afternoon deprecated the talk of war. So do I, but on the Sunday after the invasion of Austria, Field-Marshall Goering used these words:Germany does not desire to and will not interfere in the affairs of any other nation. It must, however, be established that the German Reich considers itself as in every respect the protector and patron of all Germans, including those outside the frontiers. Anyone who attacks Germans, and therefore Germany, comes up against German guns ready to shoot.They are sinister words, and they are more sinister still if they are read in the light of the comment in the "Daily Telegraph" yesterday—it seemed to me inspired comment—that Germany was making it plain that she would bitterly resent any attempt by the Western Powers to intervene in the negotiations between herself and her Eastern neighbours affecting German populations. I have here a list of 10 or 11 countries in Europe and of seven or eight countries outside Europe, where there are German nationals whom Germany claims to protect. Let us think what this principle of the protection of Germans means.
Herr Hitler solemnly undertook to protect Austrian independence. He wanted only to obtain justice for all Germans. If he applies the method used in Austria to Czechoslovakia, which seems at present to be the next case, although I do not believe it personally; or to Hungary—the Hungarians are shaking in their shoes—to Yugoslavia, which knows it has a place on the programme; to Switzerland, where more than two-thirds of the population are German by race and language; to Luxemburg, which is obviously ripe to be absorbed; to the Flemish parts of Belgium where there is to-day a Hitler party heavily subsidised by secret funds; to Holland, where Dutch bears so much resemblance to German that the whole of Holland must appear in 1501 Dr. Rosenberg's programme; to Schleswig-Holstein, where there are Germans whom Herr Hitler intends to bring into the Reich; to Danzig, Upper Silesia and The Corridor as well, when Poland has served her purpose; and, lastly, to the Ukraine—that is the programme of which we have to think.
The calculation of the dictators is that the rest of the Powers will be so weak and democratic governments so hesitating that they will be able to carry through those operations one by one. They can choose the moment to suit themselves, and each success as it comes will make them stronger and will make resistance more difficult for the rest of the world. I submit that that is a realistic picture, which is fraught with the risk of a general conflict, and that it cannot be carried through very far without a European war. What is the policy of the Government as offered this afternoon to meet that danger? I note in the first place that the Prime Minister's language about the League of Nations was different from that which he used a fortnight ago. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not in the least desire to misrepresent the Prime Minister, and I recognise that he repeated some of the things which he previously said, but he also quoted a very important statement by the late Foreign Secretary, to which I attach a considerable amount of importance. I understood him to say that that represented the attitude of the Government towards the League. In addition, he also spoke of pledges to France and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, he gave us a measure of reassurance about Czechoslovakia as well. In substance, he still rejects the League of Nations as a presently effective instrument for the maintenance of world peace, and he still pins his hopes of peace to a balance of power. That balance is to be founded on the principle that our frontier is the Rhine.
May I say a few words about that principle, because it is fundamental to the policy in which we believe on this side of the House? The theory that our frontier is the Rhine involves the conclusion that we cannot have Germany on the northern coasts of France and Belgium, that it is our vital national strategic business to keep them out, and that therefore we shall fight for that and we will 1502 not fight in other causes—in Balkan quarrels for example. Therefore, we limit our commitments to what we know we will and can and ought to carry out. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad I am stating the matter plainly. Will that policy keep us out of a war which begins in other parts of Europe? Will it keep us out of a war which begins in Czechoslovakia? I do not believe that it will. Let us consider the position of France. Are we to go to France and say: "You must give up the Covenant of the League of Nations and your other pacts, because we will not fight with you on anything that begins anywhere but on the Rhine"? We could not say that, but if we tried to say it the French Parliament would reply to us as they replied to the Prime Minister, five days after his speech on 21st February about the League of Nations, in a Resolution which they adopted by 439 votes to two, that they were obliged to assure the maintenance of peace and the respect of treaties within the framework of collective security and the League of Nations. The French Parliament would say to us that if they were to give up all their other commitments in Europe it would be rendering every French right indefensibly at the mercy of any dictator who cared to violate it.
