§ 3.34 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
I beg to move,That this House approves the policy of His Majesty's Government by which war was averted in the recent crisis and supports their efforts to secure a lasting peace.After the two full days of Debate which we have already had on the Munich Agreement, in the course of which the circumstances and the consequences of this momentous event have been surveyed from many angles, the time has come when the Government must ask the House of Commons for a verdict on the events that have taken place since the House rose, and on the part which His Majesty's Government have played in connection with them. As the House was in Recess urgent action had to be taken, and most important decisions had to be promptly reached without the previous approval of Parliament, and without the opportunity of informing Parliament from day to day. We now invite the House, by its vote, to declare that the action which has been taken in this emergency is approved.
It can only be for history to decide hereafter whether the things that were done at Munich the other day lead, as we all of us everywhere in this House hope they will, to better things, or whether the prognostications of increasing evil will prove to be justified. Nobody can pronounce finally about that now. We are all witnessing, or playing our part in, a drama which is never finished. But the Government are bound to ask here and now in respect of these matters for approval of the course which has been taken so far as it has been at present pursued. It will not have escaped attention that yesterday M. Daladier in the French popular Chamber asked for and received, by a very great majority, the vote of approval. The size of that vote is very significant of the state of French opinion. I read that there were only three abstentions and that the minority, which totalled 75, contained, if I understand rightly, 73 members of the Communist party.
I suppose there is nobody sitting here on this Wednesday afternoon who is not carrying his mind back at this moment to Wednesday a week ago just about this 338 hour, and we are all of us reflecting not only on the extreme gravity of these events, but on the speed with which these events have rolled forward. An hon. Friend of mine in this House has expressed the view that it is deplorable that Parliament then demonstrated what he regarded as a most lamentable exhibition of mass hysteria. For my part, I believe that to be an utterly false view. After all, the demonstration which then occurred in this House when the Prime Minister was able to announce at the end of his speech what he did not know when he began, that he had had this invitation from Herr Hitler to go to Munich next morning—the demonstration that then occurred was not of some craven, ignoble, hysterical emotion. This popular Assembly never in its history has more truly represented the sentiments of the people. There was, of course, an overwhelming sense of relief at a respite, but there was more than that. There was a demonstration, an instant demonstration of admiration for the man amongst us who, as everybody knows, has been untiring in his efforts and unyielding in his resolve to snatch from the very jaws of war the prospect of peace.
There was another thing in it. That demonstration, a week ago, of the feeling of the House registered the realisation, so movingly expressed yesterday by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), spread throughout our nation and throughout many nations of the world, that the outbreak of a European war last week would have meant death, mutilation and terror to many millions of human beings. There is nothing lamentable, there is nothing hysterical in giving ex-pression to those feelings. To-day, if there be a contrast in the calmness and deliberation with which we can discuss these grave matters compared with last week, I still claim that I and each one of us who took part in that demonstration from our hearts, each one of us who felt deeply moved last Wednesday, can say now with reference to it what the Prime Minister said on Monday about his whole policy in this matter: "I have nothing to be ashamed of."
I have been reading the last published volume of the life of Marlborough, and I note that the author makes a contrast between the compassion of his hero, his horror at slaughter, and what he described, in a brilliant phrase, as 339that detachment from human suffering which has often frozen the hearts of great captains.I am glad that a week ago the House of Commons did not show that detachment. Now that we can discuss the issues with more deliberation, and, it may be, more calmly, allow me to observe, in passing, that if it had not been for the Prime Minister we should not have been able to do so to-day. Allow me to add one further reflection on a cognate aspect of the matter. Many people feel, and I feel, that often in these tremendous diplomatic discussions when we are trying to analyse what should be the course of great States, it is a mistake to personify and individualise the States too much. We say: "Germany is prepared to do this," or "France has undertaken to do that." We must remember that there are many millions of men and women in the world, and one lesson from this crisis, perhaps the greatest lesson of all, is that the masses of people in every country are equally horrified at the prospect of war. The Prime Minister's popularity in Germany is not due to any feeling among Germans that the Fuhrer was gaining territory or achieving his purpose: it was due to the gratitude which ordinary people in that country felt for the Prime Minister who was striving for peace in Europe. [An HON. MEMBER: "Question."]
I do not know whether hon. Members have observed the despatch which was sent to and published by the "Daily Herald" from their well-known correspondent Mr. W. N. Ewer, on one of the days at the end of last week—I think on Saturday. This correspondent was in Munich when these things were happening. I think I heard a voice challenging my observation just now. Let me read some of the passages from the despatch of this newspaper correspondent of the "Daily Herald," who was there witnessing the scene and estimating the situation. He discusses what may be called the tangible results and goes on to say:So much for the tangible results. But the intangible results seem to me of every bit as great importance, perhaps of more importance. Most outstanding of these is the effect on the German mind. There is no atmosphere of 'Hitler Victorious'—not even among dyed-in-the-wool-Nazis.He describes how the people were cheering the Prime Minister in the streets and the taverns and he goes on to say: 340They were cheering for one thing and one thing only. They were cheering for peace. Nobody who watched them and moved about among them could have any other thought for a moment. And mark this, in Munich, in September, 1938, German men and women, after the signing of an agreement which put an end to a tense situation, flocked to cheer not the German Fuhrer who had won a victory, but the British Prime Minister, who, rightly or wrongly, in their minds symbolises peace.Mr. Ewer goes on to say:I do not know how adequately to emphasise the importance of this. But of this I am entirely sure to my finger tips, that an odd unexpected, entirely uncalculated result of the last three weeks crisis, and of this strange ending to it, has been an expression of public opinion in Germany such as has not been known for five years. It may well turn out that that is going to be vastly more important than the precise date on which this or that zone of the Sudeten land is transferred from Czechoslovakia to German rule.That is one reflection which I am justified in bringing to the notice of the House. It is the impression of the "Daily Herald" correspondent, a trained observer, on the spot. There are, I think, two other main reflections which the avoidance of the outbreak of war last week bring to the forefront of our minds. They are very grim reflections, but I wish to state the position as I see it. One reflection is this. We are deeply conscious to-day that while war has been avoided Herr Hitler has again achieved the substance of his immediate and declared aim without war. The Prime Minister, with his usual candour, told us that at Berchtesgaden Herr Hitler, in perfectly definite terms, declared that the Sudeten Germans must have the right of self-determination, and that if they could not achieve it by their own efforts he would assist them to do so. He declared categorically that rather than wait he would be prepared to risk a world war. Nobody will underrate the gravity and significance of that fact, the fact that he was prepared to invade Czechoslovakia in order to annex this territory, the fact that the Reich is now acquiring the territory which he demanded, not indeed by invasion or war, but by cession—cession which the French and British pressed the Czechs to make.
The other main reflection which is in all our minds is that while what might have been unlimited war, extending to many countries, was avoided last week, still it is Czechoslovakia which has surrendered territory to the insistent demands of Germany, and the fortitude 341 and calmness with which the Czechs have faced that destiny have aroused the admiration of the whole world. But while we feel the full force of these facts and realise what a terrible decision was before the Czechoslovakian Government, sympathy and feeling must not blind us to what the alternative courses before the Czech Government really were. It was a dreadful choice, but it was a choice between ceding, as the French and ourselves advised them to cede, a portion of territory which had been included in this newly-created Czechoslovakian State at the end of the War 20 years ago, and exposing their State to unlimited invasion and possible destruction. I wish to say quite plainly and firmly that the French Government and ourselves did no injury to Czechoslovakia because we brought them to face that alternative. We have only to read Lord Runciman's report in which he says that he believed that cession of territory was inevitable. We know that he struggled against it and worked his hardest to devise plans to avoid it, but that was his conclusion. No one can read his report, temperately phrased as it is, without realising that a settlement without altering the boundaries had ceased to be possible, and feelings which are rightly aroused by this dismemberment must not exclude a consideration of this hard fact.
A great many people outside, who are anxious and concerned, have not studied this question with the closeness with which politicians have had to study it. The truth is that the State of Czechoslovakia was in fact created in its original form after the Peace Treaties in defiance of the principle of self-determination. I confess that I find great difficulty in believing that this famous formula of President Wilson can in all cases be precisely and satisfactorily applied. It appears to me that the formula in its abstract shape is what I may call a very good Liberal formula, but there are, at any rate, many cases in which it is extremely difficult to give it a just application This is due to the fact—it does not seem to be provided for in the formula itself—that you may have in the same place people of opposite attachments, races and views. Indeed, President Wilson did not seem to allow for the fact that birds of a feather do not necessarily flock together. I quite understand that there were difficulties, enormous difficulties, to be met by those who had the 342 business of redrawing the boundaries of Europe when they came to apply in some cases the Wilsonian doctrine. As usual the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in one of his books has put the whole thing in a pungent sentence or two which I will venture to read to the House. He says:Bohemia and Moravia contained at least 3,000,000 German-speaking population, often concentrated, usually in the ascendant, a strong competent stock, holding firmly together like the Ulstermen in Ireland.And then he puts the dilemma:To exclude the German-speaking population from the new State of Czechoslovakia was deeply and perhaps fatally to weaken the new State; to include them was to affront the principle of self-determination.I am not making this reference with the slightest desire to reduce the Debate into a quarrel about self-determination, but because I think it my duty to remind the House most respectfully and hon. Members opposite that this view of the matter is one which the Labour party supported, which those who claimed independence in the Liberal party have constantly had in mind, and which a great number of serious students of no party at all have constantly had in mind. The late Mr. Arthur Henderson wrote a treatise on the peace terms in 1919, and he said:Millions of Germans are placed under Czechoslovakian, Polish and Italian rule. This will create irredentist populations as considerable as those which provoked the Serbian agitation before the War.Serious people who have examined this matter have realised for a long time that what really happened was that a decision was reached by yielding to strategical calculations, and by disregarding President Wilson's principles. I do not think that those who had no responsibility should be too ready to say that a better solution could have been attained at the time; but the decision that was reached was one by which Europe was storing up for herself terrible trouble. Let me make one other reference to one who has passed from us now, an authority which I revere—Mr. Asquith. He was not at the Peace Conference but in the speeches he made during that fateful time he declared:Some of the new boundaries in Europe must be regarded as provisional. There must be an opportunity for deliberate review and revision.
§ Sir J. Simon
Yes, and he hoped that the League of Nations might be able to undertake that task.
I do not see my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in his place at the moment, but what I am saying I do not think will be challenged by him. I have here the actual volume which was presented to those who were at the Peace Conference, on behalf of the new State of Czechoslovakia, containing a Memorandum, with arguments, very elaborate ones in French and German, which they put forward as their case for claiming to include this German fringe. You cannot read the book without seeing what a difficult problem it was. When you contrast what is said here with some of the things in Lord Runciman's Report you are bound to admit that some at least of the expectations have not been completely fulfilled. A part of the book contains promises as to how these Germans would find themselves treated inside the new State. For my part, I agree entirely with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), that the disabilities and discriminations from which they have suffered are very far from being the worst that you can find in Europe. But none the less, as Lord Runciman said, they are serious and irritating. Yet I find here in the document presented when the Peace Treaties were being drawn up and the lines of the frontiers were being settled, very comforting assurances:The Germans in this area will have in Bohemia exactly the same rights as the Czechs. We should never employ any irritating measures against the German part of the population. The regime would correspond to that of Switzerland.One must in common fairness admit that Lord Runciman's Report gives a different picture. He says that for a long time, down to the last three or four years, the Sudeten Germans have lived in a situation of hopelesness, and he goes on:The rise of Nazi Germany gave them new hope. I regard their turning for help towards their kinsmen and their eventual desire to join the Reich as a natural development in the circumstances.Therefore, it seems to me that we are brought to this point which has been mentioned once or twice in the Debate, that it is regrettable that it was not possible to secure a peaceful adjustment of 344 frontiers before this. References have been very rightly made to Article XIX of the Covenant of the League of Nations, but even so I think it is right to realise how very weak and flimsy Article XIX of the Covenant really was. I think I shall carry with me the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington in saying this: The framers of the Treaties of Peace no doubt were aware that some of the frontiers they had drawn might in turn need to be altered. I am sure they must have realised that. But all they felt they could do was to include in the Covenant of the League Article XIX. What does Article XIX provide? I do not want to belittle it but let me read its terms:The Assembly may from time to time advise the reconsideration by Members of the League of Treaties which have become inapplicable, and the consideration of international conditions whose continuance might endanger the peace of the world.In practice that Article has proved ineffective for any practical result, largely for two reasons: First of all the Article, which says that the Assembly may pass such a resolution, requires that the resolution must be passed unanimously. Every State must be prepared to let the resolution be passed; a single vote against it, even the vote of the State that is going to lose its territory, would mean that the resolution is lost. The requirement of unanimity has in fact operated to fix and crystallise frontiers which undoubtedly ought to have been already altered. That is the first point. The second difficulty is this: Even if you could suppose that the Assembly could get such a resolution carried unanimously, even so the parties, the States concerned, would still have to arrive at their own agreement as to what should be transferred and the way in which it should be transferred before reconsideration can be carried out. Lord Lothian has strongly emphasised in another place the point that the League of Nations is not a super-State which is able to impose its authority on its members. The sovereignty of each State remains. Therefore, what is involved in the peaceful transference of territory without causing trouble is that the sovereign State should voluntarily and without pressure give up an area which it very naturally would desire to keep. I believe that the true view of this matter is this, that the problem of the peaceful adjustment of frontiers where substantial 345 territories are involved and antagonisms of race and rival loyalties arise, has never yet received its due solution or consideration. It is a very difficult thing to imagine how it could be done.
§ Sir J. Simon
That problem, that issue of the change of frontiers and the transfer of territories, is now in the modern world the chief remaining cause from which wars might arise. Practically every other historic cause has been removed. Religious wars, dynastic wars, wars which have to do with other issues have to a very large extent ceased to be a danger to the world. I am hopeful that even trade wars might be avoided. But this problem of how you are to secure the peaceful alteration of frontiers is a problem which, if it cannot be solved by some method or other, remains a potent cause of possible wars. It has nothing to do with it to say that there have been cases of cessions of territory. Lord Salisbury made an arrangement with Germany by which Heligoland passed to Germany in 1890. That was passed without heat, without raising racial issues that inflamed passions. That has nothing to do with intense rivalries over a frontier which separates people from those they want to join.
I believe that in the work which the Prime Minister had to face this was the real problem which he and the French Government had to tackle during this crisis. And while I admit that the solution that has been obtained is open to all sorts of challenges and criticisms, let us at least recognise what was the real character of the difficulty to be solved and how seldom in the history of the modern world it has been solved without war. It is true that the Agreement at Munich was reached under the pressure of the alternative of instant invasion. That is true, but is that reason enough for rejecting the Agreement and preferring that Europe should be plunged into war? I do not think so.
During the last two days there have been many observations made on many aspects of the Agreement, and I am not going to delay the House at the beginning of this Debate with many details. But there is one very important question which I would like to deal with in a few words. During the Debate on Monday it was raised by my right hon. Friend 346 the Member for Warwick and Leamington. He inquired whether the development of the Munich meeting would be the formation of a Four-Power pact. I wish to make an observation on that subject.
If the question is whether we are willing to enter into friendly consultation, in conjunction with France and Italy and Germany, upon the problems of Europe, then I say, "Most emphatically." It has, in fact, been a dominant aim of the policy of the Prime Minister and the Government to see whether it is possible, instead of maintaining an unbridgeable gulf for all purposes between democracies and dictatorships, in the interests of European peace for them and us to live side by side. But if on the other hand the question is whether we are contemplating an exclusive Four-Power pact—I think that that was what my right hon. Friend wanted to be reassured upon—if the question is whether we are contemplating an exclusive Four-Power pact which will attempt, in disregard of other States great and small and without communication to them, to impose its will upon Europe, then I say on behalf of the Government with equal emphasis that that is not and never has been the policy of His Majesty's Government.
As the Home Secretary stated on Monday, it is our hope that Russia will be willing to join in the guarantee of Czechoslovakia. It is most important that she should do so. The Government have no intention whatever of excluding Russia or trying to exclude Russia from any future settlement of Europe. If outstanding differences are to be resolved it must be on the basis of free consultation with all European Powers. My right hon. Friend was quite right when he emphasised the importance of securing the co-operation of the smaller Powers of Europe. They are always valuable allies for peace. Our object is to buttress and strengthen peace in every way we can, and it does not in the least follow, because you have close contacts with France or Germany or Italy, that this precludes close contacts with other nations too.
I wish to deal with one other matter before I close. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) in his speech on his resignation referred to the phrase about "peace for our time." My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) 347 challenged, and I think almost derided the Prime Minister's belief that Munich can be a prelude to a larger settlement in Europe. I want to say a word about that. Certainly, there is nothing in the previous steps taken by Nazi Germany or in the text of "Mein Kampf" that justify any confident optimism. That is plain enough. But it is equally wrong to persist doggedly, and without giving new facts their due weight, in the despairing view that as things have been, they remain. If "past hopes were dupes, future fears may be liars," and our business is to support the strenuous efforts that are being made, by the Prime Minister first and foremost, to divert the current which would otherwise threaten to sweep civilisation to destruction.
Now I wish to give this a practical application. What are the new considerations which ought to be weighed? What are the new features which may be said to emerge out of these weeks of crisis? I should like to mention four and invite the House to weigh them. They emerge from the events of the last few days, and I think they are very relevant in forming our judgment. The first is this. For the first time, as far as I know, Herr Hitler has made some concession. It must be a very difficult thing for the head of a totalitarian State to retract. It is like a motor car that has got no reverse gear. Therefore, even minor adjustments have significance. Whatever we may think of the Munich Agreement, it is certainly very different in tone and in substance from the Godesberg document. It is also very different from the Fuhrer's speech, which some of us may have heard—I was fortunate in having a colleague who understands German so well—at the Sportspalast. What did Herr Hitler say in that speech? He said that the Czechoslovak issue was an issue between Dr. Benes and himself, and nobody else. He said that he had said his last word. Germany's wireless propagandists at the time of the Godesberg meeting were claiming the complete dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Not only are the terms of the Munich Agreement, as the Prime Minister pointed out on Monday, widely different from the brutal demand of Godesberg, but they do represent—and it is a great fact that it is so—what the Prime Minister called an orderly and agreed process in stages, containing pro- 348 tective provisions and operating under an International Commission, in place of a dictated ultimatum. It is quite right that we should not attach exaggerated or ridiculous importance to these things, but, for my part, I think it shows much greater blindness, and if I may say so, much greater folly, not at least to observe the significance of that difference.
Then there is a second thing which I would ask the House to note, to weigh and to judge. It is very plain that the dictators have clearly realised, and realised by the demeanour of their own populations, well drilled and submissive though those populations may be, that detestation of war is not confined to the democracies. Let us remember the war mentality in Germany during the Great War; if there was war enthusiasm in Germany in 1914, there is no war enthusiasm to-day. Is there not a world of difference between the Berlin that shouted "Gott strafe England" and the Berlin that blesses the name of the Prime Minister of England?
There is a third point, which I will put thus: the British Government, and most of all the head of the British Government, is no longer an abstraction to Nazi Germany. Not all the machinery of Herr Goebbels can prevent the visible presence of the British Prime Minister being known to the German people. He is a personality, he has descended from the skies and has made contact with the Fuhrer. He has done, and has impressed the German people by doing, what no other spokesman of the British democracy in recent years has ever done—he has brought to the German people, for the first time, realisation that there is a man at the head of the British State who is pursuing—and we are pursuing—a positive policy of peace. Anybody who knows anything of the difficulty of penetrating that thick mist of misunderstanding ought in common sense and in common gratitude to acknowledge that that is a most significant thing.
There is a fourth point, the last I will mention, but by no means the least. There has been an awakening on our own side. Our people have been roused as never before to the danger. There is a realisation of the extent of the sacrifice that must be made for Britain. We have tried out our own preparations, and whatever the defects may be, let me say that 349 there is no comparison between the speed with which we have been enabled to deal with many matters in the civil sphere and the speed with which we were able to deal with them in 1914. We have seen in practice our shortcomings, and we have found and shown how quickly British citizens can adapt themselves to the needs of a crisis, and how calmly everybody was prepared to meet it. It is not without significance for Germany that no section of this population, through cowardice, indicated that they were prepared for peace at any price and in any circumstances. If the totalitarian States imagined, as they may have done from some things that have been told, that democracy under such a strain as that would not present unity, they have been very promptly disillusioned. It does seem to me—I do not mind for a moment whether everybody here agrees with me or not—that those are considerations which we ought to weigh. They help to support the hopeful view that we may be about to witness some diversion of the current towards destruction. Can we hope that any policy, however conciliatory, can avail unless there is behind it, in the last resort, a brave and determined people such as our people are, with a firm will and with adequate means to enforce it?
I wish to bring this controversy to a simple issue by asking a single question. Here are the Munich terms, undoubtedly in form and in substance a vast improvement on the Godesberg Memorandum, but still containing drastic conditions, very harsh stipulations—the German occupation to begin on 1st October and all stages to end by 10th October. It seems to me that each Member of the House must ask himself whether, if he had been Prime Minister, he would have rejected the Munich terms last Friday and destroyed the last chance of averting war. We may, I think, disregard those self-confident persons, if such there be, who feel sure that if they had been at Munich they would have handled the matter much better than the Prime Minister. The real test is this. We are at peace to-day, with these Munich terms in operation, which were accepted by the French, who were under fixed treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia, though we were not. How many amongst us are there who, 350 if we could would undo what was then done, would reject the settlement to which the Prime Minister put his hand on Friday, and instead—because it was the only alternative—would fling the world into the cauldron of immediate war? Why, there are some people who are so confident that war will come in the end that they seem to prefer to have the certainty of it now. That is the creed of utter despair. There are other people who imagine that by loudly threatening war we can escape ever having to fulfil our threat. That is a very dangerous delusion. For my part, I reject both the doctrine of the inevitability of war and the theory of the effectiveness of bluff. I call upon the House to show its confidence in the policy of the Prime Minister. There is a magnificent line of Shelley's, in the closing passage of "Prometheus Unbound," where the poet includes in the list of qualities which may make mankind glorious and good the power:to hope till Hope createsFrom its own wreck the thing it contemplates.I believe that the supreme contribution which the Prime Minister's policy has made for the benefit of the world is this: He has never given up hope, and has thereby started a movement which may have an immense development, which we hope and pray may save the world for peace.
§ Sir Arthur Salter
On a point of Order. There is a point of grammar in the terms of this Motion which is puzzling many hon. Members. I do not know, and I think many people are in doubt, whether this Motion should be read as if there were a comma after the word "Government" and after the word "averted." In other words, are we being asked to approve His Majesty's Government's policy in the recent crisis, which averted war, or, are we being asked to approve of the policy of His Majesty's Government generally, which averted war in the crisis?
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
Perhaps I may be allowed on that question to say that my reading of the Motion is the first interpretation which the hon. Member put upon it.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:while profoundly relieved that war has been averted for the time being, cannot approve a policy which has led to the sacrifice of Czechoslovakia under threat of armed force and to the humiliation of our country and its exposure to grave dangers; and realising the intense desire of all peoples for lasting peace, demands an active support of the method of collective security through the League of Nations and the immediate initiation by His Majesty's Government of proposals for the summoning of a world conference to consider the removal of economic and political grievances which imperil peace.The Debate to-day takes a new turn. On these benches we do not quarrel so much with the grammar of the Motion as with its purport. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has made, as usual, a skilful speech and a speech which may have helped certain hon. Members on the other benches to make up their minds. During the last two days I think we can all see there have been two points on which the House appeared to be agreed. The first was the intense relief which was felt by everybody, everywhere, that the war clouds were temporarily dispersed and the second was the feeling, universal I believe, that Czechoslovakia had had the rawest of raw deals and that she is, in fact, to-day the saviour of peace for the time being. Where there was not unanimity of opinion was on the question of policy—on the policy of recent years and the policy of recent weeks. Doubts as to the wisdom of that policy have been expressed from both sides of the House. It is clear that that feeling is not confined to hon. Members on this side. On the Government benches there are those who view that policy with grave misgiving and are deeply apprehensive as regards the future.
