§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]
§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison
In the course of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), which was delivered last night, a number of questions were put by him to the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Some sort of answer was given by the Home Secretary to some of the questions, but we feel that a substantial number of my hon. Friend's questions were either not answered at all or were not answered with any clarity or finality. The Home Secretary said that in a number of respects they would be a matter for the International Commission. We should like further information as to what the attitude of the Government will be towards the issues which my hon. Friend raised, and we should like complete and full answers to the questions that he put.
I will make only one more reference to the speech of the Home Secretary. I thank him for the personal reference he made to me and my work in connection with air-raid precautions in London. I can only say that I conceived that the great public authority which I have the honour to represent had a public duty, and I was determined it should do it to the best of its ability. My relations with the right hon. Gentleman as Home Secretary have been friendly and cooperative; he has been courteous at all times but I do not wish it to be thought—I do not want to develop the point now—that I accept the view which the right hon. Gentleman indicated, that there is reason for general satisfaction with the preparations which the Government had made. A.R.P. is now a very important department of administration, a department which has become almost as important, if not quite as important, as one of the Defence departments. I only wish to utter in all friendliness that word of reservation, because I did not wish it to be thought that I accept the view that the arrangements which the Government had made were adequate or proper to the circumstances.
I will proceed to deal with the general considerations of international policy which are before the House in this 170 Debate. I ask myself, as I expect many hon. Members have been asking themselves, what is the nation thinking about the situation? Some hon. Members, and, I suspect, some Ministers are thinking and, indeed, hoping, that the average British citizen is just relieved at the fact that war did not take place and that he is not thinking at all, I can understand Ministers, at any rate, hoping that that is the case. It is their hope, I suspect, that the citizen is just relieved and that he is forgetting about it, but if Ministers are under that delusion I think they are making a great mistake. People are thinking—not only the people who are accustomed to discuss international policy and foreign affairs, not only the people with what is known as higher education; ordinary men and women of the middle classes and the working classes are asking themselves questions. Perhaps they are not getting to the full an answer, but they are putting questions which we have got to answer, and which Ministers will have to answer.
This is what, I think, is going through the minds of the masses of the British people. They came right up to the edge of war; they saw the gas masks being distributed, and the anti-aircraft defences being mounted. They were looking war in the face; and then something happened and the war did not occur, and they were relieved. We were relieved, everybody was relieved, as was only human and natural; but the relief was followed, and is being followed increasingly, I suggest, by a number of questions.
These are the questions which I think that great gentleman who is known as "the man-in-the-street" is putting to himself and to others, and will be putting increasingly to his Member of Parliament. First, how was it that we came to the point that we were staring war in the face? Secondly, have we, through needless fear and lack of proper diplomatic preparation, saved ourselves at the expense of honour and at the expense of a brave country and a brave people for whom the British people now have a very warm regard and high respect, namely, the Czechs? Thirdly, the man-in-the-street is increasingly asking himself, Are we safe from war in the future as far as we can see? The Prime Minister says he thinks that it is now peace for our time. Well, 171 "our time" is a very elastic phrase. The Prime Minister will share my regret that in his case it may not be so long as in the case of some Members of the Labour Party League of Youth. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) will remember that the political organisation with which he is associated once had a great slogan "Socialism in our time," but when it came to putting in a period of years, a definition of what "our time" meant, there was a split in the party. The Prime Minister talked about "our time," and that is a vague and elastic phrase, but the man-in-the-street is asking, Are we safe from war in the foreseeable future? The good father, the good mother, the good citizen not only wants to feel that we are safe for his time or her time, but to know that we are safe from war in our children's time, and if there is no satisfactory answer to that question they will want to know why not from Ministers and from Members of Parliament. Fourthly, if we are not safe from war in the foreseeable future, will our chances as a nation of resisting aggression be greater or less than they would have been had it come to war on this occasion? That is an important question, and the answer ought to be forthcoming from His Majesty's Government and the supporters of their policy.
Let us look at these four questions which, I suggest, are being put with increasing insistence by the ordinary citizens of our country. First, why were we on the brink of war? Why were we, as a nation, staring war in the face? Why had the possibility of aerial bombardment, expeditionary forces, poison gases, and so on, become a terrible reality for the ordinary peaceable citizens of our land and of Germany and of other countries in Europe? This party has said insistently, ever since 1931, that if the policy of drift continued, if the cowardly, unimaginative and ineffective policy, merely negative, of dodging trouble whenever it came was persisted in, that there would come a time when it was not a question of the Chinese being the victims of a Japanese aggression that was almost encouraged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; that there would come a time when it would not be a matter of Abyssinians being the victims of aggression in circumstances which left us no particular credit at the end of the day; 172 that a time would come when it would not be a question of Spain in which there was no racial issue involved affecting Germans or Italians. It would not be a question of Spaniards, who were the victims of external aggression rather than civil war, with a constitutional Government attacked by an oath-breaking general and the present Home Secretary saying, "We have no interests in this squabble between one section and another," despite the fact that vital British communications at the western end of the Mediterranean were involved.
We on this side said, "If this drift goes on, if this cowardly policy of weak Ministers continues, under which you are merely evading trouble because it has not actually reached your doorstep, then be sure the time will come when it is on your doorstep." It was on our doorstep last week—not in at the front door, but on the doorstep. We were on the verge of a great calamity for our own country and for the world. We here have said, "Either we must join with other countries in the collective organisation of the peace of the world and the conscious building up of a tidy world, a just world and a fair world, or we must go on with this policy of—not a policy, but this bending, this submission to blackmail—and one of these days we shall not be able to evade war itself."
On the other hand, what have His Majesty's Government been doing throughout these years? Let hon. Members question themselves in all sincerity, ask themselves what is happening and what is the result of it all. The Government, despite nominal declarations of friendship and adherence to the League of Nations, and even to collective security, have since 1931 persistently and increasingly cold-shouldered the League of Nations. They have been parties to the weakening of its moral authority, parties to its disintegration. They have been parties to that process which has caused the lesser and smaller countries now to have little faith at all in the League, and having helped in the disintegration and the demoralisation of the League, Conservative politicians have then said, "What is the good of talking about the League? It has largely gone."
However, it has happened; and are we more secure for the demoralisation of the League? Is our country safer to-day than 173 it was before the League was demoralised? Our country is less secure. Our country is in greater danger and there sit the men who have put our country in danger. His Majesty's Government have not only assisted in the weakening, and in almost destroying the moral authority, of the League of Nations, but they have steadily turned their backs upon collective security and the collective organisation of peace. At one moment they were paying lip-service to the doctrine, and at another moment rejecting it and scorning it, and therefore we have fewer firm friends in the world and we are less liable to have strong assistance in the future if we get into trouble than we should have had in the past.
Contrary, I believe, to the real interests of our country, the Government have deliberately turned away from building up that combination of peaceful Powers in the world that could have been a model of the benefits of co-operation, that could have caused the aggressors to restrain themselves and, in the end, I hope, by its open door, could have welcomed into its ranks even the peoples of the present aggressive Powers, who would at last have been able to see the benefits of peaceful economic and political co-operation. We have weakened the League and have turned back from collective security. We have adopted an attitude in foreign policy of political discrimination against an exceedingly important military Power for whom Members of this House would have thanked God if we had got into war last week.
Sometimes hon. Members opposite have accused us, wrongly and unjustly, of desiring war with Germany and Italy. It is untrue, and they know that it is untrue. We desire war with no people on God's earth. We would co-operate with Fascist Governments, if it were possible, in the genuine promotion of peace. We would not make an ideological discrimination, but the very men who have Charged us with ideological discrimination have refused to co-operate fully in foreign policy with the Union of Soviet Socalist Republics, because they do not like their politics and their economic ideas, notwithstanding the fact that the Soviet Union has proved itself, whatever else you may think about it, to be a genuine friend of peace and a loyal member of the League of Nations. So we have discouraged them and kept them at 174 arm's length. We have had as little to do as we possibly could with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on grounds of political discrimination. As I ask myself what explains the policy of His Majesty's Government, I cannot help feeling that in the modern Conservative party there is a subconscious international class consciousness that is even driving them to the point not only of being unfriendly to the real cause of peace and of being willing to betray liberty but, by their international class prejudice, to favour Fascism. It tends to make them refuse to co-operate with Soviet Russia. That class consciousness has now reached the point at which they are even prepared to set aside the interests of their country.
These things have been done, and we have encouraged rather than discouraged aggression. We have either sympathised with dictators, or have humbly and most manifestly feared them, or we have misunderstood the psychology of the dictators. I do not know how many hon. Members have read a book called "I knew Hitler," by Kurt Ludecke. I do not know whether the Prime Minister has read it, but he really ought to have done so before he went to see Herr Hitler. It is a very good behind-the-scenes account of the Nazi movement. In all the pre-triumph period of the German Nazis one can see Hitler's psychology working in precisely the same way as that in which he has been working internationally since the triumph of his party in power. He has a most profound contempt for what he himself has called the bourgeois politicians—between ourselves I share that contempt. Is it not the case that his contempt has been borne out? He frightened the bourgeois politicians of Germany and he has frightened our own Prime Minister. I really believe that that is so. I am not going to say that the Prime Minister is a man of straw, because he is certainly not a man of straw or a man of no character. I have seen him at work. I saw him at work at the Ministry of Health, and he is a man of decision in departmental administration—but I believe that in these negotiations with Herr Hitler he has been frightened out of his life
I believe that that process of being frightened was actually one of the factors 175 that weakened the influence and the strength of our country in those negotiations. The Government have an idea that they must be careful to the point of obscurity about what they say, in case there is offence. Years have gone by without news being sent out in German and Italian through the British Broadcasting Corporation, but at the last minute we did it. Why did we not do it before? They transmit in foreign languages. Because somebody might have been offended. I am certain that the psychology of that is all wrong. We have never troubled to cultivate the German people. In their speeches and negotiations our Ministers have forgotten that behind the dictators there were 70,000,000 or more of German people who were as anxious for the peace of the world as were the British people, and who could have been talked to as the dictators were talking to our people. [HON. MEMBERS: "HOW?"] On the wireless. We did it finally, and it was not too well done. I am not talking about what happened at the last minute, but of what ought to have happened for weeks and months before. There has never been a real attempt to talk to the people, but mere reliance upon talking to the dictator himself, who is assumed to represent the mind of the people. We happen to know that he does not by any means universally represent the mind of the German people.
The result of all this weakness in policy, the result of this wobbling, the result of this cringing, the result of this fear—I am not objecting to proper diplomacy, careful language, discretion in negotiation; I do not disagree with that at all; but I say, and I will prove presently from the Prime Minister's own words, that you have mistaken your psychology in handling Herr Hitler, and you have mistaken your psychology in handling Signor Mussolini as well—the result of all this is that British prestige and British influence have been lessened in the world and in Europe. [Interruption.] There is no doubt about it. We have scattered the friends of peace, who could have been brought together, and we have stimulated aggression on the part of certain Powers. Apparently, only twice in his interviews with Herr Hitler did the Prime Minister make some stand of firmness and of dignity as the representative of a great 176 Power. I quote from column 21 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 28th September, when the Prime Minister himself showed that a manifestation of firmness and dignity on his part, far from offending Herr Hitler, really improved the standard of conversation a great deal. This is exactly what one would expect. I do not think you offend him by speaking frankly to him. I have the disadvantage of never having spoken to Herr Hitler myself, but I honestly doubt whether you weaken your influence with him or lessen his courtesy by speaking firmly and frankly. On the contrary, I doubt whether he can understand you if you do not. This is what the Prime Minister said in the House on 28th September. Recalling his conversation with Hen-Hitler at Godesberg, he said:Accordingly, on this occasion I spoke very frankly. I dwelt with all the emphasis at my command on the risks which would be incurred by insisting on such terms, and on the terrible consequences of a war, if war ensued. I declared that the language and the manner of the document, which I described as an ultimatum rather than a memorandum, would profoundly shock public opinion in neutral countries, and I bitterly reproached the Chancellor for his failure to respond in any way to the efforts which I had made to secure peace.Then the Prime Minister, having told how he bitterly reproached the Chancellor and spoke frankly to him, added:In spite of these plain words, this conversation was carried on on more friendly terms than any that had yet preceded it."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 21, Vol. 339.]That is a confirmation of the view I have expressed that, if you are speaking to a gentleman from another country, you must try to speak his language, or, if you cannot, in any case import into your conversation the spirit which he will understand. I think the Prime Minister on that occasion did so, but generally speaking the Prime Minister's interviews appeared to me to be the interviews of a supplicant. He gave Herr Hitler, not only in his interview but in his broadcast, what I think was a very dangerous impression of sheer funk. The Prime Minister could have been in an immensely superior position strategically. He could, instead of being the spokesman, the rather nervous spokesman, of a semi-detached Great Britain, semidetached from its friends and completely detached from the great bulk of the world so far as real power was concerned—in 177 stead of being the spokesman in conditions of weakness of that kind, he could have been the reasonable but firm and authorised spokesman of a great peace combination at a point earlier than that, and with more effect. Even at that point he could have been the authorised spokesman of Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and possibly of other Powers in Europe. I am no jingo. I am not worried about an excessive point of dignity on the part of my country if it is a question of saving the peace of the world; but if I have to choose between the Prime Minister of my country going solely as the representative of a semi-detached Great Britain, without a real mind of its own, and his going as the authorised representative of a Power that carried real influence at that conversation, I would prefer the Prime Minister of my country to go in the second capacity rather than in the first.
At the end of it all he has really preferred to risk war. At the end of these negotiations, what we were really doing was risking war. Do not let there be any illusion about it. Even though it is possible that the other side may, for all we know, have really been just as nervous as the Prime Minister, still there were the elements on both sides of risk of war, because you cannot mobilise armies and fleets without a danger of the thing running off. We were taking in any case the risk of war, but the tragedy is that we were taking the risk of war with weak forces behind us, whereas we could have taken the risk of war with vast and powerful forces behind us. One has, as I have said, reason to think that Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini themselves may well have had just as much to fear as the British Prime Minister. The Italian people were in no mood for war. Signor Mussolini jumped in at the last minute, but I can never be sure whether it was we who got him into that mediation, or whether Herr Hitler got him in, or whether, determined not to be out of the limelight, he got himself in. I cannot make up my mind as to that, but I am perfectly certain that Signor Mussolini was as apprehensive of war as anybody else, and Herr Hitler himself was in for trouble both with his people and probably with his Army. I agree that these are not certainties, that they are not things with which irresponsibly to gamble, but they are factors legi 178 timately to be taken into account in the course of negotiations upon which the peace of the world depends. And so it was, I suggest, that the Prime Minister had to accept terms rather than to negotiate terms, and that consequently he was driven to accept a bargain of which he really cannot be proud, and of some of the features of which, I am sure, he must in his heart be ashamed.
That is the first question of the man-in-the-street, and that is the answer which I, personally, would give. I come to the second. Through needless fear, have we been dishonoured in part, and have we betrayed a great and brave people who, perhaps, have made a greater success of democracy than any other of the new post-War States? I think the answer is that we have an element of dishonour in this business, and we know it. I think it is the case that we did betray the Czechs or, if you like, that we had to. Say, if you like, that you were sorry, but there was nothing else to do; but the Czechs were betrayed. The fact that yesterday the Prime Minister came to the House with a proposal for a loan to Czechoslovakia and an immediate credit of £10,000,000 is, perhaps, the most conclusive evidence that the Government feel some dishonour and some discredit. [Interruption.] I think it is right. I think we have an obligation, I think the Government have an obligation, to assist Czechoslovakia in these new and difficult circumstances. But I think it is associated with twinges of conscience and feelings of shame. There were alternatives. There was the fourth plan. There could have been an exchange of populations between the two countries. Instead, we have had the betrayal—for it is a betrayal.
It is not merely dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, but hurried and rushed dismemberment. It is true the Prime Minister got the period extended to 10 days, but that is still far too short. Czechoslovakia will have to face serious economic difficulties, and it will have to face serious military difficulties. Its refugees are being torn up from one part of the country and planted in another, and those people have all the evils of a rushed evacuation from one part of the country to another. When the Prime Minister signed, I think, a declaration that the Czechs should at once liberate German Sudeten prisoners in the hands 179 of the Czech Government, he apparently completely forgot to demand a reciprocal undertaking from the German Government in respect of Czechs who were being held as hostages in German prisons. It is a pretty sad and a pretty miserable business, and I suggest that the Prime Minister has not given us an adequate defence of what has happened to that unhappy country. I do not think there is a real defence, except the defence of force majeure, which is the defence that President Benes must give to his own people.
Are we saved from an early war? Are we given a reasonable time in which people can live in peace and comfort without being subject to the fear of war all the time? That is the kind of peace our people want. The answer is that we are not saved from an early war. We have only the word of one or two dictators that they will keep the peace. But the evidence is on record—I need not recite it now—of case after case where Herr Hitler has made either a diplomatic or a military offensive, and said, "This is the last word, the last spot of bother you are going to have, the last surprise; it is the last bit of territory I want," and he has consistently broken his word. That is true of him not only since he has been in power, but before he came into power in Germany. We have to face the fact, whether we like it or not, that Fascism does not believe in morality. Fascism believes that where it is advantageous to break your word it is foolish to keep it— that keeping your word is only bourgeois morality. Herr Hitler has broken his word time after time. Therefore, I very much regret that we cannot accept it now. In Spain both the Fascist dictators promised that they would observe non-intervention. Our Government dashed into non-intervention before they had any undertaking from Italy and Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who used to have the unhappy task of standing at that Box trying not to be satisfied that the Germans and Italians had broken that agreement, knows, and the Government know and every hon. Member knows, that that undertaking was not observed. It was consistently broken. Even the Prime Minister knows that the Anglo-Italian Agreement was not 180 observed. It is a regrettable thing, but you cannot take the word of a man without guarantees when his word has been consistently broken. Herr Hitler has now said that he has no more territorial claims, at any rate in Europe. He has an eye on the British Empire, quite understandably, but he says that he has no more territorial claims in Europe. But even yesterday, in taking possession of territories in Czechoslovakia, he said words which come very near to threatening further trouble whenever he wishes to make it. According to the "Times" yesterday, he said, speaking to the people of Sudetenland:It is our pride that every German gau shares not only in the German joy but also in the German duties, and if necessary in all our sacrifices. The nation was ready to draw the sword for you.Listen to this—this within a few days of there being no more territorial ambitions, no more trouble:You will be just as ready, if at any time or anywhere German land or German people are threatened, to stand by them.[Interruption.] You can make hopeful explanations of that. You can say, "are threatened." I gather that is the point of the relieved laugh of hon. Members opposite, but this kind of language was used persistently about Sudetenland. There was no threatening of the people there. You can easily cause people to talk about being threatened and stir up civil strife. I wish we could be satisfied, I wish we could accept the word the Prime Minister has brought back; but we want something more than that. We want firm assurances. Even the Prime Minister himself is so nervous about the future that he says, "Notwithstanding this peace I have made, notwithstanding peace in our time, the great thing, the immediate thing, the practical thing we have to do is to go ahead with rearmament." It may be that that is so, but that is not the statement of a man who is satisfied that he has brought about peace.
Finally, there is the question, What are our chances if this next time comes? Are they better or worse? This is a question that every hon. Member must ask himself if he is concerned about the security of the country. I suggest that the answer cannot possibly be in doubt. There is a point on the credit side. You have some further time. One does not know how long. It may be a year or two; it may 181 only be months. You have some further time for rearmament and the development of air-raid precautions; but remember that the enemy has further time, too—if there be an enemy. I give you that credit point, even though it be not much credit. On the debit side we have to face the fact that Czechoslovakia is lost—at any rate for some time, perhaps for ever—as an important military Power which has loyally co-operated with the League of Nations and which would have been of value; and, against that, we are undertaking some nebulous guarantee that may get us into trouble instead of keeping us out of trouble. So Czechoslovakia is lost, practically speaking. We have actually compelled Czechoslovakia to hand over fortifications, including that great Maginot line, information about the technical construction of which will be worth something to the German military organisation. We have compelled them to hand them over. We have compelled them to hand over valuable and modern guns and to give Germany £25,000,000 worth of armaments. That is done. We have increased the German Army by 400,000 trained men. Read what the "Times" correspondent says about it in the story from Eger to-day. The "Times" is friendly to the Government. This is what he says:One aspect of the incorporation of the Sudeten German territory with the Reich which pleases military men in particular is that the German Army receives immediately 400,000 men fully trained to arms and a sizable addition to the yearly intake of recruits.That has been done. In addition to that, we have relieved Herr Hitler, in case of his making trouble for us, of the necessity for the defence of frontiers which he would have needed to defend with much more serious military forces than will now be the case. That is another entry on the debit side. The morale of France may be weakened. I am not going to under-estimate the part, I think the bad part, that the Government of France played in this affair. Not at all. They have a terrible responsibility, but, whoever is to blame, we must face the fact that their morale may be weakened. Poland and the countries of South-Eastern Europe, who, if Britain had had a real policy—at any rate there was a chance— would have followed us in the collective organisation of peace and the maintenance of the peace of Europe, are now 182 going to feel that the only hope for them is to make terms with the dictators. Signor Mussolini himself will, more than ever, fear Herr Hitler. He will be more than ever in military danger if he ever dares to stand up to Herr Hitler.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be estranged. I am bound to say that because of Western indifference and hostility to them they have good cause to say, "Why should we enter all these complicated arrangements and run the risk of being involved in war for Western democracy? They treat us like dirt." They may say, "We will go in for isolation and leave the Western Powers themselves to get on with the business in their own way." The effect on America is uncertain. There are big bodies of opinion in America which are actuated by moral respect or moral disrespect of our country and the policy it pursues; many will be actuated by moral disrespect. So at the end of the day and at the end of all this we have not got permanent peace. We have the danger of war in circumstances which are much more dangerous for our country than they need be. It is more dangerous for our country than it was last week.
It is a situation in which Government policy is moving to the point when the possibilities of the future of Europe and the West are, either that Britain or France must submit to the will of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, either that, or, if they contemplate war, we shall be in grave risk that it might be a straight fight between Britain and France on the one hand, and Germany and Italy on the other, and that is a prospect I do not like. It is an outlook that ought to cause hon. Members apprehension. It is a gravely insecure position. I hate to talk about all these possibilities of the future. I wish that I could contemplate a peaceful world, but in conducting foreign affairs you have to look at all the facts and all the possibilities, all of them, and, looking at them, I cannot but wish—I say it with sorrow and wish I could have said otherwise—the Government had pursued from 1931 the policy that they officially declared they were pursuing, namely, that of the League of Nations and collective security. They could have had a substantially united nation then for that foreign policy. Our moral position in the world would have been stronger. I am sorry they have not done this. I am 183 sorry to see the policy that they have pursued in this the latest agreement, even if it be approved by Parliament, even if a people just relieved of the danger of war may say, "Better this than the other," as they did. They are saying it less and less as the facts come to them. Nevertheless, no thinking man and no responsible Member of this House can do other than feel, having examined all the facts, that we have been parties to a settlement that is not nice, that is not too honourable and that has treated badly a fine and a great people, and that, at the end of it all, the future peace of the world is not secure even as far as we can see. If and when, unhappily, our country should be attacked or forced into war, the prospects for the triumph of the principles that we hold dear are doubtful in the circumstances with which we are now faced.
§ 3.47 P.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Burgin)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has stated that he hopes that all the facts will be looked at and considered. With that wish I am in entire agreement, but I will tell the House now that those who know all the facts find it difficult to recognise in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the days through which we have passed. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman has not been discussing the events of the last three weeks at all. He has chosen the occasion to make the usual common-form attack on the foreign policy of the Government. He has talked of the League of Nations and of collective security, and he has given no indication of anything that the League of Nations could have done. He has not, when he talked of collective security, given us the slightest idea whom he would collect or what security could be guaranteed. The right hon. Gentleman has posed a number of questions which he says the man-in-the-street is asking himself. Well, I will tell him another. The man-in-the-street to-day, Tuesday, 4th October, is saying, "Parliament is sitting. There is a quiet discussion in a democratic asembly, an analysis of something that occurred in Europe," whereas it was within the limits of a long week-end that we were face to face with the outbreak of the greatest war the world had ever seen. The man-in-the-street is saying, "I have a shrewd sus 184 picion that that change in that week-end, between Thursday and Friday, and Monday and Tuesday came about through the acts and doings of one man."
A great deal of attention has rightly been given in recent times to a study of the map of Czechoslovakia. The House is aware that on the 1930 census the Republic had a population of, roughly, 14,750,000, and that the Sudeten Germans were some 3,250,000 in number, representing, in terms of percentage, a little over 23 per cent. In the elections in June of this year, taking the elections as a whole, the Sudeten German party received 9144 per cent, of the votes of the German-speaking people. Czechoslovakia, 620 miles long from west to east—roughly, the distance from the south coast of England to Kirkwall in Orkney, narrows from 180 miles at its greatest width to 30 miles at the eastern end. The width where Germany is the frontier on the north and Austria was the frontier on the south is, roughly, 100 miles. One of the difficulties of dealing with an international situation relating to Czechoslovakia is that, apart from Rumania, on the extreme eastern frontier, the other bordering States all have minority claims against Czechoslovakia. I refer, of course, to Germany and Austria on the north and south, Poland on the northeast, and Hungary on the south-east. The nearest point in France to Czechoslovakia is just over 200 miles. On the north, the distance from Czechoslovakia to the Baltic Sea is just over 200 miles. The nearest point of Russia to Czechoslovakia on the east is 100 miles, and the nearest point from Czechoslovakia to Yugoslavia is over 100 miles. Such, then, are some of the geographical features of the problem relating to Czechoslovakia.
Perhaps one of the hardest things to realise, particularly in international affairs is that nothing stands still. A public schoolboy the other day said, that he pitied future students of history for they would find that in the latter half of the month of September, 1938, there was crammed into two weeks a series of events which would normally have occupied 10 years of examinations. I wonder whether we appreciate the rapidity with which events have moved. This is Tuesday, 4th October. It was three weeks ago, on Wednesday, 14th September, at 9 o'clock in the evening, that the tape machines hammered out the 185 news that the Prime Minister intended to visit Herr Hitler in Germany. That conception, the Prime Minister's alone, captured the imagination of the entire world. The situation, then threatening, was felt to have within it a germ of hope. The Prime Minister had made an unerring appreciation of German mentality. Direct personal contact between the heads of States made an instantaneous appeal and the Prime Minister showed his further understanding of German outlook when at Berchtesgaden he had his important conversation with Herr Hitler alone.
Students of history will regard the Prime Minister's visit, in morning dress, travelling by a civilian passenger aeroplane as one of those great occasions when an unarmed individual has gone to the commander on the other side and talked to him at his headquarters, surrounded by his soldiers and his might. By talking alone the Prime Minister was able to have sustained personal contact with the mind and personality of the one who leads the German people—a factor of enormous potential consequence. On that day, three weeks ago, the risk of the armed occupation of Czechoslovakia was already imminent. Within a few hours of his arrival the Prime Minister secured—and it is by no means the least valuable of his achievements—an assurance that the order to invade Czechoslovakia by armed German troops would not be given unless something catastrophic occurred in Czechoslovakia. No one who looks back on the events of the last two weeks will under-estimate the value of delay, of a breathing space, at a time of international tension. When a position is highly inflammatory and imminently explosive, delay, however short, has a cooling, soothing influence. To have converted the imminent risk of armed occupation to a background of sensible discussion was the first of the many miracles that the Prime Minister performed.
On 22nd September, eight days after his first visit to Germany, and incredible though it may seem, only 12 days ago from to-day, the Prime Minister went back. During that eight days the position had changed in Czechoslovakia. There had been a change of government and mobilisation, whilst into Germany there had increased the stream of fleeing refugees from Sudetenland. By that time the Czechoslovak Government had realised that it was no longer pos 186 sible to retain within the State either the population or the territory of Sudetenland.
§ Mr. Burgin
Had realised. The Czechoslovak Government had realised that the State was breaking up from within.
