I beg to move,
That His Majesty's Government, by their lack of a resolute and straightforward foreign policy, have lowered the prestige of this country, weakened the League of Nations, imperilled peace, and thereby forfeited the confidence of this House.
I do not think that anyone who heard the statement made by the Foreign Secretary last week, on Waterloo Day, will have any doubt that it was the duty of the Opposition to put on the Order Paper a Vote of Censure on the Government. It is said that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. It might also be said that Abyssinia was lost on the playing fields of Harrow. I think that the substance of the Motion commends very wide support in the country. I, in common with most Members of the House, have received numbers of letters from men and women in, every part of the country; men and women of various points of view, who unite in regarding this matter as one of deep humiliation for this country. I notice that that feeling extends to Members of this House. To begin with, there is the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who,
speaking in his constituency the other day, expressed exactly the terms of this Motion. He laid stress on the humiliation to this country. He laid stress on the absence of a clear, straightforward policy. The only point on which he differed from us was that, despite his complete distrust of the Government, he intended to continue to honour it with his support. I am interested in the Amendments that have been placed on the Order Paper. The one in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) and other hon. Members obviously expresses deep misgiving as to what may be the future action of the Government. The other Amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson), while approving of the policy of the Government trusts that they will act differently in the future than they have done in the past. Between the two of them, the general lines of the Motion come.
Another reason why we should put forward this Vote of Censure is because we have had no explanation of Government policy. There was no adequate reply in this House to the powerful speeches delivered by the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). The Prime Minister gave a number of explanations mainly relating to things which he ought to have thought about a year or two ago. He paid a graceful compliment to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but abstained from crossing swords with him. I do not know whether that work has been left to the skilful hands of the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). Instead, the Prime Minister preferred the secure and more secluded precincts of a Conservative rally at Wishaw. It is time that the House of Commons insisted that important matters of policy should be stated on the Floor of this House. Announcements of policy should not be let out in after-dinner speeches or confined to gatherings of faithful followers in the country.
I will deal a little later with some of the points of the Prime Minister's speech at Wishaw. In passing, I would say that we are drawing the indictment not against one Member of the Government but against the whole of the Government. The situation differs to-day from that which we had before us previously, because this time, apparently, the Foreign Secretary is not to be thrown overboard. I do not think it is fair that one should challenge the Foreign Secretary, apart from the 'Government. The Foreign Secretary's action relates only to what may be his views on the matter, and no one who heard him last week can say that he is very happy in regard to it. The right hon. Gentleman has attained a very high position. He stood very high in the opinion of the men and women of this country, but he has forfeited that position. He had to make a difficult choice between two loyalties. He seems to have said, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his old school tie?"
We draw an indictment against the whole of the Government, not upon one item of their policy but upon the whole field, the tortuous vacillating policy which they have pursued for the last five years, and which has brought this country from the proud position of 1931—[Interruption]—I was going to say when the right hon. Member for Spen Valley was Foreign Secretary and was able to go before the world as the leader of a great country that was leading the world towards peace—to its humiliating position in 1936. We hold that the Government have betrayed the people of Abyssinia who trusted in them, and that they have made our name a by-word throughout the world. It is no good contesting that. You have only to read what the world Press—the Press of Europe, Asia and Africa—says now of the name of Great Britain, whether you take the dictatorship Press or the regrets of the anti-dictatorship Press.
Further, the Government have destroyed the League of Nations as an effective instrument for peace. It is no good the Prime Minister saying, "We will try again. We have made one little failure, and we will build it up again." Why should anyone believe that the future will be any better than the past? The Italo-Abyssinia issue was a test case. The Chancellor of the Exchequer put the matter clearly when he said that the opportunity could hardly have been more favourable. Why should anyone think that the Government will do better when the conditions are less favourable? The fact is that there is no security for any League State if Italy is allowed to
triumph over Abyssinia. There will be no next time. None of the small States of Europe are going to trust any more in collective security under the League if they know that the League States will not stand by them, if they know that the League can carry on and that its predatory members can pursue their prey unchecked. The Government undertook this enterprise. I know that there are hon. Members who disapprove entirely of the policy of enforcing sanctions on Italy, but it was the Government's policy. They decided to undertake the duty; a Government with the greatest majority numerically that any Government ever had, a Government with complete control of the situation in both Houses of Parliament, a Government that proudly told the country and the world that it was taking the lead in this enterprise. We all know that this was a very difficult enterprise. The Prime Minister said:
If you are going to adopt a sanction you must be prepared for war. If you adopt a sanction without being prepared for war you are not an honest trustee of the nation.
The Prime Minister is nothing if not honest, and he took the risk of war. He must have counted the cost. He must have known the military strength on the side of the League and the military strength on the side of the aggressor, and he was satisfied on 22nd October, 1935, because the present First Lord of the Admiralty, then Foreign Secretary, said:
All member States must co-operate to resist an attack upon any one State for action that it has taken to defend the Covenant.
Communications were made to clear up the position. They were completely satisfactory.
In the event of an isolated attack, inconceivable though such madness might be, we and they and the rest of the League stand together and resist it with our full and united force."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd October, 1935; cols. 28–29, Vol. 3051
There was the position. The Prime Minister pledged the honour and prestige of this country. He had absolute power to carry through the enterprise to which he had pledged this country with courage and resolution, but he did not do it. There was never any resolution in the handling of the Italo-Abyssinia affair. From the earliest days there were always attempts to do an Imperialist deal with Signor Mussolini. Right from the start there was always the hope that something might
be fixed up, and when sanctions were applied they were applied late, very partially, and no attempt was made to apply an oil sanction. The Prime Minister, speaking at Wishaw, made what, I think, was a thoroughly mean attack on the United States of America. He tried to put all the blame on the United States, and said that we could not put on an oil sanction because a flood of oil would be coming from the United States. I ask this question: Was any effort made to ascertain what the United States of America would do? We had a declaration from Mr. Norman Davis in 1932 at the League of Nations, in which he said that his country would be prepared not to put any hindrance in the way of the League where it was carrying out its duties of sanctions. There were the reports in the Press—not the Left Press at all. In the "Daily Telegraph," on 26th December, 1935, it was said:
While the American official world was formerly thoroughly sympathetic with the British attitude, it is now, in lack of any extenuating explanation, in a condition of suppressed irritation and bewilderment.
There was a similar passage in the "Morning Post," and also in the "Times." I ask the Government to reply to the question whether any attempt was made to find out what the United States were prepared to do. We have had a great deal of talk about an incomplete League. It is always easy to say that the United States of America are not in the League, but on no occasion have we had any evidence that any effort was made to bring the United States into joint action, although there was abundant evidence of the feeling on the side of the League, especially after the speech of the present First Lord of the Admiralty at Geneva.
The next question I ask is: Were the Government threatened with attack? Was Italy going to attack? Is it true that the Fleet had to be moved away because of this threat of attack? Were the Government in a panic at the time of the Hoare-Laval discussions? It looked like it. I have never heard more panicky speeches than those delivered on that occasion. The Prime Minister's lips have not yet been unsealed. We do not know yet what are the circumstances. I ask, too, is there danger of an attack now? The Prime Minister says that the alternative to giving up sanctions is war. Has that war been threatened? Remember that the right hon. Gentleman is the Prime Minister who said that if you apply sanctions you have to run the risk—not our risk, but his risk. We ought to know, because there is a peculiar line taken, and that is that the entire failure of this enterprise is due to the fact that Labour would not give the Government a sufficient supply of armaments. It was hinted at by the Prime Minister at Wishaw, and by the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). There is absolutely no truth in the statement.
During the last five years this Government has had absolute control. The National Government took good care to see that it had some Conservatives at the head of the fighting Services—Lord Hailsham, Lord Londonderry, Lord Monsell. Is it the case that these gentlemen neglected their duties? They were to begin the enterprise. We had a confident speech by the First Lord of the Admiralty who said that everything was all right. Was he deceived by his advisers? If so, it is a very serious matter for the Government. If not, where is the honesty in saying that it was the Labour party who would not supply armaments? The Government could have got what armaments they liked. They had 48 men in this House of Commons forming the Opposition. The Government had a full majority and they had no trouble whatever with the other place. If they had wished to carry through this policy they could have had any supply of armaments.
Then we are told, "Now, the whole thing is over; now Signor Mussolini has won his war, and we must take off sanctions." It is a very curious attitude. Why is it that because a large part of Abyssinia has been conquered we must now take off sanctions? That was not said in 1914 when Belgium was overrun. The Government of that day did not say, "You can go home now; it is all over." By the end of September, 1914, they were not sending a cruiser to take off King Albert of Belgium. Why is it that with 52 States in the League standing for the principle of collective security, standing for the principle of saying that the aggressor shall not get away with his spoils when the weakest member of the League, Abyssinia, is beaten in war, perhaps only temporarily, it is necessary at once to surrender? That can only mean that this Government depended on Abyssinia to fight its battles. In all the talk of that great principle of collective security, to which they were committed, it was not worth while keeping on sanctions even for a few weeks more. At once they say, "Oh, well, Signor Mussolini has won. Let us surrender." It is not a very glorious position.
What now? I want to ask the Government what their policy is now, because lifting sanctions is not a policy. We have had no policy. The nearest we have come to a policy is the Chancellor of the Exchequer's indiscretion. What is the policy now to be with regard to Abyssinia? Now the Abyssinians have been conquered is it to be said that there is nothing to be done for them at all? Do you say that they are to be handed over and Italy can do what she likes? What is to be done with regard to Italy? What is the policy towards Italy? Is she to be welcomed back into the League? Is she to be supplied with money by the City of London? Is she to be welcomed back so as to re-form the Stresa front? What of the British Empire? Not all of the British Empire approves of the Government policy of dropping sanctions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Most of it does."] In fact the Dominion most nearly affected is strongest against this policy. What is to be the effect on the minds of our dark-coloured fellow citizens in South Africa and all over the world? How do they think of this country now? What is the position of the British Empire? Will the Government stand firm on their line or say that at all costs, if anyone threatens us, we must give way at once, if Signor Mussolini wants to extend his domains a little further?
It would be interesting to know, because the Prime Minister is now posing as the great pacifist. Would he fight for British Somaliland or for the Sudan or Kenya, or is he ready to hand them all over to Signor Mussolini, if Signor Mussolini wants them? After all, we have had one act of aggression and he gets away with it. Why not another? What is to be the effect on the smaller States of the League? The Government have broken the sanctions front, and the smaller States of the League can have no faith in the Government or the League. What will them do? They will make their peace with the various aggressors. Then the Prime Minister says, "Oh, the League is to be strengthened." Strengthened with what? Strengthened with dictators? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to say, "To form a great League let us have in Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler and Japan. Let us reconstruct the whole basis of the League." That is what it seems like.
I can only go by what policy has been stated, the policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He says there should be a limit to the function of the League in future, and that it should be limited in such a way that it can no longer be relied upon by itself to secure the peace of the world. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer instead of being Mayor of Birmingham had been Mayor of Chicago he would have limited the functions of the police in order to accommodate A1 Capone. Instructions would have been given to the police to be very careful about speeding motorists, very careful about small boys who were under age, not being allowed to drive cars, but they would have had strict injunctions not to interfere with serious crime. The truth is that there is one thing abundantly clear from beginning to end of this sorry story. There was no real intention to stop Signor Mussolini. At the back of its mind the Government is always thinking that it may need Mussolini some time in the near future.
It is obvious that the League system has never had a clear trial at all. This, after all, is only one incident in a number of betrayals ever since the present Government came into power. I find that objections to the Government's policy is quite as strong in those who object to sanctions as in those who are for sanctions. They are equally puzzled to know what the Government are after. This is only a final betrayal of the League. The League was betrayed earlier on in the matter of Manchuria. It was betrayed at the Disarmament Conference. It was betrayed by the clumsy mishandling of Germany when Herr Brüning was Chancellor. That gave Herr Hitler his chance. It was betrayed by the acquiescence in German rearmament. The Government stood by, seeing these enormous armaments piling up. I remember that when questioned the Foreign Secretary said that the Government had noted it, and he passed on. The Government allowed this drift to take place without any clear attempt to lead the world in a different direction.
One reason is, of course, that we now know that the most important Member of the Government, the present Prime Minister, did not believe in collective security two years ago. The Government began to believe in it after German rearmament. Then you have the extraordinary union of incompatible policies. It is hardly conceivable that one Government should manage to carry on the Stresa Conference, sanctions against Italy, an understanding generally with France, and the German Naval Treaty. The Home Secretary is very good at unravelling these things, and perhaps he will show exactly where all those actions fit into some considered policy that is leading to peace and not to anarchy. It is time that the Government made clear what is the position.
I understand perfectly the pacifist position. I respect those who hold it, but I do not hold it myself. If you do not accept the pacifist position, there must be something on which you will stand and fight. What is it that the Government will stand and fight on? On what do they expect an attack? Would they resist an attack on the League? Would they resist an attack on the British Empire? Would they fight under Locarno for France if Germany attacked France, or for Germany if France attacked Germany? We must have some explanation of what these great armaments are for. We have been told hitherto that they have something to do with collective security. I suppose, if you are going to have armaments like that, they are to be in support of some kind of policy. If it is well known that in no circumstances will you ever be prepared to use them, you may just as well save your money.
The Government will take no risk for collective security. We, for our part, have made our position clear. We were prepared to stand for collective security. We asked for sanctions to be applied. We were prepared to stand up to the aggressor should the aggressor attack the League Powers. The Prime Minister says, "If you do not take off sanctions, it will mean war." What does he mean by that? Does he mean that he is afraid that if you do not take off sanctions now you will be met by the force of Signor Mussolini, and that is a little bit too much for you? If you cannot beat Signor Mussolini when you are standing in company with 52 other nations, you will not have much chance if you are prepared to stand to defend the British Empire single-handed. You must make up your mind one way or the other what you are prepared to do. We have supported the League and the League system because security is a condition precedent to obtaining disarmament, because unless you can get some kind of law and order in the world you cannot deal with the economic conditions that are wrecking the world. This is just another count in the indictment against this Government, that it has never attempted to make any effective use of the League of Nations to deal with these fundamental questions.
I say quite frankly that the Government have killed the League; the League may go on as a debating society, but the Government have killed it. I ask now what is to be the next step? What is the Government's policy? Again we have no guidance from the Prime Minister and have to fall back on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's after-dinner speech. He used Hitler language and talked about localising danger spots, regional arrangements guaranteed by interested nations. What are they but alliances under another name? Where was the danger spot in 1914? Serbia. Would you have got over that by some regional arrangement guaranteed by the interested nations? Belgium—would you have got over that? Why, that is exactly what you had at that time—interested nations all drawn into a war because of a number of interlocking alliances, so that when the shot was fired in one part of Europe they all came in in two great groups. This system only means alliances again, and interested parties only means that if they are interested in one spot, they disinterest themselves in other spots. It is a very convenient position for a dictator. If he can make a pact which will guard him on one side, he can do what he pleases on the other. In one word, it means war; it means anarchy. The Government have refused to take risks for peace, although that was their professed policy and their aim, and they have increased the risk of war. The result is that they have put this country in a dangerous position. I do not go as far as the Secretary of State for War. I do not think it is desirable that all our people should be mad with fear. The Members of the Cabinet seem to be obsessed with the idea of madness of one kind or another.
But this country's strategic position is not what it was in pre-1914 days. It is not in the position in which it had an island stronghold here and a far-flung Empire. It now has its very heart connected with the Continent by the air. There is no security in isolation. The alternatives to isolation are alliances or collective security. The indictment against the Government is that when they had the opportunity of uniting Europe and forming a real front for collective security, they threw it away, and when they had the chance of uniting all the people in this country behind that policy, they threw it away. That opportunity is not going to recur. To-day the British Empire holds its possessions in the Far East on the good will of Japan; we hold the route to India on the good will of Italy. These armaments which the Government are asking us to give them are being piled up so that we shall be strong enough to meet all these enemies. That way lies ruin and war. Above all things this country's honour has been trailed in the mud. There is no trust in us anywhere. Throughout the length and breadth of this land there is a feeling that we have been humiliated, and there is no trust in this present Government. It is only eight months since we had those great posters up everywhere, "Baldwin, the man you can trust." In eight short months this idol has fallen from its pedestal, and if one goes through the length and breadth of the country one finds that people are talking in about the same tones of the Prime Minister as they did of the Lord President of the Council.
It was not to be expected that, in the grave difficulty in which the League of Nations finds itself over the Italo-Abyssinian war, the Opposition would not hasten to suggest that it was all the fault of His Majesty's Government. Indeed we had last Thursday a most gorgeous example of how to present such an indictment, and the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon has taken up the same argument and presented it, forcibly no doubt, in his own fashion. Yet I feel that in the interval between last Thursday and to-day the coruscating thunder and lightning has begun to disappear and there is a considerable lowering of the temperature. I want to present the arguments in reply, entirely distinguishing the question of Government responsibility from the question on which the right hon. Gentleman dwelt at the beginning of his speech, that of whether the situation in which the League of Nations finds itself is one of great distress and concern to every sincere supporter of the League. Those two questions are not necessarily connected and we had better do our best to look at them separately.
Let me begin by saying what I very deeply feel, and what we all feel, that the League has had a most serious setback. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who from?"] Would it not be just as well for one moment not to try to make a party score, but to try to face the serious situation? The League has admittedly had a most serious setback. The financial and economic sanctions decided upon last October by 50 States have in fact failed to prevent an aggressor from violating the Covenant and from obtaining his objective. Nothing could be more distressing. To use the language of one Article of the Covenant, the territorial integrity and existing political independence of a Member of the League have not been preserved against external aggression. And more than that—an effort of the League, in which Britain took a leading part, to substitute by those sanctions the rule of international order as laid down in the Covenant for the triumph of brute force, has not succeeded.
I state these things bluntly, not only because I feel them sincerely, but because they are common ground to us all. The real necessity is to examine the situation with a sense of reality and to see whether it is or is not true to say that this distressing situation is due to His Majesty's Government. What has happened is very much more than a mere political event. I do not think we in the least do justice to the feeling of a great number of people in this country in all parties if we treat it merely as an incident in the unrolling of history. It is not. It is very widely felt to be an injury to the cause of international morality. That is the reason people in all parties have, in fact, such a deep sense of distress about it. On that there is no difference between different sides of the House. It is a distress which His Majesty's Government and their supporters share just as honestly as hon. Members opposite.
That being the position it would, of course, be too much to expect the Opposition not to make the most of it and, in place of facing the realities of the situation, say, "Here is a Heaven-sent opportunity, let us have a Vote of Censure and blame it all on the Government." I think I can show the House that hon. Gentlemen opposite are the very last party who have any right in this matter to reproach the Government because the League of Nations has not gone further and been more successful. The risks that have been run, the burdens that have been undertaken and the expense to ourselves and to others that has been incurred—those things bring no thanks from the supporters of the Opposition. The Prime Minister, when he takes part in the Debate later, will of course deal, as the Prime Minister should, with some of the matters which the right hon. Gentleman raised, but I want to deal as well as I can with what is really, as I think, the basis of this attack.
I think that so far as these sanctions are concerned, it may fairly be said that there are three lines of criticism. There is the criticism that these sanctions should have been applied earlier. There is the criticism that these sanctions were not enough and that further sanctions should have been applied. And there is the criticism, which is the immediate topic of this discussion, that these sanctions should not be stopped now but should be continued and it may be intensified. I ask the House to bear with me while I try to deal with those three lines of criticism and I think at the outset the House will recognise that I have, at least, tried to state those three issues fairly and bluntly.
The complaint is frequently made that these sanctions should have been applied earlier and on many occasions a more general complaint has been made to the effect that, in connection with this Italo-Abyssinian dispute, the policy of the Government in the earlier stages was dilatory or half-hearted, though it may have been intensified and made more vigorous later. That is a false allegation which has been exposed in detail. The exposure has been made by the Foreign Secretary more than once in this House. Any one who looks, for example, at the Debate of 23rd October last will find that my right hon. Friend took up that point and showed, by chapter and verse, by incident after incident, that there is not the slightest shadow of ground for that complaint. I can only think of one thing more fantastic in that connection, and that is one of the observations of the Leader of the Opposition just now when the right hon. Gentleman actually allowed himself to say that to him it was obvious that in our treatment of this subject there had been in the background an Imperialistic deal with Mussolini.
Without delaying the House further about that matter, I want to make a perfectly definite point on the subject of the date of the application of these sanctions. It is a point which has been made by no less an authority than Viscount Cecil himself who, in a Debate in the House of Lords, pointed out that Article 16 provides for sanctions being imposed, not before but after a member of the League has resorted to war in disregard of the Covenant. It may be, and indeed I think, Lord Cecil threw out his own view about this point, that in that respect there is something to improve, but there is the fact. The first object of the Covenant is to promote conciliation. The provision for financial and economic sanctions or any sanctions, under Article 16, is under the express terms of the Article, to apply, "should any member of the League resort to war in disregard of its Covenants." That does not, in the least, prevent any member of the League or the League itself from doing its utmost to discourage and prevent such a war, but on the question when these financial and economic sanctions can be applied there is no doubt. It is perfectly plain, by the terms of the Covenant itself, that they could not be applied under Article 16 until that war broke out, and I think great injustice is done to Geneva if it is suggested that in that respect there was something dilatory and wasteful of time on the part of the League.
I have taken the trouble to get out three or four of the essential dates in connection with this matter, and here they are. On 3rd October, Italian troops first entered Ethiopia. On 5th October, the Council of the League formed a committee of six to examine the situation and report upon it instantly. [Laughter.] I would suggest to hon. Members opposite that they should not laugh too much at the League. On 7th October, 13 members of the Council, that is to say the Council excluding Italy, accepted the conclusion of the committee of six that Italy's resort to war was in disregard of the Covenant. On 9th October the Assembly met—not the Council but the Assembly, a body which has to be called from different parts of the world, a representative gathering. Within a week of the outbreak of the war, the Assembly met and 50 State members concurred in the opinion that Italy was the aggressor. Austria dissented, Hungary dissented, Italy opposed and Albania stood aside, but apart from them 50 members so decided on 10th October. On the next day, 11th October, Article 16 was put into operation and a co-ordinating committee was created for the purpose. On 14th October financial sanctions dealing with loans and credits were actually approved, and on 19th October economic sanctions were approved and measures dealing with the importation of Italian goods and with lists of exports were started. Whatever else that may be, I say that it is not a record of dilatory action on the part of the League, and I am sure that anybody who is acquainted in the least with League procedure, and anybody who takes a fair view of the matter, could not refrain from admitting that that procedure was prompt and, further, acknowledging that it was the Foreign Secretary of this country more than anybody else, who secured action as prompt as that action was.
It was in those circumstances that some comment on the matter began to be made by various distinguished authorities in this country. I read with interest at the time the comment that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for
Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He happened to be addressing a great audience and I think it is very useful for us to note what he said on that occasion about these financial and economic sanctions which he is so anxious should be retained. This is what he said:
The war has been going on for 19 days.
That was from 3rd October.
We have decided not to trade with Italy until she gives up this job. If we had said that, when Abyssinia appealed first to the League, there would have been no war.
I have already pointed out that Article 16 does not provide for sanctions until after war has broken out. Then my right hon. Friend went on to make an extremely pertinent observation:
We say, 'If you do not retreat, if you do not come back from Abyssinia we will not buy your lemons.' Can you imagine any nation marching back and saying 'We are sorry but our trade has gone; we have been beaten by an economic sanction.'
I draw the conclusion from those observations of the right hon. Gentleman that he does not believe in the efficacy of financial and economic sanctions. Although on Thursday last we were appealed to with so much vigour and eloquence to realise what a frightful thing would be done if these sanctions were not continued, I draw the conclusion that as a matter of fact the right hon. Gentleman has no belief in such sanctions at all. I think I am pretty well-founded in drawing that conclusion, because this is how the right hon. Gentleman went on, speaking in Whitfield's Tabernacle, on that Sunday afternoon. He said:
Economic sanctions applied in time are effective. Applied too late"—
The right hon. Gentleman meant applied as they were being applied.
they are worse than useless—a sham and a mockery.
I wonder whether all those correspondents who, we are told, have been writing to the right hon. Gentleman thanking him for his magnificent speech last week and for his earnest plea that these sanctions should be continued at all costs, knew that in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman these very sanctions are a sham and a mockery and worse than useless. I think it is perfectly plain, on examining what the right hon. Gentleman then said and what he afterwards wrote, which I will quote in a moment or two, that he has never had any honest
belief in the efficacy of this instrument at all and that what he besought the Government to continue on the ground that if they did not do so they would be abandoning the world to anarchy, is a series of financial and economic provisions which he regards as worse than useless.
I come to the next criticism which is made. It is said, in the second place, that more sanctions should have been applied—that these sanctions were not enough. I sympathise with the natural view on this subject. Until sanctions produce the result wanted, it is natural for all of us to wish that there were more, but the members of the League put on every sanction which could be agreed upon and which was calculated to be effective—such as could be made reasonably effective by the League members without the assistance of nonmembers of the League—and this Government, as far as it had responsibility, constantly said, both at this Box and at Geneva, that for our part we were prepared to put on such other economic measures as could be agreed upon. [An HON. MEMBER: "With Mussolini?"] Any sanction that could be agreed upon between the Members of the League, provided that that sanction could be made reasonably effective in the existing circumstances of the League.
