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It has been my lot to listen to more than one speech by a Minister who came to this House to explain the reasons why he had felt it necessary to resign his office in the Government. I have never been able to listen to such speeches without emotion. When a man gives up, as my right hon. Friend has so eloquently described, a great position, and association with friends in the pursuit of work in which he takes a pride and interest, and gives up these things for conscience' sake, everybody must listen to him with respect. One must feel, too, sympathy for a man struggling to explain the reasons which have separated him from his colleagues conscious that among them at any rate, he has been in a minority. But I am sure my right hon. Friend will not think me discourteous if this afternoon I make no attempt to answer him or to defend myself against the strictures which he has made upon the policy which the Government have been pursuing. It is not that I have anything to withdraw or to regret, but that in the course of this Debate there will be, no doubt, other criticisms which can be answered before the Debate closes, along with those of my right hon. Friend, and that I desire to open the discussion with the speech that I would have made if my right hon. Friend had not resigned, in order that I may try and give the House the background, as we see it, for the events that have taken place and for the decisions that have been taken.
When the House met last Wednesday, we were all under the shadow of a great and imminent menace. War, in a form more stark and terrible than ever before, seemed to be staring us in the face. Before I sat down, a message had come which gave us new hope that peace might yet be saved, and to-day, only a few days after, we all meet in joy and thankfulness that the prayers of millions have been answered, and a cloud of anxiety has been lifted from our hearts. Upon the Members of the Cabinet the strain of the responsibility of these last few weeks has been almost overwhelming. Some of us, I have no doubt, will carry the mark of it for the rest of our days. Necessarily, the weight fell heavier upon some shoulders than others. While all bore their part, I would like here and now to pay an especial tribute of gratitude and praise to the man upon whom fell the first brunt of those decisions which had to be taken day by day, almost hour by hour. The calmness, patience, and wisdom of the Foreign Secretary, and his lofty conception of his duty, not only to this country but to all humanity, were an example to us all, and sustained us all through the trials through which we have been passing.
Before I come to describe the Agreement which was signed at Munich in the small hours of Friday morning last, I would like to remind the House of two things which I think it is very essential not to forget when those terms are being considered. The first is this: We did not go there to decide whether the predominantly German areas in the Sudetenland should be passed over to the German Reich. That had been decided already. Czechoslovakia had accepted the Anglo-French proposals. What we had to consider was the method, the conditions and the time of the transfer of the territory. The second point to remember is that time was one of the essential factors. All the elements were present on the spot for the outbreak of a conflict which might have precipitated the catastrophe. We had populations inflamed to a high degree; we had extremists on both sides ready to work up and provoke incidents; we had considerable quantities of arms which were by no means confined to regularly organised forces. Therefore, it was essential that we should quickly reach a conclusion, so that this painful and difficult operation of transfer might be carried out at the earliest possible moment and concluded as soon as was consistent with orderly procedure, in order that we might avoid the possibility of something that might have rendered all our attempts at peaceful solution useless.
The House will remember that when I last addressed them I gave them some account of the Godesberg Memorandum, with the terms of which I think they are familiar. They will recollect also that I myself at Godesberg expressed frankly my view that the terms were such as were likely to shock public opinion generaly in the world and to bring their prompt rejection by the Czechoslovak Government. Those views were confirmed by the results, and the immediate and unqualified rejection of that Memorandum by the Czechoslovak Government was communicated to us at once by them. What I think the House will desire to take into consideration first, this afternoon, is what is the difference between those unacceptable terms and the terms which were included in the Agreement signed at Munich, because on the difference between those two documents will depend the judgment as to whether we were successful in what we set out to do, namely, to find an orderly instead of a violent method of carrying out an agreed decision.
I say, first of all, that the Godesberg Memorandum, although it was cast in the form of proposals, was in fact an ultimatum, with a time limit of six days. On the other hand, the Munich Agreement reverts to the Anglo-French plan, the plan referred to in the Preamble, though not in express terms, and it lays down the conditions for the application, on the responsibility of the four Powers and under international supervision, of the main principle of that Memorandum. Again, under the Munich Agreement evacuation of the territory which is to be occupied by German military forces and its occupation by those forces is to be carried out in five clearly defined stages between 1st October and 10th October, instead of having to be completed in one operation by 1st October. Thirdly, the line up to which German troops will enter into occupation is no longer the line as laid down in the map which was attached to the Godesberg Memorandum. It is a line which is to be fixed by an International Commission. On that Commission both Germany and Czechoslovakia are represented. I take the fourth point. Under the Godesberg Memorandum the areas on the Czech side of this German line laid down in the map which were to be submitted to a plebiscite were laid down on that map by Germany, whereas those on the German side of the line were left undefined. Under the Munich Agreement all plebiscite areas are to be defined by the International Commission. The criterion is to be the predominantly German character of the area, the interpretation of that phrase being left to the Commission. I am bound to say that the German line, the line laid down in the map, did take in a number of areas which could not be called predominantly German in character.
Then, Sir, it will be remembered that, according to the Godesberg Memorandum, the occupation of plebiscite areas by German and Czech troops respectively was to be up to the time of the plebiscite. They were then to be withdrawn while the plebiscite was being held. Under the Munich Agreement these plebiscite areas are to be occupied at once by an international force. The Godesberg Memorandum did not indicate on what kind of areas the vote would be based. Accordingly, there were fears entertained on the side of the Czechs that large areas might be selected, which would operate to the disadvantage of the Czechoslovaks. In the Munich arrangement it is stated that the plebiscite is to be based on the conditions of the Saar plebiscite, and that indicates that the vote is to be taken by small administrative areas. Under the Munich arrangement the Czech Govern- ment, while it is bound to carry out the evacuation of the territories without damaging existing installations, is not placed under the objectionable conditions of the appendix to the Godesberg Memorandum, to which much exception was taken, in that it was provided that no foodstuffs, cattle or raw material were to be removed. Under the Godesberg Memorandum the detailed arrangements for the evacuation were to be settled by Germans and Czechs alone, and I think there were many who thought that such an arrangement did not give the Czechs much chance of making their voices heard. Well, Sir, under the Munich Agreement the conditions of evacuation are to be laid down in detail by the International Commission.
Again, the Munich arrangement includes certain very valuable provisions which found no place at all in the Godesberg Memorandum, such as the Article regarding the right of option: that is option to leave the territory and pass into Czech territory, provisions for facilitating the transfer of populations, the supplementary declaration which provides that all other questions arising out of the transfer of territory are to be referred to the International Commission, and, finally, the one which gives the Czechs the period of four weeks for the release of the Sudeten Germans from the army and the police, and for the release of Sudeten German political prisoners instead of demanding that those things should be done by 1st October——
The joint guarantee, which is given under the Munich Agreement to the Czechoslovak State by the Governments of United Kingdom and France against unprovoked aggressions upon their boundaries, gives to the Czechs an essential counterpart which was not to be found in the Godesberg Memorandum, and it will not be unnoted that Germany will also undertake to give a guarantee on the question of Polish and Hungarian minorities being settled. Finally, there is a declaration by the Four Powers that if the problems of the Polish and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia are not settled within three months by agreement between the respective Governments, another meeting of the Four Powers will be held to consider them—[Interruption]. I think that every fair-minded, every serious-minded man who takes into consideration the modifications which I have described—modifications of the Memorandum—must agree that they are of very considerable extent and that they are all in the same direction. To those who dislike an ultimatum, but who were anxious for a reasonable and orderly procedure, everyone of those modifications is a step in the right direction. It is no longer an ultimatum, but it is a method which is carried out largely under the supervision of an international body.
Before giving a verdict upon this arrangement, we should do well to avoid describing it as a personal or a national triumph for anyone. The real triumph is that it has shown that representatives of four great Powers can find it possible to agree on a way of carrying out a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of by force of arms, and thereby they have averted a catastrophe which would have ended civilisation as we have known it. The relief that our escape from this great peril of war has, I think, everywhere been mingled in this country with a profound feeling of sympathy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I have nothing to be ashamed of. Let those who have, hang their heads. We must feel profound sympathy for a small and gallant nation in the hour of their national grief and loss.
I say in the name of this House and of the people of this country that Czechoslovakia has earned our admiration and respect for her restraint, for her dignity, for her magnificent discipline in face of such a trial as few nations have ever been called upon to meet. General Syrovy said the other night in his broadcast:
The Government could have decided to stand up against overpowering forces, but it might have meant the death of millions.
The army, whose courage no man has ever questioned, has obeyed the order of their President, as they would equally have obeyed him if he had told them to march into the trenches. It is my hope, and my belief, that under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past. We must
recognise that she has been put in a position where she has got to reconstruct her whole economy, and that in doing that she must encounter difficulties, which it would be practically impossible for her to solve alone. We have received from the Czechoslovak Government, through their Minister in London, an appeal to help them to raise a loan of £30,000,000 by a British Government guarantee. I believe that the House will feel with the Government that that is an appeal which should meet with a sympathetic and even a generous response.
So far as we have been able to ascertain, the Czechoslovak Government has not as yet addressed any similar request to any other Government. It is evident that the terms and conditions of a guaranteed loan and the question of what Governments would participate in it, may raise matters which could not be decided immediately; but evidently this is one of those cases where the old proverb applies, that "He who gives quickly gives twice." [HON. MEMBERS: "Takes twice."] Would hon. Members opposite kindly allow me to continue this rather important part of my statement without those continual interruptions, which distract attention and make it difficult for the House to take in what I am saying? His Majesty's Government are informing the Czechoslovak Government that we are prepared immediately to arrange for an advance of £10,000,000, which would be at that Government's disposal for their urgent needs. How this advance will be related to the final figure which may be decided upon hereafter is for the future. Manifestly, all of this depends upon many factors which cannot now be determined. The precise character of the problem will want expert examination, in which we shall, if desired, be very willing to be associated, and during the coming weeks the resulting situation and its needs can be more fully explored.
What we feel to be required and justified now is that the action I have mentioned should be taken without any delay, first, to assist the Czechoslovak State in what must be the crisis of its difficulties. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on behalf of the Government, has addressed a letter to the Bank of England requesting the Bank to provide the necessary credit of £10,000,000 sterling, and when the House resumes its sittings in November Parliament will be asked to pass the necessary legislation to reimburse the Bank from the Exchequer.
I pass from that subject, and I would like to say a few words in respect of the various other participants, besides ourselves, in the Munich Agreement. After everything that has been said about the German Chancellor to-day and in the past, I do feel that the House ought to recognise the difficulty for a man in that position to take back such emphatic declarations as he had already made amidst the enthusiastic cheers of his supporters, and to recognise that in consenting, even though it were only at the last moment, to discuss with the representatives of other Powers those things which he had declared he had already decided once for all, was a real and a substantial contribution on his part. With regard to Signor Mussolini, his contribution was certainly notable and perhaps decisive. It was on his suggestion that the final stages of mobilisation were postponed for 24 hours to give us an opportunity of discussing the situation, and I wish to say that at the Conference itself both he and the Italian Foreign Secretary, Count Ciano, were most helpful in the discussions. It was they who, very early in the proceedings, produced the Memorandum which M. Daladier and I were able to accept as a basis of discussion. I think that Europe and the world have reason to be grateful to the head of the Italian Government for his work in contributing to a peaceful solution.
M. Daladier had in some respects the most difficult task of all four of us, because of the special relations uniting his country and Czechoslovakia, and I should like to say that his courage, his readiness to take responsibility, his pertinacity and his unfailing good humour were invaluable throughout the whole of our discussions. There is one other Power which was not represented at the Conference and which nevertheless we felt to be exercising a constantly increasing influence. I refer, of course, to the United States of America. Those messages of President Roosevelt, so firmly and yet so persuasively framed, showed how the voice of the most powerful nation in the world could make itself heard across 3,000 miles of ocean and sway the minds of men in Europe.
In my view the strongest force of all, one which grew and took fresh shapes and forms every day was the force not of any one individual, but was that unmistakable sense of unanimity among the peoples of the world that war somehow must be averted. The peoples of the British Empire were at one with those of Germany, of France and of Italy, and their anxiety, their intense desire for peace, pervaded the whole atmosphere of the conference, and I believe that that, and not threats, made possible the concessions that were made. I know the House will want to hear what I am sure it does not doubt, that throughout these discussions the Dominions, the Governments of the Dominions, have been kept in the closest touch with the march of events by telegraph and by personal contact, and I would like to say how greatly I was encouraged on each of the journeys I made to Germany by the knowledge that I went with the good wishes of the Governments of the Dominions. They shared all our anxieties and all our hopes. They rejoiced with us that peace was preserved, and with us they look forward to further efforts to consolidate what has been done.
Ever since I assumed my present office my main purpose has been to work for the pacification of Europe, for the removal of those suspicions and those animosities which have so long poisoned the air. The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity.
My right hon. Friend has alluded in somewhat bitter terms to my conversation last Friday morning with Herr Hitler. I do not know why that conversation should give rise to suspicion, still less to criticism. I entered into no pact. I made no new commitments. There is no secret understanding. Our conversation was hostile to no other nation. The objects of that conversation, for which I asked, was to try to extend a little further the personal contact which I had established with Herr Hitler and which I believe to be essential in modern diplomacy. We had a friendly and entirely non-committal conversation, carried on, on my part, largely with a view to seeing whether there could be points in common between the head of a democratic Government and the ruler of a totalitarian State. We see the result in the declaration which has been published, in which my right hon. Friend finds so much ground for suspicion. What does it say?
There are three paragraphs. The first says that we agree
in recognising that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.
Does anyone deny that? The second is an expression of opinion only. It says that:
We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of the two peoples never to go to war with one another again.
Once more I ask, does anyone doubt that that is the desire of the two peoples? What is the last paragraph?
We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.
Who will stand up and condemn that sentence?
I believe there are many who will feel with me that such a declaration, signed by the German Chancellor and myself, is something more than a pious expression of opinion. In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and good will on both sides. I believe that there is sincerity and good will on both sides in this declaration. That is why to me its significance goes far beyond its actual words. If there is one lesson which we should learn from the events of these last weeks it is this, that lasting peace is not to be obtained by sitting still and waiting for it to come. It requires active, positive efforts to achieve it. No doubt I shall have plenty of criticis who will say that I am guilty of facile optimism, and that I should disbelieve every word that is uttered by rulers of other great States in Europe. I am too much of a realist to believe that we are going to achieve our paradise in a day. We have only laid the foundations of peace. The superstructure is not even begun.
For a long period now we have been engaged in this country in a great programme of rearmament, which is daily increasing in pace and in volume. Let no one think that because we have signed this agreement between these four Powers at Munich we can afford to relax our efforts in regard to that programme at this moment. Disarmament on the part of this country can never be unilateral again. We have tried that once, and we very nearly brought ourselves to disaster. If disarmament is to come it must come by steps, and it must come by the agreement and the active co-operation of other countries. Until we know that we have obtained that co-operation and until we have agreed upon the actual steps to be taken, we here must remain on guard.
