We are initiating this Debate because the Report of the Committee of Experts appointed by the Committee of Eighteen was issued last week and it is now open to discussion. I also noticed from an answer given by the Foreign Secretary to-day that the Committee of Eighteen will meet to come to its conclusion about this Report next Monday, so that this is in fact the last opportunity the House will have to discuss an issue the decision upon which next week by the Committee of Eighteen will probably decide whether the League of Nations for the future is to be a thing which we need take account of or not. The Report has now been generally read, and, broadly speaking, I think it will leave most of us with just about the same opinions as we had before.
The Report discusses the possibilities particularly of an oil embargo, combined, however, with an embargo upon tanker shipping for oil. The Committee have come to the conclusion that if the United States will not co-operate in the embargo, then it will make the war for Italy more difficult and more expensive; but if the United States does co-operate —I would point out that they do not assume that the United States will in any way diminish their exports to Italy; they merely assume that the United States will not profiteer by increasing their exports—if the United States were to refrain from profiteering at the expense of the League, then, the Report states, all Italian supplies of oil would be exhausted in about 3½ months, at the present rate of consumption. But I would here state their qualification, that in making that statement they have not been able to make any final estimate of the degree to which Italy could economise by substitutes or by saving in her own internal consumption. That is the estimate, and I am bound to say that after the immense opportunities that Italy has had to accumulate stocks during this period of long delay, the 3½ months seems to me rather a. short allowance for the Committee of Experts to have given.
That is the broad outline of the report, and I wish to state the view that, as a consequence of that report, under either of the conditions they assume, it will be a wise policy for this country to take the lead in proposing an oil embargo when the Committee of Eighteen meets next week. It will be a wise policy under either of the alternatives which the committee discusses. If the United States refuses to co-operate it will still be a wise policy for this reason: Most of the military appreciations of the situation now agree that unless there is surprising, entire disintegration in Ethiopia, there is no longer any prospect of Italy winning this war in one campaign, that if she is ever to win the war at all—it will not be won necessarily when Addis Ababa is invested—she can only win it by a series of campaigns, having the same experience as France and Spain have had in their campaigns in Northern Africa. It is going to be a long war over a number of years.
I notice that a spokesman of the Government in another place last week gave it as his opinion that the sanctions imposed up to date were having a genuine effect, and that the League of Nations would eventually succeed with the present sanctions. But the present sanctions are entirely sanctions directed against Italy's internal life; they are sanctions which cover the Italian people. Oil is the only sanction which is going have a direct effect on the military operations. Therefore, I say that now, for that reason alone, the addition of oil to the other sanctions may be the addition of the most decisive embargo of all.
But a much more important reason for proceeding now is this: Everything shows that only if we proceed now by ourselves, only if we take the decision, only under these conditions is there a hope and prospect of getting the co-operation of the United State. I hope that the Foreign Secretary is not going to say that he will first of all seek to ascertain what the United States will do in an obligation which primarily rests on the League of Nations. The fact is that the whole history of this subject has shown in the last few months that so long as the League, so long as we in Europe particularly, seem determined to take a strong line on sanctions, so long will the opinion of the United States remain favourable to us. As soon as we began to waver, opinion in the United States cooled off. If we want to win back their support we must now take the initiative ourselves.
I am very anxious to convince the House that this is the best method of approaching the United States. Let me remind the House of what we have seen in the last few months. At the beginning of November there was a general impression and belief everywhere, including this country, that an oil embargo was on the eve of being imposed, and at that time there was no doubt that the opinion of the United States was favourable to co-operating with us—not only the opinion of the public but the opinion of the Administration. Mr. Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, stated that it was the view of the Administration that oil ought not to be exported from the United States to Italy. Mr. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, met the oil companies and told them that if they exported oil they were acting contrary to the policy which the United States wished to pursue. I go further and I say that there is every proof that at that moment the oil companies were ready to fall in with the wishes of the Administration. After all, the oil companies are not in a very strong position in the United States; they cannot afford to antagonise public opinion, and they do not want to do so.
If this is challenged I can give proof from the statement of the Standard Oil Company. The oil companies at that moment were willing to co-operate with the wishes of the United States Government. Then, even before the Hoare-Laval episode, it began to be suggested that we were wavering over this oil sanction. The House will remember the delay, because M. Laval was too occupied in the internal politics of France to go to Geneva and discuss oil sanctions. As soon as that hint of delay and of hesitation appeared, you can read that all the correspondents in the United States, those of the "Times," the "Morning Post" the "Daily Telegraph" and the "Manchester Guardian" —all the authoritative correspondents in the United States sent telegrams which I have here, warning this country that the hesitation over here was leading to the embarrassment of the Administration and the bewilderment of the public.
Finally, when the Hoare-Laval episode took place, they all came to the conclusion that owing to our policy the original sentiment in the United States had been turned into cynicism and disillusion. I am not going to read all the telegrams that came, but I will read a telegram from the "Times" Washington correspondent, because he concludes with the point of view which I am trying to put before the House. He says:
Frankness demands the statement that little is left here of the earlier mood of hopefulness.
He goes on to say—and this is a serious point:
Italy takes from the United States only 6 per cent. of her oil requirements in times of peace. If there were a genuine attempt to prevent her access to the remaining 94 per cent. by other nations, the position of the American Government, which desires to honour the spirit as well as the letter of its neutral duties, would be strengthened.
What then does this mean? It means that Signor Mussolini, by the threats which he directed against this country over three months ago, has scored up to the present an astonishing diplomatic success. He has succeeded in holding up an oil embargo for nearly four months, he has been able in the interval to accumulate immense stocks, which may blunt the edge of that embargo when it is imposed, and he can now watch us arguing as to whether the embargo should ever be imposed at all. And the tragedy of what has occurred is that the dubious factor is now the United States and the fact that the United States, which was in front of us and leading us four months ago, has now become an uncertain factor. I say that that fact itself is the most terrible result and the most terrible indictment of the vacillating ineptitude with which this issue has been handled.
Are we going to continue to deal with this situation in the spirit and by the methods which I have just described One has cause for anxiety, because there was a discussion on this subject in another place last week, and the spokesman of the Government there said that what the Government would do would be to go to Geneva, listen to what the other States had to say, and after that make up their mind. I regard that as a humiliating position for this country to take. Is this country to wait to be led by Rumania, and Holland, and Russia? That is what this spokesman for the Government up to the present has suggested shall be done, and I say that that is not, apart from the dignity of the matter, a reasonable attitude to take. What is the position? The small nations cannot take the initiative because they are frightened of the larger nations. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Russia."] But if Russia did take the initiative, what would happen It would mean that every dictator in Europe, supported by the Conservative party in this House, would immediately say, "This is merely a, part of the war of Communism against the Fascist State." Hon. Members know they would say it, and they cannot deny it. France has already indicated that she is not going to take a further interest in this matter. We come back, therefore, to the fact that if this country does not take the lead, there will be no lead at all. It comes back to what the Foreign Secretary is going to do when he goes to the Committee of Eighteen next week.
Up to the present I do not think we have any complaint to make about the speeches of the Foreign Secretary, except that we do not quite know to what point they are ever going to lead. Now at any rate the time has come when those speeches will be tested, and I say that, in our view, he ought to go to the Committee of Eighteen, he ought himself to propose the imposition of the oil embargo, and he ought to leave it to any nation which objects to take its responsibility in the face of the world. The moment he does that will be as great a moment as when our Foreign Secretary spoke at Geneva last September. When he does it, let him take the opportunity of appealing to the decency of the United States.—[Laughter.]—I say of appealing to the decent feelings in the United States—not to allow the few dollars for their oil interests to lead them to assist to put out one of the great hopes of the world.
If the Foreign Secretary takes that step, he will find, as a matter of fact, that there are a good many factors which are more favourable now than they were four months ago. The first of these is the change in the attitude of France, which four months ago was a far more intractable proposition than the United States is to-day. I will read a statement
which M. Flandin made—this is a matter of great importance—on the French attitude before the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chamber, which I recognise is not a public statement, but this is the statement summarising it in the "Temps" of 12th February, 12 days ago, and, therefore, we may take it as fairly accurate:
Questioned on the attitude which the Government would adopt if an embargo on oil should be decided at Geneva, M. Flandin pointed out the fact that France was neither a producer nor an exporter of oil, so that sanctions of this kind would not be detrimental to her and that she must conform to the decision taken by the League.
That is a very great advance upon the attitude taken by M. Laval. If the oil embargo is imposed, there is no reason why that should be the only economic sanction to be undertaken. My hon. Friend here, the late Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has been putting questions about the possibility of closing the ports, of sanctionist countries to Italian ships. That is one method, and there are other suggestions of the same kind. We at present impose an embargo on imports from Italy, but we, the League of Nations, the sanctionist nations, still make use of Italian cargoes and passenger ships, of what in economic and Free Trade discussions they call invisible imports. They still make use of those, and by means of those Italy is enabled to obtain cash and foreign exchange just as much as by direct exports. I find that we are exporting for the use of the Italian armies water from Aden, that cotton has gone from Egypt, camels from the Sudan, and goods from British Somaliland. I find the Press Association giving reports of how British Somaliland is becoming prosperous as a consequence of the war with Italy, with picturesque accounts of how caravans full of goods are leisurely proceeding towards the Italian armies in the south of Abyssinia. No, Sir, the oil sanction is not the only one. When it is imposed, there are many other resources of an economic character still at our disposal.
That is the direct argument for action next week, but we all have to deal with the new situation which is developing in Europe. Most of us, practically all of us, have at the Lack of our minds the
problems which will be raised by the rearmament of Germany and the position which will arise when the German military machine is complete. I think that that fact strengthens the reason for supporting the League of Nations and for strengthening the methods of collective security. Nobody has stated this fact more emphatically than the Prime Minister. I will read, from his speech to the House in the last. big Debate on this subject, on the 19th December, some words which he quoted as stating his policy:
The policy of this Government… is… to work through the League of Nations in every way possible… Above all, work for all you are worth for… collective peace."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1935; col. 2036, Vol. 307.]
That is the Prime Minister's general principle. But may I put to him what seems to me to be the simple logic of that principle? The purpose of the League of Nations is to stop war, and it will have no purpose unless it can be a really effective instrument in stopping another war, and particularly another European war. That is why this immense issue that we are now discussing is of such enormous importance. Signor Mussolini is not the only dictator who is watching what action we take at this moment. The week before last, in the discussions here on the question of a Ministry of Defence, speeches were quoted from Dr. Goebbels, General Goering, and Herr Hitler, all of them speeches of a most menacing description —speeches which may lead to serious results if they mean what they say. The simple logic of the situation seems to me to be that, if those speeches mean anything, and if you wish in future to stop General Goering or Dr. Goebbels or Herr Hitler, you have got to begin by stopping Mussolini now.
How can you do it by collective security? How can you work, as the Prime Minister says, through collective security? That is the principle. It has been repeated by the Foreign Secretary at Question Time to-day. What is the use of collective security worked by a League of Nations which is supplying oil to work the military machine of the aggressor State? The Prime Minister has laid down in general terms a principle which I accept, and which the nation accepts, and the surprising fact has been that the people as a whole seem to have realised the implications of his doctrines more clearly than the Prime Minister himself. He has been accused, by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, of dualism, and, indeed, he has himself said that he is a dualist. By dualism we mean the process of laying down a doctrine and then always being in two minds as to whether you are going to carry it out. It is that kind of dualism of which he seems to us to be a practitioner, because all the time he seems to be half afraid of what is going to happen if the policy of sanctions, which he asked the country to support, is eventually able to succeed.
I appreciate the problem which the Government have to meet. It is this: The Government, particularly at the Stresa Conference, built up a combination of this country, France and Italy, within the League of Nations, which might have led to an almost irresistible coalition against an aggressor State. That was the hope, and perhaps the Government still entertain that hope. But I think they must face this fact, that a situation has now arisen in which, for the moment at any rate, you have to choose between the friendship of Signor Mussolini and the abandonment and killing of the League of Nations and of the possibilities of collective security. That is the dilemma, and, faced by that dilemma, the choice of the Government ought to be plain. Signor Mussolini has all the time emphasised the fact that this is not a conflict between him and the League of Nations, but that it is a conflict between him and Great Britain, and under these conditions I do not think it is reasonable to expect him to have such friendly feelings, whatever happens to this country, as to be a reliable ally in case a crisis comes.
I am dealing with this problem seriously, because it is the problem which the Government are facing, and this, I believe, is the line which the Government are pursuing and which is leading them to this vacillating and humiliating policy. If you do that, you have to consider not only Italy, but what the effect is going to be upon all the surrounding nations. The nations around Germany are watching what is happening. Look at their plight; look at the terrible choice which they have to make, between coming to an understanding with Germany—a rearmed Germany using threats and intimidation to create the understanding—and, on the other hand, entrusting their whole existence to the League of Nations, upon which this country invites them to rely. The late Foreign Minister—and a fairly strong one—of one of these nations was in London a short time ago, and, in conversation with the late Foreign Secretary of this country, he said that, so far as he could see, the chief difference between the fate of Abyssinia and of China under the League of Nations, led by this country, was that Abyssinia had been more successful in defending herself. This oil embargo has become the symbol and the test of the sincerity of this country and the League, and the reason why we say, "You must now impose it," is that, so long as you delay it, you cannot avoid the fact that you are part of the Italian military operations. We therefore demand that you shall now state that you are going to cease to assist Italy any longer.
There is one further point with which I will deal, because it appeared to be in the Prime Minister's mind during the last Debate. He seemed to be disappointed that the League of Nations had not given results. How can the League of Nations give results if you refuse to use it? This Abyssinian dispute was brought before the League of Nations. Abyssinia appealed to the League of Nations, under Articles X and XI, in January of last year. She was told to go away and talk it over with Italy; she was told to negotiate with Italy privately. She appealed again in April, and again she was put off; and, just about the time that she appealed, I noticed that the present Lord President of the Council took the opportunity to make a broadcast speech in London, in which at that moment, after the Abyssinian dispute had been on for three months, he thanked Signor Mussolini for the wonderful skill and helpfulness with which he had presided over the Stresa Conference.
As a matter of fact, whenever the League of Nations has been appealed to, it has responded. It responded when it was appealed to with regard to assisting the Mediterranean Fleet. It responded to the speech of the late Foreign Secretary at Geneva in September, and it responded in such a. fashion that the League of Nations, which a, year ago was scarcely taken into account in any serious discussion, has now, as a consequence of that one speech from a British Foreign Secretary and the reply of the League of Nations, become almost the leading feature in the European scene. I am convinced that the Government will find that the simplest policy is the best. Let them try the League of Nations out thoroughly and completely to the end in this interval. That is the policy which the Prime Minister asked the country to authorise him to carry out, and, in now insisting that he shall act upon that authority, we are the spokesmen of the quiet masses of the nation.
I must first thank the House and the Opposition for the arrangement by which they have made it possible to discuss this afternoon our foreign problems in their broader aspects. It is clearly more convenient for us to do that than if we were cribbed, cabined and confined within the narrow compass of a Supplementary Estimate, and I propose to avail myself of the liberty which has thus been given to me. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has surveyed the international field and has spoken with considerable vehemence and with an emphatic certainty which I envy him. He gave us very freely of his advice, and of course we are grateful for it, but as I listened to the confident decisiveness of that advice I wondered sometimes whether his might not be the quick decision of one who sees half the truth.
I want to divide what I want to say to-day into three parts I want to deal first with the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia, and the question of sanctions. I want then to say a word or two about certain subjects not directly related to this dispute, and finally to make some observations about the international situation as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman's main charge against His Majesty's Government and against the League was one of dilatoriness in our handling of this dispute. That charge always takes this farm. If the League has acted promptly, it has of course nothing to do with His Majesty's Government. If it has been slow, it is always entirely our fault. I am quite prepared to accept those assumptions, because they make the ordinary part of the ammunition of an Opposition in debate, but I want to put to the House what I believe to be a reasoned answer to the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. The first one was that we were slow in the months from January to May before fighting broke out. What would he have had us do? We took every step by negotiation and conciliation that was in our power. What would he have us do? Apply sanctions before war broke out? We could not do that within the terms of the Covenant itself. What the right hon. Gentleman is asking is that the nations should have done something which in fact they are not under any obligation to do. Anyone who has had experience of the last few months will know well enough that it is not very easy to induce everyone to fulfil the obligations that are upon them. How hopeless would have been the task of anyone attempting to induce nations to undertake obligations which are not theirs under the terms of the Covenant itself. So much for dilatoriness before war broke out.
As for dilatoriness when the war had broken out, within 10 days of the outbreak of war Italy had been declared the aggressor by a number of States on the Council. That decision had been ratified and approved by 50 States who are members of the Assembly, and a Committee had been set up which proposed four measures to be applied against Italy. I must stress that what is remarkable in that record is its rapidity rather than its dilatoriness. Those four measures, which were proposed on 19th October—war broke out on 3rd October—were an arms embargo, a refusal of credits, a, refusal to supply Italy with certain articles necessary for war purposes and a refusal by the nations of the League to accept Italian goods. That was the record within a fortnight of the declaration of war.
Now I come to the right hon. Gentleman's main criticism. It is the League's dilatoriness in action as exemplified by its attitude towards this problem of oil sanctions. Here again I think the right hon. Gentleman does less than justice to the League. When Italy was pronounced by Members of the League to have violated the Covenant, the question of the application of sanctions became in consequence important. A coordinating committee which was set up, and its sub- committee, had the unwelcome task of organising these sanctions and they divided possible sanctions into two main categories: first, those sanctions which could be applied and could be made effective by the action of members of the League alone; secondly, sanctions which must depend for their efficacy upon the co-operation of other States not members of the League. It has always seemed to me that that was a most judicious distinction. So far the League has been concerned with sanctions which could be made effective by the League alone.
The right hon. Gentleman semed to wish to give the impression that those sanctions were proving ineffective. That, I must say, is not our information. I do not know what his justification was but clearly the financial sanctions and the refusal of the League to accept Italian exports could not be immediately effective. That I admit. Their object was gradually to reduce the purchasing power of the aggressor State. Normally imports into any country are paid for by one of three methods—by exports, visible or invisible, by capital transactions, or by gold. The sanctions which the League imposed very largely eliminate, so far as League action can do it, the first two methods of payment, and I would remind the House that the normal exports of Italy to the nations of the League amount to 70 per cent. of her export trade. It will be seen, therefore, that the power of the aggressor to purchase must in consequence be very seriously reduced. A nation in such a position can, of course, continue to purchase in gold as long as its reserves of gold and foreign exchange allow it, but in such conditions the reserves of any nation must be steadily depleted. There would then come a time when the power to purchase was exhausted altogether. In those circumstances it is surely clear, from the efforts that have been made in Italy to collect gold, that the significance of existing sanctions is fully realised there. The effect of these sanctions which have been imposed is in fact continuous and cumulative and it must obviously have an important influence in achieving what is the main objective of the League, a cessation of hostilities. Therefore the point that I wish to make is that members of the League have already put into force certain economic sanctions over the operation of which they have complete control.
A further step is being examined and the League is considering a sanction involving a commodity the supply of which is to a great extent in the hands of a non-member of the League. As the right hon. Gentleman spoke, I rather gained the impression that he thought that in recent months, whereas this country and other League countries were continuing to increase or to maintain their sales of oil to Italy and Italian colonies, the sales of the United States were going down. Actually, of course, it is the contrary that is the fact and, if the right hon. Gentleman would look at the table of figures which is issued with the very informative report of the League Experts Committee, he will see this. Taking the figures from January to September, 1935, the exports from Persia, which is where the only British company concerned operates, he will find that they were 13 per cent. of Italy's total taking. From October to December they had fallen to 4.4 per cent., a very small percentage in Italy's total taking. On the other hand, whereas the United States percentage from January to September last year was, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, 6.3 per cent., that percentage had risen in the October to December quarter to 17.8 per cent.
I wish to say a word or two about this oil sanction. There has come to be attached to the oil sanction in certain quarters something of a symbolic quality. It is urged that to put it on is right or wrong according to the point of view, quite irrespective of its efficacy. I regard that as the language of exaggeration. To my mind an oil sanction is a sanction like any other and must be judged by the same criterion, whether its imposition will help to stop the war, for that is the object which every nation at Geneva has in front of it. It is in that spirit that we must examine it. It is in that spirit that the Government will examine it and come to their decision.