The right hon. Gentleman the other day, and I think again to-day, referred to oil. I shall deal with that in a moment, but, first, I would like to ask, does the House take the view that the present Foreign Secretary has not pressed sanctions at Geneva as far as ever he could? I read in the paper the other day a statement that was made by Mr. De Valera, on this subject. Mr. De Valera is not always a sympathetic or kindly critic of the proceedings of the British Government. He is perfectly independent in this matter and I hope some Members of the House may have observed what he said on this subject. I think it was in the Dail last Saturday that he said:
There is a great deal of blame now being laid on the present British Government and particularly on the Foreign Secretary. I was at Geneva and of this I am certain, that it was not the fault of the British Foreign Secretary that successful measures were not taken. Picture the situation there for Great Britain and France. The French people already had experience of what a great European war was. Had they not every reason to hesitate about action that would possibly bring war?
He went on to say that he challenged those who said that more severe sanctions should be imposed to ask themselves were they prepared for war, and if they were not, then let them not blame those who were stopped by those considerations. I should have thought it might be agreed that the British Foreign Secretary, in pressing this course of action at Geneva, had done all he could honestly do in support of sanctions and in the interests of the League as a whole. The Foreign Secretary has from first to last had the complete and united support of the whole of his colleagues in the Government.
Then it is said "What about oil?" I would like to say a word about oil. The League as originally conceived—as a universal organ—could no doubt adopt financial and economic sanctions of all sorts and kinds without considering the list, but if you have the League as it is it is essential that, in deciding what that list should be, you should select commodities effective from the point of view of putting pressure on the aggressor, commodities which are substantially within the control of League members. It is for that reason, I apprehend, that the League, in drawing up this list, included rubber and a large number of metals important for the carrying on of war, such as nickel and so on. As for oil, however, there is a huge supply which is outside the ring of the League of Nations States, and it was that consideration which made it necessary, as I understand it, for the committee at Geneva, in spite of the urging of the British Foreign Secretary, while approving of the oil sanction in principle, to examine how in effect it could be carried out.
Without going through the whole story, I will make these two points: I do not wish to say a word in reflection upon the good intentions of any statesman in the United States of America, but the fact of the matter is—and it is the first thing we should observe if it were in our own country—that the United States had not and have not any power to prohibit the export of oil. The second point is that when in the early months of this year the committee considered whether oil sanctions could be made effective, it was our Foreign Secretary who said that, as far as we were concerned, we should be very glad to see oil sanctions applied and that they ought to be applied. It was clear that there was not support for that course among other and essential members of the League. You may think that view is right, or you may think it is wrong, but I protest against the unfairness of treating the failure to impose oil sanctions as though it were the crime of the British Government. But the matter has not been left entirely there, because in the brilliant speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs the other day, in a passage we all remember about leadership—I wish that I had the powers of leading that he has—he allowed himself to be led into the assertion that we in practice also have been the leader in selling oil to Italy. I wish my right hon. Friend had not added that particular pearl to the necklace, because it is a false pearl.
These are the simple facts, Before the Italo-Abyssinian War, before October last year, the Anglo-Persian supply of oil to Italy considerably exceeded the American supply. It was a major supply. The supply that came from the Anglo-Persian Company to Italy before the war was more than double the American supply. In the first three months of the war the American supply was increased and the Anglo-Persian supply so fell off that, the American supply became four times as great as the Anglo-Persian supply.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is nothing very smart in stating facts. If he will communicate with me after the Debate I will show him the League of Nations document that contains them. Then, no doubt, he will make plain to people where I was misleading the House. In the next three months the American supply was three times as great, and, although I have not the exact figures before me, I know that the actual American supply multiplied by about four times as compared with 12 months before. I can understand the argument that, notwithstanding that other people would not stop supplies, the Anglo-Persian Company might have stopped selling oil to Italy. That is not collective action; it is isolated action. I am more concerned to correct the mistake of my right hon. Friend. It is simply not true that in this particular the Anglo-Persian Company or any company with British connection took the lead in supplying oil to Italy.
I come to what, I think, is really in the public mind the most pressing of the three questions I have formulated. That is, Why stop sanctions now? This is the thing which strikes the observer with a good deal of shock, and in this free country we express ourselves forcibly when we find something that surprises us. In order to look at that fairly, you must consider, first, what the purpose of sanctions was. The purpose was to put pressure on the actual aggressor in the effort by collective action to prevent the success of his aggression. Lord Cecil put the point in the Debate to which I have referred when he said that the only thing that Article 16 aimed at was the prevention of the continuance of war, and that once the war ceased tae obligation to exert sanctions under the Article ceased also. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), who knows this subject so well, will confirm that as an accurate statement of Article 16. It is a very unpleasant fact, which is deeply disappointing to anybody who has been hoping for a good result from this effort, that the Italo-Abyssinian War has come to an end.
That really is not open to serious dispute, and I would remind the House of a proof of it which must carry weight. By the law of America, when two States become engaged in war the President of the United States issues a proclamation to prohibit the supply of arms and munitions to either of the two States. The President did so immediately the war broke out on the 5th October. He issued a proclamation that a state of war existed between Italy and Abyssinia and that it was consequently unlawful to export arms and munitions of war from the United States to either of those belligerent countries. He did so the moment war broke out. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed that last week the President issued a further proclamation, on 19th or 20th June, cancelling the previous proclamation and declaring that the conditions which caused him to issue the previous proclamation had ceased to exist. No one would suggest that the President did that because of something the British Government did. He did it because the war had come to an end, and that is a circumstance which must be borne in mind in deciding whether or not financial and economic sanctions are to continue.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs drew the analogy the other day of the Boer War. There are many Members who can speak with more authority than I can about such an analogy, but I should have thought that the circumstances in which the Boers were enabled to continue their resistance in what a former Lord Chancellor called "a sort of war," though a very serious one, for two years or more, were completely different. In the case of the Boer Republics, you had people of European origin, accomplished and experienced fighters, all devoted to the same Government, the people of the whole country united together—you had them conducting this prolonged and most successful guerilla warfare in an age when there were no aeroplanes, when any attempt to find out where they were could only be carried through by pushing blindly forward here and there, and an age in which there was no such thing as the use of gas. I find it impossible to suppose that there is any real analogy between the two wars. That is why the Foreign Secretary said, as he did in the Debate last week, that this is a situation which nothing but military action from without can possibly reverse.
The Leader of the Opposition made great play just now with the challenge, "Do you mean, when you speak of war, that you are afraid of being attacked by Italy?" That is not the point at all. The point is that in the new situation which now exists nothing except military action by the League and its members can reverse the situation which has arisen. I can understand the view that the possibility of an ultimate recourse to force in the background may in some cases be the necessary stiffening of economic and financial sanctions, and I think I can understand the point of view of my right hon. Friend if he doubted the efficacy of economic sanctions. I can appreciate the view which may be held that, unless you have behind it this stiffening of ultimate force, it is much more difficult to make economic and financial sanctions work. In this case the position was made perfectly plain. These sanctions were adopted as a measure which, though it would work slowly, would, if the war continued, be increasingly effective and would exercise increasing pressure as the war went on. What has happened? Whether by military miscalculation on the part of experts or unwisdom in the conduct of the war on the other side, the reason does not matter, but what has happened is that, contrary to the calculations of the very best generals, the success of the aggressor has come about much more quickly than many people anticipated.
It was perfectly justifiable for the League to say, "We know that these financial and economic sanctions are not sure of success, but they ought to be tried, for, if the thing works out slowly, they will in an increasing degree present the necessary pressure against the aggressor." That is no reason at all, when in fact the conclusion has been reached more rapidly than we had hoped or expected, to say that none the less it is necessary, in order to avoid the accusation of cowardice, to keep sanctions on, which in the nature of things can do no further good. I return, to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, because he made this point again perfectly plainly in another article which he wrote last October. I have here his article written after sanctions were imposed, in the "Sunday Express" on 13th October last, and I would ask the House to consider the view which the right hon. Gentleman then expressed in print and compare it, if I may respectfully say so, with the advice he gave us last week, that the one necessary thing in the present circumstances is to keep these sanctions on. Writing in the "Sunday Express" on 13th October he said:
If Germany as well as Austria and Hungary remain out (meaning out of sanctions) I cannot see these sanctions attaining their purpose for years.
He said about them that:
Everything depends upon their being deterrent as far as the continued prosecution of the campaign by Italy is concerned. Anything short of that will be a costly and risky practical joke.
Why should we be adjured in the names of Disraeli and Gladstone and Palmerston to keep these things on at all cost when in his view they are a costly
and risky practical joke? He himself discussed the two alternatives of a short war and a long war and pointed out that if it was a short war and it was stopped by this means, well and good, but he had his doubts about it. He went on to discuss the possibility of what the League of Nations should do if it was a long war and sanctions continued. He pointed out:
Much will depend on whether the war will be short and sharp or whether it becomes a prolonged struggle desperately and stubbornly maintained by the tribesmen after the main armies of their country have been defeated. In the latter case the Italian temper woud be exasperated, and exasperation is fatal to discretion. Every lunar month in which the conflict is protracted will be 28 days and nights of sinister possibilities for world peace.
The whole point of this article was that while he doubted that these particular sanctions would be effective in a short time, he was warning his readers of the great danger ahead if people kept them on arid on and on in the hone that something would happen.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I have not interrupted the right hon. Gentleman because I hope to have an opportunity of replying, but in case I do not have an opportunity I just want to correct the right hon. Gentleman on a very serious omission. I threw out, criticised, the sanctions as being ineffective and short of what was necessary in order to bring the war to a speedy conclusion. I can point that out in two or three respects, and I have done so in some of those articles, and I still say it. My argument was not in favour of continuing sanctions as they are, but making them effective.
I can accept that and, if I may say so, confirm it. The right hon. Gentleman did not think much of the sanctions that were imposed. My point is that last week he appealed to the Government and denounced us all because we did not agree that these things must go on.
Nothing is plainer than this, that while he was not, I quite agree, satisfied with the sanctions, his true position was that the longer these sanctions were kept on, unless there was a quick decision, the greater the danger.
I submit to the House that we must take the situation as we find it, and it is a situation in which this war has come to an end. It is a situation very distressing, in which the continuance of these sanctions will not reverse that result. It is a situation in which if you want ultimately to produce the change that the friends of the League desire you have to be prepared to take military action. I notice in the Amendment to the Motion which was put on the Paper by the right hon. Baronet what seemed to me to be on the whole the most remarkable of all the propositions on this subject. He describes these sanctions which are on and which are now coming to an end as sanctions by which the Italians Government may be:
compelled to agree to a settlement of the Abyssinian question in conformity with the Covenant of the League.
If that is true, certainly keep them on, but it is not true. It has no conceivable relation to the truth. My right hon. Friend has been reorganising the Opposition Liberals and introducing a new air of reality into their activities, but there is no reality at all in the proposition of continuing financial and economic sanctions in order that the Italian Government may be:
compelled to agree to a settlement of the Abyssinian question in conformity with the Covenant of the League.
That is the point which seems to me to have been overlooked by my right hon. Friend.
That leads me to the last point that I want to make. The Leader of the Opposition has endeavoured to-day to meet the challenge constantly made, "What is it which you would be prepared to do in pursuit of a policy which is going to secure that Mussolini withdraws from Abyssinia?" The right hon. Gentleman and his friends in the past have been a good deal embarrassed by the question how far they would go. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) when he intervened the other day said that the challenge was a fair one, and, the proper occasion being chosen, he would recognise that we had to take more strenuous action in support of the League. That is the answer, but what I cannot believe is that the House or the country is really prepared to accept the right hon. Gentleman's choice of the occasion. I find it very difficult to understand why he picks and chooses between the members of the League for the purpose of applying the Covenant by force. He gave his views very plainly about Austria, when he said that he was certain that the people of this country would never be prepared to go to war again in an Austrian quarrel.
How is this consistent with the view that any and every violation of the Covenant calls for forcible action on our part, and that if we do not take that forcible action we are cowards? What is the difference from the League point of view between a violation of Austrian integrity and a violation of Abyssinian integrity? If there is a difference I should not have thought it was one which the right hon. Gentleman would want to emphasise in the way that he does. He has a special responsibility for the Covenant of the League and a special responsibility for the Treaties of Peace too.
Our action in this matter has got to be judged by considering the possibilities of the case, by facing the developments which have in fact taken place, and by judging whether the circumstances are such as will justify us joining with others to use force to reverse the decision. I do not think there is a single member of the League which is prepared to use such force, and I say quite bluntly that this Government is not prepared to invite this country to engage itself by force in that quarrel. Very ridiculous things have been said in that connection by some critics. It had been implied with a sneer, "Are you afraid? Do you think the British Navy would be overwhelmed?" I have no doubt the British Navy would give a good account of itself, but that is not the point. The point is that with the present situation in Europe and the great dangers surrounding us here at home I am not prepared to see a single ship sunk even in a successful naval battle in the attempt to restore Abyssinian independence. It is said, "That may be all very well for an argument but why not go on with sanctions? Do they do any harm?"
I recall some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman last week which I think many Members of the House must have in mind. He was arguing that there was no reason for dropping these sanctions now and he said, "Why not go on? No British lives have been lost and only seven millions of money have been spent. Why not go on?" Let me deal with that. We have no intention that any British lives should be lost. It is no argument to say that we should go on because no British lives have yet been lost. In fact, in the Birthday Honours to-day you will see the Albert Medal in gold, which is the civilian equivalent of the Victoria Cross, was awarded after his death to Dr. Melly for his gallant services in rescuing refugees in Addis Ababa. The House must be gratified that that is in the List to-day. [An HON. MEMBER: "He was murdered by the Italians"] Apart from that I believe it is true that only one Englishman lost his life. As for the £7,000,000, that may not sound very much when you are dealing with these great figures of national income and expenditure, but the £7,000,000 represents within that total cases of unemployment, cases of private loss, and cases of trading difficulty, and we have no right to continue unless you can achieve the object for which those sanctions were imposed. As long as there was a good reason for carrying on sanctions that was done, but I do not for a moment recognise the argument that you are at liberty to go on because it is only a case of £7,000,000 when, as I have shown the House, there is no justification at all for these sanctions to continue.
Let me call attention to the League of Nations' figures which show how these economic sanctions have been operating to our disadvantage, which show, indeed, how, as it turns out, our own burden in this matter, as in the matter of providing protection by the Navy, has been greater than that of others. If any one will trouble to look at the tables he will see some serious figures. The figures show the extent to which the trade of different countries with Italy has fallen off both as regards exports to Italy and imports from Italy. I take the last month, which is a representative month. In the case of the United Kingdom, in the month, of March, 1935, imports from Italy, measured in United States gold dollars, amounted to 2,113,000 gold dollars, and the imports in March of this year were 8,000 gold dollars. That very trifling amount—1/250th of the total—was due to the fact that some goods were imported under contracts which had been already made and paid for before sanctions were applied. Those figures show that we have completely fulfilled the letter of our bargain. We have absolutely cut off the imports which used to come from Italy. Take the case of Switzerland, which is next to Italy, and which might be almost a door between Italy and the centre of Europe. Switzerland, in March, 1935, imported from Italy 1,677,000 gold dollars' worth, but last March, with sanctions in full blast, Switzerland was still importing nearly 1,000,000 gold dollars' worth—actually 950,000 dollars' worth. The Argentine, in March, 1935, was importing from Italy 811,000 gold dollars' worth, and in March, 1936, she was importing 863,000 gold dollars' worth.
I think any hon. Members who look at those figures will come to the conclusion that when it was a question of really carrying out a sanctions' policy there was no doubt that it was carried out by us. Exactly the same thing is true about exports to Italy. Our exports to Italy have not all been prohibited, because the exports depend on a list, but will the House be good enough to compare these figures? In March, 1935, exports from this country to Italy were measured by 2,599,000 gold dollars, and in March, 1936, by 261,000 gold dollars. That is what happened to us. While that is the case there are other countries which, whatever the reason, cannot show anything like the same proportions in their figures. I have no concern with what might be called "sordid considerations "as long as those sanctions are carrying through an effective League policy, but what I do protest against is the view that we ought to be deterred from acting on our present view now because otherwise we shall be accused of cowardice and vacillation when the real justification for putting on and attempting to carry through these sanctions has, I believe, disappeared. If such differences as these figures reveal existed at a time when the League was really trying actively to apply sanctions, what sort of differences are you going to have if we continue them now with no particular reason?
No doubt all that does not sound very pleasant, but I venture to think there is more courage in taking up that attitude and facing that fact than in continuing, in response to the appeals made to-day and last week, in a course of conduct which it can be seen is, in the circumstances, not going to produce the results for which we had hoped. I take the view that in this matter it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. I take the view that courage does not consist in pursuing a method which in this case, unhappily, has not succeeded. I take the view that we are not reversing our policy or our devotion to the League when we act as we do. You serve the League much better by facing the realities of the situation and considering how the League can be strengthened to avoid such shocks and disappointments in the future, and, as I think the Foreign Secretary indicated last week, he has already taken up that matter, he is already in informal communication with other League States. It is obviously a matter in which we must closely consult the Dominions. Surely it is far better that we should face the situation which has developed in that spirit than that we should, for fear of being called craven, go on with a method which, unfortunately, is not producing the results desired.
I must conclude by this: This is a Vote of Censure, and of course the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is entitled to invite his friends to censure the Government, but this is a case in which the Government has stated quite clearly what its own view is as to the correct policy to pursue. It has not said: "Leave us to go to Geneva and argue it out." We have said at this Box what we think should be done. In these circumstances am I not justified in saying that it is perfectly legitimate to inquire, and I hope we may learn before the end of the Debate, what is the alternative course? [HON. MEMBERS: "War."] The Leader of the Opposition has put his question to the Prime Minister, and he will get his reply, but as one of his lieutenants I respectfully suggest a question or two across the table. Are we to understand that the view of the Opposition is that these sanctions should be continued without being intensified, and, if so, what particular good result do they think would follow? If they do propose to intensify sanctions will they indicate in general terms in what way they would be intensified? And supposing, as is the view of so many, and I suggest the view of the President of the United States, that the war is over, and that Mussolini is established in Abyssinia, which he has overrun, what is the policy which hon. Members opposite would seek to substitute for the policy which we have laid down? Those are perfectly fair questions.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to know what our policy is, will he, before my hon. Friend who is going to speak later addresses the House, tell us what is the Government's policy with regard to Italy and Abyssinia? Because the mere lifting of sanctions does not end the situation. What is the Government going to do then?
I thought I had already said that the right hon. Gentleman had put these questions and that the Prime Minister proposed to deal with them. I am entitled to ask for attention to my questions. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why it is that I am particularly anxious to hear what his friends have got to say. The other day we had the Supplementary Estimates for the exceptional expenditure incurred in the Mediterranean in connection with the Navy and the Army and the Air Force, and the party opposite voted against it.
Let me try to be a little more explicit. Not only did the Opposition move a reduction but they voted against the Estimate. There was no need whatever for the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to have voted if they had merely wanted to raise a grievance. And not merely that, last year in the closuring of the Votes which provide the money for these very forces on which they are going to rely they voted against the lot. I therefore ask that this Vote of Censure should be rejected. It is based on a deep disappointment which we all share, it is an attempt, an utterly unwarranted attempt, to fasten the blame for that on the Government, and it is an attempt to do so by people and parties in this House who have never themselves been prepared to face the consequences of the action which they now advocate.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is the stormy petrel of the Government. Whenever the Government are in a hole, and they often are in a hole; whenever they lead the country into difficulties, and they often do lead the country into difficulties; whenever they have a bad case, and they very often have a very bad case, they put up the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who is known to be one of the finest advocates in Europe, to make the best of the case for them. Here, to-day, he has been practising the art of making the worse case seem the better; but I venture to think, having regard to the importance of this occasion, having regard to the fact that the House of Commons has been waiting to hear a declaration of policy on behalf of the Government, having regard to the fact that all the people of the country have been waiting to hear it and will be gathering round their wireless sets by their firesides to-night—[Laughter]—well, gathering round their empty firesides—to listen to a statement of the Government's policy, it is little less than an affront to this House that the right hon. Gentleman should have spoken for an hour and 10 minutes without telling us anything about the Government's policy and then, at the end of his speech, have said, "Oh, but the Prime Minister at the end of the Debate will answer the questions of the Opposition." The Home Secretary has done nothing but chop logic with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) about opinions which the latter expressed, when sanctions were first imposed, as to their probable effect. He has asked the Leader of the Labour party to tell us what the policy of the Labour party is at this juncture. What this country and other countries are waiting for is a declaration on behalf of the Government of what their policy is. That is what this House has a right to receive.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he objects to the Opposition saying that all the blame for the situation in which we find ourselves rests upon His Majesty's Government. I speak for myself; I have never said that the whole blame rests upon His Majesty's Government. We are, no doubt, in a terrible position. The world has got into a dangerous position at this moment, and which Government are we to hold responsible? Whom are we to call to account if not the Ministers who are responsible to us? We have a right to emphasise the share of responsibility which this Government must accept for the situation in which the League of Nations finds itself to-day. The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, speaking last week, said that if he had taken another course the ranks of the League of Nations might have crumbled, but meanwhile they were closed. It is the Government who are taking the initiative, and which must take the responsibility, for going to Geneva and calling off the struggle against Italian aggression, and asking those nations to abandon the sanctions by means of which the struggle is being waged.
Let me come to some of the criticisms which the right hon. Gentleman passed on us—criticisms of our criticisms, instead of an exposition of the policy of the Government, which we were awaiting. He said that there, were three criticisms with which he would try to deal; the first, that sanctions should have been imposed earlier. He said that we had had many Debates in which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs had traced the course of the Government's policy during 1935, and had proved to everybody's satisfaction that no opportunity was missed of making our policy clear to Mussolini. As a matter of fact, what was made quite clear in those Debates was that at the Stresa Conference the opportunity was missed of insisting that the question of Abyssinia should be discussed and dealt with. It came out in those very Debates which, the right hon. Gentleman says, ended so satisfactorily for the Government, that they had their expert upon Abyssinia affairs with them there, and that they never once dared to raise the question and call him into the room with Signor Mussolini in order to discuss these matters.
The right hon. Gentleman made the more valid point as to the impossibility of bringing sanctions into operation before the act of aggression had been committed, under Article 16, as it now exists. Certainly, I have always realised that weakness, and I have always referred to it in my speeches on this subject. I have always advocated a reform of Article 11, which would make it possible to bring sanctions into operation in order to avert war.
A reform of the Covenant, an amendment of Article 11, which would make it possible to bring sanctions into effect in order to avert war. That, however, does not dispose of our criticism of the Government. What should have been done at Stresa was to face Mussolini with the declaration: "If you go on with your Abyssinia policy you will find that the whole might of Britain will be ranged on the side of the League in order to assert its authority against aggression."
I think we all need to be clear on one point. The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about the date on which certain things took place. Can he say what date it was when it was decided that the only incident, the Wal-Wal incident, should go to arbitration?
I am not going to be drawn off from dealing with the particular point of the Stresa Conference. That was a Conference at which the heads of the British, French and Italian Governments conferred, and the British Government had there their expert on Abyssinia, but they were afraid to raise the issue of Abyssinia at that Conference. They made another blunder in 1935, with which the right hon. Gentleman did not deal. At a time when they knew that Italy was building up this great armament on all sides of Abyssinia, what did they do to help Abyssinia? They forbade the importation into that country of arms by which alone she could protect herself.
The right hon. Gentleman says that sanctions have failed, that the League has failed; he says: "Let us face the realities of the situation." All right. Let us face some of the realities of the situation, and the first is that it is not true, as the Prime Minister has said, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said in his notorious speech 10 days ago, and as the Secretary of State did not say explicitly, but implied in his speech, that sanctions have been tried out. It is not true to say that they have failed. They will have failed if the Government goes to Geneva and calls them off, but meanwhile the struggle still continues. It is not true to say that they have failed; indeed, more than that, not all the sanctions—I come now to the right hon. Gentleman's second point—which could have been put on, were put on. The right hon. Gentleman says that every sanction was put on which it was agreed could be made effective and that the Government were prepared to put on any sanctions, provided they were effective.
In support of his statement to that effect, the right hon. Gentleman quoted no less an authority than Mr. de Valera. I was very glad to hear that kind word from an influential Member of the Government about the statesmanship of Mr. de Valera. I have never heard Mr. de Valera quoted before from that Bench as an authority on statesmanship, although I have heard many bitter criticisms of him as a statesman. This is the first time I have heard this praise, and I hope it augurs better for the relations between the Irish Free State and our Government. Other great Imperial statesmen take a very different view, and I shall presently have a word to say about the view of the Prime Minister of South Africa. The right hon. Gentleman was, of course, aware that there was one vitally important sanction which the Government could not put on, and that was the oil sanction. The Prime Minister said in Lanarkshire last week, and the right hon. Gentleman—
The Government did not press the League of Nations to do it. I am glad of the opportunity given by the right hon. Gentleman to make my statement watertight. The Government did not press the League of Nations to put on the oil sanction. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that it was the unwillingness of the United States to stop supplying oil to Italy, which was the reason why we did not impose that sanction. The right hon. Gentleman said to-day that the United States had no power to stop the export of oil to Italy. If the right hon. Gentleman, has been following this matter as closely as I should have thought a Cabinet Minister and an ex-Foreign Secretary would, he must know that the United States Government in October and November were moving to get the powers necessary to enable them to forbid the export of oil to Italy and to other aggressive Powers. It was the betrayal of the League in the Hoare-Laval negotiations which soured the sympathy of the United States of America and turned it into cynical disillusionment. The right hon. Gentleman must know, too, that the greatest of all the oil magnates in the United States of America, Mr. Rockefeller, is a firm supporter of the League of Nations, and that there was no opposition from him; on the contrary, there was firm sympathy for the imposition of such a sanction.
