Orders of the Day — Abyssinia.

– in the House of Commons on 18th May 1938.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Captain Margesson.]

8.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

I desire to raise the present position in Abyssinia. At Geneva last week, His Majesty's Government obtained freedom of action in respect of the recognition of the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. They did so in circumstances which, I think it will be generally agreed, inflicted the greatest humiliation on the League since its inception. Only two countries, Russia and New Zealand, had the moral courage to remain steadfast in their adherence to the principles of the Covenant. Never was there a greater betrayal of moral and legal responsibility. But the position is made worse because of the actual situation that exists in that unhappy country. I can find no precedent for the recognition of a Government de jure except with the fulfilment of certain requirements. I have very carefully examined the legal authorities which govern this matter, and I find it has always been accepted that conquest or complete subjugation implies the permanent subjection of the occupied country to the sovereignty of the occupying force. At the Hague Conference of 1907, it was agreed that territory should only be considered occupied which is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. Occupation, therefore, applies only to territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. I submit that these requirements have not been fulfilled in the case of the Italian occupation of Abyssinia.

What are facts? I think that, in order to present a clear picture summarising the state of affairs in Abyssinia, it will be convenient to deal with the country according to its various provinces. I have here information which has been supplied to His Majesty's Government, first, in a document published under the authority of the Emperor of Ethiopia, and, secondly, in documents supplied by the League representative of the Ethiopian Government at the recent Council meeting of the League. According to these documents, the position would appear to be as follows: First of all, in the north and north-west provinces of Abyssinia, during last autumn and throughout recent months there appears to have been energetic opposition to the Italian operations, which opposition has sometimes developed into fighting on a considerable scale. There have been revolts in the provinces of Tembien and Sokota under Dejaz Hailu Kabbade, one of the leaders, and further to the north-east, in Tigre, under the chieftain, Dejazmatch Gabe Hewot. In other provinces, Begumeder and Lasta, there has been almost continuous fighting, resulting in the destruction of Italian posts and the capture of supply columns. The Ethiopian Legation in London published on 25th January this year a statement based on despatches received from the various chieftains in Abyssinia. I will quote: Flying and mechanised columns of the Italian Army have tried to recapture posts evacuated or lost some months ago. Despite the ceaseless activity of the Italian Air Force, which continues to make use of bombs and gas, these attempts have never had more than ephemeral success. The desertion of three battalions of Eritrean troops has reinforced the resisting troops in the Northern regions with arms and ammunition, and has completed the disorder of the Italian staff officers who ' manifest evident signs of despair.' Then follows a list of the losses sustained by the invading Italian Forces. It shows that in the northern and northwestern regions those killed included 11 senior officers, five junior officers—of whom one was a lieutenant and the remaining four junior officers of the transport and radio department, together with 5,993 Italian and Askari soldiers. It says that the number of Ethiopian warriors killed during these engagements was equally large. A considerable number of rifles, field artillery, machine guns, and ammunition were captured from the enemy. I pass to the western provinces, where severe fighting apparently has been taking place.

Here I quote from the document submitted to the League Council last week by M. Taezaz, the permanent delegate of Ethiopia at Geneva, He exhibited in the documents he presented to the League Council a report from one of the Abyssinian chieftains to the Emperor. This sets out full particulars, gives the dates and places of the battles, the number of Italian casualties, and the amount of material captured from the Italians. Here are the particulars: August, 1937, at Sécoula, three Italian officers, 300 Italian soldiers and 400 native soldiers were killed, and the material captured consisted of two cannon, 218 rifles, three machine guns. September, 1937, at Danguela, two Italian officers, 228 Italian soldiers and 300 native soldiers killed. October, 1937, at Adiet, two officers, 140 Italian soldiers and 1,200 native soldiers killed; material captured: three cannon, 1,136 rifles, seven machine guns. Later in November, 1937, at Goumaré, three Italian officers, 17 Italian soldiers and 117 native soldiers killed, five cannon, 717 rifles and eight machine guns captured. The latest engagement apparently took place at Wombers, in November, 1937, where two Italian officers, 58 Italian soldiers, and 428 native soldiers were killed, while the material captured consisted of one cannon, 146 rifles, and three machine guns. That is a report received from this Abyssinian general and sent to the Emperor of Abyssinia on 12th February this year.