If you were to put the same question to the French General Staff they would say that we were asking them to accept inevitable defeat in a European war, if war should come. They would say that they were very much obliged to us; that they would like our help, and that they attached immense importance to it, but alone we could not save them because, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping and other Members have said with such eloquence to-day, if Germany had the help of Eastern Europe, if she had the Czech armament industry at her disposal, the Rumanian oilfields to fall back upon, the Polish, Hungarian and Scandinavian food and Austrian and Yugoslavian mineral resources. Great Britain and France would not be strong enough to stand up against her. We cannot ask France to do such a thing; if we asked her, she would not do it. France, as we know, will fight for Czechoslovakia, and, when she fights for Czechoslovakia, we shall be drawn in. I am very glad that the Prime Minister went as far as he did this afternoon in recognising that fact. 1503 If, by this doctrine that our frontier is the Rhine, we do not escape the dangers of war, we cannot have the deterrent effect of a definite commitment that we are coming in—a deterrent effect which, as we believe, would be decisive.
Let me ask one other question about this doctrine. If we were in fact to make it work, if we could limit our commitments to France alone, what kind of war should we have to fight? We should have to meet the full weight of the attack that we had to meet in 1918, when the Eastern Front collapsed. We should have no chance, as has been said this afternoon, to use any effective economic weapon, as we had in 1918. We should have no chance of applying the oil sanction, which really ought to be very rapidly decisive against aggression if we organise Europe as we can. I believe that, on the very day that we enter upon such a contest as that, every Member of this House will be overwhelmingly in favour of collective security, and we shall go round Europe trying to buy allies by treaties, as we bought them in 1914. I suggest that, if the Government are to operate by pre-League principles, if they are trying to keep the peace by a balance of power, they ought at least to do what Sir Edward Grey did before 1914, and make a balance of power in which we bring in the East as well as the West of Europe.
If they were to make a definite, concrete, binding alliance with France, Czechoslovakia and Russia, they would, as I believe, have a chance, by the system of the balance of power, of keeping the peace for a considerable period of time. I am certain that that alliance would be far stronger than the Germans, and would remain stronger for a considerable period of time. We are too ready, I think, to accept the pictures of other countries as the German propagandists like to paint them. The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), in his speech at Biggleswade, painted a picture of Czechoslovakia for which I think he must have drawn upon the treasury of knowledge which Dr. Goebbels generously provides. Here is another picture from the same source, from a Nationalist paper of General Franco, also controlled by Dr. Goebbels:With mutinies in the Navy, revolts in the Dominions, and Communism installed in 1504 London, the British people are in no mood for fanfares and banners.I do not accept his picture of Czechoslovakia or his picture of Great Britain, nor do I accept his picture of Germany and Italy to-day. They are gambling very high on their military position, and at present, militarily and politically, they are far weaker than the alliance which I have described. But it is not that alliance that the Labour party ask the Government to make. We do not believe in power politics or in alliances of the old kind. As the late Mr. Arthur Henderson said in the Council of the League of Nations in 1930, we stand for no alliance but the great alliance of the League against armaments and war. What we want to do, and what we believe can be done, is to revitalise the Covenant of the League of Nations, to stand against aggression, to stand for law, and to put British power behind it. We believe, as I have stated quite plainly, in the pooling of forces, in the pooling of economic resources, in the immediate preparation of plans, and especially the economic weapon. That is not to say that our forces are to be ordered about by Czechoslovakia; they are to operate on the basis of the Covenant and the decisions of the Council of the League. Until you stand for law, you will never get peace.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander) the other day described the process by which we have reached the present international chaos. He said that Chaco had followed Manchuria, Abyssinia had followed Chaco, and so on, and that is true according to the records of the daily Press. I was in Geneva when the Chaco War began. I was there on official duties, and am therefore able to know what was really going on. I heard the statesmen in the Council say, "We cannot step in and stop this war"—as they did two years later, very easily, by an arms embargo—"because it is not fair to do to a small country what we did not do to Japan." When it came to Abyssinia, Signor Mussolini said, in public and in private, "How can you impose sanctions against me when you did not against Japan, Bolivia and Paraguay?" And when it came to the Rhineland, the Germans simply acted on the principle announced by Dr. Frick, their Minister of the Interior, in 1932, when he said, "We admire the League 1505 but we thank Japan for their example." Germany went on to rearm, she built up her air force, she occupied the Rhine-land. You will never get peace until you stand for law; until you let Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, and Yugoslavia, and Rumania, and Belgium, and Holland, and Denmark and other countries know, that if they will settle their disputes by law we will uphold the law in their defence.
