Orders of the Day — Defence [Loans].

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 18th February 1937.

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Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

I will give the hon. Gentleman the information he asks for. I can assure him I am not in the habit of making garbled quotations. These speeches are not susceptible of any other meaning. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was made at Sheffield on 15th October. 1931, and if the hon. Member finds that I have quoted it accurately I shall be obliged if he will propagate that information among his friends. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping spoke in this House on 4th May, 1932.

The fundamental question which has arisen in the course of this Debate is whether or not this country would be wise or prudent to rely upon the principle of collective security at this stage and in the present state of the world. Quite frankly I confess that at the present moment that would be an untenable position to take up. Obviously, collective security and the present strength of the League of Nations do not in present circumstances provide sufficient protection against the menaces which surround us. But whose fault is that?

In the face of all the rebuffs and the betrayals which the principle of collective security and of the League of Nations has had to bear in the last few years, it would be more than a miracle if at present that were established as an international principle. It is only two or three years ago that the present Prime Minister was stumping the country expressing his doubts as to whether at that stage there was any usefulness in collective security. The whole history of the diplomacy of this country since the War has been a story of reluctance by Conservative Governments to accept that principle of collective security. It is necessary to mention only a few instances. There was the bombardment of Corfu by Italy; there was the invasion of Lithuania and Memel; there was—the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary must bear his part of the blame for this, although no doubt he thinks he has a very good defence—the invasion of Manchuria by Japan; and there was the final calamity of the betrayal of the principle of collective security when the Italian Dictator was allowed to invade Abyssinia and get away with it.

I say that if successive Conservative Governments in this country since the War had taken a strong stand, collective security would be enthroned to-day as a principle of peace upon which the nations could rely. We intend to maintain the full force of our effort towards bringing about that situation.

We have been asked from the other side whether or not we are in favour of the degree of rearmament which is now being proposed. I am going to admit quite frankly that that places hon. Members on this side of the House in a considerable and honest difficulty. I have always disbelieved in the wisdom and morality of competitive armaments. I believe that since the War, British Governments, influenced by former French Governments, have failed to implement the disarmament contemplated by the Treaty of Versailles, and have failed to tackle the economic and political causes of war. I believe that that failure has brought us to the position we are in to-day. But if by reason of these blunders in policy we are confronted with a deterioration in the international situation which makes us admit that at the moment it is necessary to strengthen our armaments, then I say that, whether we support or abstain from opposing these increased armaments, we are entitled in so doing to reject responsibility for the blunders in foreign policy which have brought about the necessity for re-armament.

As far as I am concerned—although I am not prepared to commit myself to support or oppose any particular item of armaments—that is my attitude towards any armament proposals that are put forward.

I want to deal with the reiterated claim that these are defensive armaments. I am not so sure whether, in the true sense of the term, they are defensive armaments. There is a saying in the most elementary books on strategy that offence is the soul of defence. If we examine the present world situation we might be able to apply the converse—namely, that defence is the soul of offence. If the nation is merely going to stand pat on the present position, if we say that we are going to make no concessions or alterations in the map of the world, no economic concessions, that what we have we hold, and that if anybody attacks us they do so at their peril, I cannot regard that as a true defensive attitude. Unless the present and any other Government are prepared to tackle the economic and territorial causes of war it is impossible for us to say that they are standing only on the defensive in holding to what they possess. Here I find myself quite frankly in a different position to some of my hon. Friends. The whole political story of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East (Mr. Mander) has been one of pacific intention, but he joins with many others in repeatedly pestering the Government to give a pledge that in no circumstances will they restore to Germany the colonies which were taken from her. That is a dangerous and untenable attitude. If we were to put ourselves in the position of Germany to-day and had to contemplate the Polish Corridor, lack of colonies and lack of economic opportunities, we should never accept permanent peace until there had been a rectification of that position. It is regrettable that we have responsible ex-Ministers like the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and hon. Members like the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, East who say that in no circumstances must we listen to the claim of other nations for a restoration of their colonies.