Foreign Affairs.

Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 24th November 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Captain Reginald Berkeley Captain Reginald Berkeley , Nottingham Central

I confess to a feeling that, in inflicting myself on the House, so soon in my Parliamentary life, I seem to be wanting in the observance of the wholesome rule that people who are young and inexperienced ought to be seen and not heard. I would not venture to take up the time of the House were it not that, in the Debate which has taken place so far, one subject which seems to me to be of overwhelming general importance has escaped discussion. I am very anxious to call attention to the overwhelming importance of foreign affairs at this moment. I do not pose as an expert on that matter, I am not. But I envy anyone who can look at the present situation on the Continent without the deepest misgiving. Wherever one looks one sees the same sight, either a nation in ruin or a nation being dragged down to ruin. The position of the Continental exchanges seems to go from bad to worse. Everything seems to point to the necessity for serious international co-operation to relieve this state of affairs. The hon. Member for Clitheroe (Captain Brass) who moved the Address said that the apparent bankruptcy on the Continent was only what he called a monetary bankruptcy. I cannot let that pass. It seems to me to go far deeper than that. It seems to me to be a bankruptcy of hope and endeavour. Where-ever one looks there is a kind of fixed and awful despair seizing upon the Central European peoples. Some countries are in such a pitiable economic state that they do not seem to be able to nerve themselves to check this terrible downward tendency. What I would impress most on the House is that that kind of despair is the half-brother, if not the full brother, of international violence. That is the kind of atmosphere in which thoughts of war flourish. That is the first danger in the international situation to-day, which I am anxious to point out.

There is also another danger. At the moment, unless I have misread the statements of policy made from time to time on behalf of the Government, we seem to be basing our foreign policy on what I would call a group system, understandings between what we used to call the principal Allies during the War, especially the friendly Powers of France and Italy. Those friendships and understandings are all very well, so far as they go. So far as they go I am all for them, but I do not want them to be exclusive. History surely tells us that foreign policy based purely on the group system is sure to be met by a counter group. I would ask the House to consider whether a counter group is not at this very moment in the process of formation. During the Genoa Conference, which was a great effort on the part of the late Government, for which they must receive a great deal of thanks even though it failed, an understanding, some people believe, a military understanding—and there are good grounds for the belief—was entered into between Germany and Russia. Later than that, during the Near Eastern crisis, it seemed that there was some similar understanding between Russia and the Angora Government—at least there was reciprocity between them. If we continue to base our foreign policy upon the group system and on an exclusive alliance with the principal Allied Powers, that group will most assuredly be met by a Russo-Turko-German entente. That is the second danger in the existing situation.

This is not a criticism in any way of the Lausanne Conference. That is a temporary Conference called to meet a particular state of affairs. It may well achieve its purpose, and I am sure that everyone on this side of the House hopes that it will. But what I am criticising is the revival of the group system, which was the basis of our foreign policy before the War, and which, it seems to me, did not do so well for itself as to make it a very desirable basis for our foreign policy in the future. I submit that the step, which I understand we are taking in our foreign policy at this moment, is the first step towards dividing Europe again into two camps. And once you divide the Continent into two camps it seems to me that it will not be much longer before they become two armed camps. Another danger is that if you base your foreign policy on the group system you may give umbrage in some way to some of the Powers in your own camp by refusing to give some advantage, or by finding yourself unable to agree with their particular line of policy. If that happens, it may end by driving your Allies from your camp into the other camp. There have been instances of that in modern times. Therefore if you pursue this system you have constantly to be compromising yourself and compromising your own foreign policy by giving what may be called a quid pro quo. The Leader of the Opposition gave an instance of that yesterday, when he drew attention to a bargain which had been concluded between two countries, during the Lausanne Conference, by which one country is to get a port in the territories of a third country and a second country, for supporting this, is to receive specially favourable treatment for its contractors in connection with some harbour works. That seems to be another great danger of this group system. It encourages bargains at the expense of other people.

I do not want to be destructive in my criticism. If I may, I would venture deferentially to associate myself with what Viscount Grey said yesterday in the House of Lords: The foreign policy of this country is something that ought to be quite above party. No one can be insensible to the difficulties which the Government has to face in orienting its foreign policy. It is very easy for us to criticise over here, but they have to decide upon a line and take the responsibility for what they do. But I want deferentially to urge upon the Government an alternative foreign policy. I want them to consider whether the League of Nations is not a better basis for our foreign policy than the group system. Everyone talks about the League as being something that is young. It is quite true that it is young. But it is growing. If you compare its record with the record of the group system in the past four years, I think any unbiased observer will agree that the balance of achievement is very much in favour of the League. Take a couple of illustrations. The solution of the very serious dispute between Sweden and Finland was successfully brought about. The Upper Silesian problem, which the Supreme Council gave up in despair, was also (successfully solved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Question?"] It seems to be working very satisfactorily. On the other hand it is very difficult, if you take the whole record of the Supreme Council, to point to any definite and substantial achievement in the whole time since the armistice. Critics of the League say that it is incomplete. If it is incomplete, I submit that we have only the group system to thank for that.

If this country had resolutely refused to go on with the Supreme Council policy and had insisted upon doing its international business through the League from the beginning, both Germany and Russia would already have applied for admission. I will go further than that. I believe that if the last Government had made up its mind to carry out the Genoa policy, which was a good policy, a policy for promoting peace—if they had carried out the Genoa Policy through the League, I believe that Germany, and probably Russia, would be in the League to-day. I do not want anything I have said to seem to belittle the efforts that the head of the last Government made to bring about international peace. If I may very humbly say so, I think that those efforts were directed through the wrong channel. But we ought to recognise that the Genoa Conference was a serious attempt to bring about disarmament in Europe, and disarmament in Europe is really the only way in which a great reduction in expenditure is to be brought about. The Prime Minister said yesterday that if Home Rule had not become a Party issue the whole question of Ireland might have been settled long ago. I was very much impressed by that statement. Therefore, I am most anxious that the question of the League of Naitons should not be a party issue in this House or in the country. It is a great mistake that it should be looked upon as the panacea which only one party will apply. At present all parties in the House, and most Members of the House, unite in paying tribute to the ideal of the League. I would urge this: Cannot they unite to make it a practical reality in Europe? These are my reasons for appealing to the Prime Minister to give it a leading place in his scheme of foreign policy.

1.0 P.M.

Photo of Hon. Aubrey Herbert Hon. Aubrey Herbert , Yeovil

Before I say anything else, perhaps I may be allowed to congratulate the hon. Member who has just spoken on his maiden speech. I feel sure that the whole House appreciates the reasoned statement he has made. Also I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister on his great majority and on his conciliatory policy. There is a Latin proverb which says that you must say nothing but good of the dead. If historians acted upon that proverb history would never be written. There is an English saying that you must never strike anyone who is down. If politicians acted upon that precept I do not know how you would ever form a policy, for the present has its roots in the past, and it is only by looking at the mistakes of the past that you can correct those mistakes and have a new policy. If anything that I say hurts the feelings of the late Prime Minister, I regret it. I wish to refer to our foreign policy in its relation to the Greeks and the Turks. Let me deal briefly with the situation as it was after the armistice. We won the War with the help of Indian Moslems. We went to Constantinople, and the first trouble arose because of the suggestion to convert the Mosque of St. Sophia into a Christian church. That violated Moslem sentiment. The next thing was that we sent Greek troops into peaceful Smyrna. We took the one great port in that part of the world away from the Turks, against every pledge that we had made in the past. That violated Turkish interests. Interests and sentiment combined against us, and we had unrest throughout the East.