In the centre of Abyssinia, it is alleged that there have been revolts, under Dejaz Fikre Mariam, in which the railway to Jibuti itself has been frequently attacked. Ethiopian armed troops are frequently raiding the main roads leading from Addis Ababa to the north and west. Early in March, Italian troops were sent to guard the road from Dessie to Addis Ababa, which has been frequently harassed by Abyssinians. In the south and southwest there are Italian garrisons only at five towns: namely, Djirem, Yirga-Alem, Mega, Goba and Ginir. All other parts of the territory have had to be evacuated owing to the pressure of numerous guerilla bands. In the provinces of Gura-farda, Gimirra and Kaffa many Italian garrisons have been forced to withdraw, and the roads have been made unsafe. In the south-east, it is reported that in recent months there have been numerous attacks on Italian convoys on the roads by armed Abyssinians. Between Harar and Jigjiga more than 9,000 native troops have deserted from the Italian army with arms. It is alleged that the Italians exercise no control whatever over the provinces of Danakil and Aussa.

The general position in Abyssinia will be appreciated better, I think, if it is realised that over at least three-quarters of the country the Italian authorities have no military control beyond an area varying from 10 to 30 miles radius around the larger towns. In fact, over at least half of the country there is no military control, the military posts only maintaining their distance through military fortifications and the troops unable to penetrate the hilly and mountainous regions. Throughout the north, south, and southwest the greater part of the country is still under the authority of Ethiopian chieftains.

Therefore, it follows; first, that the country is in a continuous state of opposition to the invader over large areas; secondly, that the Italian troops have not occupied the country completely; thirdly, that their military posts which have not been destroyed or withdrawn are in many cases on the defensive; fourthly, that the growing ascendancy of the Ethiopian troops over a large part of the country is due to the fact that there has taken place co-ordination of plans between widely separated commands. These facts are contained in statements submitted to the League by the Emperor and his advisers, but we can find corroboration to some extent in publications which, I think, would merit the confidence even of hon. Members opposite. Leading newspapers of this country like the "Times," the "Sunday Times" and the "Daily Telegraph" have repeatedly reported facts which seem to corroborate the claims of the Emperor of Ethiopia. I find that in the "Times" of 26th November, 1937, it states: The improvement in the internal situation that was expected after the rains is Still far from apparent. It is expected that the usual rainy season will commence in the next week or so, and that may to some extent explain why the Italian Government are so anxious to hasten the recognition of their so-called conquest of Ethiopia before it becomes only too obvious that it is not justified. The "Times" goes on to say: The roads leading from Addis Ababa to Jimma and Gore have both been cut recently within 50 miles of the capital, with the result that transport has to proceed under convoy ….So far as can be judged, the economic position is moving from bad to worse …. The resistance of the native inhabitants in passive forms seems to be working as a factor of attrition. The "Sunday Times," 30th January, 1938, refers to the fact that: There have been serious economic difficulties facing the Italians in Abyssinia showing that trade is virtually at a standstill. The "Daily Telegraph" of 2nd February, 1938, says that: the Italian occupation is firmly established in Addis Ababa and within some 50 miles radius round that city, and in cities such as Harar and Diredawa, but in the greater part of these regions, where the lack of roads makes the quick movement of troops impossible, the native chieftains still hold sway. It is estimated that only about one-third of the arms they possessed at the close of the war against the Italians have been surrendered to their conquerors. The "Evening News" of 14th February, 1938, states: According to a report from a very reliable source large numbers of troops, mostly native forces, left Addis Ababa recently to suppress a serious revolt. Six weeks ago the Abyssinian Legation stated that it had received reports of apparent opposition to Italian rule in Abyssinia. In the past two months, according to these reports, the Italians have lost 6,000 officers and men killed, including natives. This claim was immediately denied in Rome, where it was officially stated: Italy is in complete control of every part of Abyssinia. The following day the official Italian newspaper admitted that severe fighting had occurred in Abyssinia last September. I could continue to quote from other leading newspapers evidence supporting the claims of the Emperor of Ethiopia that, at the present time, the Italian Government are not in complete possession and control of the territory of Abyssinia, and that, on the contrary, their effective control is restricted to certain of the large cities and a certain radius from those cities, that large parts of the country are under the control of Abyssinian chieftains, and that large armed forces under their command are engaged in carrying on intensive warfare against the Italian military and armed forces. If that be so, how can it be argued that, under all prevailing concepts of international law, the Italian Government are entitled to be recognised as the de jure Government of that country?