I can say no more about that question to-day since the Governments have not completed their examination of the Experts' Report and their decision has, therefore, not yet been taken. I have no doubt that the Governments members of the League are all now studying closely the implications of this report, and the House will appreciate that there are some of them who may very well claim that they have a greater direct interest in this matter than we have. In any event this report will shortly be discussed at Geneva. The sooner, in the judgment of the Government, it is discussed the better, and the sooner the decision is arrived at the better. We have done what we could to expedite the meeting of the committee, which will take place next Monday. Meanwhile His Majesty's Government have departed neither from their original decision of principle regarding the oil sanction, a decision which was taken last November, nor from their resolve to take their full part with others in such collective action as the League may decide upon. Moreover, I can assure the House that it remains the policy of His Majesty's Government to maintain steady collective resistance to aggression and that they will be guided in their task by the spirit of the Covenant itself. There will be neither weakness nor wavering in this course until peace is signed.
I have referred to the distinction between those sanctions which League members alone can make effective and those which can only be made partially effective through the action of the League. I believe this distinction is important because it is symbolic of the League's position as a whole. Since its inception 17 years ago, it has been the experience of many to pass through three phases in their attitude to the League. In its earliest years there were many who thought that it could achieve everything. Then came a phase when many thought that it could achieve nothing. Now we are in a third and a more realistic phase. We believe that it can achieve much but that its influence must inevitably be limited by the fact that its authority is not universal. It is well that we should recognise this, for we should otherwise pile up for ourselves grave disappointment. The fact, however, that the League is not omnipotent should not make us weaken in our support. Though it cannot achieve everything, it can achieve much. In the last 12 months it has grown in authority and prestige, and. with prestige comes power. There are still those who regard the League as dangerous, but there is no one who follows foreign affairs who to-day regards it as negligible.
I turn to another aspect of the fighting in Africa. I want to say a word on the subject of conciliation. We none of us think of the League only in its negative aspect as a policeman. There is also the constructive aspect—that of a conciliator and a peacemaker. I am sure that I am expressing the general view of the House and of the country in saying that we all desire the speediest and most satisfactory settlement of this dispute. In this connection, the House will recall that last September a sub-committee of the Council of the League known as the Committee of Five examined the basis of a settlement which might be considered acceptable to all members of the League. That report has since been made public. Unfortunately, however, its terms were not at that time accepted by the Italian Government, but in the view of His Majesty's Government that report still represents the basis upon which any further attempts at conciliation should be made.
I say this at the present moment because I think it important that we should make it clear what kind of objective the League should, in our judgment, have in mind even while it persists with sanctions. Sanctions, unwelcome as they are to us all, are never anything more than the means to an end. In this case, the end is a settlement in accordance with League principles which will establish normal relations between neighbours on a lasting basis. I hope, therefore, that this report of the Committee of Five will be neither forgotten nor set aside. In the view of His Majesty's Government, the proper place for a resumption of any peace discussion is at Geneva, where the atmosphere is always favourable for members of the League who wish to avail themselves of the machinery which is there at their disposal.
I wish this afternoon, before it is my duty to return to Geneva to resume the discussion of further sanctions, to say, and to say, I trust, with the full approval of this House, clearly and unequivocally, that His Majesty's Government and this country, while taking their full part with others in the imposition of sanctions, desire first and foremost to see the reestablishment of a just peace between Italy and Abyssinia. If both sides to this dispute would even now accept the good offices of the League, of which they are both members, I am sure that there would be no hesitation among their fellow members in agreeing that the machinery of the Committee of Five is still available. That is all I wish to say about the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia.
I turn to one or two other matters. about which I should like to say a word to the House. The first is the reform of the League, about which much has been written and spoken in the last few weeks. It is indeed possible—we can all do it—to find fault with the working of the Covenant as it stands and with the working of the League machinery in general, and it is still easier to point out that the League suffers owing to the absence from its membership of certain important Powers. Yet it is interesting to note that the critics of the Covenant are' almost always divided into two camps. There are those who want to strengthen Article 16, because they say that it does not work rapidly enough or effectively enough, and there are those who want to take Article 16 out of the Covenant altogether. I would only observe that I do not believe that it would be very much easier to reconcile those two points of view to-day than it was when the Covenant was originally drafted but I am not unduly depressed by these reflections. What in fact matters is not so much the wording of the Covenant as the will of the nations to work it. As that will is strengthened, so will reform become easier of negotiation and its necessary implications take shape from our experience. In the meanwhile I would only observe that some of the would-be reformers of the League seem to me scarcely distinguishable from those who would reform it out of existence altogether. The present, at least, is certainly not the time to undertake the amendment of the Covenant, and His Majesty's Government have no intention of making proposals to that effect.
The other matter to which I want to make reference is the question of access to Colonial raw materials, which were recently discussed in this House. I must make it clear that His Majesty's Government have in no way withdrawn from the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) on this subject. They are perfectly willing at any time to enter into an examination of this subject, and they think that such an examination could usefully be held at Geneva. The appropriate moment, however, for such an examination must clearly depend on many factors, including the attitude of other Powers towards the proposals. Useful though we believe 'such an examination would be, I think that the House would be mistaken if we were to imagine that from a pursuit of it we should discover some magic touchstone for all our ills. Clearly, that is not so. The international situation is much more complex than that, but this problem may be an element in our difficulties, and therefore I repeat, that His Majesty's Government are willing at any time to enter into an examination in an attempt to solve it.
The other subject about which I would say a word is Egypt. As hon. Members are aware, His Majesty's Government and the Government of Egypt have agreed to enter upon preliminary conversations with a view to negotiations for an Anglo-Egyptian settlement. These preliminary conversations, which will deal with the subjects which caused most difficulty when negotiations were last held between the two Governments in 1930, will be opened on 2nd March, and, after a brief interval, will be resumed on or about 9th March. His Majesty's Government sincerely hope that the discussions will prove a prelude to a successful treaty negotiation. They enter them in a spirit of cordial good will and collaboration, and with every intention that, as far as their efforts can make for success, the conversations shall succeed. They are confident that they will be met in a similar spirit by the Egyptian Government and delegation.
I would like before I close to speak to the House for a few moments upon the international situation as a whole. It will be idle to deny that there is in all parts of the House, anxiety as to the future, and it would be equally idle to deny that that is an anxiety which we must all share on the Government Bench —an anxiety which is not minimised though it is mitigated by the reflection that the course which this country pursues in the next year or two may well be a decisive factor on events. It is no great tribute to the collective wisdom of the world that now, 18 years after the close of the War—a war which those of us who were of age to fight in it were assured was a war to end war—we find ourselves confronted with the same problems, dreadfully similar in character and in portent with those of the years before 1914. It seems that in addition to the ordeal of the War itself, a war generation has thrust upon it the task of finding sufficient wisdom to prevent a recurrence on an even greater scale of the suffering which it endured. Indeed this is clearly statesmanship's most urgent task. How is it to be accomplished'? Not, I am convinced, without the full and active co-operation of this country—a co-operation which can best be exercised and probably only be effectively established through the machinery of the League and of collective security.
This country is firmly attached to that policy because it believes it to be the policy most likely to ensure the maintenance of peace. Nor is there anything in that conviction incompatible with our own national interests, for the League is an attempt to establish an international order, and an international order is a national interest. Yet—and this is the consideration which the House has to bear in mind—if this country is to play its full part in a system of collective security, two conditions are indispensable. First, that the system should be truly collective and so powerful as to deter any would-be aggressor, whether from within or from without and, secondly, that this country should be strong and determined enough in policy and in arms to play its full part therein.
It fell to my lot for three years to work at the Disarmament Conference. They were years of disappointment and disillusion, yet I do not believe that the work that was done there was all wasted, and the time may come when we shall yet be able to achieve important results in that sphere. But so long as there is no general disarmament, there can be no question of Great Britain continuing to practice unilateral disarmament. When I view the future of foreign policy I can see several different lines along which events may develop, but, whichever course events may take, the one element which appears as essential for every course is that Great Britain must be strong. I regard this as an essential for any foreign policy which we can pursue with any hope of success in the near future. What is more, it is only by this method, I am convinced, that we shall ever obtain an arms agreement at all. If the House will recall, the most successful example of arms negotiation known to history was the Washington Treaty negotiated at the time when Britain was not weak but strong. For the moment it is clear that to reach the disarmament which we all wish to pursue—[Interruption.] Well, it has to be faced by the House.
It is the kernel of the problem which confronts us, and we have seriously to face the facts. For the moment it is clear that if you want to get disarmament you will only be able to get it through the increased power and authority of the League, and that power and that authority of the League must depend in a considerable measure, if we have any regard at all to the events of the last few months, upon the armed strength of our own country.
Personally, I do not disguise from the House that I deeply regret that increased expenditure upon armaments by this country should have become inevitable. It is an unproductive form of expenditure, but there is this measure of comfort that re-armament to strengthen collective security is the cheapest form of re-armament. It is cheaper than re-armament within the pre-war system of alliances, and it is infinitely cheaper than rearmament in isolation. Collective security is cheaper than either of the other two methods, but it is still expensive. There has still to be re-armament. Why? This is the fact that we have to face. Because of the lack of confidence in the good will of nations and because of the obsession of fear. Here, then, lies the political task of the League and of the Government of our country. Fear of unprovoked aggression can only be eliminated, and it must be eliminated, by the gradual strengthening of collective security until every nation is convinced that in no circumstances can aggression be made to pay.
It is essential that in re-affirming our attachment to the League and to collective security we should distinguish clearly between that policy and encirclement. While His Majesty's Government will take their full share in the policy of collective security they will have neither lot nor part in encirclement. The distinction is surely clear. Our final objective must be a world-wide system of collective security which embraces all the nations, and the authority of which is unchallenged and unchallengeable. We are far from that objective at present. We can only hope to realise it by at one and the same time strengthening the authority of the existing system and facilitating by agreements based on a wide understanding the cooperation of other nations in our work. In a true system of collective security the door must always be wide open for the entry of others.
Europe has to choose to-day and in the next few years between co-operation and disintegration. If we are to realise the former it will be necessary for each of us to approach our problems not only firm in our own convictions but with a wide spirit of comprehension. In that respect I believe that our own country has a special responsibility. Our economic and financial recovery in recent years has been notable, and by this country's readiness and her power she can take the lead in maintaining the authority of the League and in inspiring others to work for its full development, so that it may meet the international needs of our times. That is not an easy course, but no easy course is possible for us if we are to play our part in an endeavour to avert the recurrence of a world war. The chance of averting such a catastrophe is slender unless we play our part to the full.
Moreover, democracy is on trial. Are we to fail because of an unwillingness to face new conditions Let us not be afraid of living up to the traditions of the past. Time was when this country first gave to the world Parliamentary government. It is in this same tradition that His Majesty's Government intend to play their part at Geneva in an attempt to build up a new world order. The most pressing and the most immediate task of our country is to bring back some measure of confidence to Europe and, though I can only speak now, as the House will appreciate, in general terms, it is to that task that we are now applying ourselves in detail. If we are to succeed we shall have to bring others along with us, but we shall not be able to do that unless other nations are convinced of our sincerity, and our strength, and unless we can gain their confidence. This, in turn, we can only do if we pursue a consistent and constructive policy. I believe that such a policy can be devised and followed with persistence on the lines I have indicated. It is in that conviction that I enter upon my task, and I shall labour at it, I trust, with the confidence of all sections of opinion in this House.
It is my privilege to be able to extend to the right hon. Gentleman an expression of our gratitude and admiration for his clear and masterly survey of the whole field of foreign affairs in the compass of a comparatively short speech. In perhaps the most important passage of his speech he dealt with the general principles upon which his foreign policy will be based and that will, of course, demand our most careful study and reflection. Broadly speaking, the general lines of policy which he laid down are those which I believe, as he hoped in the concluding passage of his speech, will command the general support of public opinion in the country. There are, however, one or two features of his speech which I would venture to stress. He spoke of the vital importance if we are to avert the immeasurable catastrophe of war of building up a system of collective security which will guarantee the rule of law in international disputes, and said that we have to make our contribution to that system. I do not believe that in any parts of the House, except perhaps in one small quarter, any objection will be taken to that general proposition; but it is apparent that we shall have to do something more than that. It is true that we have to build up a system of collective security, but we must make it clear that within the League of Nations, for those nations that come into the League and submit to the rule of law and contribute to the system of collective security, there must be some means whereby they can obtain satisfaction for their legitimate grievances, and some means whereby the play of political and economic forces of the world can be peacefully adjusted.
In an earlier part of his speech the right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the Government, as it undertook through the mouth of his predecessor at Geneva in September, are willing to engage in discussions with other countries about access to raw materials. I hope the Government will not confine their policy in that direction too narrowly. Markets are as important as raw materials, and if we are to solve the great question of migration and the economic suffocation from which many countries are suffering, we shall have to take a wider view of the task than merely that of facilitating access to raw materials. The right hon. Gentleman made an interesting reference to Egypt, which will receive our careful attention, but as I do not wish to delay the House too long, because we have set a strict limit on the continuance of this Debate and there are many hon. Members who wish to speak, I shall confine myself to the main subject of the Debate, and that is the question of the Italian-Abyssinian dispute.
On this question the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be neither weakness nor wavering in the Government's course until peace is restored. In the frequent debates on foreign affairs during the past three months the Government have taken up a great deal of the time available in protesting the consistency of the policy which they claim to have been pursuing during the past three or four years. The passage which I have quoted from the right hon. Gentleman's speech looks as if he, too, was concerned with claiming consistency in the policy which he is following. These claims are so demonstrably contrary to the facts which are of common knowledge as to make the public doubt the sincerity of the Government in the course they now claim to be pursuing. I would say, let the right hon. Gentleman, who is now entering on his new office with the good will of his fellow Members in all parts of the House, with the support of a great deal of public opinion outside which is unattached to any party, abandon the unnecessary, futile, superfluous course of claiming consistency for the Government's policy. I can call as witness to their inconsistency a distinguished foreign witness such as Dr. Benes. The facts are within the knowledge of the House. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) from his point of view, and the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) from his, have pointed out the innumerable vacillations of the Government. Let the Government concentrate and let the right hon. Gentleman concentrate on convincing the House and the country by action of their inflexible determination in pursuing a League policy, and, in particular, in upholding the rule of law in the dispute between Italy and Abyssinia. It is there that the Government's declarations have been weak.
They have said in the past, as the right hon. Gentleman has said to-day, a good deal about the importance of the issue which is now joined between Italy and the League of Nations, but it is in action and in pledges of action that the declarations of the Government have been weak and that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was weakest to-day. The League of Nations is now joined in an historic struggle with an aggressor State, a life-and-death struggle. Let us make no mistake about that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer so described it himself in a speech in this House in December. Signor Mussolini has declared that war imposes a seal of nobility on those people who have the virtue to face it and that he does not believe in the possiblity or the utility of perpetual peace. There is no possible compromise there. He and others of like mind must be convinced that the League of Nations means to stamp out war as a crime against civilisation. It is a life-and-death struggle for the League.
The Prime Minister in his speeches, to which we have been listening during recent months, while expressing in one vein his wish to strengthen collective security talks in another and more detached vein about the possibility of failure and how in that event we shall have to build a new League of Nations on the ruins of the old. That was not the way in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) spoke to the country in the darkest days of the War. He did not say in March, 1918, that if the Allies failed we should just have to make the best of a bad job. The greatest of the right hon. Gentleman's many contributions to victory in the Great War was the faith, the moral energy, with which he inspired the country, and if we are to substitute law for anarchy in the world, peace and trade for strife and armaments, we need no less faith and vigour, no less firmness and determination in leadership in the present emergency than we needed in the War.
As to the gravity of the emergency I agree with the Foreign Secretary. It
admits of no doubt or question. A great and formidable nation in Europe is arming on a, scale and at a rate which is unprecedented in peace time, is wrapping its preparations in secrecy and is declining to accept the obligations of the Covenant. Nor is the danger confined to Europe. In two other Continents great Powers are already invading the territory of their neighbours in defiance of their written obligations. Indeed, but for the lessons of the last War the nation might have been willing to arm to ensure victory in the next; but we know now that victory in war is an illusion. The issue is not between victory and defeat, but, as the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said in a speech a few weeks ago in this House, between world peace and destruction. The Foreign Secretary in the first speech he made as Foreign Secretary in his own constituency a week or two ago, said:
A major war in Europe must bring the collapse of civilisation in its wake.
Two hundred million pounds, 400,000,000, or even £500,000,000 spent on armaments will avail us nothing to avert that catastrophe unless it be as a contribution to a collective system of security against aggression, to make the collective system so strong that no aggressor will venture to challenge it, and to make it abundantly apparent that aggression in the modern world will not be allowed to pay. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessor at the Foreign Office said:
If the League does fail the world at large, and Europe in particular, will be faced with a period of almost unrelieved danger and gloom.
Let us then abandon idle talk about the possibility of the League's failure and about putting our shoulders to the wheel and building up a new League, for if the forces of aggression and anarchy break through the defences of the League, civilisation will be engulfed and there will be no time to build up a new League of Nations.
The war between Italy and Abyssinia, as the right hon. Gentleman said a, few weeks ago in this House, is a vital test of the efficacy of the League and of the loyalty of its members to the Covenant. Have the present sanctions prevented the despatch of a single Italian soldier or tank or gun, or of a single shell or aeroplane to destroy the independence of Abyssinia and the lives of Abyssinian soldiers, women and children, and Red Cross workers? The right hon. Gentleman has given us no information about the working of sanctions. Could not he, or some other Member of the Government in a later speech, convey this information to the House? The right hon. Member who opened the Debate made a strong speech on this point, and said that in his view sanctions up to the moment had not been effective. The Foreign Secretary said that his information was different. Will the Foreign Secretary tell us what is his information, so that we can judge as to the effectiveness of sanctions and how far they have been successful in preventing or hampering the purchase of munitions and warlike stores by Italy for the war in which she is engaged?
I heard the right hon. Gentleman's broadcast speech from Geneva when sanctions were imposed. I was at a meeting of peace workers in Scotland, and we were thrilled by his words. He said:
We cannot afford to daily, for at this moment men are being killed and homes are being shattered.
We have dallied for five months and more men are being killed and more homes are being shattered now than was the case then.
Action must be swift, and action must be effective, if the League is to achieve the end for which it is set up. We have undertaken solemn obligations and from these solemn obligations we shall not shrink.
But the Government did shrink in December, and are shrinking still, from making their policy swift in action and effective. Four months have passed and all that the right hon. Gentleman can say of these sanctions, of that action which he promised would be swift and effective, is that it must ultimately have an important effect—those were his words this evening—on the course of the war. Just before Christmas the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the League must either take action or come to an end, and that it must proceed to every extremity. But it has not yet imposed the oil, coal, iron or steel sanctions, which they agreed, in principle last November to impose. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary asked for justification for the
charge of dilatoriness. Surely we want no stronger justification than that, for, indeed, these are the sanctions, these iron, coal, steel and oil sanctions, for which there is the greatest justification because they would be directed not mainly against the economic and social life of Italy, and because their weight would mainly fall upon the operations of the Italian Army in Abyssinia. Instead, the Government have allowed themselves to be bluffed out of an oil sanction by Mussolini. That statement is no exaggeration. It is proved by the letter which the right hon. Mernber for Chelsea recently addressed to his supporters in his constituency. Referring to the period of his resignation he said:
Within a few days it was necessary to decide whether or not we would agree to an oil embargo against Italy, and we knew from many sources that an oil embargo might lead to some warlike act by Italy, such as an attack on Malta or Egypt.
It is clear from that that we were bluffed out of an agreement with the proposal for an oil sanction by Signor Mussolini. Surely it is apparent that sanctions must be futile if an aggressor can select his own sanctions and it those which an aggressor thinks too effective are to be barred. If these were the limits of the Government's sanctions policy they should never have embarked upon it. Once embarked upon it they cannot let it fail; otherwise the League perishes and our hopes of peace perish with it.
In his speech the right hon. Gentleman very rightly stressed the importance of the principle of collective action. Of the arguments used by his predecessor at the Foreign Office in favour of the Paris peace proposals, the one which left the greatest impression on the House and on the country was that not a man nor a gun had been moved by any other Power but Britain to guard against the eventuality of an attack by Italy upon one of the Powers imposing sanctions. Then it transpired that these other countries had never been asked to collaborate with us until the day before that speech was made, or, at any rate, a few days before, but as soon as they were invited to join in resisting interference with sanctions they promptly agreed, and now an effective understanding upon the measures to deal with such an eventuality has been reached between ourselves and France and four other Mediterranean Powers. It was not the other Powers who were to blame for lack of co-operation, but our own Government, who neglected to ask for it. I think we are agreed that it was not the other Powers who refused to support us in the event of an Italian attack upon us because we were maintaining sanctions, because until a few days before that speech was made we had not asked for their support; but when we asked for it it was promptly promised.