But our activities did not stop there. Having done that against every pledge, we partitioned the whole of the Ottoman Empire. In the old days the Ottoman Empire was an economic unit, a primitive economic unit, if you like, but still a mat, When you divide economic units you destroy the possibility of economic life. There is no victory in the world that will make rivers Row uphill and corn grow immediately in the desert. Even the last Government seemed finally to appreciate that fact. Let me give one illustration of how very complex in this whole question. Take the case of the Kurds. The Kurds depend politically upon Turkey, and economically upon Iraq. When you divide up the thing you make it almost impossible to deal with people of that nature. If the House will allow me I should like to speak for a few moments on the question of Iraq. It again was an important part of that economic unity. There is really no dividing frontier between Iraq and Turkey. What happened? We went to Iraq, and we practically annexed the whole of that country. Having done so we went far beyond even what the Turks had done. We occupied territories the Turks had never attempted to conquer. We taxed the people in three times the amount in which the Turks had taxed them. Where the Turks had punished them with whips we chastised them with scorpions. The result was a very fierce rebellion which was only quenched at the expense of a great deal of blood and money. What followed immediately after that? Economy followed. Economy, a poor girl in a hair shirt, chaperoned by Mr. Churchill, was brought in. I very much regret that the right hon. Gentleman is not here to answer. [HON. MEMRFRS: "We are not."] Mr. Churchill attempted to do two things at once. He attempted to keep he whole of Iraq for the Empire, and he attempted to serve the taxpayer by policing it economically with aeroplanes. That is perfectly impossible. You cannot police a country with aero planes, and you cannot gather your taxes with aeroplanes. It is as preposterous as trying to control the traffic in the Strand with a griffin, and a foreign griffin at that. That kind of tiling has never succeeded all through history. Take any part of the Empire. No chief authority will enforce discipline by aeroplanes. Before the Treaty the Commander-in-Chief would not hear of aeroplanes in Ireland. Lord Allenby would not have them in Egypt, and, going back to the days of the War, what was it that really aroused the great feeling against Germany in this country? It was the use of aeroplanes. I believe men will forgive the use of almost any lethal weapon against which they can retaliate; what they will not forgive is death being poured out with perfect immunity to those who pour it out. Besides which, with your aeroplanes you are always liable to hit the wrong people and generally do hit the wrong people. There has been a great cry lately that we should get out of Iraq bag and baggage. I should like to ask the House to consider two sides of that question. First of all, after we went there we set up King Feisal who had done us very gallant service in the War and we promised the Arabs a Free State. I think our obligations demand that we should give King Feisal all the help we can in the way of advice and possibly in the way of loan, but what we cannot do is to go on pouring battalions into Iraq. We have set up the Free State, and if that Free State is not going to exist then that experiment in government will have to come to an end. That is one side. Then let us take the other point—our own position in Iraq. If that experiment in government fails, I think all that is left to us is then to retire to the province of Basra and to stay behind the strategic lines of Ahwaz, Kurna, Nasriyeh. We have to distinquish very clearly between what we need and what we want in Iraq. There are some people who want to get hold of that country to get the oil and corn. That has got to wait. The thing we need is security for our position.

Let me pass from Iraq to deal very briefly with Turkey. Let me at once say I very much welcome the fact that we have given an asylum to the Sultan of Turkey. I welcome it from this point of view only—that it is a very ancient British tradition to give sanctuary to the unfortunate but I should think it lament able if it meant we were going to interfere in the internal politics of Turkey That, to my mind, was the very great mistake of the last Government and the last Prime Minister. It always recoils and brings calamity after it. It was after playing golf with the late Prime Minister that M. Briand fell. It was after the late Prime Minister showered favours upon M. Venizelos that the Greek people turned to King Constantine. It was after he had sent the> Greeks to Asia Minor and made that great speech of 4th August that the ruin of the Greek Army was complete. In fact Asia and Europe are scattered with the ruins of the right hon. Gentleman's friends and victims. With regard to Turkey definite pledges made to her have been broken. Now the Turks have conquered they come as conquerors, and I can only hope they will remember our own example at Versailles and not ask for things which are impossible. Let me only take a very few points. There is first the question of reparations. I hope the Turks will not talk a great deal about reparations. Then there is the question of Thrace. Thrace was always promised to them, and there should be no difficulty in settling that question, especially with the help of the League of Nations. Then there is the very thorny question of the capitulations. The capitulations have two sides—one entirely bad and the other good, but I believe something else should be put in their place. Lastly, there is the most important question of the Christian minorities in Turkey. One of the real reasons why these minorities have suffered as they have suffered, is that they were made the instruments of our policy. Put yourselves in the place of the Christians in Asia Minor. The Christian there is told that he has to fight the Turks. On the other hand, put yourselves in the place of the Turks. Supposing we had had a Sinn Fein minority scattered all over this country during the War and Germany had told these Sinn Feiners in England, that as allies of Germany, they had got to rise against England. Do not you think something would have happened to those Sinn Feiners in England? That is an exactly parallel case with what has occurred in Asia Minor.

I read this morning with great admiration the speech made last night by the Prime Minister. There is only one point on which I do not entirely agree with him. He said the Turks had refused to have anything to do with the League of Nations. Perhaps I am not competent to answer, but I believe that up to now the Turks have only had a one-sided offer relating to the Christian minorities in Asia Minor. I am quite certain if it is proposed to them that their own minorities in Europe will receive exactly the same guarantee as the Christian minorities in Asia Minor there is every hope of a solution of that question. In conclusion, I would like to say this. I have said nothing about the Conference at Lausanne, because, however humble a position one may occupy, I think probably the least said about that Conference the better; but may I say that I very much hope, for its own sake and for its results, that at every step the League of Nations will be consulted.

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Herbert) has made an attack on the Eastern policy of the late Government. I am not likely to quarrel with him for that, because my position is an indictment of all Governments for about thirty or forty years on the Near Eastern question. It is at least forty-five years since I went into. Hyde Park under the leadership of the late Mr. Bradlaugh to support the policy of Mr. Gladstone in regard to the Near East. One of the Christian races of the Near East whom Mr. Gladstone endeavoured to rescue forty-five years ago was the Armenians, and the last speech that Mr. Gladstone delivered was a speech in favour of the Armenians. My friend Mr. Devlin, whose absence from the House we all regret, gave me a very graphic description of Mr. Gladstone at that last meeting of his. Although he was an old man—he was nearly ninety at the time and within, a few months of his death—when he got up to speak on the question of the cruelties towards and the butcheries of Armenians he was a young man who was speaking. It is forty-five years since the agitation for the Armenians began. Let me tell the House the net result. Forty-five years ago the Armenians numbered just over 5,000,000. To-day, forty-five years after Mr. Gladstone raised the question, and with the universal support of the nation at that time, because it was the policy of the Near East that enabled him to break down she great power of Lord Beacons-field, to-day, after all the pledges, and all the promises, and all the agitation, the net result to the Armenians is that their 5 millions have been reduced to something over 3,000,000–2,000,000 of the Armenian Christians butchered as the result of forty-five years of agitation and forty-five years of repeated pledges of the most solemn character on the part of this Government and many other European Governments towards the Armenian people.

I have been silent on this question, both by my pen and my tongue, for many-months. It is not that I did not feel strongly. I do not think I ever saw a more shameful exhibition of inhuman, unchristian, and unintelligent expressions than I saw in the Press during the more vital moments of the controversy on the Near East. The nature of some of the attacks and some of the policies in regard to the Near East was perfectly extraordinary and shameful. I see that that campaign is still pursued. I took up a daily paper a few days ago, and I found that among the personalities at Lausanne was a gentleman who was described as the sinister figure of M. Venizelos. M. Venizelos risked his own life, risked the life and the security of his country, in order to stand by England and her Allies in the late War, and the reward to be given him is the sinister figure of M. Venizelos, who is at Lausanne as the representative of his Government to defend the interests of his country. I have been silent, too, because I have great confidence in the present Foreign Secretary, and outside Ireland I have great confidence in my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), who represents the Foreign Office in this House, and I should like to congratulate him most heartily on what I regard as a tardy recognition of his great Parliamentary gifts.