Now the right hon. Gentleman reminds us that it was not until March of this year that the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs proposed action in regard to oil at the League of Nations. He protested against the unfairness of alleging that the Government were responsible for not imposing this sanction. I reject his protest. I feel convinced that the Government were grossly to blame for not pressing for it earlier, and my conviction upon this point is strengthened by the speeches made by the Prime Minister and the right hon. Gentleman in which they seek to lay the blame upon the United States. What did the ex-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) say, when he resigned from the Government on this issue? Making his explanation to the House, with the facts fresh in his memory, he said nothing about the United States of America, but something quite different. He said:
Just because of the effectiveness of the oil sanction, provided that the non-member States had a full part in it, the situation immediately became more dangerous from the point of view of Italian resistance. From all sides we received reports that no responsible Government could disregard that Italy would regard the oil embargo as a military sanction or an act involving war against her."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 19th December, 1935; col. 2005, Vol. 307.]
A few weeks later, the right hon. Gentleman wrote a letter to his constituents in which 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 upon Malta or Egypt
There was not one syllable about a refusal of the United States of America to co-operate with us in imposing this oil embargo. To throw the blame upon the United States of America was just an unhappy afterthought of the Prime Minister. The fact is that now, and throughout the whole of this crisis, the Government have, in the words of the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil), in his letter to the "Times" yesterday:
been diverted … by what in plain words must be called fear.
I am sure that no foreign policy can be successfully conducted if the Government have lost their nerve.
Those are strong words from so staunch a supporter of the Government as the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University.
Far from sanctions having failed, or the machinery of the League having failed, it is working with a smoothness and an efficiency which, I say to the House quite frankly, I never for one moment anticipated. I do not know what the reply of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to the Home Secretary will be on this point, but I should say that the House would be amply satisfied if he said, "Well, at that time we thought that these sanctions would not be effective, and I have been surprised at the effectiveness which they have achieved." Why should the Home Secretary waste time in chopping logic with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs? At best it only proves that both were wrong. The right hon. Gentleman has to come here and admit miscalculations; why should he take so much pride in fixing upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs—who, after all, has only such sources of information as are open to a private Member—the responsibility for similar miscalculations? As a matter of fact, sanctions have not been a sham, a mockery, and worse than useless; they have been strongly supported by our fellow-members of the League. The right hon. Gentleman read out some figures of the import and export trade of this and other countries which are members of the League, and at one moment he said—a little slip, perhaps—"I will not pick out any more." He had picked them out very successfully up to that point. There were just one or two members of the League who had not been as loyal to the Covenant as others have been, but, broadly speaking, our fellow members of the League have been loyal to this sanctions policy.
Has it been effective? In the newspapers, in the corridors of the House, in Whitehall, you hear people whispering, "It is not doing any good at all," but what are the facts? The facts are that the trade of Italy has been reduced by nearly half, and that the gold reserve and foreign exchange resources of Italy have been reduced by more than half. I hold in my hand a letter which I have received from a friend of mine who has interests in Italy. I have been begged not to reveal the name of my correspondent, because nobody who is interested in Italy dare allow it to be known that they have ventured on any criticism of the Italian Government. I can only say to the House that, while I cannot give the name, I can vouch for the integrity of my correspondent and for the knowledge which that correspondent possesses of Italy. This is what is in the letter:
I have just returned from Italy. Arriving by sea at Naples, the port completely dead. Not another ship besides our own. Hotels mostly closed, hardly a motor about.
A week ago—the 16th June. It goes on:
30,000 in the glove trade alone are out of work; factories working three days, and to be reduced to two; copper stocks practically exhausted, cotton the same. What more could be expected from these limited sanctions? They are in a desperate plight for financial help, and think they will get it from Britain.
So far from sanctions having been tried out, the Government are throwing the weapon away just when it is becoming effective. It is not true that military actions alone can win this struggle for the League. The economic power of the League has Italy in its grip to-day, and the Government are going to Geneva to propose to our fellow-members of the League to relax that grip.
The war, says the right hon. Gentleman, which sanctions were imposed to stop, has come to an end, and he quotes as his authority for that statement the President of the United States of America. I do not think that anyone in this House holds the President of the United States of America in greater respect than I do, but, really, why should we take our policy from the President of the United States of America? His Majesty's Government recognise the Ethiopian Minister; they recognise him as representing in this country the Ethiopian Government. Let them go to him if they want to know whether the war in Ethiopia, is at an end or not. This is a matter of international law for decision by the League of Nations; it is not a matter upon which the Government of this country ought to come to an independent decision. Indeed, I see in this morning's newspapers accounts of the strong resistance which the Abyssinians are putting up in Abyssinia at the present time, and I hear from many quarters, some of which I believe to be well informed, that the Italians are having great difficulty in holding on to their positions in the face of Abyssinian resistance and during the rains.
The main point is that the chief purpose of putting on sanctions, the greatest purpose of putting on sanctions, was not the defence of the integrity of Abyssinia. That was an important purpose, but the main purpose was to thwart and frustrate aggression, to make it clear that the rule of law was going to be asserted against arbitrary power, that in future aggression was not going to pay. That struggle between arbitrary power represented by the Italian Fascist Government and the rule of law represented by the League still continues, and the Government of this country have no right to break it off. The Prime Minister now says that the retention of sanctions would mean war. I will not read the quotation, though I have it here, because the Leader of the Opposition read it to us in the speech in which he opened the Debate. The Prime Minister said: "If you adopt a sanction without being ready for war, you are not an honest trustee of the nation." Then why did the Prime Minister adopt sanctions in October? In the whole of his speech in Lanarkshire he was saying that we were not ready for war now, that we wanted far more armaments, that the wicked Labour party were preventing him from obtaining the armaments which the defence of the country required. If that be true, and if he is an honest trustee for the interests of the nation, why did he impose sanctions in October last? I hope that he will give the House and the country a clear answer to that question when he replies to-night.
If it was safe to impose sanctions then, it is much safer to retain them now. There was a Government in Spain which was not nearly so strong in support of the League as the present Government; there was a Government in France which was not nearly so strong in support of the League as the present Government which has just received a mandate from the electors of France. Italy is weaker to-day than she was in October—weaker with half her trade lost and more than half her reserve of gold and foreign exchange gone. We are stronger. There were, indeed, defects in our naval equipment and other armament deficiencies, which, by an expenditure of many millions of pounds—for which, let me say, in view of observations by the Home Secretary and by the Prime Minister in his speech in Lanarkshire last week, I and my friends on these benches voted—have now been made good. If it is dangerous now to maintain sanctions, if it would be an unwarrantable risk for the Government to take to maintain them now, it was a far greater risk for them to take when they put them on in October and when they then encouraged the Abyssinians to resist and when they led the nations of the world in opposition to Italian aggression. The Prime Minister reverses the maxim of Polonius:
Beware Of entrance to a quarrel: but, being in, Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
The Prime Minister gets into the quarrel, then asks the country to observe how very dangerous it is, and then allows no consideration of justice or honour to hinder his withdrawal. The Foreign Secretary spoke last week of a world made safe for democracy. He knows that aggression is an appetite that grows by what it feeds on. The Government's policy puts a premium on successful aggression, and makes the world safe for
dictatorship. As General Hertzog said last week, it makes the hope of averting war more slender.
There is another charge that we on these benches bring against the Government, and I think the Labour party do too. That is that the action which the Government propose to take at Geneva is inconsistent with the pledges which they gave to the country at the last Election. The Prime Minister, when speaking in Lanarkshire, said truly that that is a grave charge, but this is what the Government told the country at the last Election in their manifesto:
The League of Nations will remain as heretofore the keystone of British foreign policy … We shall, therefore, continue to do all in our power to uphold the Covenant.
Now they are going to Geneva to break down the sanctions.
… We shall take no action in isolation, but we shall be prepared faithfully to take our part in any collective action decided upon by the League and shared in by its members.
The manifesto did not say: "And when we get frightened we shall go to Geneva and we shall propose collective action in order to run away from the aggressor and to lift the sanctions which impede his policy." Quite frankly, I did not believe the Government. I remembered the Secretary of State for Air, the present Lord Swinton, saying not much more than a year ago—in February of last year:
Collective security is the policy of the Socialist party, and it will sooner or later land this country into war.
I quoted that speech from several platforms, and I said I did not believe that the Government were sincere in the declaration which they made in support of the League. But when the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), who was then a Member of the Cabinet, was sent to Edinburgh to make the principal speech that was made on behalf of the Government in Scotland at the last Election, he referred to a speech which I had made the night before, in which I had expressed my distrust of the Government's intentions. I quote from the "Scotsman":
Against that appeal to distrust he (the Noble Lord) made an appeal to confidence in the good will and honest evidence of the determination of all those men of different antecedents who came together to form the
National Government. He asked for confidence in the determination of all parties in the National Government, without any distinction or shade of difference of opinion, to uphold and enforce the system of collective security under the League of Nations and to uphold"—
what? The independence of Abyssinia?—Not at all!—
the inviolability of the law of nations against all unprovoked aggression.
There was nothing about Abyssinia in that speech, it was to uphold the law against aggression, against arbitrary power. That is the struggle which is now going on, and that is the struggle which the Government are abandoning.
"The situation has altered," says the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. "There were serious miscalculations." The only one that he mentioned was the miscalculation of military opinion in most countries that the conflict would last very much longer than it has in fact lasted. What military opinion? I do not pretend to have the sources of military advice that are at the disposal of the Government, but I tried to form an opinion last Christmas. I remember meeting a member of the Cabinet in a club in London. We were looking at the reports from the battlefields that were coming in, and I said I thought it was obvious that, when the Italians were ready, they would go through the Abyssinians like butter. I urged him to use his influence with the Cabinet to get additional sanctions put on. He said, in reply, that there were great hills and mountains and great difficulties in advancing. We all know the power of the defensive in the Great War. On what did that rest? It rested on barbed wire, machine guns, any quantity of small-arm ammunition, discipline and intelligent, highly-trained troops. With those advantages the power of defensive is, indeed, great, but not one of those advantages was possessed by the Abyssinians. There was great courage but no training and little discipline, no machine guns, no barbed wire and hardly any ammunition.
Now the Government tell us that they were staking the peace of the world, the future of the League and the honour of this country on the power of primitive almost unarmed Abyssinian troops to resist the bombs, the gas and attacks of a ruthless aggressor equipped with every devilish device of modern scientific war.
Now that the gallant resistance of the tribes has broken down, the British Government are the first to abandon the struggle. That is not what the country expected from the declarations that the Government made at the last election. Now the Government excuses itself on the ground that they need great armaments. This is what the Prime Minister said in one of the most important speeches during the General Election, a speech to which the "Times" gave four and a-half columns, at the Guildhall on 31st October:
It will not have escaped your attention that in our loyalty to the League we take heavy responsibilities. Those responsibilities we must be in a position to discharge. That involves us in some hard thinking and hard decisions.
What was the conclusion of the hard thinkings and hard decisions? It came towards the end of the speech:
Do not fear or misunderstand when you have heard me say that we are looking to our defences.… I give you my word that there will be no great armaments.
So it is not lack of great armaments which could be an excuse for the Government for climbing down from the pledges they gave of unwavering support of the League of Nations at the General Election.
There was no word in the Foreign Secretary's speech last week of condemnation for the crime of Italian aggression or for the use of gas. The moral issue must be evaded! The country will not have that. I have had double or treble the number of letters, post cards and telegrams during this crisis that I had at the crisis of the Hoare-Laval negotiations, a very large number from people who tell me they voted for the Government, and implied that they did so on the strength of the pledge that the Government gave on the issue of the League of Nations at the last election. They realise that the Government have broken the pledges that they gave to the country.
The Leader of the Opposition has asked what is the Government's policy. The Home Secretary has asked what our policy is. I will tell him quite frankly what my policy is. It is to maintain sanctions, of course if our fellow members of the League agree. I would not ask the Government to attempt to maintain them alone. It is the duty of the Government to continue the policy which they have professed to be following of unwavering support of the League to go to Geneva and, in co-operation with the French, to give a firm lead to our fellow members to uphold sanctions. In order to shorten the struggle as much as possible I would intensify those sanctions. To weaken support of the League, to limit its functions, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his notorious speech, to fall back towards isolation is not to reduce our liabilities. It is greatly to increase them. For a country like us, with interests and obligations in every part of the world, isolation is unlimited liability. Creating a system of collective security under the League of Nations is the only way of limiting our risks.
I ask, therefore, what is the Government's policy, and I ask the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister to tell me definitely and specifically what are the answers to these questions? Will they, in the first place, recognise the Italian Empire in Ethiopia? Suppose, for example, that Signor Grandi happened to be recalled to Rome in the next few months and his successor arrived with credentials made out in the name of the King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia, would those credentials be accepted? Then does the Government propose to obtain any safeguard for the treatment of the Abyssinians—any safeguard, for instance, in regard to the alienation of land and, more important still, the militarisation of the natives? Will the Government insist on any safeguards against the building up of a great black army? Will they insist upon the open door for the trade of other nations in Abyssinia? Finally, what is their policy going to be about loans? It is not enough to say, as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday, although it was a proper answer to the question he was asked, that the Government is not going to lend money. I want to know if the Government is going to prevent loans being made to Italy by private or any other interests. There ought to be a ban on foreign lending of all kinds to all nations which are at variance with the League of Nations.
I hope we shall not hear very much more of this accusation that we do not make constructive suggestions and tell the Government and the House what our policy would be. Will they give instruc- tions to Lord Kennet's Committee with regard to prohibiting loans to Italy so long as they are at variance with the League? If they say, "No, we will do none of these things; we will make friends with Italy and restore the common front against Germany," I shall recognise a logical and comprehensive but a short-sighted and wicked policy. If they say "Yes, we will insist on these things," I would ask, "How will you insist, if you use neither force nor economic sanctions, and impose your will on the aggressor?" I see that some Members have an Amendment on the Paper in which they ask that the Italian annexation of Abyssinia should not be recognised and that no loans should be made to Italy. I rather wonder that the Government have not accepted it, because really it means very little. The main point is that there is a struggle going on now between the League and Italy. If you abandon it, events will, of course, make it impossible for you indefinitely to refuse to recognise the annexation of Abyssinia or indefinitely to refuse to make loans to Italy. Refusal to recognise Italian aggression and annexation and refusal to give loans are vital, but they can only be made effective within the framework of sanctions and if you are maintaining the struggle on behalf of the League.
The Government is rotten with the psychology of weakness, irresolution and defeat. The Prime Minister was reduced in his speech last week to appealing for sympathy for the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Can one imagine Lord John Russell or Aberdeen appealing for sympathy for Palmerston, or Mr. Asquith appealing for sympathy for Lord Grey? Nor can one imagine the shout of homeric laughter which would have gone up from the Conservative benches if the present Lord President of the Council had appealed for sympathy for Arthur Henderson when he was Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. The Prime Minister drenches his audiences with sentiment. What is lacking is grit, leadership and tenacity of purpose. Much as I should like to ignore the present position of the Foreign Secretary, I find it difficult to do so. I do not for a moment say that such support as I have given him has been of any value to him personally, or to the Government, but I have, at great meetings in the Albert Hall and
all over the country, consistently appealed to my audiences to have confidence in the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity, in his devotion to the League and in his determination to maintain the struggle against arbitrary power. The confidence for which I appealed and which I felt myself, seems to have been misplaced. I could give, from the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT and from the right hon. Gentleman's speeches elsewhere, quotations expressing the necessity of firmness on the Government's part and unwavering support of the League.
We shall always be arrayed on the side of the League in sup porting collective security.
Now he is going there to break the sanctions array. I should like to quote from two speeches of his. There was one which he delivered last October in which he said:
There are two indispensable conditions. The first is that the three parties, Italy, Abyssinia and the League, accept the settlement and, secondly, that the terms shall be consistent with the Covenant. There has been and will be no change in the policy of His Majesty's Government, in which as a loyal member of the League we will persevere. For what is at stake?
That is the question that we all have to ask ourselves to-day. This was the right hon Gentleman's answer:
At this hour it is surely not necessary to repeat that it is neither an African dispute, nor an incident in expansionist rivalry between two nations, nor a Colonial war, but a vital test of the efficacy of the League and of the loyalty of its members to the Covenant to which they have put their names. If we fail, even though that failure be not final, we shall have shattered for a generation, and it maybe more, the hopes which mankind has placed in this new endeavour.
We have not failed. The struggle is now continuing. It is not the effect of the sanctions, which I have described this afternoon in detail, which has failed. It is the Government's nerve which is failing, as the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University (Lord Hugh Cecil) said, and it is the right hon. Gentleman who is now going to Geneva to break the sanctions. This is not the time, surely, and he is not the man to go back on that declaration.
But if the right hon. Gentleman has lost some old friends on this new policy, let us all gladly recognise that he has gained a number of new ones. I see from the
"Times," for example, that Signor Mussolini and his Government read the right hon. Gentleman's speech with great delight and that it aroused in their breasts feelings of satisfaction, pleasure, tranquillity, and faith in the future, and the recognition of Italian military and political successes, and also the admission of the non-existence of any Abyssinian Government had gratified Italy. And the compliments of the Government-controlled German Press were not less fulsome:
In Press comments the decision that an end bad better be put to sanctions is regarded as a sensible step 'back to realities,' and a certain admiration is perceptible of the sober and straightforward manner in which Mr. Eden, as the Government's spokesman, accomplished a delicate and unpleasant task, making no attempt to evade responsibility and admitting miscalculations. The British attachment to the logic of hard facts is appreciated.
It is appreciated, I have no doubt, most of all by those Governments which are most attached to the fait accompli as tie weapon of diplomacy. Lord Beaver-brook in a signed article in yesterday's "Daily Express" called upon his readers to rally to the support of the Government. Mr. Garvin was frankly delighted, and Lady Houston is rhapsodic, though she still reserves her praises for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What a change since last December, when the right hon. Gentleman said:
Perhaps, as I have the honour to represent Stratford-on-Avon in this House, I may be allowed to quote Bacon. If the hon. Member for Bridgeton will turn to Bacon's works, he will find this very wise saying:
'Men ought to know that, in the theatre of human life, it is only for God and angels to be spectators.'
We have to add to that list Lord Beaver-brook, Lady Houston, Mr. Garvin, and the hon. Member for Bridgeton."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th December, 1935; col. 431, Vol. 307.]
Now shrill and high among the celestial choir rise the voices of Lord Beaverbrook, Mr. Garvin, and Lady Houston—singing the hymn of welcome to the right hon. Gentleman as he passes into the ranks of the angels, there to become a spectator of the Roman triumph and the increasing power of the Italian Imperialist dictatorship. I prefer the words of a British statesman with great responsibilities, who delivered himself of this opinion last week:
We have no right to be unfaithful to the League merely because we fear that others are going to be untrue to it. If
other nations like Great Britain and France were not prepared to face the possible outcome of continuing sanctions that did not affect South Africa, which intended to support the League to the last.
He goes on, and repeats:
South Africa will support the League to the end.
Such is the only language which would be consistent in the mouth of the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. South Africa will support the League to the end. No other course is consistent with the honour of Britain.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) on his military foresight in seeing the end of the Abyssinian war. We shall know where to look in the future when we require information. He seems to be more far-seeing than all the general staffs in the capitals of Europe. But it is to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that I want to make some reference for a few moments. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs last Thursday spoke in this House with a brilliance to which few of us had had the pleasure of listening before. The right hon. Gentleman reminded us that he had been in this House with Mr. Gladstone, but I cannot imagine that Mr. Gladstone would have treated these grave problems with the same flippancy with which the right hon. Gentleman treated them.
The right hon. Gentleman threw a large number of stones at the Government, and I am going to say something about the record of the right hon. Gentleman himself. He talked about running away when confronted with danger. He is the expert. He has experience. He added terror to terror in Ireland, and then ran away. Then the picture arises in my mind of the unfortunate fate of the Greeks at Smyrna. When Mustapha Kemal Pasha threatened our troops on the Asiatic shore, the Greeks were invited to fight them and drive them back. The Greeks were placed at the disposal of the Supreme Council. They drove the Turks back. They wanted to go further forward, and they were forbidden to go further forward. When Mustapha Kemal Pasha became stronger he drove the Greeks back. There was no protection for them. They were driven back into the sea. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was the Prime Minister of this country and claimed for his Government that he never ran away. There is the ghost of Admiral Koltchak. The right hon. Gentleman had much to say about a torch. He also had a torch which was held high in Europe. But it was a torch which lit fires which have smouldered ever since. They were lit at the time of the 1918 election. The right hon. Gentleman came down to the House on Thursday and made that remark about Austria. Why should Austria be put out in the cold?
The hon. Gentleman opposite says that it is because she is taking the part of Italy, but I do not think that that is a just charge to bring against Austria. In any case, I do not know that arrangements were made to punish any members of the League by placing them outside the League if they committed any kind of slight indiscretion. The truth of the matter, as the hon. Member knows perfectly well, is that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, when he speaks of these matters, is speaking in a hollow voice. He does not really mean that he is behind the League, otherwise he would be behind Austria, just as he professes to be behind the Abyssinians.
I turn from the formidable figure of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to a less formidable figure, but one who may be very much more powerful in this country. I refer to the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition who is the second man on the Opposition Bench and who, if an alternative Government was formed, might be the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Lord President of the Council. When we ask him to state the views of his party he says: "I have already informed the Committee that I am not under examination." We have a right to know. The country has a right to know what the Opposition propose to do, if they are returned to power in the near future. We have a right to know, and the country has aright to know whether they are prepared to go to war in order to restore the independence of Abyssinia. That question must be answered or hon. Gentlemen on these benches will be entitled to say, that the Opposition are following a policy of drift which can only lead to war.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary was very different from either of the two speeches to which I have referred. He came down to this House and gave a clear and definite statement of the course which His Majesty's Government proposed to take. The right hon. Gentleman, ever since he has been in his present appointment, has had to face many crises. He has faced them all with courage, and he is facing this crisis with the same kind of courage that he has shown in the past. With the violation of the Covenant and the breaking of so many treaties, His Majesty's Government, of course, had no alternative but to impose economic sanctions, but it is quite clear to every Member of this House that they have failed to deter the aggressor, or to prevent the independence of Abyssinia from disappearing. I believe that we shall come round to the view, indeed we have come round to the view now, that unless we are prepared to back up economic sanctions with military sanctions, we should not try them at all. We told Signor Mussolini during the Election that we proposed to impose economic sanctions, but it was made quite clear during the course of the Election that we did not propose to impose military sanctions. I can remember speech after speech by the Prime Minister and by other leaders of the National Government. We have discovered that imposing economic sanctions is rather like peppering an elephant with a shotgun; it hurts but it does not kill. The whole burden, the whole odium of the imposition of economic sanctions has fallen upon this country.
No one who faces the question fairly can doubt that the cause of failure is the lack of unity among the members of the League. If they had acted together with unity and determination, and if they had already organised their overwhelming strength, the Abyssinian expedition would never have started. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite have not really thought out these issues. I think I am right in saying that during the course of the Election they proposed that the Suez Canal should be blocked. In the opinion of those most competent to understand the situation, that would undoubtedly have led to war. They wished to take on unlimited commitments, but they were not prepared to vote for adequate means of defence. The Dervishes, I understand, cry repeatedly a certain phrase until eventually they come to believe that what they say is true, and hon. and right hon. Members opposite have cried out "Collective security, collective security," till they believe that collective security already exists. They have never thought out the problem. What are they prepared to do in order to make collective security effective? Are they prepared to fight anywhere, at any time, in any part of the world? Have they thought out the numbers of divisions, of fleets and of aeroplanes which will be necessary? Are they prepared to fight for it? Will they give me an answer to that question? Hon. Members do not answer. Are they quite certain that all their associates will be adequately armed and will act promptly? Have they considered the possibility of a partner once again becoming an aggressor, as Italy became an aggressor during the past year?
These questions have to be thought out. The one thing that stands out clearly is that no one thinks out these questions. It is no good talking about 50 nations. One small nation added to another small nation really adds nothing to the strength of the whole front. The whole burden will fall on the great nations, just in the same way that the heaviest burden of taxation falls on the Super-tax payer. Hon. Members must not regard this question purely from the national point of view. In the world as it exists to-day we are the Super-tax payers, and internationally the heaviest burden will fall upon us. That is an issue which hon. Members opposite have never faced. They have never told the country what collective security, properly organised, is going to cost this country. There is a grave danger of our being governed by phrases and deceived by words.
Is the hon. Member aware that those words were in the Government's manifesto? It was their pledge and not our pledge at the last Election that we were going to adopt the system of collective security.
I am very glad that the right hon. Gentleman has intervened. I have watched the growth of the phrase "collective security." As far as I remember, the phrase was coined originally by the Labour party. I think it was the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) who originally claimed it.
I remember the hon. and learned Member obtaining ringing cheers from his supporters when he referred to collective security. I am prepared to agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party, that no one in this country has really thought out collective security as they should have thought it out. But the greatest sinners are hon. Members opposite, who have voted against every increase in the defences of the country and yet have gone round vaguely talking about collective security, never having explained what it means.
We did, but we explained what it meant. We had the courage to tell the country that it was necessary for them to put their defences into order, because we had certain international obligations. Did hon. Members opposite go to the country and say we should put our defences in order? When we think about collective security, I would urge the House to think of the events which occurred in March of this year. The re-occupation of the Rhineland in principle but not in degree was the same as the Italian aggression in Abyssinia. We were very unwilling to act them. I received no notice then of great Albert Hall meetings of protest, when agreements were broken, when the Covenant was defied, when Locarno was smashed. I have found no enthusiasm either among hon. Members opposite or among the Liberal Opposition for standing firm by our agreements. It was a case on their part of running away.