Members on all sides of the House, I believe, expected the Prime Minister on Monday to give some indication of future action. But the right hon. Gentleman who, this afternoon asks for this vote of confidence made the sketchiest of proposals regarding the future policy of this Government. Inevitably his speech on Monday was largely concerned with explanations and with retailing the course of events, but some hon. Members—I believe on benches other than ours—did hope that the right hon. Gentleman would 352 have done something to indicate what is to be the policy of the Government to ensure that lasting peace which is referred to in the Motion now before us. I am bound to say, however, and I am not saying it in any narrow party spirit, that the right hon. Gentleman's speech was completely barren of any constructive suggestion. The one concrete proposal which he made—and which indicated a complete absence of any constructive plan and indeed the abandonment of all hope of the victory of reason—was a feverish intensification of rearmament. Such an outlook is bleak and grim.
Many hon. Members during the last two days have dealt with the historical background of the present situation and I do not propose to repeat what has been said. We have arrived at a stage to-day when it is no use crying over spilt blood and tears. The primary questions before us now are these: first, whether the lessons of the immediate past and of the present are to be learned, and, secondly, whether, having regard to the shadows which have brought home to millions of people in recent days the naked terrors of modern armed conflict, the opportunity is to be seized now to end for ever the threat of war. I am less concerned with the mistakes and successes of the past than with the problem of the future, and the lessons of the past—and I choose my words carefully—do not lead us to believe that the promises recently made will necessarily be faithfully kept. I should like to quote the words of a distinguished statesman whose wise counsel and insight the House of Commons would treasure to-day. I refer to the late Sir Austen Chamberlain who, two years ago, spoke prophetic words having a close bearing on the situation to-day. I quote first from a speech made by him on 1st April, 1936:What was our attitude going to be if Austrian independence were menaced or withdrawn, either by direct attack from without or by revolution fomented and supported from without such as only little more than a year ago very nearly upset the Government and caused the murder of Doctor Dollfuss? If we meant anything by saying that our policy was founded on the Covenant and that we were going to be true to our engagements, possibilities like that became a matter for the consideration of every British citizen, for at any time we might be called upon to intervene. Austrian independence held the key position. If Austria went, Czechoslovakia was indefensible; all the Balkans became subject to an immense new influence. Here we had 353 the old German dream of a Mittel Europa directed from and subordinated to Berlin, stretching from the Baltic to the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, become a reality with consequences not merely for our country but for our Empire which were incalculable.Then, in a speech in the House of Commons two years ago, a speech which many hon. Members will recollect, Sir Austen spoke these words:I know no parallel instance of a Government professing a desire for peace and friendly relations with another Government which has shown such a studied contempt for friendly overtures. It is an ill omen for these new conversations. The further we advance the further Germany recedes. The more we show our willingness to grant, the higher her demands rise. … Is it not better, above all when you are dealing with a Government with the history of the German Government, to say quite clearly what you mean? I venture to put it to the Committee and the Government that to encourage vague elastic, expansive hopes is not the way to make any negotiations a success. The great thing is to know how far you are prepared to go and to let those with whom you have to deal know that within those limits you will do all you can, and that beyond those limits you will not go. … I have never known negotiations helped by encouraging hopes that cannot be realised, and for my part not only do I think that we have no right to part with our Mandated Territories to anyone except the people themselves when they become fit to rule and defend them, but I say that I cannot take upon my shoulders the gift of putting another human being under a Government which refuses in its own country to its own people the rights of citizenship and makes them serfs."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1936; cols. 1176–77, Vol. 315.]Those, I suggest, are words which should cause us to reflect to-day. My last quotation from Sir Austen is from a speech which he made earlier than that—on 11th March, 1936—to the Cambridge University Conservative Association. He said:When Germany signed the Locarno Treaty they made a contribution to the appeasement of Europe. That contribution has now been withdrawn without negotiation and without consultation by an act of brute force, tearing up treaties, until once again we are asking ourselves, is any treaty made with Germany more than a scrap of paper?I must follow that up by examining some of the statements that have been made responsibly, without heat and after reflection by Herr Hitler. As long ago as 1933, in the Reichstag, he said:The German people have no thought of invading any country.In 1934 he said:After the Saar question has been settled the German Government is ready to accept not only the letter but also the spirit of the Locarno Pact.354 In a speech at Munich—this home from which peace has come—in 1934 Herr Hitler said:German boundaries have always changed. They will continue to change until all German peoples are united in one.In May, 1935, in the Reichstag, the German Fuhrer said:Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.On 7th March of the following year he said again:We have no territorial demands to make in Europe.In February of this year he reaffirmed his recognition of Austrian sovereignty already expressed in the Austro-German agreement of July, 1936. In March of this year the Prime Minister told the House of Commons that Germany had given assurances that she had no hostile intentions against Czechoslovakia. On 26th September, in a speech in Berlin, Herr Hitler said:And now the last problem which must be solved confronts us. It is the last territorial claim which I have to make in Europe, but it is one I will not renounce.But the Prime Minister has been deceived by more recent promises and statements of Herr Hitler, for when the right hon. Gentleman spoke last Wednesday in the House, referring to his second visit to the German Chancellor, he said:Hon. Members will realise the perplexity in which I found myself, faced with this totally unexpected situation. I had been told at Berchtesgaden that if the principle of self-determination were accepted Herr Hitler would discuss with me the ways and means of carrying it out. He told me afterwards that he never for one moment supposed that I should be able to come back and say that the principle was accepted. I do not want hon. Members to think that he was deliberately deceiving me—I do not think so for one moment—but, for me, I expected that when I got back to Godesberg I had only to discuss quietly with him the proposals that I had brought with me; and it was a profound shock to me when I was told at the beginning of the conversation that these proposals were not acceptable, and that they were to be replaced by other proposals of a kind which I had not contemplated at all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; col. 20, Vol 339.]Not only so. In the ensuing conversation the right hon. Gentleman was never told anything about a date, and when he received the Note which he undertook to deliver without comment to the Czechoslovak Government the date appeared for 355 the first time. I make these quotations, not to rake over the still glowing embers of the past, but because the substance of what I have read must colour the minds of many people in this House to-day. I ask the House to consider whether there is any guarantee that the words of one who has repeatedly broken solemn promises in the past will be kept sacred in the future. If the undertakings given within the past week were assured, if they were to be, in the future, maintained and honoured, a heavy load would be lifted from the heart of mankind. Whether they are so honoured or not depends, in the last resort, on one man, a man deeply committed to a vast and comprehensive policy, a man passionately and sincerely devoted to the realisation of his dreams. If he were now to make some great gesture to give an earnest of his intentions, if he were, shall we say, to withdraw from Spain, if he were to release his political prisoners, whose only crime is that they share the views held by the vast majority of the people of this country, if he were to give practical help and succour to the refugees whom he has uprooted from their own homes, then some people might pause before coming to a final conclusion.
There are those on all sides of the House for whom this is really the crucial question. The right hon. Gentleman having met Herr Hitler face to face, believes in his sincerity, accepts his word. Those of us who have not seen him are bound in our minds to be governed by his failures in the past to keep the most solemn obligations. I know there must be many people in this House who would, if they could, gladly believe the Prime Minister, that we are now dealing with a new German Chancellor, but I feel that many people cannot honestly and sincerely take that view. They have misgivings and apprehensions. If these misgivings were to be realised, what then? How should we, as a nation and Empire, be placed? We should have lost a gallant ally whose recent military defences would be held by Germany. Germany's way would be open to the South and the South-East; Mittel Europa would spring into existence. Already the economic penetration of Central Europe has begun. One need only read a despatch in the "Times" to-day, one need only read a despatch in the "Daily Telegraph," on 356 the political side. Central Europe is crumbling now before the power of the German Chancellor.
Then what of Russia? The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer made certain apologetic references to Russia and said they did not want to be very unfriendly, but what has been the history of this crisis? After all, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is an ally of France to the same extent as we are an ally of France. During these difficult days Britain and France have been in the closest consultation, but that is not true of Britain and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. If any right hon. Gentleman chooses to challenge me, I shall be very glad to hear his reply. The meetings that have taken place between British and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' representatives have been rare, they have been casual, they have been primarily for an exchange of views, and, except for one occasion at Geneva, on 23rd September, there was not a single consultation which had to do with the steps contemplated by the British and French Governments. If the worst were to come to the worst in these circumstances, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics might by that time have retired from European politics behind her own frontiers, secure in her own independence.
Moreover, the United States of America, through its President, has played a noble part during the present crisis. I believe, myself, that the relations between the Americans and the British people in the face of this insistent challenge to democracy have never been better since the day, over 300 years ago, when Captain John Smith landed in Virginia. I believe the feeling of friendship is deeper now than it was in the last Great War. The United States, ever friendly to the cause of democracy, may in the near future perhaps be driven into a position of moral isolation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to certain smaller nations. The democratic nations of Northern Europe and elsewhere, having already lost faith in the leadership of the great democratic States, may also relapse into a position of moral isolation. In these circumstances, if long nursed and postponed ambitions were then to raise their heads, where would Britain and France stand? I suggest that they would stand in even greater peril 357 than they do to-day, or indeed than they ever have done throughout their long history.
The net result of the present settlement, speaking in terms of world policy, is not the fact that we have held off the grim spectre of war for the time being; the net result is that Hitler is now in command of Central Europe and that we have replaced a tottering Mussolini on his pedestal. So far, therefore, from the policy of the Government having secured peace, the new situation, with the victory of Hitler, with the rehabilitation of Signor Mussolini, with the dread possibilities of the future, has placed Britain and such friends as are left to her in dire peril. This is not war-mongering. This is realism. That is the situation which may have to be faced. What then, I ask, is to be done if either Herr Hitler's promises are to be anchored to peace or if there is a prospect of even graver trouble in the future? The Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day tried to define the attitude of the Government towards a Four-Power Pact. Let me say at once that in our view the participants in the recent discussions provide no adequate basis whatever for future negotiations. No Four-Power Pact, with people hanging precariously on the fringe and being consulted from time to time, can provide the safeguards of a constructive peace.
Now I wish to refer to the right hon. Gentleman's excursion into the realms of Shakespearian literature. I forbear to explain what Hotspur was, but I think we had better have a little more of this famous quotation than we have had yet. In act II, scene 3, though there is another passage, which I will not quote, beginning:What ho: chamberlain,Hotspur is reading a letter, and there is a sentence as follows:'The purpose you undertake is dangerous;'—Why, that's certain; 't is dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink: but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.And then:'The purpose you undertake is dangerous; the friends you have named, uncertain; the time itself unsorted; and your whole plot too light for the counterpoise of so great an opposition.'I will not quote some rather harsh terms which the right hon. Gentleman might regard as personal to himself, but I will 358 read this final quotation. This is a good book to keep by one. Hotspur goes on:By the Lord our plot is a good plot, as ever was laid, our friends true and constant: a good plot, good friends, and full of expectation: an excellent plot, very good friends. What a frosty-spirited rogue is this?I make no further comment. I let this moral lesson stand by itself. This kind of Four-Power Pact would fling this country and other countries back into the arena of the Balance of Power and would intensify power politics. On these benches we cannot believe that Britain, France, Germany and Italy in concert are capable alone of winning peace. We think that Britain and France would find it an uneven contest. It is difficult to negotiate with men who keep revolvers on the table. The eleventh hour concessions which were made at Munich went far beyond the Anglo-French Memorandum. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us they are much better than the Godesberg Memorandum, watered down some-what, but a substantial concession. To that extent they represented a further retreat by Britain and France from the admittedly outrageous demands already made upon Czechoslovakia. What justification is there then for believing that the British and French elements in any future Four-Power discussions will not continue to satisfy the increasing demands made by the totalitarian States, with the growing uncertainty of keeping peace?
I have no doubt that now is the critical time to determine whether the groundwork of permanent peace is or is not to be laid. Just as unilateral disarmament is, in my view, futile, so unilateral rearmament is of no avail against powerful aggressors. No single nation outside the totalitarian States can alone challenge the dictators. To tread the path of peace we must seek first the highroad of collective security. We were nearer a moral peace when Germany and Italy realised that Britain, France and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics would stand together than ever we were before or since. I submit that there is no other way than the path of collective security. A start should be made now. It will need the mobilisation of world opinion among great and small States alike, before another wave of uncertainty and pessimism deluges the peoples of the world, to make peace for ever safe. Now is the moment, 359 when the horrors of war are deeply implanted in the minds of everybody in every land.
I should like the Government to answer this specific question. Do the Government, or do they not, intend to take steps to organise collective security for defence against aggressors? I am not saying that that ends our problem. Let it be admitted that there are serious and legitimate political and economic problems which demand solution to-day. I do not believe that these problems can be resolved piecemeal. I do not believe that they can be resolved by hole-and-corner methods. Just as the whole world stood on the brink of the melting-pot of war, so its escape from the possibilities of danger in future depends upon world effort. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a powerful factor in the world situation. The United States, quite rightly reluctant to embroil herself in European complications, has declared that she cannot be indifferent to the existence of large scale war in the world. She is another mighty influence in world affairs. Other nations, smaller in extent and population, who live in fear of aggression or nurse grievances clamouring for solution, or who, living in harmony with their neighbours, hate the deflection of their lives from their normal courses because of unsettlement elsewhere and wish to live in the mainstream of the world's life in peace. These nations also have a contribution to make to the general good. If these considerations are right, then clearly the need is for an immediate world conference in whose hands would rest the future of mankind. Those, if there were any, who did not choose to attend, would be branded as unwilling to conform to the wishes of humanity. Those who attended would clearly be bound by the common decisions of the conference. On that basis, and on no other, can there be the vindication of law and order and the establishment of universal and eternal peace.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Churchill
If I do not begin this afternoon by paying the usual, and indeed almost invariable, tributes to the Prime Minister for his handling of this crisis, it is certainly not from any lack of personal regard. We have always, over a great many years, had very pleasant relations, and I have deeply understood from per- 360 sonal experiences of my own in a similar crisis the stress and strain he has had to bear; but I am sure it is much better to say exactly what we think about public affairs, and this is certainly not the time when it is worth anyone's while to court political popularity. We had a shining example of firmness of character from the late First Lord of the Admiralty two days ago. He showed that firmness of character which is utterly unmoved by currents of opinion, however swift and violent they may be. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law), to whose compulsive speech the House listened on Monday—which I had not the good fortune to hear, but which I read, and which I am assured by all who heard it revived the memory of his famous father, so cherished in this House, and made us feel that his gifts did not die with him—was quite right in reminding us that the Prime Minister has himself throughout his conduct of these matters shown a robust indifference to cheers or boos and to the alternations of criticism and applause. If that be so, such qualities and elevation of mind should make it possible for the most severe expressions of honest opinion to be interchanged in this House without rupturing personal relations, and for all points of view to receive the fullest possible expression.
Having thus fortified myself by the example of others, I will proceed to emulate them. I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.
§ Mr. Churchill
When the Noble Lady cries "Nonsense," she could not have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer admit in his illuminating and comprehensive speech just now that Herr Hitler had gained in this particular leap forward in substance all he set out to gain. The utmost my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been able to secure by all his immense exertions, by all the great efforts and mobilisation which took place in this country, and by all the anguish and strain through which we have passed in this country, the utmost he has been 361 able to gain—[HON. MEMBERS: "Is peace."] I thought I might be allowed to make that point in its due place, and I propose to deal with it. The utmost he has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia and in the matters which were in dispute has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching his victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said it was the first time Herr Hitler had been made to retract—I think that was the word—in any degree. We really must not waste time, after all this long Debate, upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomised, if the House will permit me to vary the metaphor. £1 was demanded at the pistol's point. When it was given, £2 were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take £1 17s. 6d. and the rest in promises of good will for the future.
Now I come to the point, which was mentioned to me just now from some quarters of the House, about the saving of peace. No one has been a more resolute and uncompromising struggler for peace than the Prime Minister. Everyone knows that. Never has there been such intense and undaunted determination to maintain and to secure peace. That is quite true. Nevertheless, I am not quite clear why there was so much danger of Great Britain or France being involved in a war with Germany at this juncture if, in fact, they were ready all along to sacrifice Czechoslovakia. The terms which the Prime Minister brought back with him—I quite agree at the last moment; everything had got off the rails and nothing but his intervention could have saved the peace, but I am talking of the events of the summer—could easily have been agreed, I believe, through the ordinary diplomatic channels at any time during the summer. And I will say this, that I believe the Czechs, left to themselves and told they were going to get no help from the Western Powers, would have been able to make better terms than they have got—they could hardly have worse—after all this tremendous perturbation.
There never can be any absolute certainty that there will be a fight if one side is determined that it will give way completely. When one reads the Munich 362 terms, when one sees what is happening in Czechoslovakia from hour to hour, when one is sure, I will not say of Parliamentary approval but of Parliamentary acquiescence, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer makes a speech which at any rate tries to put in a very powerful and persuasive manner the fact that, after all, it was inevitable and indeed righteous—right—when we saw all this, and everyone on this side of the House, including many Members of the Conservative Party who are supposed to be vigilant and careful guardians of the national interest, it is quite clear that nothing vitally affecting us was at stake, it seems to me that one must ask, What was all the trouble and fuss about?
The resolve was taken by the British and the French Governments. Let me say that it is very important to realise that it is by no means a question which the British Government only have had to decide. I very much admire the manner in which, in the House, all references of a recriminatory nature have been repressed, but it must be realised that this resolve did not emanate particularly from one or other of the Governments but was a resolve for which both must share in common the responsibility. When this resolve was taken and the course was followed—you may say it was wise or unwise, prudent or short-sighted—once it had been decided not to make the defence of Czechoslovakia a matter of war, then there was really no reason, if the matter had been handled during the summer in the ordinary way, to call into being all this formidable apparatus of crisis. I think that point should be considered.
We are asked to vote for this Motion which has been put upon the Paper, and it is certainly a Motion couched in very uncontroversial terms, as, indeed, is the Amendment moved from the Opposition side. I cannot myself express my agreement with the steps which have been taken, and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has put his side of the case with so much ability I will attempt, if I may be permitted, to put the case from a different angle. I have always held the view that the maintenance of peace depends upon the accumulation of deterrents against the aggressor, coupled with a sincere effort to redress grievances. Herr Hitler's victory, like so many of the famous struggles that have governed the 363 fate of the world, was won upon the narrowest of margins. After the seizure of Austria in March we faced this problem in our Debates. I ventured to appeal to the Government to go a little further than the Prime Minister went, and to give a pledge that in conjunction with France and other Powers they would guarantee the security of Czechoslovakia while the Sudeten-Deutsch question was being examined either by a League of Nations Commission or some other impartial body, and I still believe that if that course had been followed events would not have fallen into this disastrous state. I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) when he said on that occasion—I cannot remember his actual words—"Do one thing or the other; either say you will disinterest yourself in the matter altogether or take the step of giving a guarantee which will have the greatest chance of securing protection for that country."
France and Great Britain together, especially if they had maintained a close contact with Russia, which certainly was not done, would have been able in those days in the summer, when they had the prestige, to influence many of the smaller States of Europe, and I believe they could have determined the attitude of Poland. Such a combination, prepared at a time when the German dictator was not deeply and irrevocably committed to his new adventure, would, I believe, have given strength to all those forces in Germany which resisted this departure, this new design. They were varying forces, those of a military character which declared that Germany was not ready to undertake a world war, and all that mass of moderate opinion and popular opinion which dreaded war, and some elements of which still have some influence upon the German Government. Such action would have given strength to all that intense desire for peace which the helpless German masses share with their British and French fellow men, and which, as we have been reminded, found a passionate and rarely permitted vent in the joyous manifestations with which the Prime Minister was acclaimed in Munich.
All these forces, added to the other deterrents which combinations of Powers, great and small, ready to stand firm upon the front of law and for the ordered 364 remedy of grievances, would have formed, might well have been effective. Of course you cannot say for certain that they would. [Interruption.] I try to argue fairly with the House. At the same time I do not think it is fair to charge those who wished to see this course followed, and followed consistently and resolutely, with having wished for an immediate war. Between submission and immediate war there was this third alternative, which gave a hope not only of peace but of justice. It is quite true that such a policy in order to succeed demanded that Britain should declare straight out and a long time beforehand that she would, with others, join to defend Czechoslovakia against an unprovoked aggression. His Majesty's Government refused to give that guarantee when it would have saved the situation, yet in the end they gave it when it was too late, and now, for the future, they renew it when they have not the slightest power to make it good.
All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies and with the League of Nations, of which she has always been an obedient servant. She has suffered in particular from her association with France, under whose guidance and policy she has been actuated for so long. The very measures taken by His Majesty's Government in the Anglo-French Agreement to give her the best chance possible, namely, the 50 per cent. clean cut in certain districts instead of a plebiscite, have turned to her detriment, because there is to be a plebiscite too in wide areas, and those other Powers who had claims have also come down upon the helpless victim. Those municipal elections upon whose voting the basis is taken for the 50 per cent. cut were held on issues which had nothing to do with joining Germany. When I saw Herr Henlein over here he assured me that was not the desire of his people. Positive statements were made that it was only a question of home rule, of having a position of their own in the Czechoslovakian State. No one has a right to say that the plebiscite which is to be taken in areas under Saar conditions, and the clean-cut of the 50 per cent. areas—that those two operations together amount in the slightest degree to a verdict of self-determination. It is a fraud and a farce to invoke that name.
365 We in this country, as in other Liberal and democratic countries, have a perfect right to exalt the principle of self-determination, but it comes ill out of the mouths of those in totalitarian States who deny even the smallest element of toleration to every section and creed within their bounds. But, however you put it, this particular block of land, this mass of human beings to be handed over, has never expressed the desire to go into the Nazi rule. I do not believe that even now—if their opinion could be asked, they would exercise such an option.
What is the remaining position of Czechoslovakia? Not only are they politically mutilated, but, economically and financially, they are in complete confusion. Their banking, their railway arrangements, are severed and broken, their industries are curtailed, and the movement of their population is most cruel. The Sudeten miners, who are all Czechs and whose families have lived in that area for centuries, must now flee into an area where there are hardly any mines left for them to work. It is a tragedy which has occurred. I did not like to hear the Minister of Transport yesterday talking about Humpty Dumpty. It was the Minister of Transport who was saying that it was a case of Humpty Dumpty that could never be put together again. There must always be the most profound regret and a sense of vexation in British hearts at the treatment and the misfortunes which have overcome the Czechoslovakian Republic. They have not ended here. At any moment there may be a hitch in the programme. At any moment there may be an order for Herr Goebbels to start again his propaganda of calumny and lies; at any moment an incident may be provoked, and now that the fortress line is given away what is there to stop the will of the conqueror? [Interruption.] It is too serious a subject to treat lightly. Obviously, we are not in a position to give them the slightest help at the present time, except what everyone is glad to know has been done, the financial aid which the Government have promptly produced.