When, only a little while ago, we had to call upon the people of this country to begin to take those steps which would be necesary if the emergency should come upon us, we saw the magnificent spirit that was displayed. The Naval Reservists, the Territorial Army, the Auxiliary Air Force, the Observers' Corps, obeyed the summons to mobilise very readily. We must remember that most of these men gave up their peace time work at a moment's notice to serve their country. We should like to thank them. We should like to thank also the employers who accepted the inevitable inconvenience of mobilisation. I know that they will show the same spirit of patriotic co-operation in taking back all their former employÉs when they are demobilised. I know that, although the crisis has passed, they will feel proud that they are employing men upon whom the State can rely if a crisis should return.
While we must renew our determination to fill up the deficiencies that yet remain in our armaments and in our defensive precautions, so that we may be ready to defend ourselves and make our diplomacy effective—[Interruption]—yes I am a realist—nevertheless I say with an equal sense of reality that I do see fresh opportunities of approaching this subject of disarmament opening up before us, and I believe that they are at least as hopeful to-day as they have been at any previous time. It is to such tasks—the winning back of confidence, the gradual removal of hostility between nations until they feel that they can safely discard their weapons, one by one, that I would wish to devote what energy and time may be left to me before I hand over my office to younger men.
We have listened to two remarkable speeches. The House always listens with particular sympathy to a Minister who has resigned his office on account of serious disagreement on policy. The right hon. Gentleman made a remarkably clear and cogent speech, a speech that will need a reply, a speech that certainly was not answered in the speech of the Prime Minister. We have all been living through difficult and dangerous times and we are living to-day in difficult and dangerous times. The Prime Minister at the close of his speech said that we must continue to arm. It was a comment on his other statement that we have peace for our generation.
We all feel relief that war has not come this time. Every one of us has been passing through days of anxiety; we cannot, however, feel that peace has been established, but that we have nothing but an armistice in a state of war. We have been unable to go in for care-free rejoicing. We have felt that we are in the midst of a tragedy. We have felt humiliation. This has not been a victory for reason and humanity. It has been a victory for brute force. At every stage of the proceedings there have been time limits laid down by the owner and ruler of armed force. The terms have not been terms negotiated; they have been terms laid down as ultimata. We have seen to-day a gallant, civilised and democratic people betrayed and handed over to a ruthless despotism. We have seen something more. We have seen the cause of democracy, which is, in our view, the cause of civilisation and humanity, receive a terrible defeat.
I think that in the mind of every thoughtful person in this country when he heard that this settlement had been arrived at at Munich, there was a conflict. On the one hand there was enormous relief that war had been averted, at all events for the time being; on the other, there was a sense of humiliation and foreboding for the future. If I may compare my feelings at that time, they were akin to those I felt on the night that we evacuated the Gallipoli Peninsula. There was sorrow for sacrifice. There was sorrow over the great chance of ending the war earlier that had passed away. There was, perhaps, some feeling of satisfaction that for a short time one was getting away from the firing line, but there was the certain and sure knowledge that before very long we should be in it again.
The events of these last few days constitute one of the greatest diplomatic defeats that this country and France have ever sustained. There can be no doubt that it is a tremendous victory for Herr Hitler. Without firing a shot, by the mere display of military force, he has achieved a dominating position in Europe which Germany failed to win after four years of war. He has overturned the balance of power in Europe. He has destroyed the last fortress of democracy in Eastern Europe which stood in the way of his ambition. He has opened his way to the food, the oil and the resources which he requires in order to consolidate his military power, and he has successfully defeated and reduced to impotence the forces that might have stood against the rule of violence.
The Prime Minister has given us an account of his actions. Everybody recognises the great exertions he has made in the cause of peace. When the captain of a ship by disregarding all rules of navigation has gone right off his course and run the ship into great danger, watchers from the shore, naturally impressed with the captain's frantic efforts to try to save something from the shipwreck, cheer him when he comes ashore and even want to give him a testimonial, but there follows an inquiry, an inquest, on the victims, and the question will be asked how the vessel got so far off its course, how and why it was so hazarded? All the faults of seamanship and errors of judgment must be brought to light, and no amount of devotion at the eleventh hour will save that captain from the verdict that he has hazarded his ship through bad seamanship. Parliament is the grand inquest of the British nation, and it is our duty to inquire not alone into the actions of the Prime Minister during the last few days or the last few weeks, but into the whole course of policy which has brought this country into such great danger and such great anxiety.
Many people have been paying tributes to the Prime Minister with great enthusiasm as the man who saved the peace. Yes, but he is the man who brought us into danger of war. The same Government that has been grappling with these dangers in the last few days has been responsible for the policy of this country for the last seven years. We have to look at the background of these events as well as to the future. Before doing so I would like to pay my tribute on behalf of my friends, and express our sympathy with President Benes and the people of Czechoslovakia. I do so the more because, although the Prime Minister has paid a tribute to-day, I think that tribute was belated, and that some words of sympathy might be said in this Debate. These are the victims of aggression. They have shown marvellous courage and self-control. It is the Czechs who kept the peace of Europe; it is their sacrifice which has averted war. Most people in this country believe that the Czechs have been shamefully betrayed by those pledged to stand by them. Faced with the threat of armed attack from without and murder and outrage within, instigated from without, exposed to violent slander and abuse by their enemy, and deserted by those whom they had a right to trust, they have shown dignity, courage and self-control worthy of a great democracy, and their distinguished President, a great patriot, and also a great European, who has been assailed by the German Press and the German leader in most disgraceful language, has never stooped to reply. His bearing throughout has shown the difference between a civilised man and a gangster.
I have had the privilege to visit Czechoslovakia and I know many of the Czechs. They are a fine, free and democratic people. I know Sudeten Germans, too. Sudeten Germans are now flying from the country because Germany has entered. When you come to think of it, what has been the fault of the Czechs? It is not a fault: it is a misfortune. It is not what they are, but where they are that has caused all the trouble. I should like to say that one of the points on which we shall require a great deal more elucidation before the Debate is ended is why, in all these proceedings, everyone seems to have been approached except the Czechs. There are visits to Herr Hitler, Signor Mussolini is called in, but there seems to have been no real contact with the leader of the Czech Government. Peace has been preserved at a price, but the immediate people who pay the price are the Czechs. The armaments which they have built up, which they scraped and pinched themselves to build, are to be handed over to the Germans—armaments which they built at the request of their allies and which were brought into these areas on mobilisation will have to be left there. They have lost some of their most valuable assets and will have an enormous refugee problem to deal with. I was glad to hear from the Prime Minister that something is to be done to help them. I would give them more than a loan, more than a guarantee. I know many poor people in this country who are sending along their pennies and shillings on account of their sympathy with the Czech people. If war has been averted it has been due to the Czechs, and in Britain and France great efforts should be made to help them to grapple with their misfortunes.
I want to turn now to the cause of the crisis which we have undergone. The cause was not the existence of minorities in Czechoslovakia; it was not that the position of the Sudeten Germans had become intolerable. It was not the wonderful principle of self-determination. It was because Herr Hitler had decided that the time was ripe for another step forward in his design to dominate Europe. I think it is necessary to be clear on this, because the Prime Minister seems to me to be laying a great deal too much stress on the anxiety of Herr Hitler for his fellow-Germans in Czechoslovakia. I have no doubt that has been so, but it did not become intense until about two years ago. It was quite a minor matter, and I fear that the Prime Minister is deceived if he thinks that the cause of this trouble has been the woes of the Sudeten Germans. I say that the question of the Sudeten Germans has been used as a counter in the game of politics, and in other conditions Herr Hitler might just as well have used the people of Memel, the people of South Denmark, the people in the Trentino or the Germans in South Tyrol. The minorities question is no new one. It existed before the War and it existed after the War, because the problem of Germans in Czechoslovakia succeeded that of the Czechs in German Austria, just as the problem of Germans In the Tyrol succeeded that of the Italians in Trieste, and short of a drastic and entire reshuffling of these populations there is no possible solution to the problem of minorities in Europe except toleration.
The Peace Treaties created many more difficulties. [Interruption.] Yes, but we were the people at the time who protested. Undoubtedly many injustices were done, but I contend that no State on the Continent of Europe has behaved better to its minorities than has Czechoslovakia. There are grievances, Lord Runciman quoted some, but if you compare these minorities with the Germans in the Trentino or with the Jews and Catholics or the Socialists in Germany, their position is as heaven to hell. If there are faults between the Czechs and Germans, the faults were not all on one side. There has been deliberate provocation from outside. Whatever these men and women had in the way of disabilities, they were free men and women in a free State: they were citizens. They filled high places in the Government and enjoyed full cultural autonomy. The Czechs and Germans have lived together for 800 years, and it was not until the Nazi propaganda and money from abroad inflamed passions that the situation became serious. It was not until the Germans entered the Rhine zone that these troubles increased, and it was not until after the Anschluss that they became acute.
The Sudeten question did not depend, and has not depended, on internal conditions in Czechoslovakia. It has depended on the march of Herr Hitler towards his objective. Lord Runciman's letter shows quite plainly that the question of a settlement did not arise with the Czech authorities or with the Sudetens because that at every stage in an attempted settlement Herr Hitler and his henchmen intervened. History has proved that in times of peace the two people can live together on friendly terms, but the tragedy is that there has not been peace all the time. It is easy to say that the Czech Government were slow to deal with the matter, and that they ought to have acted sooner. There may be a case for that, but I doubt whether the Unionist party are the people who should say that. They have not been particularly happy in dealing with the question of minorities, or mixed minorities, and they have many outstanding questions to deal with at the present day.
I fear that the House is faced with this, that the real outstanding problem in this business, the real big issue, the central fact of the situation, is that the map of Europe has been forcibly altered by the threat of war. Herr Hitler has successfully asserted the law of the jungle. He has claimed to do what he will by force and in doing so has struck at the roots of the life of civilised peoples. In doing this to one nation he threatens all, and if he does this, and he has with impunity, there is no longer any peace in the world even although there may be a pause in actual warfare. The whole of Europe is now under the constant menace of armed force. That is why many people cannot feel very happy about the present situation. They feel that there has been an immense victory for force and wrong. Ever since the last War people have realised that if peace is to be preserved there must be something above the will of the individual ruler of an armed State. That is the whole basis of the League of Nations and many people are surprised to-day to be under this menace—people who have grown to political consciousness in the years from 1918 to 1932, because between those years there was peace. Now we have gone back.
I say we are witnessing a degeneration of the world due to two things. The first thing is the failure to deal with the political and economic questions arising out of the follies of the Peace Treaties, and arising out of the widespread injustice and maladjustments of the economic system. The other thing is the failure to deal with force, the failure to restrain aggression. The Disarmament Conference's failure; the failure of the World Economic Conference; aggression in Manchuria, Abyssinia, Spain, Austria and Czechoslovakia—these are milestones that mark the road to the abyss. We on these benches have, again and again, shown the danger of a policy which failed to restrain aggression, which failed to face the issue, which neither stood firm against aggression, nor tried to deal with causes. We stood for collective restraint against aggression, in cases where some hon. Members thought it did not concern us, because we knew that we could not separate the issues of peace and that a threat that might be as far away as China would come eventually to this country.
The history of the last seven years is the background of this crisis, and the first point I must make to the Government is this. This crisis did not come unexpectedly. It was obvious to any intelligent student of foreign affairs that this attack would come. The immediate signal was given by the Prime Minister himself on 7th March of this year when he said: "What country in Europe to-day if threatened by a larger Power can rely upon the League for protection? None." It was at once an invitation to Herr Hitler and a confession of the failure of the Government. The invitation was accepted a few days later by the Anschluss in Austria. Then our Government and the French Government could have faced the consequences. They could have told Czechoslovakia "We cannot any longer defend you. You had better now make the best terms you can with Germany, enter her political orbit and give her anything to escape before the wrath comes upon you." But they did nothing of the sort. Czechoslovakia continued under the supposed shelter of these treaties. True, it was urged that something should be done for the Sudeten Germans but there was no attempt made to take early steps to prevent this aggression.
I compared the Prime Minister to the captain of a ship not taking any steps until the eleventh hour. The trouble is in these matters that it is the early steps that count, and it was so in the matter of Abyssinia. Early warning was not given and the Duce was allowed to commit himself. In this case early warning was not given and Herr Hitler was allowed to commit himself. If it had been decided to stand by Czechoslovakia, steps should have been taken at once, as has been urged in this House very often by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), to build up the forces that would stand against aggression. After the events of 21st May two things were obvious—the designs of Herr Hitler and also the fact that they could be stopped, because they were stopped then by the resolution of the Czech Government. The prime weakness throughout the whole business has been that the Government have never tried to get together the Powers that might stop it.
I heard a suggestion from the benches opposite. "What about the U.S.S.R.?" Throughout the whole of these proceedings the U.S.S.R. has stood by its pledges and its declarations and there has been some pretty hard lying about it, too. There have been lies told, and people knew they were lies, about alleged conversations between M. Litvinoff and the French Foreign Minister. At no time has there been any difficulty in knowing where the U.S.S.R. stood. At no time has there been any consultation. I am aware that the Prime Minister may say that we were not the prime factor in this problem and that we were only concerned after France had been brought into it. But we have had very close collaboration with France, and in the order of commitment the U.S.S.R. comes before this country, and it has been a very great weakness that throughout there has been this cold-shouldering of the U.S.S.R. The Prime Minister cannot bear even to mention them. They were never brought into consultation except on one occasion, and that was when it looked as if things were coming to the worst, and their help was wanted. Then an approach was made, but when it was a question of negotiation they were not brought in at all. I do riot know whether they will be brought into any future negotiations. But there you get the weakness of this Government and at the same time of France—and I say the weakness of France is even greater. At no time did they make up their minds whether they were going to stand or to tell Czechoslovakia to make its own terms.
Now I come to the personal action of the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Mr. D. Cooper) has given his view as to what ought to have been done. We on our side stated, as he stated, that we believed that the best chance of preventing war was a firm declaration by Britain, France, the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics and all other States open to be brought in, to stand against aggression. I still think that would have stopped this tragedy. The Prime Minister said that we were not immediately involved and that we had only our duty under the League of Nations. By the way, it does not appear that anything was ever clone to bring this before the League of Nations although two years ago, in answer to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), the Prime Minister said that if there was any question of a threat to Czechoslovakia he would at once take it to the League of Nations and that we should be prepared to do our full duty to the League of Nations. The League of Nations has been sitting and I understand that Lord De La Warr and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs have been in attend- ance, and I am not aware that at any time any attempt has been made to bring this matter before the League.