I have made it a rule all my political life never to interfere with the Foreign Office of this country when great and vital interests are at stake, unless I am strongly of opinion that their policy is on the wrong lines. I do not feel that to be so on the part of the Foreign Secretary and the Government at Lausanne. I believe they are trying to do the best they can, but may I take this opportunity of expressing my own views with regard to the right policy of this country at Lausanne? I do so also because I think it right that the opinion of this country and of its representative Chamber on this question should be made known to all the world. Some newspapers published in this country a sort of Te Deum on the victory of the Turks over the Greek Army in Asia Minor, and I felt almost inclined to pinch myself to be sure that this victory was not regarded as an English victory. There could not have been more pæans if English soldiers had beaten the Turks or the Greeks. I will not deal with the general question of atrocities and of the alleged provocation between the two parties to this trouble in the Near East, but by way of bringing both to the minds of some of the gentlemen who rejoiced on the defeat of the Greek Army, I will read one little passage with regard to what took place in Smyrna. It does not come from a newspaper item or a political source; it has the full veracity of an English lady called Mrs. Marty, who, I understand, was the last Englishwoman to leave Smyrna and who was one of the very large British Colony that lived in that city. She saw people bayoneted by the advancing Turks. In one instance twelve Greek girls were dragged away by the Turks and taken into a house. The next morning their bodies were found mutilated in the streets. They had been murdered after being ravished. These are the things that led some of the journals of this country to rejoice over the victory of the Turks. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did the Greeks do in the retreat?"] I am glad that question has been asked, though I must say I am somewhat surprised at finding these Turcophile expressions from a Member of the Labour party. I should have thought that the fundamental principle of that party was the principle of humanitarianism. I am asked if the Greeks did not commit atrocities. I asked that question of M. Venizelos, and I think he gave the correct answer. He said. "You must compare the comparable." Atrocities committed by retreating and excited troops are not unknown in almost all armies—in all armies in the world. But when troops are retreating, when there is sniping, as there always is, from houses, they of course see red. They saw red in Dublin at the rebellion of 1916, and deplorable atrocities are committed even by civilised troops, although I must say I think they are infinitely rare in all the armies of civilised countries like our own. But atrocities committed by retreating, excited and defeated troops are one thing, and atrocities which are a deliberate government policy, carried out under government direction, and under government instruction, and as a system of policy, are quite a different thing. That is my answer to my hon. friend.

I hear a great deal about respect for Mahommedan opinion, and I share the feeling. I question the religion of no man and of no race. One of the greatest and most illustrious atheists and litterateurs who ever lived in France, Littré, the author of the great dictionary, when asked what attitude he took up towards religious faith when he had no faith, replied: There is so much misery in the human lot, that I am not going to destroy any consolation which religion may give. If a religion like the Mahommedan can appeal to millions of human beings, it must appeal to their hearts, and I am not going to criticise. But when I am asked to go the length of allowing Mahommedans to butcher Christians, because the3' are Christians, my toleration is at an end. I will not admit the doctrine that Mahommedans have a right to butcher Christians because they are Christians, or Christians to butcher Mahommedans because they are Mahommedans. We are told a great deal about Mahommedan feeling in India. I think it would be criminal on my part, or on the part of any member of this House, to add anything to the enormous difficulties of our own people and our own representatives in India by exciting Mahommedan feeling. But, really, those who have been acclaiming these Turkish victories are going the wrong way in dealing with Mahommedan opinion. The Turkish army was a triumphant army, overflowing, insolent after its triumph, and for Christian Europe to give up Christian lives and Christian policy because of the acts of a successful Mahommedan army is the way, not to decrease, but to increase our difficulties in India.

What do I ask the Government to do? An hon. Member in the Labour party asked whether the Greeks did not commit some excesses. Their troops did, but I put on one side the action of a number of soldiers, and I take the deliberate action and policy of the Government. What is the policy of the Greeks with regard to the Mahommedans? They have nearly half a million Mahommedan subjects under their rule. These Mahommedan subjects have exactly the same rights, political, social and religious, as the Greek inhabitants. I will tell the House something more which will surprise it. There are in the Greek Parliament 40 Mahommedan members, out of a Greek Chamber of 360. Is 40 a small number? I think we shall have some evidence, before this Parliament comes to a close, that 40 members of a group can be a very powerful factor in a body even of 615 members. These Mahommedans are free to speak, are listened to with attention, and are free to vote. They have 40 votes. Ministers in Greece are sometimes either kept in power or driven from power by a majority of two or three votes. To compare a civilised country, dealing in a civilised fashion with this Mahommedan population, with a Government the deliberate policy of which has been the destruction of minorities, is one of the most ridiculous Analogies I have ever heard.

What do we demand that our representatives at Lausanne should do? I dismiss as impossible the demand for Western Thrace. I think that is out of court altogether. Of course, the first thing they have got to do, if they can, is to keep the Entente together. That is the very basis of our policy. They have got to take real precautions, real guarantees—not paper guarantees—for the safety of the Christian minorities that are left under the control of the Turks. Let me take first the case of Asia Minor. What happened there? Immediately after the successful advance of the Turks, all the males, from 18 to nearly 50 years of age. who had not been able to get away in the short time by vessels, were deported into the interior. I hope my hon. Friend will communicate to Lord Curzon that one of the questions which ought to be asked is, What is to become of those people? I believe they number upwards of 100,000. Are they going to be butchered? Are they going to be put into conscript labour battalions; and then sent, as many of their relatives were sent, into the most desolate parts of Asia, Minor, there to perish slowly to death? What is to become of the 45,000 men of the Greek Army, including, I believe, about 1,500 officers? Will not our Government insist that there shall be an exchange of prisoners between Turkey and Greece? I believe there are about half that number of Turkish prisoners in Greek hands. They are perfectly safe there. Would it not be right to insist that there should be an exchange of these prisoners, and that the 45,000 of the Greek Army should not be subjected to the horrors of such imprisonment as they would get in Asia Minor?

For the Christian minorities there should be real guarantees, not sham ones, and guarantees not merely for the safety of life, for that is necessary; not merely for the safety of property, though that is necessary, but for the absolute equality and free practice of their religion and the control of their schools. I do not know what form the protection of these minorities will take, but I think certainly, in some form or other, these Christian minorities of the East should be under the tutelage of some international body like the League of Nations. I think it would be a necessary supplement to this that we should in the first place have a limitation of the army and gendarmerie in Eastern Thrace and the other parts which have been restored in Asia Minor. We should have, too, only a certain number of the army and gendarmerie, and we ought to have European commissioners and officers to control and to report, and if not to control certainly to observe and report. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Turkish sovereignty?"] My hon. Friend on the Labour Benches is really out of date. The sovereignty of the Turkish Government ceased to exist 75 years ago. I wish it would cease to exist altogether, because I regret to think that the Christian lands taken from the Turks and restored to civilisation and released from barbarism should not continue so, and I think history will back up my views in these matters.

I come to the question of religion. Doubtless the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who is new to the Office, has a number of papers with him, but I do not know whether this fact has come to his knowledge, that actually in Anatolia already, just after the Turks had resumed their sovereignty there, and I trust my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will note what I am saying on this point—in Anatolia—I do not know whether they have succeeded in carrying it out—the Turkish authorities demanded that the services of the Greek Orthodox Church should be celebrated in Turkish. You might as well ask a Catholic to have his religion celebrated in Turkish. It is a violation of the rights of the minority. Already in the schools preparations have been made, if not carried out, for compelling the children to abandon their Greek or Armenian languages and speak only Turkish. It reminds one of what Germany did in Alsace-Lorraine, a course which helped to bring about the Great War.

These are things which I desire to impress upon my hon. Friend. These are things on which our Government are to take a stand. Christian Europe has not a good reputation in dealing with these issues. The people have been butchered, Armenian and Greek, while Christian Europe has been protesting. Behind the Christian Governments there has been a force, and I put this before those who are Turcophile—the force of high finance. I do not hold the peoples of these Christian countries responsible for this, but I have in my mind the strong conviction that Christian blood has been flowing, has been sold for £'s and francs and lires. The situation has not been aided by the ridiculous jealousies between the Powers concerned, and it is a poor explanation of the fact that while we have been protesting and pledging and promising, millions of Christian lives have been sacrificed.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

Let me in the first place offer my congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) upon his successful maiden speech. He touched upon fundamental questions of foreign policy with tact and good sense. In particular I admire his references to the functions and the importance of the League of Nations. I agree with him that the League of Nations has proved itself to be a very valuable instrument for the settlement of international difficulties, and that it has done a great deal of important international work which no other agency could have done, or could have done so veil. I will go further and say that I think it will be found the most important instrument, if properly used, in promoting that great cause which every Member of this House has at heart, the protection of Christian minorities under Turkish rule.