I venture to cite the words of a great Conservative Foreign Minister, which I think will carry conviction with the other side:if you are talking of collective security, if you are talking of the sanctity of law, if it is your purpose to substitute the rule of law for the rule of force, you cannot pick and choose; you must act consistently whenever the occasion arises. You must adopt the same attitude and take the same course. If you choose otherwise, you must give up the idea of the League of Nations, and substitute the rule of law for the rule of peace in this world.Those words were spoken by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936.
This system of real collective security has never yet been tried. The Prime Minister suggested this afternoon that it had been tried in the case of Abyssinia; that it had failed to prevent war; had failed to stop war; and had failed to save the victim of aggression, I answer that it was never used to prevent war. We had nine months of private negotiation outside the League. For the first time, the regular procedure of the League, of public discussion, of despatching a Commission of Inquiry to the spot, was not adopted. If there had been the same procedure as in every case before at the time of Wal Wal, Signor Mussolini's aggression would never have been begun. Nor was the Covenant applied to stop the war when it had begun. We never applied Article 16. If we had applied even economic sanctions, if we had stopped all trade and shipping, Signor Mussolini would have been beaten within a year; even an oil embargo would have done it, as he himself admitted. No, we did not save the victim of aggression. We did not try very hard. We did not give him any arms. We forbade his Reckitt Concession, to save our honour, and gave him no direct help of any kind. The Abyssinian case is no test of collective security at all.
1506 If we want to try this system, we must make other nations understand that we are starting again; that henceforward we will put our power behind the League, and really see to it that they are given security and peace. In the countries of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping was speaking this afternoon, and in other countries throughout Europe as well, there are still immense forces that are in favour of democracy, of the League of Nations and of peace. I venture the assertion that a British lead to-day would bring in not only South-Eastern Europe, but Turkey and Greece, probably Poland, certainly Holland and Belgium, and Scandinavia, Finland and the Baltic States. Such a combination would be irresistible indeed. It must be founded on the law. And we admit with the Prime Minister that law in itself it not enough, that justice must be not static, but dynamic. There must be justice for the minorities in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere.
I was very glad when the Prime Minister said this afternoon that the arrangement made for the Czecho-slovakian minorities must be within the Czechoslovak Constitution. I wish the Prime Minister would deal with this question through the League of Nations and would send to Czechoslovakia a Permanent Commission of the League of Nations to reside among the Sudeten Deutch. What greater guarantee against aggression could there be? There have been such Permanent Commissions before. There was one in Upper Silesia, and a great guarantee of peace and good understanding it proved to be. We must have dynamic justice. We must have a League which will deal, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, with the economic misery of Europe today. I do not think that we yet understand how far the world crisis in 1931 caused the political disorders from which we are suffering at the present time. We must deal with the starvation of Europe by ending the policy of national self-sufficiency and restarting international economic co-operation on the greatest scale.