I venture to think that in future the Czechoslovak State cannot be maintained as an independent entity. You will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured only by months, Czechoslovakia will be 366 engulfed in the Nazi rÉgime. Perhaps they may join it in despair or in revenge. At any rate, that story is over and told. But we cannot consider the abandonment and ruin of Czechoslovakia in the light only of what happened only last month. It is the most grievous consequence which we have yet experienced of what we have done and of what we have left undone in the last five years—five years of futile good intention, five years of eager search for the line of least resistance, five years of uninterrupted retreat of British power, five years of neglect of our air defences. Those are the features which I stand here to declare and which marked an improvident stewardship for which Great Britain and France have dearly to pay. We have been reduced in those five years from a position of security so overwhelming and so unchallengeable that we never cared to think about it. We have been reduced from a position where the very word "war" was considered one which would be used only by persons qualifying for a lunatic asylum. We have been reduced from a position of safety and power—power to do good, power to be generous to a beaten foe, power to make terms with Germany, power to give her proper redress for her grievances, power to stop her arming if we chose, power to take any step in strength or mercy or justice which we thought right—reduced in five years from a position safe and unchallenged to where we stand now.
When I think of the fair hopes of a long peace which still lay before Europe at the beginning of 1933 when Herr Hitler first obtained power, and of all the opportunities of arresting the growth of the Nazi power which have been thrown away, when I think of the immense combinations and resources which have been neglected or squandered, I cannot believe that a parallel exists in the whole course of history. So far as this country is concerned the responsibility must rest with those who have the undisputed control of our political affairs. They neither prevented Germany from rearming, nor did they rearm ourselves in time. They quarrelled with Italy without saving Ethiopia. They exploited and discredited the vast institution of the League of Nations and they neglected to make alliances and combinations which might have repaired previous errors, and thus they left us in the hour of trial without ade- 367 quate national defence or effective international security.
In my holiday I thought it was a chance to study the reign of King Ethelred the Unready. The House will remember that that was a period of great misfortune, in which, from the strong position which we had gained under the descendants of King Alfred, we fell very swiftly into chaos. It was the period of Danegeld and of foreign pressure. I must say that the rugged words of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, written 1,000 years ago, seem to me apposite, at least as apposite as those quotations from Shakespeare with which we have been regaled by the last speaker from the Opposition Bench. Here is what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle said, and I think the words apply very much to our treatment of Germany and our relations with her:All these calamities fell upon us because of evil counsel, because tribute was not offered to them at the right time nor yet were they resisted; but when they had done the most evil, then was peace made with them.That is the wisdom of the past, for all wisdom is not new wisdom.
I have ventured to express those views in justifying myself for not being able to support the Motion which is moved to-night, but I recognise that this great matter of Czechoslovakia, and of British and French duty there, has passed into history. New developments may come along, but we are not here to decide whether any of those steps should be taken or not. They have been taken. They have been taken by those who had a right to take them because they bore the highest executive responsibility under the Crown. Whatever we may think of it, we must regard those steps as belonging to the category of affairs which are settled beyond recall. The past is no more, and one can only draw comfort if one feels that one has done one's best to advise rightly and wisely and in good time. I, therefore, turn to the future, and to our situation as it is to-day. Here, again, I am sure I shall have to say something which will not be at all welcome.
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best 368 terms they can with the triumphant Nazi Power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the resources of corn and oil, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened. In fact, if not in form, it seems to me that all those countries of Middle Europe, all those Danubian countries, will, one after another, be drawn into this vast system of power politics—not only power military politics but power economic politics—radiating from Berlin, and I believe this can be achieved quite smoothly and swiftly and will not necessarily entail the firing of a single shot. If you wish to survey the havoc of the foreign policy of Britain and France, look at what is happening and is recorded each day in the columns of the "Times." Why, I read this morning about Yugoslavia—and I know something about the details of that country—The effects of the crisis for Yugoslavia can immediately be traced. Since the elections of 1935, which followed soon after the murder of King Alexander, the Serb and Croat Opposition to the Government of Dr. Stoyadinovitch have been conducting their entire campaign for the next elections under the slogan: 'Back to France, England, and the Little Entente; back to democracy.' The events of the past fortnight have so triumphantly vindicated Dr. Stoyadinovitch's policy ….—his is a policy of close association with Germany—that the Opposition has collapsed practically overnight; the new elections, the date of which was in doubt, are now likely to be held very soon and can result only in an overwhelming victory for Dr. Stoyadinovitch's Government.Here was a country which, three months ago, would have stood in the line with other countries to arrest what has occurred.
Again, what happened in Warsaw? The British and French Ambassadors visited Colonel Beck, or sought to visit him, the Foreign Minister, in order to ask for some mitigation in the harsh measures being pursued against Czechoslovakia about Teschen. The door was shut in their faces. The French Ambassador was not even granted an audience and the British Ambassador was given a most curt reply by a political director. The whole matter is described in the Polish Press as a 369 political indiscretion committed by those two Powers, and we are to-day reading of the success of Colonel Beck's blow. I am not forgetting, I must say, that it is less than 20 years ago since British and French bayonets rescued Poland from the bondage of a century and a half. I think it is indeed a sorry episode in the history of that country, for whose freedom and rights so many of us have had warm and long sympathy.
Those illustrations are typical. You will see, day after day, week after week, entire alienation of those regions. Many of those countries, in fear of the rise of the Nazi Power, have already got politicians, Ministers, Governments, who were pro-German, but there was always an enormous popular movement in Poland, Rumania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia which looked to the Western democracies and loathed the idea of having this arbitrary rule of the totalitarian system thrust upon them, and hoped that a stand would be made. All that has gone by the board. We are talking about countries which are a long way off and of which, as the Prime Minister might say, we know nothing. [Interruption.] The noble Lady says that that very harmless allusion is—
§ Mr. Churchill
She must very recently have been receiving her finishing course in manners. What will be the position, I want to know, of France and England this year and the year afterwards? What will be the position of that Western front of which we are in full authority the guarantors? The German army at the present time is more numerous than that of France, though not nearly so matured or perfected. Next year it will grow much larger, and its maturity will be more complete. Relieved from all anxiety in the East, and having secured resources which will greatly diminish, if not entirely remove, the deterrent of a naval blockade, the rulers of Nazi Germany will have a free choice open to them in what direction they will turn their eyes. If the Nazi dictator should choose to look westward, as he may, bitterly will France and England regret the loss of that fine army of ancient Bohemia which was estimated last week to require not fewer than 30 German divisions for its destruction.
Can we blind ourselves to the great change which has taken place in the military situation, and to the dangers we have 370 to meet? We are in process, I believe, of adding, in four years, four battalions to the British Army. No fewer than two have already been completed. Here at least 30 divisions which must now be taken into consideration upon the French front, besides the 12 that were captured when Austria was engulfed. Many people, no doubt, honestly believe that they are only giving away the interests of Czechoslovakia, whereas I fear we shall find that we have deeply compromised, and perhaps fatally endangered, the safety and even the independence of Great Britain and France. This is not merely a question of giving up the German colonies, as I am sure we shall be asked to do. Nor is it a question only of losing influence in Europe. It goes far deeper than that. You have to consider the character of the Nazi movement and the rule which it implies. The Prime Minister desires to see cordial relations between this country and Germany. There is no difficulty at all in having cordial relations with the German people. Our hearts go out to them. But they have no power. You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi Power, that Power which spurns Christian ethics, Which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That Power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.
What I find unendurable is the sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their good will or pleasure. It is to prevent that that I have tried my best to urge the maintenance of every bulwark of defence—first the timely creation of an Air Force superior to anything within striking distance of our shores; secondly, the gathering together of the collective strength of many nations; and thirdly, the making of alliances and military conventions, all within the Covenant, in order to gather together forces at any rate to restrain the onward movement of this Power. It has all been in vain. Every position has been successively undermined and abandoned on 371 specious and plausible excuses. We do not want to be led upon the high road to becoming a satellite of the German Nazi system of European domination. In a very few years, perhaps in a very few months, we shall be confronted with demands with which we shall no doubt be invited to comply. Those demands may affect the surrender of territory or the surrender of liberty. I foresee and foretell that the policy of submission will carry with it restrictions upon the freedom of speech and debate in Parliament, on public platforms, and discussions in the Press, for it will be said—indeed, I hear it said sometimes now—that we cannot allow the Nazi system of dictatorship to be criticised by ordinary, common English politicians. Then, with a Press under control, in part direct but more potently indirect, with every organ of public opinion doped and chloroformed into acquiescence, we shall be conducted along further stages of our journey.
It is a small matter to introduce into such a Debate as this, but during the week I heard something of the talk of Tadpole and Taper. They were very keen upon having a general election, a sort of, if I may say so, inverted khaki election. I wish the Prime Minister had heard the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir S. Herbert) last night. I know that no one is more patient and regular in his attendance than the Prime Minister, and it is marvellous how he is able to sit through so much of our Debates, but it happened that by bad luck he was not here at that moment. I am sure, however, that if he had heard my hon. and gallant Friend's speech he would have felt very much annoyed that such a rumour could even have been circulated. I cannot believe that the Prime Minister, or any Prime Minister possessed of a large working majority, would be capable of such an act of historic, constitutional indecency. I think too highly of him. Of course, if I have misjudged him on the right side, and there is a dissolution on the Munich Agreement, on Anglo-Nazi friendship, on the state of our defences and so forth, everyone will have to fight according to his convictions, and only a prophet could forecast the ultimate result; but, whatever the result, few things could be more fatal to our remaining chances of survival as a great 372 Power than that this country should be torn in twain upon this deadly issue of foreign policy at a moment when, whoever the Ministers may be, united effort can alone make us safe.
I have been casting about to see how measures can be taken to protect us from this advance of the Nazi Power, and to secure those forms of life which are so dear to us. What is the sole method that is open? The sole method that is open is for us to regain our old island independence by acquiring that supremacy in the air which we were promised, that security in our air defences which we were assured we had, and thus to make ourselves an island once again. That, in all this grim outlook, shines out as the overwhelming fact. An effort at rearmament the like of which has not been seen ought to be made forthwith, and all the resources of this country and all its united strength should be bent to that task. I was very glad to see that Lord Baldwin yesterday in the House of Lords said that he would mobilise industry to-morrow. But I think it would have been much better if Lord Baldwin has said that 2½ years ago, when everyone demanded a Ministry of Supply. I will venture to say to hon. Gentlemen sitting here behind the Government Bench, hon. Friends of mine, whom I thank for the patience with which they have listened to what I have to say, that they have some responsibility for all this too, because, if they had given one tithe of the cheers they have lavished upon this transaction of Czechoslovakia to the small band of Members who were endeavouring to get timely rearmament set in motion, we should not now be in the position in which we are. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, and hon. Members on the Liberal benches, are not entitled to throw these stones. I remember for two years having to face, not only the Government's deprecation, but their stern disapproval. Lord Baldwin has now given the signal, tardy though it may be; let us at least obey it.
After all, there are no secrets now about what happened in the air and in the mobilisation of our anti-aircraft defences. These matters have been, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Abbey Division said, seen by thousands of people. They can form their own opinions of the character of the statements which have been persistently made to us by Ministers on this subject. Who pretends now that there is air parity with 373 Germany? Who pretends now that our anti-aircraft defences were adequately manned or armed? We know that the German General Staff are well informed upon these subjects, but the House of Commons has hitherto not taken seriously its duty of requiring to assure itself on these matters. The Home Secretary said the other night that he would welcome investigation. Many things have been done which reflect the greatest credit upon the administration. But the vital matters are what we want to know about. I have asked again and again during these three years for a secret Session where these matters could be thrashed out, or for an investigation by a Select Committee of the House, or for some other method. I ask now that, when we meet again in the autumn, that should be a matter on which the Government should take the House into its confidence, because we have a right to know where we stand and what measures are being taken to secure our position.
I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week—I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
§ 5.59 p.m.
§ Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft
I am sure the hon. Member for West 374 Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) will recognise that, in rising this afternoon, I am not moved by any kind of hysteria. In the recent days through which we have passed, I, for one, cannot help thinking that it was very natural that not only all parties in the House of Commons, but the whole of this great nation, should have been moved as never before, except perhaps on one occasion in our lives, by a spirit, not of hysteria, but of very great thankfulness that the world had been spared this disaster. I also want to say, in view of certain criticisms that naturally appeared somewhere, that, from what little I saw, I feel that the air-raid precautions, as far as they went, were really remarkable in the extraordinary response of the people of our country. The calm resolve of the great majority of the British people was something of which we can all be proud. The weaknesses which displayed themselves at that time must make an imperative demand upon this House to see that the lessons are learned and every form of precaution perfected.
It is naturally a matter of great regret to me to have to differ on any matter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). I have had the privilege of working with him on so many causes, I have such immense admiration for his abilities and courage, and I know that he is actuated by the highest patriotic motives, and it is doubly to my regret that I find myself in complete difference with the main viewpoint that he has put this afternoon as to our position in the world. He started his remarkable speech by saying that Great Britain has suffered total and unmitigated defeat. Strangely enough, as far as I can see from the Press of the world, and especially the Press of those small nations which we are always mentioning, Great Britain is hailed as their saviour from a world calamity, and I feel that it is about time that it was stated in this Debate that, after all, it was not as a guarantor, but as a friend that we entered into this matter, and I think we in that act of friendship saved Czechoslovakia from annihilation.
My right hon. Friend spoke of our calling into being all the apparatus of crisis. I cannot help thinking that in the great flow of his oratory he probably regrets having used that phrase. The apparatus of crisis was not called into being; the 375 crisis was there. We had to stiffen ourselves in a few hours into taking terrific decisions. Again, he said that we have not the slightest power to make good the pledge which was given to Czechoslovakia—I think he should have added "directly"—except by indirect action. Surely that must also have applied had a pledge been given months ago. I remember we had a long discussion at that time, and I ventured to say that if Britain was to pledge its word to stand by the Czechs, that was a pledge which could not be fulfilled, and must not, therefore, be uttered. I regret that we have now to give this pledge. I have always felt that we have burdens enough in our present commitments, and ought not to go meddling in the distant parts of Central Europe. But, although I have resisted the burden of further commitments, I feel that when Britain and France unitedly gave that advice to Czechoslovakia, to save the peace of the world by acting wisely, we had no alternative but to give that pledge to stand by their State in the days to come.
My right hon. Friend said, surely unfairly, of His Majesty's Government that they had destroyed the League of Nations. When history comes to be written it really must be said that this country, above every other country in the world, has attempted to make the machinery of the League work. I always felt that when it came to the test foreign nations would not be prepared to risk the lives of their nationals to make collective security work. For anybody to say that we did not lead the world is unfair. There are two schools of thought in this country at the present time. They are both entitled to respect. The first say, "We cannot have any conversations or intercourse, and certainly no agreement, with dictators; we differ from them, their form of government and their methods, and therefore we really must ostracise them and send them to Coventry."
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
May I ask my hon. and gallant Friend whether he does not draw a certain distinction between dictators? Are we not on very friendly terms with Turkey?
§ Sir H. Croft
Of course, I am grateful to my hon. Friend; that was not in my mind. It was the two special dictators. The second school of thought in this 376 country I think can roughly be described as saying, "We realise that the dictatorial form of Government has now existed in a great many countries for many years, starting with Russia, Turkey, Italy, Hungary, Portugal, Germany and Greece, and I suppose we can say the system is being built up in other countries—[An HON. MEMBER: "Poland."] Poland and Rumania—in fact I suppose we can almost say that if you run your finger across the map the large majority of the people from Vladivostok to Cape Finisterre are under dictatorships." The second school, I think, is of the opinion that there is no evidence of any great uprising of the people in those countries where they are subject to dictatorships, and, since you cannot wait for all this great range of countries to eliminate their firmly-established dictators, if the machinery of civilisation is still to work you have got to understand their mentality, you have got to work with them, and, if possible, you have got to reach agreement. In other words, we have either to talk with dictators whether they are dictators we like or dictators we do not like, or we have to fight them ultimately. You have either to reason with them and understand them or, it seems to me, inevitably war must come. His Majesty's Government decided to avert war by reason and conference, and they succeeded. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) had he been in the place of Lord Halifax would—I hope he will correct me if I am wrong—have refused to meet Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini, much less make agreements with them, unless those leaders were ready to show a change of heart.
§ Sir H. Croft
I do not dispute that, but I understood that the whole cause of my right hon. Friend's resignation was that until there was a change of heart by Italy he was unwilling to negotiate with that country. That was my impression; I am glad if it is not so. He and my right 377 hon. Friend the Member for St. George's (Mr. Cooper) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping have all shown in their speeches, I think, that they were ready to use the deterrent threat of force during the proceedings. I think I am right in saying that each of them would have been prepared to mobilise the Fleet at a very much earlier stage in this controversy. I wonder whether it is wise for this country to depart from the rule which seems to have been clearly laid down in recent years, that unless war was clearly inevitable we at least should not be the country to mobilise. I remember all the discussions over the Great War, as to who was responsible for forcing the pace, and I wonder whether this country would have been well advised to mobilise. We only mobilised when war appeared inevitable. When the Fleet was mobilised it must, of course, have had an influence when the Prime Minister made his last visit to Germany; but I think that had the Prime Minister not made that last effort when all others had despaired, no mobilisation of the Fleet would have saved the world. It is, after all, the fact that the British Fleet can prove to this country still a supreme weapon of defence; but at that moment it could not, as I see it, have affected the issue.
I want to deal with the strategical, tactical situation which confronted France and ourselves. Let there be no doubt in the minds of hon. Gentlemen present, much less in the minds of Germans, that I am fully convinced that at the end of two, four, or perhaps seven years we should have triumphed. The British Fleet, it is true, could have blockaded Germany, and if, unhappily, the Axis had worked and Italy had also been engaged in war, I have no doubt the British Fleet could have brought about the collapse of Italy. I am quite certain of that. But for months the Mediterranean, to say the least, would have been unhealthy as the life-line for British food and reinforcements. After a long time, the British Fleet could have brought Germany to starvation. The British Fleet, the mobilisation of the British Fleet and the action of the British Fleet could not have saved Czechoslovakia.
I come to the air. Air war would have commenced last Saturday night. It could not have driven this country to surrender, of that I am absolutely con- 378 vinced, but no one has more powerfully convinced this House than my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) of the fact that the combined British and French Air Force are not so much stronger than that of Germany that we could have won the war in the air. In fact I can never thank him enough, nor can those for whom I speak, for the information he has given to this country, and for what he has done to stimulate our efforts. The warning he gave us made me realise that the struggle in the air, apart from anything else, would be a terriffic one. I do not know whether he has had evidence in recent months that the gap has been filled, but if it has not, unless there was an impelling reason of honour we ought not to have risked going to war. Only those people who are engaged in the science of architecture and want to see London, Paris, Berlin and Prague rebuilt could have contemplated such a war with content! It would have been a war which would have imposed on all peoples involved sufferings which would probably have been unparalleled in the history of the world. But air war, when we had won, as we would have done in the long run, no doubt, after many months of war stimulation when we had perfected our air power—air war could not have saved Czechoslovakia. Those people who have called upon us in such eloquent speeches time and time again, to stand beside the Czechs, must know by now that no power on earth could have transported British and French armies to stand beside the Czechs.
§ Sir H. Croft
The hon. Member asks about the transport of Russia, and if the hon. Member desires I will say a word about that in a moment. Having worked out the air ranges and measured the Czech frontiers, and considered the manpower that the Czechs had available, I say that, if the great British nation had encouraged Czechoslovakia to fight we would have encouraged her to allow her country to be reduced to a shambles and a cemetery. Long before French and British power could have exerted its indirect pressure, in my belief Czechoslovakia would have been wiped off the map.
§ Sir H. Croft
I say to the hon. Gentleman that Czechoslovakia would have suffered far worse than Belgium. God forbid that any country should have such a complete calamity brought upon it for the sake of power politics. The fact remains that there are other considerations, which anyone who has made a study of this question, as I have attempted to do for the last 10 years, must bring into a Debate such as this. Czechoslovakia would have been attacked. The major attack would have been on a front where there would have been 3,500,000 inhabitants welcoming the attacker. Could any man who has commanded troops in that area conceive of anything more difficult in a situation like that? She would have been threatened on her right rear by another hostile element and again in the rear by another disaffected population, with Prague within 15 minutes of flight from three different angles, and with the whole of Czechoslovakia salient much less than a half moon. The man who would have urged the Czechs to fight on behalf of the democratic countries, the man who knew these facts and urged such a course, would indeed have been guilty of a crime. He indeed would have earned the opprobrium of betrayal of the small nations. Thank God our hands were clean of this infamy. We had no commitment to fight on behalf of Czechoslovakia, and to have destroyed their people as pawns in a preventive war would have steeped the democratic nations in dishonour. One word, since I am invited, with regard to Russia. I do not doubt the good faith of Russia. They had a mutual agreement with Czechoslovakia.
§ Sir H. Croft
No! I think that I am right in saying that there was a mutual pact between Russia and Czechoslovakia. Russia is the great defender of the Slav people, and I have no doubt that Russia would have wished to fulfil that pledge. The only thing I am doubtful about is the Russians' ability to have got there in time, and whether Russia would have been able to get the necessary numbers of troops quickly transported along those 600 miles. I am doubtful. We must remember that at that very moment the commander-in-chief of the Russian forces, General Voroshiloff, is said to be on the Eastern front. There are troubles going on in the Russian army. No one 380 knows where General Bleucher really is. With regard to the Russian navy, only a few weeks ago the admirals were eliminated, and the principal officers of the air force have also been eliminated. I am the last person to want in any way to criticise a country which might have come to our common aid at that time, but I confess that I am doubtful if Russia, so far away from home, could have operated successfully, and I do not believe that even she, if she had moved instantly, could have saved the Czech race from destruction.
There remains—and this is the thing which really affects us—the strategic factor, whether by frontal attack, with no possible flank to turn we could pierce the Siegfried line, all those permanent fortifications which the Germans have been building. I was one of those who were in little holes—not in the trenches—at the first battle of Ypres. They were little holes dug by ourselves during the night, and the flower of the Prussian Guard were hurled against that thin line of British troops at that time and they never succeeded in getting through. You were inviting the armies of France, those who have demanded a strong determination to wage war rather than to allow this settlement were inviting the armies of France to hurl themselves against a line in Germany very nearly as strong as the Maginot line, which some think cannot be pierced. We learn from eloquent speeches and remarkable writings of the last five or six years that the power of defence is now so great that it requires three times as many attackers as defenders. Would we have been right, would the Government have been right in saying that we would fight to the last Frenchman and until millions of our men had been thrown against this kind of fortification? That is what you are asking. That is the strategy of it. The Czech would have gone long ago, and you would have to go on.
§ Captain Sir Derrick Gunston
Would my hon. and gallant Friend be prepared, in order to prevent that, to accept the Godesberg terms?
§ Sir H. Croft
I do not quite see what that has got to do with it. I can usually understand my hon. and gallant Friend's interruptions, but in this case I confess that I cannot understand him. All terms had broken down. There ere no terms. 381 Nobody doubts now that the Germans were going to march on the Saturday night. War would not have been averted. I am merely telling the House that there were those who were prepared to take this country into war when we were not pledged, and were prepared, first to sacrifice Czechoslovakia, and then the French armies. Does anyone in this House, in the British Isles or in the British Empire, think that we could have engaged in a bombing war and merely have blockaded German harbours? We talk of honour! Could we have seen the flower of France perish in attack upon the German frontier? We must have conscripted our nation. For six months we would have been impotent, for we have no Army that counts. After that only a torrent of perfectly trained troops could have broken the German line and dictated terms in Berlin.