Sir A. SINDLAIR:
No, fortunately it has not been necessary; but all these nations have men and ships and aeroplanes on the spot which can be brought promptly into action if required.
Now I come to the question whether we are going to invite other Powers to impose additional and effective sanctions. France is willing to act. That was made abundantly clear by the right hon. Member who opened the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary at the beginning of his speech made a debating point when he said that in the course of our Debates on this question it was the fashion of the Opposition to say that when the League of Nations has acted promptly it had nothing to do with the British Government, and that when it has not acted promptly it has been the fault of the British Government. I do not think that is true. I have never failed, in speaking on this subject in the House or in the country, to pay a real tribute of admiration and respect to his predecessor for his speech at Geneva and to the right hon. Gentleman himself.
Do not let the right hon. Gentleman under-estimate the sincerity of his opponents. We are willing and anxious to help him in his task, but we do ask that he should give us firm and effective leadership, and that the whole weight and power of Britain should be used in this emergency. And it is right that the British Government should give a lead. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the words spoken by his predecessor in October last:
Let me say definitely and frankly to the House that the representatives of Great Britain and the representatives of the British Empire can never take a secondary part in any great international discussion.
The representatives of a great Empire cannot abdicate their responsibilities or disguise their views."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; col. 22, Vol. 305.]
It is leadership that we expect the right lion. Gentleman to give at Geneva—passive acquiescence will not avail—or he will add his name to those of Mr. Garvin and Lady Houston as spectators in the theatre of life. There are two British statesmen who in recent years have earned striking soubriquets from world opinion. There is the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs who throughout the world has been acclaimed as "the man who won the War," and there is the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who has earned the very honourable soubriquet "that terrible young man who wants peace so much." That is a proud title, but, if I may say so with respect, that "terrible young man" has been a little less conspicuous in his utterances since Christmas than before Christmas. I hope he will be in action at Geneva next week, for faith, courage and leadership alone can save the League and secure peace.
Now, the most important of the additional sanctions which ought promptly to be imposed is the oil sanction. The right hon. Gentleman said that we were attaching too much importance to the oil sanction, and that we ought to consider the question of efficacy rather than to regard that sanction as a flag or a symbol. But it is my submission to the House that there is a strong case for imposing that sanction now on the ground that it and certain other sanctions to which I shall refer are necessary in order that the authority of the League of Nations shall prevail in this dispute. The report of the experts discusses the problem of oil sanctions on the basis of two alternative hypotheses. The first hypothesis is that the United States of America agree to confine their oil exports to Italy to the amount exported before the Italo-Abyssinian war began. The experts make it clear that on that hypothesis the Italian stock of oil would be exhausted in three or four months. The alternative hypothesis is that the United States of America will do nothing to stop American exports of oil to Italy. Even on that hypothesis the experts make it clear that the imposition of an oil and tanker embargo, on the lines which they suggest, by all States members of the League, would make the Italian conduct of the war more costly and more difficult. I believe that to be true, because it would be some time before Italy could adapt her arrangements to the new conditions, and much of her tanker tonnage is now being used for water storage and for other purposes. Therefore, even without any participation from the United States of America, the oil and tanker embargo would be a material addition to the existing sanctions, and consequently it ought to be imposed now.
For my part, I believe that the forces in the United States of America working for an embargo on oil exports to Italy would be strong enough to influence American policy, if the League is strong enough to act alone. To seek American help beforehand would be useless, but I do not believe that the United States of America would allow exports of oil to Italy to continue on a vast scale from the United States if it were clearly seen that the direct effect of those exports was to help the conduct of the war by Italy, and largely to neutralise the efforts and sacrifices of the members of the League. It is naturally impossible to say how far the pressure of public opinion in the United States of America would be effective, but there can be little doubt that it would succeed in checking to some extent the export of oil, especially as Mr. Rockefeller, the chief of the oil magnates in the United States of America, is a strong supporter of the League. Consequently, the case for the imposition of the oil sanction without a prior assurance of American support can be firmly based on the Experts' Report.
Nor should the Government stop there. They should insist on the imposition of coal, iron and steel sanctions, and they should press for the furthest advance—for example, the closing of ports to Italian shipping, which would make it increasingly difficult for the Italian Government to obtain foreign exchange with which to purchase oil and other military supplies—to which their fellow members will agree in the direction of that complete severance of economic relations with Italy which is enjoined upon all members of the League by the Covenant which they have signed. It is not sanctions that have failed, but the courage and resolution of the Governments in applying them comprehensively and effectively.
I am indeed glad that the right hon. Gentleman has made it clear that His Majesty's Government will pursue every possible method of bringing about an early peace, although quite frankly I do not much like the report of the Committee of Five. Nevertheless, if, starting from that point of departure, a satisfactory settlement can be hammered out, I wish the Government success; but no settlement which will really be in accordance with genuine League principles, and will make it clear to the world that aggression will not pay, is possible without further measures of constraint upon Italy. In the concluding passage of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said that for the success o
For five months Italy has successfully defied 50 nations. The war goes on its frightful course. All the time there is the danger that it will spread. At any moment a spark from the Abyssinian blaze may fall among inflammable material in foreign countries or in Colonial territories. Sanctions are the only means of stopping this war and of averting a still greater catastrophe. If the Government wants to persuade us that the purpose of its armaments policy is to buttress the League of Nations and to support the rule of law, let it show a firm resolve to stop the war and call upon its fellow members of the League, who have never yet failed to follow a clear lead against aggression, to impose those sanctions which will make impossible the indefinite continuance of Italian military operations in Abyssinia.
I should like in the first instance to join my right hon. Friend opposite in congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his maiden speech. There were two points in that speech with which I found myself wholeheartedly in agreement. The first was when the right hon. Gentleman said that whatever foreign policy we pursue, it can be successful only if Britain is strong. The second point was when he made it clear that the Government are still anxious to find a settlement of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute by conciliation. My right hon. Friend indicated that the basis of such a settlement must be sought in the somewhat elastic provisions of the recommendations of the Committee of Five. That is as it may be, but his statement clearly involved a rejection of that demand for the punishment of Italy which I find made in so many quarters in this House and outside. The settlement must be based on the merits of the facts and not distorted by the retrospective consideration as to who was to blame in starting the conflict.
In dealing with the Abyssinian issue, I would like to say a word or two about a certain report which has been made public in the Italian Press. That report clearly makes nonsense of the suggestion originally emphasised so strongly in Italy that we were really acting hypocritically and that our main motive was a concern for our economic or strategic interests. What else the Italians can make of the report I really cannot imagine. But I think that we here at least are entitled to ask whether it was wise, seeing that no direct British interest was involved, for us to take so active and so vehement an initiative against Italy in an interpretation of our duties under the Covenant of the League which for 10 years we had repudiated in substance, although not in form, and which was emphatically repudiated in this House as recently as 11th March last both by the Prime Minister and by my right hon. Friend the Member for West. Birmingham (Sir Austen Chamberlain). On that occasion I am afraid I wearied the House with a long exposition of the consistent attitude taken by this Government and all British Governments for 10 years against their present reading of their duty under Article 16 of the Covenant. On this occasion I shall not weary the House on that matter; if any hon. Member is interested he can read my speech of 23rd October on the subject. But I would say now that when we look at the troubled face of the world to-day, when we consider the conflicts of interests, ideals and ambitions which animate the Great Powers; when we look at the temper in which many great nations approach these issues, and when, on the other hand, we reflect on the inherent weakness of our scattered territories and on the added weakness resulting from the short-sighted neglect of our defences in recent years; when we remember the precious inheritance of the tradition of British freedom embodied in our British Commonwealth; then I, at least, am of opinion that the vigilant stewardship of British interests, of British security, of our own British peace, is more than a sufficient task to occupy all the time, thought and energy of British statesmanship.
As for this purloined document, I do not know whether it is going to be made public here, but it was evidently nothing more than a careful, dispassionate, expert examination of what would be the results of an Italian occupation of Abyssinia. We may leave it at that. Its publication does, however, suggest a further question. Was there no similar expert inquiry, equally careful and dispassionate, no less free from any suspicion of being influenced by the exigencies of domestic politics, devoted to examining the possible and probable consequences of the policy to which we did commit ourselves, the policy of sanctions applied under the Covenant of the League? It would be very interesting to know what the experts would have said last June, if asked the question put by my right lion. Friend opposite just now: Can sanctions be made effective unless you are prepared to face the risk of war? That is the question which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had, previously, repeatedly and emphatically answered in the negative. It would be very interesting to know what our experts said in June last, and not what they are thinking now, about the oil sanction.
It would be still more interesting to know what was the view of our naval experts on the effect of Italian hostility upon our future naval position in the Mediterranean and in the Far East. Again, one would like to know what was the view of our Foreign Office experts beforehand upon the probability, nay more the certainty, of breaking up the Stresa front and throwing France into the arms of Russia. It is the report of that inquiry that it would be interesting to know. If the Prime Minister's lips could be unsealed on that question, we should all be immensely enlightened. Or, can it be possible that there never was such an inquiry; that on the major issue raised by sanctions we just drifted along from one step to another, and are perhaps drifting still? I do not know.
There is one thing, to go back to the beginning of that policy, which seems to have been overlooked entirely both by the Mover of the Adjournment Motion and my right hon. Friend opposite in their reproaches to the Government for not having imposed the oil sanction last November, and by the Foreign Secretary in his defence. It is that the Government were limited in their actions by the most definite and specific pledges given to this House in October last. Let me remind the House that the Prime Minister in his speech on 23rd October, 1935, said that the Government never had war in their mind. He drew no distinction between an isolated war and a collective war. He made it clear that the Government were opposed to any measure of sanctions which could bring about war. My right hon. Friend, the then Foreign Secretary, made that point emphatically clear in passage after passage of his speech, of which I only read one:
No wise man will wish to throw a spark into this inflammable material by threats which cannot be collectively carried out or if they were carried out"—
that is, collectively—
would turn the Abyssinian into a European war."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October. 1935; col. 31, Vol. 305.]
The Government were explicitly pledged not to take any action that would provoke war. As my right hon. Friend opposite has very truly pointed out, in this matter it takes two sides to keep the peace, and if your policy of sanctions is limited to being peaceful, it will still depend on the other side how far that policy can be carried. The fact is that you can only carry through a policy of sanctions if you are prepared to face war, and the Government were not only not prepared to face war, but were definitely pledged not to do so.
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on several occasions, the late Foreign Secretary said that the Government were prepared, in the matter of sanctions, to go, collectively, as far as any other country, without any limit?
I admit that there was a certain "dualism," to quote the right hon. Member who moved the Adjournment. The Government gave specific pledges on which, alone, some of us were prepared to support them at the Election and on which they got millions of votes, but they also said things which encouraged the sanctionists to believe that the Government might go as far as any other country was willing to go. That sort of ambiguity can be sustained in an Election. It cannot be sustained when you are brought face to face with a concrete issue. Within a week or two of the Election, the Government were brought up against the fact that Signor Mussolini said he would go to war if the oil sanction were imposed. I believe it was on 22nd November that he made that definite statement through his Ambassador in Paris to M. Laval. If the Government were to be true to their pledge not to push things to the extremity of war, only two courses were open to them. My right hon. Friend opposite suggested that Italy was only bluffing.
But the Government, in possession of all the facts, did not think so. It requires no unsealing of the Prime Minister's lips to tell us that. The action of the Government speaks for itself. The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) after his resignation shows that this Government, and the other Governments, were convinced that Italy was not bluffing and that, at that moment at any rate, Signor Mussolini regarded the oil sanction as so fatal a menace that he was prepared to take the most desperate action rather than submit to it.
I have no public documents but I have it on the information of friends of mine in France. At any rate, the action of the Government showed what they thought, and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea showed what he thought about it. In any case if Italy was not bluffing, and if the Government were to fulfil their pledge, there were only two courses open to them. Ono alternative, and I believe the wisest as well as the most straightforward, would have been to come to this House and to say that, in view of all their pledges, they could not either propose or support the imposition of a sanction on oil because it would mean war. The other alternative, which they chose, was to try to postpone the oil sanction by initiating negotiations for peace. Obviously they could only be initiated if there was some chance of Italy looking at the proposed terms. It is clear to-day that Italy was prepared to look at them. No doubt, Signor Mussolini would have made a tactical error if he had effusively welcomed the proposals, but it was known at the time and it was the condition under which M. Laval agreed to the terms, that he was not indisposed to accept them. Since then, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) asked him whether these proposals, had they been approved, would have been regarded as a suitable basis for negotiation. Signor Mussolini answered:
Yes, I had already drafted a cautious formal acceptance as a basis for negotiation and the Council of Ministers which would have been asked to approve of it,
was sitting when the news came that you gentlemen in London, who praised Sir Samuel Hoare so highly in September had dismissed him with ignominy on 19th December.
More than that, if we look at these proposals on their merits, and not from the point of view of trying to punish Italy, they were essentially reasonable. Except for one small bit of the province of Tigre, which Italy used to occupy before Adowa, there was not a square mile of territory or any element of population to be handed over to Italian occupation or control which had not been conquered by the Abyssinians within the last 50 years, and which was not inhabited by non-Abyssinian peoples for whom, undoubtedly, a change from Abyssinian misgovernment to the rule of a civilised Power, would have been a merciful deliverance.
Had the territory to which my right hon. Friend refers as having come so recently under the control of the Abyssinian Government, come under the control of that Government before or since Abyssinia entered the League of Nations, when we were obliged to uphold the integrity of Abyssinian territory as a member of the League.
I am not discussing the question of our action in the League of Nations. I have already devoted a speech to that subject. I am discussing the merits of the case. Whether Abyssinia was in the League of Nations or not, these populations did not benefit from any improvement in Abyssinian Government. For them, at any rate, I repeat, it would have been a merciful deliverance to have been freed from Abyssinian control. As for the Abyssinians themselves, only by being freed from the impossible task of trying to hold down their vast Empire, would they ever have been able to reform themselves. Nor were these terms inconsistent in general principle with the findings of that same Committee of Five to which the Foreign Secretary referred just now. If they had been, I do not think my right hon. Friend would have accepted them as he and the rest of the Government did accept them.
They did involve, I admit, a very marked change of attitude on the part of the Government, and it required considerable skill, both judicious and firm handling to deal with the position. I dare say there are many hon. Members here who know how to sail a boat. They know what a gybe is. It is a manoeuvre that in a strong wind requires no little nerve and determination. Incompetent or irresolute handling of the tiller may easily lead to that most unpleasant of all experiences—a double gybe—when the boom swings right over one way and back again. I have seen such a proceeding result in an important member of the crew being sent flying overboard. I have known it strain the whole fabric of a vessel from main mast to keel. I believe that if the Government had had the courage of their short-lived first convictions and stuck to the policy of the Laval-Hoare Agreement, they would have carried it through in this House. Nobody who was here when the late Foreign Secretary ended his statement can doubt that. There might have been clamour in the country, but I believe that with every week that passed the position of the Government would have been stronger. As it was, they gybed back again in a panic. Unfortunately, the wind is still in the same quarter. The wind is still on the wrong side of their sail, and sooner or later they will be forced to gybe over once more. Only, when they do, I am afraid they will not again secure such good terms either for Abyssinia or for the League as could have been secured last December. We must remember that in December oil sanctions spelt a terrible menace to Signor Mussolini, a menace to avoid which he was prepared to make some substantial concession. Now we know, and he knows, that the oil sanction is likely to be as futile as the whole of the rest of the policy of trying to wound without being prepared to strike.
It would have been never to have embarked on this policy, or having done so to extricate ourselves from it now as best we can. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary did not seem very confident that anything will come of oil sanctions. Even if they are imposed as a symbol, it will indeed be a tinkling cymbal and have no more effect, except a general embarrassment of the situation, than the sanctions which have already been imposed. The question we are entitled to ask in the House is how long are we going on with this policy? How long are Welsh miners or Newfoundland fishermen to go workless in the dubious hope that they may inflict discomfort on the Italian poor? My right hon. Friend opposite pointed out that sanctions so far have not prevented the war or stopped a soldier, tank or gun going to Abyssinia. Are we to continue in the hope that eventually the pressure of discomfort may bring about a change of Government in Italy? If we fail in that, are sanctions to become a permanent institution? Are we to go on for years and years, under the somewhat dubious legal interpretation that all this is done under the Treaty of Versailles Act, to be guilty of a penal offence if we sip an Italian vermouth?
I should like to remind the House that this policy of sanctions is not altogether new. It was tried once before. It was tried by the great Napoleon against this country, arid it failed. It failed in the first instance because the ingenuity of private interests found innumerable ways of getting round it. There were 100,000 smugglers then, and I am not sure there are not 100,000 smugglers now getting to work for Italy. Do not let us forget to what that policy led. It led to Napoleon's committing one blunder after another, ending with the crowning folly of his Russian campaign. I wonder whither our lesser Napoleons at Geneva are going to lead us.
That brings me to the general foreign situation. I doubt whether that situation had ever been better than it was a year ago. In part owing to our own efforts, Italy and France had come together to form the nucleus of co-operation of western and southern Europe for the maintenance of peace. That was an effective barrier against German aggression. But it left Germany's eastern flank open, and she hid no reason to fear that in a dispute with Russia she would be attacked in the rear. To-day we have broken up the Stresa front, and in consequence we have inevitably driven France into the arms of Russia.—[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."]—It is a mistake to let our domestic prejudices govern our foreign policy. Through our actions in recent months and our new interpretation of our obligations under the Covenant, we are, in the wake of France, committing ourselves to Russia. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said he would have neither part nor lot in a policy of encirclement. That is a very fine phrase, but what is happening to-clay is inevitably re-awakening in Germany that obsession of encirclement which led her to the mad enterprise of 1914.
I do not believe that Germany, unless we tempt her by being defenceless, cherishes any particularly hostile designs against either this country or France. Once, however, Germany is convinced that she is ringed round by foes, she will certainly strike in whatever direction her technical advisers tell her she can secure the quickest and most far-reaching results. In these days of air warfare that means she will strike at us. It is we who are recreating the German menace to Western Europe in a far more formidable shape than it took 20 years ago. We are also creating another menace for this country and for our Dominions in the Far East. We are being increasingly committed by our new reading of the Covenant, and by our actions, to the support of Russia against Japan in the Far East. What advice have our experts given us as to the situation that we shall have to face with half our Navy in home waters locked up for fear of Germany, with a war in the Far East and with a revengeful and resentful Italy on our lines of communication?
I have listened to all that has been said of the League of Nations, but what is the use of deluding ourselves with the pretence that an omnipotent League is engaged in chastising one aggressor as an example and a warning to others? The situation with which we are really confronted to-day is that we are dealing with a League which no longer includes even a bare majority of the great Powers, a League which is little more than an Anglo-Franco-Russian Alliance with an obsequious but very ineffective claque of minor Powers; and we are drifting into a position in which that League will find itself increasingly confronted by a no less formidable combination of great Powers like Germany, Japan, Italy and any lesser States which may join them in the hopes of revenge or loot. If that new balance of power brings us to another Armageddon, it is not on France this time but on this country and on our distant Dominions that the brunt of the struggle will fall. Is that what we really want? If it is not, then let us retrace our footsteps before it is too late. Let us extricate ourselves from this blind alley of sanctions and see whether even now we cannot find some way of bringing together the two combatants on some solution which responds to the merits of the case and is not based on the hopeless idea that Italy is to be punished for having opened the problem by violent methods.
Let us get away from the arid pedantry which would deal with great international issues on the principles of a stipendiary magistrate's court and would fine a great nation 40s. and costs for having started a public brawl. Let us see whether even now we cannot do something to renew our old, and, I venture to say, precious friendship with the warm-hearted, gifted Italian nation, a friendship which was cemented anew by the blood of the best of both of us on the battlefields where we saved European freedom. Let us abandon the futile notion that a league of three major Powers with its hangers-on can coerce the world to good behaviour and that universal peace can be preserved by universalising every war. Let us try, on the contrary, to bring back to the League the nations that are now outside it by reforming its constitution, by making clear that the League does not exist for war but for conciliation and better understanding between nations, and that it neither claims nor pretends to be a world justice of the peace nor a world policeman. Let us think more of our own interests and of our heavy responsibilities here at home and overseas. Let us think more of that security which we have neglected far too much. It is high time we did.