We must deal with the armaments race. And in all this work, we must bring in every Power which is willing to come. Hon. Members opposite say that we want 1507 to create an exclusive League. We want to exclude no one. We say, indeed, that our programme is the only hope of easing the suffering of the unhappy peoples of Germany, Italy and Japan. There is really no hope, in the present policy of the Government, of ending the fear of war or of dealing with the needs of the peoples who are resorting to aggression. We have to-day a universal fear of war. That fear is due to violations of international law. Those violations are still going on, indeed, are growing worse. They are accompanied by an armaments race which is leading all the nations to a common ruin. The Government statement of policy to-day will neither stop the violations of international law nor arrest the arms race. It will not keep us out of any European war; it will not even ensure our victory, when war begins. There is no hope in the present negotiations of the Prime Minister. You cannot feed the hungry masses of Italy by swapping tinsel titles with the King of Italy. You cannot stop the armaments race by obscure bargains with a single Power about naval bases. You cannot undo the wrong to Spain by pretending that it has not been committed.
These are not the realities of the present international situation. The realities are very different. The realities are the hunger and the misery of the common people in almost every land; the senseless waste of the arms race which is driving down the standard of their living; the common longing of all these people to be rid for ever of the nightmare of war. The world looks to be very much as it was in 1914; but in reality there has been a profound and fundamental change. The common peoples of the world no longer accept war as a necessary fact of nature. They no longer believe that prestige and power make nations great, and that military glory is the greatest achievement of mankind.
I hope that the Government is going to make a great appeal to the common peoples of the world. The speech of Sir Austen Chamberlain, from which I quoted, ended with the words:All the world, and most of all, the little States in the world, are looking to Great Britain to-day.1508 I think that is still true. I hope they will not look in vain. I hope the Government will hear the voice of the humble multitudes who ask for peace, and that at long last the Government will give those humble multitudes the delivering answer: Henceforward the power of Britain will be behind the law.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
Now that we are reaching the close of this important Debate, the Prime Minister and the Government have, I think, good reason to be satisfied with the reception which has been given to the declaration with which the Debate was opened. It was a deliberate and clear declaration, the result of long reflection, and I believe that it will find a welcome outside this House as well as inside. After the shocking event of the sudden absorption of Austria in the German Reich, it was natural and inevitable that, when that news first reached us, there should have been a certain amount of uncertain, confused or excited counsels; but I think it is true that in the interval that has passed—although I agree with the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) that the interval has not altered the gravity of the situation at all—there has been on the part of all of us and of all our fellow-countrymen a good deal of clearing of ideas, and the declaration which the Prime Minister made in the House this afternoon, and which was made in another place by the Foreign Secretary, directed as it was especially to the problem, which was in all our minds, of Czechoslovakia, has, I claim, defined a position by which the country should stand.
The Prime Minister redefined and reaffirmed our commitments—and they are very serious and substantial—in Europe, both under Locarno and under the Covenant of the League. He emphasised—and I think the Opposition have made very proper acknowledgment of the fact—that there was more than a legal obligation involved in these questions, and that if war broke out, our action and the action of other States was not likely to be strictly limited to an examination of contractual liabilities. He laid emphasis—and I think that here again the House generally approved—on the fact that that is specially true in the case of our relations with France, because of our close 1509 association and friendship and our common democratic ideals and purposes. All that I do not doubt will make a deep impression on the Continent of Europe, and not in France alone. Having said that, it seems to me with complete clearness, the Prime Minister went on to state, on the specific issue whether we should now, in advance, give a further contractual assurance of military action specifically in relation to Czechoslovakia, directly or indirectly, the answer of the Government that we could not give that prior guarantee. Now, whatever else may be said about that declaration which I have ventured thus to summarise, I think it will be called clear and unambiguous.