§ Mr. Burgin
The evidence in the possession of the Government shows that quite clearly, and it is supported definitely and clearly, in terms, by Lord Runciman. Many hon. Members who have travelled widely and know these countries and their peoples, and have had experience of life and rule in totalitarian districts and know something of conditions in Germany, will realise the truth of what I say. I want the House to admire an act of courage on the Prime Minister's part to which attention has not been called, as far as I am aware, in this Debate. At Godesberg, at his hotel, but a few hundred yards from where the German leader was staying, the Prime Minister was conducting negotiations. He was faced on the morning of 22nd September with an entirely unexpected demand, the demand that the occupation of Sudetenland should take place immediately by German troops. Traffic on the Rhine was held up, ferry boats were sent across, cars came up the hill, the populace were watching for the outward signs of the meeting of the two heads of State, when, to the consternation of the German people, the Prime Minister sent the cars back empty, the ferry boats returned across the Rhine, and a letter was sent, placing on record for the world to see the objections to the occupation by troops in the proposed manner.
This strong line had a marked effect on public opinion in Germany and throughout the world. A breakdown of conversations then and there was clearly a possibility. If a breakdown had occurred it would have been, in the opinion of the German people, due to some reason imposed by Herr Hitler. It would have been for some reason which the Prime Minister, as the embodiment of reasonable discussion, had felt incapable of acceptance. World opinion was not misled in the significance which it 187 attached to these events. It required great personal courage to act in that way. The Prime Minister by that step made a stand for democracy which increased his powers of negotiation as the days went on and showed to the world—a world that had been watching, ever since the tape message of 14th September, the struggle between the demand for reasonable discussion and the insistent demand for the use of force. Hon. Members know the sequence of events. The reply to the Prime Minister's letter maintained the previous point of view. The Prime Minister saw Herr Hitler again that evening and obtained a document which constituted what was called the Hitler ultimatum. That was late on the night of the 23rd September. Still the assurance was given that the order to invade Czechoslovakia would not be given. On Saturday, the 24th September, the Prime Minister returned, and few will forget the week-end or the 48 hours which followed.
Faced with that ultimatum the Prime Minister might well have thought that his efforts at mediation had failed, more especially when the Czechslovak Government intimated their inability to accept the German terms. Everyone who has any experience in negotiations, whether commercial or in an industrial dispute, or more poignantly in an international situation, knows the immensely delicate nature of the attempt to make a last effort when the opposing sides are too far apart for the gulf to be bridged. The unfavourable response had been brought back from Godesberg, further personal contacts with the Führer had been made, opportunities of seeing what was in the Führer's mind had taken place. The German Government took the view that unless there was a plan of occupation time would merely be spent in discussion, and the day of rescue, as they called it, of the German-speaking peoples would be postponed. To the extent that contacts had helped to reveal what was really the source of trouble, time was not wasted, but the Prime Minister in all other respects, as he now recognises, drew a complete blank. Such was the determination of the Prime Minister to resolve this problem that after that week-end there was an emissary sent to Herr Hitler to see whether the possibility existed of bridging that gulf.
188 Time was running very fast, and it was on Tuesday, a week ago to-day, that negotiations appeared to have reached their most difficult point. The news filtered through of the intention to mobilise the German Army at 2 o'clock on the following day, and no one could foretell whether mobilisation would not immediately be followed by invasion. It was in these circumstances that we met less than a week ago.
Perhaps when we think of the ravages that a bombing aeroplane can bring about we might have a word of appreciation for the inventor of the civil aeroplane, without which the events of the Thursday and Friday of last week-end would never have occurred. [Interruption.] It is easier to put an argument in a continuous way if one may be allowed to do so. I was about to point out that a number of us who were at Heston on the morning of the 27th and saw the Prime Minister enter his aeroplane, were notified on the tape before we reached our Ministries that the 'plane had already crossed the North Sea and was over German territory. [HON. MEMBERS: "Wonderful."] Hon. Members do not still see the pace at which these situations are developing, and the tremendous demands that are thus made on those who are negotiating. No wonder it is not easy to retain one's sense of proportion. No wonder that, in looking back, there are those who do not see events in the same light as others. To those of us who have watched the situation develop month by month, who have ploughed hourly through sheaves of telegrams, who have moved the knobs of their wireless sets in the small hours of the morning and heard the whole of Europe talking about the situation, it is no wonder we believe that the ultimate conclusion whereby, through the tenacity of one man peace was rescued, is something of a miracle.
There are those who say that had greater firmness been shown there would have been no war. What is meant by that assertion? To prove a negative is notoriously difficult. If those who make that assertion are wrong they only discover their error too late for it to be put right. Yet he is a bold man who says that, once hostilities had begun in any part of the world, their area could have been circumscribed. All the evidence in our possession points to the fact that on 14th September the decision to invade 189 Czechoslovakia had already been taken. There is no scrap of evidence anywhere that Herr Hitler would have refrained from ordering his troops to invade Czechoslovakia. The whole of the evidence overwhelmingly shows that, come what may, risking if need be a world war, he had intended to use his armies for the purpose of incorporating the Sudeten population and territory in the Reich, and I entirely fail to subscribe to the view that any concession made at any time would have prevented that result unless the Prime Minister himself had acted as he did.
The Prime Minister has described himself as a realist. I would remind hon. Members that the definition of a realist in my dictionary is "One who has a keen sense of things as they are, a freedom from illusion and a freedom from convention." I would like the House in looking at this matter to do so from two alternative points of view. First, that the real problem with which we were confronted was the problem relating to Czechoslovakia, a problem that could be adjusted either by autonomy within the State or, if that failed, by some rectification of boundaries, the taking of plebiscites and similar measures, and, secondly, that the real problem was not one of Czechoslovakia at all but was rather the problem of a threat to the Democracies by the totalitarian States, Czechoslovakia merely being used as a pawn in a game on the world chessboard.
Let us examine both points of view. In either event you come back to one common feature, the inability to regulate the extent of the trouble if open warfare once breaks out. If this dispute were one about Czechoslovakia, you find on examination of the documents—and the more they are examined the more certainly will the country's verdict be the one that I predict—that the Czechoslovak State, so far as its Sudeten population was concerned, was already breaking up. At one time it looked as if local autonomy on Swiss lines, a cantonal federal system, might work, but immediately by the pressure of events that system had become inadequate, and Lord Runciman's view was that nothing short of a cession of territory would meet the situation. Once a cession of territory is the solution, geographical, economic and 190 political consequences immediately flow. The carrying out of the cession becomes not a matter of principle but of procedure, not of whether but of how. It will be found that the view that this problem was in essence a problem of method was very widely realised. The method of diplomacy, of an International Commission had arisen and was insisted upon by the Democracies. It was ultimately accepted by the totalitarian States, and immediately that acceptance became possible agreement ensued and is now in process of being carried out.
If, on the other hand, you take the view that the whole matter is Machiavellian, that it is a step in a deep-laid scheme to assume world dominion that the grievances of the Sudeten people were inflamed, you are still face to face with the same problem that you are considering, on your own showing, not a defence of Democracy but an attack on the totalitarian system. Admittedly, on geographical considerations the defence in these circumstances of Czechoslovakia becomes impossible. No allied army could reach Czechoslovakia, no war, however successful, by the Democracies and their Allies, against the totalitarian States and their friends could ever restore the Czechoslovakian State.
§ Mr. Dalton
I am interrupting only to ask a question, because we desire to know what the policy of the Government is. These considerations which the right hon. Gentleman is now developing are surely an overwhelming argument against the proposed guarantee of the new Czechoslovak state.
§ Mr. Burgin
Not in the least; they are quite separate considerations, and I will deal with the matter in my own time and in my own way if I am allowed to do so. What I am seeking to point out for a moment in what I hope was a sustained argument was that there are two alternative points of view. I shall be glad to deal later with the question raised, or if I do not another speaker will. If this were all Machiavellian and if you have determined that because it is Machiavellian you are going to accept the challenge made, it is not defending democracy but attacking the totalitarian States. If hon. Members will be so good as to listen they will see that that is a self-evident proposition. No defence of Czechoslovakia enters into the question at all. It is an attack 191 upon Germany and Italy. No allied army could reach Czechoslovakia; no war, however successful, by democracy against the totalitarian States could have restored the Czechoslovakian State to its previous position. It would inevitably have been over-run and completely annihilated. This is of the essence of the whole matter; it is the essence of the reality of the matter.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston
My right hon. Friend has just said that no war could ever restore Czechoslovakia. Does he mean to say that if there were a war and Germany were defeated, the Allies could never impose terms on Germany compelling them to evacuate Czechoslovakia?
§ Mr. Burgin
I never said anything of the kind. I said that if Germany had in the meantime over-run and destroyed the area and the people of Czechoslovakia, once a treaty of peace was hammered out at the end of the war in which the democracies had been successful, they could never put Humpty-Dumpty up again. So whichever of the two analyses you prefer, whether it was a Czechoslovakian dispute and substantially a matter of method, or whether it was a world programme in instalments, you are compelled to recognise that hostilities, if once they had broken out, would have spread. Hostilities if prevented may be averted for all time. It is the vicarious element in foreign affairs that is so difficult. You assert that there will be no war. If you are wrong, war breaks out and suffering is illimitable; on the other hand, if, greatly daring, realising these possibilities you procure peace, you are challenged, taunted and criticised by those who, risking nothing, affirm that if you had acted differently a better peace would have been secured.
A very large part of the solution of any problem consists in the making of an investigation of it in order to analyse and understand it. No bridge can be built without a survey of both sides. In order to attempt to bridge the gulf between Germany and Czechoslovakia the survey gradually established two incontestable conclusions, On the German side there was a mistrust of the good faith of Czechoslovakian promises. On the Czechoslovakian side there was a failure to place reliance on German 192 intentions. I am not arguing on this point; I am making an analysis. Any bridge to be built between those two had therefore to underwrite the promise on Czechoslovakia's part, and to provide reality to buttress the German proposals.
It was that realisation that brought into existence the twofold conception of a partial, immediate and orderly occupation by Germany as a measure of part performance and the simultaneous giving to Czechoslovakia by the Great Powers of a guarantee for her future well-being. It is the working out of the details surrounding the token occupation on the one hand and the giving of a guarantee on the other which has called for the efforts of statesmen in the last few days. It was said yesterday by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), that perhaps the most encouraging event of these recent weeks has been the warmth of the reception accorded in Germany to the British Prime Minister. That reception only varied in that it increased in intensity and became ever more evident and more marked. The German people have become aware in increasing numbers that in this recent crisis it is reason that has triumphed and not force that has prevailed.
Hon. Members who have listened to the whole Debate must have been struck with the underlying resolution on the part of hon. Members in all parts of the House to turn recent events to good account. You may ask the question: What of the future? You may have your own view as to whether it is dark and foreboding or you may share the brighter, the more hopeful and more optimistic outlook of the Prime Minister and his colleagues, but of certain resolves you may be sure. International crises do not come about by accident. Deep and underlying causes of unrest must be analysed and tackled, and, above all, must be tackled in time. The machinery of the putting forward of positive suggestions must come at an earlier stage than the return of a flat negative to an ultimatum. The 24th April of this year, six months ago, seems in comparison with the events of the last few days an eternity away, and yet it was on 24th April that the speech containing the eight Karlsbad points was made.
I stress again the enormous difference between a negative refusal and a positive 193 proposal. There is a resolve to turn recent events to good account. The spread of accurate information in a form which can be understood is of vital importance. Theirs is a tremendous responsibility who in any country keep any part of their people uninformed. It is a step forward that the British Prime Minister's speech in the House of Commons yesterday has already been heard, read and digested by the entire population of Germany, and it places an increased responsibility on those who take part in a foreign affairs Debate. We will use all our efforts peacefully to solve international disputes. We will exert our strength to examine and remove causes of unrest, and, because we believe it is a contribution to peace, we will examine and make good gaps and deficiencies in our own measures of active and passive defence. For many of these resolves there is, I think, a general measure of approval in the House, and that we have been able to discuss them quietly is due to the efforts of one man. The peoples of the world, if I am any judge of the communications which have reached me, have confirmed that opinion, and I believe it will be endorsed by posterity.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxton
I rise to say a few words on the matters before the House. I and those who sit with me made, more than a week ago, an unequivocal announcement to the country that if war took place we would be in opposition to that war and would take every step that lay within our power to bring it to a speedy end. We did that with much heart-searching knowing exactly what such a step meant, knowing how we should be derided and chased from pillar to post and misrepresented. We did it because we believe that war is the one great overriding evil that humanity has to face. We have every sympathy with Czechoslovakia, as much as other people have. We have as much sympathy particularly for the working-class Czechs as other people. We have the same sympathy for them as we had for the people of Belgium in 1914, but we did not see that as the issue. We saw that the war in 1914 was fought for 4¼ years as a war to end war; and it did not do that. It was fought as a war to make this land fit for heroes, and it did not do that. It was a war fought for democracy, and it did not do that, because to-day the big 194 menace with which we are confronted arises from the fact that the aftermath of the last War was not the spread of democracy in Europe but the creation of more dictators. We saw our own country enter into that war as a democracy, and within a short time turned into a military dictatorship—of a necessity. An hon. Member opposite—I am not sure whether it was the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) or the late First Lord of the Admiralty—said that we ought to copy some of their methods—and democracy would have gone in this country.
The last War lasted 4¼ years and produced none of the results it was fought to achieve. It destroyed the lives definitely in battle of 10,000,000 men. How many lives should we have lost in this war? We have seen the Japan-China war and the Spanish war lasting two years. There have been estimates assuming that war on the scale envisaged here would have lasted twice as long, and having regard to the tremendous intensification of war-dealing instruments, is it foolish to assume that 50,000,000 people would have lost their lives on this occasion? Is there anything in life which was worth facing that? We were going to live underground as rats. In my own home town I saw trenches being dug, and I pictured dignified and sensible human beings rushing into them to escape some foul death of the skies. I could see it not only in London but in Berlin; I could see it in Prague and in Paris. I could see the terrible degeneration of humanity, and that if we survived we were going to live only if we could make ourselves completely callous to all these horrors. What sort of a new world is to come out of that? What is democracy to get out of that? What sort of new social order is to come out of that?
Whatever happened to me I was against it upon grounds of ordinary common human sense; on every ground of my Socialist philosophy. On every ground of my sympathy and understanding of the aspirations of the working classes of this country I was against it, and said I was against it, and that any effort that was made for peace would receive my support. I said so in this House last Wednesday when the danger was great, and I repeat it now when the danger has somewhat eased. The Prime Minister in that period of time, in that 195 limited period of time, did something that the mass of the common people in the world wanted done. With all my political antagonisms, with all my antagonisms to the political philosophy of the people who stand beside him, I am not going to stand here and lie. Last week he did something which the common people of the world wanted done, and now that we have a breathing-space we can argue and debate and denounce in the good recognised legitimate democratic way.
A very old friend of mine, a Member of the House who many hon. Members will recollect, was the right hon. John Wheatley. Those who were in the House when he was here will recollect that he was a very unorthodox but very gallant Member of the House. I was proud to work in close association with him and we used to have little discussions on things that had happened, a post-mortem examination of what we should have done and how we could have done it much better. He would allow that sort of thing to go on for a certain length of time and then he would say, "Well boys, that was last week: what are we going to do next week?"
That seems to me to be the approach that we have to make to the problem. I do not believe that we have got world peace. I do not believe that we have even got as far as the Prime Minister's belief—that we have got the foundations of peace on which the superstructure is to be erected. I believe that what we have got in the world is a possibility of laying the foundations of peace, and it seems to me having regard to the menace of last week, having regard to the clear way in which it was brought hard up against all our minds, that every scrap of human intelligence that can be brought to bear to make this breathing-space a real world peace, must be brought to bear.
I want to say to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that in the view of those who sit on these benches you cannot get world peace on the basis of a capitalist order of society. You cannot get world peace on the basis of the British Empire—an offence to every other nation in the world. Imperialists here yesterday criticised Herr Hitler for wanting power. But surely that is the basis of capitalist philosophy. Surely that is the British Empire. What ethical or logical reason can you put forward against Herr Hitler 196 wanting power—world-wide power—on the basis of your own social and political philosophy, and what objection can you possibly have to Herr Hitler wanting to defend the people of his own race and of his own nationality wherever they may be? It was the proud boast of the Romans in the Roman Empire that wherever they were they were Roman citizens and their Empire could protect them. It was the proud boast of the British Empire. It was the proud boast of the British Empire when some of its members were in trouble in Russia a few years ago. How can you possibly say to Herr Hitler, "The philosophy of power, the philosophy of menace, the philosophy of large territories is wrong when you hold it in your heart, but is a right philosophy when we hold it in our hearts and demonstrate it to the world in hard facts"?
We want the world for plain, simple people—not a world for one particular nation, not a world in which it is safe only for Britishers to live or Czechs or Frenchmen, but a world in which it is also safe for Germans to live. The key-point in the whole approach to the breaking of this world entanglement is the German people. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) made some reference to that. One of the greatest things—I think the greatest thing—in connection with the Prime Minister's visit to Germany, was the fact that it gave the ordinary German people, who are suppressed and denied a voice, an opportunity of demonstrating, under conditions which were not illegal, their desire for peace. That desire for peace demonstrated by the German people is the most hopeful sign in the world to-day, and that is the point on which everything should be built.
When I am asked to go to war against Germany it is always phrased as "going to war against Herr Hitler." But if I went to war against Germany, I should not be going to war against Herr Hitler any more than, on the last occasion, I should have been going to war against the Kaiser. Had I gone to war I should have gone to war against the German working folk who, up to 1934, were my comrades—men whom I met again and again from 1922 to 1931, when they were struggling to build a democratic peaceful republic in Germany, with little help from the peoples of the rest of the world. Those fellows 197 who are crushed now, were the finest Socialists in the world, the best-educated Socialists in the world, the most sincere, and convinced and trained Socialists in the world, and they are still there. [HON. MEMBERS: "In concentration camps."] Some of them in concentration camps, some of them in exile, but the big mass of them in the German population. And I was to go out and slaughter those fellows in the interests of democracy. No!
I admit that for us it is very very difficult, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) recognised, to put an alternative to this position, which appeals to the mind of the practical politician who thinks in terms of guns and power politics. But the only way in which world peace can be secured is by the common people of the world stating in no uncertain terms their determination to have peace, their determination to end Imperialism, their determination to construct new forms of social order which shall not have the power ideal as their aim and object but the ideal of human brotherhood and fraternity. That is my Socialist conception, and anything that I can do throughout this world, in Britain or in Germany, to bring that general conception to a point where it becomes practical politics will be done. I congratulate the Prime Minister on the work he did in these three weeks and, in saying that, I do not accept his social philosophy. I do not accept the political philosophy of those who sit behind him. I do not believe that that political philosophy can lead to anything but misery for humanity, and I will use every effort I can to employ the breathing-space that has been vouchsafed to us, not merely to make this nation safe, but to make the world safe, the world secure, the world prosperous, and the world happy.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Amery
Listening to the deeply moving speech which we have just heard and indeed to all the speeches which we have heard to-day and yesterday, and even more to the cheers and counter-cheers which have greeted those speeches, I could not help wondering whether we are not still far too deeply under the spell of strong emotion to be able to judge dispassionately and clearly of the great events of the last two or three weeks. It was only last week that we steeled ourselves 198 as a nation to face an ordeal of unimaginable sacrifice and horror. Today the sense of relief, of escape, is still so overwhelming that it is difficult to find the true perspective. On the other hand, that is not the only emotion. There is another emotion which may affect, and perhaps even distort somewhat our judgment at this moment, and that is the emotion of shame and humiliation deeply felt by many of us at the fate which has befallen a gallant and freedom-loving nation.
The Prime Minister and others paid their tributes to the Czechs yesterday, and I would only add this. They may in the past have shown tactlessness and lack of understanding in dealing with their minorities. But they have not denied those minorities full cultural freedom, freedom of education, freedom of the Press and freedom of Parliamentary discussion. Of how many other States in Europe can that be said? In this recent crisis they have shown themselves prepared to make concessions which, as Lord Runciman makes clear, their German fellow-citizens would have accepted gladly—if they had been allowed to do so. The Minister of Transport to-day spoke of Czechoslovakia breaking up from within. That is not true. The report of Lord Runciman in which he came to that conclusion was dated 21st September, five days after the Prime Minister's reception of the first ultimatum from Herr Hitler and two days after we had forced that ultimatum on the Czechs. In these last weeks the whole nation from President Benes down to the humblest Czech soldier or policeman who has had to keep order, often under intolerable provocation, has shown a moderation, a sense of self-restraint, a national discipline, a dignity which are beyond praise. They are the true heroes of this unfought war of which they have been the victims and we, it may be, the vanquished. We can only hope that the spirit which sustained their love of country and their love of liberty during the centuries will sustain them even through this trial.
In the stress of these emotions and at this moment in a chain of events which may yet develop, as it has developed, with unforeseen rapidity and in incalculable ways, it is impossible to pass a final judgment on the nature of the peace that has been won or the price that has had 199 to be paid. I would only say this, that it is a peace which can be regarded in more than one light and that it is susceptible of more than one interpretation. Which is the true one only the event can show.
The whole world has united in paying its tribute of admiration to the Prime Minister for the sincerity of purpose and the unwearied, self-sacrificing devotion with which he has striven for the goal which he set before himself. No one can have listened to his broadcast speech the other night without feeling that here was a man whose very soul was rent by the thought of war. We can but hope—we must hope with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton)—that the Prime Minister's passion for peace, his willingness to understand the point of view of the other side, his "plain, good intention," if I may use Burke's phrase, throughout the final stages at any rate of this crisis may have had a real and lasting effect on those with whom he has come in contact, as well as upon a world which to-day blesses him for unspeakable immediate relief. We can but hope. If so, he may well havegiven the Valley of Achor for a door of hope,and set in motion a tide in men's thoughts that may yet carry Europe towards a happier destiny.
Only, we should not be honest with ourselves if we refused to face the fact that the events of these last few weeks, and the peace so narrowly purchased, are also susceptible of a very different interpretation, and bear another and far less encouraging aspect. The Minister of Transport referred repeatedly to the future student of history. Can we be sure that that future student will say of this settlement that, underneath the minor adjustments and mutual civilities of Munich, it represents anything else than the triumph of sheer, naked force, exercised in the most blatant and brutal fashion?
Let us just consider the course of events since 13th March, when Field-Marshal Goering told the Czechoslovak Minister on his honour as a soldier that Germany had no intentions against Czechoslovakia. From that day to this Herr Hitler has not deigned to enter into any sort or kind of discussion or negotiation with Czecho 200 slovakia, with the State to whose disruption he deliberately set himself. His agents worked up the grievances of the Sudeten Germans to fever heat. We realise now that many of the most impassioned among them were shouting for autonomy, not for separation from the State to which they had belonged for 1,000 years. His agents took good care to seize upon, or manufacture, petty incidents in order to reject concessions which were too generous for their purpose. His own Nuremberg speech was the prelude to a pre-arranged rising intended to afford a pretext for immediate intervention. The rising collapsed in face of the disciplined efficiency and forbearance of the Czech police and the Czech soldiery. Nevertheless, that instant invasion was still intended, and was only staved off for a few days by the Prime Minister's visit to Berchtesgaden.
My right hon. Friend went to negotiate, but we now realise that before he could even begin negotiations he discovered that he was being merely the recipient, the transmitter, of an ultimatum insisting on Czechoslovakia's immediate acceptance of a surrender of territory in which no considerations whatever except mere local ethnographic majority should be taken into account. I wonder how far the Prime Minister can have realised at the time how unjust and in many respects how unworkable such a settlement must be. Anyhow, he was given no time to consider it, and we all know now with what indecent haste and ruthlessness this first German ultimatum was enforced upon the Czechs. Their surrender—our surrender, I should say—was at once followed by Herr Hitler's raising his price at Godesberg. Those terms have since been modified by Munich. But to what extent? The Prime Minister devoted a considerable part of his speech yesterday to emphasising the difference between them, and his main point was that he had foundan orderly instead of a violent method of carrying out an agreed decision."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 42, Vol. 339.]The Home Secretary last night described it as "a limited and controlled cession instead of an unlimited and uncontrolled military invasion."
What, after all, was the main and the most monstrous feature of the Godesberg 201 ultimatum? It was that the German Army was to march into the predominantly German-speaking areas of Czechoslovakia within a time which would make it utterly impossible for the Czech Army to withdraw even its ammunition and military stores. Far more than that, it deprived the Czech State of all hope of protecting the loyalist elements, not only Czechs, but that German minority within the German majority to whom Nazi rule is abhorrent, or affording them any opportunity to make any arrangements for the disposal of their property or for the removal of their other belongings. That area was fixed by Herr Hitler, and it may be that its actual borders, when defined by the International Commission, may be a little less wide.
But, apart from that, where really is the improvement? The Prime Minister's speech suggested—and I noticed that the right hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition seemed to accept the suggestion—that the time-table had been materially extended. By how much? The Czechs were originally given from 23rd September to 1st October—seven days. Until they could know whether we and France would stand by them or not, they obviously could not move a man or a gun. They only learned on 30th September that some of the evacuation was to begin next day, and a great deal more in the following five days. So that in fact they have had even less time to evacuate a very considerable part of their territory than they were given originally. As for the rest, they were given till 10th October to evacuate a territory which, so far as I know, has not even yet been defined. Into this region the German Army has been advancing, preceded by the Sudeten Free Corps. From it, by every road, there have been streaming before the Nazi fury tens of thousands of the helpless victims of our peace. It is not war alone that claims its victims, I would remind the hon. Member for Bridgeton. I would beg my two right hon. Friends to read the accounts of this exodus of terror and despair, and to ask themselves whether this can really be honestly described as "an orderly and controlled cession." The Minister of Transport kept on exulting in the rapid march of these events. The refugees are not exulting in it. It is something that we are taking some immediate steps to relieve the most urgent needs of the situa 202 tion so created. But is a loan really an adequate or at any rate a generous recognition of our moral responsibility? Would it not be finer if we preceded the loan by the free gift of at least one week's cost of the war which we have been spared at the expense of the Czechs?
The other point on which the Prime Minister laid special stress was that we and France at Munich gave Czechoslovakia our guarantee against unprovoked aggression, "an essential counterpart which was not to be found in the Godesberg Memorandum."
Surely our guarantee was already given when we enforced the Berchtesgaden ultimatum on the Czechs. How can he describe this as an additional concession? On this subject of guarantee, I should like to make a passing observation. More than one speaker has referred to it, very truly, as a serious departure from our traditions. Certainly it is one which can hardly have commended itself to the Dominions. All the same, I believe it would have been well worth giving, but on two conditions. One is that it would have come as the outcome of negotiations which would have left Czechoslovakia with at any rate some reasonable frontiers and capacity to contribute to her own defence. The other condition is that those negotiations should have been conducted on our side in a fashion which clearly demonstrated both our willingness and our power to implement our guarantee if reasonable terms were not secured.
But what is the value of guarantees given on the run? The guarantee implied in the Czech acceptance of the Berchtesgaden terms proved worthless as a protection against the demands that Herr Hitler enforced a week later at Munich. The renewed Munich guarantee proved worthless next day even against Poland. I cannot believe that the student of history will note any substantial difference between Godesberg and Munich. These last terms, accepted under the imminent menace of war, are harsher than any inflicted by the victorious Allies at the end of four years of war. Has the end come yet? Already the German wireless is demanding the severance of Ruthenia and Slovakia. Are we ready with our guarantee for that eventuality? I doubt whether anyone can really dare to describe this as a peace based on negotiation, on reason, on justice. Will it figure in history as anything else than the great 203 est—and the cheapest—victory ever won by aggressive militarism?