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). After all, he speaks from the same side of the House as myself, and while I am far from going to the lengths to which he consistently goes, and while we all listened with attention to a point of view put with such force and ability as he always puts it, yet on this occasion I am more concerned with what has been said from the opposite side of the House, and in particular by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate. He appeared to suffer from that obsession, from which all hon. Gentlemen opposite suffer, of the Abyssinian dispute coupled with oil sanctions. It seems to me that the important thing at the present time is to maintain a sense of perspective. The Abyssinian dispute, important as it is from a great many aspects, is, after all, only an incident within a framework of a vastly wider panorama. I do not think we ought to let our eyes be blinded by it, or to forget that there are other and potentially infinitely graver issues to which it seems probable our attention may very shortly be called.
I would prefer to regard this Abyssinian question from the point of view which was ably expressed in the past week by my hon. Friend the Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) when he said that he regarded it not as a test of future intentions but as a lesson for future guidance. Another consideration which occurs to me is that the frontiers of civilisation are at present extraordinarily restricted, including as they do —at least, this is my own interpretation—little more than this country and France. If that be the case, then upon those two countries rests an extremely onerous and, indeed, a twofold responsibility: In the first place to defend those frontiers; and in the second place, in due time, to extend them. All the more reason, therefore, I submit, that in taking any steps in the present dispute to end it or to mitigate its effects we should take extraordinary care that nothing we do jeopardises that deposit of civilisation of which we are the sole and, indeed, the last defenders and guarantors.
A word with regard to sanctions. It is difficult, it will be admitted, to assess the effects which the sanctions which have already been imposed have had or are having in Italy at the present time, but I submit that in the light of the information which is now at our disposal the chances of an embargo upon oil having any serious deterrent effect on the war within a measurable period are very nebulous. Nor do I see any reason to agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), who said that it was likely, indeed probable, that. the United States would work in with us over this particular question. I do not see any reason to suppose that from anything which has emanated from that quarter or which has been reported.
There is one point which I would place before those hon. Members who are of opinion that we should reverse our policy entirely now, and that is that at the time of the Hoare-Laval peace proposals our reversal of policy did to a certain extent, possibly even to a greater extent than many of us realise, commit us to a policy, and I quote here the significant phrase used by the "Times" newspaper the day following, "to the attaining of peace by force of sanctions." I think it is true that we were on that occasion committed to that policy, and I think that has to be borne in mind.
Personally, I have always regarded the whole policy of sanctions with anxiety not unmixed with misgiving, particularly in view, of course, of the immaturity of the development of the League at this time, and, also, the unsatisfactory nature of this particular test case. But it is equally plain that you cannot and ought not at this moment to show any disintegration of the front which has been assumed in the face of aggression. I do not think, for reasons which I have already given, that the imposition of oil sanctions would add anything to the situation as it stands, but we can hardly at present retreat from the position we have already taken up, and not, in fact, before any aggression from whatever quarter it may come.
It is not enough to know, as we are assured by a certain Noble Lord who has just returned from having an interview with Herr Hitler, that Germany, for instance, has no aggressive intentions towards this country. We want to be assured, rather, in view of her very disquieting increases in armaments, that she has peaceful intentions towards all countries. Nor is it enough to say that, because Germany is strong and formidable, therefore it is the duty of our statesmen, in the event of any conflict arising, to see that we come in on her side. That, I submit, is a particularly spineless argument. If Germany is out to support the same things that we are out to support, namely, the liberty of the subject and the maintenance of peace in the world, then whether she be weak or strong matters not a bit, we shall be with her; and I may add it is for her to reassure us on those points; but to suggest that we should throw in our lot with a country which cares nothing for either of those things merely because she is formidable and strong is precisely one of those disintegrating factors to which I have already referred and which I greatly deplore.
In conclusion, what would seem to be the requirements of the moment, as I see them, are, in the first place, that we should always keep in mind, in any steps we may take in connection with the Abyssinian crisis, that the main objective and the paramount objective is the preservation at all costs of no less a matter than Western and Christian civilisation. When I say "at all costs" I would go so far as to say even if it were to mean the putting of Article 16 into cold storage. In the second place, we ought to be prepared to take any collective and unanimous action, within reason, at Geneva to put an end to this dispute which is going on. In adding the qualification "within reason" I would only point to the suggestion, which is not unfrequently made, of closing by force the Suez Canal as being a course which I should regard as being eminently outside of reason. The third point is that we should continue to act on the basis of the closest possible co-operation with France, because, failing such co-operation, the League of Nations itself ceases to exist. All of which, I am well aware, is to ask and to expect a great deal; but such is my belief in the ability and the wisdom of the right hon. Gentleman in whose hands the direction of foreign affairs now is that I cannot think it is asking or expecting a whit too much.
The hon. and gallant Member for Berwick and Haddington (Captain McEwen) referred to the frontiers of France and Great Britain as the frontiers of civilisation. That is the sort of statement which arouses in the minds of people who belong to other nations a resentment which leads them to express themselves in criticism of our nation as being composed of gentlemen like the hon. and gallant Member, who regard themselves as superior to everyone else.
It was an extraordinary statement for the hon. and gallant Member to make, having regard to the fact that I could mention a dozen other nations whose civilisation is equal to that which exists in our own country. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), in his somewhat gloomy speech, made an appeal for sympathy with Italy in its present position, and made rather a sneering reference to what he called "the stipendiary's court." I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the unfortunate people who have to take their troubles before a stipendiary magistrate are very much concerned with justice as it may be administered in that court. It may be that the philosophy of the right hon. Gentleman leads him to lay greater value on the rule of force than on the rule of law, but that point of view might have had greater effect in this country if his speech had been made 20 or 30 years ago. When the right hon. Gentleman tells us that he approves of the peace terms that were discussed between the late Foreign Secretary and M. Laval I think he is ruling out justice so far as the Abyssinian people are concerned, because although the analogy drawn may be with that of a stipendiary's court the unfortunate inhabitants of Abyssinia are just as anxious to safeguard their economic, political and physical security as is the right hon. Gentleman or any other person in this country.
May I say to the Foreign Secretary how disappointed some of us are with his speech to-night? In company with many others I have come to regard the right hon. Gentleman as one of the keenest advocates of the peace system in this or any other country, and I am sure that having regard to his own experiences in the War—and I had to spend nearly five years, the best years of my life, in the Army—he and I are both anxious to prevent any repetition of those terrible War years. That is the reason, I take it, why we are both, with others, so anxious to see established an alternative to the system that operated prior to 1914, and the only system that I, at any rate, can see as an alternative is the collective peace system. I believe the right hon. Gentleman is just as sincere as any of us in his support of that system, but, of course, we are entitled to judge Governments as well as individuals by their actions, and we do remember—I do not believe it has been contradicted—that Signor Mussolini himself has said that he warned the British Government in January of last year of his intentions with regard to Abyssinia. That was stated in an interview published in the "Morning Post," and so far as I know it has never been denied.
It was reported to be an interview—of course I cannot guarantee its authenticity—with Signor Mussolini, and it was printed and published in the "Morning Post." I am told by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) that it was issued by the Italian Embassy itself. Whether that is so or not I must accept, or course, the right hon. Gentleman's statement that our Foreign Office were never informed of Signor Mussolini's intentions. But we are discussing the policy of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to sanctions. This war has been going on for five months. It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated, that within two weeks of the time when Signor Mussolini's troops entered Abyssinia four sanctions were undertaken by the League. I need not repeat them. The most important of them was, perhaps, the prohibition of the export of armaments and munitions of war.
To-night we are discussing the fifth sanction, five months after the beginning of the war. I was hoping that the right hon. Gentleman would tell the House that our Government were going to give a lead to the League and to implement the Covenant, with which the right hon. Gentleman is in agreement, and especially Article XVI of it. I am going to take the trouble to refresh the memory of the right hon. Gentleman as to the provisions of Article XVI. They are as follows:
Should any member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants under Articles XII, XIII or XV,"—
and there is no doubt that that applies to Italy—
It shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League, which hereby undertake"—
and here are the material words"—
and not six months or six years afterwards—
to subject it to the severance of all trade or financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State, and the prevention of all financial, commercial or personal intercourse between the nationals of the covenant-breaking State and the nationals of any other State.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would agree that we are a great distance from carrying out the requirements of that Article. All that we have done is to cut off the supply of munitions and financial credits, imports into this country and other League countries from Italy and the export to Italy of a certain number of commodities required for war purposes. Our Ambassador is still in Rome. We have broken off intercourse with that country, with which we still carry on our trade relations so far as other commodities are concerned, and one of which we are discussing. Coal, iron and steel and a hundred and one other commodities are still being exported to Italy by the various countries of the world, most of whom agreed to support the implications of the Covenant.
It may be said that it is impossible to do otherwise, because the plans that are necessary in order to carry out Article XVI are not in operation. The Committee of Experts have been engaged, I do not know for how many weeks, six or eight, in working out the details of the oil sanctions. Why is it not till three or four months after the war has broken out and after Italy has committed an act of aggression, that instructions are given to the experts of the League of Nations to prepare a plan for the enforcement of an oil sanction? The League has been in existence for 18 or 19 years, yet it is only in 1935 or 1936 that an attempt is made to prepare what I may call League strategy with regard to the enforcement of economic and financial sanctions.
It is not that the point has not been raised before. In the Geneva Protocol, which was unanimously accepted by the League Assembly in 1924—and destroyed by the Tory Government in March, 1925—Article 12 deemed twat sanctions were to operate in the event of the Protocol being put into operation, find Article 17, which was agreed to in 1924, provides for the formation of plane of economic and financial co-operation for the application of economic and financial sanctions against an aggressor State, and these plans were to be communicated by the members of the League to other States. If those plans had been prepared during the 12 years which have elapsed since the Protocol was accepted in 1924, immediately Italy was declared to be an aggressor, a country guilty of a breach of the Covenant of the League of Nations, they could have been taken out of file archives of the League of Nations and put into effective operation. Is it any exaggeration if, as we are told by the right hon. Gentleman to-night, the more or less insignificant sanctions which have been put into operation have been to some extent effective, to ask what would have been the effect if the complete plans had been put into operation?
The Foreign Secretary says that we have had difficulty in persuading the various Member States to carry out their promise. Why? Because we are going round in a vicious circle. You will never get Member States to accept their full responsibilities under the League Covenant until you have established a system of security. At the present moment the situation between Italy and Abyssinia is a testing time, if ever we are to establish a general League system of security. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to face the dangers of the situation. I would not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook that there are dangers attendant upon the course which we are following with regard to sanctions. It would be foolish to deny that that is so, but we must face the alternatives which are before us.
We can go back to the pre-war situation of a, strong Britain, which the right hon. Gentleman wants, with the balance of power, the system of alliances, or what is, I believe, his own policy of isolation, all of which have been tried and found wanting, and as a result of which millions of young men had to shed their blood in what they thought was to lead to the establishment of a system to prevent war. We have tried that system, and it has failed, but we have not as yet tried the collective peace system in its entirety. We have not even tried the policy of sanctions in its entirety. We have simply tinkered about, afraid for one reason or another to take risks. All the time we have this great Power, Italy, with all the agents of science and with its tanks and aeroplanes and machine guns—and the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do what it means to have those weapons employed against you—and on the other side you have millions of savages and semi-barbarian soldiers, armed with guns and rifles, many of which were manufactured 40 years ago.
All that the Abyssinians are asking for is to be left alone. I do not suggest that everything that takes place in Abyssinia would meet with the approval of Members on this side of the House; personally, I am not so much interested in Abyssinia, in that sense, as I am in the establishment of an international system which would make it too hot for any nation which broke the rules of international law, as contained in the Covenant of the League of Nations. If we fail at this juncture, and if Italy is allowed to conquer Abyssinia without the League of Nations being powerful enough, or willing, to defend the Abyssinians, the League of Nations will be destroyed for the rest of our lives. It is the testing time, and we ask the Government. We do not seek to bring up the past too much. We know that the Government have assumed a somewhat zigzag course with regard to the League of Nations and we still remember that only 12 or 14 months ago the Prime Minister said that the collective peace system was impracticable. To-day the Government say that they take their stand by the League of Nations with all its responsibilities and obligations.
The Foreign Secretary stated his belief in the necessity for a, strong Britain, but it is not as necessary for us to have the same strength of armaments when there is a League of Nations as in 1914 when there was no League of Nations. Article VIII of the Covenant of the League of Nations and Article 10 of the Protocol were both attempts at establishing a, general system of protective security. They pre-supposed that arms would be reduced and limited on a pool basis. Sooner or later we shall have to come back to the Protocol of 1924, because sooner or later we shall have an international system and an international rule of law for the settlement of all disputes by determination of the international court, or arbitration.
The Protocol was not to come into operation until there had been a Disarmament Conference, which was to commence its deliberations in June, 1925. The Disarmament Conference began its deliberations in 1932. I am quite prepared to pay tribute to the work of the right hon. Gentleman and of the present Home Secretary, and I shall not put the whole of the blame for the failure of the Disarmament Conference upon the British Government, but I will give them a considerable share of responsibility. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me when I say that the Disarmament Conference foundered, if it did founder, on the question of security, and that we shall never get complete disarmament until each nation is satisfied, particularly the small nations who cannot rely upon their own strong arm, that the international system will give them the security for which, heretofore, they have had to rely upon the strength of their armies and navies.
If that be so, it is in the interest of all of us, and of civilisation, to build up an effective international system based on security and accompanied by universal, mot unilateral, disarmament. If we are to achieve those objectives in the immediate future, we must, if necessary, increase our pressure upon Italy until she has been made to realise that she will not be allowed to dismember Abyssinia, that the security of Abyssinia. as a. Member of the League of Nations is as important to us and to the other Members of the League as it is to Abyssinia, and that we shall leave no possible act undone to enable us to achieve that result.
The speech of the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) will have met with the approval, I am sure, of Members on all sides of the House. If I have any criticism to make of it I would say that his timing was perhaps a little optimistic. I do not think we shall see universal disarmament for a year or two, although I agree that we should do our best together to achieve it as soon as possible. The speech of the Foreign Secretary was unexceptionable. I do not think that any hon. Member on any side of the House would disagree with any of the sentiments that he expressed. The only disappointment to some of us was that when he came to enunciating a constructive policy he did not say anything very clear or very definite. He was very vague. It was, I think, the vagueness of our policy before the War that largely helped to bring about our entry into it. Whatever else we do at present, we should endeavour to avoid vagueness of any sort. We should make our policy crystal clear, so that not only our people at home but every nation should understand what we were about and how we intended to carry our policy through.
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman quite realises the shocks that this House and the county have had during the past few weeks. They have. had two major shocks to which he made no reference. The first was when the Prime Minister admitted that the Government had been completely misinformed about the extent of German rearmament. That was disquieting, because some of us who had only a superficial knowledge of Germany realised fully a good deal of what was going on in tile way of rearmament, much more than the Government, with all the resources of the secret service and the information that was available to them through the diplomatic service, seemed to know. The right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) gave facts and figures to the Government with regard to German rearmament which were emphatically denied by the Prime Minister, but that subsequently proved to be a gross under-estimate of the facts.
The Government cannot be surprised that this was disturbing to Members in all parts of the House, and made us uneasy. Then there came a second shock, to me still inexplicable, the precipitate double reversal of foreign policy within about, three weeks. The Foreign Secretary said there would be no weakness and no wavering in regard to our foreign policy in support of the League. He might really have said "No more weakness" and "No more wavering," because the policy which had been enunciated so clearly by the late Foreign Secretary was directly reversed. This is the point that I think should be brought out. When he was cross-examined by hon. Members in this House with regard to that reversal of policy, the Prime Minister said that his lips were sealed, but that if they were unsealed he would guarantee that not one Member of this House would vote against him. The Government must sooner or later make reply to this point.
The policy has since then been completely reversed. The Hoare-Laval proposals have been repudiated, and the Foreign Secretary of the time has resigned. We have gone back to where we were. If there were tremendous, overwhelming, secret. reasons which forced us to change our foreign policy, have they also disappeared in the interim, or have we gone back to that foreign policy at dire peril to ourselves? What were those reasons which underlay the Prime Minister's remarks? That is what we have a right and a duty to ask in this House. Was it fresh information regarding German re-armament, or was it unexpected information about the vulnerability of our Fleet? At that time the Fleet had been in the Eastern Mediterranean for several months. Had some information been brought to the Prime Minister which caused him to become extremely anxious about the safety of the Fleet? Or was it merely a debating point? It would be a profound relief to the House to know that it was. They might think that it was a slightly unfair one, but I think that every hon. Member would be delighted to know that the Prime Minister had made it merely to shut us up for the time being.
Until his lips are unsealed, I want to know whether the causes which brought the Prime Minister to make that remarkable statement are still operating, and whether, therefore, to go back to the policy we had previously adopted has been achieved only at the cost of great danger to the State? My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) made a forcible speech on this subject the other day, and the Government have so far made no attempt to meet the charges he made, or to reply to the arguments he put forward. I feel that although it is not a very pleasant thing to do, some hon. Members have a duty to ask explicitly for some explanation from the Government, and to ask for some reassurance that whatever else the reason may be, our security and safety are not in great jeopardy at the present time?
Those two shocks threw the Governments of Europe into great confusion. Many Governments had thought that at last they knew where Britain stood. They thought that we had adopted a foreign policy and would go through with it. Many Governments of different complexion in Europe said that it was the best chance and the best hope for peace that there had been since the War. This double twist in our foreign policy threw them into great confusion. It also threw our own people into great confusion. Nobody on this side of the House would deny that armaments policy and foreign policy are inextricably bound together. We were promised, as part of the foreign policy we had taken up, air parity with Germany by next year. We know now for certain that we cannot get that, whatever happens. We were also promised by the then Foreign Secretary a policy of steady and collective resistance to aggression through the League of Nations. That policy was suddenly overthrown for reasons we do not know and do not understand. It is difficult to over-estimate the danger of these sudden changes in British foreign policy to the cause of peace in Europe. European Governments think that we are continually shifting our policy to suit our own interests. At the moment when we had begun to persuade them that we were pursuing a steady and fixed policy in the interests of Europe, we did it again. The speech of the Foreign Secretary did not do so much as I had hoped it would to remove that impression, and it is because it was not a clear and concrete statement that I and other hon. Members on this side are disappointed.
In the decade between 1922 and 1932 it was possible to drift along at home and abroad without doing much good but without doing much harm. To-day that is no longer possible. Serious events impose themselves on all Governments, and particularly on the British Government, day by day. Many hon. Members feel that it is necessary in the existing circumstances to define objectives in home policy and foreign policy, and then to pursue them remorselessly. I would like to know when the Government think we shall be able to redeem the pledge given that we shall achieve parity in the air with the nearest European Power within striking distance.
There is another point upon which I would like some information. It has struck me as very curious that every Power in Europe, including Italy, should know the exact strength of our Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and that the only people from whom that information is withheld should be the people of this country. Why have the Government approached the Press and asked them not to publish information available in every other country regarding the strength and disposition of the Fleet? If the Italians know it I think that we might know it also.
With regard to the question of an oil sanction, there are varying opinions in this House. Some ardent spirits would impose the oil sanction at once, and would have us take the lead in every direction; and others think that we should back out, not only on the oil sanction but on every other sanction as gracefully and as quickly as possible. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are agreed however that we must act together, and there has been every excuse in the past for not having taken up the oil sanction because we know that the French Government was most reluctant to have anything to do with it. There is reason to suppose that the attitude of the French Government is now changed. Speaking for myself, all I can say is that if that is the case, and we should get something like unanimity at Geneva in regard to the oil sanction, I believe that we should play the hand out. We have put our hands to sanctions. We have put our hands to the League policy. If we can get agreement to an oil sanction I am convinced that we ought to plough the furrow through to the end, with courage and conviction, and I believe the Government would carry the majority of the country with them.
My answer to that would be that I believe the Experts Committee has reported that even if the United States did not co-operate and we applied an oil sanction, it would make oil more expensive and more difficult for the Italians to get, and I think there is a great deal to be said for the policy of going through with the hand even without the co-operation of the United States. I think the Government and the House must consider the great strain that is being imposed on our Fleet, which is lying month after month in the Mediterranean under practically warlike conditions. We cannot go on for ever holding the whole thing on our shoulders. If you have embarked on a policy, my feeling is that you should go through with it as quickly and as strongly as possible so as to achieve peace as soon as you can. I want to ask also whether the Government have considered in relation to their policy the implications of the Franco-Soviet Pact. My record on the matter of Soviet Russia is well known. I do not think it is a bad one. I have always advocated the greatest friendship between this country and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. But a change almost in a week from a policy of scarcely-veiled hostility to one of virtual alliance is a very sharp change. I, myself, believe that the Soviet Government are absolutely sincere in their desire for peace, but our Government must realise that this Franco-Soviet Pact does put an end to any ideas they may have had of a purely Western defensive pact, and commits them more than ever to a League policy as opposed to an Alliance policy.