I do not propose to enter into the discussion which has been initiated by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. A. Herbert) who always brings so much knowledge and experience to bear upon foreign questions, and which was followed up by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor). The one hon. Member is a protagonist of the interests of the Greek and the other of the Turk. I will only make one observation with respect to some criticism of the late Prime Minister which fell from the lips of the hon. and gallant Member for Yeovil. He lamented the partition of Turkey. He regarded it to be the source of all the present misfortunes and evils which vex Asia Minor. But the partition of Turkey was a policy, not initiated by the late Prime Minister, but inherited from preceding Governments. If therefore, the partition of Turkey be a great error, that error must not be laid at the doors of the late Government. Reference has been made on both sides of the House to the importance of the Conference which is proceeding at Lausanne. I agree that it is an all-important Conference. We cannot exaggerate the size of the issues which that Conference has to determine. Of course I do not wish to ask the Prime Minister any questions which may prove to be embarrassing in respect of the issues to be raised at that Conference, but I wish to enter on behalf of the group with which I am associated one caveat. A great many speakers have referred to the importance of protecting the interests of the Christian minorities under Turkish rule. I remember when I was at. Geneva last September I received a deputation of Armenians and they said to me: You need not worry about Christian minorities in Asia Minor. There are no Christian minorities in Asia Minor. The Turks have wiped them out. Indeed, nobody who has read the terrible indictment, framed in apparently credible reports with respect to the massacres that have taken place in Armenia and the Pontus, can fail to have realised that there is a large element of truth in that statement. Therefore I regard it as a most important duty incumbent upon British statesmen to see that the interests of Christian minorities in Thrace and Asia Minor are adequately protected.

But that is not the only interest which we have in these negotiations. We have also an interest in the freedom of the Straits. We believe that no treaty with Turkey can be satisfactory, or would be regarded as satisfactory by the British people, which did not adequately secure the freedom of the Straits under some form of international control. When I say the Straits, I mean both sides of the Straits. I know it has been said that the freedom of the Straits is a mere phrase. I have heard it also stated that this is an interest which only arises in case of war, and which only affects us in case of our being involved in war. I recall the fact that when Turkey was at war with Italy in regard to Tripoli the Straits were closed against British commerce. Therefore, we have a great interest in securing the freedom of the Straits, whether Turkey is at war or whether she is not at war with us. I believe that a satisfactory arrangement could easily be made under the ægis of the League of Nations that would secure the freedom of the Straits, which was the principal object for which we fought the war in that part of the world. I do not of course expect from the Prime Minister or the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs any pronouncement upon this subject now. I only wish to enter a caveat on the part of the group with which I am associated, that we do regard the freedom of the Straits as an all important national interest.

I wish to ask another question. We have learned that the Government is now engaged in investigating our commitments in Iraq, and that is a very serious and important subject. In another place the late Government has been very severely criticised for its commitments in Iraq. I wish to ask the Prime Minister whether he will undertake to lay papers relating to the Iraq agreement and our negotiations with the Arabs preceding that agreement, because, in my belief, such information has never been laid before the House, and therefore we are not in possession of the facts which are material to an allotment of responsibility as between the late Government and its predecessor. I should also like to ask the Prime Minister what steps will be taken to renew the pact of Genoa which, as hon. Members well know, was framed for the purpose of securing peace on the western border of Russia. It was framed at a period when there was great uneasiness in Es[...]honia, Poland and Rumania with respect to the alleged military preparations of the Soviet Government. I believe the pact is due to expire in a month or two, and I should be glad to receive some information from the Treasury Bench as to what steps have been taken in regard to its renewal.

There is one last question which I wish to put to the Prime Minister. We are all aware of the immense importance of the question of reparations, which lies at the root of many of our commercial and industrial difficulties. I am glad to know that the Prime Minister is shortly to meet M. Poincaré, with a view to attempting to arrive at a settlement of this difficult and thorny question. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would be prepared to give a day for the discussion of the question of reparations I It is obviously a matter of great interest now to know what line the Government propose to take with respect to this important issue. Those are the points which I wish very briefly to raise.

With respect to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, I have nothing to say. So far as has been disclosed, the Government appear to be pursuing, or endeavouring to pursue, the course which had already been marked out by their predecessors, and so long as it does pursue that course His Majesty's Government will receive no opposition or embarrassment from those benches. We are all aware of the very great difficulties which confront His Majesty's Government in the conduct of its foreign policy, and in particular we wish to say nothing to embarrass the negotiations now proceeding at Lausanne. We do, however, attach very great importance to adequate measures being taken for securing the freedom of the Straits which we regard, and which our Dominions regard, as one of the principal objects for which the war was waged in the Turkish Empire.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

This question has so far been treated from the political and humanitarian point of view, but we must not forget that it is also connected with another part of the Gracious Speech, namely, that referring to unemployment, because the trade of the Near East has been no mean fraction of the trade which this country has done in the past, and we are faced, if not with the practical extinction at all events with an immense reduction in our exports to countries where we had until lately the premier place, and that has had a repercussion of a serious kind upon unemployment in this country. On that point, may I just adduce evidence, which is interesting, from a source friendly to the Government. A paper known as the "Near East" points out that the present policy to which Turkey has been driven has resulted in banishing and exporting the non-Turkish population of Asia Minor. The Turks are sweeping away all that is essential to their agriculture and their industry. We who know those countries are aware that in the community which populates the Turkish lands all the most essential trades have generally been conducted entirely by non-Turks.

The special interest of the Labour party-is not confined to home questions or to immediate matters of wages. The Labour parry takes a world-view, a statesman's view of affairs other than those of immediate home interests, and the party has been distinguished from other parties by defining its position in much greater detail upon a multiplicity of foreign questions. In particular, on this matter it has given its views to the world, after elaborate study, on the question of the capitulations, on the question of the Straits, and on the question of minorities. If any other party has uttered equally erudite utterances on these points, I have not been fortunate enough to see them. The Near East question, in its general bearing, is, of course, a very complicated question, but one part of it is fairly simple, and is of most importance—the general question which we regard as that of self-determination. I leave aside now matters of financial interest and the very vexed question of what has been the effect of French policy, on which it is, perhaps, better for the moment to say nothing. The Labour party takes a different point of view from that of other parties in a marked respect. We have been accustomed to a time-honoured phrase—"British interests." We on these benches feel that British interests have not been rightly understood. There are other interests than those which I have heard supported from Conservative Benches in past Parliaments. We look upon one essential British interest as being the general prosperity of the world and the self-determination of peoples on just principles—self-determination which must go with a genuine League of Nations.

2.0 P.M.

In the Near East, self-determination is the most important subject to discuss, because I am afraid we must admit, after all we have heard about the protection of minorities in the Turkish Empire, that the only genuine protection for those people is the establishment of self-government for them. The question is going to be exceedingly difficult because, even if we do what the Leader of the Opposition suggested and bring about reciprocal treaties between Turkey and the other countries of the Near East, we know how very difficult such provisions have been to carry out. Self-determination on the European side has been only roughly satisfied by recent treaties. There is a marked exception, and that is Bulgaria. As to Bulgaria, the Treaty of Neuilly, which was a punitive Treaty, did promise to Bulgaria access to the sea. But there can be no access to the Ægean Sea except by the territorial possession of a corridor, which ought, I think, to be the whole of Western Thrace. When we think of the way in which self-determination has at last been brought about in the Balkans, we are tempted to recriminate in regard to the policies of the past. When we think of the effect of the policy of 1878 and the replacement of Turkey as far north as the River Save, it is a melancholy reflection that to put that right rivers of blood have flowed, and let us thank God that at last there is self-determination in the main for the whole of the Balkan people. In Asia the case is different. We think that the Turks have rights of a national kind as well as other nations and that the Treaty of Sevres trod upon those rights. But the Turks, insulted by the Treaty of Sevres, have now got their rights by force, and we need not bother about that any more. We must put sauce to the goose as well as to the gander, and there is one conspicuous case of unsatisfied self-determination which was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, namely, that of the Armenians. May I just recall to the House what is the position of this question in this Debate? The Leader of the Opposition made a very definite suggestion. It comes to this, that a lever towards getting adequate territory for these unfortunate people should be found, and that it lies on the frontiers of Iraq: in fact, that it is a question of Mosul. The Prime Minister said, "Very good, we all want to do our best, but we will not be Don Quixotes, and we will not act. alone." It is not a question of acting alone. We are in possession of the material for a bargain. The French are not. The Italians are not. It absolutely lies with us. I trust that the Under-Secretary will not contradict me when I say that the issue is perfectly clear at Lausanne. We are told that the Allies have laid down certain conditions on broad lines, and that they will not recede on certain points. One of them is that they will not give way to Turkish claims in regard to the frontier of Iraq, but we see nothing about this old question of inadequate territorial concessions to the nation conspicuously concerned.