I do not remember the right hon. Gentleman making the enthusiastic kind of speech then that we have had from him this afternoon. I did not find his name supporting a League of Nations Union meeting at the Albert Hall. I did not find him supporting manifestos which might have been sent out about German re-occupation, the breaking of treaties, the smashing of Locarno, the violation of the Covenant. Yet our vital interests are much more closely affected by the re-occupation of the Rhineland than they have ever been affected by the invasion of Abyssinia. I would ask the House to consider the question, where do our interests lie? We must examine the international problems by thinking of that question, in the first place. Our interests lie along the frontiers of Belgium, Holland and France. That is our immediate interest. We are interdependent. The French Army is the screen behind which we are able to rearm. We should not be able to do it if that screen did not exist. It is not a question of what our inclinations are, but where our interests lie. Staff talks were not only inevitable but absolutely essential to our safety. That is where the immediate interests of our country lie.
Then there is another ultimate interest to be considered. We will never allow in the future as we have never allowed in the past any one nation to become predominant on the Continent of Europe. We have always gravitated towards those Powers which will oppose the hegemony of any one nation, and I cannot help feeling that just as it was to the British interest that Napoleon's march on Moscow should fail, so it will be in British interests in the future that any other march on Moscow in the present circumstances should also fail.
My hon. Friend will perhaps bear with me for a few minutes. The problem of Europe and the problem of this country is summed up in those two considerations of our immediate and our ultimate interests, and they will govern our policy, whether we like it or not. We are looking now to see which is the country which is aiming at the hegemony of Europe. It is the threat of German rearmament which is causing this country to carry through the programme of rearmament.
That is the only cause of British rearmament. The reason why it is necessary for us to take the immediate action that we are taking in regard to our rearmament is largely due to the philosophy which has grown up in Germany during the last two or three years or, rather, the resurrection of a philosophy which existed in the past and which has been intensified in the last few years. We are facing a nation which is chloroformed and which is deaf and blind to anything but Nazi doctrines. Everyone there is marching and everyone is preparing for war. They are utterly opposed to our ideals. In the German edition of "Mein Kampf" we find these words:
Nothing could have been effected by bourgeois virtues of peace and order," and again "the War of 1914 was not, we can call God to witness, in any way imposed on the masses, but, on the contrary, desired by the whole nation.
As Germany only believes in force, so she will only respect strength. We are like someone walking through a jungle. Those who are around us cannot understand us or appreciate anything about us except the rifle in our hands. If they have any doubt about it, I would ask hon. Members to recollect the course of the negotiations which have been taking place recently between Germany and this country, negotiations upon which so many hopes have been built. In February of last year the British and French Governments made an effort to come together and put forward proposals which would be acceptable to Germany. They were met by the re-introduction of conscription in Germany. That was followed by a great but vague speech by Herr Hitler. Then negotiations began. The proceedings went on, through the summer, and when it came to September the British Minister in Berlin approached the German Foreign Office and said he would like to have a reply as soon as possible. He was told that the German holiday season was on and that it was a long one. It is a long one so far as peace is concerned, but very short so far as war is concerned. This year, immediately after the reoccupation of the Rhineland, Herr Hitler made another great and vague speech. The negotiations are still continuing. I hope the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) will note that His Majesty's Government are doing their best in this matter in trying to get
the two nations together. Let him put the blame where it really rests. The question of mandated territories stands between this country and Germany. The demand has been carried on unofficially, but really nothing is unofficial in Germany. The demand is now becoming official.
I do not believe that any party in this country would surrender at the point of the bayonet. The mandated territories are a red light in the same way as the German navy was before 1914. During last year "collective security" was the favourite phrase. I am a little anxious as to whether this year regional pacts may not be the 1936 vintage, but I trust that when we begin to talk about regional pacts we shall know exactly what we mean. I hope that the policy of regional pacts is not going to be brought forward without a great deal of thought and that in the present structure of Europe the two immediate and ultimate interests of which I have already spoken will continue to govern all our actions in the future, as they have in the past. The Debate only makes me feel more definitely that the time has come to present a firm and united front to all who may attempt to weaken and divide a free nation, whose great resources, when they are once organised, will again be the deciding factor in world affairs.
The speech to which we have just listened is evidence of the opinion on the Government benches, and perhaps elsewhere, as to the present state of affairs in Europe. I opposed the imposition of sanctions, and I oppose a continuance of sanctions. I did so because I thought, and still think, that the Italian-Abyssinian dispute is only an incident in the troubled conditions which have arisen since the close of the Great War. The Government and the League of Nations and their supporters are all very seriously to blame for having led the Abyssinian people to believe that they could be saved by the League of Nations without war. I am sorry that I am unable to agree with my friends and colleagues in this matter, but I have never believed that it would be possible for the League of Nations to enforce a blockade on a relatively strong Power without that Power attempting to break the blockade. Therefore, from the first, when it became apparent that sanctions would be used, my friends and I took the line which we have taken up to the present. But the House and the country will be very sadly misled if they take this Debate, or the Debate last week, as in any way representing the world conditions, especially in Europe and in Asia.
We must remember that this Government, this Parliament, not quite unanimously but almost unanimously, are preparing consciously for war. All the preparations which have been made and all the appeals for men to join the forces, are not idly made by men who love war for its own sake, but that they think we have got once more to a crisis which can only be solved, or they think it can only be solved, by war. I am certain that if that issue had been put to the country fairly and squarely last October, no party would have received anything like a majority vote on behalf of war or preparation for war. Every single party in the State did its level best to persuade the electors that there was no fear of war—[HON. MEMBERS: "No"]—at any rate, that there was no fear of an Italian war. There was a statement that armaments in this country were generally to be raised, but there was not a single alarmist speech made.
I was speaking of those who took part politically in the election. There was no statement that we have to prepare ourselves for another gigantic war, and that is what the country has to face to-day.
The Secretary of State for War has told us—I think he was right to tell us if he believed it, although it was a terrible confession on the part of a Member of the present Government—that we ought to be drilled into fear, that we should look with fear and dread to the future. I want to remind hon. Members that from 1914 to 1918 this country and the world were called upon to settle exactly the same questions which we are told we have to settle to-day, that is, that we must secure Great Britain and the frontier in regard to France and the coast once more. How can you expect the young men of this country to respond to an appeal to which their fathers responded in 1914, 20 years ago? How can you expect them to take up arms in order to do something which after four years of fighting you told their fathers they had done? They were told that German militarism was conquered, its fleet scuttled and at the bottom of the sea, and that for the future we were to have a reign of peace.
Whatever other people may do, I at least ought to acknowledge that the men who said that from 1914 to 1918 believed it. Those who told the nation that German militarism was crushed and that the world was safe for democracy and peace, believed it, but events have proved them to be wrong, and now you are telling the youth of the world—it is not a story told by pacifists but by leading Statesmen, scientists and leading religious teachers—that another war will destroy civilisation. That statement has been made again and again, I heard it a hundred times in the United States. I have read it a thousand times in newspapers. It is a statement not made by irresponsible people, but by those who have a knowledge of the facts. I want to ask: What right have we to ask the youth to enlist in another war merely to destroy civilisation, merely to bring about a catastrophic ending to the period in which we are living? No one, I think, will deny the truth of what I am saying, and if that is the case, surely before it is too late this Parliament—we have a great responsibility—ought to demand that the Government should make a supreme effort to avert such a catastrophe.
I wish that the policy which the Lord President of the Council advocated partly during the War and after the War could be carried into actual practice, that is open diplomacy, open discussions, so that the people on whom this catastrophe may fall will have the chance of knowing who really are responsible. It is no use our statesmen saying that it is the statesmen in Germany, or in Italy or in France. Each Government declares that it is for peace, but prepares for war. We are in the same boat. Every Government says that the responsibility is on someone else. I want the Government to stand up to its responsibilities. I went to America a short time ago. I do not profess, having been there for five or six weeks, to know any more about America than the average person does. I am not one of those travellers who comes back after a week thinking that I know everything. But in America this matter is being discussed. It is a great mistake to think that the American people are anything but really friendly towards the people of this country. The American people have a tremendous regard for the people of Great Britain, and also a tremendous regard for peace. I spoke in 27 towns with all kinds of people, and the slogan at every meeting was "Keep America out of war."
The American people want peace in the world because they know perfectly well that if there is war in Europe they may, against their will, be dragged in, but those with whom I conversed were also quite certain that you can never get collective security on the basis of the present League of Nations. They are quite certain that the League must be cut free of the Versailles Treaty. Its primary business must be before war takes place to discuss and inquire whether it is not possible to remove the causes which may lead to war. I have said this scores of times in this House—the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and others, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Labour party have said it many times—that we want our Government, together with the American Government, and whatever other Government will join with us, not to wait and drift any longer but to join in making an appeal to the world to prevent this catastrophe which Fascists, Communists, Socialists, Tories and everybody know is coming unless action is taken. We should call on the nations to come together in order that they might first of all call a, halt to war and then sit down and pay some attention to the causes. Some of my hon. Friends disagree with me on this because, they say, you cannot get within a capitalist State any agreement such as I desire. If you cannot do that on economic causes you are not going to get any collective security in any other way, in my judgment.
Therefore, I want to ask the Government and the House whether they will not take immediate action so that a conference of this kind can be called. You may say that America would not come in. I am not so sure about that. I have not any inside or outside information except this: That every time a Governor took the chair at a meeting or any lead- ing man or woman spoke at a meeting all of them paid attention to this question and what was put to me every time was: Will the British people be willing to enter into a discussion, not for sharing out territories, but how the resources of the world can be used for the service of the world? I believe that if that were put to our people you would get an almost unanimous vote in favour of it, because everybody agrees that there is a big question to be solved by someone in regard to access to raw materials. I cannot argue that, but I would just mention currency, exchange and all the difficulties which there are in the way of countries which need raw materials being able to sell goods in order to be able to purchase those materials.
When I think of the markets of the world which are unsatisfied, I am appalled that statesmen and economists should be willing to spend their time only in preparing for catastrophic slaughter, and no time on how to develop the undeveloped markets of the world. I want this new conference to come together under the auspices of the League. I want the League to continue, but on the basis of which I spoke at the beginning. This country has given a tremendous service both on her own behalf and on behalf of humanity in every part of the world. We control the great waterways of the world. The other day the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) said that a part of Palestine was the Clapham Junction of the airways of the world, and he rather suggested that we should hold on to it. I should hope that Great Britain at a new conference to discuss how we can get peace would be willing to say to the world, "This new method of travelling should be free for all the world, and international airways should be free and open on the same condition for all the people of the world." I should hope, too, that our nation would take the lead in saying that, as far as subject races are concerned, we would be willing that people like the Indians and those in other parts of the British Dominions should be able to give their voice on how their countries should be dealt with.
There are many other questions, but I think I have broadly and roughly made out what I wanted to say, and I would like to tell the House—however scornful some may be of the proposition—that I never met a man, from the highest person to the lowest I met, but was quite certain that this was the only course open to the world. Senor Madriaga, the Spanish statesman, wrote two articles in the "Times" and has just now made another speech or written an article which was reported in the "Times," in which he says—and he is backed up by a Professor in America, Nicholas Butler—that what the world has to do is to merge its sovereignty in the sovereignty of the international of the world. People say that this has always been a dream, but we are living at a time when the world has altogether changed from what it was in the days when Mr. Gladstone thundered from that Box about the Bulgarian and other atrocities in Europe. He tried for what was called a concert of Europe. Others have tried for some federation or other. But to-day it is unite or perish. Mr. Cordell Hull put it in another way; you must trade or fight, he said. I ask: Is the statesmanship of Great Britain become destitute of imagination, of any power to use the brains of our country and invite the use of the brains of the world along other lines except war? I cannot believe that that is going to be true, and I will not until the event. I will not believe that my country at this crisis of her fate and the fate of the world is going to see the youth and early manhood of the nation smashed once more merely for universal destruction. I believe—and I have reason to believe—that in the country to-day many thousands of those who are pacificists are not pacifists for my reasons or because they are cowards, but because of the futility of war, the stupidity of war, the crime of war—the crime and futility owned up to by all those who advocate arms.
I have not said all that I would like to have said, but enough I hope to make hon. Members think along another line. Do not tell me about the difficulties or that I do not understand the difficulties. I have not lived in politics all my life without knowing how difficult it is; but it is no more difficult to sit down and argue how to share the world than to sit down and argue how to destroy the world. That is the choice and to-day, when I think of the enormous power of a man like Lord Allenby and of his swan song in Scotland, bewailing the fact that science and invention and everything we have is being used to prepare for destruction, I will not believe that the youth of this country will allow it to be done, and I appeal to everybody here, whatever his opinions are, and to my own comrades here especially. Before it is too late let us all come together. Let us all unite as you would for a war. Let us have a national movement for peace to help the Government if it will take the lead. Hell) it to go to Geneva and call the nations together, not for collective security by poison gas and all those horrible means of destruction, but to use their intelligence, their brain power, the same brain power which was used for destruction. Let them use it for constructing a new and a better world.
It is always difficult to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) since we all in our hearts feel such respect for his venerable courage, and we all feel for his ideals such emotional sympathy. Yet we cannot in our hearts agree that the purposes which he has in mind are as easy to secure as he would have us suppose. In his speech he has indicated to us the fallacy in which so many Members on the other side of the House indulge too frequently in discussing foreign affairs. They are apt to forget that they are foreign affairs—not the affairs of this country, but of other countries. They are, apt to approach the matter and criticise the Government as if they were discussing an education Bill or a Budget, something which depended on the volition and discussion of our own Government alone. They forget that in foreign affairs we are dealing with other Governments. If all countries were as reasonable and humane as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley there would be no question of foreign policy at all. We should not then have to discuss in this House in distress, and sometimes in vituperation, the terrible problems by which we are confronted.
I am glad that in to-day's Debate, unlike that of last week, the thermometer of the House has returned from fever heat to normal. Last week we were on the verge of calling each other by bitter epithets. We on this side were about to call the Opposition ignorant and hysterical warmongers, and they were already calling us cowards and traitors, and we knew very well that those epithets did not really apply. I was, however, sorry that the right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) returned to vituperation to-day, and did in fact assail the right hon. Gentleman the, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for cowardice. By implication, if not by statement, he suggested that the right course for the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary would be resignation. It seems to me—and I am sure all Members in this House will really agree with me—that if the right hon. Gentleman had been capable of treachery and cowardice he would have resigned, for that was the easier course. It was a course which would have earned immediately for him wide popularity, but he would have lost that great respect and great confidence which we others have in him. That the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary should have retained his post and taken the lead in retreating from sanctions appears to me an act of great loyalty and of remarkable courage. I think we should all pay a tribute to him for it. It was loyalty to his colleagues and the Government. He could easily have said and allowed it to be supposed that they had let him down.
During the Debate to-day and last Thursday I was anxious to detect from the speeches of hon. Members opposite what formula of policy their rhetoric contained. I was unable to do so. I am at this moment unaware of what that policy is. The very courteous questions that we have asked have been unable to elicit what, in fact, their policy is, and what they advocate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was acting as the spokesman of the Opposition, began—and we all listened carefully—to indicate by what methods he imagined peace could be attained. We asked him how. He replied to us first by saying that he was not in the dock, and then he told us not to be flippant. Is it flippancy to ask the spokesman of the Opposition by what methods he intends to carry out his policy? Having accused us of being flippant, the right hon. Gentleman then passed on to a comic recitation of his own.
I had hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), whose remarks were obviously received with acclaim by hon. Members behind him, would indicate to us by what methods the policy of the Opposition was to be carried out. Indeed, he did go further than any hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition benches. There is nobody for whom I have greater admiration than I have for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but he has his faults. He has one fault in particular: it is the fault of boyish irresponsibility. On Thursday last the right hon. Gentleman drove the solemn pantechnicon of his wisdom and experience in a manner which would have disgraced an undergraduate driving a racing car. As any of us might well have expected, this Jehuism on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, conducted as it was over a road which was greasy in any case, and on which there were, I may say, large patches of oil, caused the right hon. Gentleman to skid. He skidded three times. He skidded the first time over oil, the second time over Lord Palmerston, and the third time, as has been pointed out, he not only skidded, but the pantechnicon turned round on itself, on the unfortunate subject of Austria. I had honed that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition would to-day pick up those broken and sundered threads of argument, but he has not done so, and therefore I have to try to make up in my mind in my own way what idea is really behind the policy of hon. Members opposite. I suppose it is this. They wish to maintain sanctions in the first place as a deterrent and as a punishment for the aggressor. I think that is a perfectly legitimate point of view, but it is not a policy; it is an emotion. On the other hand, I do not suppose hon. Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) would wish to maintain sanctions purely in a spirit of vindictiveness.
There must be some other reason, and I suppose he wishes to do so as an example. I presume hon. Members say, "The great danger and the great peril is Germany; therefore, let us give Germany an example; let us show that the League can be organised and can act as a deterrent and in a penal way." I would agree with hon. Members in that if I felt it were possible or that it would have the effect they desire, but I do not think it is possible, because I do not believe that it would be a feasible proposition to consider for one moment that we could get the sanctions countries to continue sanctions, at great loss to themselves, without having a definite objective in view. As the Home Secretary reminded us this afternoon, it has been fairly difficult to keep them up to scratch with a definite objective in view. That definite objective has now gone, and it would be foolish of us to persist in dragging these countries a little further on the road to waste and ineptitude. Therefore, in the first place, even if there is a definite objective, the proposition is not feasible, and, in the second place, as to the effect on Germany, surely hon. Members know that the German public will only think what it is told to think. It will not be told to think that this shows the magnificent powers of the League. It will be told that it is a splendid thing, that there were three countries in Europe of which Germany was frightened—France, Italy and Great Britain—and that two of those countries are now cancelling each other out. That is what the German public will be told. So far from having a deterrent effect on Germany, the maintenance of sanctions will have an encouraging and stimulating effect.
Hon. Members will say that I am doing just what I accused them of doing, and that I merely pick holes in their arguments and make no suggestions myself. But I have a suggestion to make. I think it is a very strange thing in this Debate that, when the Foreign Secretary made a statement of the utmost importance last Thursday, it has not been taken up on every side of the House. What was that statement? The Foreign Secretary said that he pledged himself definitely to devote his whole energies to restoring to the League the plenitude of its powers. It is on the basis of that statement that I shall vote against the Motion to-day. If that statement had not been made, I should feel grave hesitation in voting for the Government, but we have that assurance and we know it is a definite assurance which means something. What does it mean? [Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen laugh, but I do not think they realise the lesson that we have been taught by this Abyssinian affair and our humility in accepting that lesson. We League people have been shown finally and absolutely by our ineptitude in this Abyssinian question that economic sanctions are not enough. We know, as has already been said, that aggressive violence can only be restrained by force. It is by the organisation, the co-ordination and the planning of force that the new League of Nations must be built. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs says there is no chance at all of reconstituting the League and when the right hon. Baronet the Leader of the Liberal party taunts and jeers me for using the phrase, reconstitution of the League, I do not think either of them realises that I mean reconstruction of the League in terms of actuality and force. Surely that is not repeating the old slogan.
How are we to do it? There is a "gold standard" of force in each country. We can be pretty sure that in every country there comes a point where they will resist and use force, and fight with all their forces and all their men. That is the point of self-defence. You can say to every country—to France, Germany, Italy—"At what point would you fight for your self-defence?" You then get the area of certainty in terms of force. You map that out, and then take the second line. You say to Great Britain, for instance, "We quite see that you will fight with all your men to defend your own territory"—(I know the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley would not, and there are some like him, but I am referring to the majority of the people in this country)—"how far would you help with force in other areas, we would like to know exactly?" The reply would probably be, "We will certainly send our fleet into such areas in such proportion; we will send so many aeroplanes, etc." You then get the second category, which might be called the probable. In the third category we should say, "We are not prepared to fight there; we will not send our men to the Far East and so on; we will not do that but we will help economically and financially." On that basis I think the reconstitution of the League is a very serious and possible proposition. Each country would divide its contribution into three categories, the certain, the probable and the possible, and on that basis the authority of the League could be re-established. Only when you have done that can you talk conciliation, can you apply Article 19 for the complete revision of all treaties, can you do everything possible to remove all the causes of grievance and finally establish that rule of order and of peace which is our objective on this side of the House, just as much as it is the objective of any hon. Member opposite.
I am glad to have the opportunity of following the hon. Member who has just spoken. As one who is some years his senior in this House, may I assume towards him the right which he assumed towards the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and patronise him a little? I hope it will not be any more out of place on my part towards him than it was on his part towards them. I suppose his speech is what would be called in many quarters of this House "a practical contribution" to the discussion, while the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley would be regarded as Utopian and idealistic and of no application to the subject. I differ profoundly from that view. I think the hon. Gentleman's so-called practical proposals are visionary, Utopian, futile and illogical. But if Parliamentary politics in this country proceed on the same plan as they have followed in recent years, I prophesy for the hon. Member a great future in this House. He described the continuation of sanctions in the present situation as being not a policy but an emotion.
An experiment in emotion. I am prepared to agree that this country, swept off its feet by a great wave of emotion for Abyssinia, just as it was swept off its feet in 1914 by a great wave of emotion for Belgium said, "We must do something to help those poor people—not too much on this occasion, not enough to hurt ourselves but what will be, we hope, sufficient with the aid of the Abyssinians themselves, the mountainous nature of the country, and the rains." For some reason this year the rains did not oblige the League of Nations to the extent that was anticipated. We hoped that with those aids and a limited measure of sacrifice on our own part, we might restrain Italy from taking possession of Abyssinia. But there were no time limits. We went into this policy to establish the great fact throughout the world and for all time, that aggression would not pay the aggressor. We have not established that fact, and now the policy is reversed. The policy which was to establish a particular fact, which, presumably, it is still the desire of the Government to establish, is being dropped and the hon. Gentleman defends to-day the withdrawal of sanctions with the same eloquence and skill as he defended their application.
His hon. Friend behind him, the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Emrys-Evans), speaks, I understand, in something of a representative capacity for back bench Conservatives. [An HON. MEMBER: "No!"] Oh, yes, I think, with all due respect, that is the case. It is all right for hon. Members opposite to be duteous about their Government, but they need not throw over the officials of their back bench organisation. The hon. Member for South Derbyshire talked about hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway as dervishes who, by repeating a phrase again and again, finally made themselves believe that it was true. I have no experience of the East, but I have heard of another kind of dervish, namely, the dancing dervish who works himself into a frenzy and keeps whirling round about for hours and even days on end. That is what the hon. Gentleman opposite is doing. He is like the dancing dervish. Whatever happens on the Front Bench, round he goes. If the continuation of sanctions to-day is merely an emotion, surely their application was an emotion, and a badly calculated emotion. If back benchers like myself could look at this thing in an objective way and if hack benchers like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spark-brook (Mr. Amery) and one or two other hon. Members opposite could prophesy the situation we are in to-day, why were the Government, with the resources at their command, with the advice of the military and economic and financial experts, unable, nine months ago, to visualise the humiliating situation in which this country finds itself? I cannot accept the words of the Vote of Consure because they seem to me to continue the same kind of silly sentimentality on a serious business, but on the one important issue before us, namely, that the Government have failed in a humiliating fashion to deal with this situation, over the last nine minths, then I am 100 per cent. with the party above the Gangway.
One of the reasons, though it is not put forward very strongly, why it is considered desirable to get out of Italian antagonism and get into some sort of relationship of friendliness with Italy is that in the interval Germany has grown to be a menace. We will have to deal with Germany, it is said, and, therefore, do not let us exaggerate the importance of this quarrel with Italy. Suppose Germany does become an aggressor, we shall say, "We are going to have economic and financial sanctions, but this time backed by military sanctions, and we are going to teach the aggressor that it does not pay to be an aggressor." That is the basis of the League of Nations to-day. It was in 1914 that we started to do that before. The War of 1914 did not start with the League of Nations, but it started with a regional pact, and after a very short period you had this alignment. There was a great array of the nations out to restrain an aggressor in the interests of international law. You had military, economic and financial sanctions, oil sanctions, and a blockade; the Suez Canal was closed to the aggressor; the Straits of Gibraltar were closed to the aggressor; the Straits of Dover were closed to the aggressor. You smashed Germany flat. You won and here is the aggressor again. Yet the hon. Member opposite tries to persuade me that he is a practical politician when he says that next time the organisation must be a little more complete.
Was not the organisation from 1914 to 1918 effective enough for him? Was it not all-embracing enough for him? Were the methods employed not severe and stringent enough for him? Did all that, however, teach the aggressor that aggression did not pay? What is the mood of Germany to-day? If we are to believe speeches made in this House in defence of the Government's policy the mood of Germany to-day, after being beaten and smashed, starved and financially ruined, is that they are saying to the world, "We shall have another go at you as soon as owe are fit for it." It is all very well to say that that was before the days of the League of Nations. That was before you had it down on paper, but the arrangements, the alignment, the ideals, the objects were precisely the same as those which were finally put down on paper in a written constitution, if I may so describe it. The right hon. Gentleman speaking the other day said the League has not a written constitution, but I think it has "nothing else but," as the Americans would say. It is all written—there is no body, no spirit, no consciousness, no fundamental honesty.