It may be said that all this was inevitable, that it was beyond the power of Czechoslovakia's allies and friends to help her, that nothing that she is suffering to-day can equal what she would have suffered in the event of war, and that nothing could have restored her existence once she had been over-run. In regard to restoration, I am afraid I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. Serbia, Rumania, Belgium, were all over-run and trampled down by Germany in the Great War and were all restored. But let me come to the geographical factors, of which both the Minister for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary made such great play, as being so formidable an obstacle to effective help for Czechoslovakia, especially after the occupation of the Rhineland and the seizure of Austria. They do constitute a very formidable obstacle. But I would only add that the occupation of the Rhineland took place in 1936 and the seizure of Austria last March. If these were insuperable obstacles, what a pity that France and ourselves could not have faced that unpleasant reality in time to enable Czechoslovakia to make her own terms with Germany. Six months ago I believe she might still, by renouncing her alliances and offering to enter wholeheartedly the German orbit, have secured at any rate, better terms than these.
On the other hand, there is, of course, an alternative possibility—the possibility upon which my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) laid such stress in his deeply moving and sincere speech yesterday; that is, that we and France have yielded, not to superior strength nor to insuperable geographical difficulties, but to a stronger will and to a clearer judgment of our own nerve. Whatever immediate military advantages Germany possessed, there were in her position elements of weakness which made her ultimate defeat almost inevitable. Her leaders knew it; her people dreaded it. But those same leaders were profoundly convinced that we would not face the issue, and all our guarded words and all our actions—or I ought to say our inaction—during these months only confirmed them.
204 Ever since the end of May the situation was becoming daily clearer. By August the last excuse for pretending that Herr Hitler did not mean to employ force was gone. Had we before the Adjournment given real power to a Ministry of Munitions such as my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and others have asked for for years past; had we introduced even so mild a measure of preparation as a national register; had we mobilised the Fleet—a very trifling disturbance of our civil life—at the end of August; or issued at that date, not a reference back to the guarded and obscure language of 24th March, but the warning given last Tuesday that we stood behind France and Russia against unprovoked attack upon Czechoslovakia, then any and all these things might have saved Herr Hitler from being committed by his speeches to that difficult position, with which my right hon. Friend sympathised so deeply, namely, one from which he could only be extricated by war, or by our giving way. I admit that wherever we had made our stand a terribly critical situation would have arisen. But when it arose, in such a situation could not the Prime Minister's personal influence and personal exertions have been even more effectively applied? Would not the whole world's deep-seated passion for peace, not of yesterday or last week only, also have come into play just as it did last week? Might not those forces now used to salvage a trifle from the wreck have enabled us to secure not merely peace, but peace with justice?
I hope I may be forgiven for having voiced these sombre and disquieting considerations, these possibly jarring reflections, at a time of general rejoicing, or at any rate, relief. I have felt bound to submit them to the House, but not with the desire to blame any individual or any set of individuals. Least of all am I asking the House to blame the Prime Minister, who has had to face a terrible responsibility, and who knows far better than any of us those weaknesses in our defence for which we might have been paying to-day a dreadful price. The blame rests upon all of us—and hon. Members opposite need not think that I exempt them—for having demanded throughout all these years that Britain should play a dominant part and a decisive part in maintaining the peace of Europe and of the world, whether 205 through the League or through ordinary direct negotiation, without giving to her Government the armed strength abroad and the defensive security at home which alone would warrant the attempt. If I may borrow from the hon. Member for Bridgeton, Mr. Wheatley's phrase, "that was last week."
It is up to us now soberly and without recrimination to take to heart the lesson which has been taught us in the face of Europe and of the world. We cannot afford any longer to be a weak, unorganised, go-as-you-please nation in face of the organised and disciplined adversaries with whom we shall have to deal. If our freedom means anything to us we must make sacrifices to preserve it during the breathing space which has been secured for us. The first sacrifice, I suggest—and I confess I do it with diffidence and in all humility—is that we should make some sacrifice of our party differences. Is it impossible that in the face of a common danger we can come somewhat more closely together as a nation, in the country and here in Parliament? In that connection I sincerely trust that there is no truth in the rumours that the Government are contemplating an immediate "peace" election. I can conceive of no course both more irresponsible in itself and more calculated to inflame party bitterness and to prejudice co-operation in the desperately urgent tasks before us. The time has perhaps not yet come—though it may come—for something in the nature of a truly national government. But let us at any rate come together sufficiently to make it possible for Parliament to pass, and for the nation willingly to accept, whatever measures of accelerated rearmament and national reorganisation are required.
Of these measures the first and most urgent, I think, is some scheme of national registration and national service that will permit of our man-power as well as our material resources being properly organised for our safety. Such a system of universal training as I now believe to be necessary and urgent need not involve active military training for all. What it should involve is that every citizen, man and woman, should be trained to play some part in an emergency, so that when the emergency comes, instead of panic and confusion, we shall have each man and woman taking up their appropriate duties, not only 206 knowing what they have to do, but what is more, knowing how to do it. I would ask the House just to think of the hundreds of thousands of gallant lads who were ready to come forward last week, and of the monstrous unfairness of asking them, untrained, to face death at the hand of trained enemies.
§ Mr. Amery
In whatever proportion may be necessary, yes; but I would remind the hon. Member that it is already conscripted in very considerable measure. I may be told that all this is preaching alarm and is quite unnecessary now that a new era of peace, and perhaps even of disarmament, has been initiated and may prevail "for our time." Well, let us hope that that may be true. But is that the lesson which the world is most likely to draw from the events of the last week? Is that the lesson Poland has just drawn in cheerful disregard of Munich? Is that the lesson that Japan is likely to take to heart? Can we really be so sure that Herr Hitler's genial pledges of last week will long hold good against the urge for domination and the faith in armed force which are the very essence of the doctrines inculcated into every German in Herr Hitler's own book? I am inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) that "Mein Kampf" has never let us down. We may pray for the miracle of a sudden conversion by personal contact, but dare we ignore the possibility of a back-sliding and of a reversion to type?
If that should occur, where do we stand? What of our pledges to France under the Locarno Treaty? The elimination of Czechoslovakia and the enlistment of her able-bodied men and of Austria's able-bodied men in the German Army will, in that event, bring 30 or 40 additional divisions and at least 1,000 additional aeroplanes to bear upon France. What can we do to redress the balance? What of our own defence? What real hope is there of ever finding all the hundreds of thousands of men required for our anti-aircraft defences, or even for air-raid precautions, by our present haphazard methods? That may be the nearest, but it is not the only danger 207 we may have to face. In every part of the world—here, in the Mediterranean, in the Far East—we are entering upon a phase of graver peril to our very existence than we have ever known before. Unless we have some solid groundwork of organisation, however modest, at the base of our defensive system, I fear that next time we may have to face not only war, but disaster.
May I add one last word? I have spoken of national service as our first and most urgent need. It is far from being the only one. There are long-range needs no less important if the defence of our freedom is to rest upon a sound foundation. We need a far bolder policy of national health, of nutrition, of encouragement of family life. We may have to recast much of our economic system so as to afford better opportunities, greater security, more social justice for all. Again, can we hope to sustain indefinitely our immense responsibilities on the narrow basis of this little Island? Surely we must seek a wider foundation in the mutual co-operation and mutual development of the group of freedom-loving nations which constitute our commonwealth, and I hope we may also be able to secure such co-operation with the United States and with any other freedom-loving nation which cares to work with us. These are tasks upon which I should have thought we might find it possible to come to some measure of common agreement, now that we have so narrowly escaped from a common peril. Or are we to sink back once again into the complacent lethargy and futile domestic wrangling of the last few years and months, only to awaken when it is too late to avert irrevocable disaster?
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Captain McEwen
I understand, though I was not in the House at the time, that the Leader of the Opposition at the beginning of this sitting made a request for an extension of this Debate. It would not become me, having been fortunate enough to catch your eye now, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, in view of the many others who, no doubt, are hoping to do so, to make any suggestion for cutting short this Debate in any way, but, after all, I think it is only right to remind the House that there is one man who deserves to have a holiday, and that is the Prime Minister. 208 Not only owing to the work which he has already accomplished, but owing to the work which he will shortly have to accomplish when the House meets again, as it will do soon, it is only right that he should have a holiday. I, therefore, hope that the Government will resist that request.
We are debating the conduct of His Majesty's Government in dealing with a very important event, and I cannot help feeling that the issue, which ought to be plain enough, has been confused rather than clarified in the course of this discussion. What, after all, was the issue? It was whether the Government were right in preserving the peace of Europe at this time at a price—which they succeeded in doing—or whether they should have treated the German challenge to Czechoslovakia on the Sudeten question as a direct threat to ourselves and gone to war. I know that there are not a few people who consider that it would never have meant war, and that had we but made a firm stand at one stage or another of the proceedings, Germany would have climbed down. That attitude is a very human one and very excusable, and it is commonly known as "having your cake and eating it." It is based wholly on the assumption that Herr Hitler was bluffing, but we have no right to make any such assumption. The only persons who are in any position to speak authoritatively on that matter are the Prime Minister and his advisers who themselves saw Herr Hitler, and their unhesitating verdict is in exactly the contrary sense.
Nothing could be more dangerous than calmly to assume that because Herr Hitler has bluffed in the past he must always continue to bluff in future, and that because he bluffed in 1936 he should be bluffing in 1938. I do not wish to rake up past controversies, but as one who at that time was in favour of making a firm stand, I cannot but recall that those who were loudest in their protests against any action in March, 1936–I refer to the Opposition and to the Opposition Liberals—are precisely those who are its foremost protagonists now when it is two years too late. No one, I think, would accuse me of being unduly sympathetic to either Herr Hitler or Germany. In fact, I go somewhat further than most hon. Members, certainly further than the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), in that I believe in a German menace and 209 not merely a German Nazi menace. Before I leave the subject of a firm stand I would like to say two more things. The first is that had we made such a declaration at an earlier stage in the proceedings, we might have stultified our own object of endeavouring to keep the peace, because we would have encouraged the Czechs to fight. The Czech Government behaved in highly trying circumstances with the restraint and dignity which deserved every bit of the high praise it has properly received, but, given the warlike spirit of that country at the time, a premature declaration of unconditional support must inevitably have precipitated the very catastrophe which we were endeavouring to avoid. Incidentally, I would like to call attention to the fact, which is frequently overlooked, but to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) called attention yesterday, that a definite declaration was made in the course of the crisis.
The second point is that it is a great mistake to imagine that Herr Hitler's final and conciliatory movement was dictated by the mobilisation of the British Fleet. I do not say that that mobilisation did not have an affect; I think it did; but at the other end of the axis there were cumulative influences at work. There were the attitude of the Vatican and the attitude of the King of Italy; and, above all, there was the inveterate and irrepressible friendly feeling of the people of Italy to this country, to which everybody who knows them will readily bear witness. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington said yesterday that he hoped it might be possible to pursue a foreign policy which would have the support of all quarters in the House:A determined effort to conduct a foreign policy upon which the nation can unite—I am convinced that such a policy can be found."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 88, Vol. 339.]I wish that it could be so. It may be possible although I find it difficult to imagine any foreign policy which would receive the whole-hearted and consistent support of, for example, the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) which I did not regard as suicidal. May I make a suggestion? I do it without any desire to be provocative. It is that as a start hon. Members opposite might drop the illusion to which 210 they cling so tightly that Soviet Russia is a democratic country. It will ill become us on this side of the House after recent events not to admit freely that Soviet Russia maintained from first to last throughout the crisis a perfectly consistent attitude. She said that she would come in if France came in, and although one is free to question the possible value of that intervention if it had taken place, one cannot deny the consistency of her stated intentions. Is it not possible for hon. Gentlemen opposite, as a gesture merely, when they mention, as did the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, their dislike of dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini, to add the name of Stalin? Then we could all agree because, strange as it may seem to hon. Members opposite, we on this side dislike dictators as much as they do.
Finally, I would like to add a word of warning. One of the most hopeful signs in the international sphere in this year of grace has been the rededication of that corner-stone of European stability, Anglo French friendship, a rededication which culminated in the visit of Their Majesties to Paris in July. Whatever we may do, nothing must be allowed to endanger that infinitely valuable achievement. I con fess I would like to hear, and I hope I may still hear, from the Front Bench a word of praise for France's attitude during the past two months—
§ Captain McEwen
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait until I give my reasons. I was not thinking of any individual but of the French nation. A great and proud nation, she has allowed this country to monopolise the stage; loyally, for the sake of peace, she accepted the suggestions that we made, and subsequently, with unflinching heroism, she faced the terrible prospects of sacrificing 200,000 lives in attempting to breach the formidable Siegfried line. In that initial sacrifice let the House not forget that we should have borne no proportionate share. The situation as I see it to-day is definitely one of hope. We have now what we have so often wished to have in the past, a peace conference without a preliminary war. It is true that at present that conference consists of four Powers only, but we may consider that to be but a beginning. The fact remains that millions of people in this country and else- 211 where are grateful in their hearts to the Prime Minister to-day for having preserved the peace for them. To him not unfittingly might be applied the words of Francis Thompson when he wrote:Firm is the man and set beyond the cast of fortune's game, or the iniquitous hour whose falcon soul sits fast, and not intends her high sagacious tour or e'er the quarry sighted, who looks past to slow much sweet from little instant sour, and in the first does always see the last.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
In summing up the Press of this country and the two days' Debate that we have had, I should say that the whole community can be divided into two classes on this issue—those who distrust the Chancellor Fuhrer of the German Reich and those who do not. That being so, I must say I deprecate the attempt of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) to divide us up into pacifists and murderers. The hon. Member for Bridgeton was cheered throughout the early part of his speech by a great part of the House, but it is always dangerous to be cheered by your enemies. The bulk of the cheering came from the enemy benches.
§ Mr. Buchanan
That applies to your party as well. On one of the last occasions when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman spoke in this House he was very loudly cheered by Members on the other side.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
It is quite safe for me to attack the hon. Member for Bridgeton because, of course, he will not hit back, but I only want to point out to him and to the House that this denunciation of war comes from a Scotsman, a man who has been brought up on that famous poem:Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled.It comes from a man who, if he had been a Scotsman in those days, would have been with Wallace and with Bruce. It comes from a man whom I have heard say in this House that he was wholeheartedly with the people fighting in Spain for their freedom and that if he had been younger he would be there fighting with them. There is all the difference in the world between fighting for freedom, fighting for justice, fighting against cruelty and fighting any Imperialist war. We have not got to be classed with 212 murderers because some of us demand the right to fight where our conscience and our faith direct that we should fight.
§ Mr. Maxton
My hon. and gallant Friend has twice used the word "murderers," as if I had used it. I never made such a distinction, and as far as I recollect I never imputed low motives to the people who take the opposite view to me.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
The important thing is that British people should not think it wrong to fight for their rights, because we are getting to a time now when we have got to make up our minds whether or not there is something worth fighting for, and to my mind the freedom of this country, the democracy of the world, is something that is worth fighting for. The hon. Member is so eloquent and is so beloved in this House that when he gets on his legs and speaks as he did just now the whole of this House and a great part of the country begin to think that he is right, and I want to put it to the House that there is another point of view which we must consider. Against the hon. Member for Bridgeton I would quote not a Scotsman but an Irishman—the words of Patrick Henry which, under similar circumstances to those of to-day, carried as much weight as do the eloquent and burning sentences of the hon. Member for Bridgeton. He said:Is life so sweet and peace so dear as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God. I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.I believe that the hon. Member for Bridgeton agrees with those words and has been carried away by his eloquence in trying to delude the people into thinking that there is nothing worse than people being killed in war.
The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister is one of those who trusts the German Fuhrer. His trust in him has been completed because the German Fuhrer has said that his territorial ambitions in Europe are now satisfied. It was about 40 years ago that the father of our present Prime Minister said that he who sups with the devil needs a long spoon, and I regret to have to inform the House that the gentleman referred to in that case as the devil was the German Emperor. If it needed a long spoon then, I am afraid it needs a longer one now; and when I see him being approached by our 213 Prime Minister with a loving-cup, or a loving-trough, into which they may all dip their gas-masks together, I ask is this new generation of the Chamberlain family really as reliable as the past; I begin to think that we should examine with extreme caution the position into which the Prime Minister is leading this country.
I said there was a clear-cut division in the House and the country between those who trust the German Chancellor and those who do not. Those who trust the German Chancellor do so for many reasons. Some trust him because they sympathise with totalitarian rule. Some trust him because the Prime Minister of England trusts him, and they are content to take it at that. But the vast majority trust him because it is the easiest thing to do and means peace. Frankly I, and I suppose the majority of the people in this House, distrust the German Chancellor. We do not trust him, and we are anxious for the future of our country far more than are those who put their faith in him. Having that anxiety for the future we are determined to keep our powder dry and tighten our belts, and to have the fighting aeroplanes by the next crisis.
But let it be made quite clear that these preparations are not aimed at the German people but against the danger that comes from the unconstrained German Fuhrer. We on this side of the House have means of getting information from Germany which do not exist, perhaps, on other sides of the House, and we know perfectly well that the feeling of the German people is very much like our own, and is cast into just as much despair every time that there is a new triumph for the German Fuhrer and a new advance by Germany over other unfortunate parts of the world. Our quarrel, essentially, is one that is based on the danger arising to this country, and to democracy everywhere, by the unrestricted advance of Hitlerism, and it is against that that we have to prepare ourselves. I would merely point out, to show how we must mistrust the German Chancellor, that even this last stipulation he has made, that all his territorial demands in Europe are satisfied, is merely a remark in conversation between him and the Prime Minister and has not been put on paper—is not even the "scrap of paper" which we saw dealt with in 1914. Those who are anxious for the survival in 214 this world of justice, freedom and democracy trust the German Chancellor less than ever, and quite frankly we regard those who do trust him as fools or traitors to the cause of democracy.
We have got now a new situation. The League of Nations is dead and the Four Power Pact has come. I think we may turn over the page that has recently been written, and turn it over with some shame, with some fear, as to what history will say of the course taken by the British Government in the last three weeks. But let the past be past and let us look towards the future. The future sketched out by those who trust Hitler is the Four Power Pact. The future as envisaged by those who do not trust him is the reconstruction of some form of league of the people who are opposed to Hitlerism in order to enforce the rule of law instead of the rule of force.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
It will take longer if we are governed by people like the admiral, who has complete trust in him and his Four Power Pact.
The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has no foundaiton for saying that I have complete trust in Hitler, but when he talks about the reconstruction of the League I think I have a right to ask him how long it will take to reconstruct it and what is going to happen meantime.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
If the Labour party were in power their foreign policy would be directed entirely towards reconstructing the League of Collective Security, and if I had the privilege of being dictator under those circumstances it would be reconstructed in about six weeks. The Four Power Pact is at present merely another name for the German Reich. England is no longer the dominating Power in any such organisation. Obviously Italy takes her orders from Germany under any circumstances. France is, unfortunately, cowed, and England under the present Prime Minister will support freedom up to a point, but will always be guided by expediency if not sympathy. So that we can say that the Four Power Pact as it is envisaged, as it is promised, by Herr Hitler, is indeed another name for the German Reich. It will lead us into peace, but only so 215 long as the Four Power Pact does what Germany wants, and so long as all the other nations agree to obey the orders of Germany.
With that Four-Power Pact what is the prospect in the future? I know that the majority of people in this country think that we may face a crisis of war within six months, two years or something of that sort, but I do not envisage the future as being a threat of war on us. I am much more afraid of domination by Germany through other means. We may have read in the newspapers this morning, only two or three days after the general embrace at Munich, that Germany has signed a treaty with Lithuania whereby the whole of the produce of Lithuania is bought by Germany and Lithuania guarantees that everything she buys from outside shall come from Germany. A similar treaty apparently is being negotiated between Jugo-Slavia and Germany. Such treaties of barter have been increasing during the last two years not only with the Balkan countries but between Germany and South America. As the House knows, South America consists of dictatorship countries at the present time. Between those dictatorship countries and Germany is a whole series of treaties guaranteeing supplies to Germany from those countries, and guaranteeing that the countries with whom Germany makes the treaties shall buy the goods they require from Germany. What is that but annexation? The dictator in ChargÉ of each country depends for his power on the good will of the arch-dictator. The whole of the industrial development of those countries is tied up by this compulsory dealing with the German Reich. In those circumstances it really is not necessary for Germany to advance over the frontier into Lithuania. She can bring to bear all the pressure that is necessary to recover Memel or to get Czechoslovakia or Jugoslavia into that trade agreement. I believe Germany has already got Bulgaria and Greece and that Rumania is under some similar treaty. Any one of those States is bound to accept whatever economic terms Germany may devise because, although they are at present in danger of absorption by Germany, they have not anything like the same opportunity of resisting Germany as they had when there was a League of Nations.
216 Like some other Members of this House I have read "Mein Kampf." The main point about "Mein Kampf" is the expressed detestation of the democracies of France and England. With a Europe composed of Germany and a vast number of satellite States, most of which may trade only with Germany what would happen? In the first place, any money that we have advanced to those countries by way of loan will receive no interest because the goods of those countries will go to Germany. Most of them have already failed to pay. Beyond that, you will have British trade utterly destroyed in South America and over the bulk of Europe, and French trade also. In 1812 Napoleon tried to establish what was called the Continental System whereby he sought to defeat England by preventing any of the countries he controlled from trading with this country. The system did not work very well because in those days there was a good deal of smuggling. Now-a-days, Governments are much stronger, and I am afraid that the same system worked to-day from Berlin would be infinitely more deadly to our trade and to our manufacturers than was the continental system of Napoleon.
If I am right in thinking that those countries would all become tied economically to Germany and that our trade would suffer and our manufactures decline, it means that we shall have increasing poverty in this country in which more people will be out of work, and that there will be greater inability to meet the enormous taxation to keep up our armaments. The position of the people in this country will become very much as is the position in France to-day, where they are unable to make both ends meet. The demand for further armaments cannot be met. France sees dangers growing around her all the time, but is in a dim-cult economic position. No doubt the position of France will be worse under an economic boycott than our own position.
I would ask the House to consider what will happen in France under that system? Pressure will be brought to bear by Germany upon the French Government. Germany will say, "We do not like your Prime Minister," or "We do not like your Chamber of Deputies, and if you want to have a renewal of trade or to recover your wealth, you must end democracy and introduce an admirable system under M. Flandin or M. Laval, or 217 somebody who is entirely reliable." Then there will be the usual resistance of all the democratic forces and the usual ignorant people saying, "For God's sake do something." I see a new class of people in all democracies—what I call the "Gawd-sakers." Then you will have the French Government collapsing under the pressure of poverty on the one side and the friends of dictatorship on the other, and they may sell their birthright for a mess of pottage in order to get back the freedom to buy and sell. What I have said of France applies equally to this country, although we may be further removed. Once you get all Europe under not merely the military control, but the economic control of one Power, you will lose your freedom every bit as much as if you were defeated in actual war.
Therefore I ask all Members of this House who do not trust the German Chancellor, on whichever side we may sit, to consider whether we must not view the future through the most gloomy spectacles, if we are dependent on a Four-Power Pact which is only another name for the German Reich—if we are to be forced by threat of war to consent to every concession demanded of us, which will alienate from us our trade and our friends. If that is the prospect before us, I say that we will not be governed by those who have confidence in Herr Hitler, and not by one who sympathises with an alien form of rule by force.
§ 5.55 P.m.
§ Mr. Mabane
From the earlier part of the speech of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman it might have been imagined that there was a difference in this House between those who are willing to fight for their liberties and those who were not—that there might be those who were fearful and those who were not.
§ Colonel Wedgwood
What I said was that this House was divided between those who trusted Herr Hitler and those who did not, and I objected to a red herring being drawn across that trail by the hon. Member for Bridgeton(Mr.Maxton).
§ Mr. Mabane
I think that if the right hon. and gallant Gentleman reads the earlier part of his speech he will see that that impression could have been gained. I am sure that there is no differ 218 ence in the House on that point. Fear has not been a motive in the negotiations over the last few weeks. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench to-day suggested that the Prime Minister had been frightened. I am certain that fear was not among the motives of the Prime Minister. Equally am I sure that fear has not been moving in the hearts of the people in this country during the last few weeks. The Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that the people had fear in their hearts, but I am certain that he was not intending to mean that there was physical fear. The people of this country were prepared last week to undertake a war unlike anything that the world has known. My experience in the Provinces convinced me that the people were fearless, calm, and determined to fight to the last in the defence of their liberties. I believe that the relief that spread throughout this country when the news of the Agreement at Munich came through was not because people felt that they had saved their skins, but because they had a profound instinct that reason might at last prevail.
If reason does prevail it will be due to the brilliant initiative of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister seems to many of us to have lifted this issue on to a new plane, above the ordinary diplomatic exchanges. People, not alone here, but throughout the world, have felt that he has been inspired by a profound passion for peace. He has not moved as a diplomat. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) seemed to complain yesterday of this. He said "They have discarded the diplomatic methods of correspondence." I agree, and I am glad. He has replied to diplomacy from the housetops by getting on to the housetops himself, and for reward the world has recognised him as a man of peace.
There appears to be a profound cleavage between the point of view held by the Prime Minister and those who support him, and that held by those who, as I would define it, appear to accept the philosophy of inevitable war; those who say, either directly or by implication: "We have got to fight Germany again some time." That, to me, is the bankruptcy of policy. Not only do I accept the view of the Prime Minister that such a war might well be the end of Western 219 civilisation, but it appears to me that the power of defence is now so strong that no one could predict when the end of such a war might be, and more, at the end of such a war the peace that must follow it is almost as dreadful to contemplate as the war itself. Those who hold the doctrine of the inevitability of war may be proved right. I hope not. Because I still retain faith in the destiny of the race, I refuse to accept it.
It is impossible to consider these events without looking at the background of this crisis. It is no surprise to me that the crisis has arisen, and arisen in this form. I do not think it is a surprise to many who have studied the international situation since the signing of the Peace Treaty. For years many of us have been saying in this House and outside that the alternatives before Europe were revision of the peace treaties or war, and that the longer such revision was delayed, the more difficult it would be of execution. We have been constantly urging revision. One of the most profound phrases I have heard in this House was used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in words which were, roughly: "The satisfaction of the grievances of the vanquished must precede the disarmament of the victors." That is a policy we have never tried. I would be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would expand it. I hope he will expand it and say what grievances he wished to satisfy, and how and when. We have heard much of the League of Nations and of its failure. I attribute the failure of the League of Nations to the fact that it always failed to comprehend the unassailable wisdom of that phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping. It has been an instrument for the preservation of the status quo.
Look at Article 19; read its two lines. It is so phrased as to be almost impossible to operate, but, even phrased as it is, no attempt has ever been made to operate that Article. It is a bitter thought that there has been no adjustment of the Peace Treaties in Europe since the War save under threat, and—we must speak frankly in this Debate—none has been more determined in resistance to revision than the Czechoslovak State. We all admire the fortitude of that State during its recent trial. It has been truly said in this Debate that 220 by its action in recent days it has kept the peace; yet by action earlier I believe it might have averted the danger.
I listened attentively to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden). He quoted the phrase that has been used to the effect that Czechoslovakia was a danger to the peace of Europe. I was surprised that he put on that phrase an interpretation which might lead one to suppose that it was intended to mean that Czechoslovakia was a danger to the peace of Europe because of its aggressive intentions. That, of course, was never the intention of anyone who used the phrase. Czechoslovakia was a danger to the peace of Europe because of its instability. I think that, if we look back, we are bound to come to the conclusion that, when the demand that Austria should be dismembered was accepted, the seeds were sown out of which recent events have grown, for, with the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Germans of that Empire were left with no other policy but Pan-Germanism, whereas before that dismemberment, as has been well known, many—indeed the majority—of the Germans in Austria were asking for a large, powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire as a counter-balance to a powerful Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said not very long ago that this country would never go to war again in an Austrian quarrel. He was right. But the Anschluss was a prelude to recent events from which in my view they inevitably flowed, and if the people of this country had gone to war last week, as they were prepared to do, it would not have been in a Czech quarrel, it would not have been for strategical reasons, but it would have been for a far greater cause—the cause of reason against force.