There is only one other word that I want to say, and it is with regard to the hon. Gentleman who sits on the official Opposition bench. The Labour party and the Liberal party at the time of the treaty were most emphatic against the whole of this patchwork-quilt of Czechoslovakia. There cannot be any doubt about that. M. Benes, whose position seems to be very precarious, if he has not already resigned, did all he could at that time to persuade his country not to include the important German territories where the population of Germans was overwhelming. He saw the difficulties that were going to come. We have heard of the statement by the late Arthur Henderson, than whom no memory stands higher in foreign affairs in the party above the Gangway. More than that, there is the declaration of the Labour and Socialist International of 1919. I think I am right in saying that that body was regarded at that time as respectable by orthodox Labour in this country. This was their resolution:They refuse to recognise any claim of alien nations to sovereignty over such German districts as form a geographical unit in German-speaking districts.Yet there are some of them who say that we ought have gone to war in order to prevent the wrong being righted which they all demanded so vociferously should be done in 1919.
§ Sir H. Croft
I do not need to quote any member of the party. I quote this resolution from that particular body, and before I quoted it I asked whether it was not regarded as a respectable one.
§ Mr. Thurtle
The hon. and gallant Member misunderstands me. What I am asking is whether he can quote any member of this party as having said that he would rather go to war than allow these Sudeten Germans to be free.
§ Sir H. Croft
I am sorry if I have given an opinion which I did not mean to express. Nobody really wanted to go to war, but I think that what the Opposition thought was that we ought to have threatened war.
§ Mr. Thurtle indicated dissent.
§ Sir H. Croft
Then we ought not to have issued any form of ultimatum and we ought not to have mobilised the Fleet. I do not think I need pursue further the hon. Member's interruption. In my final words, I must say that I am one of those who cannot believe that it is a moral doctrine to preach the preventive war in these days. There was a time when a country had its small standing army of 10,000 or 15,000 and hired 20,000 or 30,000 assassins to go to war to prevent something else happening; but when you talk nowadays of a preventive war and say, "Let us have a war to-day because it may be much worse five or 10 years hence," you are involving the whole fate of the nation. I agree with what Lord Baldwin said in the House of Lords, that you ought to go on to the last possible moment preventing war and never to wage war because you have a fear that you may not be strong enough to win a war in 10, 15, or 20 years' time.
This country has been very proud of its association with France. Let us keep that association intact. The French people are very quick to resent any attempts upon their honour. The French Chamber last night by a tremendous majority, the Communists being really the only dissenting party, supported the policy which their Government and our Government carried out unitedly through all these tragic days. I am as keen for the honour of my country as any man, and I believe that the escutcheon of England as of France is absolutely clean and that there is not a speck of dust 383 upon it. The Prime Minister in the action that he took was engaging upon a noble line of conduct for which the world blesses him, and I am certain that history will acclaim his as one of the greatest names among those who have done much as saviours of the men and women of the world.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Acland
I rise to bear witness from Prague, and as in what I have to say I shall be seeking to tell the House what I saw and heard in Czechoslovakia in these last few days, I do not propose to spend time in arguing any point, although I do not think the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) spoke one sentence which I would not dearly have liked to controvert to the best of my ability. I left Prague by aeroplane yesterday morning, and in expressing my admiration of the Prime Minister for his physical activities I can only express the hope that he did not experience the conditions which I experienced in flying through the storm which swept onwards from our shores on Monday night.
I bear witness to this House of a calm, dignified but sad and disillusioned people. It may be a little bit naive in these days to suggest that anyone sets greater store on spiritual than on material values, but I can only speak of things as I found them in Czechoslovakia, after speaking to Members of Parliament, manufacturers, economists, Army officers, the common soldier, doctors, hospital nurses and air pilots and waiters. I can only say that these people are less dispirited to-day by the loss of their territory than by the desertion of their friends. The hon. and gallant Member said that France ought not to have promised to stand in with Czechoslovakia. The trouble is that they did so promise. They promised it over and over again.
§ Sir H. Croft
I did not say that they ought not to have done that. What I said was that in my opinion France was right to exercise her pledge in resisting armed force, but that she advised her ally wisely not to allow herself to be exterminated, when she knew that she could not bring arms to her aid.
§ Mr. Acland
France ought to have known months before what would be the state of affairs. The Czechs thought that 384 they had the power to choose whether they would line up with the dictatorships—with the whole theory of dictatorships we in this House are supposed to detest—or whether they would join hands with the democracies. They could have chosen the former course, but they chose the latter. They played the game, but at the last moment they were defeated because the rules were altered by their friends. Yet I would say—and this is the only point on which I find myself at difference with the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that these people, dispirited as they are, are still determined to play an honourable and independent part in the development of humanity. The only two questions they ask is how they can do it and will they be allowed?
If hon. Members look at the economic map of Czechoslovakia, including the plebiscite areas, they will see the economic mutilation that has been brought about. It is true to say that the economic balance of the country will be shattered. It cannot be denied that great sources of raw material will be taken away and that immense labour will have to be put in by the Czechs to meet the situation. They will have to construct new roads and new railways. They will have to convert every steam engine locomotive from the use of brown coal to the use of black coal. But they are determined to do it. And they can do it if several very rigorous conditions are fulfilled. Every one of these conditions depends upon the action of this country now. They can do it, in the first place, if they get a satisfactory international loan. I say that £10,000,000 is just a joke compared with the needs of the country if its independence is to be preserved. £10,000,000 is approximately the size of the exchange equalisation account which ought to be set up for Czechoslovakia if they are to be saved from the dangers of inflation. In addition to that exchange equalisation account they must have fair trading agreements, and we must use the influence which we believe we possess with Herr Hitler to ensure that he will give them not too intolerably unfair transport rates for five-sixths of their exports which go out through Germany.
While there is so much on the debit side it is pleasant to record something on the credit. There is one thing which no German army can take away from 385 Czechoslovakia and that is her international goodwill. Look at any article made in Japan and you will find tucked away in some little corner the words "foreign made," printed on a piece of paper which often comes unstuck, but on every Czechoslovakian article you will find, in the most prominent place: "Made in Czechoslovakia." They will lose some of their factories which send out goods all over the world through that goodwill, but those lost factories will not be able to keep the goodwill. They will no longer be able to claim that their goods are made in Czechoslovakia. Moreover, Czechoslovakia will not lose all her workmen. Those skilled workmen can work in other factories which will retain the Czechoslovakian goodwill. But the factories will have to be built and that will need industrial capital. They ask for British capital for their country. They say: "Come here with your capital; you may own and run our factories, you may build them for us and we will work in them and we will not let you down."
Now I turn from the purely economic to the human side of the problem. The claim is made by His Majesty's Government that this is the triumph of reason and good will and conciliation over force. It was a triumph very quickly won. It was won, I believe, in 13 hours. In such a short space of time some of the details, trivial details perhaps some of them were left to be settled subsequently. But on the way in which those details are settled will depend whether or not Czechoslovakia is to survive as a separate nation. In other words, upon the details which are now being worked out will depend whether we have really achieved anything by all our endeavours or whether we shall simply see the complete execution of the Godesberg demands two or three weeks delayed. If that is all that we achieve, it was not worth doing.
Let me deal with the plebiscite areas. I went to one of the towns in one of the plebiscite areas, Aussig, which may indeed be occupied before the 10th October. Aussig is a town 85 per cent. German. Every name, every notice, is German. I went, too, through the outlying villages; villages in an area where you have alternatively a village 100 per cent. Czech and another 100 per cent. German. Hon. Members may mock at evidence offered as the result of one day's experience. I merely offer the evidence. 386 The House must weigh it. Hon. Members will recollect their experiences on the day of the declaration of the poll at the last election, and how on the day of the declaration constituents are to be seen at the street corners in groups discussing the situation. Is there any hon. Member who will not say that from 30 yards distance he can tell for certain whether any particular group is composed of his victorious supporters or of his defeated opponents? There is not one man who could not judge infallibly the category to which any particular group belongs.
When I went to Aussig and to the villages which were alternatively Czech and German I must have seen 5,000 people. I must have seen anything up to 100 groups of people ranging in numbers from two to 50 people in each group. I bear witness that I did not see one face on which I could detect one glint of satisfaction. I did not see one group which did not manifestly belong to the defeated side in the contest. And yesterday morning, flying over occupied territory, which one could see quite clearly for about 500 metres, I noticed this interesting phenomenon, that on the main roads where the German push had gone through with all its propaganda there were some swastikas flying; not a great many, but some; but in little gatherings of houses away from the main roads where the Germans had not yet arrived there were no swastikas at all. You may say that the wicked Czechs would not allow them to own the swastika, but there are ways of decorating a village and showing one's joy, if indeed the village is, in fact, rejoicing. Yet none of these did I see. It may be suggested in relation to the men I saw in Aussig that they could not rejoice because of the tyranny of the wicked Czechs. I saw streets one hundred yards long as full of people coming and going as Victoria Street is in the evening, and there was not one Czech soldier or policeman in the whole length of the street. There were no more soldiers and police put together in that area than there are police alone in London. Surely I should have detected some wink or nod, some happy handshake between two people meeting each other for the first time since the news came through. There was not one. And yet tyranny was the only reason given by Herr Hitler for the hurry to reach a settle- 387 ment without deciding all the vital details upon whose determination the very existance of the country may depend.
If the House wants to hear of tyranny I can tell them where to find it. There are grievances and I am not discussing grievances, but the only people who suffered tyranny were the Czech minorities in these Sudeten German areas. I saw a young Czech woman in Prague with the mark of the swastika branded on her chest with a red hot iron, and the doctor who was with me told me that he had treated that morning a baby eight months old who had been branded with the mark of the swastika about the size of a shilling on its face. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said something about the ability of statesmen to detach their minds from human suffering. I hope for the sake of his own peace and quiet that he will be able to detach his mind from that. But as for me, it will be with me until I die. These are—I am going to use the word—the devils to whom you have handed over these decent innocent people without giving them any guarantee of any protection. Without—would the Prime Minister contradict me—without perhaps even giving them a thought. How is the fate of these people going to be settled? Is it going to be settled now by reason or by force?
Let me come to another point. It is almost certain that in fixing the plebiscite areas Germany will jerrymander the arrangements to her own advantage. If a district even with 100 per cent. Czechs is wanted by Germany for its coal or its strategic importance they will see that it is attached to a preponderating larger German area so that the whole area will vote German. I hope that the International Commission will carefully watch so that Germany cannot tinker about with marginal regions upon whose fate will depend whether the economic life of the State remains possible or not. I suppose that upon the Commission the Italian representative will go with the German, and we may hope that the French will go with the Czech, therefore, our representative holds the sole responsibility for seeing that these plebiscite areas are properly drawn up. I hope he will exercise his authority and that if he receives evidence of German intransigence he will publish the fact to the world. The fact that there is no joy in Sudetenland does not alter the 388 fact that Sudeten Germans will vote 100 per cent. for Hitler next month. The Czechs have not the money nor the stomach to compete in the kind of election which is going to be waged. I ask whether the question of preventing corrupt, practices is going to be settled by reason or by the rule of force?
What is going to happen after the plebiscite is over? I suppose that the Czech population will go out, and, if so, they will go out with absolutely nothing; not a thing. If the Prime Minister asks me whether his friend Hitler will illegally confiscate their property, I answer of course not. He will go to the farmers and say, "I value your farm at 100,000 kroner. But you are German now and living in Germany, and the law of Germany is that you must pay 50,000 kroner tax to-morrow—in cash! Pay up and you may take your property. But if you fail, get out—with nothing!" Is that question going to be settled by the reasonableness which the Prime Minister wants to introduce into world politics or by force? I say that in the case of 100 per cent. Czech villages in the plebiscite areas Hitler will find himself presented with villages complete with houses, farms, growing crops and animals, but completely empty of human beings. Is he going to pay any compensation for this territory and this equipment? Is that question going to be settled by reason or by force? And may I beg that the British forces which go out there will stay there for a long time—for six months after the plebiscite is completed, and do what they can to help these people to get out with a remnant of their property and, indeed, with their lives.
You will have three classes of people coming out, the Czechs, the German Social Democrats and the Jews, and each of these presents a special problem. Take first the Czechs. They are an asset. They are the people who will have to make the new railways and the new roads and work in the new factories, but while they are building these new roads and factories they will have to be fed and housed. That is where a loan comes in. They will have to be maintained until they can maintain themselves. The German Social Democrats present a much more difficult problem. There is a hideous dilemma which will have to be faced. The Czech Government is faced with the alternative of trying to absorb these people or by 389 refusing to take them in, condemning them beyond any possibility of doubt to a hideous death. They have either to accept them, in which case they will be creating a new problem and a new opportunity for Hitler to bully and bludgeon their reduced country; or they must turn them out to die. It is up to us to do something for these miserable and innocent people, and we owe the Czech Government nothing less in morals than that we should transport these German Social-Democrats with their families and possessions across the world and that at our expense we should settle them in Western Canada, exacting from them collectively and individually loyalty to us, so that we, a large Power and not little Czechoslovakia, will have to handle the efforts which Hitler will make wherever these people are to stir up trouble.
Then there are the Jews. Czechoslovakia is going to suffer to-day for her hospitality in the past. At the moment when jobs will be getting harder and harder to find in Prague the number of lawyers and doctors there is likely to be increased by anything up to 50 per cent., and these Jewish-German doctors do not know one word of Czech. If we want to preserve in Europe one island where the hideous misery of anti-Semitism is unknown we must act now. I would ask the doctors of this country, who were rather forward in pressing hon. Members of this House to forbid the influx even so few as 50 alien doctors per year to remember that while they can pursue their practice in peace many of their fellow combatants in the battle of humanity against disease will be driven into bankruptcy and into suicide in Prague, and I invite them or the Government to suggest a scheme whereby this country might take in 500 doctors a year from Czechoslovakia; not necessarily to enter private practice but to try to find some research work which they can do here for the sake of humanity.
§ Major Stourton
Does the hon. Member realise that every alien brought into this country from Central Europe means the displacement of someone in this country?
§ Mr. Acland
We are told that the Prime Minister has brought the blessings of peace. Are we going to make no contribution at all to the problems and burdens which these blessings of ours have heaped for this little country in Europe? I ask 390 this in the name of morality, and I am ashamed that any argument should be presented in the opposite sense.
Let me now consider the policy of two neighbouring countries. Take the brighter case first, that of Hungary. Hungary was in a dilemma, torn between a desire to behave with comparative decency and a desire to play Hitler's game. Europe may well be grateful for the comparative restraint shown by Hungary. Of Poland there is a different story to tell. The right hon. Member for Epping told the story well. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned four gains which we have won in these days. They were all spiritual gains. I do not ignore the value of spiritual gains, but let us look at some of the material consequences of our action. I think it is a long time since a British Ambassador has been told to go to Hell. Of course it was said in Polish, and very likely the language used was much more expressive, but that is what it meant and nothing else. The "Times" to-day says this:Natural resentment at the abrupt methods of enforcing a settlement" [of Poland's claims] "is tempered only by the thought that the demand was inherently just and should have been met long before.It is easy for the "Times" to say that. They want all their readers to think that a policy of pure reason is being pursued. Poland is pursuing a policy of piracy and nothing else. They are claiming a district called Vitkovice, a suburb of Moravska Ostrava. Moravska Ostrava contains 20 per cent. of Poles. But Vitkovice contains the Vitkovice steel works—one of the largest in Europe. That is why they claim it. They are claiming areas that contain anything down to 15 per cent. of Poles because they happen to contain some of the last remaining coal mines. The British Ambassador might try again to remind the Polish Foreign Secretary that we have left behind the pre-Munich era of force and have entered upon a new era when we settle these matters by reason and negotiation. I should like the Under-Secretary, in the name of responsible journalism, to ask whichever civil servant it is who handles these matters, who has expert knowledge of the situation in the disputed Polish-Czech districts, this straight question, Was or was not the quotation that I have read out from the "Times" a complete travesty of the facts, which must have 391 been known to be a travesty of the facts if the writer had any knowledge of the subject whatever? Will he ask that question and give the House to-night the answer that he gets, because I say that the "Times" second leading article today is wilfully misleading the public, with the incidental consequence of assisting the Government on this rather important matter.
Czechoslovakia has to choose very soon between being a little, modest, quiet country with an independent life of its own, or becoming an economic and political vassal of Germany. They want to choose the former, but the choice is really ours to make and to make now and by "now" I very definitely mean to-day rather than to-morrow. It is for that reason that I wish that one of the members of the Inner Cabinet was here, because I believe if Czechoslovakia is to remain independent we will give her a loan, and an exchange equalisation account. We shall have to interest industrial capital in that country, we will face the Germans and secure from them a just deal in working out all the details of the Munich settlement. If that is done I am convinced that Czechoslovakia can be saved as an independent country, and it is an obligation upon us to do it. We ought not to let her be destroyed. But not only morals are at stake. Our strategic position depends on it. If Czechoslovakia is an independent State, the Skoda works will produce heavy industrial goods, and indeed some arms which she will sell to the world, and we may even get some Bren guns for the British Army. Otherwise the whole economic resources of the country will be geared on to and controlled by the German armaments drive. If we trust Hitler, as we say we do, why all this talk about rearmament? If we do not trust him, perhaps we must rearm. If we are to contemplate the certainty of vast new burdens, of breaking down trade union standards, of—I hope—some control over industry, of taking from all the youth of this country the best years of their life to teach them the art of killing and being killed, do not hand over the greatest armament factory in Europe for the sake of not making a loan of—shall I name a figure?—£100,000,000, which would be repaid, because these people have always kept financial faith with those who lent 392 them money. I should like to conclude by quoting a conversation that I had with a staff officer. "What have you gained from all this?" he said. I said, "An arbitration treaty with Germany." "God help you," he replied "because that is what we had."
§ 7.6 p.m.
§ Sir John Wardlaw-Milne
The hon. Member has given us an interesting account of his experiences, and, in the appeal that he has made to the Government and to the people of this country to assist Czechoslovakia, I am sure that he will have the sympathy of every one in the House. My only criticism of his speech is that more than once he referred to our responsibility for the condition in which Czechoslovakia now finds herself. One could not help getting the impression that he wished to impress upon the House that Great Britain alone was responsible for the present condition of that country. A great many of us reject that idea altogether. We are more than sympathetic to Czechoslovakia's situation and more than anxious to help her, but we entirely reject the idea that this country is particularly to blame for the situation.
§ Mr. Acland
The Czechs, while they have no love for us, distinguish between our responsibility and that of France. They hold that France is far more responsible than we are.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I am glad to hear the hon. Member say so, but over and over again, as it seemed to me, he referred to our obligation to do this or that, not because we had sympathy for Czechoslovakia and desired to help her, but because we are responsible for the position in which she finds herself. In listening to some of the speeches to-day, particularly that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and that from the Front Opposition bench in moving the Amendment, I could not help wondering whether every one had in mind the situation in which we should have been to-day had the Prime Minister not been so magnificently successful at Munich. What would have been the occupation of many people in this land to-day if those negotiations had not succeeded? Can anyone estimate the loss of earning power in the paralysis of trade and the loss of income, very often vitally necessary income to the individual? Can anyone estimate the enormous increase of 393 unproductive expenditure which the State would alerady have incurred? Above all, let us consider for a moment the fear and horror which would have been widespread in all sections of the community here and in many other countries in Europe. You cannot consider, discuss or criticise what has happened unless you have always in your mind what the conditions would have been if those negotiations had not succeeded. At any rate, it is that view that is uppermost in my mind to-day and it makes me completely convinced that the untiring labours of the Prime Minister, in spite of recurring difficulties and discouragement, will make his great effort for peace one of the most outstanding events of our times.
With every speech that has been made which dealt with the situation of Czechoslovakia and has expressed sympathy with that small country and that brave people, we are all in agreement. But again I cannot help considering what would have been the condition of those people even to-day had the Prime Minister not been successful. It is necessary to consider that, for, whatever might have been the result at the end, months or years hence, of a long and bloody war in Europe, whatever might have been set up in the land that is now Czechoslovakia, the bulk of the people who now inhabit it would have very little interest in its condition at the end of the war.
There can be very little doubt that the grievances of the Sudeten Germans were fostered, promoted, and to some extent magnified, by propaganda from Germany, and that this was done of set purpose. Yet the grievances were real. They were not imaginary. The sad thing is that it is so certain that a few months ago, still more a few years ago, these grievances could have been settled probably without any of the disorganisation that has now taken place.
Is it not probable that that would have taken place if France had not led Czechoslovakia to suppose that she would stand by her and if we had not afterwards persuaded France not to stand by her guarantee? Did not France and we incur some responsibility by that?
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
If I understand the hon. Lady correctly, she suggests that it would have been better if France had said at an early stage that she would not 394 carry out her guarantee and would leave Czechoslovakia alone. Surely it is rather a curious argument that the stronger Power, Germany, would be less likely to take action if there was no guarantee than if a guarantee existed. I cannot see that it would have been any better for Czechoslovakia—indeed quite the other way.
The situation in Sudetenland had definitely arrived at the stage at which it was no longer possible for these two peoples to live under the same administration. Lord Runciman to whose labours insufficient tribute has I think been paid, would have succeeded if anyone could have succeeded in avoiding the position that he described in his report as being one in which it was impossible for the two peoples to live together. It has been said that the Czechoslovakia of the future will be very much more compact and able to get along much better. I think that may be true. At any rate, it is bound to be a more united community than it has been in the past. But I wish to make clear to the House that I entirely dissociate myself from the statement which has been made over and over again, that because of what has happened we should have a sense of shame. To me, it is clear beyond any doubt that but for the Prime Minister's action, Czechoslovakia would have been invaded, and that probably by to-day, or within a few days or weeks hence, would have ceased altogether to exist as a separate country. Can we believe that if Czechoslovakia had been invaded by Germany, Germany would have been satisfied with a settlement such as has now been achieved? I do not think that could have been expected. We had no undertaking to defend Czechoslovakia, and although we were vitally interested, in view of our guarantee to France, it seems to me that, far from our having a sense of shame, the Czechs ought to be grateful to us and to France for the continuance of their existence as a separate nation. That does not make one any less sympathetic to the feelings of a State which has had to undergo such a drastic operation or cause one to admire any the less the manner in which Czechoslovakia has conducted herself during this terribly trying period.
But I am not sure that I am not more interested in the document which the Prime Minister brought back from Munich and which sets out his own and Herr Hitler's views regarding the future con- 395 duct of European affairs as far as concerns this country and Germany. It is not a treaty or an agreement, but it may well be a paper the production of which forms the turning point in the affairs of Europe and possibly of the world. There appear to me to be two completely separate schools of thought in this country in connection with these matters in the future. There are those who do not trust Herr Hitler, or at any rate believe that it is not worth while trying to work with him. They take the view that he is a gangster. That term has, in fact, been used in the House, although it is not perhaps a term that should ever be used about the head of a State with which we are not at war. I mention it as an example of the type of mind of those who hold that sort of view. They say that Herr Hitler is a gangster, that he has broken his word and broken his pledges several times, and that, therefore, he cannot be trusted. That was the view which was put very strongly from the Front Opposition Bench this afternoon and also, by implication, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping. People holding that view say that as we shall have to fight Herr Hitler some time, let us fight him now.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I did not say anybody used those words, but they represent the idea that has been expressed. [HON. MEMBERS: "By whom?"] If you believe that you cannot treat with this man, that you cannot work with him, the alternative is that you will have to fight him some day. I say at once that those who hold that view are entitled to say that pledges have been broken in the past, but it is only fair that they should remember that Herr Hitler has also made some very definite offers of peace, and has proposed definite pacts with other countries, which have not been accepted, not during the last few weeks or in connection with Czechslovakia, but some time ago. He made an offer to France, for instance, saying that there was no further cause for quarrel between the two peoples, and he has repeated that categorically several times. He offered to make a Western pact between Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain, which would, he said, guarantee peace for a generation. He offered to 396 limit the German army to 300,000 men—
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
He also offered a 25 years' non-aggression pact with France and Belgium, this country and Italy to be the guarantors.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend, but it is most important that we should get this matter straight in our minds. I am sure my hon. Friend read the Blue Book that was issued by His Majesty's Government. It covered a period of two or three years, and contained the documents, the notes sent to the German Government and the German Governments replies. Anybody who has read that Blue Book knows that these things were immediately taken up by the Government and that on every occasion no progress could be made on any terms whatever, since the German Government whittled down their proposals. Although those offers were made, there was no progress in negotiations to draw up instruments.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I do not think my hon. Friend's description of what happened is absolutely fair. The point I am making, however, is not whether this country could have done more. Many of the pacts were not offered to Great Britain particularly. I am not concerned now with the merits of the pacts which Herr Hitler offered, but merely want to point out that, while the people who hold the view I have described are entitled to say that certain pledges and pacts have been broken by Herr Hitler, it is equally fair to mention the proposals which he has made and which other countries have not taken up.