If the Government say that they are not prepared to accept the allegations that have been put forward by the Abyssinian Government, is it not all the more reason why some sort of inquiry should be held in order to ascertain the true facts of the case? The Government, for reasons of their own, refuse to support the suggestion that an inquiry should be held. They have not, at any rate up to date, refuted the case put forward by the Ethiopian Emperor. Therefore, we are entitled to ask the Minister to-day to prove to the satisfaction of all sections of opinion that there is no truth and no substance in the allegations and the claims put forward by the Emperor of Ethiopia, and that, in fact, there is conclusive proof that the Italian Government are in complete control of the whole of Abyssinia. Unless he can do that, we on this side of the House are entitled to resist with all the means at our disposal, what is nothing short of the gross betrayal of another country belonging to the League of Nations.

8.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I noticed that the hon. Gentleman opened his speech with a general remark about the recent activities of my Noble Friend at Geneva. He will excuse me, I am sure, if I do not enlarge my remarks to-night and enter into the broader considerations with which he opened his speech, but confine myself to saying that I cannot accept the interpretation which he ascribed to the action of His Majesty's Government and to the activities of my Noble Friend. The reason why I will not go further into that subject to-night is that the Opposition are again raising a subject equivalent to this to-morrow night, namely, the recent session of the Council at Geneva and the steps taken there by His Majesty's Government. I quite appreciate the point that has been put to-night, and I will confine myself to the question of Italian control of Ethiopia. I think that that will be accepted by the hon. Member.

There are two aspects of the information which the hon. Gentleman has given to the House, which I would like to bring to the attention of hon. Members. The information given—and he has read part of that information from certain documents —has been drawn from documents which must be acknowledged to come from a prejudiced source. I do not want to impart any bitterness into what I am going to say, but it is important to be quite clear that a large amount of the information given by the hon. Gentleman has simply been passed on by him to the House from the Ethiopian Legation, and, therefore, we must look at it as being information of an interested kind, and attach all the more importance to the source from which it comes. The second aspect of his information to which I want to draw the attention of hon. Members is the fact that our reports go to show that his information is not up to date.

The hon. Gentleman devoted considerable time to extracts from a document issued by the Ethiopian Legation on the subject of hostilities which took place in Ethiopia, and he made the contention that there was fighting of a severe character in Ethiopia last September. I do not deny that there has been fighting, but I would point out that we are now considering the position in Ethiopia in this month of this year, and that much of the information which he has given to the House comes from a date last year, when we do not deny that fighting took place. I do not mean by saying this that I accept the details which the hon. Gentleman has given to the House as being correct. I do not. I want, therefore, to draw the attention of the House to the important fact that this information, incorrect as we believe it to be, is derived from a somewhat distant date, whereas the information which I have put before hon. Members is, we consider, up to date.

Photo of Mr Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Kingswinford

The Under-Secretary will remember that I quoted the date on the document which related to the fighting in Abyssinia, which was submitted, and it is dated February, 1938.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The document is dated February, 1938, but our information goes to show that the information in that document is not up to date. That further emphasises the point that I was making.

I will now try to deal with the situation in general, and afterwards with some of the points which have been raised by the hon. Member. Our information generally as regards the military situation shows that, although in one or two limited areas there is resistance to Italian authority on the part of some of the inhabitants, the Italian Government are in control of virtually the whole country, and that in present circumstances, as has already been said by spokesmen of His Majesty's Government, that control could only be upset by a successful war, which it would be beyond the power of the natives of Ethiopia to achieve, and which I do not think any foreign Power would be ready to undertake.

Early in the year and at the end of last year the Italians, so we are informed, experienced considerable difficulties in areas to the North, West and South-West of Addis Ababa but, since the arrival of 20 battalions of Blackshirt militia, pacification has proceeded and no serious trouble is now being experienced except in the mountains of the Gojjam province, which is an area to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention and which, I ought to say, was always a sector of disaffection. He will perhaps remember that the Emperor himself was obliged to detach troops from the main theatre of the war to deal with disloyal tribes in this area. Two other tribes to which the hon. Member has drawn attention which have caused the Italians trouble—the Azebu Gallas and the Danakils—were frequently troublesome to the Emperor, but as a result of the introduction of the 20 battalions of Blackshirt militia, and of certain Italian air action, such tribal bands are becoming unwelcome in those districts, because their presence draws undesirable attention to the neighbourhood. If such bands go to a neighbourhood, their presence is not welcomed by the local inhabitants. With these exceptions in the mountainous area of the Gojjam province, which has always given trouble, and which is an extremely difficult and untraceable region, and the particular tribal areas that I have mentioned, owing to the Italian reinforcements and the Italian air action, I maintain that our claims that Italy is in control of virtually the whole of Abyssinia is correct.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

Can the Under-Secretary say where the information comes from that the rebel bands are unwelcome?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

We get our information from a variety of sources in Abyssinia, but mostly from our Consuls. I have been asked by the hon. Member to make a statement and I am giving a statement of fact, based on the information in the possession of His Majesty's Government, as clearly as I can. I have given all the details as well as the only exception, so far as we can ascertain, to a complete Italian occupation.