It has been urged that this cession of territory to Germany destroys our strategic position. It may be an unpopular and unacceptable view, but I believe that a policy based on strategy never has ensured, and never will ensure, permanent peace. I listened with great attention to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's yesterday, and I should like to say now how much I admired that speech and the manner of his action before it. I have 221 always admired the right hon. Gentleman's brilliant qualities, and they were never displayed to greater effect than in his speech yesterday. He complained that we should have made our position clear. But if we were to make a declaration of the character that he desired, why should we have made it merely a week ago, or even after the Anschluss? Why not on the reoccupation of the Rhineland by Germany?
§ Mr. Mabane
I will tell the hon. Gentleman the answer. It is because the people of this country would not have supported it. The people of this country, whatever we may say here, have for long years had a profound belief that the peace settlement was a bad settlement. We here in this House could appreciate that the defence of Czechoslovakia was destroyed or damaged when the Rhine-land was occupied, but in the country there was a profound feeling that that reoccupation was no more than a just return to Germany.
I would like to pursue that point a little further. Supposing that such a declaration had been made, and supposing that Germany had retreated, the problem of Czechoslovakia would still have remained. I have been at some pains to discover, from listening to this Debate, precisely what is the point of view of many of those who oppose what has been done. What is the real difference? Is their objection to the cession of territory, or is their objection to the method? If their objection is merely to the method, they can base no argument on strategical grounds, for the territory would have been ceded just the same. I agree that, had this matter been tackled earlier, the method would have been a method more convenient to the Czechs and more consonant with the dignity of nations. But the right hon. Gentleman and others who have been criticising this Agreement can at least take one comfort. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's said that we have now for the first time committed ourselves to defend a frontier in Central Europe. Surely that is making our position clear. It is an enormous obligation, and one which I think we ought to regard, I will not say with apprehension, but with proper consideration. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and 222 Leamington asked when that obligation was to begin, and hoped it would be now. I am prepared to undertake it, but I hope—
§ Mr. Mabane
I will deal with that point. I would say first of all that I hope the obligation will begin when the Munich Agreement is brought to fulfilment, when all the minority problems are settled, and when Czechoslovakia is finally remodelled. With regard to the hon. Member's question as to how I would honour the obligation, I am in no doubt that, if this country desired to go to war in honour of art obligation, it would find a proper and effective way of doing it. I hope, too, that we shall secure further guarantees from Germany, Italy, and, I hope, Poland and Hungary.
I would refer for a moment to the Munich Agreement itself. At first I observed suggestions in some quarters that it made no advance on the Godesberg ultimatum. I observe that that argument is not now being pursued, for, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's said, there are great and important differences, and it is a great triumph for the Prime Minister that he was able to acquire them. Therefore, it is not necessary for me to develop those differences. But I believe that in this Munich Agreement may be found the key to the future of Europe. I think that the main division in this House is, as was so admirably illustrated in the speech to which we have just listened, the difference between those who do not believe in the sincerity of German promises and those who reserve judgment on the matter. If all in this House believed in the sincerity of German promises, the Munich Agreement would be accepted. I believe that its execution will immediately test that sincerity. Let us remember that we are not even now at the end of the Munich Agreement. The International Commission is, I presume, now at work. It has work to do which is of the highest importance. It has to delimit frontiers which have to be occupied within the next few days. I would like to ask whoever is replying for the Government: What if the Commission do not reach agreement? Is the majority view of the Commission then to prevail? Further, when the Commission 223 has made its recommendations, we shall have an opportunity to test the sincerity of the German intentions to operate the Agreement. Will Germany accept the recommendations without question? If the recommendations of that International Commission are not accepted by Germany, then I think there will be no longer any doubt in any part of the House. We shall all feel, as I certainly should feel, that we had then had enough. If in these circumstances we have to face a struggle, those who argue that we shall face it in a worse position than that in which we were a week ago are forgetting a matter of great importance, and that is the mobilised opinion of the moral forces in the world. We should have the civilised world behind us in such a way as never before. I think that in the last month opinion in the United States has grown up rapidly, and I, for one, believe that, if this country were engaged in a war, sooner or later—I hope sooner—the United States of America would be found on our side. For my part, I hope that the Munich Agreement will be carried to a successful conclusion, and that we shall have at least that evidence that there is sincerity in the German intentions.
Much has been said during this Debate about the position at home. I agree with those who have said that now is not the moment to diminish our efforts. Rather do I find, as I go about the country, a great resurgence of national spirit, a desire on the part of the people of this country, all of them, to play their part whatever it may be. I would certainly accept the challenge of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that in the event of our having to make a great national effort there should be conscription of wealth no less than conscription of manpower. Rearmament is not enough. There must be a mobilisation of national effort in every sphere of our national life. I was struck by the appeal which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and also by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington, that we might, too, find a foreign policy behind which this country might unite. Here are some phrases, perhaps not such as all of us would use, but expressing something very like my view: 224I want a real conference, a peace conference, to which people will not come merely to rattle the sabre. I want a peace conference which will endeavour to deal with the causes of war that are affecting this world, the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty, the wrongs of minorities, to deal with the Colonial question, to deal with the question of raw materials, to deal, above all, with the great economic question, the condition-of-the-people question.In case hon. Members do not recognise that passage, it is taken from the speech of the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. He went on to say:I believe that to-day … there is an opportunity of going forward to build a new world."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 66, Vol. 339.]If such an opportunity now exists, I believe it to be due, more than to any other one man, to the Prime Minister of this country.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Mander
I desire to take the attention of the House back to the speech made earlier by the Minister of Transport. I can well understand that, after the debacle of yesterday, it was necessary to stage some blazing display. The well known high abilities of the Minister of Transport were secured, and we had the pleasure of enjoying a magnificent example of spell-binding, tub-thumping and drum-beating carried on in excelsis. I hope my right hon. Friend will not mind my describing his truly magnificent efforts in these terms. I must say I should have respected his speech a little more, and also that of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane), if they had shown a little more chivalry towards the Czechoslovak people. Surely it was enough to have knocked Czechoslovakia down, without going on to kick the mutilated body, as they both seemed to take some pleasure in doing. I should have thought also that, in making the remarks they made about minorities and grievances, they must have known in their own minds, as we all know really, that that question played a very small part in the events of the last few weeks. Herr Hitler is not interested in grievances except in so far as they enable him to use them for the purposes of his march onward to dominate Europe. There are Germans suffering infinitely more in Italy, and they do not seem to have affected his intentions at all up to the present time.
225 I think that the events of the last few days have shown how wise and proper it was that Parliament should have been called together, and how different the course of events might have been if Parliament had been called together two or three weeks ago, so that the Prime Minister might have formed some idea of the various currents of opinion in the different parties, including his own, instead of taking a course so reminiscent of the ways of dictators. I am sure that the public as a whole have resented the treatment of Parliament and the absence of any opportunity for Members to express their views on the events of the crisis. Various tributes have been paid in the course of this Debate to different persons. I am sure the person who deserves more tribute than anybody else is President Benes, the head of the Czechoslovak Republic. I must be allowed, in spite of what has been said by many others, to say how deeply I feel, as I am sure we all do, the magnificent example to the world that he and the whole of his people have shown by their courage and self-control and truly Christian charity.
At the same time, I have always admitted that the Prime Minister, in the policy he is pursuing with such vigour, is animated by a single-minded purpose—to secure peace in the world. He is convinced that his way is the right way. I can only judge by results. He has brought us to the very brink of war. We are still on the brink. We have not tumbled over, but we are very near the edge at the present time, and the only result appears to be that we are to redouble our efforts for rearmament against the new friend we have found in the last few days. We have had the whole country fitting on gas masks and digging trenches. If our policy—and when I say that I mean not only the policy of the Liberal party, but the policy of the Labour party and the policy of a considerable body of opinion on the Government side of the House: the policy on which the Government won the last General Election—had been consistently and courageously pursued, we should now be well on the way to securing world peace, with a League of Nations functioning normally, as was intended, with an ever-decreasing taxation and with great extensions to our social services, which are impossible in the present conditions. 226 We are convinced that our policy would have brought secure peace. That of the Prime Minister has led, and will lead inevitably, to the certainty of war. The Prime Minister's position seems to me to be very much like that of a man who has accidentally, but somewhat clumsily, knocked a man into the river, has gone in after him, has rescued him—incidentally drowning a child in doing so—has brought the man out of the river, and is acclaimed as a hero for doing that.
It seems to me that the rot was started in recent events by a paragraph in a leading article in the "Times," when reference was made for the first time to the possibility of territorial changes in Czechoslovakia. That proposal was received with horror and indignation by the vast majority of the population of this country and the Press. It was denounced in the strongest terms in other sections of the Conservative Press. It was a proposal which seemed at the time absolutely unthinkable. I desire to say a word about the "Times" newspaper. There is an impression abroad that it is the voice of the public opinion of the nation. No doubt that has often been the case in past days; but more recently, and particularly at the present time, it is nothing but the mouthpiece of a narrow clique, sometimes referred to as the Cliveden Set, who work in close association with the German Embassy, and are in no way representative of any wide section of public opinion. The "Times" is not only partisan in its views, but it frequently refuses to allow the expression of opinion in its columns to which it is opposed. I think these facts should be known abroad. The old position held by the "Times" is largely taken now by the "Daily Telegraph."
The Prime Minister has carried through the Four-Power Pact, as he has so ardently desired, and it must be clearly recognised that he has been perfectly consistent, perfectly logical, the whole way through. He has desired the Four-Power Pact, he has desired the present condition of affairs, and he has obtained it. I believe he actually enjoys the society of dictators. He feels at home sitting beside Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini. With his many amiable qualities, he has something of the dictator mind himself, as I am sure Members of the Cabinet perfectly well appreciate and as hon. Members 227 know. I think the facts were brought to the attention of this House by certain incidents which occurred in the month of June. I ventured to call attention to a certain luncheon party which had taken place at the house of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor), when the Prime Minister had, not an interview but table-talk, with certain American journalists, in the course of which views were expressed by the Prime Minister, noted by those correspondents, and passed on to newspapers in America. Here is an extract from the "New York Times" of 14th May, contained in an article by "Augur":The question may well be asked whether Mr. Chamberlain attaches importance to a settlement of the German problem in Czechoslovakia and what his idea may be. Originally the Prime Minister certainly held the view that the best way out of the deadlock was to transform Czechoslovakia into a sort of second Switzerland, with each nationality forming a separate canton and possessing far-reaching autonomy. But expert investigation has shown drawbacks to such a scheme, and Mr. Chamberlain to-day, without prejudice naturally to the rights of the principal interested parties to decide for themselves, certainly favours a more drastic measure—namely, separation of the German districts from the body of the Czechoslovak republic and the annexation of them to Germany.It is perfectly clear that, contrary to the knowledge of the country generally, except in so far as this article had been read, the Prime Minister then was in favour of the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. That may be the right policy, but if that is so, what justification is there for encouraging Czechoslovakia to spend many millions of pounds, as the British and French Governments did, on fortifications and giving them the idea that we were prepared to fight for that country? There is a wide inconsistency between the two points of view, and one which, in the circumstances, reflects no credit on the action of the British Government. I am going to quote from an article in the "New York Herald-Tribune" one further passage, because it bears upon the Four-Power Pact policy of the Government. This article appeared on 14th May:Having signed the Italians on the dotted line Britain would now like to contact the Germans. This brings up a question of a four-Power pact, but the British prefer to label it something else, as a four-Power pact might signify to some a dictators' committee, to dictate to the rest of Europe, and the 228 British do not appraise dictators as any more infallible than the heads of democratic countries. It is admitted that Britain would like to swing Germany and Italy into a working agreement with Britain and France to keep the peace of Europe. Soviet Russia is excluded, on the ground that it does not work in harness, with the proviso that some day Russia, if she behaves, may be admitted to-membership.Therefore, you see clearly set out there the mind of the Prime Minister, and he undoubtedly has been successful in carrying the matter through to its present position so far as he is concerned. I would like to make reference to the day when the Prime Minister flew to Berchtesgaden. His unconventional action in doing so was received with unanimous approbation by the people of this country. On that day I was mixing with a very large number of Conservatives. They were all delighted. Why were they so delighted, and why was the country approving? Because they believed that the Prime Minister was going there with the resolute determination to tell Herr Hitler that if any act of aggression occurred against Czechoslovakia, France, this country and Russia would spring to arms. If he had done so, as the late First Lord of the Admiralty suggested yesterday, the whole question of our troubles would have been finished, and pretty well finished for ever. But, unfortunately, we know that the Prime Minister did nothing of the kind. The Prime Minister in his speech last week used these words:In courteous but perfectly definite terms, Herr Hitler made it plain that he had made up his mind that the Sudeten-Germans must have the right of self-determination and of returning, if they wished, to the Reich."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 14, Vol. 339.]Mark those words, "if they wished." They have not been given an opportunity of saying whether they wished or not. In large areas there is no question of a plebiscite; and my information is that it is extremely doubtful whether any part of that territory would vote to go into the Reich if that were the issue on which they voted. The Minister of Transport quoted certain figures with reference to the results of elections, but the voting was on a different issue, and secession was not mentioned at all. The Prime Minister never held Herr Hitler on this question of those people returning—of course there was no question of returning: of going—if they wished. They have to go, whether they like it or not.
229 I desire to ask a question with regard to the plebiscite which is to be held in certain areas, Is it to be permitted that the German Government shall carry on their intensive Goebbels propaganda throughout the whole of the time that voting takes place? I hope that the Government will do their utmost to protest, and to persuade, in a friendly manner, as they now claim to be able to do, the Fuhrer to abstain from doing anything of the kind. I hope also that, if he persists in carrying on the usual technique, they will take steps to arrange for, not exactly counter propaganda, but for information of an objective and truthful kind, so that the truth can be broadcast to the voters in those areas on the authority of this country and that they will have some chance, at any rate, of realising the issues upon which they are called upon to vote. [Interruption.] I am afraid that it is of very little use, but it certainly ought to be done if the thing is to be a reality at all.
The Home Secretary last night, in his very trying and difficult task towards the end of the evening, was obliged to answer every question that was raised by saying, "Oh, that is a matter for the International Commission." Obviously nobody knows what is going to happen, and it is a very useful thing to have an international commission. But it is perfectly obvious that the big guns which have now been taken over by Germany are not to be handed back whatever any International Commission says. One has to remember this. Who are the International Commission? They are four to one—four on one side who have recently betrayed Czechoslovakia, and that country herself. How can she rely upon getting justice and support from those who have recently treated her in the way they have. It may be that the British and French representatives will do their best to get justice and fair play. If they are met by Herr Hitler with the statement "I have made up my mind. I cannot change it. I must go on," what can they do but give way? The prospects of that international body functioning with any kind of justice are remote in the extreme.
May I ask this question about the guarantee? Is that guarantee in operation now? I should be glad if whoever is going to reply will specifically address himself to that point; if not I shall get up 230 and ask him to reply. [Interruption.] It was so difficult last night to get a reply that one is bound to re-emphasise these questions. I want to know, too, whether it is to be a joint or a several guarantee. If it is a several guarantee, it means that we have to be prepared to fight every other country in that part of the world for the sake of Czechoslovakia. If it is to be a joint guarantee, that means, I presume, that if Germany or Italy were to say for any reason they were not coming in, the whole thing would break down. It is extremely difficult to see how the guarantee can in any way be useful.
There is one thing I should like to say with regard to Godesberg. After the Prime Minister had flown there and was so surprised to receive from Herr Hitler the ultimatum I should have thought that his attitude would have been, "This is grossly unjust. This is intolerable. The British Government and the British people could never agree to a thing of this kind, and I will not be your messenger boy for sending it on. I will not send it on to Czechoslovakia." All that the Prime Minister did was to send it on and to say, "It is up to the Czechs now," obviously hoping that they might on their own say, after a hint from somebody or other, they would accept it. I cannot think that that was a very happy episode.
Last night a question was raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) about the terms of the ultimatum by Great Britain and France to Czechoslovakia, and certain words of Professor Seton Watson were stated by the Home Secretary to be almost wholly untrue, and the Government were going to consider whether they would publish the actual terms or not. I do not know whether they have come to a decision and are going to publish them. I certainly think that they ought to do so, and I hope that they will be pressed on this point. My information is that the statement of Professor Seton Watson is accurate and represents what actually took place, and that the Home Secretary was misinformed in making the denial which he did last night. The only way to clear that up is by the Government publishing the information themselves or authorising the Czechoslovak Government to do so. This country certainly has the right to know.
231 I want to allude to some of the economic results which are bound to follow upon the decision which was made at Munich. Almost the entire brown coal and the industries built upon it, including the supply of electricity to Prague, have been taken away. Eighty per cent. of the ordinary black coal has been taken away and that paralyses the steel production of Kalno and Littkowitz because they will not be able to make coke. The chemical and heavy industries are paralysed in Aussig, and it will deprive the State of explosives, dyes and semi-finished goods. The famous porcelain and glass industries have been taken away also. How truly the Home Secretary says that a staggering blow had been dealt at Czechoslovakia. I hope that the Government will not be content with simply guaranteeing a loan of £10,000,000. It was a good first step, but I hope that they will make it a gift and that they will go on and do a good deal more. I trust that nobody is going to salve his conscience by saying that in doing this we are ridding ourselves of the stain of the events of the last few weeks. It has nothing whatever to do with that. It is a small act of justice and retribution that we can make, and we should make it as rapidly and as fully as we can. I am glad that the Government have taken the first steps in that direction, and I hope they will go on.
We have obtained temporary relief, for which the whole country and the world are thoroughly grateful, but we have made no permanent gain. The danger is greater than it was before and it may be that we are in a position, if a conflict takes place, of having very little chance of winning. It may well be the end of Western civilisation that has been decided by the events of the last few weeks. I want to join, and respond to, the appeal that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) last night, and which has been echoed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) and others to-day, that we should see how far it may be possible to attain national unity in the face of the present position. This goes far beyond any question of party. Our national safety is at stake in the present circumstances. All sorts of sacrifices of a most novel and far-reaching kind must be made by 232 the people of this country if they are to save themselves during the next few months and years. It is hopeless to imagine for a moment that we could make any progress in that direction in an atmosphere vitiated by party feeling. I know that there are difficulties and I appreciate that fact to the full, but I believe that it would be possible to secure national unity behind a foreign policy which would receive the overwhelming support of the people of this country. I suggest that some attempt should be made to find out whether such a real unity can be secured. I make the practical suggestion that the leaders or at any rate representatives of parties and of opinion in different parts of the House should meet, officially or unofficially, as you like, and consider among themselves how far they can, in the existing circumstances, agree upon a policy which the nation will back. I know the difficulties, but times are so serious that we ought, at any rate, to make the effort before things have gone too far to see whether unity can be achieved. In such an attempt there is the best hope of saving this country and so saving the world.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Viscount Cranborne
In a Debate of this importance, in which an immense number of Members wish to speak, it clearly behoves us all to be as brief as possible, and I assure the House that I propose to detain hon. Members for only a very few minutes. Indeed, I should not have intervened in this Debate at all had it not been for a remark of the Prime Minister which was broadcast to the nation on Friday night. My right hon. Friend said that he had brought back from Berlin "Peace with honour." Peace he certainly brought back to us, and there is not one of us who will not wish to thank him with a full heart for that priceless gift. Anyone who has lived through the last ghastly week must know what a European war would mean, the horror, the misery and the moral degradation that it must entail. In preserving us during these last anxious days from that great and dread evil no one has done more than the Prime Minister, and tribute is due to him from us all for his untiring work in the cause of peace. But where is honour? I have looked and looked and I cannot see it. It seems to me to be a 233 wicked mockery to describe by so noble a name the agreement which has been reached.
The peace of Europe has in fact been saved—and we had better face it—only by throwing to the wolves a little country whose courage and dignity in face of almost intolerable provocation has been a revelation and an inspiration to us all. In the past the Czech people have respected us. They have trusted us. In the last weeks they have seen us undertake, by the sending of Lord Runciman, a special moral obligation for their future. What must they be thinking of us now? Other speakers have dealt far more eloquently than I can hope to do with the hardships which this settlement entails and with the injustices inherent in it. Moreover, the Prime Minister in his speech last night pointed out, with great force, that that is not the only aspect of the settlement that we have to consider. He said:The real triumph of the Munich Agreement is that it has shown that representatives of four great Powers can find it possible to agree on a way of carrying out a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of force or arms."—[OFFICIAL REPOKT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 45, Vol. 339.]I suppose that we should all agree that it is satisfactory that any Power should find a way out of an international problem by agreement and not by force of arms; but I must confess that I find it difficult to share my right hon. Friend's unqualified satisfaction, and for this reason. We must take into account, in assessing this agreement, not only the fact that settlement has been reached, but also the basis on which that settlement is established. It seems to me that the basis is this, put quite baldly, that the Powers there assembled agreed unanimously and enthusiastically to achieve peace by giving away territory which belonged to somebody else, in order to avoid embarrassment to themselves. That may be satisfactory in the sense that it has avoided war, but I must confess that it is not a very hopeful start for the new era of peace and justice.
I know that attempts are made to defend this settlement on the ground that it is based on the principle of self-determination. There is in reality, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has already pointed out, no self-determination, or very 234 little, in this settlement. What does self-determination mean? It means that the people of an area have the right, freely and without pressure, to decide their own destiny. Under this settlement in very large parts of the district in dispute the inhabitants have not been consulted at all. The issue, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) pointed out, has never been before them. This Munich Agreement may be a vehicle of peace but it is not and cannot be described as a vehicle of justice. It may have been inevitable; it may have been unavoidable. The Government, who have had to bear, during these last anxious times, an almost intolerable burden of responsibility, evidently think so.
They have taken their decision and we must accept it, but I hope that they will not delude themselves into thinking that the agreement is a source of pride to the British people. They have only to go out into the streets and ask anybody. They will find relief and the deep personal gratitude to the Prime Minister; but with it there is mingled an abiding sense of shame. It is widely regarded as one of the most humiliating episodes in our history, and it will for a large body of British people be justified only if it proves the jumping-off place for that wider appeasement of which the Prime Minister has spoken.
That there should be that wider appeasement is the honest and sincere desire of us all, to whatever party we belong. A change of heart among those who are responsible for the destinies of nations was never more necessary than it is to-day. Recurring crises of the type we have just witnessed must spell in time the doom of civilisation. For under such conditions you can have no confidence. Without confidence you can have no cooperation, without co-operation between the nations you can have no prosperity. The standard of life in every country is bound to deteriorate, and we are bound to sink into the morass of poverty and misery. Therefore, appeasement must be the aim of all of us. But I hope that we shall not allow our anxiety for appeasement to blind our eyes to hard facts.
The Prime Minister has brought back an Anglo-German declaration. There is a tendency in some quarters to assume that this declaration in itself ensures peace in our time. I think we all hope it 235 may, but let us not forget that this is not the first declaration of this kind which has been made by the German Government in recent years. There was a declaration, I think I am right in saying, in respect of Austria, and there was a declaration in respect of Czechoslovakia. These precedents do not justify us in abandoning our anxiety. Let us by all means do everything in our power to perpetuate good relations between this country and Germany. We all want to have good relations between ourselves and every other country. Let us also do all in our power to give the German people the incentive to perpetuate good relations with us. How is that to be done? What contribution can we make? We must, I suggest, make it clear at the earliest possible moment, abundantly clear, that there are certain standards of conduct in international affairs to which we attach overwhelming importance. Secondly, we should make it clear that we expect other nations also to maintain those standards of conduct and, thirdly, we should make it clear that any failure to do so is incompatible with true friendship with Britain. We ought to do that now. I am of opinion that we ought to have done it long ago.
We cannot indeed absolve ourselves from all blame for the situation that has arisen. The German people, we all agree, want the expansion of German influence throughout the world, but at the same time I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), and this is the most hopeful feature of the present situation, that they also emphatically want peace. If they had realised earlier that in certain circumstances England would fight, I believe that they would have brought pressure on their Government to moderate its policy. Here I know that I am at issue with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. I understood him to say that no firm action in this crisis would have made the slightest difference. That may be so, though I personally do not agree with my right hon. Friend. I believe that if we had mobilised the Fleet earlier and had shown that we meant business, the last agonising days would not have been experienced.
We ought to have been firm much earlier. I believe that that would have 236 its effect on the German people. But on the contrary, again and again during recent months we have given the clearest indication to the German Government and the world that we were willing to take no risks, either for any principle or for any cause. I will give two examples. When Austria was invaded, what did we do? We accepted it almost without a murmur. We recognised the conquest within a few days. We continued our relations with Germany as if nothing had happened. What an appalling precedent for those who had their eyes on Czechoslovakia. Let me give another example. When British ships were bombed in Spain, it is true that we sent a Note, but the Prime Minister made a public statement that he would do and could do no more. Conceive the effect of that upon an authoritarian country. Is it surprising that the advisers of the German Chancellor concluded that they might leave England entirely out of account and that our policy was the policy of peace at any price. It was only when the Fleet was mobilised that their eyes opened, and then it was almost too late.
I suggest that the lesson of the crisis is clear. Appeasement is no alternative to rearmament, and conciliation is no alternative to firmness. They are complementary; they must go hand in hand, because one is no use without the other. If we have learned that lesson we may acquire that common ground which has been spoken of by so many speakers to-day; we may find common ground between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side. If we can do that then the agony through which we have passed will have been worth while. If we do not learn that lesson, I am afraid that we shall only have paved the way to disaster, and that last disaster when it comes will be complete and, I am afraid, very richly deserved.
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Barr
When I learned early last Friday of the Agreement which had been reached at Munich, although I had always differed very largely from both the home and foreign policy of the Prime Minister, I proceeded to the nearest post office and sent him a telegram of two words: "Heartiest congratulations." If he had been here this evening, I should have assured him personally that my congratu 237 lations were sincere and unstinted. I need not say that this did not apply either to the Agreement or to the methods by which it was obtained. The Minister of Transport said that it was a triumph of reason over force. That statement has already been answered by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), who said that it was a triumph of sheer and naked force. I would say from my own point of view that while there were three conversations and consultations, in the circumstances the Agreement was really effected under the threat of force. It was not argument but ultimatum, not free negotiation but armed dictation. What the Prime Minister applied to the Memorandum handed to him at Godes-berg might be applied to the conversations. He said that it was an ultimatum rather than a Memorandum.
I look at this great crisis as having directly descended from the Peace Treaties of Versailles, St. Germain and Trianon, and it is only right to say that the party of which I am a Member foresaw from the first the very difficulties that have arisen. I will read the manifesto issued on 8th May, 1919, by the Executive of the Labour party:We welcome the application of the plebiscite to the southern and eastern districts of East Prussia, but regret that this principle had not been observed in the delimitation of the Polish-German and Czechoslovak frontiers.The Labour and Socialist International in Lucerne in August, 1919, adopted a far-seeing resolution on Czechoslovakia, as follows:They, the Allied Governments, have even created new injustices by deliberately depriving populations of the right of making their wishes known. They have reserved germs of new conflicts for the future, which will develop if the League of Nations is inactive or inspired by the changeableness of Imperialists or Nationalists.Never was a prophecy more literally fulfilled. A document issued by the Party in 1920 said:The German districts of Czechoslovakia are, by arrangements to which Germany is compelled to agree beforehand, refused the right of self-determination. Permission to the predominantly German areas of Czechoslovakia to determine their political future should be granted.But while we strongly held, and still hold, by the principle of free self-determination, this was not self-determination but enemy determination.