§ Mr. Emrys-Evans
It is very important that we should remember the fact that no progress was made in connection with these offers. Replies were made from our side, but there was no response which could be the basis for a treaty. The only treaty that was ever obtained was the Anglo-German Naval Agreement.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
My hon. Friend will not expect me entirely to agree with that view; but surely the Anglo-German Naval Agreement, to begin with, is one of the most important agreements ever made. Moreover, many of the pacts which Herr Hitler offered were not pacts 397 between this country and Germany alone, but pacts with which other countries would be concerned, and I wonder very much whether it was Germany alone which was the stumbling block to the carrying out of those proposals for pacts, or whether it is not possible that other countries were responsible as well. However, I do not make a great point of those offers, but merely wish to remind hon. Members that, in considering the pacts which have been broken, these offers should also be remembered. I suggest that, at any rate, it is worth while waiting to see whether the new pledges for the future conduct of international affairs will be kept or not, and also to wait and ascertain whether the agreement made at Munich will be carried out in the letter and spirit in which it was made or whether critics will be able to say again that Herr Hitler has broken his word.
Putting the matter on the very lowest basis, from our point of view, shall we be worse off if we find that Herr Hitler breaks his word six months or a year hence? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I am not asking that question in connection with other countries. Shall we necessarily be much worse off? If hon. Members who said "Yes" listened to the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping and other hon. Members as to the conditions in this country and our ability to fight, I think they will agree that there can be very little doubt that we shall be considerably better off a year or two hence than we are to-day. Germany's rearmament has gone very far; ours still has a long way to go. I am aware that it is easy to say that arguments of this sort are inconsistent with working for peace, but I want this country to press on with its armaments as fast as it can and to a greater extent than before, and at the same time to press for a disarmament convention which would enable us to stop that progress. The two things are not in the least incompatible. It is essential that we should press on with our armaments and it is equally essential that we should press for a disarmament convention in the hope that it can be brought about. As the Prime Minister said a day or two ago, the day of unilateral disarmament for this country is over for ever, but multilateral disarmament is what we all want to see brought about.
398 There are one or two other lessons that we can learn from what has happened during the last few weeks. We not only need to press on with our rearmament programme, but until disarmament comes, it is certainly our business to organise our people for civilian defence, so that in the event of another crisis such as that of last week, we shall have less to fear than before and there will be still less chance of any panic. The production of a national register is essential, so that every man and woman in the country will know his or her place for defence. We must make our foreign policy still clearer in the future than in the past, bearing in mind, of course, that we cannot be expected—no country can be—to set out in detail how we shall act in certain hypothetical circumstances. But Europe knows to-day what it did not know a few weeks ago, and it is that, unwilling as this country may be to fight and anxious as we are for peace, there are issues of such vital importance to us and the peoples of the world that we would not hesitate to fight. One of them would be that a Power in Europe should desire world-wide domination or should start to oppress all the Powers in her neighbourhood. I do not suggest that we should play the part of policemen in Europe, but there are conditions in which we would certainly have to fight.
We have another obligation, and that is to learn a serious lesson from the difficulties which have arisen in Czechoslovakia from delays in dealing with minority problems. We have to put our own house in order. Recent European events and particularly the Czechoslovak crisis have overshadowed—perhaps until to-day when we had a rather alarming statement upon it—the subject of conditions in Palestine. We must face the fact that we have given two quite separate pledges in Palestine and that both cannot be carried out and the sooner we say so the better. This is not, of course, the time to discuss Palestine and I only bring forward the subject by way of example, but we must bear in mind that we have problems of our own and that those problems must be dealt with soon. I cannot believe that it is impossible for us to gain the confidence of the Arabs, but at any rate the Government must make up their mind without delay on future policy in Palestine. Again, in India the sooner 399 we get on with Federation the better. A further transfer of responsibility with the necessary safeguards. We ought to learn from Czechoslovakia how necessary it is in these matters to move without undue delay. I hope that the contacts which the Prime Minister has made will help materially to bring about a rapid settlement of the terrible civil war in Spain. I cannot believe that in the friendly conversations at Munich that point was not raised. I sincerely hope it was, and that it will be possible to make some advance in the direction I have indicated.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think it would be unwise to embark on the question of Spain at the present moment, and, in any case, it would not be in order.
§ Sir J. Wardlaw-Milne
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I had no intention of embarking on the question of Spain further than to express the hope that the contacts which have been made will bring about an early settlement of that problem. But I believe there will be no real settlement or peace in Europe until we secure an economic settlement. Therefore, it is essential to do all we can to bring about economic co-operation between the nations. Recent advances in the speed of transport, particularly in the air, have resulted in all the old areas and customs boundaries becoming out of date. Many of them to-day are merely obstacles to intercourse between the nations and only by the extension of that intercourse is there any chance of increasing the trade and therefore the prosperity of the nations themselves. Perhaps the House will allow me to make one final statement concerning my own beliefs. I believe we will not get peace in the world until there is a change in the hearts of men. We can all do something to help. The change itself, no doubt, it is not in our power to bring about. We cannot create it; but we must believe that it is the Almighty's plan for humanity. Peace is the ultimate end to which we are all groping—peace and good will among the nations—and if we have not faith that such a plan exists then all our efforts are vain and our very existence is a mockery.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Sir Robert Young
Many of those who have taken part in these Debates have voiced their opinions upon foreign policy. 400 I do not profess to understand the workings of all those great questions which bring about such grave discussions as this, and I rise rather for the purpose of putting a point of view which, I think, is shared by many a man-in-the-street. While listening to these Debates I felt that we lived in an era when politicians should try to be statesmen, and statesmen, vested with responsibility, should strive to be miracle-workers in the interests of world peace. What I say to-night will not, I trust, be overcharged with the spirit of uncharitableness against those in high places whose methods of government I detest and condemn. In rising to take part for a short time in the discussion I have no intention of belittling the opinions of those with whom I disagree. I am a Socialist, but my Socialism is transcended by my desire for democratic freedom and liberty. I am a Constitutionalist, yet my constitutionalism is based on the absence of tyranny. Like many other Members of this House I am neither a jingo nor a pacifist. I decline to say, "My country right or wrong" and, at the same time, preach "Peace at any price." Nevertheless I feel that the experience of the past has taught us that peace is essential if the world is to be saved, or rather if its civilisation is to be saved, without an interregnum of European strife and world chaos. War cannot settle problems justly or honestly or permanently in the interests of our common humanity but it is not a remote possibility. Lord Baldwin was prophetic when he said:Who in Europe does not know that one more war in the west and the civilisation of the ages will fall with as great a shock as that of Rome?That is a terrible prospect and we nearly realised it. I have one other belief. I believe it is the inscrutable will of Providence that strong nations should suffer for every departure from the paths of righteousness. We are suffering to-day for the sins committed after the Armistice of 1918. We are and have been living under war conditions in peace time. That is the ghastly and dangerous result of neglecting and ignoring the opportunities for disarmament which the victorious Allies had after the Great War. If they had used the League of Nations, as they could have done, to assuage the harshness, remove the dangers and solve the problems which the Peace Treaty involved we might to-day have been living under 401 conditions of world amity and economic prosperity. We on these benches, Members of the Labour party, have often been charged with being friends of all countries but our own. Those who made that statement were wrong. We are now charged with being the war party. That is equally wrong. We were the friends of other countries and of our own as well, because we did not hesitate to declare that the Peace Treaty was vindictive and that the exclusion of enemy nations from the original membership of the League was political foolishness. In 1919 we declared:The Peace Treaty will entail a situation aggravated by territorial rivalries, growing hatreds, desire for revenge, the impossibility of economic reconstitution, national and international lack of equilibrium.Who can say to-day that our diagnosis of the world condition arising from the Peace Treaty was incomplete or exaggerated? We realise now to our regret that our diagnosis was all too accurate. There must be few among us who do not rejoice that war has been averted, even if it appears that it is only for a short time. While there is life there is hope, and while peace continues, wisdom crieth aloud though it may be only in the streets. The people of this country as in other democratic countries do not want war. They know that the permanent security of a nation does not depend on the strength of its naval and military implements of war. No doubt it may be necessary under existing conditions that we should be able to protect ourselves against the attacks of those who would seek to undermine our liberties, but the world cannot afford to repeat the experiences of 1914–1918. I came to this House from my constituency on Wednesday last with a heavy heart. I expected the worst. I told my wife that I would be late in getting home from the House. I was home early. I told her the glad and good news. Immediately, I saw in her that "hope deferred" which "maketh the heart sick" giving place to an outburst of tears, and in those tears I saw a symbol of the thankfulness of thousands of mothers in our land at the fact that war had been averted and the hope that its dark clouds were being dispelled for ever.
I remember, as many of us do, the experiences of the last War. Perhaps it is a good thing that so many of us remember its beginning, its end, and its consequences. We entered it with hope, 402 courage, and faith, enthused with the great ideal that we were going to put an end to militarism for ever. We were told it was going to be a short war. They were optimists who said it. There was the slogan, "Business as usual," and it was said that in six months the war would be over. In the early stages of it I met only one man who seemed to realise how long it would continue, and that was Lord Kitchener. In an interview at the War Office with some colleagues of mine, we were protesting against the regimentation of industry, feeling that the War was going to last only a few months, when he turned to us and said, "Believe me, gentlemen, it will not be over in three years." It lasted four years, and at the end of it a broken world in which every nation, whether belligerent or not, felt the results of its industrial and economic dislocation as well as its moral and spiritual debasement. There has been no real recovery even now from its devastating consequences. Huge mountains of war debts remain, which will not and never can be paid.
When the immediate crisis developed, I went to my constituents and told them that I believed war was imminent, that its roots lay in the post-war settlement after the Armistice, that Czechoslovakia should never have been constructed on its present basis, that its minorities were not irretrievably scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country, but were in dense masses with majorities on its outer borders, that they were alien peoples, irritating and festering thorn wounds in its body politic, and that it was better to cast them off than to resort to internal or external war. As for me, I told them that I would be no party to a war which could be avoided by the delimitation of new frontiers. I said, "If I fight, I prefer to fight for freedom and humanity and not for a stretch of territory." I added that I would like to see the nations guarantee the freedom of Czechoslovakia as a united people. As for the Sudeten Germans, if they as a majority wanted to go to a Nazi hell, then, I said, let them.
It is easy to criticise the processes and progress of diplomatic action after the event. No doubt it is right to criticise, provided the criticisms are aimed at safeguarding us against similar humiliations, dangers, and threatened disasters in the future, but whatever the failures, what- 403 ever the mistakes, whatever the follies of the past may have been, who among us does not fervently rejoice that the greatest folly and failure of all, namely, war, has been averted? The mobilisation of the British Navy, of which we are all proud, may have done something in the prevention of immediate war, but I feel that it is largely due to the short-circuiting of diplomatic inertia in order to arrive at speedy and conclusive decisions. Far too long, in my opinion, have illogical statesmen gambled with their peoples' lives by their competition for formulae which settle nothing, but keep national representatives busy in the blind-alley occupations of diplomatic chicanery.
We are not at war. In our thankfulness, let us remember the brave and free people who bear the brunt of our present safety, who have sacrificed much, very much, in the cause of international peace. Their enemies appear to act on the belief that if one does evil, one should do it thoroughly. I suppose that for them the extremity of crime has its delirium of joy. Our responsibility for the position of Czechoslovakia is very great. Let our economic help be very real. Czechoslovakia acted on the advice of its ally and the friends of the ally. Let those friends make up their minds that they will not make any direct pecuniary profit out of their loss and suffering. A country such as ours, which has scattered subsidies with a bounteous hand, should make, in my opinion, if not a free gift, at least a free loan as a tangible and practical expression of our grateful appreciation of what they have done in the cause of peace.
There is one thing more. There is to be a guarantee for the new boundaries of Czechoslovakia. Let us make sure that that political guarantee is a genuine guarantee, equally binding on all the guarantors. If that is honestly done and humanely sponsored, there lies the hope for the future peace of the world. If these four nations are prepared, and mean, to guarantee the safety and security and territory of a small country, why cannot they do it for each other, and if for each other, why cannot they do it for the whole world? The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) made an earnest appeal to the Prime Minister to call a world conference for the purposes of peace. Better still, 404 let him lose no time in inducing the statesmen of these four nations who have prevented immediate war against themselves to stop it in Spain and conjointly to call the suggested world conference to devise ways and means for the security of us all. If he would apply his time and attention in that direction, I am perfectly sure that, if he succeeded in getting this world conference called, not only by ourselves but by those four Powers together, that would be a tangible token that we were getting nearer the time when "peace on earth" would be made manifest; and in any case, if we succeeded, our thanks would be far greater than the thanks which he is receiving at this present moment for his action during the past week.
§ 7.55 p.m.
Colonel Sandeman Allen
I feel that I must start what I have to say by paying my tribute of praise, admiration, and thanks to the Prime Minister for the pertinacity, patience, and courage which he showed and by which he brought peace to this country, peace, too, as he said, with honour. I have a letter which appeared in the Press to-day from our colleagues on all sides in the French Parliament, expressing in the highest terms their admiration of our Prime Minister, and I am sure that we all support it. I wish to support to the full the Motion that was so ably moved this afternoon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the criticisms that have been levelled against the Government, the right hon. Member for the Hillsborough Division (Mr. Alexander) last night quoted the first chapter of Isaiah and said:When you come to make prayers, do not have blood on your hands."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 285, Vol. 339.)Thanks to the Prime Minister, there is no blood on our hands, and there might easily have been so. The right hon. Gentleman went on to talk about the complete betrayal of Czechoslovakia. A betrayal implies that there has been undertakings which have not been implemented. No such thing has happened so far as this country is concerned. We had no undertakings to protect Czechoslovakia, and therefore there can have been no betrayal. Our consciences are clear, although naturally our hearts are heavy that the people of Czechoslovakia should have been forced to make such gallant and wonderful sacrifices for the 405 peace of Europe. The hon. Member for Newton (Sir R. Young), who has just sat down, said that we were suffering for the sins of the past, and I think he will agree that to a certain extent the Czechoslovakian nation are suffering very severely indeed for the sins that they have themselves committed in the past. I would remind hon. Members of a letter from Lord Runciman, which is to be found on page 6 of Command Paper No. 5847, in which he says:I consider, therefore, that these frontier districts should at once be transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany and, further, that measures for their peaceful transfer, including the provision of safeguards for the population during the transfer period, should be arranged forthwith by agreement between the two Governments.That was a week before things got to the very acute stage. What was a war to be about, and what was it to stop? A war, apparently, was to stop what had been recommended to us by Lord Runciman, who has been an observer on the spot. Could anything be more illogical or unjust? No Government could ask the British people to fight for what was illogical and unjust.
The first meeting of our Prime Minister with Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden brought forward these Anglo-French proposals, which more or less embodied the recommendations made by Lord Runciman, the second meeting produced very cruel proposals from Germany, and the third meeting produced an agreement on the methods to be used in carrying out the Anglo-French proposals. That, more or less briefly, deals with the first part of the Motion which has been moved this afternoon, but before I pass from that I must say one word of thanks and congratulations—a thing I never in my life expected to do—to the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I thought his speech yesterday was one of the most magnificent and true speeches ever delivered in this House and that it expressed the feelings of the people of this country to a remarkable extent. I would like to quote one paragraph: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?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 194, Vol. 339.]406 That was the position with which we were faced, and I recommend the House to remember that these are very salient facts in dealing with the present situation. I want to address myself to some of the arguments used by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). One of the points he made was that we should have brought Russia into the negotiations. I am amazed to hear from an elder statesman with the experience of the right hon. Gentleman his obvious acknowledgment of a lack of knowledge of the psychology of the leaders in Germany. To bring Russia into the negotiations would have been to produce a red rag to the bull—with both meanings to red and both meanings to bull. It would have wrecked any negotiations before they began. The second point he made was that there should have been an earlier declaration from Great Britain as to the line we would take in the event of trouble. I am convinced that that would only have encouraged President Benes to be more stubborn. I would like again to remind the House of the letter written by Lord Runciman in which he points out the difficulties that the Czechs were making for the Sudeten Germans, and says:I believe these complaints to be in the main justified. Even as late as the time of my mission, I could find no readiness on the part of the Czechoslovak Government to remedy them on anything like an adequate scale.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is it not the case that Lord Runciman said in that report that the very generosity of the concessions offered by the Czech Government operated against their chances of success with the Sudeten Germans?
Colonel Sandeman Allen
That was in a much later stage of the proceedings. The point I am making is that had the Czechoslovak Government thought at an earlier period that they had the might of Great Britain behind them, they would have become more stubborn and the danger would have been very much greater. That is a thing which we cannot doubt. The right hon. Gentleman went on to make some remarks about opposing any suggestion of an election and said it would be dreadful for this country to be torn in twain at this moment. I do not think his speech was helpful in attaining the end he considered so desirable.
The second part of the Motion that we are discussing deals with the efforts to 407 secure a lasting peace and to build up a world peace on existing conditions. It is all very well to say that that can be done through the League of Nations. Would to God that it could be done through the League, but we must consider, if we are to get peace, not only the logic of events, but the psychology of the leaders of other nations. No leader in Germany or in Italy, or in any of the Fascist States, will enter anywhere near the portals of Geneva under the name of the League of Nations. If we are to get peace it is not truckling with the dictators to say we are going to meet them, but we must start with good foundations and not start with the roof of the structure upon which we hope to build a lasting peace. To do that we must continue more forcibly our rearmament programme so that we still have a stronger bargaining power which is respected by Germany. We can, I am convinced, be infinitely stronger than we are at the moment, and the stronger we get the more will Germany be willing to respect us and to meet us in the matters that we want in regard to the reduction of armaments in future. There must be reductions, but it must be multilateral and never again unilateral. An air force cannot win a war. It may be that Germany thought she could bomb us into submission in a very short time, but she does not know the spirit of the British people if she ever dreamt that such a thing could be done. An air force cannot win a war, but the lack of an air force might very well lose a war. For that reason we must increase, improve and further strengthen our air force.
I listened with amazement at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just resigned his seat in the Cabinet. I am going to mention this because I have his permission. I wrote to him saying that I proposed to speak about him this evening, and said,If you are not in the House I shall refrain from making any remarks. Some of those remarks may not please you, but I feel I must not consider personal feelings at this time. I am sure you will understand this and bear no, personal malice.He wrote in reply,I must go about 6.45, but that is no reason why you should refrain from speaking.In his speech the right hon. Gentleman said we should have threatened Herr Hitler and have called his bluff, and used terms of that sort. It is not very long 408 ago since my right hon. Friend was head of the important department, the War Office. He left the War Office with no expeditionary force. Had he then stated that he considered that we should have an expeditionary force and be in such a position that we could speak in those terms to dictators if necessary, and had he come to the House and said that such being the case, he could no longer sit in the Cabinet, he could have held his head high and everybody would have respected him far more than they do by his present method of resigning. I feel very strongly on that matter, and I could not sit down without giving expression to my opinion. I hope that the House will give the Prime Minister as big, if not a bigger, majority in the Division on the Motion as the French gave their Prime Minister last night. By doing so they will be expressing the feeling of the men, women and children in this country and outside it.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Sir Stafford Cripps
This Debate is so serious to the future of our country and our civilisation that I feel that everybody who takes part in it must do so with a very deep sense of their responsibility to the people of this country. I trust that that deep sense of responsibility will last until everybody has passed out of the Division Lobby. Indeed, I think it can be said that at the present moment the whole future of civilisation itself may depend upon the course which is followed by the people of this country. I do not intend to enter again upon any analysis of the events of recent days. That analysis has been repeated from many points of view. Right hon. Gentlemen who have addressed the House from this side have expressed the point of view which I hold, and it has been confirmed and reinforced by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) to-day. I especially want to deal with the speech of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence which was made last night, because I believe that the arguments that he put forward in defence of the Government's action and as regards their future policy are so dangerous and fallacious that it is necessary for someone to attempt a clarification of what he stated as being the opposing points of view in the House at the present time. It is the policies of the future and not the events of the past that will determine the course which our civilisation will 409 follow. The right hon. Gentleman said:Let us make no mistake, this is an issue joined between two opposing points of view."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 298, Vol. 339.]That is, two policies. I certainly accept that statement. We are not merely discussing in this Debate the wisdom or folly of some isolated actions by His Majesty's Government, and it is of extreme importance that those who are taking part in the decision at which we shall arrive to-morrow should realise that fact. We are discussing the whole of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government of which these last events are so far—and I emphasise the words "so far"—the most tragic example. Apparently, judging by the speeches we have heard from the Front Treasury Bench, that policy is to be continued for the future. I admit that in the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made last night it was difficult to ascertain of what that policy consisted. Apparently, as far as I could gather, it is a policy of sweet reasonableness. Those words were repeated again and again by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary as well, but that sweet reasonableness is, be it noted, to be accompanied, on his own and his colleagues' admissions, if it is to have any effect at all, by an overwhelming force. Hence the pressing need which is being explained to us by speaker after speaker for reinforcing, expediting and increasing that vast rearmament programme upon which we are already embarked. Indeed, our new-found dove of peace seems to insist upon sharpening of the claws as the most vital factor.
So this policy comes down to one of talking with sweet reasonableness about each dangerous issue as it arises, but always providing yourself, in the background, with the maximum use of force to support your argument. It sounds, perhaps, a somewhat disingenuous policy and one that, as far as I can see, differs very little from that of the dictators of Europe. It is true they talk in terms of violence and not of sweet reasonableness, but they, too, insist upon backing their conversations with the greatest armed force possible. Indeed in such circumstances it matters very little what is said, for both parties are relying upon the ultimate sanction of the supporting force behind their wills, and that party will win which can either carry its bluff furthest or else can persuade the other 410 that it is in possession of an overwhelming force. It was apparently of that that the Prime Minister was persuaded at Munich.
I could understand a policy of peace at any price, a policy of absolute pacifism, which is logical, which talks in terms of sweet reasonableness and willingly abandons the weapons of force because it believes in the power and effectiveness of that reasonableness alone, but I cannot understand the mentality of a Government which in the present circumstances of the world situation thinks that the building up of an isolated force of national armaments and then talking with sweet reasonableness to the dictators whose actions have been so well experienced in the past is going to accomplish the salvation of their own country or the peace of the world. That, as far as I can gather it, sums up the positive policy which is put forward in the Motion which the Government are proposing for the approval of this House.