Some of us were a little disappointed when the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were not going to forward any plans or suggestions at all in future for any revision of the machinery of the League or the Covenant of the League. If we are going to tie ourselves, as I think we should, for the future and absolutely bind ourselves to the League of Nations, then we ought to see that the League of Nations can function effectively and is made into the best possible machinery that can he devised, and to bolt and bar the door now to any future revision, either of the machinery that exists at Geneva or of the Covenant itself, is a mistake.
The main thing that we cannot have any more vagueness in our foreign policy. We cannot have any more sharp changes. We must, in present conditions, have a consistent and clearly thought-out foreign policy, which should be resolutely pursued, and to which our armament policy should be closely related. To do this we must have adequate direction at the summit and adequate machinery of government. Recently there have been unmistakable signs of an absence of direction and a complete breakdown of the machinery of government, and I believe that this House not only has a duty but is quite determined as a House, regardless of party, to see that direction is restored and that the machinery of government, particularly in relation to foreign affairs and defence, is made good.
I want to call attention to a very remarkable prophecy which was made, now nearly 10 years ago. It was made by a man who at that time was, I think, almost universally, regarded as being perhaps the greatest figure thrown up by the upheaval of the world war. That man was Signor Mussolini. The prophecy was made at a time when he seemed to be almost unique among dictators, in that he had not made war in pursuit of that illusion which in France they call gloire but which was once translated by one of our Prime Ministers as "All my eye and Betty Martin." It was also made in the days before the gods had apparently decided that Signor Mussolini must be destroyed, and had brought about that mental frame of mind which, according to the Romans of classical times, was a necessary preliminary to destruction.
This was the prophecy which Signor Mussolini made. He said that the crucial point in European history would come in the years 1935–40 and that then the destiny of Europe would be decided. He followed this prophecy up at the beginning of 1933 by an exhortation to the League to reform itself, and by a similar exhortation at the beginning of 1934, saying that unless it did so, it would be unable to fulfil its obligations and exercise the functions expected of it. At that time nobody, I think, let alone Mussolini himself, ever visualised that he himself would bring his prophecy to realisation and that he would play the part not of hero, but, alas, of villain. Since the War we have seen the struggle of two rival ideas, and we are now at the climax of that struggle. On the one hand, there is the idea of Fascism—a tense and jealous nationalism, with the government coercing all thought and all effort in the country towards making the particular nation top-dog. On the other hand, you have the idea of co-operation. To-day in this country one section of the Press is enthusiastically in support of this idea; another section violently condemns it; and a third section sits, I think, rather delicately upon the fence, if not as to the idea, then at any rate as to its implications; because the implications of co-operation must mean that for common gain there has to be individual sacrifice. The Government can have no doubt, however, where the majority of public opinion in this country lies, after the events of last December. Certainly there can be no future for the British Empire that is not transient apart from this idea of co-operation, as expressed in collective security. You have only to look at the map. And you may perhaps recall the words of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) a few years ago, when he said that the British Empire was the biggest block of undefended plunder in all history.
The climax of the struggle of these two ideas has brought us to the present situation, and what do we find? As the result of the effort to work a post-war system with pre-war mentalities, we find ourselves in a position where Fascism or nationalism, or whatever the different countries like to call it, is in the ascendancy. We have to-day all the paraphernalia of 1914—only more so. We have all the ingredients for such an orgy for the war god that the War of 1914–18 wil seem but an hors d'oeuvre. Every year Europe is being sucked faster and faster into this maelstrom of destruction. Year by year, if not month by month, nations are spending millions of pounds—which they have not got—budgets are being unbalanced, currencies are being manipulated, and the poor people of Berlin have to go without butter, all for the sake of the nations rearming themselves out of fear. We have only to look at the course of last year. At the beginning of 1935 Russia suddenly announced an increase of 300,000 men in her army, bringing the total up to over 900,000, this country announced a programme of armament expansion, France doubled her service with the colours, Germany, most spectacularly of all, suddenly announced the formation of an army of half a million men. And by the end of the year Italy had 1,000,000 men under arms. This year is yet young, and yet already Russia has announced an army of 1,300,000 men.
Is there any escape from this coil of death in which we find ourselves? Is there any way by which we can break out from this vicious circle of mounting fear? I believe that two opportunities have already passed. We bad the opportunity of 1919, and we had the opportunity when the spirit of Locarno was a reality and not a mockery. I believe that when this Abyssinian affair is over, we shall have yet a third opportunity, however fleeting it may be, and if we fail to use this opportunity, the price we shall pay will be hideous indeed. For the moment, I think, from the speech of the late Foreign Secretary at Geneva in September, we have the leadership of the world in our hands. That leadership must be active, and not passive. It is up to us to take the initiative. May I, in all humility, suggest one or two possible lines of action for consideration? In the first instance we have discussed to some extent this afternoon the question of an oil embargo, but whether or not the oil embargo is enforced, it seems to me that the thing at stake is the principle, and the principle is this: We cannot for one moment afford to allow potential aggressors in Europe to believe, rightly or wrongly, that the League is baulking its responsibility. Three months ago we heard we could not proceed because certain precautions had not been taken. Those precautions have now been taken, and still nothing has been done. There are some lion. Members in this House, and there are some organs of publicity which have an absolute terror of this country being involved in war. I would ask whether this country, the country of Chatham, of Palmerston, and a hundred others, is afraid, and is going to draw back from any obligations to which it has given its word, because another country hints or even threatens war. May I add a rider to this: Italy has 850 first-line aeroplanes. This country and the Mediterranean Powers together have a total of 4,830. That, I think, is a thing to remember.
A second line of action is this: while we must rearm, and we must rearm because we must gain a position of some equality with our neighbours, should not the Government or the "Minister of Thought," or a committee, be thinking out some plan, some amendment of the Covenant, some development or re-adjustment, so that we can have an international system more fitted to the circumstances in which we are now? Surely we must hammer out some plan by which we can live as an alternative to this frenzied preparation for death, which at present is darkening the face of Europe.
In this connection, we have so much wasted talent in this House. Could we not use one of our elder statesmen, because we have some, and revert possibly to the idea of a travelling ambassador, and now, before it is too late, send the best men we have around the capitals of Europe in an endeavour to get the cooperation of the rulers of Europe? Let him have such instructions that there may be no repetition of the events of last December, but let him be backed by all the authority of the Government and all the public support of this country, because if the present rulers of Europe, including our own Government, cannot save themselves in the deluge, then when they fall the Government that will take their place will not be the hon. Members sitting in that quarter of the House, but a Government which will speak with the voice of Moscow, I mean the Communist Moscow and not so much the political Moscow and with the voice of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher). I have made some suggestions, and I would ask that they, or better ones, should he considered—not so much that the obstacles to them should be considered, but ways of overcoming the obstacles, because we are already in the second of those five crucial years, and we have no time to lose. I thank the House for the courtesy which it has, as usual, extended to a new Member addressing is for the first time.
I thought that the Conservative party had taken to recruiting its junior ranks entirely from Fascists or Fossils, and I have been delighted to hear one recruit who, I feel, lived up to the reputation of this House and at the same tine put a new view clearly and forcibly before us. I would add that he has put a point of view which cannot be shown too often at this moment. Why is every nation in the world piling up armaments at the present time, not only in this country, but in every small country In Europe, South America and throughout the world? Why has everybody gone mad on spending on armaments money which they have not got, on starving their populations, smashing their currencies. putting an end to trade, and expendirg all their energies on building up these gigantic armaments Everybody knows the answer. It is because everybody is afraid. Therefore, it is to the Foreign Office that we must look for illumination and for hope. We have not had much illumination today, but we have had, perhaps, a little more hope than some of us expected.
Everyone is afraid; everyone is going straight downhill to ruin; and why? What as they afraid of? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) is not here at the moment, but I can assure him and the other defenders of Signor Mussolini in this House that we in this country are not in the least afraid of Mussolini. I do not think that anyone in this country was afraid of, or was bluffed by that talk of war. What many of us were afraid of, indeed, was that, if we persisted in this policy of squeezing Italy into good behaviour, Mussolini would lose his job and perhaps his life. I think that the idea which has been spread about is that, if Mussolini goes, Communism will arise in Italy; that is simply madness. Italy is a land of small peasant proprietors, who are not in the least suitable material for Communist expansion. But undoubtedly there is a danger in British policy to the permanence of Mussolini, and, if you want to preserve him rather than to secure European safety, then continue to criticise the Government's policy with Mr. Garvin. But if you look at the real fear, at what every nation in Europe is afraid of, and in Asia, too, for that matter, it is Hitler's Germany and nothing else. It is absolutely necessary that this should be said openly. It does not make the danger worse that all should recognise what we fear. The danger is less if the country realises what the danger is.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook spoke with the voice of 100 years ago. Nothing would ever convince him that circumstances have changed. But, fortunately, the Government themselves have realised both the danger and the fact that circumstances have changed. They have realised the foundation fact that, if we are to face this real danger successfully, it must be faced in co-operation with all the other peoples who are in equal danger, and that is the basis of the change of policy of the Government with respect to the League of Nations. We are not considering whether Mussolini will go or whether he will stop, or what will happen in Italy, or even in Abyssinia; we are considering simply whether we can, in time, strengthen the League of Nations so that it shall be a firm and irresistible bar to war. If we fail in Abyssinia, what hope is there of Denmark saving Schleswig; what hope is there for Memel, or Danzig, or Holland, or Latvia, or for freedom anywhere r If we fail in Abyssinia, the League may just as well put up its shutters, because every nation will have to go back to those defensive and offensive alliances, interested bargaining bodies, encircling Germany, partitioning Austria, and breeding that hell from which the League alone can save us. That is why the country is feeling so heavily on this question. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite will recollect the condition of affairs last November, and it is as bad to-day. In the country there is persistent anxiety that the Government should be clear where British policy must tend in the interests of safety.
I do not remember, since the War, ever being nervous of what would happen to Great Britain, or nervous of what would happen to every one of us; but now there is that danger. The Fleet has become valueless; the sea has become an added danger, because you cannot even hear the aeroplanes coming; and the only hope is the League. The Cabinet, I may add, are only just finding that out. If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook really persuades our emissary at Geneva to stop sanctions on oil, to prevent sanctions on Italian shipping, to frustrate all those further steps which must be taken if we are going to vindicate the League—if that is going to be done, it is not only that England will be disgraced, not only that peace will be endangered, but that all hope of corporate action will come to an end. About 100 years ago an excellent American came to this country, named Emerson. He is forgotten nowadays, but when he came—
I thought he was forgotten by the youth of this country. When he came here, just about 100 years ago, he made a famous speech in Manchester, to which I should like to call the attention of the House, because
what he said then is extremely appropriate at the present moment. He said:
That which lures a solitary American with the wish to see England is the moral peculiarity of the Saxon race—its commanding sense of right and wrong, the love and devotion to that.
When I heard the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs say to-day that he would be glad to effect a peaceful settlement in Abyssinia on such lines, I felt that that was treachery towards that good opinion of Emerson's. We really must decide these questions by what is right and what is wrong. If the League of Nations is going to start compromising with the criminal, if it is going to start rewarding him for breaking the law, then the League must fail. If you fail in that way with Mussolini, how can you expect to succeed with Hitler f Therefore, I would sap that what we are discussing to-night in regard to the matter of sanctions is not in the least a. question of expediency; it must be looked at from the point of view of whether we are doing right to use our immense power to stop what we think is wrong. It may be risky—every good action is risky; doing the right thing in any circumstances is always unpleasant. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh."]—or, at any rate, until one has got salvation.
Here is a clear issue, which the great body of the English people have generally decided in the same way. The mass do not know much about these questions, but they have sense to see which is the right policy from the moral point of view, and which is the wrong, and no amount of advocacy of expediency will ever wash out that conscience. It came to the top last year, both in the League of Nations Ballot and in the November bouleversement. You have there that infallible evidence of an English Nonconformist conscience which is the backbone of our national character, and which might perfectly well be made the backbone of a new Covenant of the world at Geneva. We have here a chance of doing something for the world and for freedom which England has never had a chance of doing before, and it all depends upon facing risks. It is our duty. Emerson went on, on that occasion, to say about England:
I see her not dispirited, not weak, but well remembering that she has seen dark
days before; indeed, with a kind of instinct that she sees a little better on a cloudy day, and that in storm of battle and calamity she has a secret vigour and a pulse like a cannon. I see her in her old age"—
this was 100 years ago—
not decrepit, but young and still daring to believe in her power o: endurance and expansion.
To. my mind this peace, this Pax Britannica, can, through the League of Nations, spread throughout the world. It is just that sort of expansion. which is not Imperialist, but which is in the true sense of the term the welfare of mankind and to the glory of God.
We have just listened to a fervid and moving peroration from the right lion. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). It is a very fine thing to sacrifice all for right, but the difficulty is to find out what is the right thing to do, and really, in matters of statesmanship and of the safety of nations and of mankind, we ought to consider something in addition to fervour and enthusiasm; we ought to look where we are going. The question before us is what is to be clone in the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. The Government have said on many occasions that their foreign policy is based on the League of Nations—a statement that sent a cold shudder down the spines of many of us, and not without some justification. The League of Nations was set up avowedly to preserve peace, but it did nothing when Japan proceeded to dismember the northern part of China and to annex to herself those. parts which she desired. It looked on indifferently. We made protests and refused to acknowledge the new State, at great cost to ourselves and considerable danger to our trade. Subsequently the Italian-Abyssinian dispute has arisen. We were asked by Italy last Januar; what we would do about it and what our views were. While the Government hesitated six months, the Italian Government acted and proceeded to take such steps as it thought wise to move troops, aeroplanes, stores and tanks to Abyssinia, and commenced hostilities.
Our Government went to the League of Nations and, after long consultations and examinations, decided that Article 16 and sanctions must be set in Motion. Have those sanctions which are already in operation been successful or complete, or have they produced any serious results'' Of course they have not. One nation after another has said, "We cannot enforce these sanctions fully. We must be excused in this and in that." The sanctions are not being carried out in their entirety even by members of the League. There are other nations which have left the League which are not attempting to carry out these sanctions, and no one can blame them. Who can blame Germany for sending all that Italy requires of her through Switzerland? Switzerland is bound to keep the routes open by treaty. No one can blame it. A pretty bill we are running up for the sake of the League of Nations without any effect upon the progress of hostilities but causing exasperation and enragement of Italian opinion, and the humiliation of ourselves, as leading the League of Nations, in the eyes of the African peoples. It would be unwise to go any further in this matter. Are we justified in risking everything in a matter which has been a failure? After reading the White Paper published by the Government have we any reason to think that the oil sanction will be more complete and more successful or more immediate in bringing hostilities to a close than those sanctions which have already been adopted? Far from it.
What reason is there to think that the United States Government have changed their traditional policy, which is to keep out of foreign entanglements, to maintain the freedom of the seas and freedom to trade with neutrals or with any country that they choose? We cannot expect any sacrifice on their part. It would be a chimera. We are being pressed to set up this oil sanction, and we are told that Mussolini will do nothing and that his warnings have all been bluff. What right have they to say that? What proof have they? Are they going to risk peace and war upon a loose opinion? There is no doubt that the oil sanction is going much nearer to the danger of war than the other sanctions. We have been warned over and over again. I have always looked upon the League of Nations as an institution to make peace, and not war. It is not in a condition to make war, nor can it enforce these sanctions, nor can it enforce its will on the world until it contains all the great nations of the world acting together.
The League of Nations is a League of some of the nations. It is incomplete and lacking in power as long as it fails to contain three of the most powerful, most heavily armed and most virile nations in the world. We must look facts in the face. The League is not strong enough. We are not strong enough. We were not sent to the House to egg the Government on to war with Italy or to run the risk of war. The position of the Government is somewhat inconsistent. They say, very truly, that we require strengthening in armaments. Our disarmament policy has led us to the verge of danger, yet in this disarmed state they urge us to run the risk of an unnecessary and a dangerous war. Are there any indications that France would go to war with Italy to save the League of Nations? Far from it. There is no sign whatever among the great mass of the people of a desire to plunge into war. We should be left very much alone.
I trust that the Government will not venture on the oil sanction. It is not their business to run the risk of bringing Europe, possibly the whole world, into a new war. We had far better look after our own business. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last and others have said that the real storm centre is not Italy and Abyssinia, but the rearmament of Germany. We have quite enough there to occupy our attention without weakening other nations and offending and driving away from us potential allies in the day when the storm may burst. We ought to turn our attention to rearming to snaking up for lost time and making ourselves strong to play our part worthily in the world whatever may come.
I rise to ask the Foreign Secretary not merely to enforce the oil sanction, but to see that existing sanctions are fully enforced. I have received information from a member of a firm in the City that sanctions are not being fully enforced. There are various loopholes. This is a letter sent to an English importing firm from an agent in Novarra:
By the present I beg to submit to you an offer on account of my friend Mr. Dionigi Resinelli—Bellizona. This firm has its business in Bellizona in Switzerland and handles among other things Parmesan cheese, of which they carry a stock of several thousand. They are in a position of ship-
ping Parmesans to England and would like you to take up their agency for the sale of that article now that importation from Italy is not allowed owing to sanctions. For your knowledge, any article of Italian production which being reworked abroad for an extent of 25 per cent. of its value can be imported into England. This firm is in the right position for as they bring regularly in Switzerland new cheese in order to have them ripened, and this cheese being worked for at least one year and a half, they have in hand cheese which have cost them more than 25 per cent. over the value when these cheese were imported. What I say here is the reality and Swiss authorities would not deliver documents referring that if this would not be the case.
I should be pleased to hand this or any other document to the Foreign Secretary and, if he wishes to take steps in the matter, he could do so.
The last speaker said we should drop the whole of the sanctions policy. He appears not to realise the danger to Europe from Hitler. This German-Fascist dictatorship, it seems to me, is the greatest danger at present to the peace of Europe. Anyone who has travelled through Germany in recent years must have been struck by the immense amount of rearmament that has taken place. It has also been stated that we should realise that Fascist dictatorships are the great danger to peace. If that is so, we should do our utmost to see that those two great dangers to peace, Hitler and Mussolini, are removed from power as soon as possible. I am not advocating a preventive war against either, but we should do nothing at all to encourage or support the distatorships, but should do all in our power to bring about their downfall as soon as possible.
I mean by that that we should not assist them in any way to remain in power. We should not give them trade or financial facilities of any kind. It means that the Bank of England and the joint stock banks should fall into line with the general foreign policy of the Government. It means that Mr. Montagu Norman should not give any further loans to the German Government or to the German Central Bank. In November, 1934, the Bank of England made a loan of £400,000 to the German Central Bank, nominally for a reduction of commercial debts in Great Britain. Actually what happened was that Germany was able to raise loans in other countries to finance rearmament. We believe that that should not have been done. We believe that the Bank of England should not pursue a different foreign policy from that of the Government. We believe that the financial institutions of the country should follow the directions of the Foreign Office. 'We believe that the Foreign Secretary shad in the last resort control the action of the Bank of England and the joint stock banks and see that nothing is done to strengthen the dictatorships in Italy or Germany. That is absolutely essential. We have been told by Members supporting the Government that collective security and rearmament are desirable, and what we on this side want to know is the exact connection between the two. We in the Labour party believe that this country should be sufficiently armed to make its contribution to a system of collective security, but we have not seen on the part of the Government any attempt to work out a really detailed system of collective security.
We do not believe that you can say exactly what armaments are necessary until you have worked out what should be our share in collective security. An attempt should be made to make collective security a reality and to find out what should be oar share. When that is done we on our part should be prepared to supply our share of the security.
Had the Government followed that policy during the last six months, it would have been possible today to have had a clearer idea of what our share in collective security should be, and then we could have been prepared to support our share of that security. Hon. Members opposite claimed that rearmament is necessary, but if any measure of re-armament is necessary we on this side of the House would like to be absolutely sure that there is to be no log-rolling in connection with it. The only way to make that absolutely certain would be to say that no Member of this House or of another place should own any shares in any armament firm. When contracts were given by any of the Services for the re-armament programme, all shares belonging to any Members of this House or to Members of another place should be transferred to the Government, and the price paid for them should be that which prevailed three months before the contract was given. If that were done, it would be impossible for Members of this House or of another place to profit in armaments, and the country would be prepared to say, "You are honest in your policy when you advocate re-armament," and a. great deal of the opposition would disappear. I do not mean to say in making that statement, that we should not oppose re-armament even in those circumstances, but steps of that kind should be taken if we are to see the re-armament programme carried out without log-rolling and undue profiteering.