When the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden and when he accepted, or rather when he drew out the terms which he thought Herr Hitler would accept and by ultimatum, together with the French, forced them on the Czech Government, he then undertook far bigger commitments than this country had ever had before. When the Prime Minister took the unconventional step of going over himself to see Herr Hitler in order that he might know just where this country stood, there was little attempt at any criticism. But when he came back he did not come back as a negotiator. A negotiator considers both sides, but the Prime Minister considered only one side. He merely drew out a scheme which he thought would please Herr Hitler. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not think I am being unfair to the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] He tried to find out what Herr Hitler wanted. It was his determination to try to get something which he thought Herr Hitler would accept, and then he brought it and forced it on President Benes. That is not negotiation. That is merely delivering an ultimatum on behalf of one side. At that moment when that map was accepted, the real interests of Czechoslovakia had been sacrificed. We on this side could not accept that map. We believed that it was equivalent to the destruction of the State. But it was adopted, and it was adopted in a hurry.
The Prime Minister has pointed out the time factor. He was acting under the time factor all the time, because Herr Hitler would not wait. When once those terms had been accepted by Czechoslovakia there was no need whatever for this haste. The Prime Minister says there was danger of outrages on both sides. He knows perfectly well that the outrages came only from one sides. He knows perfectly well that order was kept by the Czechs in the face of great provocation and that disorder could have been stopped. He knows perfectly well that that pressure was because Herr Hitler had decided on certain dates, and had set his military machine in order. I need not go through the whole story, but the Prime Minister went again to Godesberg. There he received another ultimatum, an ultimatum so disgraceful—it was described admirably by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's—that he did not recommend it to the Czech Government. When the Czech Government resisted it, then and then only, was it decided to make a stand.
It was at that point that the Prime Minister thought a stand must be made, even at the risk of war. Subsequently as we know there were further negotiations and there were alterations in the Godesberg plan. I listened very carefully to the Prime Minister as he detailed these alterations because it seemed to me there was a very narrow line between the terms which the Prime Minister thought we ought to resist by force of arms, and the terms which, he thought, should be forced on the Czech Government. The Prime Minister was in this position. He was in a difficulty, as all the world is in a difficulty, with this danger of war. Every one of us realises this terrible danger of war. We would all have done anything to avert that war with honour. The Prime Minister has averted that war for the time being. If, I take it, there had been only the Godesberg resolution we should be in war at the present time. But, I confess I find it difficult to understand exactly that line.
The Prime Minister, in effect, had really surrendered Czechoslovakia long before—it was really when he laid this plan before the Czech Government on his return from Berchtesgaden. All his efforts to save peace—and we all recognise the efforts he has made—do not alter the fact that on the main question, he had already completely given way to the force of Herr Hitler's demands and, therefore, although we have a war averted, we have the recognition that the will of an armed dictator is supreme in the world. I am not putting all the blame on this Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I thought that at every point I had made that quite plain. There has been great procrastination by the French Government. I pointed out—and this is the gravamen of our case—that those two governments took the responsibility for Czechoslovakia, and if they did not mean Czechoslovakia to stand firm, they ought to have told them so. That is where our betrayal comes in—leading people to think we will stand by them, and then for- saking them. And this leads back all the time to the failure to have a clear policy.
There is a question which I would like to ask on these negotiations. I would like to ask what real protection there is going to be for minorities. The Prime Minister is very proud that he has secured six months during which inhabitants may opt, but what kind of life will a Jew or a German social democrat have in Sudeten Germany during the six months during which he has the chance of opting, and what will happen if he does opt for Czechoslovakia? The fact is that in reality these people are forced to flee at once from the terror.
Another question I would ask is, what is the nature of the guarantee that this country is going to give, and I would rather like to ask, who are going to guarantee the new Czechoslovakia without its defensible frontier? Is it just our-selves and France? Are the United Soviet Socialist Republics ruled out? Another question I would like to ask of the Prime Minister is, what is the value of that guarantee? And a further question which I would like to ask is this: As the outcome of these negotiations, to what has he committed this country? Everybody realises that one of the difficulties in this situation has been the isolation of Czechoslovakia from both Great Britain and France. Unless that guarantee is to be inoperative, does it not commit us to making war on an aggressor if, as a matter of fact, the new Czechoslovakia is violated? We ought to know that. The right hon. Member for St. George's, Westminster, said that it was a new commitment to guarantee the frontiers of a Continental country. I want to know whether this is a real guarantee. It is very important that we should not pledge our word to what we cannot carry out.
I want to refer by way of question to one or two other aspects of these negotiations. No one has questioned that the Prime Minister has been very energetic in trying to preserve peace, but it is a question whether he has chosen the best way. In effect, the Prime Minister, ever since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) resigned the office of Foreign Secretary, has been his own Foreign Secretary. There is a certain danger in that. We hear of policy described not as the policy of the British Government, not as British policy or as Government policy, but as Chamberlain policy. I think it is rather dangerous if the Prime Minister puts his personal position at stake. When the Prime Minister makes some kind of arrangement with Signor Mussolini, it all comes down eventually to the fact that the Prime Minister accepts Signor Mussolini's word, and he then stakes his whole political position on his own personal belief that that word will be kept; and when as a matter of fact it is not kept, he cannot do anything about it. So in going to Herr Hitler I recognise that he went because he wanted to see whether he could get close to Herr Hitler, but he now has to stake everything on his personal belief that Herr Hitler is different, and has a different policy from that which everybody else believes he has.
I think it is dangerous when these things are undertaken without the skilled advice of the Foreign Office; I think it is dangerous when advice is taken from those without very much experience—in fact, with no experience—in foreign affairs. And I emphasise a further difficulty. I think it is definitely dangerous for this country if there is a kind of idea that this country, like Germany or Italy, speaks only through the mouth of one particular man. I know that the Prime Minister is not responsible for that, but the cheaper Press endeavours to put him in that position. The real function of a British Prime Minister is not to be a superman; he is the servant of the greatest democracy in the world. When I urged the summoning of Parliament—and I am sorry that Parliament was not summoned—it was because I knew that he would go to another interview and would take part in any discussions in a far stronger position if he were fortified by the opinions of the elected representatives of the people, and I confess that I think it is disturbing, and an unfortunate precedent, if it be thought that things can be settled offhand by the Duce and the Prime Minister, or by the Prime Minister and the Fuhrer, who are put on the same level. The Prime Minister can meet them, but as long as we retain our democracy the Prime Minister will never be in the same position as the Duce or the Fuhrer.
When the National Government overthrew the whole policy of collective security and abandoned it and the League, we told this House over and over again that we were entering on a very dangerous course. We realised that we were back in 1914 with all its dangers, and we knew that sooner or later a challenge would come to this country; and that is what has happened. The real pith of it is that, having decided to leave the League system which we practised and in which we believed, and to embark on a policy of alliances and power politics, instead of strengthening the people whose natural interests were with ours, we have had nothing but constant flirtations with this and that dictator. The Prime Minister has been the dupe of the dictators, and I say that to-day we are in a dangerous position.
The military correspondent of the "Times," in a book which has just been published and which is well worth reading, has a passage in which he says that the second great war of the twentieth century began in July 1936, following the experience which had been gained by Japan in Manchuria and by Italy in Abyssinia. I ask the Prime Minister, in what kind of position do we find ourselves in this country in this, the third year of this new kind of war? We find Italy established in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, we find Italy and Germany with a foothold on the Atlantic route; by the reoccupation of the Rhineland France is shut in; by the seizing of Austria and by the overthrow of Czechoslovakia the whole of Central Europe and its resources and the great strategic position of Czechoslovakia have been handed over to Herr Hitler. I say the position is one of great danger. We are left isolated. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic may well hold aloof in future when it considers what little trust can be placed on our Western democracies, and we shall he left alone with France; all our potential allies have gone; and France, which in my view has the greatest responsibility for this debacle of policy, finds herself in the position of a second-class State.
And what have we got in place of the alliances and covenants and collective security and all the rest of it which buttressed this country in the past? We are left with two promises, one from Signor Mussolini and one from Herr Hitler. That is really all that we have got. We have to walk by faith—the faith of the Prime Minister in Signor Mussolini and his faith in Herr Hitler. The Prime Minister has said how difficult it was for Herr Hitler to recede from a statement which he had once made. I have five pages of statements made by Herr Hitler, from every one of which he has receded. I need not go through them; you know them—pages of them; but the Prime Minister says against all experience that he has faith in Herr Hitler's promise, grounded on two or three interviews—a pretty flimsy support for this country.
I ask, what is to happen next? What reason have we to think that Herr Hitler will stop now? Suppose he does not. What will happen? Suppose he now says that he wants colonies, what will the Prime Minister say when he asks the people of this country for them? But suppose he does not ask for British colonies at all; suppose he only asks for the Belgian Congo, or supposing he asks from Holland Sumatra or Java, what is the position? Czechoslovakia has gone. If there were any doubt about our ability to stand against these armed forces, there is far less now. That is the position in which we have been placed.
The suggestion is made in some quarters that we may now have a Four-Power Pact of the great Powers. I think that would be enormously dangerous at the present time. In any such pact this country will be definitely the junior partner. It will be a pact against liberty; it will be a pact like that of the Holy Alliance of a hundred years ago, and the British people will not have it. And liberty will be attacked not only abroad, but in this country, too. If the Prime Minister wants to walk with the dictators, he will have to conform to their wishes. The fact is that in the game of power politics this country and France have received a great defeat. I am not saying that this is all due to the present Prime Minister. The seeds of the present situation were sown long ago by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were watered by the present Home Secretary, and tended by the whole of this great National Government. Seven years of National Government have brought us to a day of humiliation, to a more dangerous position and a more humiliating position than any that we have occupied since the days of Charles II. The moral of this is that the day when our policy changed, when we left the path of collective security in the League of Nations, when we abandoned the attempt to make peace through the League and under collective security, that day we took a step towards war. What are we offered now? All we are offered now by the Prime Minister is to push on with rearmament. Well, the people have seen the gas masks, they have seen the trenches. They have fear in their hearts, and as long as you follow this hopeless policy of power politics, you will never lift this fear of war from the people.
In these bad days there are, I believe, two things from which we may draw some comfort. One was the resolution and calm of our own people in this crisis. I believe that the Prime Minster must have been able to bring to Herr Hitler—I hope he did—some sense of the resolution of the people of this country, because it is one of the dangers of the situation that the idea has gone abroad that this is a decadent country. That idea is fostered by some of those people, unfortunately, who are most friendly with the Nazis. I have a great admiration for complete pacifists of the type of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). When he went to see Herr Hitler I think he raised the dignity of this country to a position of strength, but I am not favourable to people whom I would call merely the pleasure-loving people, who are pacifists because they will not take up any responsible position. I am afraid that the view that Herr Hitler may have got may be derived from them.
The second thing from which we may draw some comfort—and this again, I hope, has gone home to the dictators—is that everywhere throughout the world there is utter hatred and detestation of war. I believe that is as strong in Germany and in Italy as it is in this country, and I think that now is the time when an effort should be made to meet the real desires of the people of the world to redress the balance against the rulers. If this method, the method we have been pursuing hitherto, is pursued, sooner or later we shall be in the abyss, for we have been looking down an abyss in the last few days. This is not the time for four-Power pacts, for new alliances, for power politics; this is the time for a new peace conference and an all-in peace conference. Let us call in the good offices of the United States of America, and let us not exclude the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I pleaded many months ago in this House that we wanted a peace conference before the next war, but then I did not assume that the next war would be complete defeat, and that is why the Munich Conference was not a real peace conference. It was only the delivery of an armistice.
I want a real conference, a peace conference to which people will not come merely to rattle the sabre. I want a peace conference which will endeavour to deal with the causes of war that are affecting this world, the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty, the wrongs of minorities, to deal with the colonial question, to deal with the question of raw materials, to deal, above all, with the great economic question, the condition-of-the-people question. I believe that to-day, if the world can take a lesson from the events of these months, despite the sacrifice of the Czech people, there is an opportunity of going forward to build a new world. The Prime Minister is convinced of the good faith of Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler. I would like to see that good faith show itself straight away by abandoning aggression in Spain. I would like to see that good faith shown by their coming to a conference. I would like to see them joining in trying to build up a new League. Herr Hitler says his only objection to the old League was that he felt it was a case of the victorious Powers in league against him, the victim of the last War. Well, he has now asserted himself, and no one can say he will not come in on an equality. But we desire that from this country there should go forth a demand for a real, new effort to try and rid the world of war, an effort to settle those questions without which you cannot get disarmament, without which you cannot get security. The real question that faces us in this Debate is not just a review of the past, not just our apprehensions of the present; it is, What can we do for the future of the human race?
The whole country has been looking forward to this Debate. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the St. George's Division of Westminster (Mr. Cooper) has given it an unexpected point of departure. His resignation, in the hour of the Prime Minister's popular triumph, is nothing short of an act of political heroism, and his speech to-day has helped to clarify the issues with which we are faced and must have increased the esteem in which he was already held in every quarter of the House.
The great issues which we are discussing to-day are fundamental, of immense importance, of infinite complexity, issues on which indeed there is ample room for differences of opinion and on which there are differences of opinion in every party represented in this House. They are, therefore, all the more suitable for cool, detached investigation and discussion in this assembly which, as the Leader of the Opposition reminded us, is the Grand Inquest of the nation. In discussing them, I shall be, as I am always am, quite frank with the House. I shall certainly have to criticise the policy which the Prime Minister has been following. I have never hidden from the House, from the moment he became Prime Minister, my respect for his personality, and I am sure that that respect which is felt by every Member of this House has been deepened by the courageous way in which he has carried his responsibilities during recent months. He paid a well-deserved tribute to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for his share in these tremendous responsibilities, which, as he said himself, must leave upon those who have had to bear them marks which they will carry to their graves, and I am sure the whole House will feel that no one deserves a similar tribute more than the Prime Minister does himself.
The hatred of the masses of the people in every country for war, which has been the theme of so many of our speeches in this House, was strikingly illustrated in the flood of relief and thanksgiving which has swept over the world since the Munich Conference. The nightmare is over. The labourer goes peacefully to his work in the morning, his wife to her shopping, the mother sends her children happily to school, and, thank heaven, what the Prime Minister called the shadow of a great and imminent menace has been banished since Wednesday of last week. But we must ask—it is our duty to ask—Why did it loom so close? What and whose foreign policy was it that brought us to the edge of war? Not that of the official Opposition, for they have consistently opposed it; not that of the party to which I have the honour to belong, for we have always advocated another; not that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), for he resigned his great office rather than be responsible for it; not that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), for he has always consistently condemned it.
The policy which brought us to the edge of war, from which we were extricated only at the price of immense sacrifices by a small and weak nation, and of the forfeiture of liberty for hundreds and thousands of Czechs and of Germans who are opposed to the Nazi dictatorship—that policy was the policy of successive retreats in the face of aggressive dictatorships—Abyssinia, Spain, Austria, and now Czechoslovakia. It was the policy of the Prime Minister which so nearly brought us into war last week. A policy which imposes injustice on a small and weak nation and tyranny on free men and women can never be the foundation of lasting peace.