I should like to add two further criticisms of that policy. First, I should like to ask what have this Government, or the Conservative party, done during their seven years of power—more complete power than in any other period in the history of this country—to apply the method of sweet reasonableness to the solution of those European and world problems which are now vexing civilisation and which brought us very near to the brink of war in the last few days? Japan has not been checked in Manchuria by sweet reasonableness. The invasion of China has not been prevented by the soft words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Italy has not been checked in Africa. I would remind hon. Members of a remarkable speech made by the present Home Secretary when he resigned his position as Foreign Secretary after the Hoare-Laval agreement. I seem to remember that, standing opposite, he told us how much more honest it would have been not to have led Abyssinia to believe she would get protection from the Great Powers. He seemed to have forgotten that in the negotiations about Czechoslovakia.
§ Mr. De Chair
Did he not also say in that speech that it was far better to save what we could of Abyssinia from complete extinction than to go ahead and allow her to be obliterated?
§ Sir S. Cripps
He certainly said that in the pass to which the policy of the Government had brought Abyssinia it was better to save what could be saved, and we see the result of the Government's refusal of his suggestion. Abyssinia was not saved—even that part of it. Germany has not been checked by sweet reasonableness in her aggression in Europe, nor has Spain been saved from the horrors of Fascist invasion by the sweet reasonableness of the arguments put forward on non-intervention. Such a policy in the past, when this Government has been responsible for our foreign policy, has led time after time to the use of violence and to the complete abrogation of every rule of law, decency and honesty in international affairs.
The complaint by the Government, though they alone are not responsible for it, has been not that the cooing of the dove of peace has not been loud enough in the past, but that the talons of the eagle of war have not been long enough. It is not their complaint that their sweet reasonableness has failed but that their show of force was not great enough. They have throughout insisted that it is force and not reasonableness that counts in the ultimate challenge in international matters. All the time they have been afraid to expose their true policy to the people of this country because they knew that the people would not accept it, as Lord Baldwin, in the appallingly frank speech which he made after the last election, admitted to this House. They have spoken of collective security and of the Covenant of the League of Nations but have never believed in the efficacy of either of them. They have encouraged the destruction of those implements because of the complete lack of faith in their efficacy. They have done nothing to reinforce them but have done everything to weaken them in practice.
The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence claimed that the Government had respected their pledges in the spirit and in the letter. That is not true. They have respected the letter but never respected the spirit. They have uniformly failed, and purposely failed, to give that lead for strengthening those organisations for peace which might have given real effect to them as implements for securing the salvation of this country and other 412 democratic countries. Time after time we have been told from the Treasury Bench that they can do no more because others will not do more. That is not leadership; that is the policy of keeping in step with the slowest in the race, and as those slowest nations have always been opposed to the principles of collective security in the Covenant of the League it has resulted in the destruction of that security. The position of the National Government and of this country—the position of weakness to-day—is the result of that long and tragic history of the neglect of the one great weapon of defence for freedom and democracy that had been proposed and created after the last war. They have tried in these last few months to build up the isolated strength of this nation to take the place of the combined strength of a collective group of nations, and in that on their own admission they have failed, because they admit they were compelled to give way to Herr Hitler's demands—unjust, admittedly, though the method was, of carrying out those demands.
The second criticism is that the present Government have never had any constructive policy for peace at all. At best they have tried to prevent war when the danger of war has been imminent, but on every occasion they have succeeded in that objective only by giving way unqualifiedly to the demands of the aggressor. What is required for a sound foreign policy is two things: First of all, the strength to maintain the rule of law internationally and, secondly, and no less important, the courage to initiate a complete reorganisation of the international economic life of the nation, even, I add, at the price of sacrificing some of our own Imperial interests, if need be. I do not, and I never would suggest the handing over of any Imperial possession of this country to any other Imperialist nation. That course offers no solution of the problem. Nazi imperialism will be worse and not better than British Imperialism, but some new method must be devised which will make the world resources that are available to-day available to the starving populations of the world.
Such a method cannot be devised as long as each nation clings desperately to its own possessions and attempts to defend them by the overwhelming force of its own population. Maybe to-day we 413 have staved off war by the sacrifice of other people's national interests. That is a comparatively easy way of buying peace. Never has this Government been prepared to throw into the pool of international economic co-operation vital British interests or possessions in any part of the world. Until that preparedness for sacrifice is shown by the people of this country no foundation can ever be laid for the lasting peace of the world. As long as policy is based upon the conception that what Britain has Britain holds, there will be no solution possible of the economic problem of the world, a problem which lies at the very root of the grave dangers of the last few days.
You will not for ever satisfy rival imperialisms by handing over to them the smaller nations of the world. The time will come when the clash will be at your own door. It is surely far better to make a contribution to world peace to-day through the channels of economic co-operation than to engage in the futile attempt to bring about a lasting peace by the vast and wasteful sacrifices demanded of the people in the building up of huge armaments. Sweet reasonableness which consists in giving away the property of others and building up huge armaments to protect what is your own will never solve the problem of peace; yet such is the policy of His Majesty's Government to-day. From such a policy we dissent with all our power.
Let me now deal with what the right hon. Gentleman said about the policy of the Opposition as stated in the Amendment. He likened the statements made by my right hon. Friend in putting the policy forward to the policy contained in extracts read from the speeches of Herr Hitler—rather a cheap and a wholly inaccurate statement, and quite unworthy of any Debate upon a serious topic in this House. It is the sort of statement one might excuse in the Oxford Union but not from the Front Treasury Bench. However, let me examine for a moment his statement and let me first remind the House that for the last four years the Government have paid constant lip-service to the method of collective security. They have never objected to it as a method, and they have appealed again and again to Members on this side of the House to support their armaments programme on the very ground that it was to be used for collective security. Let me quote a 414 passage from a speech in this House by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on 7th March. He said:It is perfectly clear that if Great Britain is to play a part in any system of collective security she will want these forces."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th March, 1938; col. 1676, Vol. 332.]Similar appeals have been made again and again coupled with assertions that our increase in armaments in this country was required to implement our obligations of collective security under the covenants in which we had entered. Now, suddenly, the mask is torn off and the Government's policy is declared to be the exact contrary of collective security, which is likened by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence to Hitler's outpourings in "Mein Kampf." Let me quote again the right hon. Gentleman in order that it might be clear that I am not misrepresenting him. He said: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."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th October, 1938; col. 298, Vol. 339.]It is the very policy which was declared at the last Election to be the sheet-anchor of the National Government. That remark of the right hon. Gentleman shows, either that he has no conception of what he and his party have been talking about as collective security for the last four years, or else it is a deliberate and dishonest attempt to mislead the people of this country. I apologise to the House for having to make the most elementary explanation of the difference. Collective security is the name which has been given to the method of combining the defence forces of several nations so that they might all be available for the protection or defence of the territory of any particular nation in the even of unprovoked aggression against that country. Whatever has that to do with Herr Hitler's avowed and carefully calculated aggression by armed force on the territory of his neighbours? In order that the right hon. Gentleman may understand the difference, let me give him a simple analogy. In our domestic law, it is not right to seize the goods or property of another. If there is thought to be a claim to them, that claim must be asserted peacefully through the courts of law, and the change of ownership must 415 await either the agreement of the parties or the decision of the court; and if any party attempts of his or her own accord to undertake that seizure, then the whole collective force of the nation is used to exert the rule of law against him. Internationally the same rule of law applies.
§ Sir S. Cripps
It applies in the court of public opinion of the world. The whole principle of the League of Nations, of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, of the arbitration treaties, of which there was one between Germany and Czechoslovakia, is that force shall not be used for the seizure of the property of one nation by another.
§ Sir S. Cripps
Nor, I imagine, does the hon. Gentleman give up his ideas of justice and morality because there is no policeman in the room. It was because there was no policeman to prevent such a violation of international justice and morality that, after the War, the attempt was made to build up the system of collective security under the Covenant of the League of Nations, and it is the very foundation of honest and just international behaviour. To liken such a system to the brutal depredation of the Fascist dictators is to make a farce of argument. It is, indeed, the one and only way that the human race have so far devised for bringing the rule of law into international life and making it effective for displacing the brutal lawlessness of gangsterism, and I make no apology for using the word. It must, however, at all times be coupled with a readiness to submit complaints for decision either by arbitration or agreement or some other method of international law. That is why, in our Amendment, we combine the action to support collective security with the summoning of a world conference to consider the whole problem of those economic injustices which are still festering in the world. To attempt to say that collective security is the imposition by force of the will of this and other countries upon a neighbour is to misrepresent grossly the truth of the situation. It is a method of restraining, and the only known method of restraining, the forcible change of boundaries, and it has no aggressive purpose, and can have no 416 aggressive purpose, behind its operation. To abandon collective security is to welcome lawlessness in the world. That is precisely what the Prime Minister and the Government have done in the past, and that is why they demand a more urgent rearmament to-day, because they realise that, in a world in which they have legitimated lawlessness, they can only rely upon their own armed forces.
The Munich settlement, we have been told again and again, was inevitable, as, we are told, was the destruction of Czechoslovakia, and as will be the destruction of other free States, including, perhaps, eventually, our own, precisely because the Government have abandoned their faith in and their desire for collective security and the rule of law in international affairs. It will not serve as an excuse for that abandonment in the annals of history merely to say that the Government could do nothing in that direction because others were unwilling. They abandoned it because of their own lack of faith in that method of operation. They failed on every occasion to give the lead. The Government have never once offered to make that essential contribution to the economic appeasement of the world without which even collective security is of no value. We have been told that we have entered a new era of international relations. That is true. The last vestige of pretence of support for international law and justice has been cast aside by this Government. We have been reduced to a reliance, not upon what is right and just, but upon the forbearance and the word of Herr Hitler, neither of which is likely to fill Jews, social democrats, Catholics, trade unionists, co-operators, or, I venture to say, any decent man or woman, with any degree of confidence or hope for the future.
There is, however, I believe, an opportunity in what everyone now refers to as the breathing-space. But that opportunity cannot and will not be taken by a Government whose policy is represented by the speeches that we have heard from the Treasury Bench during this Debate. There is, however, I am confident, a great mass—indeed, I am convinced, a majority—of the people of this country who are prepared for a bolder and more courageous bid for world peace at this time of crisis. We on these benches have never flinched from preparedness to put 417 out the maximum of national effort provided it was directed to a lasting and truly peaceful solution of world affairs. The nation, I am convinced, is prepared to make a far greater contribution to that peace than it has ever been called upon to make in the past. Let us first set out to protect what remains of law and order and justice in the world by an alliance of those nations which still believe in these great principles of civilisation. A league of such nations, ready to welcome into their midst any and all who will support these foundations of our civilisation, will yet be strong enough to extend that breathing space, while we may get on with the more constructive work of economic readjustment. While we build up this security of defence, we must be prepared to make our contribution, if need be to make a sacrifice, to the cause of peace in that even more vital field of economics.
I cannot to-night elaborate on the methods by which such a policy would be pursued; but this I desire to say, in conclusion, with all the earnestness and power I can command. We can to-day, I believe, in this country, at this hour of crisis, make the greatest and most lasting contribution to world peace, not by building massive armaments to protect and isolate our own vast Imperial possessions, but by working out a new and better system for the co-operative economic development of world resources. Imperial competition, with all its dangers and its hindrances to the achievement of economic justice, is an outworn and dangerous policy, and certain, I believe, to bring us, not to the verge, but to the centre of a most disastrous war. We, still the largest Imperial power in the world, can give a lead in working out at a world conference that new system which will make available to the common people of all nations commodities which now, though so bounteously produced, cannot be obtained by many starving millions. It is along that line that there is hope, and I beg of the people of this country to face that course of action with courage, determination and hopefulness, and to put into power in this country those people who will be prepared to rely for peace not on the word or forbearance of a foreign dictator, but upon the justice and progressiveness of their own constructive economic policy.
§ 8.49 p.m
§ Mr. Magnay
I am delighted that at the end of three days a voice from the far North is to be heard upon this very serious matter. I cannot help remarking at the very beginning that it is quite easy for Members of the Opposition, who now dwell in safety, to take an entirely different view from what they did a week ago. I can say quite definitely that the north country man and woman in the street is quite convinced that we are indeed fortunate to have such a man as the Prime Minister governing our destinies. You can hear the echo of that voice from the Opposition Benches now, but that is all it is. I have given you the authentic voice of the north, and if they think otherwise let them test it out. If they, as democrats, think that they are right and I am wrong, let them try it out; and I will, at any rate, retire from my seat and test it on this issue if any one of them will do ditto—and I know who will get back. It will be myself.
We have heard a great deal about the man in the street in this rather desultory Debate of the last three days, and I can tell you again what the man in the street really thinks about this matter. [Interruption.] I am grateful for that interruption. I am one of those Members who dwell among their own folk. I have no need to advertise, as I sometimes see done, that "the hon. Member for so-and-so will visit his constituency"—I live there. And the ordinary men and women in the street, who have been very much concerned, have stopped me, and said to me, "We want to talk to you, as a realist and a really informed idealist"—and there could not be a better choice. Then they have usually asked three plain straightforward questions. The first is, "What is Czechoslovakia?" and I have told them that it is a polyglot population created—or, I would rather say, made up—of five different races; and as an elementary illustration, I say "Look at this hand of mine: there are the Germans, there the Czechs, there the Slovaks, there the Hungarians, and there the Poles and Jews." [Interruption.] If hon. Members will listen they will be informed. I say, "It is as plain as my hand. These five different races, with five different languages and five different religions, how could they possibly, racially, culturally, from any point of view, knit together in 20 years?"
419 This is exactly what my old, lifelong friend, Arthur Henderson, said would happen. [Interruption.] Really, these flippant comments do not reveal any intelligence—not that I am surprised. The Labour party of that time predicted it precisely, and if anybody will look at the recent publication of Mr. Lloyd George on what happened at Versailles he will see that Mr. Lloyd George was so concerned about this patchwork arrangement which was called a nation that he sent General Smuts to make inquiries, and General Smuts was so concerned that he reported to Mr. Lloyd George, then the Prime Minister of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order"]—the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then Prime Minister of this country—that it was a hopeless proposition. That was confirmed by Lord Mottistone in the House of Lords on Monday. He said, in answer to Lord Snell, that it was not for economic reasons that the Sudeten Germans were put into that conglomeration of discordant communities, but for strategical reasons. When Lord Milner, General Smuts, the Prime Minister and the late Lord Balfour objected to this, Marshal Foch said that we must have that bastion. Those were his very words. Lord Mottistone well known as General Jack Seely and certainly a most courageous and straightforward man, said that we have the right as a nation to hold our heads erect, for we are now only putting right what everybody, except Marshal Foch, then said was a wrong.
This should never have happened. I say without offence, I hope, to anyone, certainly without offence to Dr. Benes, that there is a lot of sentimental tosh talked about Czechoslovakia. It had never been agreed, as I told my friend and inquirer, that the Sudeten Germans should be coalesced into that entity which was never real, national or homogeneous. Where is Czechoslovakia was the next question put to me? My inquirer said, "I have never heard of it before, where is the place?" I said, "Look at the map. There is Germany, with Austria now part of Germany, encircling it for two-thirds of the way, and the rest, like a sausage, going down into Yugoslavia, Rumania and Hungary." I was asked, "Do you mean to tell me they are proposing to send our lads out there?" On Tyneside—in 420 Northumberland and Durham—we raised more men for the Army during the last War than any other district in England. We are proud of the fact. "Do you mean to tell me," I was asked, "that our people are thinking of sending our lads into the backyard of Germany hundreds of miles away, with no point of contact, and that they must march through Germany to get there? We should be stark, staring mad to agree to that." One man said to me, "When I thought that I could give the other fellow a hiding, I chased him into his back lane. I had more sense than to chase him into his backyard, for all his family would be there to fight me." There is sound sense in that.
How could we go to the aid of Czechoslovakia with any possible chance of success? I cannot for the life of me see how any competent authority could advise it, and I have been much comforted by some of the speeches which have been made by military experts, who said that it was quite impossible. It is almost inconceivable that we should have advised anybody to go to the aid of a State which was never a real, separate national entity, to go so far away from our lines of communication and risk the life of our nation. Never forget—at least I do not forget it, and I apologise to the House for saying so elementary a thing—that there are many supposed allies of ours bound to us by treaties who, if we were tied up in a place like that, would leave us alone, and we would have our whole Empire in jeopardy. What would happen in the Mediterranean, in Palestine and in India? I thank God at any rate that we have men who can see these things and will not take such a risk.
§ Mr. Magnay
I am coming to that. I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. It is a question that I would expect from him, and I thank him for it. The next question I was asked was, "What is the row about?" I said that these Sudeten Germans had never agreed to this arrangement and for 20 years had had to bear it. Read Lord Runciman's report and you will see the reasons given seriatim. The Sudeten Germans could not do anything else but grin and bear it, with what grace they could, but when 421 Austria was obtained by Germany all their desires lit up. They became clamant. They could see an end to what they had suffered for 20 years. While I agree with many of the speeches made regarding the grave injustices and the inhumanities of the German people in regard to what they are pleased to call alien races, never let it be forgotten that Germany never had fair play in the Versailles Treaty. It was an unclean peace. She was never allowed to have customs relations with Austria.
Injustices have to be paid for. This is a moral universe, and I know full well that if I do a mean or shabby thing, my sin will find me out. That is the immutable law of God's Universe. The German race have not had fair play and Germany has seethed with discontent because of the injustices inflicted upon her. She has, as any proud race would do, and as we would do, prepared in secret until she has been able to demand justice. The issue is a simple one. The question in this House and in the nation is, Who stands for war or for peace; for the mailed fist, as the late First Lord of the Admiralty said, or for sweet reasonableness, as the Prime Minister said? Lord Baldwin yesterday in another place appealed for national unity. We have got it. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) sounded a clear clarion call to all humane forces in the world of internationalism. The right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who is held in the greatest respect in the Kingdom, and is honest, too honest for a politician, has spoken in favour of peace, and the issue is quite plain.
With respect to those who take a different view—I can imagine their natural fears—I do not think that God Himself worked a miracle a week ago before our very eyes for nothing. I had no need to be told what to pray about when I went straight across to Westminster Abbey. It is a test of living faith whether we stand as a nation, as a people and as a Christian nation, for peace. We have to make a venture for faith. It is a venture which God is asking us to make with Him. I hear hon. Members say that they would not make a bargain with Hitler, and I admit that there are arguments on their side. But it is something more than that. I do not believe that God is dead. I believe this is a new possibility, a new era in international 422 relations for men of faith. Last Wednesday I saw a Member of this House almost weeping his eyes out in the Tea Room. He is a Jew. I shall not mention his name, because he would not like that. I asked him what was the matter. I said, "I am surprised at you. Do not you remember what was said to your great leader, that the children of Israel should journey forward." Not until they went forward did the waters of the Red Sea open, and they passed over dry foot. God has invited you and he has invited me to this act of faith. Do not think that I am a prig for saying this. Perhaps I am not good enough to talk like this, but God is calling us to make a venture of faith, to go forward, nothing doubting that He will take care of us as He has taken care of our fathers before us. The destinies of our people and of this great nation, of which I am proud to be a member, are to-day in His hands, and I pray that we, by His grace, may be able to do His holy will.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Thurtle
I want to claim the attention of the House for a very short time while I make what may be considered a personal statement. The crisis through which we have been passing in the last few weeks brought very sharply to our attention the issues of peace and war, and I want to take this opportunity of saying where I stand on this matter. I am a libertarian and in the last resort I would fight for liberty, but I have always regarded war as the last desperate expedient to which we should resort only if everything else has failed. For that reason I am not going to criticise the Prime Minister for making his approach to Herr Hitler. It may be unpleasant on this side of the House if I say what I honestly feel, but I should like to pay him a tribute for his courage in taking that first long aeroplane flight at the age of 69 for this purpose.
I do not want to be misunderstood, but I can and I will criticise the policy which led to the necessity of the Prime Minister having to go to Berchtesgaden. I agree entirely with the heavy indictment which was made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) against that policy. The Prime Minister has to accept a large share of responsibility for that policy, but, even so, I am not going to criticise him for doing all he could to avoid the dread 423 consequences of that policy. Any man who is faced with the terrible responsibility of involving the people of this country and the people of the world in war is entitled to do everything possible, everything honourably possible, in order to avoid that calamity. I would go further and say that any Prime Minister placed in a position of that kind who did not do everything humanly possible to avert the calamity would be guilty of criminal negligence.
There were risks in his visit. There was the risk, which materialised, that it would be regarded as an act of weakness. There was another risk which has perhaps materialised, namely, that Herr Hitler would be found not to be a person who could be talked to in a reasonable manner. I concede that. But we have been talking in the Labour party, and I have said repeatedly from platforms, that it is worth while taking risks for peace. Therefore, in spite of those risks, I say that the Prime Minister was justified in making his approach. We ought to be honest about these matters. It has been a commonplace of the Labour party many years that war never settles anything. Some years ago I used to go on platform after platform of the No More War Movement to denounce war as a wicked, cruel, wasteful, utterly futile thing. I used to point, as we all did, to the Versailles Treaty, the result of the sacrifices of millions of men and untold wealth, as a proof of that proposition. I believe that to be true, and although to-day I might modify my absolute attitude as it was then, I still feel that there is a great deal of truth in that.
I have never been a complete pacifist. I am not like my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). Even in my No-More-War days I refused to join the pacifist movement because I always told the people that although I thought war was wicked and futile, there might come a time when there would be some issue for which I should feel it worth while even to incur again the horrors of war. Therefore, I have never been a complete pacifist. If to-day I were confronted with the hateful decision of having to decide in a stark choice between liberty and fighting, then if there were no other way out, I would 424 even now be prepared to fight. Unfortunately, the tragedy of this civilised age is that we are being forced on to the horns of that horrible dilemma. We are having to consider more and more whether we are willing in order to maintain peace to surrender our liberty. It is a very horrible choice, and one which in the civilised world we never ought to have to make. There was a time when we could talk about peace and liberty as if these things went hand in hand. Now, we have a position in which these things almost seem to be in direct opposition. There is no doubt that the responsibility for that fact lies in the rise of the Fascist dictatorships.
Even if I were to decide as a libertarian that this particular case of Czechoslovakia was worth fighting about, that would not be the end of my dilemma. We may all say that we would be prepared to fight for liberty, but the unfortunate fact is, that in fighting for liberty you have to surrender for the time being all the liberty you enjoy. Once you become involved in war, and certainly a war waged on the present nation-wide scale, coercion in all forms is bound to come, and in the waging of that war you have to sacrifice your liberty. Experience has taught me, as it has taught all of us, that once you sacrifice your liberty in that way there is no certainty when it will come back to you. Experience has also taught us that you may engage in a war to defend liberty or in a war to defend some small nation from the brutality of a great oppressor, but once you are in that war there is no telling what the issue of it is going to be.
I am making these observations, which I know are all commonplace, only in order to establish the point that war must be the last and not the first resort of people who believe in liberty. We do not want to lose our balance in these matters. In our hatred of tyranny and our passion for liberty we must not forget how horrible and cruel war is and, what is perhaps even more important, how uncertain its results are. There is one other point I want to make. We are here not in our individual capacity but as representatives of the people and, therefore, when it comes to an issue of war and peace, it is not our own view of the relative values of the issue which should count so much as the views of the people we represent.