I feel as much as anybody that the criticisms against the League have been entirely justified. We realise that it has failed to a very great extent, and yet I cannot help feeling that it is the one hope of the world. It is impossible not to reflect to a certain extent what would have been the result if Julius Caesar and the founders of the Roman Empire or the founders of the Great Empire of China, the two great forces in East and West, which for so long maintained the general peace, had been subjected to questioning in this House. We must realise that everything grows very slowly indeed. We cannot expect the Government for a moment to treat the League as if it were already a living force. It must, gradually and very slowly, work out its own salvation and give the world a new hope and nations a new point of view.
I cannot help feeling that the tragedy of Abyssinia, is really extraordinarily unfortunate, inasmuch as that nation has become a symbol to so many people, both in Africa and in Asia, of the Old Empires that existed in days gone by contemporary with Egypt of old. Hitherto European conquest of the world has to some extent been justified. We went into India at the time of great anarchy when the fall of the Mogul Empire made some other administrative force absolutely necessary. The French went into Algeria on account of the disgraceful piracy to which the Algerians had given themselves up for several centuries. But here in Abyssinia there is no such excuse. Abyssinia is an enlightened Empire, and the Emperor is a man who, seriously and really, is trying to bring new ideas and new civilisation to an ancient people. Therefore, it is impossible not to feel deep sympathy with the Abyssinians, and with considerable indignation, and, at the same time, a certain amount of sympathy, with Italy. After all, so very many of the pioneers in the great voyages of the Renaissance were themselves Italians, and yet because Italy politically did not exist she had no share whatever in acquiring realms beyond the sea. It is rather a striking fact that Italy was a nation in the 6th century in the days of Theodoric the Goth and not again till the time of Victor Emmanuel in the 19th century.
I welcomed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary, and nothing with more enthusiasm than his statement that we should have nothing to do with alliances. It is our duty, as far as we possibly can, to make the League of Nations a reality. We must try in every way we can. We must not expect it to be a rapid process. Yet it is the only ideal of universal peace that the world possesses. It is the only hope of a better international situation. But I feel the very strongest regret that so much has been said about one nation in Europe being particularly our enemy. Let us realise what tremendous provocation Germany has had. Hitler was born not in Berlin, nor in Austria, nor in Germany at all, but at Versailles. When we realise the way in which the German population, almost everywhere, but especially towards the East, spreads so far over the German frontiers, we must agree that Germany has a case.
But what I specially want to emphasise, as a former resident in the Far East, is the clear fact that we dare not make a binding alliance with those two countries who have recently established a pact which—it is no good denying it—is directed against no single nation so much as Germany. Supposing we were allied with France and Russia, and, God forbid, that war broke out, there would be a tremendous danger that Germany and Japan would get together. Already Europe is full of rumours that they have some sort of a, pact. If we joined such a pact as that of France and Russia, we should be a liability and not an asset. It would take the whole forces of our Empire, and any new re-armament we could get together, to defend our Pacific possessions.
I am sure that Members of the Labour party will feel the force of this when it is realised that the coasts of those parts of our Empire which have gone in for new experiments such as hon. Members on those benches want to try here, would not be safe. I do not accuse Japan of fortifying her mandated islands, but, at the same time, there can be no doubt that she would be able, if she were at war with this nation, to threaten the very coasts of Australia and New Zealand themselves. The British Empire would be a serious liability and no asset whatever to any anti-German alliance. I do not think that any military man would question that point of view, and to me it seems, in all solemnity, the most important fact in our foreign relations at the present time.
I shall conclude by giving a very hearty appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who opened this Debate. I feel particularly grateful to him because I believe that it was a speech made by him in the Bilston Town Hall which, more than anything else, sent me to this House. He said that our policy ought to be to close the Suez Canal against the fleet of Italy. Everywhere I naturally drew the attention of the electors to the fact that that would mean war, and I ask hon. Members on the other side, "Are they willing that these sanctions should lead us into war"? Let them answer that question clearly and definitely. If sanctions can be worked out in a way which, gradually, will bring Italy to reason, let us have them by all means, but if sanctions mean war, we should have nothing to do with them.
If there are supporters of the Government who are in very strong opposition to the policy of the Government, it is not because there has been any change, but because they have been encouraged by a certain amount of indecision in the policy of the Government
recently to come out, speak out and be more vocal than on ocher occasions. In particular the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) will find himself the most popular man in Italy to-morrow. His policy all along has been perfectly sincere and straightforward, but in violent opposition to the policy of His Majesty's Government. He said one thing, however, which struck me. It is no good having a policy, he said, in which you are
willing to wound Anil yet afraid to strike.
I entirely agree. I think that the better way of putting it in the present circumstances, is that it is no good having a policy in which you are willing to wound and yet afraid to hit back. That is the situation in which we find ourselves today. If we are to have sanctions at all, we have to be prepared to hit back if anyone should attack us because of it.
The Foreign Secretary made a very interesting and instructive speech to-day. He covered a deal of ground, and I was very glad to note that he said that the policy of the Government in support of the League was to be unchanged. I presume he means from the period of the General Election, and that we were continuing on those lines. There was one thing he did not say which I should have been glad to have heard him mention. I wish that he had been able to say that the policy of world leadership at Geneva, so admirably conducted by himself and other members of the Government at Geneva in the autumn, was to be continued. I was very much afraid from certain remarks in his speech that we were no longer to take an active and leading role, which is our due right, and in which he himself has served us admirably. I hope that others will say that I have misunderstood his attitude there, but I cannot help feeling, in common with other Members of the House, a certain disappointment in the speech which he made to-day. He was unable to make any very clear, definite statement or give any lead in regard to our attitude on sanctions. It may be that that will be resolved next week. It will be the testing time at Geneva on Monday, and all his friends and admirers—and there are none greater than hon. Members on these benches—will look forward with eager anticipation to the way in which he will conduct the affairs of this country.
I was very glad to find myself in complete agreement with what he said with regard to the reform of the League of Nations. I cannot help feeling that, while in the future certain changes, undoubtedly, will have to be introduced, what you want now is, the will to use the machinery which now exists. Given that will, you can perfectly well carry out all the tasks that fall upon the League. The reasons for to-day's Debate were alluded to very well in the last sentence of a leading article in the "Times" of 18th February:
The Supplementary Estimates may be regarded as part of the price Great Britain is paying, and paying ungrudgingly, to make I he collective system a reality.
I hope that it is going to be a reality. That is a point about which some of us are still feeling doubtful. The Government started well. By their initiative in the autumn they rallied the whole of the opinion in this country to their side, as was shown by the overwhelming majority at the General Election, and they secured the support of the peace-loving nations of the world. The criticism that I would make on the sending of the British Fleet and other forces at the beginning of the war to the Mediterranean is this: The Government have stressed the point that everything they do shall be collective. They are not prepared to act alone but they are prepared to do anything that other nations will join in doing. The movements of the British Fleet and other forces were taken, as I understand, entirely on our own initiative. They were not part of the collective system, and in that sense they were different from the declared policy of the Government. Why did not the Government go to the Council of the League and tell them that they proposed sending those forces there, and get their agreement to their going there on behalf of the collective system?
I imagine that they were. When they were asked by the Government at a later stage they said they were prepared. Even if they were not, it was clearly the duty of the Government to find out what they were prepared to dc in the first instance.
I cannot enter into an argument with my hon. and gallant Friend. I cannot help feeling that it was a very regrettable incident that the British Ambassador was sent on more than one occasion to see Mussolini in Rome and explain to him that the British Fleet was not there in connection with sanctions, or collective security, or the League, put purely because of Italian propaganda and the sending of Italian troops into Libya. Why was it necessary to go to the Italian dictator and apologise for the presence of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean? If it was necessary to say anything at all, I would rather that the Ambassador had said: "The British Fleet is there for action if necessary. Whatever your threats or talk may mean, it will be there to play its part in the collective system of the League of Nations." Then followed the lamentable episode of the Hoare-Laval negotiations. Since then progress has been disappointingly slow. The Foreign Secretary said that sanctions must be swift and effective, but it would be very difficult for us to see any sign of speed or effectiveness during the last two or three months. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of certain words that he used on 4th September at the League Council:
If in the judgment of world opinion the League fails in this dispute, its authority for the future will be grievously shaken and its influence seriously impaired. The collapse of the League and of the new conception of international order for which it stands would be a world calamity.
That was a very admirable statement. What is the position to-day? I will give one quotation which I am afraid is an indication of what other nations are thinking. It is a dispatch from the "Times" correspondent at Warsaw, on 9th February, referring to the visit of General Goering to that country:
The view taken by many here that the League is unable to deal effectively with Italy is likely to lead, in the opinion of competent observers here, to a further strengthening of Polish-German relations and to what would he more important—the support of Polish public opinion for a Polish pact of friendship with Germany. It is significant in this connection that the Press of the Right Opposition is already suggesting that the failure to apply oil sanctions means that the League is incapable of decisive action for settling all international conflicts,' and then proceeds to the conclusion
that if the nations of the League would look for security, they must seek protection elsewhere.'
It is a very serious situation if that is the view that is being taken by a country like Poland, which is now hovering between one system and another, prepared to go in with the League if it is a reality and, if not, prepared to go into the German sphere of influence.
It is vital that the League should triumph in the present contest, and triumph soon. I do not think that it will be any deterrent to Hitler if the League 12 months, or two or three years hence, is able to bring this conflict to an end. That will mean something very like the defeat of the League. Of what are the Government afraid? It is said that they are afraid of public opinion, and afraid of opinion in the House of Commons. If they have the courage to pursue a clear and consistent line, they will have the overwhelming majority of the House of Commons and the country behind them, but if they wobble again, that support will melt away and they will find themselves in no clear and stable position in regard to their League policy. I hope that they will continue pressure progressively, that they will use all the force necessary to obtain their objective and will adopt the police method of using the minimum force that is necessary but all the force that is necessary for attaining their object.
We have heard a great deal about oil sanctions to-day. I hope that next week the Foreign Secretary will urge, as he has urged before, that these sanctions should be applied whatever the reaction on America may be. I should have thought that it was inconceivable when a country has been found an aggressor by the League of Nations and designated an aggressor by the President of the United States that public opinion would tolerate a situation in which the whole of our peace work was being undone by oil profiteers in America. Even if that be so, let the world know it and see where the responsibility lies. I should like to read a resolution which was passed yesterday by the International Federation of League of Nations Societies at Geneva. The second resolution was as follows:
That the Committee of Eighteen be asked to vote immediately the oil embargo and, if necessary, further sanctions, such
as the closing of the ports of League Members to Italian ships, the prohibition of trade between League States and Italian Somaliland and Eritrea, and the closing of League ports to ships of neutral powers carrying goods to Italian Somaliland and Eritrea.
It may be said that that is dangerous. Surely, if directly a bully starts shouting at us we are going to run away, it will be much more dignified if we had never put ourselves in a position to be bullied. Now that arrangements have been made in the Mediterranean with other Powers there for collective action if we are attacked, there is no excuse whatever for not going boldly forward with this policy.
If we come to a state of affairs when the League looks like being defeated, when sanctions have no effect, there is only one way left. It would be effective to-morrow if it were applied, and that is by cutting communications between Italy and Africa and preventing Italian ships and munitions of war going steadily forward to carry out their diabolical work in Abyssinia. The issue is a simple one. We have to take all risks to make the aggressor bow the knee to the collective system. If we do not do that, we are not faced with a risk but with the certainty of heading straight for eternity. [Interruption.] That word was not misplaced, because it does happen that it means eternity for hundreds and thousands of our fellow-citizens throughout the world. I hope the Government will be encouraged to go forward and carry out the work which the electors at the General Election sent them here to do.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir ARNOLD WILSON:
I want to address myself to what the Foreign Secretary said at the commencement of the Debate rather than to the very bellicose speech to which we have just listened from the honourable and normally peaceful Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander). I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his references to rearmament. I have been much in Europe during the past two years and I am certain that whatever direction our foreign policy may take far stronger armaments are necessary for this country. As I listened to speeches by hon. Members opposite this evening I was reminded of a passage in the first part of Shakespeare's King Henry VI:
No treachery; but want of men and money.
Amongst the soldiers this is muttered,
That here you maintain several factions,
And whilst a field should be dispatch'd and fought,
You are disputing of your generals:
One would have ling'ring wars with little cost;
Another would fly swift, but wanteth wings;
A third man thinks, without expense at all,
By guileful fair words peace may be obtain'd.
Awake, awake, English nobility!
Let not sloth dim your honours, new-begot;
Cropp'd are the flower-de-luces in your arms;
Of England's coat one half is cut away.
We have to restore our coat to its relative pre-war size. The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) gave us a quotation from Emerson. Let me give him another quotation from the same source:
Englishmen and Americans cant more than any other nation.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said that those who are critical of the policy pursued in the last six months either believe that we should make drastic use of Article 16 or that Article 16 ought never to have been in the Covenant at all; and he said, to my regret, that His Majesty's Government have not under consideration any modification of the Covenant. I can understand any Government, particularly at this time, hesitating before contemplating any change of a Treaty arrived at at such cost and pains, but I submit that there are good reasons why Article 16 should never have been employed.
I do not wish to condone the action of Italy, and I should have been glad to have seen our Ambassador withdrawn and such moral pressure exerted as we can apply to any nation once it has been declared an aggressor by the League, whether we agree with that decision or not. Let me recall to hon. Members the circumstances in which the Covenant became part of our law. In the House, on 21st July, 1919, between four o'clock in the evening and four o'clock in the morning, two Bills were passed, one dealing with the Anglo-French (Defence of France) Treaty and the other with the Treaty of Peace (of Versailles) Bill. The first Bill specifically provided that failing ratification by America it would be null and void. The second Bill dealt with the Treaty of Versailles and the Covenant. Had any hon. Member asked the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was then Prime Minister, what would happen in the event of America refusing to ratify the Covenant, his answer would have been that the contingency was so remote that it need not be considered, but that if that contingency should arise our attitude in regard to Article 16 would of course have to be reconsidered.
Everyone recognises that sanctions to be effective must be applied completely and immediately, otherwise they are bound to be dangerous. There is no provision in Article 16 for piecemeal application. If sanctions are not applied in full they are bound to become progressively less effective, because new trade channels will be found to replace the old, as is now happening. We should never have applied Article 16. It is dead, as the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) recognised in 1925, when the Treaty of Locarno was under discussion, and it has been recognised as dead in speeches by Members of different Cabinets in successive Governments.
In 1925 he regarded it as moribund, and it has been regarded as obsolescent ever' since. Once America dropped out, the compulsory powers of the Covenant, to my mind, fell to the ground. We have heard much this evening about the importance of applying immediate compulsion: it is claimed that we are bound by our bond to apply Article 16. If I thought that we were bound by honour and our bond to apply Article 16 I should not be making this speech this evening. I carry my mind back to 4th August, 1914. I have looked up the speech which Sir Edward Grey made on that occasion, and I ask leave to read a short quotation which Sir Edward Grey made, and with which he expressed his full approval, from a speech which was made by Mr. Gladstone on 10th August, 1870:
I am not able to subscribe to the doctrine of those who have held in this House what plainly amounts to an assertion, that the simple fact of the existence of a guarantee is binding on every party to it, irrespectively altogether of the particular position in which it may find itself at the time when the occasion for acting on the guarantee arises. The great authorities upon foreign policy to whom I have been accustomed to listen. such as Lord Aberdeen and Lord Palmerston, never to my knowledge took that rigid and, if I may venture to say so, that impracticable view of the guarantee. The circumstance that there is already an existing guarantee in force is of necessity an important fact. and a weighty element in the case to which we are bound to give full and ample consideration. There is also this further consideration, the force of which we must all feel most deeply, and that is, the common interests against the unmeasured aggrandisement of any Power whatever."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1914; col. 1819; Vol. 65.]
If the hon. and gallant Member does not consider that we are bound under the Covenant, does he not consider we were hound from 5th November, when we declared Italy to be the aggressor? Are we not bound by the assurances we gave to Abyssinia? Does the hon. Member think that, having led Abyssinia into the war, we should now leave her in the lurch?
I deny altogther that we were compelled by our bond or our honour to apply sanctions in November, after the League of Nations made its declaration. There is nothing whatever in Article 16 which tells to take action unless everybody else does so. Sanctions have failed—they have failed in the case of Italy and they will fail elsewhere. Sanctions have done nothing to save the unfortunate Abyssinians. Had this House not rejected with contumely the statesmanlike proposals made by the former Foreign Secretary and M. Laval, some 5,000 to 10,000 Abyssinian lives would have been saved. For this loss of lives we have to thank those who, like the hon. Lady the Member for the English Universities (Miss Rathbone), were so anxious to punish the aggressor that they completely forgot to remember the interests of the unfortunate Abyssinians—non Amharic subjects of the Negus.
Far more is involved than mere legality and the mere quotation of one document against another. In the words of Disraeli in this House on 9th February, 1876:
The government of the world is not a mere alteration between abstract right and overwhelming force. The world is governed by conciliation, compromise, influence, varied interests, the recognition of the rights of others coupled with the assertion of one's own; and in addition, a general conviction resulting from explanation and good understanding, that it is to the interest of all parties that matters should be conducted in a satisfactory and peaceful manner.
What we must seek is peace, and in order to obtain peace this country, Italy, Abyssinia and other countries must retreat from the positions which they have taken up and which they cannot maintain with success. Italy and Germany are suffering from a sense of profound injustice, and mere restraint or threats of force in fact of a legitimate grievance are as vain in international as in internal affairs. In I his House we seek to remedy a grievance. Even if it be unreasonable, we try to recognise it and to deal with it, because it is as real a thing as any set of facts. We must recognise the reality of the grievances of the
under-privileged nations and deal with them no less willingly than we recognise and deal with the grievances of underprivileged people in this country and elsewhere.
It is a loathsome business to sit here and argue while a war is going on—a war which might have been avoided had the world at large been more reasonable. But we are threatened with a far greater catastrophe unless we realise that words and more words will not suffice and that we must get round the table, meet Germany, Italy, and in the case of Abyssinia recognise that the interests of the Abyssinian people are by no means identical with those of the Government of the Negus or with the views put forward on its behalf. All that I have heard directly from men who have spent many months in some cases, and many years in other cases, in Abyssinia, is to the effect that the interests of the people of Abyssinia will not be met by a mere restoration of the status quo.
There have been horrible doings in Abyssinia. The Government of Abyssinia is bound to disintegrate. A restoration of the status quo in Abyssinia will entail fresh miseries for the unfortunate tribesmen unless the League of Nations is prepared to take that country in hand and to apply sanctions against the Government of Abyssinia no less firmly, should it prove recalcitrant, than we are prepared to apply them against Italy. The Government of Abyssinia is not a civilised Government. It is useless for us to imagine that they are philanthropists, and that all the wrong is on the side of Italy. I have no reason to doubt the truth of what has been told me over and over again, that the Abyssinians in the areas which Italian troops have occupied regard the Italians as liberators. [Laughter.] I am quite accustomed to laughter, but what I have said I have had on the first-hand authority of English men and women, and I have no reason whatever to doubt the truth of it. The one thing which the non-Amharic races do not want to see back is the Abyssinian Government. They have suffered terribly during the last 50 years, since they were conquered by the ruling race. They do not want to see the Abyssinian Government return; that has to be recognised as a factor in the situation.
I am not standing up for Italy. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I should be glad to have seen our Ambassador withdrawn and our moral disapproval energetically expressed; but to apply ineffective sanctions, to risk the peace of Europe for the sake of a Colonial war and now to pretend that Abyssinia will require other Government than it has had for the last 50 years, is to blind ourselves to the realities of a situation which is already sufficiently distressing, and which might have been ended had not this House rejected the statesmanlike proposals of the former Foreign Secretary and M. Laval.
I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). In the course of speaking in the country I have often explained to my audiences the nature of an anarchist. I have pointed out that they are quite wrong in thinking that an anarchist is a man wearing a red tie and having a bomb in his pocket, but that generally he is wearing a black coat and is to be found sitting on the Benches of the Conservative party in this House. The hon. and gallant Member for Hitchin is an admirable example of an anarchist. He does not believe in any rule of law, but thinks that the strong should take what they can. He expresses sympathy with certain grievances, and when he finds there is a grievance he says, "Well, the people who have a grievance should take action." I wonder that he does not apply that principle at home. I wonder if he found a sweating employer, would he encourage the workers concerned to take action?