I would also ask, Was it wise of the Prime Minister to tickle the ears of the groundlings in his broadcast speech the other night by talking of quarrels in distant lands between peoples of whom we know nothing? Ought not responsible public men rather strive to make people understand the importance to our lives at home, to our standard of living, to the employment of our people, and to the protection of our liberties, of distant but important places being either in our own hands or in the hands of those who respect treaties and subscribe to the principles of international relationships, upon which alone peace and order can rest? Gibraltar, Spain, Singapore, the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, all are very distant, and some of us do not know very much about the people who live there. The Khyber Pass is distant too and very far inland, and yet it is the gateway through the mountain bulwark against the invasion of India, the bulwark of our prestige and political and economic position in that sub-continent. Czechoslovakia is much nearer home, and my foreboding is that we shall yet live to rue the day when His Majesty's Government sold the pass of freedom in Central Europe and laid open to the march of Germany all the peoples and resources of Eastern Europe.
Nor can I find in the Prime Minister's speech anything to justify the easy optimism which the newspapers have been so busily spreading over the weekend. Those forces in Germany which have counselled moderation are for the third time weakened and discredited; Herr von Ribbentrop and the extremists are vindicated. The discontented elements in Germany and in Italy are rallied by another dazzling triumph for the dictatorships over the democracies. We have not only given Sudetenland to Germany, but we have restored Germany to Herr Hitler and Italy to Signor Mussolini.
Let me at this point answer frankly the question, "What would you have done?" Let me refer, in passing, to a letter from a correspondent in the "Times" this morning who is concerned about the number of distinguished and worthy citizens of Britain who genuinely desire to attack Germany because it is governed by Nazis, and let me put on record my own testimony, the testimony of one who has been in close and frequent consultation with men of all parties during the present crisis, and let me, as leader of the smallest of the three parties in this House, pay a tribute of gratitude to the Prime Minister for the frankness and courtesy with which he has discussed these issues during the recent crisis with those of us who do not belong to his party. During those discussions that I have had with Members of the Government, with Members of the Opposition, with enthusiastic supporters of the Government and with some supporters of the Government who were not so enthusiastic, I have never met one person who wanted to make war on Germany and who was not as anxious as I was for peace. I found many who shared my fear that the Government were wobbling towards war—we know now that they wobbled to the very brink of it—and many shared my belief that the best way to establish peace firmly, not only for our time but for the time of our children, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington said in the last speech he made in the country as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, was, on the one hand, to offer convincing proof to Germany that the nations which want international relationships regulated by reason and negotiation were prepared to work together in resist- ance to force and to threats of force; and, on the other hand, to convince them that if force was abandoned we were ready to settle by negotiations all the legitimate grievances of Germany and other nations. But the will of the German dictator prevailed over the will of this Government and of the French Government, just as the will of the Italian dictator did in the dispute over Abyssinia, and in making his submission to Herr Hitler's threat of force the Prime Minister has sacrificed a vital principle in international affairs and weakened the foundations of democracy as well as of peace.
To say that this is a victory for negotiation over force is flagrantly untrue. It is clear that when the Prime Minister went to Berchtesgaden he had not the slightest intention of conceding any such terms to Herr Hitler as in fact he did. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's, Westminster, has told us to-day that he went with other proposals in his pocket, but the Prime Minister told us on Wednesday of last week that when he arrived in Berchtesgaden he found that the situation was much more acute and urgent than he had realised, What situation? Not the situation in Sudetenland. In Sudetenland Herr Henlein had fled and the Czechs were preserving order with very little difficulty or bloodshed, and actually two days after the Prime Minister arrived in Berchtesgaden a new national council of Sudeten Germans was formed, partly composed of Germans who had always opposed National Socialism, and partly of former members of the Sudeten Deutsch Partei who desired a peaceful agreement with the Czechoslovak Republic. Even to-day the "Times" special correspondent in Czechoslovakia reports that the Germans there—not the Czechs—seem bewildered and almost stunned, and this correspondent says that they are saying to one another, "We shouted and worked for local autonomy. We did not expect this. It has been done over our heads." No, it was not in Sudetenland that the situation had become more acute and more urgent, but in the mind and will of Herr Hitler. Confronted by his ruthless determination and military power, the Prime Minister wilted, and justice and respect for treaties, and even negotiations, were cast to the winds.
Let me justify each of those statements. The Prime Minister said that he conceded self-determination. Do the facts justify that statement? We know that after consultation with the French Government he exerted extreme and irresistible pressure upon the Czech Government, to use his own words, "to agree immediately to the direct transfer to the Reich of all areas with over 50 per cent. Sudeten inhabitants." That is a plain travesty of self-determination, for it is quite clear that the 49 per cent. of Czechs are against cession and a substantial minority of the Germans as well. Moreover, the irruption of the German troops will sweep before them a whole crowd of refugees who would certainly have been in favour of remaining in those territories. There is no justice or self-determination about that. Let us be quite clear that the Prime Minister's submission to Herr Hitler's demands was not due to a sudden conversion to the justice of his case, but was extorted by threats of force.
I said that treaty obligations had been cast aside. The Prime Minister referred so lightly on Wednesday to our obligations to Czechoslovakia under the Covenant of the League of Nations, that I feel compelled to ask whether the Government still consider that those obligations are binding upon them, for until those obligations are repudiated we have bound ourselves to respect and to defend against aggression the independence and integrity of States members of the League, including Czechoslovakia. The Treaty obligation, however, to which I more particularly refer is the Treaty of Arbitration between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Speaking in this House on 14th March the Prime Minister informed us that the Czechoslovak Minister in Berlin had been assured by Baron von Neurath that Germany considered herself bound by the German-Czechoslovak Arbitration Convention of October, 1935. Yet when the Czechs appealed to that solemn treaty between their Government and the German Government, backed by a formal assurance of the German Government only six months ago, and when the Czechs declared that they preferred impartial justice to the results of the mediation of their French and British friends, their appeal was swept aside, not, indeed, by the German Government which never received it, nor by the British Cabinet, who probably read of it first in the newspapers, but by the Prime Minister with- out even troubling to summon the Cabinet. So treaty obligations, confirmed only six months ago, were summarily disregarded.
As for the claim that Berchtesgaden or Munich vindicated negotiation as against force, there were, in fact, no negotiations, for one of the two principal parties, Czechoslovakia, was never even present. All that happened was that the French and British Governments conveyed to the Czech Government Herr Hitler's demands. One of the most astonishing features of the whole of this series of negotiations is that the Czechs have never been allowed to meet the Germans face to face or to ask for amendments to the plans which have been, with the exceptions of the Godesberg plan, forced upon them by successive ultimatums. So Herr Hitler, in defiance of justice and of his recently affirmed treaty obligations, has obtained without negotiations with the Czechs, but by ultimatums obediently presented by the French and British Governments his most extreme demands. Nor must we forget that when the much more modest proposal for the separation of Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia was made by the "Times" without any of the harsh provisions which Herr Hitler has since added, it was received with execration by public opinion in this country, and His Majesty's Government officially dissociated themselves from it. The truth is clear that the power and will of the German dictator has prevailed over treaty obligations and the sense of justice and the will of the free democracies.
We must not forget what this surrender means for the Czechs and for the German Jews and Social Democrats of Sudetenland. Lord Runciman remarked upon the unpopularity of the Czech State police, but does he suppose that the people of the transferred territories will prefer Herr Himmler's Gestapo? Hundreds of thousands of them are flying as refugees. Under Czech rule the Germans as well as the Czechs did enjoy the blessings of excellent schools, hospitals, clinics and other social services, and complete freedom to criticise and to demonstrate and organise against the Government in Prague. Now they must exchange freedom for tyranny or exile from their homes, and that necessity has been forced upon them by the democratic Governments of France and Britain. I pleaded with the Prime Minister on Wednesday of last week for guarantees of their economic survival and political independence. The British and French Governments have forced them to submit to the deprivation of their strategic frontiers, the contraction of their territory and the reduction of their population to an extent which cannot now be accurately estimated but which must almost certainly make it impossible for them to maintain anything like their present scale of armaments, and which leaves them militarily defenceless in the face of their enemies. They have lost all their coal to Germany and Poland, together with their radium mines, their lead, immense rich forests, ironworks, glass works and other industries. The country was shocked by the Berchtesgaden plan, the Anglo-French plan. Only under extreme pressure did the Czechs accept it and on the understanding that the limit of concession had been reached.
From the moment that we exerted that pressure we were in honour bound to stand by the Czechs in seeing that the plan was made tolerable for them. The "Times" Diplomatic Correspondent told us before the visit to Bad Godesberg that this Government and the French Government were in agreement that the Czechs must have compensation for the sacrifices imposed upon them, but instead of receiving compensation they have had far worse terms fastened upon them. There is no guarantee for their access to their markets down the Elbe and the Danube. The truth is that we have sacrificed them to our peace and comfort, and we are honour bound to make to them substantial and prompt reparation. I welcome the announcement which the Prime Minister has made that we are going to give them promptly a credit of £10,000,000. I agree also with the Leader of the Opposition that that is not enough. We must not stop there. We must see that they really do have a chance of maintaining their economic and political independence within their restricted frontier. Honour demands at least that.
I want also to put some questions to His Majesty's Government about our guarantee of the Czech frontiers. If we and the French were unwilling to risk stouter resistance to Herr Hitler's demands while the Czech frontiers were in the mountains, the Czechs can hardly feel great confidence in our willingness to fulfil our guarantees when their frontiers are weakened and their man-power and economic resources are reduced.
Why is not Russia mentioned, too, as a guarantor? Why is not Russia to be represented on the International Commission which is to be established under the Munich plan?—Russia who has proved to be a loyal member of the League; Russia, who in Spain and in China has actually befriended the victims of aggression; Russia, who is better situated than we are to bring help to the Czechs in the time of need; Russia, the historic protector of the Slav race; Russia, whom we need now more than ever to restore the balance of power in Europe; Russia, whom the Government named as an ally on Tuesday when they thought we were going to be in trouble but who are now excluded from the council chamber. His Majesty's Government will be making a disastrous mistake if they go on truckling to Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini and leave Russia standing outside, on the mat. Bring her in, and let her join in the guarantee to Czechoslovakia.
I want to know exactly what our guarantee amounts to. The Prime Minister said in the course of his speech that now we have got past the question of Czechoslovakia we can look forward more hopefully to the future. Have we got past it? He said the new system of guarantees would give her greater security in the future than she had had in the past. Let me put these definite questions to the Government. If, for example, the German Government demand the resignation of President Benes or any of the Ministers in the Czech Government, or if they attempt to exert economic pressure upon the Czechs, or interfere in any respect with their political freedom and independence, are we then bound to intervene? Another very important question. Will His Majesty's Government tell us, roughly, what, in the opinion of their General Staffs, will be necessary as an addition to our armaments if we are to add this new commitment to all our other commitments? And a still more important question. How are we to fulfil this guarantee, if the need arises, now that the Axis-Powers have a common frontier separating us from the Czechs? Do not let us tell the Czechs and Europe "Ah, we are giving the Czechs a guarantee" and congratulate ourselves that everybody knows what the word of Britain is worth and then, when the time comes, have our Ministers telling us "Oh, but you must look at the map. You must see that the Axis-Powers divide us from Czechoslovakia. How can we give them any effective help? What can we do for them?" Do not let us wait until the crisis comes to have those questions asked and answered. Let them be answered in this Debate.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington resigned from the Government because the Prime Minister was deviating more and more from a League of Nations policy. It was supposed to involve us in undesirable foreign commitments. See how time works its revenges. Now, eight months later, the Prime Minister is involving us, for the first time in our history, in a direct and specific guarantee of a central European frontier.
What of the future? The Prime Minister asked us to accept two assurances which he has received from Herr Hitler. The first is that Herr Hitler has no wish to include in the Reich people of other races than the German. Yet, in the same speech in which the Prime Minister conveyed to Parliament that assurance from Herr Hitler, the Prime Minister told us that he had been informed by Herr Hitler that in his Bad Godesberg proposal he had offered to Czechoslovakia—I quote the Prime Minister's words:
A frontier very different from the one he would have taken as the result of military conquest."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th September, 1938; cols. 21–2, Vol. 339.]
How does the Prime Minister reconcile those two very obviously contradictory statements? The second assurance was that this was the last of Herr Hitler's territorial ambitions in Europe. It is an ungrateful task to me, and an unusual task, to throw doubt on assurances formally given by the leading representative of a great Power, but it is useless to pretend to forget the assurances given by Herr Hitler after the re-occupation of the Rhineland. The Leader of the Opposition said he had five pages of assurances. Let me read this one. It is what Herr Hitler said in the Reichstag in March, 1936:
After three years I believe that I can regard the struggle for German equality as concluded to-day. … We know that all the tensions which arise from wrong territorial provisions
or the disproportions between the sizes of national populations and their living rooms cannot be solved in Europe by war. … We have no territorial demands to make in Europe.
Now we are asked to believe this new assurance, given in almost the same terms. I have read the declaration which was signed by the Prime Minister and Herr Hitler, and I have listened to the Prime Minister's exposition of it, but I am left wondering still whether there is any real meaning and content in it. If there is, is it consistent with the Covenant of the League? I remember a speech by the Prime Minister in this House on 14th March in which he exhorted us to rely on a similar assurance which the German Government had given. The Prime Minister said then:
I am informed that Field-Marshal Goering on 11th March gave a general assurance to the Czech Minister in Berlin—an assurance which he expressly renewed later on behalf of Herr Hitler—that it would be the earnest endeavour of the German Government to improve German-Czech relations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1938; cols. 50–51, Vol. 333.]
I agree with the Prime Minister that we must weigh carefully the Chancellor's words, but not only one set of comforting words; we must weigh all his words together. Two sources of enlightenment I enjoy about Herr Hitler's intentions. One source is his public speeches and the expression of his opinions and intentions in public and in private, and the other is "Mein Kampf." I prefer "Mein Kampf," because it has never yet let me down, and I commend it to the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister says that the Agreement in Munich is only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe will find peace, but on what terms? On terms of German hegemony in Europe, or on terms of freedom? Months ago the League of Nations was already so much weakened that we were back into power-politics, and now the balance of power in Europe is disastrously dislocated. Thirty divisions which were held on the Czech frontier are now released and are available to be hurled against the Western frontier. The 12 Austrian divisions which Herr Hitler gained by the Anschluss are gradually being re-equipped and will be available next year in addition to the 30 divisions. No peace can last in the present state of the world unless it is buttressed by power, but when the Prime Minister talks of the necessity for our rearmament how can our rearmament keep pace with rearmament at the rate at which it is going on in Germany? There are 40 divisions brought into the scale within a single year, and the resources of all the smaller States of the Near East of Europe are lying open to her exploitation.