May I just run over the claims of these people. They ought not to be forgotten. We have reached the final stage of a long-drawn dispute, and it ought to be thoroughly faced in these few days that remain. We made promises. They did not come from the Liberal but the Conservative party. Promises were made in this country to these Armenian people that if they rose against their masters they would have their reward in a country. They did rise, and took risks which no other people took. Certainly the Czecho-Slovaks took no such risks. These geographically unfortunate people suffered in an unparalleled manner by the slaughter of at least several hundred thousand people as punishment for fighting on our side. They also served in the Allied Armies to the number of 5,000 or more. They are now faced not only with being forgotten, but with being totally expelled from their country in the most terrible manner. I have no prejudice against the Turks, and I do not wish to be regarded as making an anti-Turkish speech. Indeed, I was, I think, more abused than anyone else for trying to get a hearing for the Young Turks in 1908. Let us trust there are elements that will in course of time make a civilised State. But there has been an unfortunate lack of education in the Near East. Ideas are crude and undeveloped as we go further East. There is a plan to expel the whole of the non-Turkish people which can only be compared with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella. Horrible as are the records of that expulsion, they are not equal to the terror of this case where the women and children are to be expelled while all the men are to be detained in Turkey for military service. We have heard lately of the heartrending scenes witnessed by American relief agents on the quays at Smyrna, where men, torn from their families, became so maddened at the prospect of not seeing their families again, that they struck at the Turkish gendarmes and were shot on the spot or thrown into the sea. This, if carried out, means colossal governmental cruelty—a cruelty possibly unparalleled in the history of the world.

We do not know what power the Allies may still have to influence the conduct of the Turkish Government. But there is one little thing that they might do. When the disaster occurred at Smyrna the Government mobilised certain ships to take some of the refugees away. We might at least help these people who have, struggled down from the mountainous country to Black Sea ports to get away. There is a very large army of unfortunates on the coast at Samsun and other ports, and it is not asking very much of those who have the means to give for this purpose. It would cost some thousands of pounds, and it has been suggested that the money promised by way of loan to Greece might be available for this work. I beg the Under-Secretary of State to consider that suggestion. We might also attempt to influence the Governments of our British Dominions. There has been a suggestion that the Balkan States, of which Bulgaria has already granted a welcome, to the refugees, might be influenced. Spain might also be influenced, and naturally America has a large sympathetic element which might be utilised. I want to suggest that this is not a question of our liking the Armenians or the Turks or anyone else. It is plain even to those who dislike these people that if we believe at all in self-determination, this nation has not got a place in the sun and has not got a share in the least adequate to the populations concerned. There are now in the tiny Republic of Erivan perhaps 400,000 refugees, who are scarcely maintained by charity and for whom their present country cannot possibly find a living.

Let me say what our suggestion is. The Labour party has many times defined its attitude on this point. The Government at one time referred it to the League of Nations to deal with. It also invited President Wilson to suggest a frontier. That frontier was not unjust, but we can hardly think that the Allies were very serious in dealing with the question in that way. The country that might very well he got from the Turks is not a very rich country, but it includes the fertile plains of Van and Alashkerd as well as Kars, which might quite well be added to the Erivan Republic. The Turks, however, will not agree to that unless we give up something which they want and which they cannot take from us. As the Leader of the Opposition suggested yesterday, the question of Mosul has to be raised, and it comes to be a very explicit question between Imperial interests and moral obligations. If we blind our eyes finally to those obligations, we shall undoubtedly be violating the precepts of our moral nature, not to say our religion.

One is tempted to blame and reflect upon the causes which have led up to this very ghastly situation. For my part, I think that blame, unless it leads to some material or moral advantage, is of little use. It would be easy to show that it was the policy of fighting Russia that is at the bottom of all this trouble. Undoubtedly it alienated the Russian Government from their natural sympathy with the Armenians. The Russians, as a matter of fact, are the only people who have ever provided any security since the Middle Ages for these people. But we, who strongly believe that humanity and justice are essential parts of good policy may claim that, if we had been in power, we would have avoided at least one of the irritating causes. We would not have incited the Greeks to invade Asia Minor, and therefore there would not have been aroused this bitter nationalist feeling which is so prevalent at present.

Whether anything can be done or not it behoves this House not to hide the facts. I trust the Government will be ready to admit that the situation is extremely unfortunate and that the Allies are preferring material interests to moral interests, otherwise we are giving ground for the charge that we are hypocrites. Let us avoid that at all costs. Shall the first act of this new Government be a betrayal of promises which were made again and again during the War? We have said a thousand times that it was a war for the liberty of nations. Indeed, I remember that, in the last Parliament but one, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary twitted me with being inadequately keen on the national claims of the Balkan peoples, and particularly of the Jugo-Slavs. Ho is not an anti-nationalist, or oblivious of the rights of a people to a country of its own. Is not there now a possibility, if only high authority were used, to save the world from a very disgraceful position? If ever the word "damnable" were justified, it might properly be applied to the treatment of this most unfortunate people. I trust it will not go down to history that we sacrificed public duty even to the commercial interests of the nation as a whole; but how much more disgraceful it would be if it came to be believed and taught by the historians that that duty had been sacrificed to the needs of a group of oil magnates. In the choice, as I believe it to be, between honour and grab, we on these benches would put honour first. We may, at least, implore the Government not to decide, while there is still time to decide otherwise, by keeping Mosul, by abandoning national rights, to forget honour altogether.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

This is hardly the first time I have had the honour of addressing this House, but none the less I feel that I stand quite as much, if not more, in need of its kind indulgence that either of my hon. Friends who moved and seconded the Address yesterday, because I am, as the House will realise, for the moment in a very responsible, and, I think, rather a difficult position. It so happens that, owing to the occurrence of the General Election coinciding with the Conference which is now proceeding at Lausanne, I have not yet even had the opportunity of seeing my Noble Friend the Secretary of State since I was appointed to my present office. Consequently, even if I could claim to be better informed than I can pretend to be on these subjects, I should feet that it was very necessary for me to approach the consideration of this Debate with a good deal of reticence. In addition, I have to confess that since, as hon. Members know, a very short time has elapsed since we all returned from our constituencies, the time at my disposal has been exceedingly short in which to make myself in any way acquainted with the intricacies of the present situation.

This portion of the Debate was initiated by the hon. and gallant Member for Central Nottingham (Captain Berkeley) in, it I may say so, a very interesting speech. The chief point that he made was to lay down the proposition that the foreign policy of this country ought not to be based upon what he called the group system, and I think he gave the impression that he thought that that was what the foreign policy of the country was tending 10 be based upon at the present time. That is, of course, an interesting question of a general nature, and I do not know that I feel very competent to discuss it. Personally, however, I do not quite see how, in the sense which the hon. and gallant Member intended, a foreign policy could be based upon anything but a group system, unless, happily, complete unanimity could be arrived at among the nations of the world. Of course, if we could arrive at the happy consummation that all nations on all principal subjects were absolutely in agreement, then we should be able to dispense with anything that could be called a group system; but the only sense in which it is true that there is a group system is that we have certain principles of policy which we pursue, or desire to pursue, in furtherance of British interests, even as denned by my hon. friend who has just sat down. In the pursuit of British interests and the interests, as we think, of the world at large, one finds, of course, that certain nations are in agreement with those principles while others may find themselves in disagreement, and, therefore, by a natural and, it seems to me, almost an unavoidable process, we arrive at what the hon. and gallant Member intended. I suppose, when he spoke of the group system. Certainly, in so far as the group system is unavoidable, I think the great majority of the Members in this House will feel that the Government is right in endeavouring to keep, so far as it is possible, as complete unanimity and agreement as we can with those nations with whom we were in agreement during the War and with whom we fought during the War.