Then I can only say that he appears to have been remarkably supine all his life in that respect. I do not intend, however, to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman because, after all, the majority in this House are, at least, supposed not to be anarchists but to believe in the rule of law in international and home affairs. Nor shall I follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). His is a perfectly consistent position. He does not believe in the rule of law in international affairs, and he resents the fact that this country should find itself on the side of law and order and acting with the police force. His remedy for that state of things, however, is very simple. He would merely turn the police force into a gang by inviting all the gangsters into it and, by the simple process of changing its aims and objects, everybody would be made happy ever after.
One recognises that that kind of view is taken by certain supporters of the Government in this House, but I think few of them carry it out so completely as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook. As I say, I do not intend to follow it, and indeed I do not think it worth replying to, because we have had centuries of that kind of doctrine and we know where it leads. It leads to war and slaughter. The views put forward by the right hon. Gentleman are precisely the kind of views which were put forward by the Central Powers in 1914. The right hon. Gentleman's outlook is very little different from that of the rulers of Germany in 1914 or the rulers of Germany to-day.
I would rather turn to the speech of the Foreign Secretary with which, I am bound to say, I was profoundly disappointed. There was only one definite statement throughout that speech, and it was the definite statement that the Government had not yet made up their mind on the oil sanction. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary, when he replies, would give us a little more light on what is moving in the mind of the Government. What is delaying the making up of their mind on the oil sanction? It is four months since it was agreed to in principle. What are the difficulties? We are told that the difficulties which have arisen are because of the fact that we are working with an imperfect instrument in the League of Nations. The League of Nations is au imperfect instrument but it can be worked if people have the mind to work it. I was surprised that we had not something from the Foreign Secretary in the way of excuse for the long delay because I thought that one thing was common to everybody who considered this question, namely, that we all want to bring this war to an end as soon as possible. People are being killed in Abyssinia, and a condition of war like the present is dangerous, and becomes more dangerous to the peace of the world the longer it continues.
I thought also that the right hon. Gentleman would have told us something about the reason for the extra expenditure which we are to discuss later this evening. One suggested reason for the delay is that we were afraid of action by Italy. I am very much puzzled about that suggestion because, when this matter of sanctions was first discussed, the then Foreign Secretary the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) rejected the idea that there was any serious danger of an attack on this country. Speaking on 22nd October he scouted the idea that there could be any danger of an attack. He said it would be the act of a madman. On 17th December our Fleet was moved. The Prime Minister was not afraid then, because he told us that the Fleet was being moved to the Mediterranean in pursuance of the ordinary autumn manoeuvres. We may take it therefore that any expenditure in the White Paper arose after 17th December. But before then the Foreign Secretary had become scared. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea made a speech in this House and we Lad later the speech of the Prime Minister threatening terrible revelations, and a great many people thought that all this was because, if the oil sanctions were enforced, there was danger of action by Italy. I hope we shall get a clear story about the moving of the Fleet, as to what these threats amounted to, and as to what was the real collective action taken by the League. We have been told that it was true collective action, but a true collective system does not mean relying in case of attack by an aggressor upon one or two Powers. It involves the whole League. If this danger was threatened, then it was a matter which concerned the whole League. As I said, I am surprised that we had not a word about that from the Foreign Secretary.
Then there is the question of the delay. There was much delay as a result of the abortive Hoare-Laval negotiations. Now we come to within a few days of the Foreign 'Secretary's departure for Geneva to take part in the discussion of this vital question of the imposition of the oil sanction, and he has not yet got his instructions. It would be interesting to know whether this Government ever give their Foreign Minister any instructions. The last time I spoke on foreign affairs, I asked the Foreign Minister whether instructions had been given to the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor when he went to Paris, and I got no reply. Now, apparently, the Foreign Secretary of today has to wait until the last moment before he gets any instructions on the oil sanction because the Government have not made up their minds on this question. I suggest that that is playing with the House and with the country on this question.
The discussions on this subject, here and in another place, have been noteworthy because of the consensus of opinion among people of the most varied points of view that, the real trouble about this Government is not that its policy has been this or that, but that it has never followed any consistent policy at all. We got no consistent policy from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. He asked what was the object of sanctions, what was the end at which we were aiming, and said the end was the settlement of the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. We want that, but the vital end to be aimed at is the establishment of collective security. The right hon. Gentleman talked a lot about the need for this in a troubled world, but he left out the real issue, because while protesting how vitally important it was to have collective security, he did not say how it was going to be operated in connection with the Italo-Abyssinian question. The whole question is whether the aggressor can be prevented from profiting by his aggression. That is what the whole world is watching. That is what the other States in the League are watching.
Then the right hon. Gentleman suggests to us that perhaps they will manage to settle the matter by the recommendations of the Committee of Five. The recommendations of that committee were made before Italy went to war with Abyssinia. They involved very large concessions on the part of Abyssinia,— almost the abrogation of sovereignty over a very large field. After Italy had made war on Abyssinia, after she had been dedazed the aggressor, and after the imposition of sanctions, it is suggested that she might get these terms. There is no word about Abyssinia or about the unprovoked attack on Abyssinia. Suppose that that does happen. What is the effect of it going to be on the other States in the League? I must almost apologise for mentioning the fact that there are a number of States besides the two or three big ones in the League and the two or three big ones outside. All these little States are treated as if they were of no importance. They are vitally important. If we are considering a question of law and order and of the protection of the people of this country, we are not considering so much the great ones of the land, who can usually look after themselves; it is the great mass of small people, the poor people and the quiet people who have to be looked after by law and order.
What does the kind of settlement suggested mean in terms of Europe? It means that the aggressor has only to rattle his sabre sufficiently loudly to get all he wants with the sanction of the League. It will mean, I suppose, a retrocession to Germany of Eupen and Malmedy with the blessing of the League, the return of Slovakia to Hungary with the blessing of the League, or of German Bohemia or Memel to Germany. I suppose in the end we shall not be obliged to have a war and that the threat of war will be enough. That is the vital question that faces us and the League. This matter of Italy and Abyssinia is of importance in itself, but everyone recognises that behind that question looms a much larger subject. The whole question, not merely with regard to aggression in Africa, but with regard to aggression in Asia or Europe, or anywhere in the world, is whether the aggressor is to get away with it. If we are going to return to this idea of buying off the aggressor by concessions at the expense of the victim—and that is what the Foreign Secretary indicated to-night—we are merely getting back to the Hoare-Laval agreement on slightly different terms.
I have them here. There is to be control in drawing up the budget, the collection of taxes, the establishment of tariffs, justice, education, public health, foreign trade, public works, post and telegraphs, the maintenance of order in frontier territories, and so forth. All that is to be carried out by the League. There is also to be a, contribution for territorial adjustments of one kind and another. This whole business is undertaken with the idea that Abyssinia is to be controlled and Italy is to have a, full share in it. It does not amount to much more than going back to the old treaties and the dividing up between imperialist powers. We are really returning to the old idea of buying off the aggressor.
It is really useless for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the postponement of oil sanctions has been due to the need for inquiry or to the question of the United States of America coming in. The real cause of the delay in oil sanctions is well known. It was the reluctance of two leading States in the League to impose oil sanctions because they had been following a policy of alliances at Stresa. The Government were not whole-heartedly for the League. They were always playing with the League. Everything goes to show that the United States Government and the United States people were ready. at a time when the League had reached the height of its reputation and had begun to deal with this subject, to collaborate with Europe. It may be much more difficult now, but I think it is possible. American public opinion sustained a serious shock at the Laval-Hoare agreement. There is no doubt that those who wished America to take her fair share in the League were shocked by that agreement, but even so, is it any reason why the rest of the League should not put on oil sanctions? I can never see why, if one people will not obey the law, all the rest of the people should not. We are, as a, matter of fact, bound by the Covenant; it may be said that it is a mistake to be in it and that we ought to get out of it, but at the present moment we are bound by it. It seems to me that through all this matter there has been a lack of a lead by our Government. I am not suggesting that our Government should do anything single-handed. We do not want them to do that. It is no good, however, suggesting that they should sit by and wait for a lead by other States. This country has its obligations because of its position, and we know that when this country does take a lead other States of the League follow.
I do not want to deal at any length with the question of the purloined document, but I am rather surprised at the suggestion that at such an early stage in the dispute Italy asked us what our interests were in Abyssinia and that we thereupon set up a committee to examine the question. I should have thought the answer would have been, "In this matter we are solely concerned with the position of the League; we have, therefore, no imperial interests concerning us at all." The fact that the question was asked seems to me to suggest at once that the Government from that time on might have seen that there was no question of the Wal-Wal dispute; but that it was a matter in which Italy quite clearly was seeking to carve out an empire in Abyssinia; and the question was asked to find out whether we should object or not. Our complaint against the Government is not that they should have imposed sanctions in January—they could not have done it then—but that they should have made a perfectly plain statement of where this country stood. It is here that I agree with some of those who take a totally different view on this subject from mine, namely, that it is imperative that whatever this country does it should make its position clear. It was one of the mistakes before the Great War that the position of this country was not absolutely clear.
The Foreign Secretary told us that the international situation is like that of 1914. That is a very grave statement. He went on to say that democracy was on its trial. I think it is capitalism and Imperialism that are on trial. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to lay down certain conditions. He said we wanted truly collective action. I agree with truly collective action, but truly collective action does not mean subordinating everything to acting with one State. Truly collective action means acting throughout with the League, and that is what the Government have not consistently done. From time to time they have taken action on their own. We on this side stand for collective action. The other condition, he said, was that we should be strong. I agree that we want this country strong, but what does the right hon. Gentleman mean by strength? He used that argument to push the Government's arms policy.
The chief element of strength in the League is unity. The League would be strong if it were properly united. This country will be strong if it is united, but we are not going to get a united country on any policy that is constantly shilly-shallying between a League policy and an Imperialist policy. We have to-day the League very prominent in his speech, but not prominent in action. The right hon. Gentleman appealed for confidence. A great many people in this country had confidence in the right hon. Gentleman. I am afraid their confidence in him will be a great deal less after his speech this afternoon. I seem to see the old Adam in Eden. Have we got to set adrift yet another Foreign Secretary before we can get a policy that really carries out the will of the people of this country, or is it the case that whoever we get as Foreign Secretary we cannot get a straight policy from this Government?
I would warn the Government. They say that we are living in very dangerous limes, and that is true. They want, no doubt, to get a united country in dealing with foreign affairs, but they must realise that they will not get a united country with a policy of blowing hot and cold on League affairs. Here is a clear test, the question of sanctions. We on this side believe that this war need never have arisen if the Government had stood firmly by the League from the start. We believe that this war would have been ended long ago if the Government had put on sanctions from the start—I do not say "the Government," but if they had moved the League to put on sanctions. I am well aware that there were difficulties with another prominent member of the League. I believe those difficulties are less to-day than they were, but I am sure that if our Government had taken a firm line the other countries of the League would have fallen in. I believe there would have been support from the United States of America, and I believe it might immeasurably have strengthened the whole collective security system.
The real failure of statesmanship on the part of this Government is that they did not realise that what was required to-day in a dangerous world was a strong League, a League so strong that an aggressor would not attack it; that they had this opportunity in the difficulties which arose between Italy and Abyssinia, but after knitting the League together they frittered away that chance because they blew hot and cold in matters of League policy. Now they come to us again with the one policy which seems to emerge from the last Election, and that is re-armament. We are told we must have more arms. That case has got to be made. It has not yet been made. But whatever arms are required they must be such as are needed only for the League policy, and the first condition for any assent to more arms is that the Government shall be following a League policy, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman has not convinced me that the Government have even yet learned their lesson. I thought they might have learned the lesson of what this country really feels, but I do not think they have. I say most emphatically, speaking on behalf of this party, that we shall be no party to piling up armaments and following a policy either of Imperialism or of alliances, but only collective security through the League.
It is said that all debates on foreign politics in this House are important, but I think that the Debate which is coming to an end has had rather a special importance. It has been important, partly, from the moment at which it is held, and it has been important, too, for what has been said in it, for I suppose there has never been a time when it was more important that every view and every aspect of opinion in the nation should be ventilated in this House. In one way, at any rate, to the Government, it has been a satisfactory day. There has appeared, on the whole, no cleavage as to the main lines of British foreign policy. I suppose I ought to make an exception for my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). He appeared still to fancy isolation, but I am afraid I thought, and I suspect the House thought, that he was in himself a lamentable example of the depressing effects of isolation. I think he made the gloomiest speech we have any of us ever heard, and I strongly suggest to him, if he is here, that he should move straight into the camp of collective security, which would cheer him up. In addition there was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson). He said that Article 16 was dead. He said it was dead in 1925 and therefore is still dead. It reminded me a little of a remark I once heard by a delegate, not a British delegate, at Geneva. He said: "This was true 25 years ago, it must be true now." Of course, that it not so; and if Article 16 was dead in 1925 it certainly is not dead now. It has never been more alive, and it is getting more alive every day that we live. Save for these two unfortunate exceptions, if there have been any differences of opinion they have been rather as to the way the main policy should be carried out than over the policy itself.
In his speech earlier in the Debate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary covered, I think, the main field of foreign affairs. He spoke, first of all, of the very melancholy dispute between Italy and Abyssinia, and said that His Majesty's Government desired above all things a settlement of it and, if possible, a settlement by conciliation, because after all, conciliation is the main task of the League of Nations. I am certain that there is nobody in any quarter of the House who would not agree with that sentiment. Then he emphasised the role which we as a nation play in it. He said, what we all know, that we have no national or Imperial interest in it, and this is confirmed by the Maffey Report, which for reasons best known to themselves the Italian Press have seen fit to publish. The publication of any confidential document is always a matter of concern to the Government affected, and my right hon. Friend has said that he is taking all appropriate measures to deal with the matter, but so far as the document itself is concerned we need have no regrets. The world now knows, if it did not know it before, that what Great Britain has said in public is what she thinks in private. For this unsolicited, and one may say probably unintentional, testimonial we owe the Italian Press our most heartfelt thanks.
The criticisms, such as they were, of the policy of the Government with regard to the Italo-Abyssinian dispute, were of two kinds. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) said that sanctions, so far as he knew, were not being effective, but my right hon. Friend, in his speech, had already disputed that assertion. Apparently my right hon. Friend has not succeeded in persuading the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, and I can only again repeat what my right hon. Friend said, which was that economic sanctions are inevitably not immediate in their effect but are bound to be progressive. All I can cell the right hon. Gentleman is that all reports which we have from Italy show that sanctions are becoming increasingly effective, and that many of her exports are greatly affected. Any reduction in Italian exports must reduce the buying power of the Italian nation. That affects not only materials of war but oil and other material as well. As the House already knows, the Italian Government have found it convenient to cease to publish the report of their gold reserve. That is a somewhat symptomatic thing. Nobody would cease to do it unless they thought that it would not do their people much good to see it. They have even gone to the extent of collecting wedding rings. That is a sad position for a great nation.
Another criticism of the policy of the Government was mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook. He, and those who think like him, take the view that our support of the Covenant in this dispute has cost this country too dear. The argument is that sanctions have been put on which have cost money to this country, that every year there will be a new dispute, every year sanctions will be put on and that no nation, however rich and prosperous, can stand that. If any of us believed that sanctions would always need to be put on every year, we should be despondent about the future. The essential task of the League of Nations on this occasion, which makes this occasion so important, is to establish, not that sanctions must always be applied, but that they can and will be applied if necessary.
I would emphasise that sanctions are not intended, in their essence, to be a punishment to the aggressor. They are intended as a deterrent. It is no good having a deterrent unless you use it at least once successfully. It would be useless to tell a boy that you would beat him if he broke the rules of the school, and to go on telling him but never beating him. But if you beat him once, not only he, but all his little friends would think twice before they broke the rules of the school again. It is exactly the same with this question. It is essential that any sanctions applied by the League should be effective, either actively, or effective from a psychological point of view. I agree with hon. Members that the psychological and moral view is very important. If the sanctions were not effective in any way, either actually or psychologically, they would do more harm than good, because they would give the impression to the aggressor that the League had shot its bolt. That is an aspect of all new sanctions which the Committee of Eighteen will have to bear in mind, and the Government will have to bear in mind, and it applies also to the oil sanction. As my right hon. Friend said, that is a practical sanction and, as with any other sanction, the aim is to see whether morally, and in a concrete manner, that sanction is to be effective.
In regard to one matter the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) misled the House a little, but I am sure quite unintentionally. He and many other people, both in this House and in the country, have given an impression that the Oil Report said that the oil embargo, even without the assistance of the United States of America, would make the import of oil more difficult and expensive. That is not what the report said. What the report said is:
If such an embargo were applied by tile States Members of the Co-ordination Committee alone, the only effect which it could have on Italy would be to render the purchase of petroleum more difficult and expensive.
That is the only effect it could possibly have, and it is not certain that it would have that effect at all. [Interruption.] I have the impression from the expression on the face of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley that he regards that as rather a quibble. Suppose I said that the change in the world situation could have the effect of opening the eyes of the Labour party to the necessity for modern armaments or increased armaments. That would be quite different from saying that it would have that effect. It could have that effect, but I very much doubt whether it will.
I have given the authoritative reading of that passage, but it does not prove either one side or the other. It might possibly have the effect, and it might possibly not. I do not quote it because I want the House to think that it will be the governing factor in making the League not put on oil sanctions. I am only quoting it as showing that it is among the many factors, and to show also how very difficult and complex this question is. As the Foreign Secretary has already said, the decision on this question will be reached as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) complained that no decision has yet been reached. I would point out that this very important report has been in the hands of the Government for only five days, and that neither we nor any other Government can get an opinion in so short a time.
Certain other points which have been made in the course of the Debate I propose to deal with briefly. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) asked why Article 16 had not been applied as it was meant to be applied. It has been applied as the League meant it to be applied. The hon. Member will remember that Article 16 has been interpreted by what is known as the Resolution of 1921, which says that all economic measures should be progressive. It is on that Resolution that the League has been working, and intends to continue working.
I take it that the Noble Lord does not mean to suggest to the House that the Resolution of 1921, to which he has just referred, to the effect that economic sanctions are to be applied progressively, necessarily means that six months after the war has started we should be in the position we are in to-day?
The right hon. Member for Limehouse spoke of the Fleet. He said that they had never been given any explanation of why we sent the Fleet to the Mediterranean. That action arose directly out of support of the League. What happened in August? There arose in Italy a most violent Press campaign against this country, which itself arose directly from our support of the League in this dispute. As a result of this campaign and threats to Malta, His Majesty's Government had to take action, and it is quite obvious that we had to take steps to protect the lives and properties of these people for whom we were inevitably responsible in those places. The action that was taken was merely defensive; it was not offensive in any sense whatever. There is nothing in the Covenant to prevent a nation sending a force for such a purpose in the way that we did. There was a further point raised by the right hon. Member for Lime-house. He took exception because my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, in talking about conciliation, said that he thought that the report of the Committee of Five was a fair basis for negotiation between the two countries. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not approve of the report of the Committee of Five and that he did not approve of it in September last? Did he not then think that it was a fair basis of settlement?
The noble Lord will remember that those terms were put forward as a possible basis of settlement before aggression. They are now proposed to be given as a reward for aggression.
There was no question of territorial adjustments in his favour. The Ethiopian did not think it himself. What the Ethiopian Government said was, "The Ethiopian Government observes with satisfaction that this proposal is being made to it, not on behalf of the League, which has no status to propose a territorial change, but solely by France and the United Kingdom, with the single object of contributing to the peaceful settlement of the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. The Ethiopian Government repeats its declaration that it is prepared to negotiate a territorial adjustment on the basis of an exchange on terms advantageous to all parties concerned." On that basis they accepted the report of the Committee of Five, so that the right hon. Gentleman, if I may say so, is blacker than the Ethiopian.
The Ethiopian Government at that time was threatened with war by Italy. She was willing to accept certain terms then. After her country is devastated and her people killed is she to have exactly the same terms?