A great national and international effort will be necessary if we are to preserve freedom in the world. Freedom and democracy are gravely threatened. Is the consultation that Herr Hitler has promised us in his Agreement with the Prime Minister to be like the consultations at Berchtesgaden and Bad Godesberg, the delivery of ultimatums? As the right hon. Member for the St. George's Division of Westminster said, they led to no good. It was only when the Government issued a statement that France and Russia and Britain were going to stand together, and when the ex-First Lord of the Admiralty mobilised the Fleet, that at last we got some concession upon the Godesberg terms from Herr Hitler. Let us have this peace conference of which the Leader of the Opposition talks. Let us hope that Germany and Italy will return to the League, and that we may once again be able to settle the affairs of the world through the League; but before that happens we shall have to make a great effort to preserve the essential foundations of freedom and order in the world, to preserve democracy, that form of government which is inspired by consciousness of the dignity of man and the use of power only for good and lawful ends. To our generation it falls to guard that flame. Let His Majesty's Government call upon the men and women of this country to rally to the defence of freedom and justice, and we may yet save ourselves by our exertions, and democracy by our example.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) has just given us a characteristic speech, in which he has shrewdly analysed some of the difficulties of the present international situation, and has courteously criticised some of the views of the Government and has given them advice. During the last three months it has been my privilege to listen in silence to many Debates upon foreign affairs. I confess that I enjoyed the dumb role; it is at once less responsible and less exacting; but it seemed to me this afternoon that this was an occasion upon which it was the duty of any of us who had interested ourselves in the conduct of foreign affairs to speak to this House and to the nation, to express his conviction and, for what it may be worth, to offer suggestions for the future. At the outset of this Debate the House heard a remarkable speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for the St. George's Division of Westminster (Mr. Cooper). Whatever our views may be, there cannot have been one of us who was not impressed by the manifest sincerity of that speech. One can imagine the force of the conviction, how strong it must have been, to compel my right hon. Friend to take such a step at such a time, for quite obviously there could be no moment more painful to him, for personal and political reasons, than the one he had to choose. I feel sure that Members in all parts of the House will have wished to pay tribute to his courage. I, for my part, feel privileged to be allowed to do so.
When the House adjourned at the end of last summer and we went for our holidays, and some less fortunate Ministers continued their labours without the sitting of Parliament, there must have been many Members in all parts of the House who felt unable to share the optimism which was forecast to us for the immediate future of the international situation. There must have been many of us who thought the omens were inauspicious and who feared that long before the appointed date you, Mr. Speaker, would summon us back to this Assembly. Unfortunately, that has proved to be true. Each one of us, wherever he sits in the House, has felt the strain of the last few months, and during August and September saw clearly the clouds gather; but whatever the strain may have been on any private Member of this House, it was insignificant by comparison with the strain that rested upon those who bore the major burden of responsibility, and in particular upon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister himself. We all owe him, and every citizen Owes him, a measureless debt of gratitude for the sincerity and pertinacity which he has devoted in the final phase of the crisis to averting the supreme calamity of war. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend pay a tribute to the Foreign Secretary. I have a natural sympathy for Foreign Secretaries and I can imagine something of the burden which must have been his of the day-to-day problems, of which the world sometimes hears nothing at all. I feel sure that the noble Lord is richly deserving of that tribute.
Now for the moment we can breathe again, and it is the duty of each one of us to devote what time we can to stocktaking and to considering how it was that Europe came thus to the very edge of the abyss; to considering what we can do to see to it that such a state of affairs shall never occur again. As I say, this is a time for stocktaking; it may also seem to some of us, as I confess it seems to me, to be a respite during which a great national effort is called for by our people. There is throughout the world at this time an immense sense of relief and thankfulness that was has been averted. Perhaps the most striking and most encouraging event of all during these recent weeks was the warmth of the spontaneous reception accorded in Germany to the Prime Minister. It was clearly a manifestation of the deep desire of the German people for peace. Nobody in this House has ever doubted that desire, but the fact that it has at last found expression may be a real signpost on the road to peace. Nor should we overlook the significance of those moral forces which in the last few days were gathering themselves to resist the march to war. No man could be altogether impervious to forces so imponderable, yet so compelling. President Roosevelt gave ample expression to those moral forces in the Notes which came from him. The first part of our lesson is surely that if the peoples of the world could speak to each other freely across the frontiers there would be no risk of war whatever; but that is not the position with which we have to deal.
The influences which finally contributed to averting war were many. It is probably too soon to attempt to analyse them, but one of them was certainly the Prime Minister's refusal to give up hope. Another was the efforts of President Roosevelt. A third was that genuine desire for peace among all peoples, German and Italian as well as French and British. A further one to which I would like to make special reference was the appearance in the Press of this country on Tuesday last of this statement:
It was authoritatively stated in London last night that should Germany, in spite of all
efforts made by the British Prime Minister, attack Czechoslovakia, France would be compelled immediately to go to the Czechs' assistance and Britain and Russia would certainly stand by France.
I believe that the historian of the future will give that statement an important place among the deterrents to war a week ago. Finally, there was the mobilisation of the British Fleet, with all that that portends. I must say that I agreed with my right hon. Friend when he stated in his speech that he wished some such step could have been taken at an earlier date; not necessarily the mobilisation of the Fleet in its entirety, but some visible action which would convince those who are more impressed by what they see than by what they hear, of the real earnestness of purpose of the British Fleet. In that, my right hon. Friend was right.
As I have said, it is too early to assess all those influences, but there is one to which the greatest tribute of all must be paid, and without which we could not hope to be at peace now: that has been the conduct of the Czechoslovak Government. In the practice of self-discipline we have been set a remarkable example by this brave people. Whatever may be the mistakes of the past—and I think we should not be too ready to condemn, for in our conduct in past years, even with minorities, our attitude has not perhaps been all that it might have been—nothing could have surpassed the calm dignity and steadfast courage of President Benes and the Czechoslovak nation. The strain to which they have been subjected has been harsh and continuous, yet they never once failed to appreciate the wider European issues involved. In view of the conditions imposed upon them they might well have expressed a blind bitterness, but at all times they have contributed to the European situation, and have shown by their conduct not only that they are a nation worthy of independence, but that they have laid all Europe under an obligation to them by having made the greatest contribution to the preservation of peace.
Now let me say a word about the negotiations themselves. His Majesty's Government and the French Government—and in this matter the French Government bear equal responsibility with ourselves—took certain decisions in the face of the German Chancellor's demands and decided to sponsor certain proposals for the solution of the Sudeten-German prob- lem. My right hon. Friend explained to us this afternoon his difficulties in sponsoring those proposals. Frankly, I am not surprised. I do not suppose that any Member of the Government Bench could have felt any enthusiasm for such proposals, but whatever any Member of the House may think of them now, the fact remains that they have been accepted not only by all the Powers concerned, but by the Czech Government, and are now actually in operation. It does not seem to me that it is so important to consider whether we should praise or blame those proposals as it is to examine what the conditions were that caused the British Government to press such proposals on a friendly nation, and to consider once more what steps we are to take now to see that we do not have to play so unpleasing a role again.
I do not propose to deal at length with the European situation and with the deterioration that it must be evident to all has taken place, as there will be other opportunities, no doubt, to do so. There are one or two observations which I would like to make about the Sudeten-German problem, and I venture to make them only because at the Foreign Office I was naturally concerned with the problem myself at one time.
The Sudeten Germans have had a grievance. Let there be no doubt whatever about that, but it is a grievance of discrimination, even of severe discrimination, if you will, rather than a grievance of oppression. That is made abundantly clear in Lord Runciman's own letter printed in the White Paper. As a minority they suffered in the post-War years, but where is the minority in Central or Eastern Europe that has not had cause to complain? It is very important that we should be fair in this matter. I say that no German minority anywhere else, in Central or Eastern Europe, is enjoying to-day privileges equal to those which the Sudeten Germans have had. I want to give the House one example. Last winter a minorities treaty was negotiated between Poland and Germany, and it was acclaimed and rightly acclaimed by the Press of both countries. Well, the terms of that Treaty offered the German minority in Poland rights less than those which the Sudeten Germans have always enjoyed.
In the light of those things might not the Czech Government sometimes feel that in the last few months it has always been they who have been asked to make all the concessions and that their attitude has received rather scant recognition? Moreover, is there any one in this House who would deny that the grievances of the Sudeten Germans, substantial as they were, were not in a fair way to being resolved? Lord Runciman, whose efforts in this difficult time and whose services are beyond all praise—for he did a truly wonderful piece of work under the greatest of difficulties—had virtually reached an agreement. The plan which he put forward or which, under advice from him, Dr. Benes put forward, and known as the Fourth Plan was a marked advance on any of its predecessors. It would have given the Sudeten Germans the position of a privileged minority in all Europe. That plan was not wrecked from within; it was vetoed from without. The Anglo-French proposals, whatever else we may think of them, offered more than full satisfaction to the claims of the Sudeten Germans. Those proposals contained still further concessions. No one, I suppose, would wish to contend that those proposals are just. War has been averted, for which the world is immeasurably grateful; but let it be remembered that war has been averted, not at our expense or that of any other great Power, but at the cost of grave injustice to a small and friendly nation. Czechoslovakia was not even heard in her own defence.
All territories with even a bare majority of Sudeten Germans are to be transferred to the rule of the present German rÉgime. But are we certain that these people wish to be so transferred? We can have no such assurance. The population in large parts of those areas are not to be consulted. Let the House consider for a moment the elements that make up the Sudeten Germans. There are the Social Democrats, there are the Jews, and there are other sections. Did the House notice the deputation from some of the most famous Bohemian families that called on M. Benes a short while ago to assure him of their loyalty to the Czechoslovak State? These matters are significant, and there can be no doubt that among the Sudeten Germans there is a very considerable minority that does not desire union with the Reich. Therefore, I think we must all reluctantly admit that the Munich proposals, whatever else they may be, are not self-determination. Yet they have been accepted by the Czech Government—accepted under strong pressure. There can be few of us who, whatever our sense of relief, did not feel also a sense of humiliation when we read those proposals. Surely—and here I would address an appeal to the Government if I might—the time allotted to these proposals is cruelly short. Imagine the position of a Czech Sudeten German or a Jew in any one of these four areas, or in the fifth area, the boundaries of which are at present still unknown. To-day is the 3rd October. The last date by which they have to get out is the 10th, and no one yet knows the boundaries. Imagine the position. I think I am right——
I think that, if I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, he has not fully understood. There is no insistence that persons who wish to opt out of the territory must get out by 10th October. [Interruption.] Surely, my right hon. Friend and I may be allowed to understand one another. I understood my right hon. Friend to be under the impression that everyone who wanted to get out had to get out by 10th October. That is not the position. The position is that the Czech forces—the soldiers and police—have to be out by the 10th, but the inhabitants' power to opt remains beyond the 10th.
There is no misunderstanding at all. I fully understood that the power to opt continues. I was trying to put myself in the position of a German Jew or a German Social Democrat in those areas, knowing that by the 10th German troops would enter. Even though there might remain with me a power to opt later, I feel that I would rather make assurance doubly sure. That was all that I meant by saying that the time was cruelly short. I do not believe, though I fully appreciate the sincerity and, if you like, the value of this power to opt, that any of these unhappy people would be prepared to run that risk. I believe—the Government know much better than I do—that what is happening to-day is something like a panic flight of these unhappy people from a rule which they dread. I do not know whether it would yet be possible to extend a little longer at least the last period in respect of the area which has not been delimited. I know we all appreciate the immense difficulty under which these arrangements were negotiated, and that must be the explanation why certain matters seem to have been neglected.
I was very glad to hear what my right hon. Friend said earlier this afternoon about the loan to Czechoslovakia. I am certain that the whole House will support the Government in that decision, and I do not think we ought to be the only one, either, to make that offer. It is not only a question of a loan for reconstruction; there is also the problem of compensation. Are any of these unfortunate people to receive any compensation when they have been faced with the alternative of losing their livelihood or, as they think, imperilling their lives? Is the Czech Government to receive any compensation for the public services it has to leave behind. Surely, there ought to be reciprocity in these Munich proposals. The Czechoslovak Government have accepted the proposal to release any Sudeten Germans at present imprisoned in their territory, but what of the Czechs imprisoned in Germany? We read in the "Daily Telegraph" this morning that there are 800 of them. Are not they to enjoy equal rights of release? Certainly I think the House will feel that they should.
I should be glad if whoever is speaking for the Government at the close of this Debate can give us any information about the position of the Czechoslovak State Debt. The House will perhaps recall that that State had a loan in London and elsewhere which bears a very high rate of interest. Czechoslovakia has never defaulted—a very remarkable behaviour anywhere in these times, and, I think, quite unique in Central or Eastern Europe. Is Germany going to bear a part of this burden of debt in respect of the large areas of Czechoslovakia which she is going to absorb; or is the truncated State supposed to bear the whole burden? There is no doubt as to what in justice the arrangement should be.
I have tried, as the House has in the short time available, to study the White Paper which has been issued to us. My right hon. Friend maintained, and, I thought, maintained with success, that there was definitely some modification in these Munich proposals as compared with those which had been given to him with what we might call the second ultimatum. But it is extremely difficult for anyone not conversant with the details to pass judgment. I suggest that the maps in the White Paper are in themselves somewhat deceptive—inevitably deceptive, but I think a word of caution should perhaps be uttered. If we compare the two maps, the House will be struck by the very much smaller area of the Munich map as compared with the Godesberg map. But, of course, the Munich map, again through no fault of the Government, does not contain the fifth area, which is to be occupied before 10th October; nor does the second map contain the plebiscite areas, because they have yet to be defined. In consequence, one is bound to some extent, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will take no objection to this, to reserve judgment as to these proposals in detail until we see how they work out from the reports of the Commissions concerned.
It is impossible for anyone who has studied these matters in the past, and I feel sure the Prime Minister must share this feeling himself, not to feel grave anxiety for the future of this State when we look at these strangely contoured concessions. Is its economic life possible, is its continued political existence possible, in this reduced, and in this still unknown reduced, form? That is why I cannot but feel considerable anxiety about our guarantee. Under such conditions it must have specially grave significance. Let no one have a doubt as to the importance of this departure from our traditional policy. We have never done such a thing before, I think, in all our history, as guarantee frontiers, and in this case frontiers that do not exist. My anxiety is this, and I would like some information on the point. The Prime Minister hoped that the guarantee would be effective in steadying the situation. Only 24 hours after the Munich proposals, another Power issued another ultimatum, and another concession was made. The question is, when does that guarantee come into operation? Is it the case that it does not come into operation before all the frontiers are finally delimited; or does it come into operation now? It is important that we should know, so that the country may be aware what its responsibility is. I should have thought that on moral grounds at least the guarantee had to come into force from the moment when the Czechoslovak State accepted the proposals pressed upon it.