238 I wish to return to the causes that led to the averting of war. I believe, first of all, that all nations shrank back when they had a vision of war as it now is—a vision too terrible to contemplate. The Corn Laws were abolished because famine came in 1845, and some may recall the saying of John Bright: "Famine, against which we had warred, came to our side." On this occasion we may say that the horror of war, from which we had shrunk back, came to our side. Mars in all his ghastly horror lined up with the forces that made for peace. Perhaps there may be some hope for the future in that. I think many of us, in dealing with this question and looking to the result of any war that might arise, were impressed with the great futility that war was likely again to show. I will not deal with the question whether Czechoslovakia might have been put beyond recall in what she would have suffered. What occurred to me was that in fighting for the security and integrity and independence of Czechoslovakia, as war now is you would destroy the security and independence and integrity of many another country in Europe. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) as to the effect on democracy of war as it now is. In olden days many countries fought successfully for freedom and established their democracy—Sweden, the Dutch Republics, and I may add, though I do not name them, some countries nearer home. But, as it is to-day, in going to war on behalf of democracy the first thing you do, and must do, is to suspend or destroy democracy. A further thought that came to me was this: Were we likely in a world war, even if success attended all our efforts, to get a better treaty than the Treaty of Versailles? I noticed the words of the Home Secretary last night that:In the atmosphere of the Peace Treaty it was impossible to settle better boundaries than were settled. The atmosphere was highly Charged. The victors, perhaps, pressed their victory much further than would have been done in a cooler atmosphere."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd October, 1938; col. 154, Vol. 339.]Is it not apparent that, with the bombing of innocent victims and new methods of war, at the end of the war feeling would be more bitter and more unreasonable than it was even at the end of the last War?
239 If this peace is to have lasting value, many positive measures must immediately be taken. The calling of an all-in world conference was effectively advocated yesterday by the Leader of the Opposition. That conference must embrace all nations, great and small, and should be called forthwith. The question of colonies has been raised. I am a Member of the Imperial Advisory Committee of my party, and I am bound to say that under the present system it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, to do anything in the way of asking one country to give up its colonies and hand them over to another; but I wonder whether, seeing that we are now establishing for the settlement of boundaries an International Commission, a thought will not be given to the possibility of international commissions having mandates assigned to them so that all nations may share in that way in raw materials and in the produce of these colonies. That might be done under the League of Nations. A correspondent has written asking me to press the importance of fair trade principles and fair play in trading with Czechoslovakia, I need not dwell on that, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) has given us a very good illustration of the treaties that Germany has with so many countries, which make it almost imperative that something should be done in that regard.
I come next to constructive aid for Czechoslovakia. I travelled in that country in 1931 and what struck me most was their pride in their prosperous industry, in their national life and their worthy nationalism. It is not the map as we see it, nor what may be taken from them, that can give any idea of the feelings that they have at the dismemberment of their country. I am sure the House will be impressed with what was issued at Prague on 21st September by Dr. Veverka, the new Minister of Propaganda:So we have to-day empowered our Foreign Minister to report to the Ministers of France and Great Britain: 'We have decided to make the supreme sacrifice for the sake of peace, just as centuries ago the great Saviour sacrificed his life on the Cross so that humanity might be saved'.In the face of that, no loan that we can give can make up for the sorrow and humiliation that they have undergone. But I think it is right to know that there 240 is a strong feeling in the country that something very handsome should be done in the way of material benefit.
§ Mr. Barr
I think I am entitled to full courtesy from my own Front Bench and not to have an insolent interjection like that. I think it is unworthy of our Front Bench. Professor Norman Porteous of the New College, Edinburgh, on behalf of a group of Scottish ministers of religion has written to me pressing for such aid. Dr. Henry Carter, Secretary of the Social Welfare Department of the Methodist churches, in a message on Friday last said:Great enterprises for human good may soon become possible. Czechoslovakia must be helped to reorganise her national and economic life.The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) suggested that, in addition to what the Government are doing, we should begin by giving a free gift of at least one week's cost of the war which has been avoided, and the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) has also pressed this question of a grant as distinct from a loan.
I trust that we are not going to sit down under the thought that necessarily this peace can only be temporary, that it is only a passing stage or a breathing space and that we must look forward to an inevitable war. It is for all parties in the House to use every effort to secure, if we can, that it shall not be a temporary but a permanent peace. Of all people in the world I was surprised to receive from the European Association and the League of Nations Union a leaflet on Sabbath night in which they severely criticised the proceedings and the Agreement and put this question—" Is this a contribution to the permanent foundations of peace?" I say that it is for the League of Nations Union to do their uttermost, as far as this country is concerned, to seek to make it a permanent foundation of peace.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Mabane) has said that in the opinion of some war is inevitable. They know little of history who speak of the inevitability of war. During the time of the Heptarchy they constantly declared that war between the seven provinces was absolutely inevitable. It went on for three or four centuries, and at last they got on 241 speaking terms and founded a league of provinces out of which they made up old England. If seven provinces could unite to make up old England we can cherish the hope that seven great countries in Europe will unite to make a new Europe. On 29th September, Thursday last, Mr. Andrew Law had a long letter in the "Glasgow Herald" headed "Inevitable' wars which did not happen." I am not going to trouble the House with the list, but I will recall one of these inevitable wars. I remember the circumstances well. It was on 27th April, 1885, that Mr. Gladstone asked the House of Commons to vote a credit of £11,000,000 for naval and military preparations because of the acute war which was deemed then inevitably to break out on the Afghanistan frontier. But Mr. Gladstone did not put all his faith in the £11,000,000. He started negotiations, and eventually he secured a peaceful solution. His solution was strongly opposed by many of his opponents who said that as war with Russia was inevitable they might as well have it out then, and they strongly opposed his peaceful settlement. I should like to read to the House what is said on this incident in Morley's "Life of Gladstone"—this inevitable war with Russia:Worked with patience, and with vigorous preparation at the back of conciliatory negotiation, the question was prosecuted to a happy issue, and those who had done their best to denounce Mr. Gladstone and Lord Granville for trampling the interests and honour of their country underfoot thought themselves lucky, when the time came for them to take up the threads, in being able to complete the business by adopting and continuing the self same line.That took place 53 years ago. That inevitable war was averted, and we have never been at war with Russia since.
I want to say this. There is nothing inevitable until it has taken place, and when it has taken place then you see how it might have been avoided. It is pure fatalism to rest on the thought that we are in for inevitable war. That kind of speaking, may I say respectfully, has no faith in a Divine Order overruling human events. More than that, it is entirely false to Christian teaching, as I understand it. For 50 years at least I have taught and preached that one of the fundamental principles of the teaching of Jesus Christ is never to despair of any man or any nation or of any situation. May I recall to hon. Members the words 242 which John Ruskin used in regard to poverty, which are equally applicable to war? He asked whether poverty is inevitable, and he said:Do not think it. The thought that it is inevitable is the last infidelity, infidelity not to God only but to every creature and every law that He has made.May I be permitted to close my remarks on a personal note? I left the Liberal party at the beginning of the Great War, and I joined the Labour party at its close. I did so because I believed and felt that not even the Great War was inevitable. Years have gone by, and I am now one of the oldest members of the Labour party and one of the oldest Members in this House. In the course of nature I cannot have many years, but be my years many or few, reinforced by what has taken place—and I venture once again to thank the Prime Minister for it—with new confidence and new zeal born of these great events, whether in the House or out of the House, I will go on proclaiming until my dying breath that no war is inevitable, and that no war should take place in any cause whatsoever.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Captain Sir Sidney Herbert
I seldom take part in the Debates of this House, and I do so to-night not to reiterate many of the arguments which have been used from all sides, but to bring a slightly new angle to the Debate. I have listened with interest to what the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) has said, and I only wish to assure the House that, although I am as sincere as he is, I trust I shall not be quite as long. I believe the view of 90 per cent, of the population of this country is this. The work which the Prime Minister has done during the last 10 days or a fortnight, the mission which he undertook and the hazardous journeys he has made for an old man, have been magnificent. There is no one in the House or in the country who does not thank him for the work he has done for this country and for the whole of the world during the last few days. We are all thankful, but what many of us cannot understand is why this crisis should ever have arisen, why he should have been put in the position of having to fly to ask Herr Hitler what his demands were.
We are grateful to him for the work he has done, but as far as the party to which 243 I belong is concerned, we would like to hear a little more from him or those who represent him what the Motion, which we are to be asked to accept to-morrow means. If the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister and others on the Front Bench means that we thank him for his magnificent work during the last 10 days there is hardly anyone outside a lunatic asylum who would not accept it, but if, on the other hand, it means that the whole policy of the Government during the past year or two as it is outlined to us and the possible policy of the Government for the next year is to be accepted piecemeal, that is quite another matter. I believe that everyone in England would say, "Thank you" to the Prime Minister with gratitude and relief for what he has done, but there are many people who will say that they cannot accept this policy piecemeal, and give a Vote of Confidence in what seems to many of us a grave and even desperate humiliation. Let it be explained to us by the Government to-morrow.
There is something more I should like to speak about, first as it affects the party to which I belong. The Prime Minister leads the most loyal party that has ever been in the House of Commons. His predecesors have been followed with un-deviating loyalty, and it takes a great deal to break up the feeling of mutual co-operation with our leaders which has inspired the Conservative party and made it above all parties the most successful during the last 15 years. We can be led but we cannot be bullied. I am not talking so much now about what appears in the Press, but if it is a case of going into the Lobbies, and if we are to be told that only those who vote straight are to get the coupon, then I can say, quite honestly, that there will be a great many people in the Conservative party who will not vote straight.
Let me say one thing more. That is purely a party matter, but there are also rumours going round to the effect that if things go smoothly, and favourably, and comfortably, there will be a General Election. Now I do not care at this time about my own party, or any other party, but there could be no greater iniquity in the world than to force a General Election on the people of the country at this moment. What would be the advantage 244 of it? There are the Government now with a fine majority. If they were to come back, still with a big majority, what would be the good of that? If they came back with a smaller majority what advantage would they have gained? But see what we should have lost. At the expense of much dishonour we have gained a temporary respite of peace. In the name of all that is decent let us use that for rearmament. But if we have a General Election, with all the stupid bitterness which occurs at every General Election, with both sides of the House abusing each other, everything else will be forgotten and who will gain anything by it? Does anyone think that such a solution, whatever way the Election goes, will be to the advantage of our country; does anyone think that in such circumstances this respite will have helped us to rearm, and does anyone in this House believe that there is anything except rearmament that can help us?
I am sure that the Prime Minister, whose integrity and character I know and admire, would never give his countenance to such a solution. There may be some tiny Tammany Hall ring who want such a solution but my solution would be quite different. I ask the Prime Minister here and now to do something quite different. I ask him to make his Government really national, to broaden its basis, to invite the Labour party into it, to invite, above all, the trade union leaders into it. Hon. Gentlemen opposite may say that they would not come into it under our present policy, but, with the country and world facing what we have to face to-day, how can we do anything unless we have a completely united country? It is up to hon. Gentlemen opposite. They must, of course, to some extent make their own demands but it is surely up to them to try to help to form a Government which will enable us to face up to whatever dictators there may be, and to face up to them by being decently armed.
I want to ask the Government one or two more questions. There has been the Sandys case—the sandstorm as they call it in the War Office. Everyone knows of it. I happen to live in the country on the borders of Salisbury Plain and it does not take my hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Sandys) to tell us what our position is as regards anti-aircraft guns. Everyone knows that who has 245 walked round the purlieus of London. Even a child in my village knows that we have not got Bren guns in the numbers that there ought to be for every battalion. If we call for the men we will get them. We got them last Wednesday and Thursday when we called for them and we can get them at the beginning of any war, but what is the good of having the men if we are to send them like sheep to the slaughter without armaments.
We have talked long enough about "the years which the locusts have eaten." I was led to suppose that the locusts had stopped nibbling about two years ago, but I can hear their little jowls creaking yet under the Front Bench. No answer has been given by any member of the Government, particularly the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence, as to why these things have not been done. We have been at this question for over two years and yet in the War it took six months to get us fairly armed. I assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, however, that this lack of rearmament is known. Of course it is known to Herr Hitler. It is known to the children in my village. It is only not known on the Front Bench on our side. I am deeply grateful, as we all are, to the Prime Minister for what he has done during these exacting days but I am deeply dissatisfied with what the Government have been doing for many months beforehand. I hope they will improve and, above all, I hope they will not try to bully the Conservative party or the people of this country.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Maxwell Fyfe
After the speech we have just heard from my hon. and gallant Friend, it falls to me to express a directly contrary view and a view which, I am sure, represents not only the majority but the vast majority of those who sit upon these Benches. My hon. and gallant Friend who has just sat down and the Noble Lord who addressed the House a short time ago, have questioned our support of the Government's policy on a moral basis. I am happy to meet that kind of attack with such capacity as I can command. It seems to me that to say, in this year, 1938, that we ought to have gone to war on any of the issues which have been raised in the last few weeks—or on any of the issues which have become important up to this point—is entirely unjustified by the circum 246 stances which everyone admits to exist. I should like any of my hon. Friends or hon. Gentlemen opposite to point out at what stage they think this country ought to have gone to war, or threatened war because I can see no distinction between the threat of war and actually going to war. If you are going to gamble and if your stake is a threat of war, then you must be prepared to pay your stake if you lose and it is idle to say that, if we had put up that stake, no one would have taken the wager. That is what has led many in the past into ruin. If you put down a stake you must be prepared to pay, and I ask those who have talked so glibly about war or the threat of war, would they have threatened war and have been prepared to go to war on the question of cession of these territories? If so, on what are they basing that view?
It is no good talking of this question in terms of threats of war. We must get down to this point. We would have to go to the mothers and wives of this country and ask them whether they would be prepared to let their sons and husbands die. Would any hon. Member have gone to those mothers and wives and asked that their sons and husbands should die in order to keep Carlsbad and Marienbad under the Czechs? As the hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) has pointed out, the party opposite in "Labour and the Peace Treaty" stated that these predominantly German districts should have the right to determine their future. Then we had years of difficulty, years of discrimination and finally we had the examination of the problem by Lord Runciman and his decision that the continuance of these districts in Czechoslovakia was impossible. Again, it is idle to say that this state of mind was induced from outside. Once that state of mind existed, once those people were determined, however that determination was inspired, that they wished to rejoin the rest of the German people—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rejoin?"] I say "rejoin" advisedly and if hon. Members will go back only to 1866, they will find that those districts were part of the Austrian State, which was part of the Germanic Federation. It is idle to try to avoid the real issue which is that the vast majority of these inhabitants of the Sudeten German areas followed their leaders and desired to go where their leaders—
§ Mr. Boothby
What proof has my hon. and learned Friend of that statement? I happen to have been in Sudetenland in August, and I am convinced that the contrary was the case, and I was so assured by the Sudeten leaders themselves.
§ Brigadier-General Spears
My hon. and learned Friend said that the people of this country would not be prepared to fight for Czechoslovakia. Will they be prepared to fight to defend the new frontiers of Czechoslovakia?
§ Mr. Fyfe
I will deal with that point in time, but I would first ask the House to follow me to my next point. If, as I suggest, we should not on any ground, moral or any other, ask the people of this country to fight on that question of cession, then, if it is said by hon. Members who disagree that we should have asked them to fight on the method of cession, I suggest that that is very midsummer madness, and so far even in the most purple passages that we have heard no one has ever put in words that we should have gone to war about the method of cession. A very different question arises, and very different was our response, when the question was whether Herr Hitler, the principle having been conceded and a method being put before him, was not prepared to consider the reasonable discussion of the method, but was threatening to march into Czechoslovakia on that point. Then I agree, and the Government agreed, that that action would have struck at the roots of our civilisation and future lives, but that was the wide issue. That was what we were prepared to fight for, but what hon. Members are complaining about, what they suggest is a dishonour to us, is that we should not fight about these other matters. I should be ashamed to ask any man in Liverpool, or any woman in Liverpool to give up her man, to die either for cession or for methods of cession, as hon. Members seem to suggest.
I want to come by one other stage to the point put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears). A difficulty has been 248 raised: How can you square your general desire for appeasement with the suggestion and exhortation of the Prime Minister that we must continue to rearm? Again I fail to see the difficulty in which hon. Members find themselves on that point. Surely we must accept the mentality of the world as we find it. Every hon. Member in this House knows that to-day you can get no respect in any quarter of the world unless you are prepared with the power to defend yourself and to maintain your responsibilities. Therefore, whichever side of the argument you take, whether you take the view of the last speaker or that which I am trying to put, it is necessary, if we are to keep the respect of the world and to carry out our own protection and our own duties, that we should be armed at the same time as we try, by every means in our power, to get peace.
From that point, I come to that raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carlisle. "If," he said, "you are not ready to fight for cession or for the method of cession," as I emphatically repeat I was not prepared to ask anyone to fight," then how are you going to deal with your guarantee?" I ask the hon. and gallant Member, I ask any hon. Member who has so emphatically put forward the same point of view: What hon. or right hon. Member of this House has ever urged on the Government up to this point that they ought to have an army ready for a Continental war? Our forces were prepared for our own defence, and up till now they have not been maintained for conducting campaigns in Europe, and campaigns in Europe to defend a Czechoslovakia always attracting attack by reason of these explosive minorities within her borders. We are ready to cover the risk which we now take on. That risk has been vastly diminished by these difficult and explosive minorities being withdrawn, and if we take on this risk, we have to prepare, and we are ready to prepare—and it is our answer to what the Czechs have done, which we all so much admire—to carry out that guarantee, whatever the cost may be. It is one thing for hon. Members who have never suggested that our army should be prepared for that purpose to attack us for not carrying it out in the past; it will be quite another thing if we are not able 249 to carry it out in the future. Then indeed there will be wings to the barbs that they fire, and not blunt points.
Let me come to my final point, which is, after all, the matter which concerns us most. I have read again the speeches that I listened to yesterday, and tried to find what measure of hope the policy of hon. Members opposite offers, not to us, but to the children who are around us to-day. They offer us nothing except the inevitability of war, because that policy of threatening war, as I say, demands the readiness to pay the price. If I might give one personal reminiscence, which does happen to affect the personalities in this Debate to-day, I remember 20 years ago when I came out of the Army. I went back to Oxford and began to take an interest in politics in this country, and there was one breath of wind that came freshly and hearteningly to all of us, whatever political beliefs we held. It touched the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary and those who held the beliefs of hon. Members opposite and who belonged to the Labour movement; it touched my hon. Friend the Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) and those who were associated with Liberalism at that time; it inspired my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), who became the very oriflamme of the movement for peace; and it inspired all of us who were restarting Conservatism at Oxford at that time. It was the feeling that at any rate one thing was certain, the feeling that we were going to work to see that war would not come again, and to-day I, and 95 per cent, of those on these benches, refuse to face the inevitability of war, either in six months or in two years.
We see that there is a chance for peace, but that chance is not going to be gained by right hon. and hon. Members opposite pouring abuse on the dictators or saying, "You cannot go into council with them, you cannot get together and meet with wild beasts," as I heard an hon. Member term them. That is not what we are hoping for. I think that, with all one's personal troubles on the top of the troublous situation which we all felt eight days ago, almost worse than anything else in it was the feeling that these 20 years which most of us have spent in politics since the last War were going merely to turn into another war, 250 that that freshening wind which started us off 20 years ago was going to turn into a mistral of futility and forgotten hopes. I say, with all the determination and all the feeling and sincerity which I can command, that the hope of a new understanding with Germany, a new understanding between the nations of the world, is not only giving relief to countless troubled people who have passed through these dark days; it is a new inspiration to those of us who have had 20 years or more in political life, an inspiration drawn not only from peace, not only from the fact that we can stand here and on every moral ground defend the decisions that have been taken, but from our heartfelt gratitude to the Prime Minister which we recognise to-day.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. and learned Member for the West Derby Division of Liverpool (Mr. Fyfe) has spoken very eloquently of that period, 20 years ago, when the late War came to an end. I too belong to that generation, and I too remember 1918 and the unutterable relief that came to the people of this country and of the world that war come to a end. I remember too what followed the Armistice in 1918. I remember the election that followed very quickly. It seems, from the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir S. Herbert) a few moments ago, that just as in 1918 the unutterable relief of the people was capitalised for political ends, so now, at this time, the unutterable relief of the people may be capitalised for the same purpose. In 1918 to every nation in Europe there came a great desire and a great demand, and I remember one great writer at that time expressing that heartfelt desire in the two words: "Never again." Then, a month afterwards, a reaction took place, and as a matter of record, not as a matter of party capital, the Government of that day, led by my distinguished fellow-countryman, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), decided to have an election. It was an election in which the wildest passions were aroused. I remember the meetings at that time, and hon. Members opposite ought to, and do, bear a large share of the responsibility for what has happened in these last few days, because it is the 251 policy which they enunciated, the passions which they inflamed, the cries of "Hang the Kaiser," "Squeeze the Germans till the pips squeak," and so on, which has led up to the present situation. Who said those things? Not Members on these benches, but Member on the benches opposite.
I remember that in the constituency which I now have the honour to represent, and all over South Wales and throughout this country, in 1918, we asked the people of this country to follow us. We realised the truth that what is perhaps the greatest condemnation of war is that no people are big enough to be allowed to be victorious. In 1918, when there was the opportunity, when there was an effort to establish the new German democracy, when the Kaiser had been driven out, when the Junker class had been ousted, who was it that crushed that new Germany? The people who now speak to us from those benches. That is what happened in 1918 and at successive elections since. I say that if in 1918 we had held out a helping hand, the hand of fellowship, to that new Germany, there would have been no Hitler in Germany now, and you would not now be discussing this settlement made last week, whatever you may think about it.
I listened to the Prime Minister speaking here last Wednesday, and I want if I may to refer to a sentence which he used at the very beginning of his speech. I will quote his words:I cannot help reflecting that if Article XIX of the Covenant providing for the revision of the Treaties by agreement had been put into operation, as was contemplated by the framers of the Covenant, instead of waiting until passion became so exasperated that revision by agreement became impossible, we might have avoided the crisis."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 5, Vol. 339.]We might have avoided the crisis if we had used the instruments and provisions of the Covenant of the League. The Prime Minister himself by those words admits that this crisis arose because we failed to use the provisions of the Covenant of the League; but he and his Government have held office and power in this country since 1918, apart from two short intervals when Labour Governments had office without power. Is there any hon. Member who will deny that Europe was nearer permanent peace in those two short 252 periods than it has been at any other time during the last 20 years? For all the rest of the time, for the other 17 years, hon. Members who sit on those benches and hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite have been the political power of this country; and if now they have to admit that if the power of the League had been used this crisis would have been avoided, then the guilt of last week's crisis morally rests on their heads, because they had the opportunity of using the Covenant and they did not.
What has occurred to me in listening to the Debate to-day and yesterday, particularly when I heard what I thought was a very remarkable speech from the Minister of Transport—a travelogue—was, I say frankly, that it is with speeches of that kind that the public of this country may be regaled in the next few weeks if there is a General Election. There will be these attempts to dramatise the last few days—attempts to crowd all that has happened into the last few days as though it had no background at all. I say, and in saying this I am speaking for every Member on this side of the House, that if that be the case it will be our attempt to show the people of this country that what happened last week did not arise so recently, but that it has a background and that it has a history; and that history is that this Government has not only missed opportunity after opportunity of settling this trouble in Europe, but it has destroyed the League of Nations, which was the basis upon which that settlement might have been made.
It has been said, and it is perfectly true—the hon. and learned Member who last spoke said it—that there is everywhere relief that war has been averted. I share the relief. Who does not? But I think the most abiding impression that I have of last week is this: I could not help contrasting, as I suppose all of us did, last week with the days of 1914. In 1914 war was an adventure into the unknown. Our young people went into it, our statesmen spoke about it, our Press lauded it, as some great and marvellous thing. Last week this was a subdued country, this was a subdued world. War has ceased to be an adventure into the unknown; we know it now for the bestial thing it is. Therefore if there is, as there is, relief in this House and in this country that we have been spared war—and I harbour the thought that one war in one 253 lifetime is enough—let me say that it was relief tinged with shame. If this Debate during the last two days has proved anything, it is not only that the relief was tinged with shame but that we are now beginning to get disillusioned, because most of the speeches which have been made on the other side have ended up with appeals for a great national effort, a great increase in armaments, a new kind of National Government. And incidentally I may say that that is an admsision that this Government is not a National Government, because if it is a National Government why do they want to make another one now? Consequently they have been under false pretences for a long time.
But if those speeches were sincere, what do they mean? This is what it will mean to the people of this country, the people who cheered the Prime Minister, the people who were made to believe by broadcasts and by newspaper reports that not only had the Prime Minister averted war last week but that he had laid down a new basis and a new pledge for peace in the future, and that that piece of paper which was fluttered and televised gave promise that in our generation and in a generation to come there would be something like permanent peace. There will be disillusionment in the country when the people find out that now we are asked to redouble our efforts in armaments, to incur increased expenditure, and to pour forth more money and more treasure. Against whom? Against the man who signed that piece of paper. Against whom else are we to arm? Against whom do we want to make this great national effort? Why do you want this new National Government? Why this tremendous emphasis that in this country we must have a re-emergence, as it has been called, of national spirit? It is because the Government themselves are afraid that that thing which their Prime Minister signed last week may be a scrap of paper; that is why.
Peace was saved last week; and, let us admit it, it was the Czechs who saved it. It is they who gave way. Once more a small nation has been crucified—for peace. Much has been said about what Czechoslovakia has done, and I think that more than one hon. Member this afternoon has said that if Czechoslovakia had taken steps in time to deal with this problem this crisis would not have occurred. Who prevented them? 254 The people who let them down last week—the people who used Czechoslovakia for their own power politics purposes. That is true. It was France and others who helped them to fortify those mountains, who told them to stand by them, and said, "Keep those mountains. They are for your own protection and they are for our protection." If Czechoslovakia had been told 20 years ago, "Now as a nation and as a people you are masters of your own destiny and you can devise your own frontiers," then perhaps Czechoslovakia might have been held responsible, but I do think it is almost the cruellest blow of all for Czechoslovakia to be asked in these days "Why did you not do this in time?" when as a matter of fact we know that they were urged and egged on to do what they did with the knowledge of the Government of this country.
I know that this is a tense moment, but tense as it is, sometimes one relaxes, and this thought has occurred to me. I have sometimes been amazed at all this wonderful exhibition of regard for small nations. I am a Welshman; I am a member of a small nation; I am a member of a minority in this country. I hear Members on the other side extolling the virtues of small nations and praising them to the skies. If they did it honestly I would accept it, but I judge their honesty by their actions. Has the party opposite always believed in self-determination? Did they believe in self-determination for the Irish? Did not the party opposite for generations fight against the Irish people—a people who have a language of their own and a culture of their own—getting self-determination? If they are really sincere in their view that people of this world who have a language of their own and a culture of their own are entitled to self-determination, will they please give the Indian people the right to decide whether they will govern their own country? If they believe in it then let them practise it. We know perfectly well that this is not self-determination. It is not merely for 20 years that the Sudeten Germans and the Czechs have lived together. It is true that Czechoslovakia as an independent State has been in existence for only 20 years, but for generations—for centuries—Germans and Czechs have lived very peacefully together, have worked in the same pits, have worked in the same in 255 dustries, have lived in the same towns and villages, and have intermarried. They lived there together until the advent of this Fascist Power in Europe.
The problem of minorities is very much a problem of language. In my own country we have a problem of language. I was not taught my own language in school, because the Government of this country determined the language of my country. That is true; I was not taught it in day school, but I learned it at home and in Sunday School, Years ago I talked with miners, I talked with trade union leaders, I talked with people about whom I often think nowadays; and I wonder what has happened to them. What kind of self-determination did they have? When I spoke to them about it they said that this was being deliberately fanned from the outside. Much has been said about the language problem in Czechoslovakia. I described to my own people this part of Czechoslovakia in order to get them to appreciate what it all meant, because unfortunately for us our working-class folk do not get a chance to travel. Some day they will, and when they do get a chance to cross those barriers and speak to their own class, it is then that we shall get the basis of permanent peace—when the peoples of the world come together. In describing this to my own people I said: This is the Rhondda of Central Europe. It has its coal mines, its lead mines, its export industries, almost exactly like North Wales, Durham, Northumberland and other export districts of this country.
For years they have had a terrible economic depression, and there has been much unemployment since 1933, since the Nazis came into power and Germany went in for self-sufficiency and economic nationalisation. The economic depression of the Sudeten area is due to the economic policy of the German Nazis. It is true that there was depression before, but it has been very much more pronounced since. What has happened has been this: That the economic depression in that area has been deliberately used by Germany to fan this national movement. I say this quite sincerely and quite truly, that we, the Welsh, could make out a case that the depression in the Welsh Valleys is due to the English Government, and we could fan that 256 national feeling. We could say to the people, "What you are suffering from is not due to a national cause but to an economic cause and there must be economic remedies, not national remedies," but it suited the purposes of Germany to make the Sudeten Germans believe that the reason why they were unemployed was because they were in Czechoslovakia and not in Germany. We know perfectly well that the reason why the unemployment difficulty has been solved in Germany is that they have poured millions into arms, which cannot last for ever.