I do not believe that that was at all the intention of the League of Nations. The terms were to be the basis of a just and fair settlement. It was never the intention of the League necessarily to punish the aggressor. The object of the League is to restrain the aggressor from her aggressions—if it succeeds in doing that by an exchange of territory to the advantage of both sides all will be satisfied. The reform of the League has been mentioned. The Covenant, it is suggested, is ineffective and must be strengthened. I understood my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) to say that he took the Foreign Secretary to say that he was not in favour of any reform of the Covenant now or ever. That is not what he said. What he said was that he was not in favour of it now. Personally I think that is at is the opinion of most people in the House. I do not agree that the Covenant is an ineffective instrument; I think that it is a most admirable document for the purpose for which it was framed. If it does not do all that it was meant to do that is because all the nations are no; members of the League, so that the League must to a certain extent be limited; but that is no reason for not supportirg it. What is the alternative? Neither in this Debate nor anywhere else has anybody put up a satisfactory alternative.
There are those who, even now, still hanker after isolation. But until somebody can find a method of detaching this island from its foundations and towing it away to a less vulnerable position it seems to me that the policy of isolation is the policy of an ostrich. But, even if that could be done, we would not get away from one great. factor of international affairs, the inter-dependability of nations. Neither is it true that a policy of alliances or a policy of the balance of power would save us. Already that has brought us to the greatest catastrophe in the history of the world. Lastly—and this is the supreme reason for not making any attempt to mitigate our obligations under Covenant, as I understand the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook would have us do—we are under the most solemn obligation to support the Covenant and what it stands for. We are pledged to support collective security, and that is the basis of peace in the world to-day. The fact that Great Britain's word is her bond is the main basis on which peace and security in Europe rests. One has only to go to Geneva to see this.
No one would deny that the outlook is sombre. Peace for its own sake, as we thought after the War might be the case for a generation, has given place to a feeling of restlessness and insecurity. We alone here in England stand like a rock among shifting sands, and it should be our prime purpose to make that rock as strong and as stable as we can. To my mind that is the supreme, and some people might say the only, justification for a reconsideration of our armaments, which the House will so soon discuss. This is no time to talk of rearmament—there will be a discussion on that subject before long—but perhaps I might be allowed to say one word, not from the angle of national defence, but from the angle of the League and of foreign policy. One is sometimes a little bewildered by the action of a certain section of public opinion on this question. They like the policy of collective security. Indeed, they very often consider that the Government do not go far enough. I understood the hon. Member for Kingswinford to say he thought the Government were afraid for some reason to take risks. He thought we should have gone further. Yet they seem unwilling to make the contribution which alone can make that policy effective.
Very often during the last few years, since I have been in the House, I have heard debates here on questions of domestic policy, and the principle has been enunciated, not only by hon. Members opposite but by hon. Members on this side of the House too, that the rich should pay more towards the services of the community than the poor. In fact, as we all know, they do pay on a different scale, and I think that is quite right, and that we all think it is quite right. For one thing, they can better afford to pay, and, secondly, they have what may be called a larger stake in the country and even more interest in its stability than other people. I would put this point before the House: In this question of collective security, we in England are all, hon. Members opposite just as much as hon. Members on this side, in the position of the rich. This country is economically and financially far stronger than any other member of the League, and it has far more widespread interests; and we must make a proportionate contribution to collective security if the system is to be worked at all.
Hon. Members opposite, or some of them, may say that they do not feel so rich. The rich never feel so rich as other people think them, and actually the rich do have certain special interests. I do not mean merely their expenditure upon whatever it may be—Rolls Royces or champagne—I mean special interests in maintaining their estates, their private charity, and so on, but very often those interests have to be subordinated to the interests of the community as a whole, and I think that is natural and right. It is exactly the same with nations. If we want this system of collective security to work at all, we must make an adequate contribution; otherwise, warn hon. Members opposite that the system will collapse, and we and everybody else will be buried in the ruins. I believe most fundamentally, and I hope that everybody in the House believes, that if we now support the League with all our might and strength, we shall emerge triumphant from the present dangers, and not only that, but that there is a very fair chance that those dangers will never come to a head at all. But if we do not support the League, if we try to honour our obligations on the cheap, there is nothing ahead of us but catastrophe and disaster.
I have listened to this Debate and to a considerable number of speeches, both from the Government and their supporters and from the Opposition, and I declare that I am left thoroughly bewildered as to what the real aim of the discussion was to-day. We started off by the Press in the. country informing us that there was going to be an attack from the Opposition benches on the Government, and that the Government would reply and would state their attitude on the question of oil sanctions. I must confess that I listened to the speech of the Foreign Secretary and that I thought a nine-year-old schoolboy could have made a better speech. We are told that in journalism there is what is called paste and scissor journalism. I think the right hon. Gentleman is a typewriter and foolscap politician. He came down to this House with a series of Government statements, which he read to the House, all concealed in language such as we might expect from the Lord President of the Council, and I think he attempted to prevent this House and the country getting to know what the mind of the Government was in connection with oil sanctions. As the representative in this House of a, working-class division, I really want to know now what the Government's attitude is to the question of oil sanctions.
They started off on a high moral and lofty tone at Geneva, with the declaration of the late Foreign Secretary that we were going to stand by Abyssinia and see that she did not suffer as a result of the attacks of the hordes of Mussolini, but they have gradually retreated from that position until to-day there is suspicion in this country, and questions are being asked in every part of the land as to where the Government stand in connection both with the League of Nations and the Italo-Abyssinian dispute. The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) said during the Debate that we had led Abyssinia into the war, making her believe that she would have the assistance of this country and the League of Nations. I saw a declaration by the Emperor during the early moments of the war to the effect that he had faith in the British Empire and in God, or in God and the British Empire. Well, at least one of these has failed him in connection with this military expedition, and while I disagree entirely with placing armed forces of any kind either at the disposal of the League or in combat with the workers of Italy, I could have admired a policy at least of decision from the Government's point of view, if, after having led the Emperor and the Abyssinian people into the war, they had placed a force at their disposal, but they did not do that.
I think I am a most unpractical man in a very practical House. Hon. Members here are all full of practical suggestions as to how this war should be brought to a termination successful to Abyssinia, and others are concerned in case Mussolini should be let down. In a capitalist war, I am not concerned as to the practical suggestions how to take Mussolini or the Imperialists of this country out of the difficulties in which they find themselves. I have always believed that the League of Nations was just what it is to-day. I say to the Labour Opposition when they demand the application of oil sanctions, or, rather, I should not say the Labour Opposition, but a few Members of the Labour party, because it is noticeable that to-day the voice of Labour in Sco:land has not been heard in this Debate. There is no member of the Labour party in Scotland who. dared to go out in the General Election and stand for a policy of the application. of sanctions. That voice is silent.
The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) and the right hon. Gentleman who concluded the speeches for the Opposition speak for leaders outside this House, but for the rank and file of the Labour party they do not speak at all. The real leaders of the Labour party are those who have been put on to the back benches because they dared to declare a policy of working-class action towards this war, and they have been pushed into the background, while the militaristic section of the Labour party assert themselves. They declare for oil sanctions. I believe that oil sanctions mean war, but they declare that oil sanctions mean peace. Let us take both points of view. At. least they will admit that the application of oil sanctions is a gamble as to whether it will extend the war or lead to peace. If it is a gamble, and the gamble results in this country being forced into war, where do the leaders of the Labour party stand in relation to that? If war takes place, will they don a uniform or take up a rifle, or will their conscientious objections be uppermost when war comes?
I have never been a conscientious objector. I am not a pacifist. I believe that a time could come in working-class history when even the use of force might be required to assert the needs of the working class. But I would never attempt to gamble with the lives of other people, and I would never declare for a policy that I did rot intend to pursue with my own physical power. Therefore I ask, where does the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) stand? Where does the right Lon. Gentleman the Member for West; Stirlingshire (Mr. Johnston) stand? Where does the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) stand? Where is the voice of those Members in the Labour party? Is it stifled? Are they afraid to assert in this House the principles which they have asserted in the country, and which they refused to put before the electors at election time? I say that the policy from that bench is not a working-class policy, it is not a policy endorsed and embraced by the rank and file of the Labour party —the trade unions and the co-operative movement—but is a policy foisted upon them by the elderly statesmen of the Trades Union Congress, who know that they are safe in their own positions and that their own hides are out of the risks of actual warfare.
We are told that it will restrain Mussolini; but might it not, if Mussolini embarked upon or was embroiled in a war with Great Britain, give Hitler the opportunity he seeks to enlarge his boundaries, to acquire new territory Might it not give Japan greater opportunities than she possessed previously Might it not give the armed forces in every country the opportunity to cross their frontiers and deluge the world with blood We regret the Italo-Abyssinian dispute; we regret the fact that war is taking place; but we say that the policy of statesmanship and working-class leadership in this country is not to seek to extend and enlarge that war, but to bring it to the earliest possible close, with the smallest shedding of blood that is possible.
One hon. Member said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) had declared for an isolationist policy. I have nothing in common with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook in his policy in politics as far as the capitalist system is concerned, but I say that I would rather have his policy of isolation than the policy of pretence that has been put forward in connection with the League of Nations throughout the world. I am a Socialist. I am opposed to the Government Front Bench, Liberal, so-called Labour, and Conservative. I would not trust them in any working-class dispute or working-class activity as being other than prejudiced against the workers of the country. When I am talked to with regard to the League of Nations and collective security, there is the League of Nations on that bench. They come from every country in the capitalist world and they congregate round a table at Geneva; and I am expected by so-called Labour leaders to trust these men, whom, in national politics, I would never dream of trusting. I say that the League of Nations has been a sham and a delusion. It has led Abyssinia into the shambles. Instead of Abyssinia being told at the outset to make the best terms she could with Mussolini because we did not intend to support her—that if she went to war she would require to fight that war out, to depend on the ability of her chiefs and of her rank and file, because Britain and the League could do nothing for her, she has been led into this, and thousands upon thousands of Abyssinians are being slaughtered, and Italian workers are also being slaughtered. I place the onus of a large amount of this war on the Government Front Bench, who went out with their high moral declarations that they would apply sanctions in the most ruthless way.
Of those who tell us that there is no prospect of war if oil sanctions are applied, I would ask this question: Where do they get the idea that Mussolini is just going to say to the British nation, "Yes, we were all wrong; after this costly warfare in life, in munitions, in finance, we will withdraw our troops and go back to Italy, a defeated horde, and admit to the Italian people that we were wrong?" If I were in Mussolini's position I should feel compelled by the force of the circumstances around me to make a last bid to save my face, even at the expense of going to war with Britain. Sanctions were applied to Germany for over four years, and the Central Powers were not brought to their knees in that time, with a world against them more completely than Mussolini will ever have it against them.
One Member who spoke from the Opposition benches said that we should appeal to the best elements in America—that we should appeal to those who do not put a few dollars for oil first, but who put high principles first. I have never known the people on that bench to go into a labour dispute and say, for instance, to the coalowners, "We appeal to your high principles, we appeal to you not to think of a few pounds for coal, but to think of the suffering men in the
mines." I say that American capitalism, with its gangsterism, its Tammany Hall, is just as susceptible to the desire for dollars as this country and its capitalist system is to filthy lucre in the shape of pounds or sovereigns. I cannot accept that idea at all. Here is a cutting from a Glasgow paper. I would like to know whether there is any truth in the following statement, which was made in the "Glasgow Evening Times" of Saturday. It is headed:
British Fleet Threatened.
United States Congressman's Revelation.
Explosive Planes from Rome.
The speaker was Mr. M'Swain, Chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives. He said:
'The British Navy made a gesture that it was going to stop Italian transports going through the Suez Canal,' Mr. M'Swain declared. But when the Italian Government announced that 125 pilots had pledged themselves to fly high explosive planes into the ships, the Mediterranean Fleet scattered to the remote regions of that sea?
Whether that statement is true or is an invention, I can quite conceive circumstances of that kind arising. I myself, if I were an Italian capitalist patriot and believed in the war that Mussolini is conducting, believe I should be prepared to take action of that kind against the enemies of my country as represented by Britain. Therefore it is not inconceivable that men are prepared to do and die in the most desperate fashion, as we saw them in the late War on behalf of this country. I myself was opposed to the War.
I will have no part or lot in the application of any sanctions against Italy which will lead to war, because we examine it from this point of view. We are not going to war, because we do not believe in capitalist war and, not going ourselves, we are not prepared, in the House or in the country, to declare for a policy which will lead the youth of the nation on to the battlefield and into death. If the young men of the Labour party believe in that policy, they should join the Army, Navy and Air Force now. They should be there in advance as trained men to take their part. If that policy of the application of oil sanctions is correct, the military Estimates to follow this are logical and ought to be supported by the Labour party because, if collective security is their point of view and they believe that the Army, Navy and Air Force should be placed at the disposal of the League of Nations, it ought to be a good mechanised army, it ought to be an efficient Air Force and it ought to be a 1936 Navy to take the waters in case of any danger. We say as Socialists, who may he termed outlaws in this House as far as opinion is concerned, in general affairs we can conceive inside the nation of two classes, the working class and the ruling class. In the international field there are differences between the ruling class, but the working class of every nation has only one enemy, the ruling class within its shores. Their job is to conduct their hostile propaganda against the ruling class. If the ruling class get into difficulties, it is our duty to take advantage of those difficulties in order to attempt to overthrow the decaying, disorderly system of capitalism and put a real civilisation in its place.
We cannot advance this policy of sanctions. We condemn it. We will stand on any platform and debate with any Member of the Front Opposition Bench. They are afraid to go to the country and propagate that policy on the platform because they know it would not secure endorsement. When I am told of Hitlerism and Mussolini, I see no difference in capitalism in any part of the world. Hitlerism is simply capitalism in a greater state of decay than you have it in Britain. You have a ootential Hitlerism in this country if your capitalist system collapses. If it collapsed, and there was no real working class lead, it would be Fascism for sure, because there would be no effective voice in f le country to stem the tide against Fascism. When the ruling class, like Mussolini, decide to embark on their campaign it is similar to the beasts in the jungle being driven by the decay of their system to expand their frontiers and to seek new markets in a world crumbling to its foundations. I am told that the beast oil the jungle in its dying moments is more ferocious than at any period of its history. Therefore Mussolini and Hitler, like the beasts of the jungle, ferociously attack everything within their limits in order to prop up their power of capitalism. We may be a small party—only four in the House—but we speak with a more certain voice on working-class doctrines than the larger Labour party. We speak the voice of the people, and the voice of the people is, No sanctions, no war, down with capitalism and up with the working class.
I hope the significance of this new coalition has not been lost upon the House: We have had a very interesting and important Debate and it has ended typically in a coalition between two forms of anarchic view, the revolutionary and the reactionary. The hon. Member would find a considerable body of support in much of what he has said among the most reactionary elements of the House, but among the more moderate and more reasonable part of the House I believe the Debate has shown that the House, like the country, stands behind the Government in the policy of supporting the League and only asks of the Government that it should give continued and growing strength to its support of the League. It is true that anarchists, whether revolutionary or reactionary, stand to gain from disorder, but in these terrible days, when the minds of people in every part of the country are deeply concerned with the trend of foreign affairs, I believe this Debate will have shown, what is far more important than the views of extremist sections either of the Right or of the Left, that the House as a whole stands behind the Government in its support of the League. The House as a whole only fears that the Government will not be powerful enough in the support of the principles to which it has put its hands.
The hon. Member who has just spoken ended with some very good similes about the beasts of the jungle. In this great Debate the question at stake is whether the law of the jungle is to remain the permanent law of the world or whether in some way those moderate and reasonable people within the nation, and those reasonable nations within the whole community of nations, can make their power felt or whether we are all to fall victims, either in national or in international affairs, to the revolutionaries on either side. I trust that the Debate will show to the country and the House the great mass of opinion that stands behind the Government and asks only for a continuance and a strengthening of the policy which the Government have taken on these matters.
Nothing could have got me to my feet at this hour except the speech of the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), and I think that I am performing a duty to a large number of Members who think as I do in not allowing to go unchallenged so monstrous a travesty of the opinion of this Committee as that which the hon. Member has just given. It is true that we may be effecting a strange coalition —the extreme left and the extreme right. It has happened before now, and I suggest to the House that there is a possible reason for that—that the extreme left and the extreme right are the only parties which, in fact, care for the lives of the people they have to govern. I suggest further to the Committee that our coalition is a more honourable and a more patriotic one than the coalition of the hon. Member with the benches immediately on his right. It is this policy which many of us, with the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), view with considerable apprehension. We want to know whither we are going. To-night we are not being told. We know the danger which we are being compelled to face in Europe. We know the danger of the commitment under the Covenant, with the possibility of our forces being dispersed in the far corners of the world when they are most needed at one particular point. We are shortly going to adopt the extra expenditure which that dispersal has occasioned, and we can see from this wonderful example of the enforcement of the sanctions to-day how open the road has been left to those forces which are threatening Western civilisation now.
Suppose that the Italo-Abyssinian war had taken place in three years' time, when Germany rearmament is complete, what would the position of Western Europe have been if the British Fleet had been immobilised on the Suez Canal, one of the dangers which we have to fear? We have driven Italy out of the possible adventures of the West against the barbarian who is still rampant in the centre of Europe. In the place of Italy we have drawn in the doubtful allegiance and possibly the doubtful military value of Russia. It was hailed as a great triumph when Russia came into the League. There are some of us who feel that it was very nearly the death-blow of the League of Nations, and that it is possible that one day the Governments of Germany and of Russia may wake up and find that their system of government is identically the same, that the methods by which they administer are very little different, and that the difference between the concentration camp and the labour camp is one of geography. When that realisation comes, the West will be completely on the defensive against the anti-religion which is spreading over all countries in Central and Eastern Europe.
When that time comes we shall have to fall back on those friends which are left to us, in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, and Scandinavia. We shall need all the strength which we can put into the field to hold that strip against the forces which will be brought against it. It is idle to think that the present system of collective security will provide any defence for that Western system. Nobody who has visited Central Europe can possibly say that there is the slightest chance of any of those nations going to war to defend Schlesweig-Holstein, if Germany wishes to take it, and there is very little chance of any of the Western nations going to war to save Czechoslovakia and the sooner we face this fact the better. We have to realise that, in the fight between light and darkness, light is the frontier which has to be defended by everything at our disposal, and that the only free nations in the world are the nations which we have to defend. Later on it may be that the example of those free nations may be so desirable that their systems of government may spread even into the dark places of the earth. The time is not yet, and the time for a dispersal of our forces is not yet. I submit that at all costs not one soldier or one ship should be committed to anything except the defence of our own shores and of Western civilisation.
I am going to take only a few minutes of the time of the House, but in view of the fact that there has been so much mention made of the working class I want to declare that the working class of this country is absolutely opposed to Italy being supplied with guns, bombs, poison gas, or with any kind of weapon that would enable her to destroy the people of Abyssinia. I declare here that the Government are not prepared to operate the policy of sanctions. I heard the predecessor of the present Foreign Secretary say in this House that he was oppressed by a great fear—the fear of war in Europe. There is not one of you oppressed by a great fear of a war in Europe. You are oppressed by the great fear that Italy will be defeated and that Fascism and Italy and reaction in Europe. will be overthrown. There is no coalition between any revolutionary and the reactionaries of the right.
But you are not on our side at the present moment. I want to declare in the name of the working class of this country that I will go to any section of working-class people, to any trade union in this country, or to any body of co-operators, I will go anywhere, to any industrial district, and get support for the proposition "Stop the flow of oil, and you will stop the flow of blood." What are we told? Apply oil sanctions and Mussolini will become desperate and start a war in Europe. Are we children? [Interruption.] Some of you have come into the wrong place; the infant class is somewhere else. It is said "Stop the supply of oil and it will become impossible for Mussolini to carry on the war in Abyssinia." When it becomes impossible for Mussolini to carry on the war in Abyssinia, he will become so desperate that he will start a war in Europe. I take my stand with hon. and right hon. Members on these benches in demanding that the Government take their stand by the League of Nations for collective peace and security. Let the Foreign Secretary tell us whether, if 50 nations are pledged to peace and security, hon. Members will need more armaments or can they do with less? If you have 50 nations, with Britain, France, Russia, and all the other nations united genuinely and honestly for peace—[interruption.] If you want to play the fool please do so in your own house. You know the advice which was given to Polonius. There are a whole bunch of Poloniuses sitting over there.
Fifty nations, with Britain, France and Russia at the centre, and all the other nations of the League gathered along with them, have sufficient financial and economic power to make it impossible for Germany, Japan or Italy, or any other country, to start or carry on an aggressive war. It is Britain that is holding them back. Let the Foreign Secretary face up to the situation. If he would declare that Britain is for uniting the other nations of Europe in the collective peace system and for reducing the necessity of increasing armaments he would be doing the greatest service to the people of this country and a great service to humanity. I stand along with; hon. and right hon. Members on these benches in demanding that the Government should end the double game that it is playing and play a single game for the League of Nations and collective security.