I have voiced some of my anxieties in respect of these Munich proposals. I do not suppose for a moment that they have not occurred to other Members of the House, and are not in the mind of the Government. Yet the Czechoslovak State has accepted these proposals, drastic as they are, and has thereby given evidence of its desire for peace, to the extent even of imperilling its national security. What becomes of the language we have heard so often that the existence of Czechoslovakia was a menace to her neighbours? If the only potential aggressor in Europe was the Czechoslovak State, we could indeed go about our business with a light heart.
One other matter in connection with the negotiations. The Munich proposals were the outcome of a meeting of four of the Great Powers of Europe. It is natural, in those conditions, that there should be many who conjecture as to whether a Four-Power Pact, known to be dear to the heart of at least one of those at Munich last week, is to become also the policy of the British Government. I do not press for an answer if it be inconvenient to give it now, but I would like to enter my own prayer that that may not become our policy at this time and in these conditions. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will perhaps recall that this is not a new proposal, and that when he was Foreign Secretary there were very good reasons why we could not support the suggestion. Briefly, I think that to-day those reasons are twofold. There is no sufficient cause for seeking to organise Europe on a basis that excludes any great Power, nor do I believe you can secure the lasting peace of Europe on such a basis. Furthermore, it should always be the endeavour of British foreign policy to secure the co-operation of the smaller Powers of Europe: those Powers that are almost always on the side of peace—in fact the only time when they are not is when great Powers are stirring them up, as they were doing in the Balkans before 1914. Therefore, my plea would be that the Government should not embark on a policy that leads to a Four-Power Pact, and should remember that no Council of Europe would be complete without the participation of all Powers, great and small.
It must have been evident to the House from the course of these discussions that there is a broad division of outlook at this time. There is a difference of view as to whether the events of the last few days do constitute the beginning of better things, as my right hon. Friend hopes, or whether they only give us a breathing space, perhaps of six months or less, before the next crisis is upon us. I should very much like to take the more optimistic view, but this year we have had many optimistic forecasts and they have all been falsified. But whichever view any Member of this House takes, there is surely no excuse for our failing to take every precaution in our power, in every sphere of national defence and of national life. Surely no hon. Member will dispute this. Not one of us ever wants to find himself in this position again. To put it bluntly, the democracies have to show themselves as resolute in policy and spirit as nations under any other form of government.
This is not perhaps the moment at which to put forward detailed proposals, but three conclusions from recent events seem to me to be quite inescapable. The first is that the speed of our rearmament has been, and is, too slow. It should be accelerated by every means in our power. The second is that the scope and character of our rearmament needs reexamination in the light of the events of the last few weeks. And the third is that the nation on its civil side should be encouraged so to organise itself as to enable it to meet any future challenge in conditions fairer to our own people than those that exist to-day.
Surely the House will be agreed that foreign affairs cannot indefinitely be continued on the basis of "stand and deliver!" Successive surrenders bring only successive humiliation, and they, in their turn, more humiliating demands. We have lately—let there be no doubt about it—run into grave dangers. However the immediate issues have been resolved, no Member of this House can doubt the menacing dangers that must confront us for some time. These cannot be conjured by words of good will; they cannot be met even by negotiations, however sincerely meant and well pursued. If they are to be met and overcome it can only be by a revival of our national spirit, by a determined effort to conduct a foreign policy upon which the nation can unite—I am convinced that such a policy can be found—and by a national effort in the sphere of defence very much greater than anything that has been attempted hitherto. If there ever were a time for a call for a united effort by a united nation, it is my conviction that that time is now. If such an effort were made I believe we could not only save peace for this month and the next, but save it for our generation.
I would like, if the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, respectfully to congratulate the late First Lord on his speech just now. As one who disagrees with him very much, I would congratulate him on the manner in which he stated his case and on his courage in taking the decision he did. It is a very good thing that the right hon. Gentleman should be prepared to sacrifice office and power because of his convictions, and I would like to express my admiration of him for that. I do not intend to try to say anything substantial in regard to the speech to which we have just listened, because others with much more experience than I have will deal with the matter that the right hon. Gentleman raised, but, on a fundamental issue, I should like to draw attention to the fact that all the minorities all over Europe were brought into being by force, force to which they objected, and still object very strongly. I believe that if you go through the Balkan countries, no matter whether you are a private British citizen or a public person, you will find everywhere minorities who complain just as bitterly of what was done to them at the close of the Great War as the Czechs are, quite rightly, complaining of what is done to them now. That gives point to the statement made by pacifists all over the world, that that which is done by force is sooner or later taken away by force. Here, within 20 years of all the settlements after the War, there is scarcely one that holds fast to-day. What is more, there is scarcely one of them that any Member of the House stands up to defend. All agree that very great mistakes were made.
With reference to the price that has been paid, I fully agree with all that has been said about Czechoslovakia. I think they have shown themselves the most Christian people in Europe, or the world, to-day. But let us remember what price would have been paid if there had been war. It is all very well to talk of the price that is being paid to-day in what is called humiliation and degradation and power politics, but I would remind the House that, according to figures presented in various parts of the world, from diseases, from war itself and from other causes, over 100,000,000 persons lost their lives in the last War. I am speaking of civilians as well as soldiers and other men engaged in the War. I do not forget what is called the influenza epidemic, which swept away tens of thousands of lives. What I want to impress on the House is that, at the end of all that, we are now facing a similar situation, and I want someone, in the course of this Debate, to tell us what guarantee the countries of the world have that when we have piled up our armaments and brought them to the last pitch of perfection the next settlement will be any better than the last. To me it is amazing that men who are in responsible positions do not face up to this fact.
The Prime Minister will come in, and has come in, for a very great deal of criticism from friends and foes because he took the unorthodox method of going straight to Herr Hitler. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I only say what I have heard. I have heard very severe criticism of the Prime Minister for his conduct in going, and for what he did when he got there. All I would like to tell the House is the experience of my own division. I am sure that if war came my division, in spite of my being the Member, would send as many men pro rata into the forces as any other part of the country. I am not claiming that I would be any more than a minority if war came. But there is no man who was in East London last week who will not acknowledge that when the news came through that the Prime Minister was going to Munich to meet Mussolini and the others, and again when the result of the conference was announced, it lifted a load of worry and anxiety. It is not because they are cowards, but simply because the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, the Prime Minister, who has spoken many times on the subject, President Roosevelt, Leon Blum and all the rest, every statesman who spoke during the crisis, in effect declared, "If you have war no one will gain anything; it will be sheer futility." If only I had said that the House might have treated it with humour, and have said that these sentiments were the vaporings of an old man. But the right hon. Gentleman has said that when speaking at that Box, the Prime Minister has said it, Mr. Roosevelt said it in both his letters last week. The overwhelming fact to-day in the mind of the British public is that war means for them ghastly futility. They will never forgive any Government that lands them into war unless this country in some way is attacked. I am not claiming that my countrymen accept my standpoint, but they do accept the standpoint that war is a stupid futility, as all statesmen tell them. Therefore, we are entitled to ask that the Government should consider what causes war.
I hear all this denunciation of Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini. I have met both of them, and can only say that they are very much like any other politician or diplomat one meets. A British diplomat said to me, after a long and rather exhausting talk with a group of men—exhausting so far as I was concerned—"Mr. Lansbury, you really must remember that diplomacy is not so simple a thing as you think. There will be no peace in the world until we diplomats learn to mean what we say when we talk to one another. You see people signing documents. They have all the paraphernalia of photography to show them signing the solemn document and the presentation of the pen to one of their number. And they go home knowing that not one of them intends to keep to the terms of the document." This is not what was said by a dictator, but what was said to me by a diplomat on the Continent. I leave it to those who are diplomats to say whether that is true or not. There is a lot of truth in that statement. The history of the last 20 years is strewn with pacts, treaties and agreements. There is the Kellogg Pact, the Locarno Pact, and a few other odds-and-ends that one can throw in, and not one of them has been observed. The worst of it is that governments do not take any trouble to try to implement them. They take it for granted that they do not apply, and when you speak about them they think that it is very indecent of you to do so because you are expecting something you ought not to expect from gentlemen who sign international agreements.
We have not attempted, nor has anybody else, really to give full effect to the Kellogg Pact on disarmament. Otherwise we should have done much more to try to bring about disarmament in Europe than we have done during the last seven or eight years. Unless you are willing to meet men face to face—and that is why I appreciate so much what the Prime Minister did in going to see Herr Hitler, and also in going to Munich—how do you expect to get any sort of discussion or agreement with them? This Government and the French Government at one time appeared as if they were likely to get down to a discussion with other nations of the real problem of the economic condition of the world. In order that I may be fortified in this, I want to read a statement on the causes of war by the late President Wilson. He made the following statement in September, 1919:
Who does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry. The war"—
that is, the Great War—
was a commercial and industrial war"—
not a war for democracy or small peoples—
The reason that the war we have just finished took place was that Germany was afraid that her commercial rivals were going to get the better of her, and the reason why some of the nations went into the war against Germany was because they thought that Germany would get a commercial advantage over them. The seed of the jealousy and deep-rooted hatred was commercial and industrial rivalry.
The Government, I believe, faced up to that fact when, in company with the French Government, they asked M. van Zeeland to make an inquiry into the economic conditions in Europe and to report to them. He spent eight months in gathering together his information and then presented his report. King Leopold wrote a letter to M. van Zeeland pointing out exactly what Mr. Wilson had pointed out years before, and he came to the City of London last autumn and made an appeal to the people in the City of London to deal with these questions. He obtained no response whatever from anyone. The report still lies on the shelves of the Foreign Offices of the great Powers.
I do not pretend, after having spent three weeks in going through the Balkans, that I can speak with any authority on conditions there. I can only say what I heard and what I saw. There are other Members of this House who were there before me and others who have been since. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, in making his explanation to the House at the beginning of the Debate, said that the Government had received information from various parts of Europe in support of a certain point of view. Every leader in the four countries I visited—Hungary, Jugoslavia, Bulgaria and Rumania—to whom I spoke, told me that the one thing needed in that part of the world, and, as far as they understood, in every part of the world, was that the economic condition of the world should be taken in hand by some kind of conference and dealt with without delay. All were agreed that hungry men and their families cause not only revolutions but war. They said that they could borrow any amount of money for armaments, but no effort was being made to help them to plan their own industries or to help in planning international exchange. They all complained that the French, the British, the Germans and the Italians were competing with one another, but that none of them gave the peoples there what they needed, namely, some sort of economic help to bring about the exchange of goods and to enable them to raise the standard of life of their people. I believe that all the world is in that position. America has its millions of unemployed, we have our millions, and France is not in a prosperous position. Those people spoke of the great nations dragging them into war. None of them wants war, and I believe that they are on the foad towards getting among themselves a sort of co-operation, which, a few years ago, would have been considered absolutely impossible. The one thing they dreaded was that the great Powers, quarrelling among themselves, would fling them into the furnace.
I want to make an appeal to the House. I have done it many times during the last five or six years. I implore the House once more to remember that there are masses of people in Poland, and indeed throughout South Eastern Europe, suffering from semi-starvation. These people are asking the great Powers not to form alliances in order that they might some day destroy one another for some reason or other, but that they should, without delay, call the conference about which the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal party spoke to-day. People say that Hitler would not join with Russia. When I saw him 12 months ago last April he allowed me to say publicly that his government would go into such a conference of the nations of the world, and he made no limitation. Mussolini has said the same. Surely to goodness, if the economic conditions of the world make for war, it is the bounden duty of the Government, even if they follow the view of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken and go on arming, to get down to the question of how we can bring the abundance of the world to the service of mankind. I wish that I could have taken down a shorthand report of the four interviews with King Carol, King Boris, here in London, the Regent of Hungary and the Regent of Yugoslavia, for I have never met men who were more in earnest about this question.
They have their minorities. They are making a supreme effort to get over the difficulties with regard to their minorities. But it is poverty that may cause an upheaval among these minorities, because it is obvious that those who are, as it were, in control, look after themselves first. But I believe those rulers are tremendously anxious that their people should be given a chance to live peaceably with their neighbours and be received in the whole community of nations in an economic sense. We talk in this House about planning national economy. There is no hope for the world till you have a planned international economy, and that is what I am pleading for. We all express great sympathy with the Czechs. Last December I met the Government of that State and I have a profound respect for Dr. Benes and the Prime Minister and the whole of the men that we met there. My admiration for them is tremendous to-day, but I do not want your admiration or mine to be just words. A loan of £10,000,000 is all right, but why a loan? Why should not Great Britian and France give them as a free grant all that they need to help their civilian population and to help to repay this debt to which the right hon. Gentleman calls attention? Why should anyone want to make any money out of helping these people? Why not treat them as you treated the Greeks after the Graeco-Turkish war?
We are all anxious to help the refugees but no one will have them except in driblets. Why should not our Government say to the Dominions, which have hundreds of miles of open spaces, "There are people in Poland, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere who want a chance to live a free life away from the conditions which at present doom them to a bad life"? Should we not help the cause of appeasement if we said we would make ourselves responsible for starting them again in life free of all these restrictions? I hope the Government will consider that suggestion. Do not let your minds stop at our country. The world is at the parting of the ways. Mankind has gained material dominion over everything that it considers worth while, and now that we have it we are talking as if we must inevitably destroy it. If a tithe of the enthusiasm, the money and energy that are put into the building up of armaments, was put into the problem Of how we can bring to the service of man what science and invention has given us we should build a new world. All our minds are centred on ourselves and our interests. I ask you to look at the interest of the world, which demands from us leadership. We are the greatest Imperialist country in the world and now it is Dead Sea fruit. Why not face up to it and have this new world conference? Let it be called together on the basis that Great Britain is willing to put into the pool not only material resources but the resources of brain and culture which we possess? That is what mankind is waiting for. I was sorry to hear the words about sweet reasonableness. You may treat with Hitler and Mussolini how you may but in the end the only way that will win peace is to show reasonableness. The only way to combat evil is to set something better against it. Hatred is a destroyer. Vengeance brings its own evil reward. Love is the only thing that is eternal, because it is constructive.
I rise, as the first speaker from the Conservative back benches, to support without any apology the attitude that the Government have adopted. We have heard a speech from the late First Lord of the Admiralty. I should like to pay a tribute, which will always be paid in the House of Commons, to his courage and his conviction. It is quite clear that if the present policy is to be carried through successfully it can only be done by men who have faith and believe that their policy can be made to work. For those who believe in failure from the start resignation is the only policy, but they should be respected and honoured for their action. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) referred to the fact that the Czechs had been asked to make sacrifice after sacrifice and that the peace of Europe has really lain in their hands, but although the Czechs have made sacrifices and have shown a self-restraint which the whole country admires, in the event of war breaking out there would have been no Czechoslovakia left at the end of the war whatever happened. War might have been waged in revenge for Czechoslovakia's dismemberment, but Czechoslovakia knew well that the brunt of that war would tear their State to pieces before a single step could be taken to stop it. My right hon. Friend also referred to the shortness of the time limit for the Sudeten Jew and for the German Social Democrat but the Sudeten Jew and the Social Democrat have known for weeks, as the danger of war advanced, that they were in danger from a German occupation and that they would have been wiped out when that occupation took place.