The Leader of the Opposition in his opening sentence told us that the impression he derived from it was that the Prime Minister had a confused mind. We all of us have attributed to us, owing to our own fault or to the persistent criticism of others, certain qualities not always entirely deserved, but I should have thought that if there were one thing which nobody would say, it was that the present Prime Minister of this country has a confused mind. I listened with some interest to have this confusion cleared away and for something much more pellucid from the right hon. Member opposite. But with great respect I do not think the House got so clear an impression of his position as they did of that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Indeed, I think I am speaking for more hon. Members than myself, when I say that when the Leader of the Opposition sat down we had no more information than when he rose as to whether his answer to the question, "Should we give a specific guarantee to Czechoslovakia or not?" was yes or no. Not one of us knows now.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite was good enough to say, after making some well-deserved references to the great services as Foreign Secretary of the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), that no Government since 1931 had made any attempt to work the League of Nations. I thought that was a little hard on the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington. The right hon. Gentleman also said that he objected to negotiations with Italy on the ground that that was disregarding moral issues. If there is any Member of the Labour party 1510 who puts moral issues in the forefront it is the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), and yet he is in favour of these negotiations. The Leader of the Opposition praised in proper terms the declaration made by Mr. Cordell Hull in America, and attacked rearmament, or, at any rate, our rearmament, because, he said, it was not specifically and closely associated with the League of Nations. The truth of the matter is that the United States is busily engaged in rearmament and is not associated with the League of Nations at all. When it comes to a competition about confusion of mind it seems to me to be very dangerous to enter into such a competition with the Prime Minister.
Of course we have to consider and pay great attention to the speech made by the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), and there are one or two observations I should like to make on the topics with which he dealt. In the first instance he thought—and he is a good judge—that the Prime Minister's declaration was perfectly clear, and he recognised to the full the value of the declaration not only because of the actual commitments it recited and explained, but because of what I think the Leader of the Opposition would call the imponderables. But he asked: Why not go a little further? In the first place he suggested, though as his speech went on his argument received considerable development, that there should be a limited extension of assurances, to apply only if Germany were to invade Czechoslovakia without waiting for an investigation of grievances.
But my right hon. Friend went on to point out—and he has great knowledge of these matters—that so far as could be judged, the form in which Germany could most easily bring complete pressure on Czechoslovakia if she so desired would be by means of economic pressure. What is the point of the assurance unless it was appropriate to economic pressure which I do not think that assurance would be in the circumstances? He went on to point out that Czechoslovakia was far from being the only country to which we had to turn our eyes. The Treaty between France and Czechoslovakia is not the only one. There is a Treaty between France and Russia and a Treaty between France and Poland; but he was thinking rather of Hungary, Rumania and Yugo- 1511 slavia. I ask whether we could contemplate a substantial guarantee for all these. It may be that the most probable line of danger is to be found not in Czechoslovakia but elsewhere.
Does not that ratify and give further reason for the conclusion which the Prime Minister has announced that he cannot undertake in advance additional commitments? It turns out, as it seems to me, that my right hon. Friend's proposition would be a very large one indeed. He presents it in the form of an assurance which might almost seem to be within the spirit of the League of Nations, but I have a feeling that his ideas here are rather aspiring to what he called the other day a "Grand Alliance," or, to put it in other words, a defensive alliance with certain Powers. These are ideas which, whatever their merits, seem to me to be contrary to the conception which was at the back of the League of Nations, and which really mean reproducing in a new form those competing combinations and rival alliances which everybody agrees led to disaster before the War.
But there is a further reason. I have not heard it in this Debate, but outside it is said by some critics, "Do not repeat the mistake which was made in 1914 of failing to declare in advance precisely what you would do in the way of action in this case or that." People who speak in that way do not seem to realise what are the necessary conditions to be fulfilled if our democracy is to be pledged to fling itself into another war, or indeed what were the actual circumstances in the summer of 1914 which caused Lord Grey to act as he did. I know that my right hon. Friend below the Gangway agrees with this view. One of the greatest assets we have is the reputation of keeping our word. We must not give our word unless the circumstances are such that, however they may develop in the future, we may be sure that that word will be kept. For a democracy like ours to be pledged for the future, in circumstances which cannot possibly be precisely foreseen and over the development of which we may have very little or perhaps no control, for such a democracy to be pledged to enter into a world war, abandoning all discretion and all choice hereafter except within certain strict limits, such as the assurances which we gave to 1512 Belgium and which we fulfilled, or like the assurances under Locarno which we will if necessary fulfil, is not only a hazardous, but for a country like Britain an impossible proceeding.