I notice with great interest that that particular principle of the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate was not shared by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. O'Connor), who laid down a proposition with which I myself am entirely in agreement, though it differs a great deal from that of the hon. and gallant Member who opened the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division laid it down that the first object of the policy we ought to pursue at Lausanne was to keep the Entente together. That, I can assure my hon. Friend and the House, is the first object which my Noble Friend as representing the Government, is pursuing at Lausanne; and I am very happy to be able to assure the House that, so far as we have gone up to the present, that point has not merely been kept in view, but is being very successfully observed. Not only have this Government and the Governments of our two great Allies, France and Italy, acted hitherto in the most complete harmony, but I think that the States which generally go by the name of the Little Entente are equally happily in agreement with us on all main questions.

The chief points that have been made in this Debate have been in connection with the protection of Christian and other minorities, and also with the question of refugees which really is a cognate question. I certainly do not find myself in any real disagreement on principle with anything that has been said on those questions from any quarter of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland division said that the second point which we ought to observe at Lausanne, and he emphasised very strongly its importance, was to get real guarantees for the minorities, and he drew a distinction between real guarantees and guarantees which have not sufficient reality. I do not think that any of us would dissent from that. The difficulty is to be quite sure in our own minds what is a real guarantee and on that point I am afraid my hon. Friend did not give us much help. He said, for example, with regard to the exchange of prisoners, that we ought to insist upon the exchange of prisoners.

Photo of Mr T.P. O'Connor Mr T.P. O'Connor , Liverpool Scotland

I do not think I used the word "insist." I know, of course, that we could not insist. I confined myself to the statement that we should urge the exchange of prisoners.

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

At all events the hon. Member appears to think that that was a policy which we should support very strongly. From that I do not dissent. I am not in a position upon that particular point to give any definite assurance, but I can hardly imagine that if, by proposing to the Turks an exchange of prisoners, we could do anything to ensure the safety of the Greek prisoners, that point would not be put forward as strongly as it would be possible for us to do. Then the hon. Member and some others laid great stress upon the importance of utilising, so far as possible, the machinery of the League of Nations. I do not think there is really any difference of opinion on that point, but some hon. Members appear to think, and people outside sometimes appear to think, that unless you are constantly praising the League of Nations for its usefulness, unless you are constantly bringing before audiences, either outside or inside this House, that the League of Nations is the greatest invention of our time, you are lacking in sympathy with the objects which the League of Nations has in view. I do not agree with that. I certainly have not been one who, either in this House or out of it, has ever made the League of Nations a very constant theme of speeches. But that does not in the least mean that I do not fully appreciate the value of it, and do not hope that, as time goes on, it may be move and more used as a machinery for dealing with international difficulties, and if it is possible, for eliminating war altogether among the nations. So far as my knowledge extends, in all these delicate questions which are now being discussed, and we hope will be settled, by the Conference at Lausanne, I am certain that every possible weight is being given to the importance of the League of Nations and that, wherever that machinery appears likely to be useful, either for the protection of minorities or for the purpose of assisting refugees, in all those questions I am certain no hon. Member who is an enthusiastic believer in the League of Nations will have any ground of complaint as to the attitude we shall adopt.

The hon. Member for the Scotland Division went a good deal further. He first of all made a very eloquent reference to the history of the Armenian question and the sympathy which this country has invariably shown for both the Armenians and other Christian races who from time to time have suffered oppression. My hon. Friend knows that I am in full sympathy with him on this subject. We in the past have been associated together in relation to some of these questions. But when he goes into such questions of detail as the outrageous policy, as he describes it, which has been pursued in regard to the language used in schools and in the celebration of worship and so forth, it apears to me that he seems to expect an amount of interference and control by this country of the internal management of another State which certainly postulates our being ready to insist upon our policy by means which would, at all events, be very costly and might possibly involve us in actual war, for which I do not believe either my hon. Friend or this House or the country is at present prepared. That is really, I think, the central point of our difficulty in all these questions.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. H. Fisher) referred to the freedom of the Straits and other important matters of that sort. I do not think the House will expect me to say anything upon those points except that they are not being lost sight of by Lord Curzon and our other representatives at Lausanne, and I am certain our representatives there are quite as fully convinced as to their importance to us and to the general good of Europe as the right hon. Gentleman himself. But if we are really to carry out the policy which this country, almost without exception, would desire to see, it would involve us in acting as police for the whole world. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, this country is not prepared to do that by itself. Anything that we can do in co-operation and conjunction with our Allies who are willing to support us materially and morally in insisting, so far as it is possible to insist, upon any policy having these humanitarian objects in view, I am certain will be done. But I am equally certain that unless we can in all these points have the complete approval and support of our Allies, it will be much too heavy a task for this country to undertake by itself, although that does not mean, of course, that we do not desire that it should be carried out, and would not do so if we could. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not with others than our Allies?"] That, of course, involves a very much larger question. My answer would be that I have no reason to suppose that the countries which are not, and have not been, our Allies will be any more ready to combine with us for these particular objects than others which have been our Allies, and, on the other hand, that would be merely the introduction of rather a reversal of the group system which the hon. Member objected to, and if we are to have the group system, which appears to be unavoidable, it is very much better that the group to which we should belong should be the great nations with whom we have fought and who are in entire sympathy and agreement with us, than that we should throw them over, and the interests which we 'have in common with them, in order to try to cultivate an alliance with other people who are not in agreement with us and with whom we have not those traditions of the past or the sympathy which has grown with them. I quite acknowledge that I am not able to say much from the point of view of giving information. My object in intervening in the Debate at all was, not so much that I had any hope of being able to deal with any fulness with the questions raised, but because the Prime Minister has exhausted his right of speech before this part of the Debate began, and I thought courtesy to hon. Members who raised these points required that I should give such information as I could.

I ought to deal, perhaps, with two specific points raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Combined English Universities. He asked my right hon. Friend whether he would be prepared to lay certain papers relating to Iraq. The only reason, so far as I could gather, that he gave why those papers should be laid at this particular moment was that the late Government, of which he was an ornament, appears to have been subjected to some criticism in another place. I am not sufficiently learned in these matters to know whether there is any precedent for requiring papers merely because a Government has been criticised in another place. I should have thought the late Prime Minister, who had all these papers at his disposal for a long time, if he thought it was important that they should be laid before Parliament, might have done so himself. I am allowed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to say that, notwithstanding that, the matter will be considered whether these papers can be laid, but I am not able to give a definite reply at the present moment. With respect to a day for discussion of reparation which has been asked for, I have to say that the Reparation Commission has just concluded its meeting at Berlin and returned to this country. The Commission is now in communication with the Government and the recommendations which they have made have to be considered. The matter is being considered, but my right hon. Friend is not able at the present moment to give a day for the discussion. It would be premature until these matters have been considered, but my right hon. Friend agrees that there should be a discussion at an early date, and he hopes to arrange for a discussion at an early date.

Photo of Mr Noel Buxton Mr Noel Buxton , Norfolk Northern

Can the hon. Member make any reply in regard to the Armenian territorial question?

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I am not sure that that really is a point on which I ought to say anything at the present moment, because all these questions of territory are being discussed. What I would say is this. Even if it were possible to provide a national home for these Christians in the part of the world that the hon. Member mentions, I doubt very much whether that would be any real protection to them. I think the hon. Member referred to the same point in regard to other places. He spoke of self-determination as being the one way to provide for minorities. Surely it is a very great question in regard to small minorities who are close to more powerful neighbours who are not always pacific in their disposition, whether, if left entirely to themselves and without protection from elsewhere, they would really be in a position to protect themselves. I doubt very much whether, in the particular part of the territories of Iraq to which the Ron. Member referred, a small Christian minority would be in any safety whatever.