The Prime Minister throughout this year has carried a policy of great difficulty towards peaceable fulfilment. For the past two years we have seen the world drifting towards war. We have seen Germany and Italy on the one hand, and France and Russia on the other, drifting further apart month by month. We have seen the miniature armaments of a great war which would destroy civilisation tried out in Spain. Till the beginning of this year we were standing still, drifting towards that catastrophe. Then the first step was taken, and it led to the Italian Agreement. A good many Members laughed at the idea of dealing with Mussolini, but it may well be that the friendliness created by the Prime Minister between February and October was just the extra weight that brought Mussolini to Munich. The late First Lord talked about mobilisation. I have no doubt that mobilisation did play a con- siderable part, but that was the moment to send Italy not a threat but an appeal. We asked Italy's co-operation by an appeal to reason. I cannot help wondering what the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) meant when he said at Manchester on Saturday that the Prime Minister had the ball at his feet at Munich and cast away the greatest opportunity that he could have. We may hear from him what he would have done. Would he propose to go back on the Anglo-French plan? I take it that he was prepared to stand out for every detail, however small, and to take a stand on points of procedure which would have landed Europe in such a war as Europe has never known.
If I am wrong in that we shall, no doubt, hear when the hon. Member addresses the House. I have a great feeling of friendship for him, but I regard his statement about the mass hysteria of the House of Commons last week as an insult to the House. That uprising last week was merely the uprising of the hearts of all men and women of good will who at last saw a light and felt that somehow the hand of God had shown itself by the avoiding of almost certain war. Even if the scheme of the Four-Power Pact were to fail it was indeed worth trying. If we have reached a stage when a preventive war has to be waged every 20 years, life is not worth living. If we had had war it would have meant a pretty miserable existence for the generation coming after us.
Talk of humiliation. So far as we are concerned, we have broken no treaty. Do not forget that the Czechs annexed the German area before the Treaty of Versailles accepted it. Hon. Members talk about time limits, but I would remind the House that there has been a time limit of 20 years before rights were conferred on the Sudeten Germans. If the offer of concessions had been made a few years ago, can the House imagine that the problem would have arisen which has arisen at the present time? If for a time war has been averted, let us remember that a war averted may be a war saved. Just as there have been criticisms passed on the Prime Minister to-day, so there were criticisms of Disraeli when he came back from Berlin in 1874, yet that Treaty kept the peace of Europe for 40 years. If by dealing with Germany, Italy and France on the present occasion we can maintain peace in Europe, not for 40 but for 30 or 20 years, it will have been justified.
We on this side of the House have a right to feel proud that we have been led as we have been led by the Prime Minister. We have a right to believe that instead of there being jeers at his statement that peace has come for our time there should be full appreciation of the fact that our leader will go down to history as the greatest European statesman of this or any other time.
I am sure that no hon. Member on this side of the House or in any part of the House would seek in any way to minimise the personal efforts which have been made by the Prime Minister to prevent the outbreak of world war. I, at any rate, have been quite unmoved by any suggestion that his personal visit to Herr Hitler at Berchtesgaden was in any sense unworthy of a British Prime Minister. I believe that any personal contact that can be arranged between the leaders of countries can well serve as a medium for the settlement of the various problems that concern the nations of the world. At the same time, I realise the difficulties of the problem of Czechoslovakia. Like many other hon. Members I have paid a visit to that unhappy country in recent times, and the conclusion I arrived at as a result of the discussions I had with the leaders of every organised section of the community was that in so far as the problem of Czechoslovakia was an internal problem, I could see no reason why, provided there was good will on all sides, there should not be a satisfactory settlement within the framework of the constitution of Czechoslovakia. But I realised that there was an international aspect to that problem. In view of the policy of pan-Germanism for which Herr Hitler has always stood, it was evident to me that in so far as it was or might become an international problem, the solution lay not in Prague but in Berlin. As events have turned out, it has become an international problem, and nothing that could have been done by President Benes could lead to a solution, because the solution lay in another capital, Berlin.
What has oppressed me in recent days has been the way in which the problem has been tackled. President Benes has been vilified by the German Press and over the German radio. Herr Hitler has refused to make any contact with President Benes, except through a third party. It is also true to say that no direct request has yet been made by the German Government to the Government of Czechoslovakia with regard to the problem of the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia, in spite of the fact that, in 1925 an Arbitration Treaty was signed between Germany and Czechoslovakia, whereby it was agreed that any dispute which might thereafter arise between the two countries should be subject to conciliation or arbitration. Although the Government of Czechoslovakia has sought to invoke that Treaty, the German Government has treated it as a scrap of paper. It could not be argued that Herr Hitler was not bound by that Treaty on the ground that it was signed in 1925, prior to his coming into power, because on 12th March of this year, following the annexation of Austria, Baron von Neurath, then German Foreign Minister, in terms, declared to the Minister of Czechoslovakia in Berlin that the German Government still regarded itself as bound by the terms of that Treaty.
No direct representation has ever been made officially by the German Government to Prague. Herr Hitler has made his speeches, and even in his famous speech at Nuremberg on 12th September no suggestion was made that the Sudeten German territories should be ceded to Germany. Herr Hitler based his case against Czechoslovakia on the right of self-determination. He stated that the democratic countries which had always argued in favour of self-determination could not, surely, oppose the claim of the Sudeten Germans to self-determination. It seems to me something of a mystery as to when the suggestion that the Sudeten German territories should be transferred en bloc to Germany first arose. By whom was it raised? Right up to 15th September, when the Prime Minister paid his visit to Berchtesgaden, there had not been any suggestion or claim made officially by the German Government that these territories should be ceded to Germany. Whatever one may say about the efforts of the British Government to obtain a solution of this problem, posterity will regret that it was a British Prime Minister who made him- self responsible for a proposal which, until it was made by a British Prime Minister, had never been made officially by or on behalf of the German Government.
President Benes has been faced with a more terrible ordeal than has faced the ruler of any other country in modern times. He is a patriot, seeking to do the best for his own country, and I know of no precedent for the scurrilous attacks which have been made on the ruler of a sovereign State by the rulers of other sovereign States in diplomatic association with such a State. I know of no precedent, for example, for the venemous attack made upon President Benes by Signor Mussolini. It should be a matter of great interest to Members of this House to appreciate the gravamen of the charge that was made against President Benes by Signor Mussolini and the line of attack followed by the Italian dictator in order to prejudice the cause of Czechoslovakia in the minds of the Italian public. He declared to the vast concourse to whom he was speaking that
President Benes was the man who presided over the League of Nations in 1935 at the time when sanctions were proposed against our country.
President Benes has given years of devoted and loyal service to the League of Nations, of which both sides of this House have always declared themselves to be supporters, and the gravamen of the charge against President Benes is that he was a devoted and loyal servant of the League of Nations.
I do not seek for one moment to deprive the Prime Minister of the halo of popularity which he has received in these recent days, but I agree with a previous speaker that the statesman who has made the real contribution to peace is President Benes, the man who has had to take the responsibility and has had to make the final decision, yea or nay, whether he would order his armies to resist, and thereby bring about what we all know would have been a world war. Whatever the future has in store for President Benes and his colleague, Dr. Hodza, they will go down in history as great statesmen, great patriots, men who were prepared to make the supreme sacrifice, not only because they thought it was in the interests of their own country but because they desired to make their contribution to the maintenance of world peace.
There are two points to which I should like to draw the attention of the Government. We are told that there is to be an international guarantee by the Governments of Great Britain and France and eventually by the Governments of Italy and Germany, to safeguard the political independence and territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia as we shall know it in the future. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether it is intended that that guarantee shall be joint only, or whether it is to be joint and several. That is a very important point, because if the guarantee is merely to be joint, then in the event of one of the joint guarantors refusing to carry out its guarantee, under any conception of national or international law, the other guarantors would be relieved from their guarantee and obligation. If, on the other hand, the guarantee is joint and several, then the refusal of one of the guarantors to carry out their obligations will not release the other guarantors from their obligations. This is not an academical point because we have had guarantees in the past. There was a guarantee in respect of the independence of Austria. The Italian Government bound themselves under three separate agreements to safeguard the independence of Austria. On the first occasion the Governments of France, Italy and the United Kingdom agreed on 17th February, 1934, to take a common view as to the necessity of maintaining Austria's independence and integrity. That was reaffirmed by the same Governments in September of the same year. In January, 1935, there was a Franco-Italian Agreement in which according to the official communique the Governments agreed:
In view of the necessity of maintaining the independence and integrity of Austria, that from henceforth in the event of this independence and this integrity being threatened they will consult together with Austria regarding the measures to be taken.
That was confirmed at the Stresa Conference in 1935, and yet in March of this year, following the invasion of Austria by German troops, Italy for reasons of her own refused to consult with France in respect of the violation of Austria's independence, which the Italian Government was pledged to preserve. As a result the guarantee became absolutely worthless. I suggest that, apart altogether from the fact that it is a new conception of British policy in Central Europe to
enter into such a guarantee, it will be purely academic and the guarantee will not be worth the paper on which it is written if it depends on the co-operation of Italy and Germany. After all, we have ample evidence of the unreliability of both these Governments in respect of their Treaty obligations. Italy has broken the Kellogg Peace Pact and the Covenant of the League of Nations, and she has broken her obligations in respect of Austria. Herr Hitler has repudiated one treaty after another. The Leader of the Opposition has already referred to the many cases in which Herr Hitler has said one thing one day and acted otherwise to-morrow. Herr Hitler speaking on 21st May, 1935, made this statement:
Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, or to annexe Austria or to conclude an Anschluss.
But in March, 1938, Austria was annexed by Germany. Then, on 1st February, 1938, Herr Hitler in the agreement reached with Dr. Schushnigg at Berchtesgaden reaffirmed that Austrian sovereignty would be maintained—only a few days before he sent his troops into that country. Herr Hitler claims the right of self-determination, but his grievance against Dr. Schuschnigg was that he intended to have a plebiscite of the Austrian nation to decide whether they desired to join with Germany or remain independent. Because Dr. Schuschnigg desired to exercise the right of self-determination in the case of the people of Austria, he was anticipated by Herr Hitler, who sent his troops into the country. I should like to know what is covered by the term "installation." Does it include movable property? Does it include guns, stores and machinery? Does it refer merely to military establishments or to civilian establishments as well? If it refers to civilian establishments, does it mean that the ordinary business man or the individual householder and shopkeeper will not be able to take away his movable articles out of Sudeten German territory? I do not know whether there was any good reason why there was no interpretation clause in respect of the use of the word "installation," but I think the House is entitled to know exactly what the unfortunate Czechs are allowed to take, and what must be left in Sudeten German territory.
In conclusion, whatever we may think about the past, the future is of even greater importance. I, for one, would be more than prepared to accept the sacrifices—especially as they have been made by another nation—that is the tragic part of it. The sacrifices that have been made have not been made by this country, but even the Czechs themselves might well be prepared to accept the sacrifices they have been compelled to make if we could look forward to an era of permanent peace. It may he that the leopard can change its spots and that the dictator countries are now prepared to play their part in building up a great system of world peace. I do not know, but I believe it is the desire of all sections of this House to do what they can to secure that end. I think that the suggestion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition to call a world conference will meet with the approval of the whole House. But there, again, are we going to be told, as we have been told on so many occasions when we have appealed to the Government to initiate the convening of a world conference, that it is necessary to prepare the ground before such a conference can be held? How long are the Government and other Governments going to be in preparing the ground? Two or three days ago we were on the verge of a world situation which would assuredly have prevented the holding of any world conference for many months, perhaps for years. There must be a conference this side of the war or the other.
Is it beyond the range of practical politics to convene this world conference to deal with the political and economic problems which confront us? There is also the question of Spain. If Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini are sincere in their determination to secure world peace they will withdraw their troops at the earliest opportunity from Spain. It has been said by several speakers, including the Prime Minister, that even if we have averted war for the moment, even if we have, as the Prime Minister thinks, secured peace for our time, we must yet carry on with rearming; that when the world is spending more than £3,000,000,000 a year in armaments, a burden which the Prime Minister said recently will break the back of civilisation, we must continue not only to bear this burden but to intensify our expenditure. We shall never secure world peace as long as the world is armed to the teeth. I do not believe that even the League of Nations and the conception upon which it is based will ever bring about world peace as long as the world is armed to the teeth. Whether we shall secure disarmament before we have solved our economic problems, or whether we can solve our economic problems before disarming I do not know, but let us have a world conference which will grapple with the political, economic and disarmament problems. It may be that we have to realise one step at a time, and that before we have a reduction of armaments we must have a limitation of armaments. That would be better than the present race in armaments.
I hope that the Government will not only sponsor but do all they can to bring about such a conference even if they feel that pending a happy solution we must carry on with our policy of rearmament. I hope they will do all they can to bring about such a conference and encourage the countries of the Danube to convene a Danubian conference. Now that the dispute between Czechoslovakia and Poland is settled, and perhaps in the near future the dispute between Czechoslovakia and Hungary may be settled, I believe it will be possible to bring about a Danubian Conference because all these countries have common interests, political and economic, and thereby secure a stabilising factor in that part of Europe. We on this side realise as well as any other Members of the House that war is a horrible and brutal thing to-day, that whichever side wins both sides lose. The common people of all countries are determined, if they are so permitted, to prevent war breaking out in the future, but we must not allow our horror and detestation of war to blind us to the implications of the problems of the world. If we desire to see war outlawed we must realise our individual and national responsibilities, play our part in seeking to secure a solution of these world problems, and then, perhaps, we may look forward to a new era of universal world peace.
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Kingswinford (Mr. A. Henderson) in dissecting the terms of the Munich Agreement, but I share his view and hope that the Agreement may usher in a new era of peace and good will, and produce at long last an effective disarmament conference. The hon. Member did not see anything inconsistent, as did some of his colleagues, in the idea that until we have an agreement for disarmament we should continue to arm to the uttermost of our power. I feel that the crisis through which we have now emerged by the courage, sincerity and skilful leadership of the Prime Minister, has given us all, not only in this House but throughout the country, an opportunity of examining our own point of view on fundamental questions. It seems to me that the responsibility for the recent crisis really goes back to our attitude, not 20 years ago in the Peace Treaties, but to our attitude in 1914. It seems to me that the responsibility for our present trouble lies in the inconsistencies and the vacillations of peoples and statesmen throughout the countries of Europe. If you believe that in 1914 the Kaiser and his advisers wantonly inflicted war on Europe for the sake of conquest and the expansion of the German Empire, and conducted that war in a ferocious and frightful manner; if you believe that they were Huns and tyrants and murderers, and so on; if you still believe in the atrocities which formed such a successful part of our War propaganda, then, of course, your right and proper course at the Armistice was to impose terms of peace which would dismember and impoverish Germany, and to "hang the Kaiser," and "squeeze Germany until the pips squeaked," and act according to all the claptrap and nonsense which we heard at that time.