Photo of Sir Stafford Cripps Sir Stafford Cripps , Bristol East

Will the Minister be good enough to tell us whether the Consuls get their information from Italian sources?

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The Consuls get their information from a variety of sources, and they get it also through their own investigations. Consuls have made journeys in various districts of Abyssinia and have gleaned information from their own observations. It has been said in public propaganda on this subject that the Italians are only present in garrisons occupying fortified posts. That is true in the main, but there is no reason to deduce from the fact that, because the Italians are garrisoning the country in fortified posts, they are not in complete control of the country. There is really no practicable alternative method of occupying a backward and potentially hostile country. Over great areas climatic conditions render complete occupation difficult from a military point of view, and the most economical method of disposing troops is to establish garrisons of some size in strongly fortified posts whence, if necessary, troops may be moved to deal with any outbreaks of disaffection.

The hon. Member referred to the fact that the railway had been attacked. There is a phrase in the memorandum which we have seen that the railway and the Massawa-Addis Ababa road had been frequently attacked. We have no corroboration of the statement that this railway has been attacked to the extent of dislocating traffic since a date in 1936. The main road between Massawa and Addis Ababa has in recent months only suffered one serious interruption, when 25 lorries, laden with petrol, were destroyed in March. Therefore, I think the claim of the hon. Member in respect of these particular communications is, like the rest of his material, exaggerated. That, I think, answers in general the points raised by the hon. Member.

I could deal with other points in the memoranda to which the hon. Member has referred. I could develop some of the economic points, the point of criticism, for instance, which has been made in the memorandum published by the League of Nations Union about the economic situation. I would say that there are many points in this regard that are exaggerated, just in the same way as the military information in the hon. Member's possession is, to our way of thinking, much exaggerated. It has been said that the Abyssinians would not do road work, but our information, which has been obtained from our Consul, is that the payment to the natives is now regarded as satisfactory, having been fixed by the Fascist organisation at a reasonable level.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

I cannot at the moment give the exact details, but that is the information that has been given to us. Roadmaking, hon. Members will recollect, did much to develop Morocco and made such a difference in the ability of the Foreign Legion to help France to pacify Morocco, and a roadmaking policy is being carried out in Abyssinia The making of roads is going ahead much more than has been the case in the past, and on a much more satisfactory basis. That is one further example of the information in our possession, which justifies the statements that we have made in this House.

The hon. Member, in summing up his information, read from the Ethiopian document a statement that three-fourths of the country were outside the control of the Italians. I would ask hon. Members whether after listening to the facts that I have put before them they can honestly say that that statement is true, or whether it is not truer to say that the Italian Government are in control of virtually the whole country. That is the conclusion we have come to after studying up-to-date information, not from prejudiced sources but from observations on the spot. That is the information which I give to the House in the confident assertion that hon. Members will prefer facts from such sources to information which must have come from the sources which I earlier described. In conclusion I should not do justice to the hon. Member if I did not repeat that, in view of the information in our possession, we are not willing to concede the granting of an inquiry of an international character, and thereby confirm the answer I gave him on that subject at Question Time.

8.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

I am sure the House is grateful to the Under-Secretary for the statement he has made. He will forgive me if I say that the spirit of his speech was indicated by his use of the word "pacification." The value of his information depends upon his credulity, and his credulity can be measured by the fact that he tells us that the Fascist Government have established a reasonable rate of wages for the Abyssinians, but he does not know what that rate of wages is.

Photo of Mr R.A. Butler Mr R.A. Butler , Saffron Walden

The hon. Member knows that for various reasons I have had rather short notice. I have given the House up-to-date information on the subject, and needless to say I could have obtained more detailed information if I had had more time. I think the hon. Member would be wiser to restrict himself to the general subject and not make points such as that I am not informed on any particular point.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

I do not wish to be unfair to the hon. Member, and I agree that he has been given rather short notice. We shall put down a question on the rate of wages paid by the Fascist Government, and we shall then discover whether they are reasonable or not. His Majesty's Government have assumed in their policy, beginning some months ago, that the war in Abyssinia was over when sanctions were raised; and the picture which the Under-Secretary of State has painted to-night is, broadly speaking, that of a Government which has undisputed sovereignty of the country with a smoothly working administration. In spite of what he has told us, I assert that nothing of the kind is true. The true situation is that Signor Mussolini, in his third year of his Covenant-breaking war, has had a more costly campaign than ever before, and that he is no nearer conquest than when sanctions were taken off.