Behind it all loom the same questions of economic difficulties. The trade of the world has been frozen up. We in the export districts of this country, such as South Wales and Durham, have a fellow-feeling with Czechoslovakia. We have suffered because governments all over Europe have frozen up the channels of trade, and in that respect our Government have to bear some responsibility. They have created in this country areas whose economic life has been ruined because of the trade policy they have pursued. The result has been that in this area in Czechoslovakia there were unemployment and depression, and when men have been unemployed for five or 10 years they are ready to look for any remedy and any way out. This condition was taken advantage of and deliberately fanned by Germany for their own purposes. If all that Germany is concerned about is that those people who speak the German language and are Germans shall belong to the German State, all that they need do is to bring them within the fold. There is a simple test of that desire. If all that Germany wants is the 3,500,000 Germans and not the strategic advantage of that area, will the Government ask the Germans not to fortify the mountains on the frontier?
We have to face this typical Nazi policy that has been pursued in Europe and a large number of countries in the last few years. We have seen the boring from within and the hammering from without, the fanning of discontent within and the laying of guns outside until the two meet together. It happened in Austria and it has now happened in Czechoslovakia. The Civil War in Spain is an attempt to do the same thing. We have to meet it. We on this side believe that peace is something for which we have to work, 257 for which we have to organise and for which we have to plan. We cannot depend every time upon an aeroplane flight to any town in Europe in order to rescue peace from the jaws of war. If peace depends upon that, who, looking at his children, will feel that he is bringing them up in a secure world? We have first of all to get back to 1918, to the one decent thing that came out of it. Everything else has gone. In five years Hitler has destroyed the Versailles Treaty. The one decent thing that came out of the War was the conception of the League of Nations as an instrument that could be used to settle peacefully all the problems of the world—the problems of language and frontiers, and, more than that, economic problems and all that lay behind them.
One of the great purposes to which the League of Nations could have been put was to build up the standard of life of the peoples of the world. But who obstructed more at the International Labour Office than the representatives of this Government? Who has more prevented hours of labour being reduced and convention after convention coming into operation to raise the standard of the people in this country than the Minister of Labour? How many times has the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is now sitting on the Front Bench, been to Geneva to obstruct and to make no end of difficulties at the International Labour Office? If the Government had used that organisation to deal with these economic problems the poverty and unemployment of Central Europe and of this country could have been solved by international efforts. They missed that opportunity, however.
We must now get back to the League of Nations to settle our problems peacefully and to build up decent living conditions for the peoples of the world. I am by temperment a pacifist, but living in this world I must realise that there is a problem to which we must continually come back, however we may attempt to run away from it. By building up the League of Nations and by getting all the nations together to renounce war, we must always face the possibility that some time, somewhere, some aggressor State may cut across all conventions and break the peace of the world. I believe that if we got all the nations together knowing that if they had 258 any grievances they would have in the League a means by which they could be resolved, we should have an instrument of collective security that would form a protection against any bullies who were resolved to get what they wanted by trampling on everybody else's rights. Now that the cheering is over no one who supports the Government will claim anything for the settlement but that it is just a breathing space. The task of this country and the world is to use that breathing space to rebuild and revitalise the League of Nations and to make it an instrument for justice, an instrument to protect the peoples of the world and to give us and our children an opportunity to live in peace and decency.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
A letter appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" a few days ago which said that one of the most interesting phenonema which had appeared in connection with this crisis was the number of middle-aged Conservatives who had suddenly become pacifists. As one of the phenonema concerned, I would like to make an answer to that statement. As we are middle-aged we have seen what war means, and as we are Conservatives we want to try to conserve such peace as we have gained. I have been immensely heartened in this Debate by the earnestness and sincerity of every Member taking part. With some I do not agree, and I do not agree especially with the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander). My disagreement with him, however, is so fundamental that I look upon a Debate as having gone wrong if I find myself in agreement with him. I have been worried by the spirit of criticism in regard to some of the terms and achievements of the Munich Agreement. I suppose it is due to the feeling of nervous relief that has stolen into the House such as that of a mother who hastens to slap her child after it has escaped from being run over in the road.
Memories are so short that I suggest that hon. Members should remember during the Debate the difference between our feelings to-day and our feelings at this period last week when we were confronted with the maddest war with which a reluctant people has ever been faced—to fight over a method of implementing an agreement which had already been 259 reached by all concerned. Let us remember this as a mere matter of sheer fact—that if the Prime Minister had not taken his great decision, and if, as he assured us would have been the case without his intervention war had taken place, and if, as I believe, Germany would have overrun Czechoslovakia before either we or France could have successfully intervened, it would have taken years of exhausting war, at a cost of untold lives, wealth and misery—possibly 10,000,000 mutilated or dead—to turn her out. That is the purely technical side of this problem, but it is one that we should all bear in mind. You can change the map of Europe, the map of Europe has been changed and is constantly changing—it has changed several times in the last 100 years—but you cannot re-create what would have been destroyed, and that is the useful lives which would have perished in that miserable and mad conflict.
Before going on I should like, with the rest of those who have spoken, to pay a tribute, however inadequate, of regard, respect and even affectionate admiration for the man who has changed the face of Europe to-day. Whatever may happen in future, I think that we, both in this House and in the country, will always remember the high courage, the deep faith and the grand humanity of the Prime Minister in his successful efforts to drag us back from that abyss into which we were so nearly being hurled. Only a few days ago—just before last Wednesday—I was in France, and I saw something of the feelings there in regard to our Prime Minister. No doubt they were nearer danger, were nearer the abyss, and therefore their feelings of relief are proportionately exaggerated. I was reading the "Petit Soir" during the two or three days I was there, and I saw the letters from the man-in-the-street, such as we read in our papers, which had been pouring in from all parts seeking some method by which they could exalt for all time the name of our Prime Minister. I wondered at the time, will the traveller of the future, when he suddenly finds himself in what the French will call "Rue Shamberlan," recollect that it signifies France's appreciation of our greatest Prime Minister?
The critics in this House, as I have just explained, have rather disappointed me, but of one thing I am convinced, and 260 that is that they are more vocal and more numerous, in proportion, than they are in the country. One phrase has been repeated over and over again, the phrase "taking a stand" or "standing up to"; but those who have used it have not developed, indeed, they have endeavoured to avoid developing, that bellicose declaration to its logical conclusion. They know, though fearful of acknowledging it, that "standing up to" or "taking a stand" means fighting. They know that fighting means bombing and being bombed, attacks on open towns on both sides, we mutilating women and children and having our own women and children mutilated, killing and being killed. Then, when it is all over, when dictators have disappeared, when Governments have fallen, when nations have been vanquished, and we have 10,000,000 dead, we who survived would be faced with the problem of trying to recreate order and law out of anarchy and chaos. We should have to start by putting the defeated nations—by that time Czechoslovakia would have been more than defeated; she would have disappeared—on their feet, and so preparing the world for another world purgatory; and all for what? To prevent the very right of self-determination which we fought the last War to secure, or else because of differences of opinion as to the method and time by which the principle already conceded should be applied.
As I listened to the Debate I have been wondering how the historian of the future would have dealt with the causes of this war, had it come off. The German historian would have said, quite naturally and properly, that Germany was fighting to defend herself against the efforts of France and Britain to prevent her occupying a territory already ceded to her. That would have been the German story and there would have been a certain amount of truth about it. The British historian would have found more trouble and difficulty in describing why we fought and what we were fighting about. It was not to prevent the Sudeten-Germans going to Germany, because that principle had already been conceded by all concerned, including the Czechs. It was not to implement any bound, guarantee or obligation, because we had none, to Czechoslovakia. I would here say, in answer to some criticism raised in the Debate, that the terms of the Covenant 261 of the League of Nations do not apply in this case, because the territory concerned had been ceded. The question of our obligations under the Covenant would not, therefore, arise.
So we come to the third reason why we should have fought for democracy, which has been suggested many times in this Debate. As I understand democracy, and as I understand how Abraham Lincoln understood democracy, it is "a Government representative of the majority of the people, supported by a majority of the people, governing in the interest of all the people." If that definition of democracy is correct I should like to say here that it is not the democracy of Czechoslovakia. That Government was a Government representative of a minority, supported by a minority and governing in the interests of a minority. I know that it has been said that all these things were going to be changed. But the promise had been made often in the last 20 years and not kept, and then, in the last few months, it became too late, because to the Sudeten-Deutsch and to their cousins over the border it seemed that the promise was only going to be implemented because of the strength of Germany, a country which when weak could afford to be flouted, and that added a great deal to the bitterness that was developed in the Sudeten-Deutsch area.
I should like to join with those who have expressed their admiration for the restraint and dignity with which the Czech Government have met this reverse in their fortunes. They are going through a period of great moral, physical and mental distress, but no matter how one's sympathy may be aroused there are certain reasons why what is happening now is the result of their own faults in the past 20 years. I have lately spent three or four weeks in Czechoslovakia. I did not go there to interview leaders. Leaders have generally biased or exaggerated views. I went there to see what were the mind and the conditions of the people in the Sudeten-German area. I did not talk to any leaders, I never met Dr. Benes or Herr Henlein, but I talked to shopkeepers, to railway porters, to waiters and to the workers. I found that the conditions were just as they were described by Lord Runciman. There was no direct evidence of physical violence or oppression, although I have heard of it, but there was a sort of consistent in 262 tolerance, a consistent humiliation, pinpricks, discrimination and a sort of daily harassment of the Sudeten -German people.
For instance, if a Sudeten German went into a post office in his town to buy a stamp, he had to ask for it in Czech, a language which he would not understand. If a Sudeten German were in the Czech army he could never be anything else but subordinate to his Czech comrades, no matter how clever or skilled he might be. That would be his lot in perpetuity. In unemployment relief, the Czech got five times the amount per week received by the Sudeten German. There were many unemployed. There were 400,000 unemployed among the Sudeten Deutsch, although they numbered only 53 per cent, of the total. There was discrimination in taxation which had created widespread trouble in that district. I visited one town and asked a considerable number of shopkeepers how trade was and how things were going.
I was informed, although naturally I could get no guarantee, that in the whole of what was an entirely shopping street only three shops still belonged to their owners. The rest of the owners had been so crushed by discriminatory taxation which was not exercised against the Czechs in a similar capacity that they had gradually been forced into debt. They had gone to the banks, but had been refused credit. Finally, the Government had taken over their businesses. That was not likely to make the lot of the Sudeten Germans easier. Extending over a period of 20 years that gradual feeling of disillusionment and resentment explains the brutality which has now been shown by both sides and makes it clear that it would not have been for a democracy that we should have been fighting. The historian of the future would be reduced to describing the war as over a matter of time and method.
In the arrangement which the Prime Minister so successfully carried out at Munich he had a very well-established precedent which I have not yet heard referred to in this House. In 1918, the evacuation of the administration of Alsace and Lorraine, which had been in German occupation for 50 years, was dealt with in practically the same way as the evacuation of the administration of the Sudeten territory in Czechoslovakia. It was done by a system of zones in which, as they 263 went, the Germans left the territory prepared and ready to be carried on by the succeeding administration. Telephones were in their places, electric lights switched on, and so on. The period taken for the evacuation of that territory, which had been administered for 50 years, was 14 days, or four days more than that allowed in the case of the Sudeten territory. Therefore, I cannot think that the hardships which have been so exploited in the case of the Sudeten area make a justifiable argument when we consider the accurate and admirable precedent of Alsace-Lorraine which I have just cited.
Let me now go on to consider some of the remarks which have been made by other speakers. We are told that we have given way to ruthless force. When I am faced with that Charge I go back to the report made by Lord Runciman, who said that in truth, justice and right the territory should be handed over to the German Reich. By the Munich Agreement this has been carried out accurately, and certainly more methodically and reasonably than would have been the case under the harsh and brutal terms of the Godesberg Memorandum. I am satisfied, after the Prime Minister's magnificent achievement of the past few days, that his great capacity for conciliation and constructive peace is not exhausted.
The people of this country are tired of crises. They want to live in peace and at peace, at peace with Germany and with the rest of Europe. They cannot do so if they are to be disturbed by this constant menace which they feel is round the corner every day. The Prime Minister's job, as he has explained himself, is to remove the cause of these interminable crises which are largely determined by the minorities that exist and by the unjust frontiers. I believe that if the Prime Minister is spared to pursue the great work of appeasement which he has started, especially in dealing with minority and frontier questions, he should have, and I believe he will have in the end, the whole-hearted and enthusiastic support of this House, every Member of which will believe that he is justly and accurately representing the will of the people outside.
It is said that we might have to fight Germany some time, though God forbid that we should fight a friendly and kindly people. As the hon. Member for 264 Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) explained, it is the people that we should have to fight. Hitler passes and his rÉgime passes, and the world map alters, but it is the people who are destroyed. If we have to fight some time, and again I emphasise may God forbid, let us remember that the people of Germany are just as good, honest, decent and kind as the people of this country; but if it has to come, for God's sake let it be on a question of principle affecting us and the future of civilisation, a question affecting the well-being of man.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Gibson
I agree with what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) in being grateful for the sincerity which has made itself manifest in the speeches during this Debate. I do not wish to follow the very narrow line that was taken by the hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Mr. Fyfe) following the Minister of Transport, another lawyer, in considering only what should have been done during the fateful week-end. That is a very narrow issue to take and one which suggests itself readily to the legal mind; but we are not moving in the narrow ambit of the law of reparation, where the principle Causa proxima, causa non remota spectatur applies.
When the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking I could not help thinking there was a controversy between hon. Members above the Gangway and hon. Members below the Gangway opposite as to the point at which war should have been declared. I am not interested, and we on this side are not interested, in that controversy. There occurred to my mind a certain Scottish King's Counsel in days gone by who, when he was addressing the House of Lords, had a very bad time, and when he got back to Scotland asked a veteran professional brother what he should have done at a certain point, explaining to him what happened during the early part of that day. The wise comment that he got back was: "I would never have allowed it." That takes one back to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition when he put before the House the penetrating metaphor of the captain who, by bad navigation, had gone right off his course and run his ship into great danger. That is a metaphor which appeals to me as representing Greenock, one of our great seaports. It may be 265 all very well for a ship to go off its course if the waters are calm. Damage may not be done. But as soon as the ship gets into foul weather, and as soon as it gets into the surging currents of troubled waters, something is going to happen. In the examination that the House is making at the present time on the Motion for the Adjournment, we are right to consider the long course of events that has taken place.
That metaphor of my right hon. Friend also appeals to me for a personal reason, and I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I refer to it, because it leads up to a test that one may helpfully apply. My paternal grandfather had six brothers, every one of whom was a sea captain. I only knew one of them. He, in the course of his seafaring experience, had sailed the Baltic—those were the days of sailing ships—the American trade routes, visited Mauritius and rounded Cape Horn. He took a good deal of interest in me, and I had a great affection for him. I was at school at the time and remember he used to say to me, "Be sure of your logarithms, Bob, you need them for navigation." I followed his advice and did a good deal of mathematics at the university. When I was listening to the Prime Minister, I could not help thinking that, as he had been guiding the ship of State, he had been going wrong with his logarithms. The Prime Minister believed that he had got peace. He said he had got something more than a pious expression of opinion. But he also said that we cannot afford to relax our efforts in regard to the rearmament programme. According to his logarithms, the ship of State should have been in the haven of peace, but the reality that was demonstrated to him by his own eyes was that there was need of more and more arms. In point of fact he was not in the haven of peace, but was still in a region where he had to face a condition of war. In short, he had misused his logarithms.
We have not got peace. On Friday morning I was interviewed in Edinburgh, and I suggested right off that everybody in the country was profoundly thankful for this breathing space. I have heard that expression "breathing space" used frequently on both sides of the House. We all know that it is a breathing space, and I am firmly convinced that the duty of the House at this time is to use that breathing space to consider constructive methods of peace. When the right hon. 266 Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) used that phrase "breathing space," his suggestion, as I understood it, was that we should use that breathing space to get more and more armaments. I fear that that will not suffice at this time. The right hon. Gentleman also, I think, has gone wrong with his logarithms. Again, when the Home Secretary last night was struggling to face up to the questions put to him, and to fix the position of the Government relatively to the Soviet Republic, he seemed to be hopelessly at sea; he also had got wrong with his logarithms.
Where did the ship get off the course? It is suggested that it got off the course in 1918, at the time of the Treaty of Versailles. There were many opportunities after that of getting the ship on to the proper course. If we go back to 1931, we get some very shrewd indications of how the course ought to have been laid. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite can cast their minds back to the heritage they received from the Labour Government of that day. There was peace throughout the world. The peoples of the world were at peace, and not only so, but a Disarmament Conference was called and actually took place. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite will talk about armament and rearmament; let us consider what happened at that Disarmament Conference. The Disarmament Conference was a legacy left by the Labour Government to the Coalition Government. I always call this a Coalition Government. It is not in accordance with our democratic principles and our democratic regime that there should be anything else in this House but His Majesty's Government and His Majesty's Opposition. Ours is a Party System of government, and, if we are to use properly our democratic institutions, we must always regard them in that light.
The Disarmament Conference was a legacy. Again and again it has been wrongly, and, I venture to suggest, not only wrongly, but wrongfully, said that we on this side of the House are the war party. Whose party is the Labour party? Is it not the party of the working people of this country? Do, the working people of this country want war? Not the slightest bit of it. We are the party of the members of co-operative societies. Do the members of co-operative societies want war? Not a bit of 267 it, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side well know that. It is ridiculous to suggest that we on this side of the House want war. The issue, as to when war should or should not have been declared lies on the other side, between those who sit above the Gangway and those who sit below it.
Consider a few of the proposals at the Disarmament Conference. I do not want to take up much of the time of the House on this matter, but there are three that I would bring forward just to show when and how there was an opportunity for this Government to get the ship of State back on to its proper course. In the first place, Italy, supported by Germany, Russia and smaller States, and with the good will of the United States of America, pressed for the abolition of aggressive weapons that were forbidden to Germany by the Versailles Treaty. The House will keep in mind that Germany at that time had no fleet, and was disarmed. Germany was the datum line so far as armaments were concerned. To suggest that the giving up of arms by Britain at that time was unilateral disarmament is surely a misuse of terms. The whole object was to bring down the armaments of other countries towards the level of Germany.
What was the position of the British delegation at the Disarmament Conference towards that suggestion, brought forward by these nations? It was the present Chancellor of the Exchequer who headed the British delegation. He suggested qualitative disarmament, and in making that suggestion he virtually accepted the view that this meant the abolishing of arms that were forbidden to Germany. Having given that virtual admission, he said, "We must have a definition of what 'aggressive weapons' are." In order to get the definition, he consulted his experts. Admiral Pound said that battleships were more precious than rubies, and could never be aggressive—so our battleships could not be given up. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, so far as land armaments were concerned, offered to give up all tanks over 20 tons. Viscount Cecil then consulted the reference books, and found that only one tank would be cashiered by our War Office. That proposal for "qualitative disarmament" was killed—and killed finally. 268 The present Chancellor of the Exchequer at that time, so far as the navigation of the ship of State was concerned, had been looking up the wrong tables of logarithms, and the ship was not brought back to the right course.
The next proposal was that of President Hoover. I do not want to delay the House, but examination of these facts is necessary, and apposite to the inquiry before the House at present. President Hoover's proposal was, in effect, the immediate abolition of one-third of our naval armaments, the giving up of all bombing planes and the giving up of tanks. As a business proposition, there was a great deal to commend that. It would be very difficult to abolish all armaments at once, but surely to give up one-third was a very fair beginning. What reception did that receive from the representatives of His Majesty's Government? The present Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed, as against the Hoover proposal, that we should retain bombing aeroplanes as he put it, "for police purposes" and, secondly, that we should retain tanks. Accordingly, the Hoover proposal was killed. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer again, in my submission, used the wrong logarithms, and failed to get the ship of State back on to its proper course. This bombing aeroplane business has gone very far, as the House well knows. How far it has gone is demonstrated by this little incident. A week past on Sunday, as my wife and I were coming from church—I told this incident the same day to a gigantic meeting in the town hall at Greenock—my wife was speaking to another lady, whose son is on the frontier of India, in the Air Force. This lady said that her son in writing to her had mentioned bombing from aeroplanes, and had said, "We think nothing about it; we just speak about 'giving him his breakfast'." This is a sad condition of affairs inside our own British Empire in regard to the use of bombing planes.
The third proposal I wish to mention was that submitted by the French, for internationalising civil aviation. It received very much support, and if our Government representatives had backed it, there is every reason to believe it would have gone through. But the British delegation opposed any inter-nationalisation of civil aviation whatever, 269 with the result that it was impossible to abolish either naval or military aviation. Our delegation required that there should be no injury done to vested interests in, or the future development of, civil aviation. They insisted, in fact, that the private interests of aeroplane manufacturers and air companies should be put before the cause of peace. Again, in my submission, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer had, so far as the ship of State was concerned, used the wrong logarithms, and had failed to get the ship of State back on to the proper course. I think it is perfectly fair to say that the Disarmament Conference was wrecked: and our delegation had to bear a tremendous responsibility for that. The result in Germany was terrific—because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House must bear in mind what is sometimes forgotten outside, that at that time, in 1931 and 1932, there was no Hitler in power in Germany.
The result of the breakdown of the Disarmament Conference was that people in Germany got disgusted and disheartened. They said that other nations, including our own, did not honestly desire to fulfil their part under the Versailles Treaty. In despair, they turned to Hitler and gave him power. I think it can be fairly said that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was the midwife at the birth of the present triumphant Nazidom in Germany, and that the present Prime Minister has acted as its wet nurse. Captain Goering, as he then was, took up the British attitude towards aeroplanes immediately he got into office, and he announced that Germany would acquire "police planes"—using the very term that was used by our delegation at the Disarmament Conference—and Germany started rearmament. There is where the rearmament came. They had no arms before but, as the result of the Disarmament Conference they armed, and then this country followed in the race. These things have to be kept in mind during this discussion because we are apt to forget.
Consider next what happened with regard to Manchuria. The date of the Japanese entry into Manchuria was September, 1931, immediately after the Labour Government went out of office. There was another opportunity then to bring the ship of State back to a proper 270 course. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air is not at present in the House. He is an old fellow-student of mine. I was in the company of the oldest surviving president of the Students' Representative Council of the Glasgow University in the dining room just before the House rose. He is an old gentleman now. He has had a long experience and is a high official in one of the Press agencies intimately acquainted with the political events on the Continent, and knowing, if not at first hand, as near first hand as possible, the political events in the Western hemisphere. He assured me—and I feel that hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the House know this to be the fact—that when Japan was walking into Manchuria Secretary of State Stimson of the United States of America was ready to withhold essential supplies from Japan. Our Foreign Secretary refused to join hands with him and Japan was enabled to go into Manchuria. Again, in my submission, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer used the wrong logarithms when he was setting the course for the ship of State at that time.
The direct result of that bad navigation is the present condition of affairs in China, which, the House will remember, has a quarter of the population of the globe within its boundaries. That condition of affairs is directly attributable to the march of Japan into Manchuria. There were lots of guiding stars for our delegation at the League of Nations at that time. Was there not the Lytton Commission which was sent out to Manchuria? Did it not bring back its report? Was not Japan declared to be the aggressor? And yet, the necessary and essential supplies were not withheld because of the action taken by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of our Government. I need say little about Abyssinia, but I would remind the House that the invasion of Abyssinia took place after the last General Election, when the party opposite had solemnly told the electors of this country that they stood for the League of Nations and collective security. That solemn declaration, on which votes were given to hon. Members opposite, and some of them secured their seats by very small majorities—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot) knows something about 271 that—was made to the electors of Great Britain, and in particular to the people of Scotland.
Then the invasion of Abyssinia took place. What a wave of horror went through the country. The party opposite by the aid of the gentle art of forgetting are hoping that the memory of it will be wiped out, but I am reminding the House of these things to-night. As I listened to the Home Secretary trying to find answers to the questions that had been put to him by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), I recalled that he had used the wrong logarithms in the Abyssinian question and that our ship of State, as far as Abyssinia was concerned, was very far off its course. I need not delay the House on the question of Spain. Could it be said that the ship of State was running a proper course at that time?
We must look for constructive methods and means of achieving peace. In the Town Hall, Greenock, a week last Sunday, I made two suggestions. One was that if we had had a Labour Government it would have convened a world conference, and my right hon. Friend who leads the Opposition made the very same suggestion in his speech yesterday. I made another suggestion, and keep in mind the people of Greenock have deep religious convictions. I said that a Labour Government would have sent a Macedonian cry to the United States of America to lift Europe out of the abyss of war. At 1 a.m. on the Monday morning, three hours after I had spoken, President Roosevelt had sent his message—his prayer. [Interruption.] Do hon. Members think it is merely a coincidence? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I am glad to hear the denial. I am a Baptist and not a Roman Catholic, but I think that great credit should be given to the Vatican for the tremendous efforts that were made to secure the peace of the world at that time. I said so on Friday in Edinburgh, and I repeat it to-night. The action of the Vatican may give us some lead towards obtaining a constructive peace.
There are enormous difficulties and I want, very briefly, to face up to some of them. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper), made a reference to Naboth and his vineyard. A week last Sunday night I could not help thinking of the 272 parable of the Good Samaritan and the wayfaring man who fell into the hands of the robbers. Who was his neighbour? I suggest to the House to-night that we should not be too eager to hand out bouquets. In the parable the Good Samaritan helped the wayfarer after he had been knocked down. The question that the historian will have to decide in the future is what is to be the estimate to be placed on the action of a Samaritan who took the clothes off the wayfarer and handed them over to the robbers.
The Prime Minister visited Munich and found that Munich was safe for a British representative. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington when he held office as Minister for League of Nations Affairs went to Moscow and found that city was perfectly safe for a British representative. Right hon. and hon. Members will recall the tune that was played by the band in Moscow when the right hon. Gentleman arrived there. It was "God save the King." That was in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Republic. I want the House and the country to keep in mind the fact that Herr Hitler is the head of his country, which is a totalitarian State, and that Signor Mussolini is the head of Italy, but our Prime Minister is not the head of our country. It is being insidiously suggested that the Prime Minister is the head of our country, but that is wrong.
Let me give a little personal illustration that may drive home my point. In 1923 I was a member of a Scottish Churchmen's Commission which visited America, crossed the United States from east to west and crossed Canada from west to east. We were plentifully supplied with letters of introduction. I carried, among others, a letter from the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates to the Bar Associations of the United States and of Canada. I met many lawyers and was very generously and heartily entertained over there. Mr. Martin Conboy in New York apologised that his senior partner was in Europe and not there to entertain me, because he looked on me as representing the Scottish Bar. His senior partner was ex-Governor J. W. Grigg, of New Jersey, who was Attorney-General for the United States of America when McKinley was President. The day after I arrived back in my home in Edinburgh a guest was announced. I went into my study and found there ex-Governor Grigg, a 273 most charming old gentleman. I chatted with him about his country. I told him that as I crossed west over the great American desert in the train, there was another train about a quarter of a mile south which was bearing eastwards the coffin of President Harding, who had died a few days before in San Francisco. I recalled that President Wilson had died in office, and I remember saying: "I fear that the Presidential chair of the United States of America has become an executioner's chair. The duties of office of your President are far too heavy. In our country we do things differently. We take off the shoulders of our chief executive officer certain ornamental duties and place them on another hereditary officer, whom we are pleased to call our King. I think that is better." He said, "I agree. You have not only your King but you have your Prince of Wales, your Prince Arthur of Connaught and others." We have a head in our country and that head is our King. In this House we have His Majesty's Government and we have His Majesty's Opposition. It is our duty to serve our King, and in so doing we are serving our country. People are apt to forget that we on this side of the House, His Majesty's Opposition, have great and important services to discharge to the State.