Everybody there is thinking in terms of general world wealth. Everybody there, with the single exception of Russia, is thinking in the ordinary capitalist processes of thought. They are always watching their neighbours around the corner, always watching the fellows sitting next to them at the council table. Look at the relish with which the Home Secretary read out the failures of certain member nations and how they had not done as much as we had done. How glad he seemed to be that they were failing in the duties which they all solemnly undertook. It is a mere delusion to think that among the capitalist nations of the world, there is a common desire for world peace and prosperity. My hon. Friends and myself on this bench always find ourselves a good bit away from the general attitude of the House on these occasions, because we do not think that there are short cuts to world peace. We do not think you are going to get it by constitutions, or regional pacts or formulae. You are going to get it by the struggles of the common peoples in the various countries.
Call it Communism or anything you please, but always remember this when you throw out gibes about Communism, that the Russian State, since it came under Communist leadership, has been a force for peace in the world.
It may be, but it is a force for peace, and everybody knows it, and Great Britain banks on it. [An HON. MEMBER: "The greatest army in the world!"] I have admitted that. The greatest force for peace is the struggle of the workers in the various countries to get economic and social justice, and to establish conditions in which the workers of one country cannot be hurled against the workers of another country in their masters' quarrels. Just fancy that what we have been discussing here as sanctions has been the starvation of the Italian working class. That is what we set out to do. If sanctions were effective, that is what we would be doing—carrying misery into the homes of millions of people. If you had some policy by which it would be possible to say, "This leader of the Italian nation is a tyrant and an aggressor, and we are going in among the Italian people and we are going to take him out and hang him by the neck as a menace to the peace of the world," there would be some argument for it. You never do that with the rulers, you never do that with the leaders, whether they be Emperor of Abyssinia or anyone else. They get going when the going is good and easy, and the common people are left to face the poison gas and the shells. The common people have a lesson to learn, and I am very glad to agree in two things that the Prime Minister has said. One was last Thursday when he said that it was questionable whether you would get the people of this country to march in a war. That is one thing that has to be borne in mind. The second, and more important thing, which he said in Lanarkshire last Saturday was that if you reluctantly had to throw the workers into another war, the war would end with the end of their rulers and a new system of society.
I have always been a supporter of the Government and their foreign policy. I am going to support them in the decision they have taken to lift, in co-operation with other countries, sanctions against Italy. The first question, however, that I ask myself now in the position which has to be faced in the immediate or near future is, what should be the objects of our foreign policy? What ends do we really wish to achieve? I suggest that there are four: First to secure peace for this country for our time and generation; secondly, to maintain the integrity of the British Em- pire; thirdly, to use our influence in keeping the peace of Europe because war in Europe must always be a matter of grave concern to the people of this country; and, fourthly, to keep and to maintain the defence services of this country in a condition in which they may provide an effective safeguard against invasion and protect our trade routes and Imperial interests.
To maintain peace for this country is more important and imperative than it has ever been in the past. During the last century wars were not waged on a scale which brought ruin either to victors or to vanquished, but to-day the position has completely changed. The economic reactions and repercussions of the next war will be more formidable than they have ever been in the past. Any country engaged in a first class European war will end in utter prostration, impoverishment and financial and economic destitution. Any great Power which keeps out of such a war will in the end be immeasurably the strongest and most powerful country in Europe. If this country is to avoid war, either war must be averted in Europe, or, if war in Europe should break out, this country must stand aloof and refuse participation. With a view to preventing war over 50 countries have subscribed to the covenant of the League of Nations. In the Italo-Abyssinian dispute they failed to prevent the outbreak of war. I would ask hon. Members whether it is likely that the League will succeed in the immediate future where it has so sadly failed in the immediate past. For my own part, although I regret it, I do not believe it. I believe that the League of Nations will always work, not in preventing war, but in opposing the aggressor where it is in the immediate interests of the State members of the League to make it work. If that natural but selfish aim is absent it will fail, and continue to fail, until a new outlook and mentality grows up in the hearts of men.
There are many in this country to-day who would wish the League of Nations to be reconstituted and remain the cornerstone of our foreign policy. If we wish to see it reconstituted, with this country as one of its main buttresses of support, I feel that, without in any way abandoning the high ideals that everybody in this and other countries must strive for, and while anxious to see the framework of the League altered in such a way as to command universal respect, I cannot in the immediate future support a League of Nations all-embracing in its commitments and with its power and authority based on automatic sanctions clauses. To-day we are faced with very formidable dangers. Doubt and alarm concerning Germany's intentions grow daily. Germany's military preparations grow hourly more complete. Internal upheavals in Germany may conceivably hasten the pace. Perhaps the time may come this Autumn after the Olympic games, after the harvest is garnered.
If so, where stands this country? The great League Powers—Russia, France, the Little Entente, and Italy—may demand sanctions against Germany in the name of the League of Nations and to vindicate international law and order. That is what is likely to happen, and that will be the ostensible reason for the demand. But I suggest that the real reason will be self-interest. Where will this country stand? When these demands are made we shall either have to go into a first-class war with Germany or we shall have to repudiate our contractual obligations. To repudiate such obligations which we had solemnly undertaken would be a deplorable action. It would be a sad day for the British people. To go to war with Germany because war broke out in Eastern Europe would be sheer disaster to this country. It would be disaster swift and absolute. It is with a view to meeting this eventuality which, although hypothetical, is a risk that may well materialise, that I say that in the immediate future the far-reaching commitments of the League of Nations must cease, and the automatically coercive clauses be expunged from the Covenant.
I can envisage four lines of argument against what I have said. First, it may be argued that a League which is determined and united, and whose efforts and intentions are known to the world, would save such a catastrophe. I do not believe that the League of Nations as at present constituted will ever deter a highly armed and powerful totalitarian State from embarking on a war of aggression. I do not believe that any Power on earth will deter a highly armed and resolute Germany, faced with troubles from within, from embarking upon foreign adventure. Secondly, I can hear the argument that this country could never allow this strong, powerful and militant people to extend their sway and control in Central Europe. Germany could never extend her control and her influence in such a way without a first-class war. She could never do it. If she went to such a war she would emerge a weaker, not a stronger Germany. We would see a broken Germany whose might was dissipated and whose strength was undermined. At the end of that war this country would be efficiently armed. Where is the danger? Which is the lesser risk, an immediate first-class war spelling immediate disaster, or a risk of war thereafter, a risk which could only be present when we were formidable and strongly armed and a risk which could only mature if you admit both Germany's hostile intentions to this country and her power to execute her evil designs?
I can hear another argument, namely, that to abandon the League of Nations and make known your intention of refusing to take part in a war in Central Europe would encourage Germany in her aggressive intentions. I can understand the force of that argument, but before being persuaded by its reason I must be convinced of the efficacy of the alternative, I must be convinced that the League of Nations will, in fact, stop such a war from breaking out. I do not believe that, and, not believing it, I cannot accept the view that the action which I am contemplating would cause an injury to peace which could otherwise be maintained. The policy I propose, although far from being ideal, is, I suggest, the least bad of various alternatives. I should like to make clear that I am not an isolationist. I do not believe that this country can allow a powerful and potentially hostile Power to gain permanent control of the Low Countries. To stop this it might be necessary for this country, either at the beginning, or at some stage of a conflict, to resort to force of arms. I feel most strongly about that.
I welcome the statement which has been made by His Majesty's Government. I hope that they will maintain their attitude that any such aggression by Germany on France and the Low Countries would not be tolerated, yet I equally strongly hope that the Government will privately inform the French Government that, should Germany attack to the East, and if France thinks her moment has come to wage a war of aggression on Germany, such action by France will not necessarily receive the support of this country. Meanwhile, the League must go on. As an international meeting place, as a chamber of conciliation, it can perform a useful and highly important purpose. In the control of the drug traffic it has proved itself indispensable. I hope that the time may come when it will be possible to envisage regional pacts under the auspices of the League. The time may come when that will be a matter of practical politics and it will certainly require the closest investigation.
There are two points which I should like to make, both of which are questions of fact. I am firmly convinced that the people of this country will not march to war unless they can see an immediate threat to this country or to our interests. We may applaud it. We may deplore it but we cannot ignore it. To pursue a foreign policy, the ultimate consequences of which the people of this country would neither support nor accept, would be to invite trouble beyond measure. There is growing up to-day a new generation who knew not the War. They are no less brave than their forbears; they lack neither courage nor resolution. Their hatred of war springs not from fear or cowardice, but from a better appreciation and a closer consciousness of the effects of war and the chaos that ensues. I feel profoundly convinced of that. In order to fight for their own country they would rise as one man, and in that cause would show a valour and a tenacity unparalleled in the world. To seek to educate the youth of this country to fight in various lands, not for self-interest, not for self-preservation, but for an international order which all would wish to enjoy, but for the vindication of which they are only prepared to fight when self-interest and League principles coalesce, would be unfair to our own people.
Secondly, there is the question of the preparedness of our defence Services. It is difficult for an ordinary Member of this House to come to any clear conclusion on this subject. I have made what inquiries I could, and I have satisfied myself that for a European war we are utterly and completely unprepared. Where a country is attacked or where its interests are immediately and unmistakably imperilled, it may be necessary for a country to resort to arms notwithstanding the condition of its defence forces. I confess, however, that to send the youth of this country to the Continent of Europe, ill-armed, ill-provided, ill-equipped, against a mighty and redoubtable foe supplied with all the modern weapons of our age, not to fight for self-interest, but for the League of Nations, would be a crime and a treason against our people. We have tried a great experiment, and we have failed. We have failed because the League was incomplete. We have failed because human nature was imperfect. This country has played its part with honour and dignity. We do not apologise; we do not recant. We are wiser after the experience.
We now turn to the future. We see a vast new panorama spread out before us; we see totalitarian States brandishing their swords before peaceful people; we see great European Powers anxious to obtain peace yet apparently unable to obtain it. We see the gathering storm, yet we doubt the collective ability of Europe to resist it. We see our own country standing as it does on the very verge of a prosperity yet unknown, and of a standard of living yet undreamed of. We weigh the cost of entering into such a war. We know that our civilisation will never stand the strain. We know that Bolshevism will raise its head in Europe, from east to west, from Caucasus to Pyrenees. We weigh the cost of keeping out of such a war. We gauge the strength of belligerent Powers when the war is over. We weigh the risks. We come to our conclusions. I have decided. As I listened on Thursday last to that rather remarkable concluding sentence of the right hon. Gentleman speaking on behalf of His Majesty's Opposition, the conclusions which I drew were somewhat different from his own. Referring to the Ministers of the Crown, he said that the League would flourish when these men's names had been forgotten. Sir, if they bring this country through the next 10 years at peace, their names will never be forgotten.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) when he said that the Government have failed to establish the policy that aggression does not pay, and they seem quite happy about it. Because they have failed to do that, I warn the Government that thousands of people in this country who have supported the League of Nations since it was instituted are at the present time coming gradually to the view that the League itself is a useless humbug and that this country should have little more to do with it. Many more are coming to the view mentioned by the last speaker that if war cannot be prevented by collective action or by any other action in Europe, the best thing for this country to do is to keep out of it. Those views are developing in this country at the present time owing to the failure of the League and of the Government, and the Government must recognise that fact. I feel that the League has been sorely wounded to the death and that the Government are very optimistic if they think that they will build it up again and restore the faith of the peoples of the world in that institution. I agree, too, with the last speaker when he said that we in Europe are faced with very formidable dangers. Over the whole Continent of Europe there broods the hooded shape of impending disaster. The breakdown of the Disarmament Conference, the rearmament of Germany, the victory of Mussolini, not only over Abyssinia but over the League as well, have brought Europe nearer to war than it has been since 1914, and for that position I say that the Government have, not the sole responsibility, but a very heavy responsibility indeed.
This Vote of Censure has been moved on the whole foreign policy of the Government since they came into existence. I do not intend to say more about the first four years of the Government's existence than that those years of the Government's foreign policy under the present Home Secretary, then the Foreign Secretary, were four years of unbroken failure and disaster. I would also say that the action of the present Home Secretary in condoning Japanese aggression, and even in encouraging Japanese militarism, in the Far East has had a great deal to do with causing Signor Mussolini to say, "After this I will have a little aggression on my own." Before I come to the question of Abyssinia, I want to say a word about the Disarmament Conference and its failure. During the whole
of the time the Disarmament Conference was in existence the Government refused to adopt the principle of collective security or to bind themselves to take action against an aggressor, and the farthest they ever went in the direction of saying that they would take action against an aggressor was in the amended form of the British Draft Convention, which said that
in the event of a breach or a threatened breach of the Kellogg Pact, the League should call a Conference to discuss the best way of promoting peace, or to use its good offices to restore peace, or, if that were found impossible, to determinee which was the responsible party.
Very few nations get, as Abyssinia got, nine months' notice of a declaration of war, so that such a proposal as that was completely useless as a means of giving collective security against aggression. Because of that, because we would not go further than that, the Disarmament Conference broke down. The Foreign Secretary shakes his head, but I am of the same opinion still. The Conference broke down, and Germany left the League. Even after that, when the late Monsieur Barthou proposed that the conference should seriously consider the setting up of a Security System, the British Government threw cold water on the proposal, and because of that the French Government, despairing of getting any security through the League or through a collective system, made what amounted to a military alliance with Italy. Therefore, when the British Government suddenly took up the question of sanctions, to which they had been completely indifferent before, and proposed that sanctions should be applied first to France's new military ally, naturally Monsieur Laval was very reluctant to follow such a very disconcerting and novel lead. That attitude of France was strengthened by the Anglo-German Naval Convention concluded by the late Foreign Secretary and present First Lord of the Admiralty, which the French considered, and which I consider, was a direct contravention of the Stresa Resolution and of other Resolutions. The French Government resented it very deeply, and as a result Geneva was weakened and Rome encouraged to defy the Covenant. The author of that Anglo-German Convention, as of the Hoare-Laval proposal, was the present First Lord of the Admiralty. I
am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is First Lord of the Admiralty, because I do not think the white flag of a blameless life and of two surrenders is a very thrilling substitute for "the meteor flag of England."
It is true, as so many hon. Members have said, that the greatest menace in the world to-day is the menace of German rearmament and the hardly disguised policy of the present German Government. Whenever a country is faced by a great menace, as we have been in the last two years, and a lesser menace appears, surely it is the duty of wise statesmanship to turn on that lesser menace and to get rid of it before the flames reach the central powder magazine. Therefore, when it was made clear that Signor Mussolini intended to challenge the whole collective system and make war upon Abyssinia, it was the duty of this Government, working through the League and using all its powers, both extra-League as well as powers within the League, to do everything possible, first of all to stop war breaking out at all, and after it had broken out to bring it to a close as quickly as possible. The Government and the League have failed to do either of those things. In my view the Government, throughout the whole of this controversy, have exhibited great weakness and vacillation. In which two Foreign Ministers have lost their reputation, and I am sorry to say a third has followed their example and now has lost his reputation too. I am afraid that to serve under the present Home Secretary, as the Foreign Secretary did, is not a good training for any British Foreign Minister, and I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman has learned his lesson too well.
The right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary on several occasions has claimed that the British Government in all these affairs have led the way. We had a paraphrase of that claim from the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) last week. The Foreign Secretary claimed that we have led the way and in certain so-called narratives of events which he has put before the House he has tried to prove that in detail. I wish to say here and now that those narratives of events, very much like the speeches of the Home Secretary, are masterpieces of evasion and of suppression. I will go through one or two of his points, and as the Foreign Secretary is here, he can follow me and, if he cares, deny what I am saying. We all know of the Wal Wal incident on 5th December and that Abyssinia appealed to the League of Nations three times in quick succession. The two most important times were 3rd January and 15th January, when Abyssinia appealed, under Article 11, and asked the Council to examine the situation. The Foreign Secretary said last week that British insistence had brought this matter within the ambit of the League. The Council was meeting at that time, on 15th January, and all that it did when the appeal of Abyssinia came before it was to postpone the matter until the next session. That is all the British Government did. The result of the Government's action was that the matter was postponed until the next session. The appeal by Abyssinia under Article 11 was not put upon the agenda, but postponed until the next session, and this was only the first of a long series of postponements.
On 11th February—these dates are very important—it was announced that Italy had mobilised two divisions, numbering 30,000 men, for service in Africa, and on 7th March that Generals Graziani and De Bono had been appointed to command the Italian forces in Africa. On 17th March Abyssinia appealed to the League under Article 15 to investigate the dispute, which was now likely to lead to a rupture. She stated that the independence of Abyssinia was in peril and demanded full investigation by the League. This appeal was not confined to the Wal Wal incident, but had reference to the Italian preparations for war. Nothing was done at the time. On 15th April the Home Secretary and the Lord President of the Council, those great British statesmen, then Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister respectively, went to Stresa and there they met Signor Mussolini. They did not go alone, but were supported by the Foreign Office expert on Abyssinia, though he was not called upon to say anything at all. The Foreign Secretary did not mention that in his narrative of events. The Foreign Secretary said:
The Abyssinian dispute was then almost entirely confined to this minor frontier incident (Wal Wal) … and the wider
aspects of the dispute had not then begun to loom so seriously on the horizon."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1935; col. 213, Vol. 305.]
He stated that in order to show that there was no need for the matter to be brought up at all at Stresa; but three weeks before that Abyssinia has stated that her independence was in danger and that she demanded full investigation. How, then, can the Foreign Secretary say the wider aspects of the question were not looming? I am afraid he has not been entirely candid with the House on this matter. I have heard of "the Nelson touch," which is not particularly noticeable in the actions of this Government, but this is what I call "the Simon touch," which is. At Stresa a resolution was drawn up denouncing the unilateral repudiation of treaties. It starts this way:
Representatives of the Governments of Italy, France, and the United Kingdom have examined at Stresa the general European situation …
The Foreign Secretary, speaking in this House last October, said:
It was hardly to be supposed that one of three Powers who had just declared that the object of their joint policy was the collective maintenance of peace within the framework of the League of Nations would take action in any other Continent which would jeopardise that framework."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1935; col. 214, Vol. 305.]
But it was Signor Mussolini himself who wrote the word "European" in that resolution, in order to limit its effects to Europe. Signor Mussolini said this in an interview which appeared in the "Morning Post," and which was sent round by the Italian Embassy, showing that it had an official character, to every Member of this House. He stated:
It was I who inserted the word 'European' in that text and I did it to show the African situation had been omitted.
That was done in the presence of the Home Secretary. He may be a small statesman but he is a great lawyer, and he understands what limiting words of that kind mean. If there is a resolution and someone put in a word which limits it he would see at once what it meant. He knew that at that time the Abyssinian question was in the air. Abyssinia had appealed to the League saying that her independence was in danger and Mussolini takes up his pen and limits the resolution to Europe. Did not the then Foreign
Secretary know that that meant that Africa had been deliberately excluded? Did he say a word about it? Did any of them say a word about it? Did they not ask Mussolini, "Why have you put in that word?" No question was asked. Nobody uttered a syllable. The Abyssinian expert was not called upon to come in and help in the negotiations. I say that that was an act of political poltroonery. It confirmed Mussolini in his view that no effective action would be taken, and it was that failure at Stresa to say anything about Abyssinia, and the action of allowing him to limit the Stresa Resolution to Europe, which caused Signor Mussolini to adopt such a truculent attitude when the right hon. Gentleman himself went to see him on 20th June.
Stresa was the first failure of the Government. It was a moral failure on the part of the present Home Secretary and the present Lord President of the Council, and has laid Abyssinia open to aggression. I think the only act of courage the Government have shown during this dispute has been in putting up the Home Secretary to-day to defend them. The white feather is the natural plumage of the right hon. Gentleman and birds of a feather flock together in the present Cabinet. Following upon Stresa Abyssinia again appealed to the League on 17th March. Nearly another month elapsed. On 15th April there was a special meeting of the Council. Abyssinia asked that the dispute should be placed on the agenda, but that request was refused, and it was postponed to the end of May.
Why did not the representative of Great Britain press for it effectively? Was it put to the vote? We are the greatest country in the world still, in spite of the Government, and our prestige at that time was unimpaired and not impaired in the way it has since become. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman say to his colleagues "This thing has been going on for months. Why should it be postponed again?" Which nations objected? Was there any vote? None at all. I expect what happened was that the Foreign Secretary said in his usual mild way, "I think we might put it on the agenda."
I meant the representative of the British Government. I was not accusing the right hon. Gentleman of this particular thing. I am accusing the British Government generally. Anyhow, there was a postponement until May. During May more troops were poured into Africa. Abyssinia appealed again on 13th May, and again on 20th May, asking that the military preparations of Italy should stop. Nothing was done. Nothing has been done from first to last during this controversy to prevent Italian troops being sent to Africa. When at last the Council met on 20th May, after all these troops had been poured in, after Abyssinia had declared her independence in peril, all the Council did was to confine itself to the minor incident of Wal Wal, and did not raise the general question at all. By that time Wal Wal had become unimportant—a mere question of a well or two. What was in question then was the future of Abyssinia itself, yet the Council still talked about Wal Wal and not about the general situation. At that time not only were troops being poured into Africa but Mussolini, in speeches to his troops, was openly saying that he intended to conquer Abyssinia. He said to his troops "You are going to the conquest of Abyssinia"—while the members of the League Council were still discussing Wal Wal. This state of things went on through the summer. It was not until 31st July, seven months after the beginning of this business, that the Council took up the general situation, and then only to postpone to September and the eve of hostilities. I know that between July and September there was a meeting in Paris, but it broke down. I say that this long series of delays proves the whole futility of the League to prevent war or to defend the independence of Abyssinia. In all these delays and postponements the British Government acquiesced. They made no protest against them. They did not make an open protest against it.
I am attacking the British Government. I am supporting a Vote of Censure on the British Government. I say that the British Government did not at any time protest against those long postponements. Why did somebody not go down to the Guildhall, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs did in 1911, I think it was, when he made a statement there on behalf of the Cabinet and caused the postponement of the European war? Something could have been done at this time. Signor Mussolini should have been told that the whole British Empire was backing the League and did not intend to have all these postponements. Does any hon. Member imagine that even if the League is reformed, and if you are supporting the collective system, and if war took place between Germany and France that you would have postponement for months before the League took any action at all? The war will not be over before that time?
Never had the League such a splendid opportunity. They had nine months notice that the war was going to take place. They knew that the war could not take place until the rains were over and they did not decide what to do until the rains were over. The League, of which the British Government is a prominent member—
If the hon. Gentleman had done me the honour of listening to me he would have heard me say that all these intolerable postponements and all this procrastination took place and that no strong public protest was made by the British Government against them. We ought to have called the Council together in 24 hours and said: "Now is the time to act."
Months afterwards. I am a reader of the "Manchester Guardian," the "Daily Herald" and other papers and also of the right hon. Gentleman's speeches, and I think I have gathered some information about this particular question. In September, when sanctions were imposed, this Government voluntarily agreed, without telling the House of Commons, not to impose, and not to propose the imposition of, immediately effective sanctions. They made an agreement not to propose the use of military sanctions, the closing of the Suez Canal, the withdrawal of ambassadors and the rupture of diplomatic relations. The House of Commons was not told about that. We only heard that the promise had been made in September by a speech made by M. Laval three months later in Paris, when he disclosed the fact that this Government had voluntarily agreed that when, the Council met they were not going to put any of those propositions before the Council.
They sent the Fleet to the Mediterranean months too late. If they had sent it in the Spring, it might have been of some use, and if they had sent it long before the war started. When they did send the British Fleet to the Mediterranean, they immediately sent the Ambassador to Signor Mussolini to apologise for its presence and to say that it was not there for use but only for ornament. It is a wonder that they did not ask Signor Mussolini to come and review the Fleet at Alexandria and partake of our renowned hospitality upon the hospital ship "Maine." The late Foreign Secretary—we are already almost forgetting who was the Foreign Secretary—said on several occasions that he admitted the need for Italian expansion, and that he had been the first to admit the need for Italian expansion, but he did not say at whose expense. Those speeches of the Foreign Secretary, made at that very moment, as though the Italians had a moral right to expand, encouraged Mussolini to go on, and also confirmed him in his view that the British lion would not fight.
Now I come to the Hoare-Laval proposals. I need not dwell upon them because they are so well known. It is difficult to understand how the Cabinet could say that those proposals came to them as a complete surprise, seeing that the negotiations for a settlement at the Abyssinian expense had been going on between Foreign Office experts and the Quai d'Orsay since the beginning of October. On 24th October, the Home Secretary came down to the House and, in tones of virtuous indignation, stated that no such settlement was being contemplated behind the backs of the League, as had been suggested in the "Daily Herald." The Foreign Secretary asked me to read the "Daily Herald." The "Daily Herald," just before, had drawn up a plan of the partition of Abyssinia, and had said that that was being discussed in Paris. The Home Secretary came down, before the election, and said there was no truth in it at all. When the details of the plan were eventually revealed, after the election—the Government won the election on the League of Nations appeal—we saw that it bore a very close resemblance to that which, a month or two previously, the Home Secretary said was not even in contemplation. How the Prime Minister can say that the proposals took the Cabinet by surprise is more than I can understand.