The Under-Secretary of State has said that the information given by my hon. Friend was from Ethiopian sources, that Ethiopian sources were interested sources and that, therefore, presumably the information was unreliable. He said further that it was out of date. I submit that the Ethiopians are extremely likely to know the true facts about their own country, more likely than other people; and that they have no real interest to disguise the facts. If the country is really conquered, if the people want to accept the Italians as their rulers, why does not the Emperor accept the large sum of money which the Italian Government have offered him and allow the whole question to be ended? He does not, because he knows that the country is not conquered. I want to submit, in addition to the evidence given by my hon. Friend, certain supplementary information which comes not from Ethiopian sources but from British sources and newspapers, and, moreover, information which is up to date. I admit that it is not in agreement with the information which His Majesty's Government have received. But I am not greatly impressed that it is not in agreement with what the Under-Secretary of State has told us.

In 1937 the Government used to say, day after day that all that we learned about Spain was untrue. We relied on British journalists, who reported what was happening in the Press. We were told that their information was not true. But on the 21st February, 1938, the late Foreign Secretary told us that it was true, that the journalists had been right and the Government wrong. I suggest that the journalists are right now. The Italian Government have made it much more difficult to obtain information about Abyssinia than it was about Spain. His Majesty's Government had some 56 diplomatic and consular agents in Spain; they have only two consular posts in Abyssinia, and the Consuls cannot find it very easy to travel. I suggest that the information which comes from the sources I shall cite is true, in this case, as it was in the case of Spain. I begin with an article in the "Times," which I admit is a little out of date, for it was published on 8th October, 1937. There was a sentence in that article which my hon. Friend did not quote: With the exception of the bigger towns and the provinces where the means of communication are such that military aid can be secured quickly in case of emergency, Abyssinia is governed by Abyssinian chieftains who carry on a guerilla warfare against the Italians, harrassing them at every opportunity. The correspondent gives details of particular actions and says that the Abyssinian population have almost entirely abandoned their lands and that agriculture is a thing of the past. They are engaged in war. That article was printed on the very day on which there appeared a letter in the "Times" from one of Signor Mussolini's agents saying that order was perfect in the country, and I believe that the "Times" article was a direct reply to that letter. But I come now to evidence which is a little more up to date. On the 16th February this year, five days before the Prime Minister began his negotiations with Signor Mussolini, and when he was already in constant personal contact with Signor Grandi, the "Daily Telegraph" printed a report from their Aden correspondent in which he said: It is learned here that a detachment of 500 Italians was annihilated recently as a result of a ruse by Abyssinian tribesmen in the Minjar country. Serious revolts have broken out in Gojjam, north-west of Addis-Ababa, and in the extreme south. It is now learned that the Wallega district in Western Abyssinia is also affected. A little later an article in the "Daily Express" said very much the same thing. In February the "Evening Standard" reported: Refugees arriving here"— that is Port Saidin French steamers told further stories of the daily massacre of hundreds of Italian troops in Abyssinia. The refugees declared that Italian forces are in great distress because of the shortness of provisions. There is a famine in Addis-Ababa. The people are eating cats, dogs and monkeys. Bands of Abyssinian soldiers attack Italian outposts almost every night. I come still more up to date in the sense that I now desire to give the Under-Secretary information which was printed in the month of May. I referred to it at Question Time to-day. It is the information of a Frenchman who went to Abyssinia and was with the Abyssinian army. He went in from Kenya and travelled by Lake Rudolph into the South of the country. This is what he says: While the diplomatists are trying to work out the most suitable way to recognise the Italian conquest, I have been watching the Abyssinians carry on the war against the invaders. Although Europe may have lost sight of it, that war is as real as the existence of an independent Abyssinia with its own capital. Gore, its own Government, and its own army. I have just returned to Europe after sharing the life of the army for several weeks. He described a number of actions he saw; how the Abyssinians are able to destroy Italian crops; and he gives a picture which, I think, would convince even the Under-Secretary that the administration of the Italians is not working so smoothly as they might desire. He also gives a map, showing one great area which is independent, and another great area in which there is continual guerilla fighting. To that there must be added the area of the Gojjam Provinces which the Minister himself has admitted are in revolt.