I want to make a suggestion. The parable to which I have referred was to find out who was the good neighbour and in what did good neighbourliness lie. There are certain difficulties in regard to Germany. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) indicated them. With us, justice and fair play are esteemed and admired and, whether we admit it or not, we are a Christian country. In Germany, however, the old pagan gods, Thor and Odin, are openly, ostentatiously and vaingloriously worshipped. That is a tremendous difference that has to be faced. My right hon. Friend suggested the differences in ideology that exists. May I remind the House that in carefully conducted social relationships, perhaps old-fashioned to-day, two subjects are taboo—politics and religion. We can still be good neighbours with Germany, although we have this great difference of ideals.
We all wish to use the resources of our democratic institutions to preserve peace. Kingship is with us a democratic institution. Munich is safe, Moscow 274 is safe, Berlin is safe for our representatives. I submit in all humility, and with all loyalty and respect that if our King and Queen were to visit Berlin and Moscow, that would be a great step towards peace. We all remember the rejoicings of the common people of our country at the time of the Coronation. The King represents all the people of the country. He represents His Majesty's Opposition as well as His Majesty's Government. The King and Queen represent every home in our country and they can well carry a message of good will from all these homes to Berlin and to Moscow where they would be safe. Would not that be a great step forward? I make the suggestion in all loyalty and respect, and I submit that it is one of constructive peace.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) that the League of Nations should be much more used than it has been. Hon. and right hon. Members on the other side have a great deal to answer for because of this failure to use the League of Nations on the industrial side. They have also failed to use it on the political side. We on this side of the House are anxious for peace. We are a democratic country, but if our democracy is to function it must function in every part of it. I think we can do a tremendous lot to show ourselves good neighbours to the other peoples of the world, and in particular to Germany and to Russia, and we can work on for the day when the peoples of the world will know that their interests are identical and, when they are persuaded of that, we shall have made a solid foundation on which we can erect a sure and permanent edifice of peace.
§ 9.26 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
At an earlier stage of the proceedings I said I would make a statement about business later in the day. I propose to make that statement now. Conversations have taken place through the usual channels with regard to the arrangement of business for the remainder of the week. We shall conclude the Debate on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House to-night, and a Motion with regard to Government policy will be moved to-morrow. That Debate will be resumed and concluded on Thursday. We propose that on Thursday the House should meet at 11 in the morning and 275 adjourn at 4 o'clock. At the beginning of business on Thursday I shall move a Motion for the Adjournment of the House until Tuesday, 1st November, and it will include the usual provision empowering Mr. Speaker to call the House together at an earlier date if the public interest so requires.
§ Mr. Attlee
I entirely agree in regard to the provision for this Debate, and the Debate to conclude on Thursday at 4 o'clock, but we must not be taken as acquiescing in the Adjournment of the House until 1st November, and we shall make our protest when the Motion is moved.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Gallacher
The Home Secretary told us last night that with very deep sincerity he regretted the terrible blow that had been struck at Czechoslovakia. That was a significant phrase. This does not represent peace. It represents a new conquest in the war that goes on continually for the destruction and enslavement of Europe. I wish to say, against all the feeling that has been expressed, especially from the Government benches, and knowing the feeling that exists in many parts of the country—because I also understand the measure of relief that was experienced and the cause of it—that if I were asked the question: Did the Prime Minister save peace? I should answer with an emphatic "No." The Prime Minister saved Hitler. I have always been and shall always be a fighter against war. War is not inevitable. The peace forces of this and other countries, united with the great organised working movement, can decide the issue and can prevent war from being launched upon us. An attempt was being made—it has been going on for a considerable time—to suggest that the National Government was deeply concerned with peace and that the Labour movement was trying to incite the forces that lead to war. The Labour movement has never been for war. There is not a Member on the other side who would dare to go to any trade union organisation and say that the trade unionists want war. The trade unionists have to pay too much in blood and sorrow. The trade union movement is against war and the Labour movement is built on the trade union movement. Let anyone opposite go to the great Co-operative movement and 276 to the women's guilds and tell them that they want war.
The party here represents the Co-operative as well as the trade union movement and my party is in complete agreement with their policy, the unity of the peace forces in Europe, built around the League, forming as a consequence a powerful basis for collective security. If Britain had had a Government that was concerned with peace, with France, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian and Danubian States, backed up by the United States, it could have built a powerful combination which would have made for peace. But the Government was not concerned with supporting the League of Nations. Until 1931, when the late Mr. Arthur Henderson was in Charge of foreign policy, there was a consistent building up of the prestige and influence of the League. After 1931 the main responsibility was on the representatives of this Government. They did nothing or, if they did anything, it was to hinder and hamper the League. No one who has studied the events of the last seven years can deny that at any time, if the policy of the working-class movement had been accepted and unity built up amongst the peace forces of Europe, the Sudeten problem could have been solved without a crisis. The cession of territory was first mentioned as the result of a conversation with the Prime Minister six months ago. Hitler and Company read the American Press and they know that the Prime Minister is in favour of the cession of Sudeten territory to Germany.
See how it works out. First we get a demand for more representation in the Civil Service and more control in local administration. After some discussion concessions are made, but as soon as concessions are made new demands are made. From more representation in the Civil Service and more control over local administration you get a demand for local autonomy; after that for self-determination, and after self-determination you get a demand for cession of territory and from cession of territory the march in of German troops to take possession. At every stage the British Government have been responsible for forcing new demands upon the Czechoslovakian Government. Before there is any mention anywhere else of cession of territory it is mentioned by the Prime Minister. Hitler wants territory and he knows that the Prime Minister 277 is in favour of the cession of territory, but the Prime Minister cannot meet Hitler and agree to a cession of territory, it would shock the people of this country.
By these stages we reach the march of German troops into this territory which never at any time belonged to Germany. The Nazis are not much concerned about the Germans in Czechoslovakia but they are concerned about the strategical importance of Czechoslovakia. That is their only concern. Take the case of the Nazi organisation among the Boers in Africa. The poor Boers are being told that they belong to the Aryan race and that they are being ruined and robbed. General Smuts only a month ago drew attention to the situation which exists in South Africa, and we have been told of red stars on maps of different parts of Africa which they are going to claim next. How can anyone dare to say that by pursuing a policy which strengthens enormously the military power of Germany and weakens the democratic Powers in Europe we are making for peace? It is a new conquest in a war that is going on for the destruction and enslavement of Europe.
This is not just a question of the betrayal of Czechoslovakia, it is not a question of the betrayal of peace. It is the betrayal of Britain. Two years ago, when I spoke in a foreign affairs Debate, I made the assertion that there are people in this country holding prominent positions who would if necessary betray Britain in order to maintain Fascism in Europe, because Fascism represents monopoly capitalists and powers and privileges. Anyone who studies the situation to-day will say that those words were true. At the same time I said that these same people did not know the meaning of loyalty, that they were only concerned with profits. I said that their loyalty to the King was a sham and that if occasion arose and he was not suiting their purposes they would heave him out like dirty water. Six months later he was heaved out, on other grounds certainly, but it was not an exhibition of loyalty. We have this situation to-day, that as a result of the policy pursued by the National Government everything that the men who were sacrificed in the last War were supposed to have died for has been sacrificed. This great Empire is now in the process of being sacrificed. I want to see the 278 Empire wound up. I want to see every nation and every colony in the Empire get liberty to decide their own lives and then get mutual co-operation between the different parts of the Empire. But I am opposed to any of the Colonial peoples being handed over to Hitler.
The Prime Minister comes back, as he claims, with peace. It is not peace; it is a conquest, and the Germans march in. The Prime Minister says, "Let no nation claim a victory." They are making a claim for victory in Germany and celebrating it. He comes back with a paper and I am told was so proud of it that he waved it—a paper signed by the Fuhrer Chancellor and himself. He tells us that this paper says that any future questions between Britain and Germany will be decided by negotiation—I suppose by such negotiations as took place at Munich. Does this country want any territory from Germany. The answer is, no. Does Germany want territory from this country. The answer is, yes. Therefore, this paper means that in future the demands of Germany for territory from Britain will be dealt with by negotiations on the lines of Munich. And in a short time that demand will come. The Prime Minister tells us that when he was speaking to his friend Hitler the Chancellor said it was his last territorial ambition in Europe, but then he added "There is the question of Colonies." He will want Colonies in Africa. The Nazi propaganda amongst the Boers has been very active. There is deep and bitter discontent amongst the Boers, great poverty among the Boer farmers, and many of the younger men have been forced to find labour in the towns. Look at their propaganda, their leaflets—just as in Czechoslovakia. The cause of the poverty of the Boers is that the English have robbed South Africa and taken all the wealth from the gold and diamond mines, and at the right moment German military forces will be ready to enter and free the Boers. This is what the little document of the Prime Minister means.
Is there any question now in anyone's mind that Germany has now obtained what the Great War was fought to prevent—the domination of Europe. Is there any one of the small countries, Poland, Rumania, Hungary and Bulgaria, who will dare to refuse a demand made upon them by Germany? Not one. 279 Germany dominates Europe, and in dominating Europe has placed France in an almost impossible position. Of course she wants Britain to be friendly for the time being. Let hon. Members never forget that the British Empire represents a terrific attraction not only for Germany but for Italy and Japan, and that there is no military or naval expert who will say that Britain without an ally is capable of standing up against Germany with the whole of Europe at her command. The only country that is capable of standing up against Germany by herself is Soviet Russia. It is much easier and much more profitable to attack the British Empire than to attack Soviet Russia. When the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary and speaking at Geneva on the Japan-Manchuria issue the representative of Japan said that the Foreign Secretary had put the case for Japan as well as he could have put it himself. The then Foreign Secretary as the representative of the National Government was encouraging Japan in the rape of Manchuria. Japan was expected to attack Soviet Russia, but she realised that there was the possibility of richer and cheaper plunder in China—and she fell on China.
If hon. Gentlemen opposite are hugging the delusion that Germany, if allowed to become a dominant Power in Europe, will attack the Soviet Union and destroy that great Socialist Power, they had better wake up before it is too late. Germany will have no hesitation in breaking any word that was given and taking advantage of this country. The National Government are not isolating Soviet Russia. They are isolating Britain. I do not care what armaments you have, if Britain is alone her position is impossible and the position of this Empire is impossible. The one policy for the people of this country is to have unity with the peace peoples of all other countries and to make appeal after appeal to the peoples of Germany and Italy on that basis.
That is the policy which any sane man would pursue, but in this country what do we find? I have said that you have people here who would betray the country. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) told us yesterday that Hitler's advisers whispered into his ear, "Have no fear of Britain. Britain will 280 do nothing." I say again, that we on this side have always stood for peace, but I assert that every gamble that Hitler has made—and they have all been gambles—has been made in full consciousness of the fact that in this country he had a "fifth column" and that they were in such a strategic position in this country that they could paralyse any effort made to stop him. On Wednesday last I could get in only a few words, but on that occasion I was going on to say what I say now—that one of the deadliest blows that could be struck against Hitler and against the continued aggression of the Nazis, would be to impeach his Fascist friends in this country.
An hon. Member who spoke earlier referred to the "Times" and the gang behind the "Times"—the Cliveden gang. That is no illusion. The Cliveden gang is a very dangerous gang in this country and they are the directing force behind the Prime Minister. I challenge the Prime Minister or anybody else to refute this. Lord Halifax went to Berlin before he was Foreign Secretary to have a talk with Hitler. The discussion which led to Lord Halifax going to Berlin took place at Cliveden. Lord Halifax came back and reported to the Prime Minister what had passed between himself and Hitler. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister to tell us what Lord Halifax had discussed with Hitler, but the Prime Minister said it would not be in the public interest to do so. Is that respect for Parliament? Lord Halifax discussed with Hitler matters of importance to the people of this country. Did they discuss Czechoslovakia or the Prime Minister's ideas about the cession of Sudeten territory? The Prime Minister said it was not in the public interest that we should know, but I am prepared to assert, and I am prepared even to stake my life on it, that while the House of Commons did not know what took place between Lord Halifax and Hitler the Cliveden gang knew every word that passed between them.
It is centuries since these Sudeten Germans migrated to Sudetenland. It is true that they kept their own language and customs, just as the French in Quebec have done, but the migration took place centuries ago. It is not centuries ago, however, since the head of the Cliveden set left Germany, and I want to know how it is that the Prime Minister 281 is associated with this gang, who are notorious as tools of Herr von Ribbentrop. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the tools of Stalin?"] No, we have never been the tools of Stalin or of anybody. Nobody could ever accuse me of being a tool of anybody or of being anything but a fighter for the class to which I belong. The fact remains that it is notorious in this House and in this country that these people are in continual contact with Herr von Ribbentrop. They are the tools of Herr von Ribbentrop. They keep him posted on everything that is going on and Herr von Ribbentrop whispers it into the ear of Hitler.
What have we now? We have Germany dominant in Europe and Britain faced with a situation which is pregnant with danger. That is what we have, and not peace. Over there in Munich a number of documents were signed by the four representatives and their names appear in the order of importance. Did hon. Members notice that? The names are in this order: Adolph Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Daladier and Mussolini. In every case the Leader must come first. When the Prime Minister waved that paper in the air and then read out the signatures—the Fuhrer Chancellor and the Prime Minister of Britain, it should have been, the Fuhrer Chancellor and his obedient servant the Prime Minister. Now we are told, following that new conquest—not a peace but a conquest in the war that is going on continually for the domination and enslavement of Europe—that we must have great new armaments. At whose expense are they to be provided? At the expense of people in this country who are already suffering too much.
We want to see a real peace based upon the unity of the peace forces throughout Europe. We want to see a peace that will end the armaments race. If, a year ago, or even six months ago, there had been a Government in this country prepared to make real collective security, with the full resources of the nations that could have been mustered together, with the backing of America, there would have been available superior forces in every direction—financial, economic, sea and air—to any combination of aggressors, and no great armament programme would have been required. Let us get a real peace instead of a great expenditure on armaments. If 282 we did so we would be able to use the millions that are being squandered now on armaments for better and nobler purposes.
Much might be done in this country. Day after day during the Recess, I have gone about the towns and villages of this country, and there is not a town or village visited by me where I have not met mothers and fathers and young married couples who have come to me with stories of tragedy. We have just passed through a great crisis, but a crisis occurs day after day, in the homes of the working people of the country. Instead of relieving it, you have new drives for armaments and for universal service, for militarism, and for war.
What madness is this. Let us put an end to it. Let us understand that the friends of Hitler in this country have got to be cleared out of office, that the Government that has destroyed the League and that has continually associated with and played up to the Fascist power and jeopardised the very existence of democracy, has got to go. When I use the word "democracy" I am not speaking of some magic cabalistic word; I am thinking of the rights of trade unions, of the rights of Co-operatives, of free speech, of public meeting, of the right of the Labour movement to lead towards the emancipation of the working class. I am thinking of these things. I know what is happening in Europe, and I want to fight, with all my power, to preserve these liberties here and to carry them forward to better things. We can only get them on the basis of the unity of the peace forces. Let us get that unity in this country and in Europe. Let us get rid of this Government, which has destroyed this country, or will destroy it if it is allowed to carry on, and then, with a Government representing the true peace and progressive interests of the people, united with the other peace forces in Europe, gradually winning over the German people against the Nazi tyranny, we can put an end to the waste of wealth on armaments, and all our resources can be turned to what should be the heart's desire of us all, namely, the homes, the health, and the happiness of the people.
§ Mr. Magnay
On a point of Order. I desire to tell you, Mr. Speaker, what you may not know of yourself. [HON. 283 MEMBERS: "Order!"] May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that for the last two hours precisely—if you look at the list, you will see that it is so—we have had, except for about 20 minutes from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), nothing but speeches from the other side of the House, and now, Mr. Speaker, you have called upon another speaker from the Labour benches. I was told that I was to speak on the last occasion by the Deputy-Speaker. I was told that after sitting all day yesterday and to-day. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] I am talking of the rights of private Members. I have been used to play to the whistle, but it must be a fair referee, and if the Deputy-Speaker is correct, that he could not see me from there, it is about time he had better spectacles.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has made a direct attack on the Chair. I think he should realise the difficulties that the Chair is sometimes under in giving satisfaction to those whom it is wished to call, and then he would perhaps be a little more lenient in his criticism. We cannot tell, sitting in the Chair, how long Members are going to speak, and sometimes a programme which is carefully made out is upset by an extremely long speech. I am sorry if the hon. Member has been disappointed, but I do not think he is by any means the only one, but, on the whole, I think the decision as to which Member is to be called in debate had better be left to the discretion of the Chair.
§ Mr. Magnay
I need not tell you, Sir, that I have the utmost respect for you and the other occupants of the Chair—but one side of the House for two hours!
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. A. V. Alexander
I might inform the House that I refrained, at 9.30, from rising in order to give some opportunity to back benchers to be called. I hope, therefore, they will not blame the Opposition Front Bench if they have not succeeded in catching Mr. Speaker's eye.
The position at which we have arrived is that we are at the end of two days' Debate on the Adjournment Motion, which was put down in order that the Government might explain to the House to what their policy in connection with Czechoslovakia has led us. To-morrow 284 we shall be debating more specifically a Motion tabled by the Government to ask for the definite approval of Parliament to the policy which the Government have followed. In these two days we have been trying to get from the Government sufficient information and clarification on various points to enable the House to come to a considered and sound judgment, when the Motion which the Government have decided to put upon the Paper is debated. I am bound to say that, having listened to almost the whole of the Debate for the two days, my own view is that up to the present the Government representatives have not made a very good showing to the House of Commons and that we have not really been given very sound grounds for the approval which will be asked to-morrow for a policy which has involved the betrayal, the complete betrayal, in my view, of Czechoslovakia and which has rendered very considerable damage to the cause of peace in Europe and in the world for the future. Yesterday we had the opening statement from the Prime Minister. It was more scanty than I had expected it to be, having regard to the importance of the issues involved. At the end of yesterday's Debate we had a statement, made, I agree, with care and courtesy, by the Home Secretary, but in my view totally inadequate in the replies which were attempted to be made to my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton). I consider that the House of Commons is now entitled to much more definite information on some of these points than it has yet been given before we can go into the Debate to-morrow on the Motion of approval.
Let me deal, first of all, with those questions. The first thing that I think the House is entitled to hear from the Minister who will reply to-night is what is the actual position of those Czech citizens who were resident in Germany, who were arrested or kidnapped, whichever term you like to use, and for whom, so far as we can learn, either from White Paper or from speech of Government Minister in the House, not the slightest attempt had been made up to yesterday morning to secure their safety and prevent them from getting into actual physical danger and persecution. I think that, having regard to the way in which the Government have been pushed in a hustle from day to day in the last fortnight, it would be lament 285 able if we were to find that those people, arrested or kidnapped as hostages by the Germans in Germany, had been left to be ill-treated and perhaps have their lives forfeited altogether.
The first point upon which we want information to-night is, what has the Government done since the question was put? What is the position to-night of those hostages? I ask that, because I want to come to the next question which I desire to put to the Minister: What is the actual position of those residents—those properly qualified citizens, as they were—of the Sudeten Deutsch, who were not in the Henlein party, and who had never desired to be taken into the Third Reich? I ask: What is the position of them tonight in Czechoslovakia? Because it is perfectly clear to me, at any rate, that there was very grave danger to them. I have had statements reported to me tonight from actual representatives in Czechoslovakia which confirm the report in the "Daily Telegraph," that the situation there is so serious that hundreds and hundreds of perfectly decent, fine citizens of the Sudeten Deutsch who have no desire to go under the jackboot of Hitler into the Third Reich were being evacuated by train into other parts of Czechoslovakia, but, because there was no room for them, were being turned back and left to the mercy of those people who are now marching in with the aid and with the help of two Governments, one of which was that country's ally and the other its friend.
We demand to know to-night what the position of those people is and what steps are being taken for their protection, because—and I am going to speak very frankly about this—when I hear either from the Archbishop of Canterbury or from Members in this House about the need for prayer and thanksgiving, I want to remind them of the first chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: when you come to make prayers, do not have blood on your hands. If those people are ill-treated and done to death as a result of the policy of the Government and of the French Government, it will not appeal very much to me or to my friends. This Government will have responsibility, and direct and criminal responsibility, for the lives of those people, and any Minister who really understood the situation and who had experience of diplomacy and foreign affairs and administration would surely at the very first interview at 286 Berchtesgaden have laid down stipulations for their safety as a condition of any policy to be adopted by his Cabinet before he took any further steps. That is the second question to which I want an answer to-night.
The third question, which, in my judgment was not answered satisfactorily last night, is the question with regard to what happened before the final settlement at Munich in regard to the exclusion, or if not complete exclusion the cold shouldering, of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the whole of the conversations. I looked, very carefully I hope, at the answers which were given on that particular point last night by the Home Secretary, and since I studied those answers, I have had the opportunity of checking as far as I can from the most authoritative sources I can command the statement then made. I want to put to the Minister who is going to reply to-night this question: Will he say what was the actual step taken by the British Government either through the Secretary of State in London or through the British Ambassador in Moscow on instructions from the Foreign Office to get into contact with the Commissar of Foreign Affairs in Moscow—what was the step taken by the British Government in either of these directions to secure accurate information first as to whether the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would support the treaty they had signed with Czechoslovakia and with France, and, secondly, what would be the kind of aid and the extent to which it could be operated—the military steps they would take if they were called upon.
Last night the Home Secretary said that, of course, the British Government, not being really directly committed, left it to the French Government to make the necessary contact upon this point. My information is that on 2nd September the French Ambassador in Moscow had an interview in the Russian Foreign Office with the ChargÉ d'Affaires, as I think really is confirmed by a more or less public statement by M. Litvinoff, and that there the discussions were of such a kind, in response to questions which had been put by the French Ambassador upon instructions from his Government, as to leave no shadow of doubt that the Russian Government would fulfil their obligations to the letter if the French Government would do theirs, and that so 287 specific were the conversations that they were asked by the representative of the Russian Foreign Office, the ChargÉ d'Affaires, not to waste time, but to have staff conversations and to see therefore what was required, and further to go on, in view of the approach that had been made, to see what other steps could be taken in order to prevent an actual outbreak of hostilities, if possible. I am further to understand—I want the Minister to be clear—that on 8th September in London the substance, and the detailed substance, of these conversations in Moscow was communicated to the British Foreign Office—I think it was to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs himself.
I want satisfaction on this point, and for this reason. Those of us, many of them much more intimately connected than I was with the matter, who during the last three weeks, acting for Labour in this country, did what we could to bring our views before the Government with the National Council of Labour and others, got the impression at any rate that the British Government were not willing to give the proper lead, to let the German leader know that we stood by collective security with certain Powers against aggression, because it was assumed they could not depend upon France, because it was argued that they could not depend upon Russia. I Charge the British Government with this tonight, that that was the kind of answer being given to representatives of British labour, and therefore we have a right to ask for an official statement in this House to-night of what were the real facts. That question should be answered before we come to the next stage of the Debate tomorrow and the day following.
I come to this point. When this aspect of the question is being discussed those Members who have got up to defend the policy of the Government in the last two days have always seemed to come back to the argument that if the Government had made it perfectly plain that they? would come to the assistance of Czechoslovakia if France and then Russia had also come to her assistance, we could not really have saved the territory of Czechoslovakia; there was no effective means of coming to the defence of the territorial boundaries of Czechoslovakia. That has been the case made again and again. I 288 observed that it was made by the Minister of Transport this afternoon in a speech which I thought was hardly adequate to the occasion. In effect he said, how could you defend the boundaries of Czechoslovakia? It is not for me to attempt to-night to speak on such a point as a military expert. I am no military expert, but some of us have had to take our own counsels in the Committee of Imperial Defence, and I am appalled to think that that is the kind of argument that is put up by a Minister of the British Cabinet as to what effective action can and cannot be taken in certain circumstances. It is even more appalling for him to get up and say afterwards, "Of course, we are prepared to guarantee other boundaries than those which have received the actual fortification expenditure which was pressed upon the Czechoslovak Government by the French Government in the last two years."
How are you going to defend the new boundaries? Apparently the Minister of Transport does not yet know where they are going to be. We are to be asked to adjourn the House of Commons to-morrow or the next day and not to reassemble until 1st November, and in all the interim period in which we are away from the House what will be happening? There will be boundaries being made every day, and, in fact, this Government will be committed day by day to the actual effective operation of a treaty made—by whom? A commission of which we are represented by the British Ambassador. When that is finished and we come back to this House we shall then have practically settled for us new boundaries with all the effect of a treaty to which we are committed in honour, according to the first White Paper, to defend because we guarantee it. We are entitled to ask tonight on what ground do the Government instruct the Minister of Transport to get up and say to-day, that of course it was quite impossible in the geographical circumstances to bring any effective help to Czechoslovakia. Perhaps the Minister who may speak with more knowledge of defensive and military operations will tell us on what ground a Minister, speaking on behalf of the Cabinet, said that.
The thought uppermost in our minds when we were discussing this matter during these last days was not that we wanted a war to break out; it was to stop a war and to stop it with honour to 289 this country and with a proper honouring of our obligations, with France and Russia, to Czechoslovakia, and to make it possible to build up proper foundations for peace in future. I do say this, however, that by our mode of action we have arrived now at the position that every small Power in Europe will, I am afraid, feel—I hope we shall be able to recover from the position—that there is no longer any room to trust the word of the National Government, none at all. It is not that the National Government have not had warning. They have been warned over and over again. I do not suppose that the case with regard to the position in Europe has ever been put more effectively than it was put by the Leader of the Opposition many years ago. I thought that yesterday he put our case here excellently, and perhaps with more restraint than I usually show, but it is five and a half years since he put this point to the National Government. Speaking on 13th April, 1933, he said:There is a further suspicion. The suspicion among the smaller nations is that when the four, five or six great Powers get together to try to settle their difficulties, those difficulties will be settled at the expense of the small nations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1933; col. 2741, Vol. 276.]That is just what has happened. In that same speech the present Leader of the Opposition went on to give an account of our faith saying that we believed that the country should stand by democracy, and pointed out that except for Czechoslovakia and Austria democracy, even by then, had been practically swept out of Central Europe. Five years of continual retreat since then by the National Government from their pledges about collective security have now seen Austria liquidated and the other democracies being liquidated at the present day. I should not like to be any less generous than other speakers to the Prime Minister's personal efforts at the last moment to avoid a very serious position in Europe. I can well imagine that, having regard to the events of the three years since the last Election, he would feel a very heavy share of personal responsibility and would want to do his utmost to avoid a last conflagration, but I am bound to say in all fairness at this Parliamentary inquest on the business that it would have been very much better if, while making his personal effort, he had taken more counsel and carried with him 290 more expert Foreign Office advice. The kind of situation to which I have referred, and the danger to the inhabitants of that unhappy country to-night, might have been seen and might have been avoided. Perhaps the Prime Minister will forgive me for saying that this seemed to be "sticking out a mile"—if I may use the term—to some of us who listened to him the other day when he was giving his first explanation. I know that it is difficult when making a long, involved and detailed speech to choose every word, but I take this as representing his view. I am quoting from column 14 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 28th September, when he was dealing with the first conversation at Berchtesgaden, which lasted three hours. He said:I very soon became aware that the position was much more acute and much more urgent than I had realised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 14, Vol. 339.]I do not think that is a position in which the Prime Minister ought to have been in. It was far too serious a thing for the Prime Minister to discover, when he met the Fuhrer, the dictator, at Berchtesgaden, that the position was much more acute and serious than he had realised. In another passage of his explanation given both on the wireless broadcast and to this House he said that when he went back a second time to Herr Hitler he was shocked and surprised at the new demands made.