Photo of Mr Herbert Fisher Mr Herbert Fisher , Combined English Universities

Can the hon. Member 6ay anything about the renewal of the Pact of Genoa?

Photo of Mr Ronald McNeill Mr Ronald McNeill , Canterbury

I cannot give any information on the subject, and I confess that it is due to my own gross ignorance on the subject.

Photo of Mr Godfrey Collins Mr Godfrey Collins , Greenock

The House of Commons, irrespective of party, will join in congratulating the hon. Member on holding his present high office. I think the speech which he has just delivered amply justifies, if I may say so, the choice of the Prime Minister in appointing him to his office, because in the course of his speech, net of undue length, on foreign affairs, he did not commit the Government to any policy whatsoever. Seeing that we have the Prime Minister in attendance, I hope that we may have some declaration of foreign policy, which no doubt the Under-Secretary was unable to give, not only to the House of Commons, but to the wider public outside. The Gracious Speech refers in one sentence to a loan to Austria. When the Prime Minister was signing the Treaty with Germany I do not think he saw that that Treaty, as drawn, would kill Austria. The Treaty, as drawn, has paralysed the entity of Austria. Goods which Austria in olden days were able to exchange between one district and another they are now unable to exchange, and the Powers of Europe, having cut up Austria, have practically driven Austria to bankruptcy. Now that the House of Commons and the British public are being invited to advance a loan to that country, I am tempted to ask, in view of the policy which has driven Austria to bankruptcy, whether the policy of the Government is going to drive Germany to bankruptcy also. The German mark has had a headlong fall and to-day the German mark is chasing the Austrian k[...]onen.

Photo of Mr William Greenwood Mr William Greenwood , Stockport

It has gone down from 40,000 to 27,000. That is improving.

Photo of Mr Godfrey Collins Mr Godfrey Collins , Greenock

The rapid fall of the foreign exchanges clearly reveals that the Treaty of Versailles, which the Prime Minister signed, is driving Europe to bankruptcy, and the Gracious Speech referred quite clearly to the necessity of this country coming to the assistance of Austria. The question I put to the Prime Minister is this: are we going to stand idly by in this country and seek the conditions which have brought Austria to bankruptcy applied to Germany as well? During the late Election the Prime, Minister welcomed the assistance of Mr. McKenna. I think in one speech which he delivered in Glasgow he took note of Mr. McKenna's support. Am I to infer from that that the Prime Minister endorses Mr. McKenna's views on reparation? Let me remind the Prime Minister of Mr. McKenna's views on that subject. Speaking a few weeks ago in New York to the bankers of that country, he said that the total sum which Germany could pay today was a sum of about £200,000,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "£2,000,000,000.] Yes, £2,000,000,000. Does the Prime Minister agree with Mr. McKenna on that subject? Does he agree that that is the total sum which Germany can pay? He held out hopes during the Election that the view held in many quarters to-day that Germany is unable to pay large sums of money was incorrect. I am anxious to learn from the Prime Minister whether he agrees that the sum mentioned by Mr. McKenna is the sum that Germany can pay.

Photo of Mr Bonar Law Mr Bonar Law , Glasgow Central

Two thousand millions is not my estimate.

Photo of Mr Godfrey Collins Mr Godfrey Collins , Greenock

Is the right hon. Gentleman in agreement with Mr. McKenna on the subject? Is he in agreement with the Balfour Note and with the underlying policy of that Note? He must be aware that the issue of the Balfour Note in July last tended to cut the Allies apart from Great Britain. To ask those countries in July last to repay the sums that were due to us tended to widen the breach between France, Italy, and ourselves. The point I am anxious to put to the Prime Minister is this. Is he going to repudiate the Balfour Note? Is he going to ask these countries to repay the large sums of money which they owe to this country? The policy associated with my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) is in sharp and striking contrast with the policy of the Balfour Note. We believe that until these questions are looked at in a new light and approached from a new angle, we cannot secure those stable conditions in Europe which all parties in this House desire. We believe that it would be in the real interests of this country to wipe out the debts owed to us by these Allies, provided that we could secure at the same time a large reduction of armaments, and thereby improve the conditions of trade not only in this country but abroad. At the same time, our share of the indemnities which Germany might pay should be also cancelled. We have proclaimed this policy time and again, and we joined issue with the late Government on these questions. We believe that a prosperous Continent will make for a prosperous Britain, and that a depressed Continent reacts at home and creates unemployment in this country. We plead, therefore, for a policy of enlightened self-interest, and for all nations to live and let live, so that the animosities which war has engendered can be wiped out and that people, not only here but abroad, can face the future with that degree of confidence and hope which all nations desire.

Passing from that subject, the Gracious Speech also referred to the League of Nations scheme and stated that the loan to Austria is to be engineered and carried through by the organisation and under the direction of the League of Nations. We hope that that foreshadows a new policy and that our whole foreign policy will be animated and directed through the League of Nations. During the last few years the assistance of the League of Nations has frequently been invited when the Supreme Council were unable to secure agreement. We hope that the spirit of the League of Nations will be put in the forefront of the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government, so that all nations represented there may gather together in friendly conference, and, at Geneva or elsewhere, may consider and effect an ultimate cure of the difficulties due to the warring interests between one nation and another.

Photo of Mr Edmund Morel Mr Edmund Morel , Dundee

In rising to participate in this Debate, I beg to ask the indulgence which, I understand, the House always accords to a new Member, particularly when he makes his first speech, even when, as in this case, the particular Member who has the honour to address the House now is one who, when he was not a Member, has had the rather curious experience, during the last few years, of hearing himself, from the gallery, both praised and blamed. It has been remarked by hon. Members opposite that a somewhat new spirit has been introduced into the House in connection with our domestic affairs, and a new spirit has been introduced into the House on this side in connection with our foreign affairs. One thing to which the Labour party has become more and more alive during the last two years is that our foreign affairs and domestic affairs are inextricably intertwined and we can no longer in the future as we have in the past allow our foreign affairs to be conducted under a veil of secrecy, and allow interests of the most vital importance to the nation to be decided behind closed doors, without the knowledge of the people, and I believe that I am voicing the views of all my friends behind me when I say that we shall in this Parliament press unrelentingly until we have secured that full democratic control over our foreign affairs which the Labour party demands.

We are all agreed that the European situation, with which we are faced, is one of extreme gravity, but it seems to me that, unless we are prepared also to face the causes of that situation which brought that situation about, we cannot possibly hope to cope with it effectively. The situation with which we are faced in the world to-day is the direct result of the so-called peace treaties signed after the War, and those peace treaties themselves are but the outcome of the secret treaties and arrangements made behind the back of this House and of the country by the Liberal Government during the War. All that I shall say with regard to the Near Eastern question is this: I agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that perhaps the least said about the negotiations now proceeding at Lausanne the better, but there are at least two points which I think can and ought to be made without incurring the charge of wishing in any way to embarrass those negotiations One is this—we are bound to make it here as we have made it in the country. An error of a magnitude which can hardly be measured now has been made by excluding Russia from the Conference. How can the Near Eastern question ever be solved, or how can any real attempt ever be made to solve it, if you omit the people who, more than any other, are interested in the question I And I earnestly beg His Majesty's Government to consider, even now at the last moment, inviting the Russian Government to the Lausanne Conference. Apparently from what one reads in the press, Signor Mussolini, the head of the present Italian Government, is of the same opinion. The other point made in connection with the Near Eastern question is this. At this stage it does seem a pity to indulge in strong attacks upon one of the negotiating Powers at the Conference. I do not think that any of us on these benches can fairly be called Turcophile; I certainly cannot but those of us who have read the Report of the Carnegie Commission on the Balkan wars will be very chary in imputing all tendency to massacre to the Turk.