To recapitulate: The first betrayal was at Stresa, the second was the Hoare-Laval proposals and the third was upon the question of oil. Oil sanctions were approved in principle on 6th November. They were postponed over and over again and month after month, until the Italians, by means of poison gas, had won their way to Addis Ababa. It is no use for the Foreign Secretary to say that oil sanctions could never have been applied because they could not be sure that oil would not come from America; they knew that from the beginning. They knew that the United States of America were not in the League. Why did they start to discuss oil sanctions? Did the Government give a lead in suggesting that oil should be a sanction? If they gave a lead on that occasion they cannot come down and excuse themselves for not putting it on, and blame America. All the oil-producing countries in the League were in favour of it, Britain, Russia and Rumania, and the amount of oil from other countries in the League was almost negligible. Month after month, every excuse was made to put the matter off, not because of America, but it was said to give a chance to peace negotiations, although they knew that Signor Mussolini did not intend to have any peace negotiations at all. They postponed the matter month after month, and nothing was done after the Hoare-Laval proposals. They postponed it, and Abyssinia now lies prostrate under the feet of the poisoners of Italy.
Now we have seen the fourth betrayal, the dropping of sanctions in a hurry, almost simultaneously with the Roman triumph of Mussolini. To add to the irony of the thing, the day upon which the Foreign Secretary came here to announce the dropping of sanctions, as well as the dropping of the League and of the prestige of the British Government, was the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. It was also the same day as that upon which the Anglo-German Naval Convention was signed. In 1815 on that low roll of hills the British squares stood, and were not defeated, although they were attacked by the finest army and the greatest military commander of modern times. I remember the Home Secretary coming down to the House and quoting the great description of Waterloo in Thackeray's "Vanity Fair" and how it ended with somebody named George lying on his face with a bullet in his heart—he was probably running away at the time. I know that the speech did not go down; it was not a success. There was another character in the book, called Joe Sedley, who was in Brussels when the Belgians ran away. He took the first coach to Ostend, and that is exactly what the British Government have done. The Government were supported the other day, I was sorry to see, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain). He made a speech which I was very sorry to hear. It was not animated by the spirit that animated the speeches of his gallant father. I remember what the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain said to the German Chancellor:
What I have said I have said. I withdraw nothing.
And when I compare that with the way the right hon. Gentleman has eaten his words, taken off his hat to Signor Mussolini, and spoken about the Italian people glorying in their victory, without one word on behalf of the Abyssinians who have been poisoned and destroyed then I reflect how strange it is that history repeats itself and just as Oliver Cromwell, the Great Protector, was followed by Tumble-Down Dick, so the late Mr. Joseph Chamberlain has been followed by the present Member for West Birmingham. It is said that the reason why we did not take more vigorous action
was that we were afraid that Italy would hit back. I was reminded of a statement in a letter of Dr. Johnson:
I hope I shall never be deterred from detecting what I think a cheat by the menaces of a ruffian.
I venture to suggest that the works of Dr. Johnson would be more heartening reading for the First Lord of the Admiralty than the morbid meanderings of a neurasthenic Frenchman. There is no tang of the briny in the perfumed chambers of the Paris of Marcel Proust.
On an earlier occasion I should have liked to have appealed to the Government to take more vigorous action, but it is no use appealing to people who are running away. I should have liked to have appealed to them to uphold in this Thermopylae the honour of our land. I should have asked the Government then not to be obsessed by craven fears of being great, but it is too late now. Abyssinia has been conquered, the League has been destroyed, British prestige and honour are lying in the dust. The only poet to whom I can turn is a, modern poet, recently dead, who wrote these words—the bitterest words I have ever read:
Be still, be still, my soul; it is but for a season.
Let us abide awhile, and see injustice done.
One last shame we must be spared; there is one humiliation that we must not suffer. I warn the Government that there must be no reconstruction of the Stresa front; the people of this country will not stand for it. Italy too is disgraced and her name is an affront to civilisation. Years ago we used to speak of the Italian flag in the words of Swinburne:
Green as our hope in it,
White as our faith in it,
Red as our love.
To-day red stands for murder, green stands for poison, and white stands for death. That flag, as long as the present régime exists in Rome, must never fly side by side with ours. Things have been said about the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and what he said about Austria. As Austria is now practically a dependency of Italy and has taken no part in sanctions, it is true that no one is going to defend the Brenner Pass for Mussolini. If the German troops like to invade Austria by the Brenner Pass in order to release the Germans in the Trentino, we shall regard
that with complete complacency, and even if they find it necessary to bomb the Palazzo Venetia, it would not be the first time that Rome has been sacked by the Goths. Italy must be expelled from the League; otherwise the League and the Government will perish in their own hypocrisy. I conclude with a few words used by a great statesman, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, on 4th July, 1864:
We will not threaten and then refuse to act. We will not lure on our Allies with expectations we do not expect to fulfil. And, Sir, if ever we have the honour to act, to carry on important negotiations on behalf of this country, I trust that we at least shall not carry them on in such a manner that it will be our duty to come to Parliament to announce to the country that we have no allies and then declare that England can never act alone … I lay this down as a great principle which cannot be controverted in the management of our foreign affairs. If England is resolved upon a particular policy, war is not probable.
I rise to say a few words after having been here for some very considerable time. I do not wish to detain the House, because I gather that there are many others who wish to speak. To-day's Debate has been extraordinarily interesting. I myself am going to be quite fearless, and am going to say, whatever it may cost me in my constituency, that I do not believe in the continuation of the League of Nations as it is at present, or even as it may be if it is considerably reorganised. I do believe in a League of Nations organised more on the lines, perhaps, of a vast chamber of commerce, to develop the trade of the world, which might really benefit the nations and might do something to prevent that terrible hunger for land which so many of them have.
I know that to-day everyone, so far as the Government are concerned, has given of his best. I do not want anyone to think I am subscribing in any way to a Vote of Censure on the Government. I am a supporter of the Government, and I believe that, under the conditions and difficulties which they have had to face, they have not only acquitted themselves well, but have done remarkably well. They have taken courage in both hands—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I mean that. Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but I think it is perfectly true that the Government have taken hold of the things that matter, and have said that these sanctions, which will be nothing more of less than vindictive, must come to an end as far as Italy is concerned. In doing that they have undoubtedly done the right thing, and I shall go into the Lobby and vote for the Government feeling that it is the right course to pursue.
I believe that the League as it is constituted should definitely come to an end, and that the ideas of its reorganisation are bound to come to failure, because we have been told to-day very clearly, and have been given figures bearing out the statement, that we alone of the 50 nations or so have really endeavoured faithfully to carry out the sanctions which were proposed. No other nation seems to have done that; no other nation has really fulfilled that obligation. I believe that, as time goes on, what I am saying will be borne out, and that this policy and these very long and—I am sorry if I am rude—sometimes very wearisome Debates will end by our taking a strong line on our own account. I believe that we should gradually and honourably, but definitely, detach ourselves from all these commitments which we have. I believe that by our own strong arm, and by that alone, we shall win through and be a power for peace in the world.
I must congratulate the hon. Member on condensing into a very short period of time a very interesting point of view. He has perhaps given some of us a lead. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will you follow his example?"] I shall do my best. The curious thing about public opinion to-day is that it is still capable of surprise at the deceit and duplicity of the National Government. One would have imagined that by this time it was sufficiently inured to that experience not to consider it anything out of the ordinary. It is well worth while looking back, in the history of this Government, to the time when it was first elected, because one will find that gradually the truly reactionary Conservative elements have pushed out the Liberal and National Labour elements, which have been used more and more as mere camouflage. The Foreign Secretary was, perhaps, the chief decoy duck put out on this foreign policy episode, and one would have thought that, when the decoy cluck was revealed for what it was, it would have retired gracefully from the scene and not determined to continue its deception of the public, because there is not the slightest doubt that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has gradually been carrying out a policy of sweeping away the Liberal elements and the Liberal outlook which at one time were part of the outlook and policy of the Government, allowing Liberal statements still to be made in the country for the purpose of deceiving the public, but making quite certain that the actions of the Government were actions of reactionary Conservatism.
Hon. Members will find it very interesting to take the list of Ministers in 1931 and see what has happened to them in the development of national government. The Lord President of the Council, of course, and people of that type are naturally regarded as nonentities throughout the country to-day, and shortly the Prime Minister will join them in the lumber-room of Conservative politicians. [Interruption.] It is not a promise. It is a prophecy. There has more and more come to the fore the type like the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Hailsham and the late Foreign Secretary, who has now returned as First Lord of the Admiralty, to emphasise the fact that they are now preparing to drop that camouflage which they had formerly adopted. If one follows through the development of this policy by the National Government, one sees what the reason for it was. May I remind the House of the words of the Prime Minister at Glasgow in November, 1934?
It is curious that there is growing among the Labour party support for what is called a collective peace system. Well now, a collective peace system, in my view, is perfectly impracticable in view of the fact that the United States is not yet, to our unbounded regret, a member of the League of Nations, and that in the last two or three years two great Powers, Germany and Japan, have both retired from it. It is hardly worth considering, but those be the facts.
Shortly afterwards it became perfectly apparent that the National Government was in for a very heavy electoral defeat unless it adopted a League of Nations policy, so they performed a quick-change turn. They shed the Foreign Minister, they changed the Prime Minister, and
then the new Foreign Minister adopted this policy of faithful adherence to the League of Nations, as heretofore. It happened by a strange coincidence that the new Foreign Secretary made a speech at Geneva on the eve of the General Election—a speech which was heralded in this country as showing that the Government were honestly convinced of the necessity of a collective peace system, and which has succeeded in hoodwinking the electorate and making them believe that the Government meant what it said. But, of course, the really intelligent supporters of the Government, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), realised that this policy of collective security and the League of Nations could be utilised, after the disappearance of Germany, as a means of encouraging the Anglo-French Pact which he desired and as an argument in favour of rearmament and, following the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, he took up this cry of collective security and the League of Nations as from that time.
The Conservative party were so successful in their deception of the people during the Election that the Prime Minister himself admitted his surprise that the people were against the Hoare-Laval agreement. Knowing that he himself had his tongue in his cheek, he had not realised that he would make the people think that the Conservative Government was honest. As a result the Hoare-Laval incident caused the electorate to wonder whether, after all, the Government had meant what it said. The Foreign Secretary was changed. It was not much trouble for the Prime Minister to get rid of his best friend politically in order to save his own skin, and to put the present Foreign Secretary in his place. He at once took up the song that he was instructed to sing, the Liberal song, in order to try once again to quiet the minds of the people which had been so severely disturbed by the Hoare-Laval incident. The new camouflage worked for a time till the rain of events washed off the paint. Now the right hon. Gentleman sits there as discredited as any of his predecessors.
There is one other incident that is worth noticing as regards the Hoare-Laval Debate. The Chancellor made a speech on that occasion, when he wound up with these words:
I say for myself—I am not speaking for my colleagues—that, though I recognise to-day that that decision was a mistake, I cannot say that in similar circuumstances I should not again commit that mistake.
Now he has done it. It was one of the truest prophecies that the Chancellor has ever made. But this time he was going to make quite certain that he was not let down and made to apologise by the Prime Minister, so he adopted the ingenious method of stating in public, to the Press of the world, the provisional reflections that had occurred to him personally, and he made it quite certain that the Prime Minister could not throw him over this time. No doubt from good experience, he had learnt that he could not trust his colleagues, so that he must commit them in advance. One asks oneself whether the people of this country are ever going to realise that, the sacking of a Foreign Secretary or the reorganisation of a Government is never going to alter the foreign policy of an Imperialist Conservative party. If the people want to alter foreign policy, they have to get rid of this Government, and the sooner they do it the better will be their chance of saving themselves from a premature and ghastly death in the next war. I venture to think that the people of this country will find votes much more effective than gas masks to avoid that danger and that tragedy. There is one passage in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary to which I want to draw particular attention. He said:
I am convinced that it remains true that a universal League of Nations of substantially disarmed States, in a world made safe for democracy—that is what the Covenant contemplated—can effectively and without doubt maintain peace, but, unhappily as I believe for mankind, such a League has never in fact existed, nor in present conditions can it readily be seen how such a League can be made.
A few lines later he said:
We have to comprise within one organisation the willing collaboration of governments of totally divergent character."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1936; col. 1208, Vol. 313.]
Observe the necessary conditions for a successful League laid down by the Foreign Secretary—universality, substantial disarmament, and, thirdly, States safe for democracies. In those circumstances it is not surprising that he says that he cannot readily see how such a League can be made to-day, especially
when you start with the reversion to complete anarchy which is being confirmed by the National Government's most recent acts. I do not think that anyone outside a lunatic asylum imagines that any one of those three conditions which he postulates is likely to come about before the next great war. The League has become less and less universal as aggressors have been allowed to continue aggression and have withdrawn from the League as a result.
So far as any disarmament is concerned, the complete surrender of democracies to dictatorships, signified by the present act of the Government, is leading, and must lead, to more rapid rearmament throughout the world, and as for democracy it has shown itself so weak and craven under the leadership of the National Government in this country, that it is in the greatest danger of growing eclipse, an eclipse which has already been setting throughout Europe. If this is the best that the Foreign Secretary can say as the great protagonist of the League among capitalists in this country, it is high time that the peoples of the world appreciated the sorry farce in which they have been asked to take part since the last War. I think that though the Foreign Secretary made it clear that it was impossible to have an effective League of Nations in the present circumstances, he under-estimated the difficulties. Like all capitalist statesmen he ignored the vital fact that political co-operation cannot be built upon the basis of economic competition. British Imperial interests are not synonymous with the interests of world peace. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his famous provisional reflections ended his speech with this sentence:
No one looking round the three continents of Europe, Africa, and Asia can doubt that if we are to play our part in preserving the peace of these great regions, if indeed we are to maintain our own Imperial interests and vital lines of Imperial communications, it is absolutely necessary that we should rehabilitate our Forces without delay.
The primary objective of this Government has always been and is now the maintenance of British Imperial interests, just as Hitler's objective is the maintenance of German Imperial interests, and Mussolini's objective is the maintenance of Italian Imperial interests, and Japan
has the same objective as regards Japanese Imperial interests. In that rivalry of Imperial interests in the world, world peace comes in a very bad second as regards the foreign policy of any of those countries in the world to-day. It is hardly to be wondered at that, when you get a collection of Imperialist exploiters, they will from time to time fall out over the division of the swag. Those who desire to see the liquidation of Imperialism as the basis of foreign policy in the world, as we do, do not want to see it come about in the disgustingly undignified way in which the National Government threaten to bring it about, by conquest by some other Imperialist country. We do not want to be driven out by some new rival, but we want to use our position and our influence in the world to-day to liquidate Imperialism as a method of international economic organisation, because as long as that persists as the basis of international economic organisation, so long is it perfectly certain that the rivalries and competition arising within those Imperialisms will lead to the necessities which have been spoken of to-day, of using force to try and solve the contradictions and objections of that system.
It would be possible for a strong group of States, all determined upon a new method of co-operation in the economic life of the world, co-operating in the use of their resources and in the government of their dependencies, to lay a real foundation for a policy of peace. But as the Foreign Secretary implied in his speech, that group cannot successfully comprise within one organisation governments of totally divergent characters. True democracy is required within each constituent State of that group, democracy which is economic as well as political, and on the basis of democratic working-class control in those various States they can concert a common policy which will give cohesion to that group, which can never be derived from the mere participation in power politics as it is exercised in the world to-day. There is only one firm foundation for any structure, either of an all-inclusive or a partly inclusive peace group in the world to-day, and that is the unity and co-operation of economic interests. Until that is realised by the statesmen of the world, they will go on as to-day trying to get a balance of power, first by one orienta- tion and then by another orientation of Powers in Europe or in the East, and all the time the uncertainty of these groupings will themselves lead to the inevitability of war. Unless the people of this country are prepared to put into power a Government that will tackle this problem from the basic economic point of view they are, in my view, inevitably going to find themselves within the next few years in a far more tragic set of circumstances than they were in from 1914 to 1918.
The hon. and learned Gentleman says that the object of the Government ought to be to liquidate Imperialism. I hope that at some future date he will inform the House how he proposes to liquidate General Goering. I hope, too, that on a future occasion he will deal with realities and not with abstractions. At the beginning of his speech he followed the line that has been followed by so many hon. Members in the party opposite of using this grave occasion as the opportunity for a knockabout party debate. This is a question of blood. No one has challenged the contention advanced from the Government Front Bench that we cannot turn Italy out of Abyssinia without war. It is the grave issue of war that we are discussing to-night. There have been sneers, jeers, laughter and irresponsible truculence from the party opposite, but no sense of the appalling gravity of the situation in Europe. We are being censured to-night. Let us look for a moment at the hon. Gentlemen who are censuring us. We are being censured for failing to uphold international law, for truckling to dictators and for permitting might to triumph over right.
I am coming to that in, a moment. Who are the gentlemen who are censuring us with such a parade of moral indignation, and with wounded pride at the humiliation of their country? Many of them in the last War were conscientious objectors. I say nothing against them personally, but am merely stating a fact. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition spoke impersonally of pacifism and talked about pacifists. He said that he did not agree with their point of view, but he has pacifists behind him by the score. He has pacifists in every Labour association. It is only now in the Lewes by-election that at last the Labour party has said: "At any rate, in a by-election we cannot have pacifist candidates." But we understand that that ban will be lifted for the General Election. I recollect—I think it was in 1923—a complimentary dinner being given in this House to conscientious objectors. It was presided over by a distinguished member of the Labour party. If ever international law and the sanctity of treaties was challenged and the honour and safety of our country was imperilled, it was in the invasion of Belgium. Belgium was wantonly attacked by Germany, an attack accompanied by the use of poison gas and with every weapon of atrocity and frightfulness, and yet those who would not lift a finger, would not lift a stretcher, would not even carry the wounded in order to save Belgium, have the effrontery to come to this House to-day and put down a Motion of Censure and say that by our cowardice we have betrayed Abyssinia.
I propose to quote one of those gentlemen, these ex-conscientious objectors, not for the sake of personal abuse—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—it is a perfectly fair point that I am making—but to illustrate my argument. I see my hon. Friend, if I may call him so, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones) in his place. I should like to call attention to a speech he made at a meeting at Bedworth on Saturday, dealing with the Abyssinian situation. He said:
The House of Commons last Thursday witnessed one of the most disgraceful spectacles ever seen in British politics. Inevitably they would see an attempt by Italy to conscript the black races of Africa for the Italian Army, and just as surely as Italy did that, other nations would militarise their people in the same way. The whole of Africa would be regarded as a recruiting ground for the armies of Europe. Unless a change of international outlook came into Europe all they now called civilisation and its benefits would be engulfed in ruin.
The hon. Member was himself a conscientious objector in the last War. Then, it was not a question of the conscription of the black races of Africa. It was a question of the conscription of the white population of Belgium. It was not the enslavement of Africa or of Abyssinia but the enslavement of western European civilisation under the iron heel of militarist oppression. What did my hon.
Friend do at that time? I will give an extract from "Who's Who." No doubt he contributed, as we all do, dossiers to "Who's Who."
Opposed Great War; became conscientious objector; imprisoned; deprived of post as teacher; refused re-instatement as teacher.
You cannot cheer a man who does that in the Great War and also cheer him for doing exactly the opposite in the present crisis. I am making no personal attack upon the hon. Member, but I am asking whether he and those like him really can go into the Lobby to-night with a clear conscience and vote against us on the ground that we have betrayed Abyssinia, when he and they would do nothing 20 years ago to save Belgium.
If the hon. Member has finished with me, perhaps he will allow me to say a few words. There is no time to reply to him now, and I should not have intervened had he not referred to me. I believe there is a quite adequate defence to the position that I took up. That is all that I can say now.
I thank the hon. Member very much, and I have no doubt that we shall hear from him later. I want to say a few words on the new position that the Labour party is taking up in regard to armaments. It is something new in our Debate. An attempt is being made to explain away an inconsistency. The Leader of the Opposition said this afternoon that the Government could have had what arms they liked. Yes, but not if the Labour party had won the Election. He talked of posters eight months ago. We remember some posters eight months ago. Those posters were:
Armaments means war.
More armaments mean more war.
But, apparently, they would have supported the provision of armaments. Hon. Members opposite are now saying that their votes against armaments were only token votes, and presumably not meant to be taken very seriously. They do not oppose rearmament now. Their opposition then last October to rearmament was only an electoral trick, and they are finding it rather unpopular and trying to explain it away. Who is running away now? What about election pledges now? The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said in a memorable phrase:
The torch of freedom is being extinguished with a hiss.
Rearmament is now being advocated by the party opposite in a whisper so that the pacifist vote will not hear it, but loud enough for the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs to hear it, and what is called the Popular Front. Popular Front—popular humbug! I share the grave concern of many hon. Members of the House at the withdrawal of sanctions. I put my name to an Amendment by the hon. and gallant Member for Carlisle (Brigadier-General Spears) which contains two points—no condemnation of Italy and no loan. On both these points, as far as I am concerned, the Government have returned entirely satisfactory answers. The Foreign Secretary, on Monday, said:
His Majesty's Government have no intention at the forthcoming meeting of the League of proposing or assenting to the recognition of Italy's annexation of Abyssinia."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1936; col. 1410, Vol. 313.]
And the Financial Secretary on Monday said:
His Majesty's Government have no power to grant loans or credits to Italy, nor have they any intention of seeking such power."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1936; col. 1412, Vol. 313.]
We have to ask ourselves this vital question, to which no attention has really been given in the Debate so far: What purpose would a continuance of sanctions achieve? The war is finished. When I saw a picture the other day of the Emperor of Abyssinia leaving Euston to spend a day or two with Lord Inverclyde I said to myself, "The war is over." I have nothing but admiration for the gallant way, and the great dignity, with which he stood by his troops and organised resistance when all seemed lost.
The Opposition say that two-thirds of Abyssinia is still in the hands of the Abyssinians. Unfortunately the tragic fact remains that the Emperor is not with them. And there is the fact pointed out by the Foreign Secretary, that the Galla tribes, who alone remain unconquered, are violently opposed to his rule. The Leader of the Opposition used a rather unfortunate analogy with Belgium on this issue. For four years fourteen-fifteenths of Belgium was in the hands of Germany. Where was King Albert? He was in the fifteenth part; in the trenches with his troops. Two-thirds of Abyssinia may be in the hands of the Abyssinians, but the one unifying and civilising force is in London. Whatever may be the result of a continuance of sanctions, they will clearly never put the Emperor back on his throne.
As for Italy, I am still of the opinion that sanctions resolutely continued and intensified by a League united and enthusiastic would produce ruinous effects on the internal economy of Italy. But where is the unity and enthusiasm of the League? Take France. What evidence really is there that a change of Government in France has meant a change of heart on sanctions? What evidence is there that they are really anxious for the continuance and intensification of sanctions? I have in my hand a speech made only this afternoon by the French Foreign Secretary in the Chamber of Deputies which, I think, answers the question:
In the present state of affairs the maintenance of sanctions would only be a symbolic gesture without having real efficacy. What would be the use of putting forward measures whose character would be to aggravate by the very fact that a definite object could be no longer assigned to it?
And what about the great majority of the smaller nations? Are they really willing to continue sanctions? The Leader of the Opposition used strong words this afternoon when he said that our name had become a by-word in Europe. He did not produce any evidence for it. Not a line from a public newspaper in the whole of Europe could he quote in defence of that extraordinary statement. As to foreign opinion on sanctions, I will quote an authority which will be respected on both sides of the House, a League publicist and popular front hot-gospeller, Mr. Vernon Bartlett. What did he say about sanctions in the "News-Chronicle" of 13th June?
During the last six weeks, I have discussed the future of sanctions with important politicians in six central European countries. I am compelled to admit that, almost without exception, they favoured their abolition, but on two conditions. One was that the British Government, having taking the lead in imposing sanctions, should at least have the courage to propose their abolition without any pretence that the failure was due more to defects in the League machinery than to the unwillingness of the States, including Great Britain, to make the machinery work. The second condition put before me in these foreign countries was that the British should avoid all talk about needing Italy's help against Germany.
I suggest that both those conditions are fulfilled in the Government's policy. I remain a convinced supporter of the League. I fought the election upon it, and I have nothing for which to apologise or withdraw. Circumstances have been too much for us. It is absurd for the Opposition to contend that nothing has changed since October. Everything has changed. The battle at Lake Tsana has been fought, the Emperor is in flight, and there is no provisional Government or any Government in contemplation. Above all, the peril of Germany is a far greater menace than it was six months ago. In October she was still behind the bars of the demilitarised zone. She has burst them, and has refortified the Rhine, and we have reason to believe that there is a large army waiting, if need be, to strike at Western civilisation. Some countries in the present critical condition of foreign affairs have reason to fear the ambitions of Italy, and some have reason to fear the ambitions of Germany. We alone among the great nations of the world have reason to fear both. These are the ugly facts of the situation, and no Government worthy of the name could ignore them.
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House went out of his way to make a gratuitously offensive attack on those who were conscientious objectors during the War. He seemed to imagine that all of us on this side were conscientious objectors, and therefore inconsistent in seeking to charge the Government with cowardice. Most hon. Members on this side would agree when I suggest that it is a very mean thing for the hon. Gentleman to sneer—
If the hon. Member will read his references to conscientious objectors and their inconsistency in charging the Government with cowardice, he will see. He is entitled to form his opinion and we are entitled to form ours. I do not want to defend the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Morgan Jones). He is capable of defending himself. I would like to remind the hon. Member for Bristol North (Mr. Bernays) that it is because some of us saw something of the last War that we are just as strong in our beliefs in the collective peace system as he appears to be, and it is because we are strong believers in the collective system that we are supporting the Vote of Censure. We charge the Government with having been guilty of dishonesty and cowardice. We charge them with being dishonest because the Prime Minister and many of his colleagues never have believed in the collective peace system.