425 That brings me to the Munich Agreement, and I want to be perfectly frank about it. For the sake of my argument I am going to leave aside those matters about which I have spoken, the errors of policy, and so forth, for which the Government are responsible, and which led to the actual position obtaining at Munich when the Prime Minister went there to meet Herr Hitler. Having got to the position at Munich where the question was whether it was to be the Munich Agreement or war, if that issue was put to me, I say the Munich Agreement before war. I say that for this reason. I speak here as representing the feelings of the people I represent. They live in a very vulnerable area, the East End of London. They certainly are not cowards—far from it. They are good English men and women and they hate international bullying. They hate seeing small nations suffer, but I am bound to say that, even so, such is their horror of war, such is their sense of utter helplessness—no air raid shelters for them against the known and unknown terrors which seemed to be coming upon them—that I should be a hypocrite if I denied that when the news came that this agreement was reached they did not heave a deep and general sigh of thankfulness. I would like to ask any of my colleagues who may differ from this attitude, who is going to sit in judgment on them? Who would dare to take the responsibility for seeing death and destruction rained down upon these helpless people if by any means it could be avoided?
So much for what has happened in recent weeks. As I have said, I entirely agree with the case which has been made out by my colleagues as to the culpability of the Government and the Prime Minister in regard to the situation which has arisen and which made the crisis come upon us. I do not qualify that for a moment. That is a matter of the past, and we are much more concerned about the future. In view of the peril we have just passed through, there is a grave obligation on the Government, and, above all, on every Member who supports the Government, to see that they do everything humanly possible to avoid a recurrence of this peril. There may be a difference of opinion about this. Our Amendment, which has been advocated by the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol, lays down the line—I think it is 426 a very sensible line—upon which we suggest the nation should try to work for the future in order to safeguard the peace. As my hon. and learned Friend rightly pointed out, much lip-service has been given to the principle of collective security by the Government itself. I do not stand by methods. Means do not matter so much as the end. What we are concerned with is that we want peace with honour and peace with justice, and if the Government do not think it can be done in this way, let them do it in another way, but let them produce the results. In the hands of the Government at the present time lie the happiness and lives of our people, and it may be, the peoples of other countries, too. I want to make this final observation. The crisis which has welled up has made us all think hard, and it has taught us a good many things. One thing of great value which it has made crystal clear to the governments of the world is the fact that there exists in every country what I may describe as a great raw material for peace in the fear and detestation of war which exists in the hearts and minds of all peoples. It is for those who control the destinies of our people to fashion out of that raw material lying to the hand a barrier for humanity which will be a bulwark against all assaults upon it.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Nicolson
On Monday in this Debate an hon. Member referred to certain criticisms, or certain remarks, I had made on Saturday last and he implied that those criticisms suggested disrespect to this House. I was horrified when I heard this complaint. I do not think there is a single Member of this House who regards its laws, its conventions and its courtesies with such respect, I might even say with such reverence, as I do myself. When I heard that complaint I was horrified, but my horror was increased when the next day I looked up what I had said and had to admit that my remarks were not only ill-considered but most ill-mannered. I crave pardon. I apologise humbly to the House.
But the context in which I made those most lamentable remarks was itself a serious context. I was trying to convince my audience that at that moment of crisis it was very essential to differentiate and to separate our feelings and emotions from our thoughts. I did not deride those emotions: I shared them myself. They 427 were emotions primarily of physical relief; of gratitude; they were emotions of admiration. The Prime Minister has received a very great many tributes during the course of this Debate. I am sure he knows that those tributes are sincere. But those emotions are now past; we must face up to the situation as it really is; we must face it with clear and steady eyes without flinching. And I think, if I may say so without any desire to be provocative, that one of the dangers of not facing the situation without flinching is the danger of trying to escape from it by various devious methods. I think there are many ways of escape. I was very distressed to hear my hon. and gallant Friend on the bench behind me just now trying to escape from the realities of the situation by saying it was all the fault of Czechoslovakia. I think it is most unfortunate that we should allow ourselves to indulge in that form of escape. Indeed I would go further. I would say that it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister in his first statement paid no tribute at all to the attitude of Czechoslovakia. It is true that in his second statement he did refer to ex-President Benes with a certain attitude of approval. But that was not only cold comfort; it was comfort that had been kept so long on the ice that it had lost all its flavour.
There are other forms of escape. There is the suggestion that Czechoslovakia was an artificial State, a fantasy of the Peace Conference. The hon. and gallant Members behind me did not call it an artificial State when they were using its armies to fight the Bolshevists. At that time it was not an artificial State: it was "our gallant allies"; and gallant they were. There are other forms of escape, and one was used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day and by certain other speakers, namely, trying to pretend, or to allow people to suppose, that the whole of this issue, the whole crisis through which we have gone, was simply and solely the question of the Sudeten Germans. The Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day made an admirable speech, an admirable forensic speech, a perfect piece of special pleading, on the assumption that the whole problem was whether certain Germans should join certain other Germans. He entirely evaded the fact that the issue has essentially nothing to do with the Sudeten Germans, nothing to 428 do with Czechoslovakia; it is essentially the problem whether we who represent the rule of law are the dominant country in Europe or whether Germany is the dominant country in Europe.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Raikes), on Monday I think it was, accused me of taking a stand on points of procedure. To me it is not a point of procedure that a small country should be crushed by a great and powerful nation. It is not to me a point of procedure that the Government of this country should reverse the whole principles of policy, if I may quote the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), "which were handed down to us for 250 years by the ancient architects of our magnitude and our renown." I would answer my hon. Friend the Member for South-East Essex when he taunted me with making a stand on pure matters of procedure and I would ask him to consider the real issue in these terms. What did Herr Hitler want? Herr Hitler wanted three things. First, he wanted the Sudeten Germans to be included in the Reich. The second thing he wanted was the destruction of Czechoslovakia. The third thing he wanted was to assure the world that Germany was now the dominant Power in Europe. We have given him all those three things.
I am not going into details about the difference between Munich and Godesberg, but let us take the thing from Hitler's point of view. The first thing he wanted was Sudeten Germany. I venture to say I know something about that. I know quite a lot about it because I was one of those unfortunate and most abused people who were on the Committee of the Paris Conference which prepared the clauses of the Treaty of St. Germain by which that frontier was laid down. And I can tell hon. Members that it was not done in ignorance; I myself, for example, travelled to the spot to see where a railway station was. And the problem was almost insoluble at that time. When you talk about the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain you do not realise the impossible frame of mind of people at that time. It is one of the gravest evils of war that it produces a state of mind which makes it impossible to consider things impartially. It was quite impossible then to induce people to see anything at all. I remember that on 429 that very frontier which is now in our minds spending hours of my time with my American opposite number trying to work out a scheme, which we did work out—and a very good scheme—under which the Eger and Asch areas were given to Germany. We worked that out and we went to our chiefs, who both of them said, "But you are mad. You were going to give Germany territory for having made war against us. This was never German territory. Germany will come out of this war with an acquisition of territory in Bohemia." And, of course, it was impossible to get it through.
But I do beg Members of this House when they indulge in these facile gibes at the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of St. Germain to remember that this House was as much to blame as anybody. Those who were Members of this House at that time will remember that when my right hon. Friend—and I shall always call him that—the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) in March, 1919, tried very hard to force on Clemenceau a modification of the Treaty terms and the Treaty of Peace which had then been drafted, he received from this House a telegram saying that he was "spoiling the Germans." I think it was a harmful action on the part of Members of the House to sign that telegram; and I do not think they should be allowed to get away with it, to say that it was all due to the ignorance at Versailles and that they are completely white and innocent in their own absolute irresponsibility for these acts. But, although I know the appalling economic difficulties, although I know how difficult we found it because of transport, markets and communications to cut that thousand year-old frontier, yet in spite of that, and in spite of my sympathy for minorities, I would have accepted the Anglo-French plan, with unutterable sadness it is true, but with resignation. It was not worth a war. Certainly, of Herr Hitler's three points, I would have given him the first.
Then we come to the second point. Why did Herr Hitler want to destroy Czechoslovakia? In the first place, Czechoslovakia was a barrier to his "Drang nach Osten." Secondly, it was an advance post in the case of any Russian attack upon Germany. We know that. Thirdly, it represented to the Little Entente, to all the little Powers, the Baltic States, and even to the smaller 430 Powers to the west, the successful democratic State. It was the only successful democratic State that had arisen from the War, and it meant not only a strategical danger to Germany, but a moral and political danger in the sense that it was an example of the perfect democratic State. Whatever may be said to the contrary, that was true. Germany loathed the thought that on her borders was not merely a country which was perfectly organised in the event of war, but a country which was making a success, in spite of its minorities and the artificiality which hon. Members behind me always quote, of democratic institutions in Central Europe. Germany was determined to destroy it. I would have resisted that second point. I should almost have been prepared to go to the point of war to demonstrate, I hope, that it was not possible for one country in Europe, a large country, to crush another country in Europe, a small country, and to find us indifferent. I should have wished to demonstrate that.
I suppose that the Government say, "We have done that—there is the guarantee." That guarantee is the most farcical piece of diplomatic hypocrisy that has ever been perpetrated. Why was the guarantee put in? The House knows very well that it was put in for this reason alone, to cover up the nasty difficulty of having to say to Czechoslovakia that she had to give up her alliance with Russia and her alliance with France. The moment you dictate the foreign policy of a country, it means that that country has to give up its independence, and therefore, in order to make it sound nice, a general neutralised guarantee is given to Czechoslovakia, and under that, of course, the two alliances lapse. For that reason, in its origin, the guarantee was hypocrisy, but in its effects it is equally hypocritical. It is quite unworkable. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said last night, "Oh, but we regard it as a moral obligation." But he does not yet know to what that obligation extends. What is Czechoslovakia? At the very moment the right hon. Gentleman was making his speech, the Poles were advancing further; at that very moment the Hungarians were preparing the actual lines which they were going to occupy; at that very moment messages were passing between Warsaw and Budapest discussing whether or not 431 they should take Ruthenia. Guarantee, moral obligation—what does it mean? Are we going to oppose the Poles and the Hungarians? While we were discussing and talking as though this was something that we had given to Czechoslovakia in return for the dreadful blow we have struck her, the Poles—with an action which can only be compared to those ghouls in the Middle Ages who used to strip the wounded on the battlefield—were advancing and refusing to receive our protests; and at that very moment the Hungarians also were advancing. No, I do not regard the guarantee as a possible workable arrangement or as any alleviation of our hypocritical dealings with regard to Czechoslovakia.
I come now to the third point. It is most important to put Hitler's three desires in this gradation, because the whole weight of the Government defence in this matter may be said to be, "Would you fight to prevent No. 1?" It is not No. 1, but Nos. 2 and 3; and No. 3 is the domination of Europe by Germany. That is the essential thing, the thing which we ought to have resisted, the thing which we still ought to resist; the thing which I am now afraid it is now too late to resist. I do not think that every Member of the Government can be quite sincere when he manages to hide from his conscience what this defeat, this humiliating defeat, this terrible Munich retreat, means to the fortunes and future position of this country. I cannot believe that any man who has any real feeling for the authority and independence of this country can regard that Munich capitulation as anything but one of the most disastrous episodes that has ever occurred in our history. By that capitulation we allow Herr Hitler to make it perfectly clear to the whole world, or at least to the whole of Europe, that the dominant Power in Europe to-day is not Great Britain, but is Berlin—or rather the Fuhrerhaus in Munich.
At this very moment, as we are talking here, the countries of Europe, such as Bulgaria, Rumania, Yugoslavia, which look to us, which looked to us with an almost passionate longing, hoping that we would do something, that we should show some strength and resolution in order to save them from the appalling menace, are probably drawing up trade treaties with 432 Germany, thinking that now they have to make their terms. The tiger is showing his teeth,; the cage door is open; the keeper is gone; and they must make their terms. As we are discussing here, Herr Funk, the Reich trade commissioner is speeding in the Orient Express straight to Ankara, not stopping on the way, for he knows that is all right, but going straight to Turkey, and beginning at the far end. He is a wise man. There is a trade treaty being negotiated under threats between Estonia and Germany under which Estonia is to buy only German goods in return for the sale of Estonian goods to Germany. We have given away not merely Czechoslovakia, not merely the Sudeten Germans, but we have given away the whole key to Europe.
I know it may be said that it will take a long time to digest. I do not think so. I think that the digestion of the Third Reich is like that of the iron maid of Nuremberg, absolutely ostrich-like in its character. I think it will take about three months before they have tied that silken noose of trade agreements round every State that either borders on or is influenced by Germany. Within three months they will have put them in such a position that they cannot possibly afford—unless we make an effort which I do not see ourselves capable of making—to resist any German pressure against their putting the whole of their resources at the disposal of Germany.
I do ask the House, if they think that this is some sort of Foreign Office bogy about Germany getting control of South-East Europe, to realise that in a few months the Rhine-Main Canal will have been completed and Germany will be able to offer transport freights across Europe at prices which will cut out any other form of communication or transport. In a few months Germany will be in a position to have the whole trade of Europe in a stranglehold. That is not a bogy. That is not a phantasy. It is an absolute fact and it shows what we have given away at Munich. But the Prime Minister says, "I have this paper"—the paper which he waved when he arrived, as he said, bringing peace with honour. He says, "I have made this arrangement with Hitler." I am not going into the question of whether that bit of paper is valuable or not or of whether Herr Hitler will keep his promise or not. That has already been dealt with very well by hon. 433 Members both opposite and on this side of the House.
I only want hon. Members to realise that that paper, which at first was regarded as containing an offer of future peace, now seems to be regarded rather as a little after dinner extravaganza somewhat like the extravaganza when the Kaiser met the Czar of Russia and signed the Treaty of Björkoe. But whether that paper is taken seriously or not in this country, the fact remains that its effect abroad is going to be tremendous. People abroad are going to say, "This is the first time in the history of the British people for 250 years in which openly, avowedly and dramatically they have made friends with the strong as against the weak." For 250 years at least the great foundation of our foreign policy, what Sir Eyre Crowe called "a law of nature," has been to prevent by every means in our power the domination of Europe by any single Power or group of Powers. That principle has necessarily had the corollary that we should always support the small Powers against the strong. By that paper signed lightly, happily perhaps, tragically for certain, in the late hours of the morning, the Prime Minister of Great Britain put his signature to a statement that that policy after 250 years had been abandoned.
The effect of that on the small Powers will be galvanic. I do not mean to say that it is going to affect their public opinion at once because their Press is so frightened of saying anything against Germany; but in what used to be called the Chancelleries of Europe the effect of that announcement will be to cause them to say at once, "We must make terms with Germany." I, therefore, feel that with all the excellent intentions, all the admirable courage and all the lonely dignity which the Prime Minister displayed, he showed a lack of understanding of foreign mentality, and a lack, possibly, of recognition that the great traditions of our policy which had been followed by various parties and various Governments for 250 years are probably based upon something more than the Foreign Office manner.
I know that in these days of realism those of us who try to keep our election pledges are told that we are disloyal to the party. The actual expression used to me was "You must not bat against your own side." As if it were a game 434 of cricket that was being played in this most revered Assembly. I know that those of us who try to be consistent are accused of having "one-track" minds, I know that in these days of realism principles are considered as rather eccentric and ideals are identified with hysteria. I know that those of us who believe in the traditions of our policy, who believe in the precepts which we have inherited from our ancestors, who believe that one great function of this country is to maintain moral standards in Europe, to maintain a settled pattern of international relations, not to make friends with people whose conduct is demonstrably evil, not to go out of our way to make friends with them but to set up some sort of standard by which the smaller Powers can test what is good in international conduct and what is not—I know that those who hold such beliefs are accused of possessing the Foreign Office mind. I thank God that I possess the Foreign Office mind. For those reasons I share with my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper) a very profound distrust of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Wise
The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) said that although this Debate had started over the question of Czechoslovakia there was a greater question, namely, when, if ever, we should stand firmly in the path of the dictator. From his statement I gathered that the hon. Member was prepared to fight in order to stop Germany providing cheap transport from the Danube Basin to the North Sea. How he can reconcile that statement even with the Foreign Office manner, is a curious mystery which only he can solve. He also told us that out of Herr Hitler's three points he was prepared to agree to No. 1; that he would not have gone to war over No. 2, but that he would have fought to the last ditch for No. 3. I hope he would have been prepared to assure the relatives of the deceased what a valuable thing No. 3 was. He also said that he was prepared to accept the Anglo-French plan, but he is as well aware as I am, of the differences between the Munich Agreement and the Anglo-French plan, and can he really conscientiously say that those differences are worth a million Englishmen?
435 We are debating a very serious and important matter. We have had what has possibly been the most strenuous diplomatic three weeks since the Great War and I believe there is a chance that we are at the beginning of an establishment of friendly relations again in Europe. It was only when listening to the hon. Member for West Leicester that I realised how much alive the spirit of Versailles still is, the spirit of which he to-day is the most eloquent living embodiment, and, unfortunately, being the most eloquent, the most dangerous. The opinions expressed by hon. Members opposite are not one-half as dangerous as those expressed by the hon. Member and they were not so well expressed. Indeed listening to some of the speeches, even from the Front Bench opposite, I felt that the new decorations of the House had tempted them to think that they were in the homely surroundings of Hyde Park particularly when we had violent orations—or rather rants—against every form of government which is slightly unpopular with the party opposite.
We hear them asserting, as I gather they still assert, that when these demands were presented by Herr Hitler for the absorption of the Sudeten areas into Germany, our duty was to have collected together what I believe they call the friends of peace in order to have an enthusiastic war, that we ought to have assembled the Czechs, who, poor souls, would have been massacred out of hand before help could reach them, that we ought to have assembled France who, I think, would reasonably enough have been unwilling to have engaged in a fantastic and impossible attack upon an impregnable citadel, and that we ought to have assembled Russia, who have been kept in such admirable practice by executions in their own country and who would have come on to the field hot from the slaughter of nearly all their own officers, so useful an ally that their transport system now is worse than it was in 1914 and their rolling stock over 20 years old. What other allies, what other friends of peace, were we to assemble? Poland, who is now regaining, by possibly questionable means, what was taken from her by means just as questionable?
§ Mr. H. Nicolson
It was a perfectly honourably negotiated treaty, between 436 Paderewski and ex-President Benes, made in 1920, when there was no war.
§ Mr. Wise
It was done in 1920, as far as I remember, but the taking of other areas took place when Poland was engaged in a war with Russia. I do not think the Poles can altogether be blamed for getting back a little of their own. Indeed, the whole lesson of these last few weeks has been to show that always nations will try to get their own back when they feel that they have been harshly or unjustly treated. There is no question that the Sudeten Germans have suffered grievances. There is also no question that nobody took any notice of their grievances, nor was any suggestion to redress them made, until the big brother across the border was big enough to enforce their demands I believe that the only way out of this impasse is to do what the Prime Minister is, in fact, doing, namely, to ignore the ideological differences between various countres in Europe and to see whether it is not a little better to endeavour to meet as reasonable beings, to discuss joint problems as reasonable beings, rather than to profess profound love for the German people and indulge in the most virulent abuse of those who control their destinies.
I cannot hold that the Opposition have sufficiently clean hands in this matter to endeavour or dare to embark upon censure of His Majesty's Government. I remember well, not so many years ago, the assistance which they were giving to the strengthening of the hands of this country, when they learned, doubtless from their party managers, that their opposition to rearmament was electorally unpopular, and now they are eating their words with a remarkable recklessness of indigestion. But it was only two years ago that the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), who demanded this afternoon such magnificently strong action for collective security, was making the admirable and amiable suggestion that his party should do all in their power to stop recruiting for the armed forces. That was his contribution towards the collective system which hon. Members opposite like so much.
I can remember the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition at about the same time saying that in no circumstances were they going to vote in support of the Government's rearmament 437 programme, because, I believe the official excuse was, it was not to be used for collective security, but only for the defence of English men, women, and children.
§ Mr. Attlee
Is the hon. Member professing to quote me? If so, I should like him to quote me correctly.
§ Mr. Attlee
I ask the hon. Member to do what any hon. Gentleman would do in this House. If he is not prepared to produce that quotation—and I have no recollection of it—he should withdraw it.
§ Mr. Wise
I cannot produce it to-night, but I will undertake to produce it to the right hon. Gentleman to-morrow morning—the time and date of the quotation. If I cannot find the time and date, I will gladly withdraw what I said. I have already overstayed my time, but I think I have left no doubt in the minds of the House in which Lobby I shall be found.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. D. Grenfell
I would ask the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) to remember the implications of his suggestion against the Leader of the Opposition, and I would ask him to say to-morrow morning whether he favours the use of British arms only to save the lives of his fellow-countrymen, and whether, in that suggestion, he is prepared to admit that that would cut us out of the possibility of alliances or of joint military action with any other nation in the world. I think he has done a thing which is generally regarded as outside the rules of good Parliamentary conduct in this House, and I hope that to-morrow morning he will be manly enough to admit his fault, because I believe he ought to have apologised to the House.
I do not propose to-night to go into details. It is difficult to find anything really new to say after three days' Debate on this subject, but I feel sure that the 438 House will admit that it would have been a great advantage if this Debate had been held before the conferences abroad and if the Government and the House had been brought face to face over the tremendous issues that the recent settlement involved. The House of Commons now knows much more about the results of any conversations or any settlement abroad than it did a month ago, and Members in all parts of the House, I feel sure, would have welcomed the opportunity of hearing what the House thinks and, through the House, what the nation thinks, with regard to the possibilities of making peaceful or other changes in Europe.
I do not dispute for a moment the main claim of the Government, the claim upon which they base their Motion to-day, that the country was relieved very much last week when we found that we were not to be involved in a European war. It is usual—indeed, it goes without exception—that nations, after a long and exhausting war, rejoice at the advent of peace and the cessation of hostilities, but on this occasion there was perhaps a significant change. The nations of Europe showed no exaltation at all at the prospect of war. Neither Germany nor Italy showed any popular exaltation, and there was no rejoicing because the armies were moving. France and Britain faced up to the situation, grimly determined to see it through in the last days, but when it was found that the armies were not to move and that there was to be no European war we found a sign of increasing pacifism. We found a great joy coming into the hearts of men that this bitter experience of war was not to be required of them. We should console ourselves with that manifestation, but I am not quite satisfied that what has been described as "peace for our time" is really a lasting peace or a peace that has any prospect of permanence or lasting satisfaction.
The people of Europe a week ago did not quite appreciate the conditions under which the so-called peace was obtained. They know very much more to-day and there is much heart-searching and much anxiety now regarding the effect of the Agreement at Munich and the various conferences which have taken place. I think that we ought to say this and it ought to come from Members in all parts of the House. We owe the very anxious suspense, the strain and the criminal assault on the world's conscience to those 439 who have repudiated and scorned civilised ideals. A terrifying realisation came upon the people a week ago of the purpose of dictatorship. One man decided to mobilise German arms to demand possession of his neighbour's land by force. His will has prevailed. There is no doubt about that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer strongly pronounced that it is Herr Hitler's will which has prevailed in Europe. Nobody else has had the satisfaction of having the smallest real concessions made to him.
Herr Hitler risked a war on the assumption that this country would not engage in hostilities to defend Czechoslovakia. The German people did not want to fight. Germany did not want to fight. There is a story told of the general staff, that they were opposed to taking the field. Hitler told the German generals, "You get on with your job, you get on to the field. I know my job. I know I can get Czechoslovakia without war." It is highly important that we should know the grounds upon which Herr Hitler based that confidence. Something has been said in the Debate about the apparatus of crisis. I say that Herr Hitler developed a crisis, created a situation which led to the present circumstances. I feel sure that we ought to know something about the events before Berchtesgaden, before Godesberg and before Munich. Herr Hitler based his assurance that there would be no conflict with Britain upon communications from this country. He and his emissaries and his friends and his friends' friends have often met and have had conversations, the subject of which has been Czechoslovakia. Have these reports in the American papers no basis, reports in which the Prime Minister himself was involved, about conversations in Germany?