Consider the actual circumstances before the Great War. On 23rd July, 1914, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill, anticipated a reduction in expenditure on armaments and declared that he saw signs of a better attitude in the world. Referring to Germany, he said he thought our relations were much better than they had been a few years previously, and he said a number of other very encouraging things about the improved attitude in the world. We know very well that that opinion was widely shared in this country. It would have been absolutely impossible in those circumstances for Lord Grey to have acted otherwise than he did and I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) was wrong when he referred to Serbia as though the ultimatum to Serbia or the case of Serbia were the things which decided the matter. The ultimatum to Serbia was described by Lord Grey as "the most formidable communication ever sent by one sovereign State to another." But that was not what moved the British people. There was not one man in a thousand in this country who would have gone to war because of Serbia. What decided the British people was something much nearer home, namely, the invasion of Belgium.
I make those observations in order to show, by a historic case, how very necessary it is, in determining to pledge this country's future action in war and the terrible things that war involves, that we should consider, not the anxieties or emotions which may sway us now, but the distant and uncertain possibilities of the future. The hon. Member who has just spoken takes the view that for the safety of the world we ought to "put our Army at the disposal of the Council of the League." That is going, I think, a great deal beyond the Covenant. I would with great respect but with great confidence assert that it shows a complete absence of a sense of reality to tell the 1513 British people, at this time of day, war being what it is, that they and their service should be put in that way, without discretion of their own when the time comes, at the disposal of any other body whatever.
I have time to make only a brief reference to Spain. The policy of non-intervention has been justified in this House again and again. It has been justified by the former Foreign Secretary and by many others. It has two aspects. It has what may be called a national aspect and it has an international aspect. As far as the national aspect is concerned, we can control our own conduct and we have observed the policy of non-intervention faithfully. Neither materials nor men, as far as we know, have been added as fuel to the flame in Spain as far as we are concerned. I believe that, in itself, is an achievement which may have its reward in time. Apart from that there is the international aspect, and I agree that in regard to that aspect the amount of observance and control has not been up to our standard.
There has been, I think, a good deal of exaggeration in instances that are given, many of them undoubtedly, I will not say from biased sources, but sources which are strongly in favour of one side and violently against the other. I happen to be able to deal with one particular bit of information which was mentioned specifically by the Leader of the Opposition just now, and which, I think, has been in the newspapers. He referred to an Italian steamship, the "Antonio Piga-fetta," which is alleged to have unloaded war material consisting of 14 tanks and 12 chaser aeroplanes at Algeciras. On that point we have information, and this is it. There is no Italian ship of the name given. There are several Italian ships in which the name "Antonio" or "Antonia" occurs, but none of them was at Algeciras or anywhere about at the time stated. [Interruption.] I cannot reveal the source, but the information does not come from any source which is on one side or the other. It is a neutral source.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping ended his speech with a very sombre passage of foreboding. He spoke of the gulf into which he pictured a heedless and shortsighted nation even as strong as ourselves might descend 1514 because, as he described it in his picturesque way, it had not secured its footholds. He meant that to be a warning, and it is a warning, but it is a warning which the Government have well in mind, and which I think the country, too, have very clearly in mind. The Prime Minister's statement is a statement of a policy which calls for sacrifice and for contribution from every section of the community. Our policy is, at whatever cost, to make this country safe by making it strong, and we believe this to be the best guarantee of peace. We are making no threats, but we show, and we invite the country to show, a determination which is all the more impressive because it is the determination of a free people. This policy calls for co-operation from each according to the help that he can bring. We appeal for the good will and the help of all and, in view of the issues at stake, we are confident that that good will and that help will be forthcoming.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the Third time, and passed.