The Prime Minister has said on more than one occasion that he did not believe that the collective system was a practical proposition. If he really believed that he should not have allowed his late Foreign Secretary to go to Geneva last September and deliver a speech which was a clarion call to the whole world to rally round the Covenant. It is true, as the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) pointed out, that it was just prior to the General Election and subsequent to the peace ballot. If the right hon. Gentleman really believed that the collective system was impracticable he should have instructed his Foreign Secretary to go to Geneva and say: "We, the British Government, take the view that the collective peace system is impracticable, and we therefore cannot give any assistance to Abyssinia." If he had done that maybe much would have been avoided that has subsequently taken place. At any rate it would have been more honest if the British Government had taken that line in September instead of leading the Abyssinian nation, so to speak, up the garden.
Is it an exaggeration to charge the Government with cowardice? For the first time in about 2,000 years this proud British nation is bending the knee to the Roman conqueror—the conqueror of Abyssinia. The only excuse the Government is able to put forward is that the collective peace system has failed. How could that system succeed unless it was being operated by men and Governments who believed in it? How could it be expected to succeed if two of the principal Governments acted as the French and British Governments have acted in the last 18 months? In January, 1935, complaint was first made to the League of Nations by the Emperor of Abyssinia. In the same month a secret agreement was made between the French Government and Mussolini, whereby the French, in return for assurances of aid on their other frontiers, gave to Italy a free hand in Abyssinia.
The Foreign Secretary has told the House that in January last year there was every prospect of serious conflict between Abyssinia and Italy, and that the Government were in possession of the terms of the secret agreement between Laval and Mussolini. The statement was made in this House on 24th February, that the Foreign Office were in possession of the terms of that secret agreement in January last year. And yet in April they went to Stresa and said nothing. I wish the Home Secretary were in his place. I never expected to hear a Minister in a British Cabinet, not even in this Cabinet, say that a Government which we are told stands four-square to the collective peace system and the Covenant of the League of Nations would not allow, so far as he was concerned, one soldier to lose his life or one British ship to be lost in defence of the independence of Abyssinia.
Let us clear our minds of humbug. Either we are going to stand by the Covenant of the League or we are not. If this country is going to stand by the Covenant we must be prepared to face up to all the obligations flowing from that Covenant, including the obligations of Article 16, and you are not carrying out the obligations of Article 16 by putting on pettifogging sanctions which made little or no effect on the situation in Italy. The League could have tried other sanctions. Why was not Italy expelled from the Council of the League? Why were not ambassadors withdrawn? In 1921 certain resolutions were passed at the League Assembly in Geneva. One of these resolutions was to the effect that as a first measure it would be sufficient to withdraw the heads of Missions. The right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) when he followed me in a Debate a few weeks ago, said it was ridiculous on my part to suggest the withdrawal of ambassadors. If it is ridiculous to suggest that in 1936 it was ridiculous for the British Government to agree to that resolution in 1921, and the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were both members of the Government which agreed to that resolution providing for the withdrawal of ambassadors as part of a sanctions policy. The Foreign Secretary would not in my opinion accept any suggestion that it was ridiculous to endeavour to enforce the provisions of Article 16, although he might take the view that it was undesirable from another point of view.
May I, in conclusion, put one or two points to the Foreign Secretary with regard to the future? Nothing was done from January of last year until October to prevent war breaking out, except in so far as conciliation was attempted. I would like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he accepts the view of the Home Secretary that nothing could have been done until Article 11 of the Covenant. The Home Secretary endeavoured to confuse the issue by saying that there was no provision for the enforcement of sanctions prior to the outbreak of war, but would that be inconsistent with the taking of measures other than sanctions by the League of Nations in the months preceding the outbreak of war? In a normal case, in Europe, if an army were mobilised on the frontier of a country, that would be an indication that aggression was to be attempted. Last year troops and supplies poured along the Suez Canal to the Italian Colonies, and the situation was, therefore, an unusual one in that respect and not technically an act of aggression. Would it not be desirable to reinforce the Covenant so as to entitle the Council of the League to say to a country acting as Italy did last year that while conciliation is taking place not a soldier or a gun must be moved until conciliation has terminated? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary will consider that suggestion.
I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will not forget the provisions of the Protocol, to which reference has been made on a number of previous occasions. It is of no use appointing a committee after the war has begun to decide whether or not it is possible or practicable to impose an oil sanction. All that expert work should be done during times of peace, so that when it may become necessary to impose economic pressure upon an aggressor all plans will be in the pigeon-holes of the League ready to be taken out and put into operation. That leads me to the point that it is of no use talking about revision of the Covenant unless there are to be Governments in control of the League which are prepared to operate the Covenant. The Covenant even in its present form, if properly operated last year, might well have avoided the conditions which exist at the present time. The reason the Opposition has put down a Vote of Censure to-night is not that it is our duty to say what should be done, but because we say that the Government, as a result of their inactivity, their lack of cohesion, their lack of strength and their vacillation, have landed this country in a mess almost without parallel. It is for the Government themselves to get out of that mess, and it is the duty of the Opposition to criticise the Government for putting themselves into that position. That is the object of the Vote of Censure.
It is not for us to say what we will do when we take office. If hon. Members would like to know what we would have done if we had been in office 12 months ago, I can very soon tell them. We would have avoided—[Interruption]—Hon. Members are like a lot of parrots; every time the question of the League of Nations is discussed they keep on saying, "War, war, what about war? Are you in favour of war?" I can only speak for myself, but for what it is worth I can state my own position. I believe that anyone who supports the collective peace system, as set out in the Covenant of the League of Nations, has to be prepared to face all the consequences naturally flowing from the enforcement of the Covenant against an aggressor nation. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about armaments."] Let us consider the question of armaments. Forty-six nations have given the assurance of mutual aid under the second paragraph of Article 16. Four nations have given specific guarantees of mutual aid. We who support the Covenant of the League say that we are prepared to face all the consequences flowing from the enforcement of the Covenant on a basis of mutual aid. It does not mean that the British Navy or the British Army has to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the rest of civilisation. Nothing of the kind.
After all, a nation cannot do more than give an assurance, and I do not believe—[Interruption]. Hon. Members may sneer, but I challenge the Foreign Secretary to rise in his place and say that he has no faith in any of the assurances that have been given by 46 nations under Article 16. The Foreign Secretary disagrees with the hon. Gentleman on my left, and I am very glad he is prepared to take that view. I hope that what I have said has made it clear that we on these benches are prepared to accept all the obligations under the Covenant of the League of Nations, and that, having regard to that position, we are entitled to put forward this Vote of Censure and condemn the Government for the mess they have made with regard to the Abyssinian question.
I apologise to the hon. Member opposite, but I am anxious not to take any of the Prime Minister's time. I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate that without a time-table there is chaos. In to-night's Debate we are discussing a Vote of Censure on the Government, but there have been moments in the course of the Debate when it appeared that the character of the discussion had not been fully apprehended. The Home Secretary, for example, appears to have confused a little the role of the accused person before the law and the prosecuting counsel. The Government to-night is the accused person and we are the prosecuting counsel, and the country is the judge and the jury. I do not intend to run away from any questions that have been put, but I shall only answer them with due regard to proportion, and I shall primarily advance arguments in support of the Motion which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has moved. So far as records are concerned,
the Labour party has held office in this country, and from 1929 to 1931 the Labour party was in control of foreign affairs. We are quite willing, so far as records of achievement are concerned, that history should judge between our record from 1929 to 1931 and the record of the so-called National Government from 1931 to the present time. We will leave that to the impartial historians of to-morrow. However, I am anxious to meet one point which has been advanced with emphasis to-day by the Home Secretary and to which the Prime Minister also referred in his speech to a hand-picked audience on Saturday last. The Prime Minister, referring to my hon. Friends of the Labour party, spoke as follows:
They vote against every vote for the Navy. They vote aganst every aeroplane for the Air Force. They vote against every proposal in the House of Commons for the production of an extra shell for the Navy.
The Home Secretary this afternoon made a statement a little more skilful, savoured a little more with legal cunning, but substantially equivalent. I stand at this Box to say that that statement is not true. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I stand here to say, and I will give evidence in a moment if hon. Members will bear with me, that not only is that statement not true, but that it is a most shameful fabrication for which I am astounded that the Prime Minister should make himself responsible. I ask the Prime Minister, when he rises later, either to prove that statement or to withdraw it, in the light of the facts which I shall now recite.
In this Parliament there have been several occasions, even in the few short months since the Election, when the Government have come forward with Estimates for the fighting Services. Following long-established Parliamentary procedure, my hon. Friends have not—and I emphasise the words "have not"—opposed those Estimates. What we have done, following, as I say, long-established Parliamentary procedure, adopted in turn by all parties in the State, has been to move token reductions in large Votes. I have all the particulars here if I am challenged. What we have done has been to move a reduction of £100 on a total of millions, say for the Air Force, or to move a reduction of 100 men on a total of thousands in the personnel of the Navy, or to move a reduc- tion of £100 on a total running into millions for the Army. We have done so with the object of ascertaining whether behind these demands for increased armaments there was any clear and conscious plan, any relationship of a definite and clear character between these armaments and the armaments of other countries, within a scheme of collective security against aggression, and whether, as between the demands for the different Services, there was any scheme of intelligible co-ordination so as to get the best results from a given expenditure.
It was with those objects that my hon. Friends moved those token reductions and we carried those Motions to Divisions, because we got from the Government no clear statement of the purposes behind their demands for increased expenditure, and no evidence whatever that they were doing anything else but rearming in isolation from other nations, with no scheme of collective security against an aggressor—that they were even rearming in isolation, service by service, hardly assisted at all by the tardy appointment of the Minister who is now called the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence. We carried each Amendment for a token reduction to a, Division and thereafter—and I beg the Prime Minister to note this and to contradict it if he can—having been defeated on those token reductions, we did not challenge Divisions on the main Estimates. The same Estimates, passing from the Committee stage to the Report stage, again went through without Divisions.
Having looked at the proceedings of this House for 24th February and 19th March and for other dates when Estimates have been before us, and having taken the trouble to fortify my memory as to the facts, I say with complete confidence that there is no justification whatever for the Prime Minister's statement that my hon. Friends have
voted against every vote for the Navy, every aeroplane for the Air Force, and every proposal for the production of an extra shell for the Navy.
[Interruption.] I am stating the facts, and if the hon. Member opposite is doubtful as to the truth of what I am saying, let him go outside and consult the OFFICIAL REPORT for 24th February and 19th March. I say that either the
Prime Minister was below his usual moral form or else was ill-served by incompetent secretaries when he dished up that statement.
Further, if we are to speak, not of the actions of Governments who have power, but of the actions of Oppositions who are, for the time being, without power, I go back to the days when the Labour Government held office in 1931. What happened about the Service Estimates then? I beg the attention of Conservative Members to the facts which I am about to recite. In those days the Labour Government were faced with something more serious than Motions for mere token reductions of 100 men or £100 in large Votes. They were faced with proposals from certain of their own supporters, whose opinions the great majority of us respect but do not share, not for token reductions but for real reductions which would have wiped out the Forces altogether had they been carried.
I take one illustration but I could multiply it. On 17th March, 1931, the Labour Government were faced with a proposal to reduce the Air Force to 2,000 men which, practically speaking, if carried, would have "washed out" the Air Force—annihilated it. On that occasion there voted: "Ayes, 12; Noes, 248." Who were the 248? I have counted them with care and I find that 163 plus two Tellers were members of the Labour party. Two-thirds of those who voted to save the Air Force from extinction were Labour Members. Where were the Conservatives that night? What interest did they take in maintaining the forces in an efficient condition when the Labour Government were in office? They were not here and we presume that, as patriotic and thoughtful men, they left it confidently in the hands of the general body of the loyal supporters of the Labour Government to maintain the forces in an efficient condition and to save them from extinction. Let us hear then a little less of what Oppositions do and a little more of what is done by those who have responsibility in the Government.
Since 1931 the responsibility for the defence forces has been wholly and unquestionably that of the National Government. They have had full power and full responsibility for five years.
What have they done? They have spent a lot of money. The Naval Estimates run to round £60,000,000 a year. What value have we got for it? The Fleet was sent to the Mediterranean last autumn. The Home Secretary, this afternoon, said he was not prepared to see a single British ship sunk in the cause of Abyssinian independence. None the less, you sent your valuable ships with their valuable crews into the danger zone, where you judged there was a danger that they would be sunk. You sent the Fleet, the responsibility for the equipment of which was yours, not ours, into the danger zone. What happened next? The Prime Minister's lips became sealed. In the Hoare-Laval Debate the Prime Minister said that, could he but reveal the truth, not one of us would go into the Lobby against him. He did not reveal the truth that night. I ask him whether the time has not come to reveal it now, in view of all this argument and counter-argument in regard to the naval situation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in one of the many unanswered passages of his speech last Thursday, asked whether it were true that the Navy, which the Government sent into the Mediterranean last autumn—the Navy for the efficiency of which the Government were responsible—was unprepared, was ill-equipped, was short of ammunition, could not fight a fleet action and could not face Italian aircraft. There have been so many rumours that it is time they were either justified or laid to rest. Is it true that you are now going to make peace with Mussolini and that he is going to be your ally now? Cannot you tell us the truth now? Was that the situation with the Fleet? If that was the situation, the Government in other days would have been hounded from office by an indignant public opinion. The Government have had responsibility for five years. At the end of five years it is said that they are afraid that Italian aircraft might sink a ship or two of ours. Then I ask this—and the Foreign Secretary knows the answer to the question, and he will correct me if I am wrong—who was it in the early days of the Disarmament Conference who first proposed the abolition of bombing aircraft everywhere? By a bitter irony of history it was Signor Mussolini, through the mouthpiece of Signor Grandi, who is now the Italian Ambassador in England, with whom from time to time the right hon. Gentleman meets in order to arrange comfortable accommodation about the future status of the African territories. It was Signor Mussolini who first proposed that all the nations at Geneva should agree to abolish by international agreement all bombing aircraft. [Interruption.] He is going to be your Ally soon, so do not speak evil of him. It was Signor Mussolini who first proposed it, and he had great support among other nations.
Who opposed the proposal? There is a famous passage that has been recited before:
When the Disarmament Conference assembled in 1932 almost its earliest discussions were centred around the possibility of the total abolition of air forces, or at least of the abolition of the artillery of the air, the bombing aeroplane.
And Lord Londonderry said:
I had the utmost difficulty at that time, amid the public outcry, in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane, even on the frontiers of the Middle East and India.
It has come nearer home since then. Lord Londonderry had the utmost difficulty in preserving the use of the bombing aeroplane. Even in the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, even further north in Germany, he had the utmost difficulty, but he succeeded. There was the menace to our Fleet last autumn. This Government, which at that historic occasion at Geneva took the wrong turning, are responsible for the peril, if there were peril, in which our Fleet was then placed.
We charge the Government with having lowered British prestige abroad lower than it has ever stood in the memory of men now living. Read the foreign Press. Read what is said in the Press of almost every European country and of our Dominions and countries overseas. Our influence to-day at Geneva is less than it has been for many years, and foreigners, according as they have regarded themselves as our friends or as our enemies or envious rivals, are to-day either sorrowful or filled with contempt and delight. This Government is like a bird flapping about with broken wings, afraid that Signor Mussolini will throw a stone at it to drive it away from any piece of land he demands. And Herr Hitler does not take it very seriously. It is six weeks since the Foreign Secretary addressed certain questions to Herr Hitler. He is still waiting for an answer. The right hon. Gentleman's predecessors would not have been kept waiting so long when Great Britain counted for more in the councils of Europe.
One finds no pleasure—I say this frankly and completely sincerely—in noting that these things are so and wishing that they were otherwise, and that the influence of our country were greater. Reference has been made already to the vast yawning gap between what the Government said at the Election and what they did when they won the Election. Literally millions of British men and women who voted "Yes" to the questions in the Peace Ballot and voted "Yes" to the candidatures of hon. Gentleman opposite, were duped. Out of their own mouths the Government have been condemned more than once. I select for quotation a passage which has been quoted less often than others from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, speaking on 14th October, said:
If the League were to abdicate its functions under the Covenant every weak nation would first begin to arm, then to seek alliance with its strongest neighbour, and before long the peace of Europe would be at the mercy of the biggest and strongest Powers of Europe.
I whole-heartedly agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The League today is abdicating its functions under the Covenant, and abdicating them under the leadership of the Foreign Secretary next week. From these events will unquestionably flow the consequences which the Chancellor forecast in that passage. You will find that before long from the competitive and frantic rearmament of great and small Powers alike there will come a situation in which the peace of Europe will indeed be at the mercy of the biggest and strongest Power.
The Government started in pursuance—I should say in semi-pursuance—of their undertaking at the election. They deliberately started on this policy, which the Prime Minister told us involved great risk, of applying sanctions, even though in a half-hearted fashion. They went that distance into the risks, and then suddenly they turned tail and came out again. Will the Prime Minister explain to us why they were willing to run all those risks in one month and why in the next month they pulled out and ran away?
I wish to speak for a moment of the present situation in Abyssinia, and here I wish to be objective and to quote such authority as is available to me. It has been said freely by supporters of the Government that Abyssinian resistance is broken, is at an end. Is it sure that Abyssinian resistance is at an end? How do you know, until after the rains, what resistance remains in Western Abyssinia? During the season of rains neither Italians nor Abyssinians can move, and I am advised that, owing to the low clouds, Italian aircraft cannot fly. Until the season of the rains comes to an end round about October next, it is impossible to say whether or not any resistance remains. It is admitted that less than half of Abyssinia, in terms of area and less than half of Abyssinia in terms of population, has yet been conquered by the Italian armies. It is true, as the Foreign Secretary said, that Addis Ababa and Harar have been taken, but Addis Ababa is a mere collection of mud huts, and Harar is not much more, and the great bulk of the Abyssinian population live in the western part of the country, which is still unsubjugated.
Lord Lugard has a letter in to-day's "Times," and he is an authority who, I am sure, will be recognised as impartial and possessing considerable knowledge. I will not quote it at length, because time passes on, but it is available for any hon. Member to read in to-day's issue of the "Times." Lord Lugard in that letter quotes a certain Colonel Sandford, whom he certifies to be a man of great knowledge and long experience in the affairs of that part of Africa and who has spent long years there, as declaring that there is still a considerable area of Abyssinia which is outside the control of the Italian forces.
The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary was very anxious to know what our policy is. It has often been stated before, and I am not confident that, after I have restated it now, the Home Secretary will not ask for it again the next time we ask him to tell us what the Government's policy is. So far as sanctions are concerned, we say that there should be no question whatever of lifting the existing sanctions yet until the rainy season is past, until it has been ascertained whether or not the Abyssinian resistance is at an end, and until we have seen what a few more months of economic and financial pressure will effect upon the minds of those responsible for Italian policy. Signor Mussolini is very anxious that sanctions should be lifted—most anxious. The Italian gold reserve is dwindling, and the Italian economic and financial situation is certainly not getting better. I make an under-statement deliberately. Perhaps after three months more or quarantine, Signor Mussolini would be willing to consider something a little short of what he will get now, with the connivance of His Majesty's Government, something a little short of the sheer, total, and unconditional annexation of the whole of Abyssinia and freedom to raise—a most menacing factor in the future—a vast black army of magnificent fighting material, out of men who held out for weeks and months, ill-equipped as they were, against the might of a great Power, with all its aircraft, tanks, and apparatus of modern war, and with mustard gas to help them out when nothing else could. The Home Secretary can take it that my hon. Friends and myself are in favour of the maintenance of sanctions, at least at the existing level, at least until the rainy season is over, and then let us judge whether Abyssinia is a conquered area or not.
I am endeavouring to give a straightforward and clear answer to questions put to me by the Government spokesman, and I venture to say that if the spokesman of the Government would answer as directly the questions which we have put to them, we should have more light upon the future course of British foreign policy; and that, after all, is the principal topic of Debate to-night. What are the Government going to do next? [An HON. MEMBER "Run away!"] They have run away already, and I want to know what will be the next step after that. Before I pass to that point, however, perhaps the Prime Minister would answer this question, arising out of the letter of Lord Lugard and of the valuable evidence which he gives that Abyssinian resistance is perhaps not at an end: Suppose it turns out to be true that there remain—I do not care whether they are loyal to the Emperor or not; that is a personal matter in which I take rather little interest—that there remain bodies of men bravely resisting the subjugation of their country by the Italian aggressor—whether they owe allegiance to this or that titled person—anxious and desirous of resisting the continued advance of the Italian aggression, are you going to refuse to supply them with arms for their resistance? Are you going to refuse to supply them, even more, with gas masks if they ask for them to enable them to resist the poison gas which, in defiance of treaty obligations, Signor Mussolini has been pouring down upon their country?
I ask the Prime Minister this question very specifically: Are you going, in the event of a nucleus of resistance still showing itself in Western Abyssinia, to do anything to enable these unfortunate people, in their gallant fight against enormous odds, to get either arms, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, gas masks as an instrument of passive defence? We want an answer to that question. But now I wish to ask a question far more fundamental, far more important on a longer view. What is the Government's policy going to be next? The Foreign Secretary is going to Geneva to lead the rout. What next? So far we have only been told that the Government stand for the raising of sanctions. The raising of sanctions is not a policy; the raising of sanctions is the collapse of a policy.
What is your policy next? We have had to depend for illumination on this subject so far exclusively upon the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which has often been quoted, and I ask the Prime Minister again tonight, as we fruitlessly asked him on Thursday last week, Do the Government or do they not repudiate the statements of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that speech? Of positive proposals that speech had two—I am speaking now of the future of the League and collective security—first of all, the limitation of the functions of the League and, secondly, the localising of danger spots, the localising of war. Does the Government or does it not accept those two formulae of action? Are you in favour of limiting the functions of the League, and if so how? You are using the language of Hitler. Herr Von Ribbentrop does not, it seems, visit this country in vain. It was Lord Londonderry, that famous Air Minister who preserved the use of bombing aeroplanes in the Eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere, who presided over the meeting at which the Chancellor provided these interesting forecasts of Government policy. His language is curiously Hitleresque under a chairman who had been entertaining Hitler's emissary. Are these things all pure coincidence? This terminology is catching. "Localising war," sounds an attractive operation, if you could do it.
I am not merely putting debating questions, but questions to which the whole country is entitled to clear replies from the Leader of the Government. Do the Government, or do they not, accept this conception, borrowed from Herr Hitler, of localising war instead of preventing war? There is only one way in which you can prevent war. I pay my tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) for his insistence on the economic causes of war and the importance of eradicating them, and I wholly share his view on that, and so do all my hon. Friends. We would all be with him on that point. But I am speaking of a different aspect of things in which, before you can come together in any such conference or consultation, as my right hon. Friend properly demands, you have to deal with a Germany which is arming, arming, arming day by day. [An HON. MEMBER: "Can we help that?"] Yes, you encouraged it and you have assisted it. Go back to those tragic years, four years ago, to the early months of 1932, 12 months before Hitler appeared as the ruler of Germany, when you failed to come to terms with a Germany still democratic, with a Germany still free, with, most important of all, a Germany still lightly armed, with a Germany whose representatives supported Signor Mussolini against Lord Londonderry at the Disarmament Conference in proposing the abolition of all bombing aircraft everywhere. You, by your ineptitude, have helped to build up the Hitler menace.
Under the shadow of this menace, which lengthens and darkens over Europe day by day, what are you going to do? You are going to say, "We believe in localising the danger spots." Hitler taught you that phrase—localising war. In other words, you are going to say, "Do what you like in certain regions, go South, go East, go South-East and God be with you, and we will sell you oil." Is that what you are going to say You sold oil to Mussolini in Abyssinia. You said it was quite consistent with your membership of the League of Nations. The Americans, you said, would not play. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said you were frightened of Signor Mussolini. You will be more frightened of Herr Hitler. You will find just the same excuse for selling oil to Hitler when he has localised war in East Europe as you found for selling oil to Mussolini when he localised war in Abyssinia. Is that where the Chancellor is leading us? I have made my undertaking with the Prime Minister and I will sit down within one minute—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—unless I am interrupted. If I am interrupted and prevented from finishing in my own way the Prime Minister must blame his followers and not me.
There is a common belief, running wildly and dangerously in this country, that the Government are so frightened of Herr Hitler that they are prepared to give him a free hand in the East and in the South-East and in the South of Europe. Is that true or not? Let the Prime Minister say. It is a far larger question than any relating to Abyssinia. It concerns the whole future of Europe, and of this country and of the world. It is the belief of my hon. Friends and myself that you cannot effectively localise any war that breaks out in Europe. It will engulf us all and set all Europe in a blaze, and the only way in which to prevent it is by making collective security a reality, and by uniting, at least within the bounds of Europe—that is the practical proposition—with all those nations who prefer peace to war, and they are many, in a united front against any potential aggressor, whoever he may be. I ask the Prime Minister, Is that or is that not the Government's policy? We are entitled to know.
I will do my best to answer all the questions that have been put to me. Most of them are questions which ought to be answered in this House, and deserve the most serious consideration. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken considers that the latter part of his speech will make our task any easier with Herr Hitler. [Interruption.] I do not think I am a bad political prophet, because in the course of last year I said to one of my colleagues who is sitting beside me that I was quite sure that one of the greatest difficulties I should have before the year was out was to keep myself from being thrust into war by the Opposition.