May I return for a moment to the point which I made at the beginning of my remarks—that the present situation is the outcome of the errors and the follies committed at Versailles four and a half years ago, and that that situation cannot be remedied until those errors and follies themselves are remedied? What an immeasurable opportunity lay before the Government of this country and of the Allied and Associated Governments four and a half years ago, and especially before the Government of this country! Surely at, that time we were, without challenge, the most influential Power in the world. Our influence to direct policy into the right channels, our power to have completely reversed the bad policy of the past, were unlimited. We had the ball at our feet. What was done? The country was told that Germany would pay for the War, and there was something said about conducting the Kaiser to the scaffold. Well, the Kaiser has since been conducted to the altar, and it is for hon. Members who are married to declare which is the worse sentence. As for making Germany pay, it was the greatest bluff ever put forward, and it was put forward, in my belief, largely by those influences which dreaded being taxed for the profits which they had made out of the War. If Members of the Coalition Government really believed that Germany could be made to pay the cost of the War a special educational penitentiary ought to be built for them.

What was the great moral purpose put before the people of this country during the years of the War? What was the ideal for which hundreds of thousands of the youth of this country perished on the battlefield, the ideal which, in my own personal knowledge, animated some 15 or 16 young officers and privates whom I knew personally and whom I shall know-no more? They were fighting, as the hon. and gallant Member for Limehouse (Major Attlee) stated in an eloquent speech, for something even greater than King or country; they were fighting to make a better world. That was the great moral purpose which permeated the terms upon which the Armistice was signed. I do not think hon. Members opposite, who, perhaps, are somewhat scandalised by some of the speeches they have been hearing from these benches, can realise what it means to my hon. Friends and to myself—that infinitely greater scandal of millions of men of the working classes who went into the War with that high and noble aim, and who to-day see their country spending twice as much as it spent before the War that was to end war, and find themselves abandoned and many of them starving. What was not to be done for the miners toiling in the bowels of the earth below the level of the sea? What was not to be done for them when they took off their khaki? Yet we have in South Wales to-day thousands of miners' families in such a state of utter destitution that the women have not a change of raiment and the children cannot be sent out of the house because they have not enough rags to cover them.

3.0 P.M.

We are faced with a Europe rent and shattered, a Europe over which is creeping economic paralysis, a Europe in which the seeds of war are floating from one end to the other as a result of the disastrous errors committed four and a half years ago. How are these errors to be repaired? We have had an interesting speech from the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Perhaps some of my hon. Friends are blessed with more intelligence than myself, but I sought in vain for any light or guidance in that speech. The one thing in his statement that seemed to be definite appeared to be also of a very bad augury. He practically defended the group system of nations. The alternatives are the group system or the League of Nations. There is no room for the two. It is the group system of nations which was responsible for the horrible holocaust of 1914–1918. Does it mean that, after all that has been said in favour of the League of Nations, the Government's opinion is that we are to go back to the old system of partial alliances, of two great rival groups, to the old system of the balance of power, denounced in such eloquent language by John Bright in this House many years ago? The Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs said that hon. Members could not be expected to be praising the League of Nations all the time. There is all the difference between trying to make the League of Nations a vital mechanism and blocking the League at every turn. What we complained of in the last Government, and what we hope that we shall not have to complain of in this Government, is that that policy was followed.

The hon. Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) indicated a desire for further discussion on foreign affairs, and another hon. Member suggested that we should have a day for the discussion of reparations. Apparently we are not to be allowed that, and I therefore take this opportunity of saying a few words on this question of reparations—so-called. The first thing to be noted about it is that the whole system of calculating reparations has proved to be a most monstrous and ludicrous absurdity. We began with a figure of £24,000,000,000. Then we came down to £11,300,000,000, then to £6,600,000,000 and now apparently there is a difference of opinion between right hon. Gentlemen opposite and others who held prominent positions in the Coalition Government as between the figures of £2,500,000.000, £2,000,000,000 and £1,100,000,000. If we want to reconstruct Europe and to re-open our markets, how-is it possible to do so in these circumstances? How is it possible that the mark can be stabilised unless and until Germany knows what she has got to pay? It. is this uncertainty which is paralysing the whole European situation. Make it £2,530,000,000, make it £1,100,000,000; make it what you like, but as long as you have this great nation in a state of despair and uncertainty, how can it borrow I You do not lend money to a man until you know what are his liabilities. Many of us on this side of the House take the view—I do so myself—that apart from the restoration of the devastated areas in France, upon which we are all agreed, we ought to wipe out reparations altogether as a mere cash transaction. Trying to enforce reparations has already cost us more than we have got. I have not the figures before me, but I think I am right in saying that after tempestuous bullying, we have succeeded in screwing £54,000,000 sterling out of the German working class and lower middle class, and we have spent £56,000,000 sterling in keeping a British Army eating its head off in idleness on the Rhine. As a mere cash transaction, this whole reparation question is a myth. Apart from that the: country is beginning to realise that the claim which has been enforced for 4½ years to screw money out of Germany has acted, as far as we are concerned, like a boomerang. It has destroyed our trade; it is this very question of reparations, it is these ridiculous and absurd economic fetters put upon this great industrial nation of Central Europe, which is blasting our whole economic life and the whole economic life of Europe to-day.

I ask the Prime Minister what is the policy of His Majesty's Government on this question? Whatever aspirations the Government may have after tranquillity—and one sympathises with them to an extent—it is perfectly ridiculous to suppose that there will be any tranquillity in Europe as long as the great festering cancer of these Treaties is eating into it. I am reminded that some of us have been stating for years what many hon. Members are prepared to admit to-day, and we were accused of unimaginable crimes for doing so. I could not help thinking of that when I heard the hon Member for Greenock putting before the House what I may call the argument of the clean slate, which I and hon. Members with whom I am associated have been putting before the country for four years. What have we been called for so doing? "Lunatics" was the mildest term applied to us. "Traitors" and "pro-Germans" were the worst. I was much struck by a statement of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and also of the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. O'Connor). It is the statement made almost every day and everywhere, that the Entente must continue to be the basis of British foreign policy or the whole house will fall to pieces. I ask the Government, what is the Entente today, what does it mean, and in what does it involve us? I do not think there is a single Member on this side of the House who would not regard it as an absolute tragedy if our relations with France should cease to be of a friendly character, but the question arises: What France? There are two Frances. There is a great change coming over France to-day and the France of two years hence will not be the France of to-day. The France of two years hence will be a far more democratic France. The question which causes grave anxiety to many of my Friends is how far we are going to be led along the road of those elements in France from which we absolutely dissociate ourselves.

Everybody knows that if Germany is not going to follow Austria into bankruptcy, bringing a further decrease of our trade and further unemployment here, Germany will have to be given a moratorium. Some very alarming statements have recently been made in France by high authorities. What is the position of His Majesty's Government going to be if at Brussels next month or the month after, you are faced with this statement. "We agree to a moratorium provided that we may keep the Ruhr or provided that we may separate the Rhine Provinces from Germany to form an autonomous State"? What reply is His Majesty's Government going to make if a proposal of that kind should be made?. If such a proposal were accepted, the signature would have been put to the declaration of the next war. Any attempt to separate the Rhine Provinces from Germany is bound to lead to war and, without venturing in any way to arrogate to myself a position other than that of a humble Member of my party, I believe I express the views of all my Friends when I say the Labour party will associate itself with no policy of further military occupation. Our policy is one making for peace. We are against any policy that leads to war, and we should oppose, I believe, and strongly oppose, any policy calculated to extend the area of French military occupation, with black troops or other, in Germany.

I thank the House for the courtesy it has extended to me. All I want to say in conclusion is that we on these benches believe that an absolutely different spirit has got to be introduced into our foreign policy and that an absolutely different spirit has got to be introduced into the present conditions based upon the Peace Treaties, which are ruining Europe. We stand for a revision of the Peace Treaties—not a mere change, but a revision of them out of all recognition, not only the Treaty of Versailles, but the Treaty of Neuilly and the other Treaties. The basis of our belief is that foreign policy must now be founded upon that living fact, the inter-economic dependence of peoples, and that it must be directed in the interests, not of particular classes, but of the whole people. The peoples, we believe, insist upon peace, and the peoples will get it, but they must have a framework within which they can act, and that is the complete abrogation of the secret diplomacy which has brought us to this pass, and as far as our country is concerned a breath of democratic air sweeping through these old, musty, fusty channels.