This House should know that meddlesome, mischievous persons, consorting and conspiring against the interests of this country, made a very difficult situation for any official negotiators. The Prime Minister knows well enough that his efforts have been compromised. I feel he must know. When he went to meet Herr Hitler for the first time, did he know that Herr Hitler relied upon British opinion and the British Government not to make too much fuss about Czechoslovakia? Was not that known to 440 the Foreign Office? Had the Prime Minister himself conceived the possibility of a compromise on this point before he went to Germany? We have not been told by the Prime Minister where he first derived the idea that this settlement could only be achieved by self-determination. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has examined this term "self-determination" at some length to-day, and he knows quite well that it is only a temporary verbal resurrection to enable Herr Hitler to put his demands in international currency. The idea has always been present in Hitler's mind. It was known to everybody, it was known to the German people and to people all over the world except, as the hon. Member for the Abbey Division of Westminster (Sir S. Herbert) said last night, the Members of the Government on the Front Bench. I myself have been told that Herr Hitler was to get Czechoslovakia with the consent of the British Government. I have been told by German people. It was understood, and they were surprised to find there might be any opposition in this country after what they had been told by Herr Hitler's friends and his friends' friends who have talked this matter over. There was never any doubt about what Herr Hitler wanted. It was not self-determination. That is a formula for which he has the utmost contempt. The result is not self-determination.
The fact is that democracy has suffered a cruel defeat. Czechoslovakia will pay the first bitter instalment of the cost. The next bill will be presented elsewhere. No one knows the dimensions of that bill or to whom it will be addressed. We are only beginning a series of payments and fines because democracy has lost its prestige and lost its authority in the world. Czechoslovakia is being cut up. With the German Army quartered inside that country, the situation is deteriorating hour by hour. Dr. Benes is universally acclaimed as the first gentleman in Europe. This little man, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking to in his own residence in Prague, has in the last three or four weeks borne a burden heavier than that ever borne by any statesman in Europe before. The dignity, the precision of mind, the address, the spirit which he has maintained entitle him to be ranked as one of the greatest men that history has 441 known. This little man has now resigned the presidency. He is no longer President of Czechoslovakia, the country for which he has done so much, the country which he has honoured and which has honoured him for many years.
The various Provinces have urged to break away. What will be left of self-determination for Czechoslovakia? There has been no self-determination for Sudeten-Germans. Those Germans, as German as Herr Hitler himself, Germans of pure race and of pure speech, who do not agree with Herr Hitler in politics, have not been conceded the right of self-determination. They are being told already, with the German army in occupation, that there is to be only one political party in Czechoslovakia. There is no self-determination for the Sudeten-Germans. Persecution, intimidation, assault, imprisonment—all these await Sudeten-Germans, to the number of 500,000, who have dared to be Social Democracts and not supporters of the Nazi rÉgime. There is to be no self-determination for the Czechs, those very gallant people who are willing to risk all to avoid being enslaved, a very natural instinct of self-preservation which has been lauded in poetry, in song and in prose in every language in the world. It is a patriotism that prefers death to dishonour.
I am a Welshman and I know patriotism. We have a phrase almost as old, perhaps, as the hills of our native country which I will risk repeating in this House, despite the disabilities of my people under the British rule. That phrase goes:Gwell angau na chywilydd."Better death than dishonour." That forms part of my language, it is part of my tradition, and I can sympathise with those gallant people who are willing, in the face of overwhelming odds, to stand as men have stood before and shed their blood that the people may be free when they themselves are dead and gone. The willingness to make that sacrifice has been denied to them. They are asked not to indulge in this proud act of self-immolation, but to refrain from exercising this privilege of men for the sake of the peace of Europe, and they are rewarded with a threat of extermination with the certainty almost of the complete dissolution of their collective life. They are to be invaded from the north and from the south unless 442 they come to an agreement with those who claim further lands not mentioned in the various agreements.
The Poles on the north and the Hungarians on the south have expressed a desire to have a common frontier. When they come together there will be no intervening Czechoslovakian territory. The Czechs will be there and the Slovaks will be there, but living under foreign rule. That right of self-determination will be denied to them because the guarantees do not come into operation until after the Poles and the Hungarians have had their additional bites of Czech territory. There is no self-determination for anybody. It is a complete betrayal of everybody except those people who have accepted Herr Hitler's doctrines and his power to control their very lives. I do not know what power this International Commission possesses. I wish somebody with the legal knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequr—perhaps he will pass on his knowledge to the next speaker—would tell us what real power the Commission possesses. Can it defend Czechoslovakia from further invasion or from deliberate internal disruption? When and in what circumstances are the guarantees to operate? Are they military guarantees? Could we be bound, possibly, to guarantee the integrity and the boundaries of a creation of Nazi Germany on the site of old Czechoslovakia? May we be bound to protect Nazi territory under the guarantees agreed upon at Munich?
The Minister of Transport gave us a lesson yesterday in geography. He probably has a very good knowledge of the geography of our own country since he has ridden about in it so much in his car. I do not know whether his geography of Europe is quite as accurate, but we will accept his geography. He told us yesterday that we could not possibly have helped Czechoslovakia because of the geographical situation of the country, its distance from the Baltic and the Adriatic and from the French frontier and the Russian frontier. This is possibly a subject which he knows very well, but how can be reconcile that statement of yesterday with the possibility of our now guaranteeing the Czech frontier? The fortifications have all passed into German hands. There are no guns and no positions, no mountain ranges and no national frontiers of any kind. How can anyone 443 guarantee the existence of a frontier or of a territory divided on the lines of the Munich Agreement?
I would like to picture Czechoslovakia as I see it, day by day falling into more disorder. It is not simply that 3,250,000 Sudeten Germans are to be taken over. There are some regions where the percentage of Sudeten Germans is from 80 to 90 of the population, while in the next departments the percentage of Germans may be 60 or 70. In other counties the percentage will be 25 or 30. There will be islands, or an archipelago of islands, of these people, in varying proportions. It is not 3,250,000 Sudeten Germans have gained liberty and have been taken under German rule; an equal number of other people have been taken, against their will, under the duress of a government which they detest and fear in their very bones. Poland and Hungary are to be allowed time, three months or six months, and although there will be negotiations it will not be negotiations between equals. The status of the Czechs has been lost in all negotiations.
Under the Munich Agreement, for which the Prime Minister shares responsibility with the other three persons who signed the Agreement, there may be self-determination for Sudetens and Slovaks, but not for the Czechs. If an area nearly as large as England and Wales, having 54,000 square miles and a population of nearly 15,000,000, is transferred to German control, Germany will be the master and will control the industrial life and organise the transport and the trade. This will be an addition to the number of Germans in the German Reich for practical purposes. We shall hand over to them military resources very substantial, including the most efficient munition factories in Europe. German military resources will be increased by probably 40 per cent. for the next two years by the acquisition of this area, whether directly under German rule or not, with the possibility, before many months have passed over Eastern Europe, of Nazi control over adjoining countries, including Rumania.
I have been twice to Czechoslovakia. I have been to their mines, and have gone underground and talked to the work-people, and I was just as comfortable and happy and contented to speak to those people as if I went down an English, Scottish or Welsh mine. These people are in 444 dread of the transfer that is now taking place in their country. But Germany cannot afford for any sentimental reason to refuse to avail herself of this rich prize of the Czechoslovakian coal mines. The best mines in Central Europe will fall into German hands, and her coal production can easily be increased by 30,000,000 tons a year when the transfer has been made. Then there are the ironworks. Germany now manufactures 20,000,000 tons of steel, as against the British production of about 12,000,000 tons, and the German productive capacity in iron and steel will be increased by 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 tons by the transfer of this property. There are also the textile industry, the glass industry and the pottery industry of Czechoslovakia. It is a very highly industrialised country, and its people are people of great industrial skill, very industrious and methodical in their habits. All this goes over to Germany, and these people, who are turned out of power in their own country, will have to live under German rule.
If the Prime Minister can help to prevent the development of the more distressful picture I have in mind, I personally shall be very grateful for intervention on his part, but I do not think he can. The pass has been handed over. Herr Hitler was given the keys of Eastern Europe at Munich, and he will open the door and make his own way, with the Munich Agreement as his passport, right to the Black Sea. These people will endure misery, for what misery can be greater than to be pointed to every day as members of a defeated race, a race looked upon with contempt? These rules may be all right in the Foreign Offices of different countries, but when you come to the point of contact they do not feel so well. The Czechs will suffer because they will be subject to the new tyranny in Europe, to which we have made concessions and submissions which I fear will bring us later face to face with the requirement of more concessions from ourselves than even the Czechs have been compelled to make for the sake of the peace of Europe.
Will hon. Members consider what would Scotland look like with the Clydeside area detached from it, with the people who like there driven out of their own country and compelled to live in the north, in the Grampians or the Western Islands, while the Clydeside and 445 Lanark coalfields and shipyards were made available for the use of newcomers and denied to the people of Scotland? What would Wales look like if Glamorgan, Monmouth and Carmarthenshire were taken away, and the Welsh people of those counties told to go and find a livelihood in other parts of the country where the land is poor and insufficient for their sustenance? You cannot paint a picture too gloomy to represent the truth of this matter.
The first lesson I would like the people to learn is the lesson of non-intervention. Why do irresponsible and unrepresentative people meddle in the international affairs of our country? Why should these people presume to express their opinion? They have no authority to represent the mind of our people. I would be saying a foolish thing if I professed to have more patriotism than anybody else, but I resent the idea that there should be any misrepresentation of my country to its detriment. It is a scandal. There is talk about national unity. Can I, with my antecedents, be united with people who have no regard at all for freedom? I found myself with nothing but a good home and good parents. I found myself in a Radical household, with a tradition of freedom and a tradition of right, and I have developed a passion for that freedom. I want to express it in the public life of the country of which I am proud; and I would never contemplate betraying that country, even for my right hand.
I am convinced that the time has come for a larger, wider view of human relations than that expressed in the narrow limits of nationalism. The world has shrunk so small, there have been so many changes, that we must adapt ourselves to the idea of co-operation. We must learn to live with other people in a state of free exchange and free and mutual co-operation. The world in future must be one where national claims are not so strongly emphasised. I am certain Herr Hitler is leading his people to ruin and disaster, because he is assuming that the German people have a prior claim to the earth. There is no prior claim. There is as much history behind each individual and each nation. We are responsible for making the best of the short life available to us. Over and over again have we called attention to the need for adjustments and peaceful change. You cannot 446 stop short at a national frontier, and line the frontier with guns and bayonets and say that you have been building protection for the people inside. All that has been changed, and we have to devise a way for all the nations of Europe.
I believe I know what the world needs. It needs co-operation. And no one can make a larger single contribution in this world, with 100 sovereign states, large and small, than the United States of America, with its vast resources, its wonderful industrial equipment, its implements, its wealth, its energy. The United States of America must be brought in. A special invitation should be sent to that country. Russia, with its great experiments, not so successful as we would have liked even with its frequent mistakes and its dictatorial or totalitarian tendencies, which we do not like a bit, cannot be excluded from the community of nations.
We ought to make a special declaration. The Amendment calls upon the Government to take the initiative and to invite these people to look upon Europe as it was last week, as it is to-day, and as it will be, more dangerous still a few months from now. Let us not be too proud to call upon these nations, one and all, to come in and join with us to try and make the world safe for democracy. We stand in perhaps greater danger than any European country. This country cannot feed itself for more than three days a week. We are dependent upon international trade, and upon peace so that trade can be carried on, and we must make our contribution. We have to give and take. I call upon Members on all sides of the House to join with us in this departure to try to achieve security not by our efforts alone, but by the aid of other nations seeking the same solution.
§ 10.37 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Butler)
It has often been my lot to follow a speech of the same type of passionate sincerity as that which has been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). In due course I hope to make my contribution to the rebuilding of peace which he has asked us all to do. During this difficult time I have had rather a strange experience in that my duty has taken me abroad to Geneva, where I have been at work the whole of the time. It has been, 447 indeed, a strange experience to miss the anxiety and tension, and, finally, the great relief which followed that tension and anxiety. We had our share living in the international atmosphere of Geneva, but I missed something very great through not being in this country. I arrived back in time to see this period of stocktaking or of criticism, and I have tried to understand it from the criticisms in the course of the Debate of the last three days. One cannot have been other than impressed by its depth and feeling. I find that there is a difference of opinion on all sides of the House and that sentiments have been so strong that they have not followed, in particular, the ordinary party channels. We have had speeches from the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Thurtle), the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert-Ward), which must have impressed us all, and certainly did not follow the orthodox lines we might have expected. I think the situation is best described in a leading article in to-day's "Daily Telegraph," which thanks the Government for the opportunity that we have here to discuss these matters in Parliament and stresses the value of parliamentary discussion at the present time. These words are used:Into the parliamentary channel can be poured the long-pent stream of feeling and reflection which seeks self-expression.That is what we are experiencing here during this Debate. Do not let us in the course of this Parliamentary criticism lose what was most precious in that time of relief, the signs of national unity in a time of crisis and the unanimity of feeling amongst all classes of the people that war must be avoided if it possibly can be.
I have said that during this difficult time my task has been abroad. One experience I was able to gain there was to appreciate the immense prestige of the Prime Minister and of this country as it stands abroad at the present time. One advantage of being at Geneva is that one is in close touch with the representatives of about 49 nations, and not only there but in messages which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has authorised me to make public, it is clear in what remarkable prestige my right hon. Friend and this country stand to- 448 day. Let me take examples from some of the small nations which were quoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) to whom, as he said, we should rightly attach great importance. M. Spaak, the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Belgium, in a message to my right hon. Friend said that, speaking on behalf of the whole Belgian nation, he had received innumerable messages from Belgian municipalities and others expressing their admiration and gratitude for the action of the Prime Minister. I can tell the House also that Monsieur Motta, Foreign Affairs Member of the Swiss Federal Council, in more than one conversation with myself asked me to send similar messages to my right hon. Friend.
Take one of the small countries which are said to be rushing precipitately into the arms of Germany—I mean Rumania. Our Minister at Bucharest has reported to us that the whole of the Rumanian Press echoes the public opinion in Rumania expressing unbounded relief at the disappearance of the danger of war, and unstinted admiration and gratitude to the Prime Minister for his indefatigable determination to achieve a peace settlement. Does that show that there is no appreciation from the smaller nations? We know what scenes have occurred in the French Chamber, and we know that tomorrow this House will show to the world its approval of the action of the Prime Minister. We know of the satisfactory effect that has been produced on public opinion in the United States of America, to which the hon. Member opposite referred in his speech. One does get some benefit in living in an international atmosphere in a time of crisis like this.
The issue before us in this Debate is whether he could have achieved any alternative settlement or any alternative result. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) asked whether we could not have achieved a different result through diplomatic channels earlier in the year. Let me assure him that those in the Government who have had this terrible responsibility have taken every possible step that was open to them at Prague and Berlin during the whole time in order to try and reach a satisfactory solution. At the critical stage, as everybody knows, a mediator was sent, British observers were sent and, finally, the 449 British Prime Minister himself went when events were overtaking him, to save from the wreck the peace that we now enjoy.
It was difficult when examining the pressure of events to foresee any alternative to either war, which thank God we have not got, or a settlement imposed by Germany. I maintain, and I am sure the House will agree with me, that we should have been far worse off under either alternative. I must confess that I was very much moved by the description from Czechoslovakia brought back by the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). We must all have been impressed by his account. If we study the history of the Thirty Years' War we find that it is in this part of Europe that some of the worst horrors and cruelties in history have taken place, and we must ask ourselves whether the situation would not have been far worse with either of the other alternatives—war or an imposed settlement. They certainly would have been worse, and we must be thankful that, terrible as certain things may be, they are not worse at the present time.
The right hon. Member for Epping referred to the fine army of Bohemia. Where would that Army be now if war had been declared? Its state would have been worse than it is. If we had had war could we have rebuilt the Czech State in exactly the same manner as it was built by the Treaty of Versailles had we been victorious? We must examine some of the writings of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson), who has been described in this Debate as an eloquent and living embodiment of the Treaty of Versailles. In his book on "Peacemaking," in 1919, he says:I am anxious about the future political complexity of the Czech State if they have to digest solid enemy electorates.That is precisely the trouble which the Czech State has had to undergo. We must realise, I think, that it is extremely difficult, probably certain, that we should not have been able to re-establish the Czech State in exactly the same manner as we saw it before. I should like to pay a tribute to the manner in which the Czechs themselves have got over these undoubted difficulties, but I doubt very much whether any better settlement could have been achieved under the pressure of recent events.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) asked the Home Secretary a 450 question about a statement made by Professor Seton Watson to which I should like to give him a full answer. He asked whether a certain communication made by the British Government on 21st September was in the terms as set out by Professor Seton Watson and he gave four points which he said Professor Seton Watson had stated that the message contained. I propose—and I am authorised to do so—to read the telegram sent by my Noble Friend to our Minister at Prague which included our instructions on this occasion, and I hope it will answer his point. It is dated 21st September.
§ Mr. Butler
This is dated 21st September, 1.20 a.m.:You should at once join with your French colleague in pointing out to the Czechoslovak Government that their reply in no way meets the critical situation which the Anglo-French proposals were designed to avert and if adhered to would, when made public, in our opinion, lead to an immediate German invasion. You should urge the Czech Government to withdraw this reply and urgently consider an alternative that takes account of realities. The Anglo-French proposals remain, in our view, the only chance of avoiding an immediate German attack. On the basis of the reply now under consideration I would have no hope of any useful result ensuing for a second visit to Herr Hitler and the Prime Minister would be obliged to cancel the arrangements for it. We therefore beg the Czech Government to consider urgently and seriously before producing a situation for which we could take no responsibility. We should of course have been willing to put the Czech proposal for arbitration before the German Government if we had thought that at this stage there was any chance of its receiving favourable consideration, but we cannot for a moment believe that it would be acceptable now. Nor do we think that the German Government would regard the present proposition as one that is capable of being settled by arbitration as the Czech Government suggest. If on reconsideration the Czech Government feel bound to reject our advice they must of course be free to take any action they think appropriate to meet the situation that may thereafter develop.In reading that authentic telegram I maintain that we do not recognise the points which were present in Professor Seton Watson's analysis, and in particularly the last two which, he said, the message contained, namely:(3) By refusing, Czechoslovakia will also be guilty of destroying Anglo-French solidarity, since in that event Britain will under no circumstances march even if France went to the aid of Czechoslovakia.451(4) If the refusal should provoke war France gives official notice that she will not fulfil her treaty obligations.In dealing with the Amendment which has been moved from the Opposition side, and in particular with the eloquent speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to-day, I notice we are asked to showan active support of the method of collective security through the League of Nations, and the immediate initiation by His Majesty's Government of proposals for the summoning of a world conference to consider the removal of economic and political grievances which imperil peace.My right hon. Friend the Member for Epping said that we have destroyed and dissipated the vast system of the League. I only wish I could have seen my right hon. Friend striding up and down in his inimitable way the lobbies of that splendid new Palace of Peace at Geneva. I did see my hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey), whom I see nodding his head over there. I have been, if I may say so, in the engine room of the League, and those who work there realise that they very seldom see the light of day. I have been studying the machinery of the League at close quarters, and I have found it extremely difficult and extremely hard work. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer showed the great difficulty of using Article XIX at the present time owing to the necessity under the Covenant of the unanimity rule. We have had a striking experience this year. The British delegation proposed that the unanimity rule should be waived in its application to the first paragraph of Article XI. We were unable to get unanimity on that. Two nations voted against us, and II nations abstained, with the result that our proposal to make the machinery of the League more easy of application in time of difficulty fell to the ground in what we thought very regrettable circumstances. That is a practical example of the British Government taking the lead to try to make this machinery work more rapidly in time of danger by suggesting that the unanimity rule should be waived only to this extent that the parties to the dispute should not by their vote be able to block action under that particular section of the Article.
It may be said by hon. Members opposite and in particular by those who 452 know the Covenant well that Article XVII might have been used on this occasion if hostilities had broken out. If we examine that we find that under Article XVII the machinery which comes into operation in the event of a crisis is that of Article XVI, and what is the actual position under Article XVI at the present time? We find that the northern nations have said that they cannot regard their obligation to take economic sanctions under Article XVI as automatic. As a result of our discussions at the League on this occasion the whole Assembly unanimously decided to take note of declarations of fact by a series of governments that while the Covenant as a whole remained intact and consultations should be obligatory under this Article, each State reserved its right to judge each particular case on its merits, and to take such action as might seem possible. Thus even the original general obligation under Article XVI is to-day not so easy to operate as it was before. Those are examples of how the machinery of the League to-day is not so easy of immediate and successful application in a crisis of this sort. I have tried to examine it closely and in all sincerity, and with a great admiration for the machinery of the League which I have conceived during the last month, and indeed before. The more I have examined it, the more I have admired it; and the more I examine it, the more I find it is not easy of application at the present time.
In the few minutes that remain, I want to take up the general points raised by the hon. Member for Gower. What struck me at the League was the prestige in which our Government and our Prime Minister are held. What has struck hon. Members who have listened to this Debate is the fact that public opinion in the dictator countries has conceived a profound admiration for our Prime Minister and our country. Our country, therefore, is the country which is in a priceless position for securing the future of peace. I have illustrated the difficulties of achieving peace through the League alone. There are obvious difficulties in securing peace by collaboration with the dictators alone. It would seem madness to try one method without the other. In constructing a peace system, we have to decide whether we are going to ignore the forces which are outside the League or not, and we emphatically do not 453 accept the position that we should leave the dictator countries outside in our consideration of the construction of a peace system.
If we are to be successful in this task, it is important that British public opinion should be firmly behind the Prime Minister and the Government in our task. One of the sincere doubts which I have noticed on the benches opposite is whether British democracy is right to associate with Nazi Germany. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping said that never will we have friendship with this Nazi system. I want to examine where that philosophy leads us. I believe we should look for points of resemblance with the systems of foreign countries, and not points of difference. I am ready to make friends with Russia. In fact, I enjoyed very much various conversations with the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs and other Russian representatives at Geneva. I tried to find points of resemblance. If I am to adopt the philosophy of some hon. Members opposite and of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, it would be quite impossible for me to become a friend of Russia, because I cannot agree with much in their political system. Therefore, if we pursue the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, that any system which does not share the Christian ethics—the expression of my right hon. Friend—is not worthy of our friendship, we cannot have friendship with Russia any more than with Germany.
It seems to me that we have two choices either to settle our differences with Germany by consultation, or to face the inevitability of a clash between the two systems of democracy and dictatorship. In considering this, I must emphatically give my opinion as one of the younger generation. War settles nothing, and I see no alternative to the policy upon which the Prime Minister has so courageously set himself—the construction of peace, with the aid which I have described. There is no other country which can achieve this, and I ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite sincerely to believe that in our efforts to understand, to consult with and, if possible, to get friendship with Germany, we do not abandon by one jot or tittle the democratic beliefs which are the very core of our whole being and system. In 454 conclusion, I must gratify the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield by quoting Shakespeare. The right hon. Gentleman will remember the little poem "Under the Greenwood Tree"—Here shall he seeNo enemy,But winter and rough weatherWe have the winter before us, and we have a great deal of political rough weather, but in that rough weather, do not let us forget the joint idea of peace which animates us all.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.