Now I must say a few words about my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. When I appointed him to that great office, just before Christmas, I warned him. I said: "You are very young. You have the most responsible post in Europe. So far, you have had nothing but roses, roses all the way, but before long you will get brick-bats. You will find them different, but if you are like me you will think as much of one as of the other. You will find them unpleasant." He is getting them now. He has my sympathy, because he has been heart and soul in this struggle to maintain the League during these difficult months. The disappointment to him personally is very great, as I know who see most of him. I am a much older man, and less sanguine of what can be accomplished by men of different countries acting together in difficult work for the first time. I know that his disappointment has been keen. He started with higher hopes of what was possible than I did, although I threw myself into the work to the best of my ability. I wish to pay that tribute to him before I proceed any further.
A point was raised to which I should like to answer at once, because it is one in which I think the House will be interested. I have been at pains to get a careful statement of the facts in regard to any sporadic fighting there may be in Abyssinia. The situation in the West and South-West of Abyssinia is extremely confused. In the greater part of that area, the population consists of non-Amharic tribes who have become hostile to Abyssinian rule. This state of affairs has been intensified by the fact that there is no central Abyssinian Government in the country. There may be, here and there, a local governor, with a number of troops. Since the Debate last week the existence of one such has come to my right hon. Friend's notice, although I am told that his authority is extremely limited, and there may be others in a similar position. None of them, so far as we are aware, are in touch with any authority within Abyssinia, representing the central Government.
We do not want to stand in the way of arms reaching any constituted authority, but the House will appreciate that the difficulties of communication are immense. For instance, though arms could be sent to Gore, it seems clear from the condition of the country that they could not be conveyed from there to any other locality in west or south-west Abyssinia with any certainty of their reaching their destination. I must warn the House that though we will give all information at our command, it is inevitable that, in present conditions, it cannot be complete or anything like it. There are, inevitably, considerable tracks of the country as to which we have no information. There is no intention of imposing an embargo on the shipment of arms from this country to Abyssinia, but arms can only be passed across the frontier from the Sudan, or wherever it may be, if they are consigned to a properly constituted authority and if that authority is in a position to take delivery.
I must now dispose of the first question that was raised by the hon. Member. I was interested in the defence that he put up about the token Vote, because I think it shows, and I hope it shows, that hon. Members opposite are beginning to take this most grave question of armaments with more seriousness. Last summer the whole of the party opposite—of course the much smaller party which was then in the House—voted against all the Service Estimates as a whole in the Committee stage and under the Guillotine. I shall watch with great interest and some hope to see whether that is repeated or is not repeated this year. It must be remembered that, when a reduction is put down of only £100, it is to that extent a censure, because you can raise any subject without putting it down, and, if a Government were defeated in Committee of Supply on a Vote of that kind, they would have no alternative but to resign. With regard to the Debate which has taken place to-day on the action of the Government, I shall be as brief as I can in summarising one or two points, and I hope I shall have plenty of time to deal with the League of Nations, which I am very anxious to do in order to dispel a real misconception. An attempt has been made to show that the view taken by the Government—
I do not see any reason why I should withdraw it. An attempt has been made to show that the action of the Government of this country, in stating that, so far as they are concerned, they desire to see sanctions raised at the forthcoming meeting at Geneva, has in some way prejudiced the action of other countries, and is not an action that meets with approval among other members of the League. Questions were asked a day or two ago about the attitude of the Dominions. I then said that it was quite impossible for me to say in this House what the attitude of the Dominions would be, because it was for them to declare that attitude, either in their own Parliaments or at Geneva. Some of those attitudes have now been declared. The Prime Minister of Canada used these words, speaking on Thursday, the same day on which we had our Debate:
The Canadian Government believes that there is no practicable alternative for Canada at the Assembly but to support the raising of sanctions, and Canadian delegates have been instructed accordingly.
Mr. Mackenzie King added:
The Canadian Government's decision was reached before any information was available as to what the British attitude would be.
Last Thursday at Canberra a statement was issued for publication which included this sentence:
The sanctions in force having failed to prevent an Italian victory, it is clear that their continuation cannot restore the military situation or place Abyssinia in her original position. Not only that, but the international situation is such that every effort must be made to secure a general all-round settlement in the interests of peace, for which the co-operation of every nation is essential..… In the circumstances the Commonwealth Government has instructed its representative to the League of Nations, Mr. Bruce, to declare at the appropriate time that the Commonwealth Government favour the raising of sanctions.
I shall say nothing about the Irish Free State, because that was alluded to earlier in the Debate. I would say to the hon. Gentleman who seemed to think it rather curious that that quotation should be made at all, that one is always pleased
to make a quotation when it comes from a source where one never looks for it. That is why I was so pleased to hear the extract from the special correspondent of the "News Chronicle" by my hon. Friend who made such an admirable speech an hour or two ago.
Then there is the question of France. It has always been assumed by hon. Members opposite, I gather, that a French Government of the present complexion would, perhaps, take the same view that their party takes in this country. The French Government, as the House knows now, is taking the same view that we are, and the hon. Gentleman to whom I have just alluded made a quotation from a speech delivered to-day by the French Foreign Secretary. The French and ourselves, I hope, may be able to work most closely together at Geneva. It is their desire and it is ours, but I would ask the House to remember this: It is a very easy thing to try to justify yourself by laying the blame on another party. Because I mentioned as a fact the question of oil coming from America, I was accused by two speakers of putting the blame on America. I put no blame on America at all. She is not a member of the League of Nations and she has a perfect right to act exactly as she likes. In the same way there has been a tendency during the Winter among what I may call the Left Wing critics of this House to lay a great deal of blame on France for the attitude that she has taken up. The French, whether they are Socialists or the Right, or whatever they are, are realists, and they are great lovers of their country, and we must never forget the difference between their position and ours if there should be war with Italy,—I say nothing about Germany for the moment, I say with Italy.
I have always had great sympathy with the French and I think I have always understood their point of view and their reasons for it, even when at times we should have been glad of greater and more rapid and more close co-operation in some of the difficult times through which we passed in the Autumn. But to all of us who have followed the events of recent weeks and months the French decision to raise sanctions cannot come as any surprise. A quotation was made once in this House, I think from the correspondent of the "Daily Herald," or it may have been an article in that
paper. I quote that paper for the same reason that the "News Chronicle" was quoted. They have very good articles from the Continent and within the last two or two-and-a-half months their special correspondent reported from Geneva that, the Foreign Secretary having declared that the British Government were not only determined to maintain existing sanctions, but were ready to impose new ones if the other Members of the League would agree, that correspondent wrote, "but he got hardly any response, and having complained of the attitude of the French correspondent he concluded:
The attitude of the French and other delegates to-day makes it clear that there is a danger that at any moment the sanctions rot may begin.
That is exactly what we have been afraid of all the time. The matter has been considered for some time. It is obvious that sanctions could not go on for ever. They had to come off at some time. Had they better come off at a definite time when, in our view and in the view of the President of the United States of America, the war is over, or should they be left on, with the practical certainty that they would peter out and the whole situation might end in confusion and in disaster? We have rejected the idea of keeping them on and intensifying them because, as has been repeatedly stated in the House, nothing but military action could now make any difference in the status of Italy and Abyssinia.
There is only one man living, and I regret to see that he is not in the House at this moment, who could have devised a formula which would have satisfied the Italians that sanctions were to be raised and the League of Nations that they would be intensified. I would be the last to claim for myself the skilful handling of the situation in that way. I come to some definite questions asked of me by the Leader of the Opposition. He said, do we intend to condone Italy's action? The answer to that is "No," and, in so far as it concerns recognition, I would emphasise that His Majesty's Government have no intention at the forthcoming meeting of the League to propose, or assent to, the recognition of Italy's annexation of Abyssinia.
There was another question, an important one to which a short answer was given in the House, but here again I have prepared a reasoned reply, as I think that it is important that the House should know exactly what the situation is, and that is on the question of making loans to Italy. Do we propose to make loans to Italy? The Government have no power to lend money to Italy, and they have no intention of seeking such power. Moreover, any proposals which involved the issue of securities in this country on, behalf of Italy would, in the first instance, be considered by the Foreign Transactions Advisory Committee, whose recommendations are reviewed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. My right hon. Friend would not be disposed to consent to any relaxation of the restrictions on the issue of foreign loans in the case of Italy in the present circumstances. Applicants for export credits for Italy at for any other country will be dealt with by the Export Credits Advisory Committee solely on commercial grounds, with a view to supporting United Kingdom exporters, but not applications which relate to munitions.
As regards private credits to Italy, the Government are anxious that these should not be afforded except to the limited extent they may be required for purely commercial purposes. The right hon. Gentleman asked me whether, if we persist in the maintenance of existing sanctions, there is a danger of attack by Italy? That is what I understood him to say. I took the question in that form. I am not sure whether in that form it really does not miss the point. The point is that, owing to military events in Abyssinia itself the objective for which sanctions were originally put on can now only be realised—and this is what I said two minutes ago—by military action on the part of the League. Such military action would clearly be resisted by force, and with such military action I would not be prepared to associate this country.
Was any attempt made to ask the United States of America to co-operate in refusing oil to Italy? That, I understand, was dealt with to a certain extent by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but I have one or two points to add. No such direct approach was made by the League nor by any individual Government, and for this very good reason: The United States had taken certain individual action in respect of this dispute— action which ran parallel in certain respects with the action of the League, but the League were perfectly well aware, as any hon. Member of the House must be aware who has any knowledge of public opinion in the United States, that the worst possible means of securing co-operation from the United States in a matter which required legislation by Congress would have been to have asked for such co-operation. His Majesty's Government did, however, keep the United States closely informed of all the developments.
I was asked what are our armaments for? I think I made clear at the Election what they were for. I said that we could not fulfil our part under collective security, nor did I consider our position secure in the present state of Europe, without making such provisions as I described with regard to armaments. I was asked one or two questions, I think by the Leader of the Liberal party also, with regard to the action we took in going in for sanctions and embarking on collective security, and whether we thought there were serious risks attached to it. The hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) reminded me of a, statement that I made two or three years ago in which I expressed doubts as to the possibility of collective security, with so many large nations standing outside the League. Collective security had never been tried out by the League of Nations, but after consideration and discussion we decided we would try it out, with all the risks it might involve. It was the first opportunity that had arisen in Europe, if I remember rightly, where it could be tried out, and tried out, as many supporters of the League have said, under comparatively favourable conditions. We did try it out earnestly, sincerely and zealously and with every desire that it might succeed. Why it failed ultimately was because of the reluctance of nearly all the nations in Europe to proceed to what I might call military sanctions. That is a point to which I shall refer when I come to the future work of the League.
It would have been perfectly impossible to have brought Europe last year at any time to military sanctions, and I think the real reason, or the main reason, was that we discovered in the process of weeks that there was no country except the aggressor country which was ready for war. I said once or twice in the course of last autumn that I had learned a great deal by the experience that we had had, and we could not have learned it without experience. I beg those who talk lightly of applying sanctions to bear this in mind, that the two things I learned were these, first—I have said it before but it is so important that I want to repeat it—you cannot tell when you begin at what point the aggressor will regard the sanction as a military sanction. It depends entirely on his strength. I can conceive instances when the first sanction might be the sign for war breaking out. I can conceive instances when sanctions might proceed as far as we proceeded last autumn before war broke out. But the ultimate sanction is always war, and unless the sanction you apply is such as to bring the aggressor to his knees, war is inevitable, and probably not a localised war, but a war throughout the whole of Europe. That is a terrible fact.
The second fact that emerged—I have twice stressed this point—that where there is an aggressor it would be quite impossible for the nations that wished to exercise the power of military sanctions against the aggressor or a group of aggressors to do it unless they are in a position to do it at once and together. I have already pointed out that if collective action is to be a reality and not merely a thing to be talked about, it means not only that every country is to be ready for war, but must be ready to go to war at once. That is a terrible thing, but it is an essential part of collective security. But let us look ahead, because it is far more important than looking back. Anyone is welcome to look back and find a stick with which to beat us.
The question is, what is our policy? The League has received a setback, and a bad setback. But I have never taken the view in any speech I have made during the last two years that failure in the first attempt to apply sanctions and collective security would be the death of the League. Not at all. The duty of the League is to see what they can do in the light of the experience they have had, in the light of the present state of Europe, and to see how far they can make collective security a reality. Our policy is still based, as is the policy of many of the countries of Europe, on the League of Nations. The countries of Europe are the League of Nations, and they have the responsibility of deciding what should be done and the responsibility of taking action. That obligation of the League and the lessons to be learnt from our recent experience must be taken up for the first time at the September meeting of the League, and by that time I hope that many countries will have devoted great consideration to these matters. We are considering it ourselves. It is a most difficult question, but it is the duty of members of the League to reflect on these most important issues.
We are now engaged not only in forming our own conclusions, but are having informal exchanges of views with the Dominion Governments and with the governments of other members of the League. In particular we are in touch with the French Government, with whom we share the wish to work in the closest collaboration. There cannot be any quack remedy for a situation like this. No catch phrases and no incantations are of the slightest use. We cannot be expected to state here and now in detail what changes, if any, we would wish to see made in the practice of the League, but the House may take it from me that our view is to work on the lines I have indicated.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would wish me to tell the House that the observations he made at a recent dinner were made entirely on his own responsibility and not on behalf of the Government. If my right hon. Friend has been guilty of any indiscretions, it is a very rare thing with him. I have been guilty of a good many, and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain) has reminded me of one or two, and I acknowledge them. I have gone into them, and I hope I shall do better. The difficulties of the League being non-universal are very great, and in the political conditions in which it has to operate we want to make it a more practical instrument for the purpose for which it was created. I hope with all my heart that that may be practicable, and that it may be done, but it is going to be no easy task.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate was struck by the fact that last Thursday was the anniversay of the Battle of Waterloo. He drew a very odd conclusion from it. Waterloo was a battle which brought to a close a very long period of fighting and gave Europe peace for a generation. I rather gathered that he wanted to see the anniversary of Waterloo celebrated by starting a fresh war in Europe. I thought last Thursday of this. At Waterloo just about the time I was speaking the Duke of Wellington was looking anxiously for the arrival of the Prussians to help him defeat our hereditary enemy the French. One hundred years later our hereditary enemy the French were fighting shoulder to shoulder with us against those who had been our allies at Waterloo. I felt this: Has not the time come when it is possible for these three great countries to get together?
So the second object of our policy is the appeasement of the situation in Europe. We are most anxious to get on to those negotiations. There is no foundation for a single word of what the hon. Member said about our plans for leaving the whole of Europe to look after itself, provided we could safeguard ourselves in the West. The safeguarding of ourselves in the West is of vital importance. It may come to that if the League of Nations breaks down ultimately, but we are not there yet. I have every hope, but negotiations may be futile if, when negotiations come between our three countries, we cannot make provision for the same security in the countries to the centre and the East of Europe as we hope to make for ourselves. That is a policy on which we shall be directly occupied for weeks to come. No doubt there will be a Debate before the end of July, and I hope that when September comes my right hon. Friend and whatever colleagues go with him may begin to lay the foundations of the superstructure which we hope to rear. But let the House be under no misapprehension about the difficulties of the task. It may involve great commitments for this and any country to carry out the letter and the spirit.
We are now going to divide on this Vote of Censure, and I understand that hon. Members opposite are going to launch a great campaign against this Government on what we have done in regard to the League of Nations. All I want to say to them is that, as Prime Minister and with the fullest sense of responsibility, I welcome that campaign most heartily. I welcome it for this reason, that you cannot conduct a campaign of that nature without people learning a great deal about which they have been ignorant with regard to what sanctions mean, with regard to the risks and with regard to the necessity for armaments. I am perfectly certain that the result of that campaign will be that there will be throughout the country in another month or two's time a greater determination than exists to-day to see that in every respect we shall be equipped in a manner that will enable us to undertake all the responsibilities that may be thrown upon us. The country will be educated. That is wholly to the good.
But I warn hon. Members that they will have to choose definitely before they have finished their meetings on which side of the fence they are coming. The hon. Member for Kingswinford, I thought, made a very honest speech. He said he was prepared for the risks and he knew the risks, and I hope he will tell his people honestly and fairly what those
risks are, because it is not our soldiers, sailors and airmen now whose lives we have to consider. The Government of the country—and indeed the Opposition, which may be the Government one day—have to remember that it may well be that the greater slaughter in a fresh war may be among the non-combatants, the women and the children. That is an awful thing to say in this year of grace, but it may be the truth, and it is no good concealing these things from the people. If we in our wisdom think it right to expose our people to these things, then we must equally feel it right to take every human precaution for their defence and safety, and do everything that can be done as well for the equipment and the strength of our people in the future. May God avert that tragedy from our country, and let us remember our responsibility to our people.
|Division No. 247.||AYES.||[10.57 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Dobble, W.||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)|
|Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple)||Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||John, W.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Ede, J. C.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Jones, H. Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Evans, E. (Univ. of Wales)||Jones, J. J. (Silvertown)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Foot. D. M.||Kelly, W. T.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Frankel, D.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.|
|Anderson, F. (Whitehaven)||Gallacher, W.||Kirby, B. V.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Gardner, B. W.||Kirkwood, D.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Garro Jones, G. M.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.|
|Barnes, A. J.||George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Carn'v'n)||Lathan, G.|
|Barr, J.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Lawson, J. J.|
|Batey, J.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Leach, W.|
|Bellenger, F.||Gibbins, J.||Lee, F.|
|Benson, G.||Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Leonard, W.|
|Bevan, A.||Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Leslie, J. R.|
|Broad, F. A.||Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Logan, D. G.|
|Bromfield, W.||Grenfell, D. R.||Lunn, W.|
|Brooke, W.||Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Macdonald, G. (Ince)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire)||Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||McEntee, V. La T.|
|Buchanan, G.||Groves, T. E.||McGhee, H. G.|
|Burke, W. A.||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||McGovern, J.|
|Cape, T.||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||MacLaren, A.|
|Charleton, H. C.||Hardie, G. D.||Maclean, N.|
|Chator, D.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Hayday, A.||MacMillan, M. (Western Isles)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||MacNeill, Weir, L.|
|Cocks, F. S.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Compton, J.||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Mander, G. le M.|
|Cove, W. G.||Hicks, E. G.||Marklew, E.|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Marshall, F.|
|Daggar, G.||Holdsworth, H.||Mathers, G.|
|Dalton, H.||Holland, A.||Maxton, J.|
|Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd)||Hollins, A.||Messer, F.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Hopkin, D.||Milner, Major J.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Jagger, J.||Montague, F.|
|Day, H.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Ha'kn'y, S.)|
|Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Sanders, W. S.||Viant, S. P.|
|Muff, G.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Walker, J.|
|Naylor, T. E.||Sexton, T. M.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Oliver, G. H.||Short, A.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Owen, Major G.||Silkin, L.||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. J. C.|
|Parker, J.||Silverman, S. S.||Westwood, J.|
|Parkinson, J. A.||Simpson, F. B.||White, H. Graham|
|Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)||Whiteley, W.|
|Potts, J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Pritt, D. N.||Smith, E. (Stoke)||Williams, D. (Swansea, E.)|
|Quibell, D. J. K.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.)||Smith, T. (Normanton)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Sorensen, R. W.||Wilson. C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Rlley, B.||Stephen, C.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Ritson, J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Brom.)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Rothschild, J. A. de||Thorne, W.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.-|
|Rowson, G.||Thurtle, E.||Sir Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling|
|Salter, Dr. A.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. P. G.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. Sir A. (Br.W.)||Elliston, G. S.|
|Albery, I. J.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Emery, J. F.|
|Alexander, Brig.-Gen. Sir W.||Channon, H.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Amery,. Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Entwistle, C. F.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Chorlton, A. E. L.||Errington, E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Christie, J. A.||Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Assheton, R.||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Everard, W. L.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Clarke, F. E.||Fildes, Sir H.|
|Astor, Visc'tess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Findlay, Sir E.|
|Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)||Clydesdale, Marquess of||Fox, Sir G. W. G.|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Colfox, Major W. P.||Fraser, Capt. Sir I.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir G. P.||Fromantle, Sir F. E.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Colman, N. C. D.||Furness, S. N.|
|Balfour, G. (Hampstead)||Colville, Lt.-Col. D. J.||Ganzonl, Sir J.|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Cook, T. R. A. M. (Norfolk N.)||Gibson, C. G.|
|Balnell, Lord||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Gledhill, G.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Cooper, Rt. Hn. A. Duff (W'st'r S.G'gs)||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Barrie. Sir C. C.||Cooper, Rt.Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh.W.)||Glyn, Major Sir R. G. C.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Goldie, N. B.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Courthope, Col. Sir G. L.||Goodman, Col. A. W.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Craddock, Sir R. H.||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Cranborne, Viscount||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Craven-Ellis, W.||Granville, E. L.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Critchley, A.||Grattan-Doyte, Sir N.|
|Bennett, Capt. Sir E. N.||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Crooke, J. S.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Birchall, Sir J. D.||Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Bird, Sir R. B.||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Grigg, Sir E. W. M.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Cross, R. H.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Crossley, A. C.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E. (Drake)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Guest, Hon. I. (Brecon and Radnor)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Guest,Maj. Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll,N.W.)|
|Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart||Culverwell, C. T.||Guinness, T. L. E. B.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. Sir J. C. C.||Gunston, Capt. D. W.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Guy, J. C. M.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Davies, Major G. F. (Yeovil)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. D. H.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major Sir A. B.||Davison, Sir W. H.||Hamilton, Sir G. C.|
|Bracken, B.||Dawson, Sir P.||Hanbury, Sir C.|
|Braithwalte, Major A. N.||De Chair, S. S.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Brass, Sir W.||De la Bère, R.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Harbord, A.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Denville, Alfred||Hartington, Marquess of|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)||Dixon, Capt. Rt. Hon. H.||Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Dodd, J. S.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Heilgers, Captain F. F, A.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Dower, Capt. A. V. G.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Bull, B. B.||Drewe, C.||Hepburn, p. G. T. Buchan-|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)|
|Burghley, Lord||Dugdale, Major T. L.||Herbert, Captain S. (Abbey)|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Duggan, H. J.||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon)|
|Butler, R. A.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Calne, G. R. Hall-||Dunglass, Lord||Holmes, J S.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Dunne, P. R. R.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.|
|Cartland, J. R. H.||Eales, J. F.||Hore-Bellsha, Rt. Hon. L.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Eastwood, J. F.||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir R. S.|
|Cary, R. A.||Eckersley, P. T.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Catlereagh, Viscount||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Cayzer, Sir C. W. (City of Chester)||Edge, Sir W.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Cayzer, Sir H. R. (Portsmouth, S.)||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)|
|Cazalet, Theima (Islington, E.)||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Hulbert, N. J.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Morgan, R. H.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Hunter, T.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U. B'lf'st),|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||Morris, O. T. (Cardiff, E.)||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Inskip, Rt. Hon. Sir T. W. H.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Jackson, Sir H.||Morrison, W. S. (Cirencester)||Smith, L. W. (Hallam)|
|James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Jarvis, Sir J. J.||Munro, P.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Joel, D. J. B.||Nall, Sir J.||Somerset, T.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Keeling, E. H.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, E.)|
|Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||O'Neill, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Kerr, H. w. (Oldham)||Ormsby-Gore. Rt. Hon. W. G.||Spears, Brig.-Gen. E. L.|
|Kerr, J. Graham (Scottish Univs.)||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Spender-Clay, Lt.-CI. Rt. Hn. H. H.|
|Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Palmer, G. E. H.||Spens, W. P.|
|Kimball, L.||Patrick, C. M.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Kirkpatrick, W. M.||Peake, O.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Peat, C. U.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. G.||Penny, Sir G.||Stewart, William J. (Belfast, S.)|
|Latham, Sir P.||Percy, Rt. Hon. Lord E.||Storey, S.|
|Law, Sir A. J. (High Peak)||Perkins, W. R. D.||Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.|
|Law, R. K. (Hull, S.W.)||Petherick, M.||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Leckie, J. A.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Leech, Dr. J. W.||Pilkington, R.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Lees-Jones, J.||Plugge, L. F.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Leigh, Sir J.||Porritt, R. W.||Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Power, Sir J. C.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Lewis, O.||Pownall, Sir Assheton||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Liddall, W. S.||Purbrick, R.||Tasker, Sir R. I.|
|Lindsay, K. M.||Radford, E. A.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Little, Sir E. Graham-||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Taylor, Vice-Adm, E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Llewellin, Lieut.-Col. J. J.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Thomas, J. P. L. (Hereford)|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Ramsbotham, H.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|Loftus, P. C.||Ramsden, Sir E.||Touche, G. C.|
|Lovat-Fraser, J. A.||Rankin, R.||Train, Sir J.|
|Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Lyons, A. M.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Rayner, Major R. H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Turton, R. H.|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Reid, Captain A. Cunningham||Wakefield, W. W.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Reid, Sir D. D. (Down)||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hn. J. R. (Scot. U.)||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Wallace, Captain Euan|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Remer, J. R.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Ward, Irene (Wallsend)|
|Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Ross, Major Sir R. D. (L'nderry)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|McKie, J. H.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Runciman, Rt. Hon. W.||Wedderburn, H. J. S.|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)||Wells, S. R.|
|Magnay, T.||Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Maitland, A.||Salmon, Sir I.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Salt, E. W.||Williams, H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Markham, S. F.||Samuel, Sir A. M. (Farnham)||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Macon, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Samuel, M. R. A. (Putney)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)|
|Maxwell, S. A.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Sandys, E. D.||Wise, A. R.|
|Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. sir P.||Withers, Sir J. J.|
|Mills, Sir F. (Leyton, E.)||Savery, Servington||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Scott, Lord William||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Selley, H. R.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)||Shakespeare, G. H.||Wragg, H.|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Moore, Lieut.-Col. T. C. R.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Moreing, A. C.||Simmonds, O. E.||Captain Margesson and Sir James|