To this evidence we can add that of two great British authorities. I venture to say that there is no higher authority in the world on Africa than Lord Lugard. A few days ago Lord Lugard wrote to the "Times" as follows: Replies to questions in the House have withheld from the public the real situation in Abyssinia, because His Majesty's Government were unable to confirm reports of which they had no definite proof, but there is undeniable evidence that it is very critical—and the rains are shortly due when it may become more so. That is supplemented by the evidence of another very high authority on Africa, Miss Margery Perham of Oxford. As everybody knows, Miss Margery Perham is a great African traveller. She wrote a letter to the "Times," dated 29th April, saying that she had just returned from the Abyssinian frontier, where, if anywhere, one is likely to hear the truth. She said: There is evidence to show that the conquest is by no means a historical fact, and that the increasing vigour of the Abyssinian struggle for freedom, with Italy's growing financial difficulties, might, during the coming rains, induce Rome to compromise with the huge task she has undertaken. She goes on: Even were the conquest complete it would still be only the beginning of the Abyssinian problem. Few if any subject people has ever had such strong and abiding stimulus to nationalism as the Abyssinians, whether in their character, their long and independent history, or in a struggle to defend their freedom in which the world openly justified them against their aggressors. I venture to say that that evidence, which is confirmed by many other travellers with whom I have spoken, who have come back from those parts of the world, tends to show that His Majesty's Government, perhaps, have not got the whole of the facts and that here is, at least very real doubt—1 do not wish to overstate it—about the military and administrative situation in Abyssinia to-day. I would add that I have this morning received information, from sources which have always proved reliable in the past, that there has been heavy fighting near Addis Ababa during the last fortnight, that a very important personality in the Italian administration was wounded outside Addis Ababa not long ago, and that two attacks have been made on Addis Ababa itself. In these circumstances, what do the Government propose? They have gone to Geneva and they have suggested that members of the League should set aside—

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

I understood that notice had been given that the question of what the Government did at Geneva was to be raised tomorrow. I warn the hon. Member that if he raises it to-night, he may be anticipating to-morrow's Debate.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

I do not desire to go outside your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was simply suggesting that the action of the Government at Geneva ought to depend upon the real facts of the situation. If you desire that I should not proceed with that part of what I intended to say, I will leave it out. But in conclusion, I must recall that the law of the Covenant in this matter is perfectly clear, that Article 10, which, as President Wilson said, is the heart of the Covenant, has twice been interpreted, by a unanimous resolution of the Committee of Twelve of the Council of the League, and by the unanimous resolution of the Assembly of the League; and that the Assembly said: It is incumbent upon the Members of the League of Nations not to recognise any situation, treaty or agreement which may be brought about by means contrary to the Covenant of the League of Nations or to the Pact of Paris. I suggest that even if, as Miss Perham says, the conquest of Abyssinia were complete—

Photo of Mr Robert Bourne Mr Robert Bourne , Oxford

Notice has been given that this question will be raised on the Adjournment to-morrow, and the hon. Member must not go into the question of Geneva. The hon. Member for Kingswin-ford (Mr. Henderson) raised, quite properly, the question of the accuracy of the Government's information about Abyssinia, but if hon. Members go into the question of the Government's action at Geneva, it may affect the Debate tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford (Mr. Henderson) raised the question of the situation in Abyssinia, with reference to the despatch of a commission of inquiry. It is to that point that I desire to address myself. I venture to suggest that the action taken by the Government ought not to have been taken without asking for a commission of inquiry. In every previous case when action has been required by the League, and there has been doubt about the facts, such commissions of inquiry have been sent, and in no instance has that procedure, when adopted, failed to give satisfaction and to bring results that did justice to all the parties concerned. That was done over the Aaland Islands, in the first year of the League's existence; it was done later over Demir Kapou, over Mosul, and over Manchuria in 1931; and I venture to say that the facts which have been recited by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswinford, and the information with which I have supplemented what he said, show that the conquest of Abyssinia is not complete, that there is at least grave doubt as to what is the real situation in Abyssinia, and that unless the Government accept a commission of inquiry, but proceed to recognise without it, they will take action which will not, indeed, ensure the conquest of the Abyssinian people—in that I do not believe— but which will leave upon British honour a stain which will not easily be wiped out.