I do not think when I look at those demands that he ought to have been shocked or surprised, especially in view of the representations that six of us from the National Council of Labour made to his Foreign Secretary the night before, and which his Foreign Secretary promised to convey faithfully to him. I do not like to hear afterwards that he was shocked and surprised, because the very kind of condition at which he expressed shock and surprise was that of which we warned the Foreign Secretary the night before. I think we are entitled to say that to our people. I do not believe that some of those things would have come as such a shock to the Prime Minister if he had been willing to take into his more inner counsels and with him on his journeys members of the active staff of the Foreign Office. Apparently he did it at the last moment. I am no special defender of this or that section of the 291 Civil Service. I think that our great Civil Service is composed of fine people. When people give their lives to a special kind of work at the Foreign Office they have great knowledge of these matters of diplomacy and it ought to be used, especially when that knowledge is most urgently required.
I should like to put to the House tonight another aspect of this matter concerning an impression that was left upon my mind and the minds of some of my friends, although not because we had any immediate knowledge at the particular time. When the Prime Minister was being interviewed after having left Herr Hitler, I think at the second interview, and when the terms had been put up and it was felt that we were unable to recommend them for acceptance to the poor, harassed Czechoslovakian Government, the Prime Minister said to the interviewer: "It is up to the Czechs." When I listened to the Minister of Transport to-day with his carefully prepared, written document, read at a pace of about 200 words a minute all expressing adulation of one man, I thought to myself: It is up to the Czechs. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who, I thought, made a very eloquent speech, that if there is one special action which saved the peace for the time being in this Europe of ours it has been the action of the Czechoslovakian Government, and if you are to name one man, I think Dr. Benes has a claim. It is true that other countries named their special saviours of the peace. I have reports from the Italian press about the special services of Mussolini, and I have even heard it mentioned that Hitler himself is the only saviour of peace at this time. If we are thanking God at this moment, we should be thanking God for the restraint and the self-sacrifice of the Czechoslovaks. That is where our thanks are needed.
What I want to know to-night is, what is being done to protect them in these conditions of ruthless, brutal invasion? As far as I can gather, no arrangements were ever made in the conversations between the Prime Minister and Hitler at Berchtesgaden, or in the conversations at Godesberg, which give them any protection at all. In fact, it was only when you got slight concessions at Munich that there was any possibility at all of preventing 292 these people from suffering the utmost hardship. While all of us in every section of this House would be willing at this time to do what we can to help the Czechoslovaks to live in their reduced economic productive territory, I can quite understand the alacrity with which the Government came yesterday to give an advance as an indication that, whatever else comes out of this, they have not altogether lost their consciences. That advance is as much conscience money as any that was ever paid.
May I just say a word about the effect of these last days, and of these methods of diplomacy, on peace for the future? I cannot help saying it, because I see sitting opposite me, in evening dress, the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Baxter), who writes very eloquent articles in Sunday newspapers. I read an article of his in a Sunday paper last Sunday. It was very good in its language and phraseology, and contained a great deal of adulation, but what struck me about it was a statement that the whole thing was subject, really, to a change of heart in Hitler. As has been frequently said in the Debate during the past two days, the whole question of peace really hinges upon the promises of Herr Hitler. It has been said during the Debate that the Prime Minister is a man of experience and able to judge character. One of his defenders, I think, said it was no use the Prime Minister wasting his time at that first interview; he was such a good judge of character that he found he had to return at once. He has said since that he trusts, that he believes, the words which Herr Hitler said to him. All of us, when we are dealing with great and important public affairs, are entitled to be judges of the people with whom we deal, and the kind of agreements we make with them must depend upon whether their bona fides is established.
There was a Parliamentary fight, more or less, in this House last February, because, before the Prime Minister started to make a treaty with Mussolini, we had to decide whether a Minister who resigned was or was not right on the words "now or never." We have been waiting ever since for a proper implementation of the promises made in connection with that treaty by one dictator. Before we make a binding agreement with the other dictator, we had better see how he keeps 293 his promises and how he treats his friends. I do not propose to go into that very long list of broken promises in relation to treaties which my Leader submitted to the House yesterday. He could have put them into the OFFICIAL REPORT—five foolscap pages of them. But I will reinforce that to the Prime Minister by saying that he should know exactly the kind of man he was dealing with. Hitler has had lots of friends in his time, men who fought to put him in office, who sacrificed themselves for years, and whom he foully murdered. You only want to think of Karl Ernst, Captain Roehm, Gregor von Strasser, Dr. Voss and Alexander Slaser. Think of the horrible double murder in a room of a man who had been so much to his cause. General von Schleicher, and his wife—murdered both of them. Is that the kind of man whom you could go to and convert in one interview into being the basis of your faith in peace in Europe? A reference was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) to some of the earlier passages of Hitler's life. I want to quote one or two passage my right hon. Friend did not quote. I am quoting now from the report of Kurt Lubecke, who wrote the book "I knew Hitler," who for a considerable time was the trusted emissary of Hitler before Hitler finally got power. Hitler said to him:I've got to play ball with capitalism and keep the Versailles Powers in line by holding aloft the bogey of Bolshevism—make them believe that a Nazi Germany is the last bulwark against the Red flood …. I can talk peace but mean war.Let us take another passage:If England opposes a greater Germany at all costs, all right. Mussolini might be interested in making Germany so strong that together we could force John Bull to his knees. It will be easier to overthrow Moscow and take the Ukraine if the capitalists are on my side.Let us take another one:I can frighten these gentlemen in London, Paris and New York if they won't leave me alone. If it's going to take bombs to show these gentlemen in London, Paris and New York that I mean business, well, they can have them. Don't be afraid—I'll go the limit when the time comes, but not before … oh, no, not this time—I've learned to wait. I have only one thought, one will, that animates me day and night—to make Germany great, the greatest power on earth.That is the gentleman who signed the Agreement. That is the kind of guarantee 294 we have. Is it any wonder that from the Prime Minister himself, in his first speech, to the Home Secretary last night, to the Minister of Transport to-day, to those important Members of the Conservative party opposite who see the dangers of the Government's policy, there comes from every one of them the chorus, "For God's sake do not give up rearmament; double your armaments"? The saviour of peace! That is the position. You can tell sometimes from the right people, when they are in a sincere mood, the method of their approach. You will get Labour asked to join in a great unified national enterprise to get an even bigger military and industrial programme of defence than ever before, because the Prime Minister has come back from Berchtesgaden and Munich with peace.
What is to be our answer? I speak to-night with tremendous feeling on this subject. The National Government have had three separate opportunities offered to them by organised Labour in this country for real unity on foreign policy and Defence. On every occasion they have treated us with contempt. They had the chance of complete support on the resolution of the Trade Union Congress at Margate in 1935 and of the Labour Party Conference in 1935 on Abyssinia. It was the Prime Minister pre-eminently above all those remaining in the Cabinet that broke down sanctions when early in June of 1936 he made a speech on Midsummer madness, which committed his Cabinet although he was not Prime Minister. In 1936 the Labour movement in this country gave them the opportunity, against criticism of many of their own side, of non-intervention in Spain. If the National Government had played the game they would have had support from Labour on their foreign policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Certainly. Hon. Members sitting on the back benches there can have very little apprehension of the danger to their own Commonwealth and the British people. The Government had the opportunity there and would not not take it. As far back as 7th September the Labour movement offered the Government a lead to secure peace at this time with honour by getting a proper mobilisation of the real forces of peace in Europe against the aggressor in Czecho-slavia.
§ Mr. Alexander
It is stupid because it has been answered over and over again in this House. The answer is perfectly plain. We have offered again and again from this Box support for whatever expenditure was required on armaments for collective security. Since then, when the present Government, by their retreat, had forsaken collective security, you have seen the Labour movement, in spite sometimes of great criticism of people who did not agree with them, still supporting armaments in the interests of the defence of their own nationals and their own country. The hon. and gallant Member has no right to lay such a Charge against us.
I have been taken off my subject a little and have perhaps taken a few moments longer than I intended, and the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence is entitled to equal time in which to reply. But in regard to the future, I shall have to leave it, in consequence of the time I have taken, to my hon. Friends to develop when they move, as I am sure they will, their Amendment to the Government's Motion to-morrow. But I am convinced that, in view of what has happened, unless you can rally opinion in this country, in the other democratic countries in Europe, and in our Dominions to the cause of real collective security based upon the rule of law and the support of that law against the aggressor, then the world is going to slide down and down into chaos, and our country and our Empire are going to be the great losers in that position. I am very much concerned about that. I want all, to whatever party they belong, to take the present opportunity of working for the reconstruction of a true League and collective security. If the Government are willing to adopt the real basis of, and to support, collective security through the League, I shall never hesitate to vote the money required to back it. I ask the Government: Are you ready to play straight with Labour, as Labour has always been willing to play straight with you, if you stick to your election pledges?
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence (Sir Thomas Inskip)
The right 296 hon. Gentleman has no cause to reproach himself for taking up more time than he intended. This is an important subject and time cannot be improperly spent upon the examination of the Treaty which we are supposed to be debating this evening. I may have something to say in a moment as to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman used the time which he has taken, but that is another matter. No discussion upon the topic of the Treaty can be properly or wisely conducted unless it takes cognisance of one fundamental fact, about which I hope and believe there is no dispute whatever in the House. The broad conclusion about the position in Czechoslovakia of the Sudeten-Deutsch people was stated in the Anglo-French proposals of 19th September. Document No.2 in the White Paper says:We are both convinced that a point has now been reached where the further maintenance within the boundaries of the Czechoslovak State of the districts mainly inhabited by the Sudeten-Deutsch cannot in fact continue any longer without imperilling the interests of Czechoslovakia herself and European peace.If I needed authority to support that statement it might be found in many places, but one only will I quote this evening. The late Mr. Arthur Henderson wrote in his book entitled "The Peace Terms":Millions of Germans are placed under Czechoslovak rule. This will create an irredentist population as considerable as those that provoked the Serbian agitation before the War.I know that the late Mr. Arthur Henderson was merely stating the problem and I am not suggesting that in the words I have quoted he was suggesting a remedy. If still further backing was wanted for the plain and indisputable fact that there is a problem created by these Sudeten-Deutsch people in Czechoslovakia, it may perhaps be illustrated by a quotation from a document circulated within the last two or three days by the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and signed by two other Members of the Opposition party. This document says:Whatever may be suspected as to the political objective of German policy, the fact remains that in demanding the liberation of the Sudeten majority from Czech rule they have the principle of the League Covenant to support them, thus placing members of the League in the invidious position of having either to assent to the principle or to take up arms against it.297 We may differ in our arguments and our conclusions, and of course we differ on fundamental points, but I should think no one would dispute either the statement that I have quoted from the Anglo-French proposals or the statement of the principle involved which I have quoted from the document circulated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley. But the speech to which we have just listened scarcely referred even to that fact. There was not a comment upon the existence of the problem. There was no attempt at a diagnosis of the disease, and neither the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken nor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) seemed as much as even to be aware of the fact that Czechoslovakia was not a homogeneous, uni-national State. Both right hon. Gentlemen chose to make play with some observations about collective security, a phrase which is often used by people who forget the import of that epithet. Collective security, they forget, is, after all, collective security or nothing. The right hon. Gentleman chose to Charge the present Government with a retreat from its pledges. I assert that the Government have not broken a single pledge and, when the right hon. Gentleman chooses to serve up once again the statements and the taunts and the arguments with reference to the enforcement of the Covenant of the League of Nations, he knows perfectly well that this country has always borne the burden of giving the maximum effect that could be secured to the Covenant of the League of Nations. We have respected our pledges, in the spirit and in the letter.
Let us see how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney interprets the principle of collective security. He suggested a number of alliances or understandings which he said, but for the action of the present Government, might have been formed in order to bring pressure to bear upon Germany. He suggested that the countries of South Eastern Europe, including Poland, might have been rallied in a representation to Germany which he supposed would have made Herr Hitler respond to the pressure placed upon him. You may call that collective security but it is our old friend the concert of Europe, or the balance of power, in another form, and when my right hon. Friend below 298 the Gangway or others have suggested a rather more limited alliance or unity of representation to Herr Hitler in the shape of a declaration by ourselves, France and Russia, I should like to ask what that is except our old friend power politics enforcing upon Germany the wishes—no doubt the perfectly proper wishes—of those three nations, but enforcing what we conceive to be the proper settlement of problems in Europe by force and compulsion? That is, of course, the policy of the encirclement of Germany, in which some people find a considerable satisfaction but which I believe I am right in saying was the policy underlying the Treaty of Versailles as originally conceived, a policy which I am bound to say I thought hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have always repudiated when they spoke about a dictated peace. [Interruption.] I understand that my right hon. Friend below the Gangway is to take an opportunity of speaking to-morrow. Perhaps he will allow me to speak this evening.
This is the policy of the encirclement of Germany and is one which offers no remedy for the disease. It might dictate a peace possibly by the application of force, of collective force, but it offers no remedy in itself for a cure of the disease; that is the problem of the Sudeten-Deutsch minority in Czechoslovakia. The right hon. Gentleman and his colleague who spoke earlier represent that policy. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in the action they have taken have adopted another policy, and, let us make no mistake, this is an issue joined between two opposing points of view. The policy pursued or approved by the party opposite could not have been better illustrated than in those passages which a few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman quoted from the speeches or statements of Herr Hitler. It may have given him a fleeting satisfaction to pile epithet upon epithet in his description of the misdeeds of Herr Hitler, but I think it is Dead Sea fruit which the right hon. Gentleman will reap. Whether I am right in that statement or not, the mere fact that the right hon. Gentleman chooses this moment in which to hurl abuse illustrates better than anything I can say the fundamental and essential difference between a policy of peace by settlement and negotiation, and a peace, if it be a peace, obtained by enforcement and abuse 299 of the people with whom you do not agree.
§ Mr. Alexander
Perhaps before the Prime Minister meets Herr Hitler the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence will examine Herr Hitler's speeches about Dr. Benes and will then get the Prime Minister to avoid giving any other country away to the man who uttered the abuse.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I am not a little surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should have been so incautious as to cite a precedent for his behaviour this evening.
§ Mr. Alexander
When the right hon. Gentleman can point to me or my friends as having given away or betrayed another country in this way he will have the right to talk about precedents.
§ Sir T. Inskip
The policy to which I have referred as the policy of the Opposition is one which I quite admit has attractions for some minds. I confess that in my callow political youth, when hon. Gentlemen opposite suggested that the Treaty of Versailles needed revision, I rejected the proposal. To-day I confess I was wrong, as I was wrong in many opinions which I expressed in those earlier days.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Sir T. Inskip
I do not, however, want to go into that old controversy, because I should think that everybody admits that the Treaty of Versailles has been unsuccessful in effecting the suppression and encirclement of Germany. Let us see what sort of peace we should make, if we had to make another, after a successful war, such as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite predicate as being within our powers. I am not going to discuss that question itself, but what sort of peace should we make in those circumstances? Some reference has been made to the 300 impossibility of restoring, or rather the unlikelihood that any sane Government would restore and recreate Czechoslovakia with its former boundaries. I should not have thought that anybody opposite, or indeed anybody out of Bedlam would propose this course knowing to what evils it has given rise. The trouble of minorities would still be there. We should either have to have a dictated peace, in which, we should, in folly and madness, recreate Czechoslovakia, or we should have to have peace by negotiation. The question which I respectfully wish to ask the House is this: If it is to be peace by negotiation after a war, why in Heaven's name should not we have the negotiation before the war? [Interruption.]
§ Sir T. Inskip
That is the Prime Minister's method and the method which is the issue in this Debate and will be for the next two days. Why not, I say, attempt the negotiations first? That is the Prime Minister's method. He has been attacked by the right hon. Gentleman for not having taken proper advice with him to Berchtesgaden and Godesberg to enable him to present the British case with authority and force. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman opposite is not so blind to the way in which these matters are conducted as to believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has not been for weeks, day after day, and hour after hour, in consultation with the Foreign Secretary and his advisers in the Foreign Office. If anything were needed to show how undeserved is the suggestion that the Prime Minister plunged into something about which he knows nothing, I may say that he took with him among the advisers, the head of the Department in the Foreign Office which deals with this part of European affairs. I venture to suggest in view of the comments that have been made, that no more skilled or experienced adviser could have been at the Prime Minister's right hand. We are taunted with having merely postponed war. Supposing the firmness which it is suggested we did not show and ought to have shown had succeeded, and supposing we had avoided war for the time being, does any hon. Member think that the consequence would not have been a formation of alliances by 301 Germany, rival systems growing up in an uneasy peace, with a certain explosion at the end of it, when the two rival systems had attained something like equality? Of course, as long as you could keep a stranglehold on Germany, well and good, from your point of view, but supposing you could not indefinitely continue that operation, does anybody suppose that the threat of force, which on my hypothesis had avoided war, could have been a permanent guarantee of the peace that we all desire?
Let me say in passing that I hope no hon. Members opposite think that any of us credit them with desiring war more than we do. I fully assent to what the right hon. Gentleman said, that they loathe and detest the prospect of war as much as we do, but that does not prevent me from saying that the methods that they seem to prefer seem to me to be those that are more likely to lead to the detestable event that they deplore. Then suppose, on the other hand, our threats of firmness of action failed and Herr Hitler had not been cowed by our threats. What would be the consequence then? Either a certain war, or else this country would be in the humiliating position in which Lord Palmerston was in 1863, when he told Denmark that if Denmark fought against German aggression in Schleswig-Holstein, Denmark would not fight alone. The bluff was called, and what happened? Germany walked into Schleswig-Holstein exactly the same as if Lord Palmerston had not been as bold as all that. I do not know whether right hon. Gentlemen are competent in their predictions that firmness would have succeeded, but we are all agreed upon this, that the one unpardonable fault in foreign diplomacy is bluff, and I respectfully suggest that this course that has been proposed, of making a firm statement to Germany that we would fight unless we got 100 per cent, or 80 per cent, of our demands, is a policy that could only be described as perilously fraught with the very danger it was intended to avert.
Some reference has been made to this country's supposed loss of prestige, and may I say a word about that? If anybody had read closely the telegrams from other countries, he could not be supposed for a moment to hold that opinion, that we had lost prestige among the nations of the world. But let me ask what opinion is held in countries that are 302 nearer and dearer to us than foreign countries—our own Dominions. That is the best nucleus that I know of collective security, and ardent friends as they are of that principle, they have left no doubt at all as to the general support and approval that they feel for the policy of the Prime Minister. One foreign newspaper of eminence and wide circulation said that the action the Prime Minister has taken is that which only a great nation could take, and I will add this comment, only that which a great Prime Minister could take.
In spite of what my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's Division (Mr. Cooper) has said, sweet reasonableness has more to be said for it than he was prepared to admit. The Prime Minister, I suggest, showed a very proper and timely sweet reasonableness, and I may say how much we appreciate that quality in others besides our own Prime Minister. I hope hon. Gentlemen will allow me to say, in all sincerity, that we recognise the reasonableness of Dr. Benes in a difficult and a dangerous situation—as dangerous for his own country as it was for Europe and for ourselves; and I venture to think that his courage and his willingness to recognise facts will be rewarded, whereas a war would have involved the sabotage, the destruction, the humiliation possibly, of the country which his wisdom and his decision may yet have saved, if not altogether at any rate in a form in which it may be happier, more united and safer than ever before in the last twenty years.
Something has been said about the money which is being provided for the assistance of the Czechoslovakian Government at this present time. Let nobody think that when the Government were considering this proposal they were indifferent to or unaware of the practical certainty that somebody would describe it as "conscience money" or "blood money." We were well aware of that. I am sorry that it was two right hon. Gentlemen who described that assistance in that form; I should have thought it would have been unworthy of them. The mere fact that we have recognised the needs of Czechoslovakia in a difficult era of her existence entitles this Government to claim, I think, that they have an unbowed head in relation to her, for if they had been full of the sense of shame which the right hon. Gentlemen attributed to 303 them, they could not have taken the decision to help Czechoslovakia in the way that we have, with financial assistance.
§ Sir T. Inskip
It is not an involved argument at all; it is a Government which is conscious of the rectitude of its conduct in this matter that is able to offer its assistance with the best possible grace.
Time, as the House knows, is strictly limited, and I want to answer the questions which have been addressed to me. One of them as put by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) yesterday as to the guarantee, and I think the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander), anticipating that it would not be answered, threatened to repeat it. The question has been raised whether our guarantee to Czechoslovakia is already in operation. The House will realise that the formal Treaty of guarantee has yet to be drawn up and completed in the normal way, and, as the Foreign Secretary has stated in another place, there are some matters which must await settlement between the Governments concerned. Until that has been done, technically the guarantee cannot be said to be in force. His Majesty's Government, however, feel under a moral obligation to Czechoslovakia to treat the guarantee as being now in force. In the event, therefore, of an act of unprovoked aggression against Czechoslovakia, His Majesty's Government would certainly feel bound to take all steps in their power to see that the integrity of Czechoslovakia is preserved.
The next question which was asked me was as to the reasons for the exclusion of the Government of Soviet Russia—
§ Mr. Mander
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he be good enough to answer the other question I put in connection with the guarantee: whether it was joint or several?
§ Sir T. Inskip
If the hon. Gentleman had done me the courtesy to listen to me, he would have realised that I said that His Majesty's Government feel under a moral obligation to Czechoslovakia to see that the integrity of Czechoslovakia is preserved.
§ Sir T. Inskip
It is a guarantee by His Majesty's Government in these circumstances which I have stated in that deliberately framed answer.
The other question I was asked was as to the supposed exclusion of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics from this discussion. I know nothing about the conversations which the right hon. Gentleman says took place in Moscow between the French ChargÉ d'Affaires and the Soviet Foreign Office or Government. I have made inquiries, but I know nothing about the reports which are said to have been made to His Majesty's Government on 8th September. What was said has been stated both in another place by the Foreign Secretary and by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last night. What has been stated is that the Russian Government intimated that they were under certain obligations in relation to Czechoslovakia, with France, or after France, and that they would perform those obligations in the way in which my right hon. Friend described last night.
The statement in another place has a little elaborated that statement because my right hon. Friend saw the Soviet Ambassador in London three or four days before the Treaty was made. He informed him that there had been no intention at all to sever relations in any way with the Soviet Government in any circumstances in which it was possible for discussions to take place, that the time was short if negotiations were to be effective, and that immediate action must be taken; and the Foreign Secretary expressed the view which I should think most reasonable people would share, that if negotiations were to be successful it was foolish to throw away the hope of holding them merely because it was impossible to get five people round the table instead of only four. You may criticise the unwillingness of the German and Italian Governments to meet the Soviet Government, but that is not the point. Whether they were right or wrong, whether they were reasonable or unreasonable, the point is that the time being short, and negotiations being almost the last hope of preserving peace, it would have been the act of a lunatic to refuse the reality for something which was very much of the shadow.
I have been asked what I can say about the so-called—I say "so-called" 305 because I do not know the circumstances—Czech prisoners in Germany. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the expression "prisoners" may or may not be the right one. The position of these people has not been overlooked. His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin has been definitely instructed to concert with the French member of the International Commission in order to obtain their release. These instructions were sent before questions were addressed to me or to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last night. We hope those efforts will be effective for their purpose.
§ Sir T. Inskip
I do not know the facts in that case, and I join the right hon. Gentleman in hoping that the 12 children will be released. Surely they are undeserving victims of this international quarrel. I was asked one other question by the right hon. Gentleman as to what was to happen to the Sudeten Germans who did not want to be incorporated in the Reich. That is provided for in Article 7 of the Treaty which enables them to have six months in which to opt out of the state or into the state as the case may be.
§ Sir T. Inskip
The right hon. Gentleman is in error. If he will look at the Treaty he will find this in Article 7:There will be the right of option into and out of the transferred territory, the option to be exercised within six months of the date of this Agreement. A German-Czechoslovak Commission shall determine the details of the option, consider ways of facilitating transfer of populations and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfers.I suggest that my statement was perfectly right. Other questions have been asked, but there will be two days in which to debate them and in which they can be repeated, if there are any which I have not answered to-night. I think I have answered them all to-night.
§ Mr. Alexander
I apologise for interrupting, but I intended to ask whether we are to have that paper, the issue of 306 which the Prime Minister promised to consider last night, in time for the Debate to-morrow?
§ Sir T. Inskip
The right hon. Gentleman knows from his experience of the publication of documents of this sort, which concern other nations beside our own, that they cannot possibly be made until proper consultation has taken place. All I can say is that the question is under consideration, and the necessary inquiries are being made. For all I know, while I am speaking the inquiries may have been answered.
I want to say a few words on the subject of the state of our preparations for the emergency which we have avoided at the present time. I am well aware of the responsibility which the House has rightly assumed to rest upon myself. I am not here to-night to apologise for or defend myself, because that is a matter of no importance at all to the House. The questions in which the House and the country are interested are what stage our preparations have reached and what possibility there is of improving them in the future—in the next week, to use one phrase, or next year. In reply to that I should like to say that the arrangements or preparations for a conflict are necessarily of greater complexity than they were in 1914. There are now three Services to be provided for, while then there were only two—at the outset of that war. More than that, a modern war is as much a matter of civilian organisation as of military organisation, and the two have to be conducted in parallel, and indeed, I believe they are two parts of the same problem.
Air power, it must also be recognised, leaves little or no time for a period which we may call a preparatory or precautionary period, and therefore you have to be ready with your preparations for an emergency that may literally overtake you in an hour or two.
Let me say one word about the military preparations. I think everybody has been impressed by the speed, the swiftness, and the smoothness of the Naval mobilisation and the calling-up of 53,000 men of the Territorial Army personnel of the Anti-Aircraft and Coast Defence units, together with the mobilisation of the fighter elements of the Auxiliary Air Force and of the Observer Corps upon which our 307 defences are partly dependant. The most spectacular of those operations, of course, was the mobilisation of the Navy, quite rightly described this afternoon or yesterday as important in its effect upon world opinion. That mobilisation and the calling up of the Territorials were the two most spectacular operations, but hon. Members may perhaps be interested to know that before those steps were taken, as a result of daily conferences between Ministers and Heads of Departments and other advisers steps were taken which proceeded with a smoothness which has surprised some of those who, unlike myself, were spectators in 1914, without confusion and with such smoothness that they did not even obtain much publicity. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster, well knows and will bear me out in saying that those preliminary steps were taken in order that when naval mobilisation or the calling out of the Territorials was ordered they might be able to make their influence exerted and be able to use it in the most effective way.
So far as civilian arrangements were concerned, I could give many examples of preparation, but I do not want to tire the House; of arrangements, for instance, that have been made for a matter that caused a great deal of trouble in 1914, a complete system of censorship. The organisation is ready and the staff—[An HON. MEMBER: "Censorship?"] Yes. Nobody need neglect those details. It is mere shallowness of mind to suppose that because the right hon. Gentleman thinks they are not concerned with guns or aeroplanes they are unimportant. They are most important. The staff had been appointed. The organisation was ready. The essential war materials, including a number of rare metals, have been accumulated in stocks sufficient to carry us through a long war. That is a matter that has completely escaped observation, 308 so far as the Press is concerned. The arrangements for emergency legislation have been ready for immediate presentation and passing by this House, and a variety of details has been prepared which I am afraid to mention for fear of exciting the right hon. Gentleman's ridicule.
What is the lesson from all this? I say quite frankly that nobody who has seen this most valuable test of our arrangements can be unaware of the fact that there have been gaps, serious gaps, and defects which must be remedied in our preparations. So far as the country is concerned, we have no cause to reproach the response that the country has made to the Government's efforts. If Ministers like myself have cause to reproach ourselves, there may be an opportunity of reconsidering the plans, overhauling them, correcting them, examining them; and directions have already been given that every Department should examine its preparations, military and civil, with a view to improving the system, hastening the steps that are already to be taken, and, indeed, enabling us to make our diplomacy and our defence march hand in hand as we should desire.
I thought it right to say these few words, and they can, of course, be criticised and developed in the Debate to-morrow. All I want to say now in conclusion is that the Prime Minister, I believe, has been the spokesman, the leader, of the nation in their ardent longing for an enduring peace. If this House will give him the reward which I respectfully suggest should be his, it is that we shall show a like energy and devotion to the public service.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-eight Minutes after Eleven o'clock.