If, on the other hand, you believe as I do—and as I did—that the War was not wantonly inflicted upon an unwilling world by Germany but sprang from various causes which I do not intend to discuss this evening; if you believe that it was undoubtedly induced by the provocative, clumsy bludgeoning diplomacy of Germany and the stupidity of her leaders, but that those leaders no more wanted war than the leaders of France, or Italy or this country; if you believe that the German people and the German army fought decently and courageously and that the atrocities of which we heard so much were exaggerated and in many cases invented; if you can imagine that the German woman is as decent as the English woman, and that the German soldier can fight just as courageously and cleanly as the English soldier, although some incidents undoubtedly occurred during that War—and all war is frightful—which it is better to forgive and forget; if you believe as I do, that it is unwise and dangerous and, indeed, impossible to keep in permanent inferiority a nation of 65,000,000 people, then the obvious course after the War was to shake hands with the enemy, to be as friendly as possible to get together round the peace table and try to arrive at a settlement of all those problems and disputes which aggravate the fears of the peoples of Europe and lead to war.
If we had gone into conference with a chastened and democratically-governed Germany in that spirit then we might have brought about a lasting peace. But, unfortunately, although the two policies which I have indicated are distinct and clear-cut, neither of them has been consistently pursued. At the peace it is true we dismembered the German Empire. We humiliated and impoverished the German people. By "we" I mean the Allies. Unfortunately this country had not the sole right to say what should have been done—otherwise I imagine things would have been different—but had largely to follow the advice and the influence of the French. In the Peace Treaty the Allies did their best to ensure the permanent inferiority of Germany. Yet when Hitler arose and commenced the resurrection of Germany, the advocates of hate and distrust did not knock him down. They did not stop him from rearming Germany. They merely made verbal protests. If we intended to pursue that policy we should have pursued it consistently and kept Germany in permanent subjection. Instead, we stood by while Germany tore up the terms of the Treaty, abolished reparations and built up a great armed force. All our concessions came too late, and were never appreciated by the German people.
The policy of hatred and distrust has failed. I ask those who hate Hitler and distrust Germany—and I regret to say that most of them are, curiously enough, to be found on the benches opposite—what has Hitler done up to now of which they can reasonably complain? I ask that in all seriousness. Do they complain because Germany was unable to pay reparations? What a grand gesture it would have been if this country and the other Allies had voluntarily surrendered their claims to reparation, instead of merely admitting their inability to receive payments when it was clear that Germany was no longer able to pay. Is it complained that Germany reoccupied her own territory of the Rhineland? Was that an unreasonable thing for a great nation to do? I venture to suggest that it would have been very surprising if it had been possible to keep the Germans out of their own territory in perpetuity. Is it complained that Germany has denied her war guilt? Do not hon. Members opposite think that it was humiliating and galling for a great and proud nation to have to admit, at the point of the sword, the sole responsibility for the War? If hon. Members opposite were German men and women, perfectly innocent of any desire to attack mankind, would they like it if they and their children were saddled with the responsibility for the mass murder of 1914–18?
Are hon. Gentlemen opposite or those who criticise the Government policy to-day serious when they talk of "the rape of Austria"? Do they suggest that Germany has not a great and good claim to absorb Austria into the Reich—Austria which wanted to join Germany in 1919? We stopped her from doing so, not for reasons of self-determination or because it would harm her economically but only because we did not want to strengthen Germany—and, again, when I say "we" I do not mean this country, because we are less responsible for that than any other country in Europe. I refer to the Allies. We prevented the union of Austria with Germany in 1919. The French prevented a Customs union only four or five years ago—a Customs union which the Austrians desired. Is it reasonable, then, to assail and criticise Hitler because when he has the power he decides that the time has come to absorb into the Reich a people, whom he considers to be of his own race, who speak his own language and who will, I believe, eventually derive benefit from their union with Germany?
Do hon. Members opposite seriously complain of any of these deeds or do they complain only of the methods by which they have been accomplished? Do they seriously suggest that the Sudeten Germans had no grievances? Would the grievances of the Sudeten Germans have been heard of, if it had not been for the might of Hitler? Those grievances did not spring up six months ago. They have been in existence for 20 years unheeded by those who could have adjusted them. Did the League of Nations ever do anything? Nothing could have been a more right or proper subject for the attention of the League, but did the League do anything to rectify those grievances? It was not until redress was demanded by the power of the German sword that we heard anything of the grievances of the Sudetens, and we never witnessed the rectification of those grievances. I should have thought that hon. Members opposite would have been the first to welcome the peaceful solution of a problem which has occupied for years the serious attention of Europe. Instead, they are picking holes in the agreement and are—rightly, I admit—deploring the methods by which that agreement has been achieved. But I suggest that the methods to which Germany has been compelled to resort, in order to obtain what I believe so far to be her just rights, have been forced upon her by the stupidity of the Allies. There would have been no reason for a German resort to force for the attainment of any of the aims which I have mentioned—reasonable national aims—had it not been for the fact that we never willingly granted her any concessions, and, in my opinion, if the concessions for which she asked had been given in time, it would have promoted good feeling between this country and that great Empire.
I suggest that the policy of the enemies of Germany has failed, and it is time that the friends of peace had a turn. That is why I welcome the endeavour which the Prime Minister has made regardless of his own amour propre, regardless of the criticisms which he has had to meet, to bring about better feeling between the two countries and thus bring about the appeasement of Europe. As regards the enemies of Germany, I do not think it would be unfruitful to ask ourselves who are those enemies. I put, first, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is not so much that they fear Germany, because if they feared Germany they would not have criticised the Government's expenditure on armaments and voted against the defence forces of this country for years past. If they feared Germany they would stand accused of criminal negligence. It is not, however, that they fear Germany but that they hate dictators. They do not like the form of government which the German people are to-day enjoying. [HON. MEMBERS: "Enjoying?"] At any rate, it is not for hon. Gentlemen opposite to discuss the domestic affairs of Germany. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]
It is to be presumed that a people so impoverished and humiliated as the German people were until the rise of Hitler must, at any rate, have some respect and admiration for the man who has lifted them from the depths to the position which they occupy to-day, who has put their people to work—rather on the lines which hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves advocate—and enabled them to enforce their will and gain recognition for their demands before the world. It is peculiar that while hon. Gentlemen opposite should so hate dictators yet one imagines that the German Government is rather the form of government which they, if they had the power, would like to see introduced into this country. Hon. Members opposite are possessed of a hatred of Hitler and urge the Government to have no truck with dictators. But how can you carry out a policy of peace and appeasement while you are calling the other people blackguards? Surely the first thing which a responsible statesman must do is to talk in a friendly way and try to banish hatred and get on better terms with those with whom he is endeavouring to negotiate.
There are those who support the League of Nations, and the League of Nations Union. There are those who advocate the policy of a grand alliance against Germany under the guise—in order to make it more respectable—of a policy of collective security. There are those who believe that this country should uphold the rule of law wherever it is threatened and act as the policeman of the world, regardless of whether we have the arms or the Allies to enable us to do so. Lastly, and most important, there are those, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) who, with very good reason, fear Germany; who in the light of the events of recent years have good reason to believe that every concession to Germany is a jumping-off ground for a fresh demand, and that Germany is not concerned so much with the rights of her people in Czechoslovakia, but is merely trying to improve her strategic and economic position in order to prepare and strengthen herself for the eventual conquest of Europe. I respectfully say to those hon. Gentlemen that they may be right—we do not know—but what I do suggest is that we have tried the policy of hatred of Germany, we have tried the policy of keeping her down and keeping her in a position of inferiority, and surely it is time now to try the other line, the policy of confidence and good will, of trying to ensure better relations between Germany and the other countries of Europe.
We know that the policy of repression has failed; surely we can try the only alternative policy, which is the policy of appeasement. After all, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping may think, and no doubt will tell us, that this Agreement means the saving of 30 divisions of German troops which they can now put against France in the next war, but if you believe that Germany is out for the hegemony of Europe, to overrun Hungary and Rumania and the south-east of Europe, then that is a policy of despair: "War is inevitable; let us have it now at the most opportune moment, when we are ready for it, before Germany is ready. Let us have a preventive war." There are only two alternatives, war or appeasement. I do not believe that war is inevitable. I do not believe that Hitler is a pariah. Give a dog a bad name and it sticks to him. Let us try to forget his misdeeds of the past, and the methods which, no doubt, we all of us deplore, but which I suggest have been very largely forced upon him. Let us look forward to a new era which I believe this conference has ushered in, when we shall discuss the troubles of Europe—all the troubles, Colonies, disarmament—exclude nothing which may lead to a general settlement of the world's affairs. I suggest that that is a more fruitful policy and a more hopeful policy than the policy of grudging every concession to Germany, of trying to keep her down, of imagining that she is never to be trusted even when she has stated that she will be satisfied with only reasonable concessions. I suggest that our policy to-day be: pursue the line which the Prime Minister is at present following towards Germany, and "keep your powder dry."
Whatever views one may have as to the wisdom of this policy, I do not think that there is any one of us in this House who can withhold a tribute of the intense respect which we must feel for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for the singleness of purpose and the constancy with which he has pursued his policy. When my right hon. Friend went to Berchtesgaden he was almost universally acclaimed as a public hero; when he went to Godesberg he was almost as universally reviled; and now to-day he is a public hero again. I do not believe that my right hon. Friend has been deflected from his purpose by a hair's breadth either by the cheers or by the calumny. That is a kind of constancy which is, I think, not very common in public life, and it is a kind of constancy which we all very much admire. Nevertheless I can see that these conditions are of such tremendous importance to us that we cannot, however humble our position may be, shelve our responsibility for these conditions, and we surely cannot, because we admire the Prime Minister's character very much, as I do, refrain from studying the proposals with as clear an eye as we can bring to them.
At the beginning of this Debate this afternoon we heard a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper), which impressed everybody in the House. It certainly impressed me, and I could not help concluding from it that if, as he said, we had taken with firmness and courage at a much earlier stage those decisions which we took unwillingly and falteringly at a later stage, nothing would have been lost and very much would have been gained. The Prime Minister, when he followed my right hon. Friend, said that he was not going to deal with the arguments which my right hon. Friend had brought forward, and that he would leave them to a later stage of the Debate. Nevertheless it did seem to me that what the Prime Minister said powerfully confirmed the arguments which had been used by my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's Westminster. The Prime Minister at the outset pointed out how very difficult it was for a dictator in Herr Hitler's position to go back on declarations which he had made, and had even made in writing. He then went on to point out what very big steps backward he had taken at Munich as compared with the Memorandum which was handed to the Prime Minister at Godesberg. If both those propositions are true—if it is true that it was very difficult for Herr Hitler to go back at that stage and if it is true that he did in fact go back a very long way in spite of the difficulties—surely we must conclude that he would have found it very much easier to go back at an earlier stage, and that if we had shown decision at an earlier stage we would have been saved a great deal of the shame which we have endured.
We are told to welcome this Munich Agreement as a triumph for peace and justice, as a triumph for reason over force. Is it a triumph of that kind? I wonder what anyone of us would have thought if when we parted for the Recess at the end of July we had known that we were coming back to ratify an agreement of this kind. I wonder what anyone of us would have thought if we had known that within two months we would have established Germany—Hitlerised Germany—as the dominating power in Europe under the pressure of unrelenting force, and in the name, of all extraordinary things, of self-determination, and, further, that we should be prepared to hold that as a triumph. It may have been unavoidable, it may have been the best thing that could be done in the circumstances, it may have been prudent, but it seems to me to be a very queer kind of triumph.
I do believe that there is a great deal of confusion not only in the public mind but also, if I may say so with respect, in the minds of some Members of this House with regard to some of the issues which have been at stake in this matter. In particular I believe that there is a great deal of confusion in regard to the issue of self-determination. More than one hon. Member has argued to-day that here is a pure case of self-determination, that Sudeten Germans are an abused minority, and that the issue with which we were faced was whether we should prevent this abused minority not only fulfilling their destiny, as they have done, but fulfilling their dearest desire. Can anyone of us believe that self-determination really was an issue in this matter, and that it had anything at all to do with the policy of Herr Hitler? Are memories so short that we have already forgotten that just as Herr Hitler was proposing to invade Czechoslovakia last week in order to hold a plebiscite, so he did invade Austria six months ago in order to prevent a plebiscite being held? Can we really suppose that 3½ million Sudeten Germans were anxious, or have ever been anxious, to put themselves under this Nazi brutality? We know that a tremendous number of them have been anxious to do nothing of the kind, and I think our commen sense must tell us that it would be difficult to find 3½ million human beings anywhere who would be willing to put themselves under such conditions.
It is perfectly true that Lord Runciman specifically recommends the union of these territories with the Reich, but I have studied his letter as carefully as I am able, and it is quite clear that he does regard the Sudeten Germans as having a very strong case; but it is equally clear that he recommends the union of these territories with the Reich not on the ground of self-determination but because in his view the application of force, agitation, propaganda and violence had made any other solution impossible. The Prime Minister has more than once warned us to beware of slogans—slogans such as "collective security." "Self-determination" is equally a slogan, and in this context I think it is a slogan of singularly repulsive hypocrisy.
We are told that we have got "Peace with honour"; we are told that we have got "Peace in our time." I must say that I wish I could see very strong grounds for that. What are the grounds? In the first place there is a solemn and earnest pledge by Herr Hitler that his territorial ambitions in Europe are satisfied. There is no need to stress the point, but we have heard that solemn and earnest pledge several times in the last few years, and I cannot see why we should be prepared to attach more importance to it this time. There is in addition this peace pact with Herr Hitler's signature upon it. My right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's described it, I think, as being not essentially harmful, but I cannot see that it is a very powerful foundation upon which to build our hopes of a great new era of peace and happiness for mankind. To believe that, we must assent to a proposition which to me at any rate is absolutely incredible, and that proposition is that those men who have risen to power through violence and treachery, who have maintained themselves in power by violence and treachery, who have achieved their greatest triumph by violence and treachery, have suddenly been convinced by the magnetic eye of the Prime Minister (it can only have been by his eye, because it was done through an interpreter) that violence and treachery do not pay. That is a proposition which the Prime Minister and the Government believe, a proposition which I dare say the House of Commons believes, but it is not a proposition to which personally I can attach very much value.
There is no doubt of Herr Hitler's friendship to this country. It is quite clear that it is the cardinal point of his foreign policy, like it was in the beginning, but I wonder whether the people of this country value the friendship, not of Germany—they value that very highly—but of the Nazi rulers of Germany quite as highly as Herr Hitler values our friendship. There are, I believe, enormous numbers of people who regard the Nazi Government in Germany as being the most ruthless, the most cruel, the most inhuman tyranny that the world has ever known, and that is the firm that this country has joined, and, as the Leader of the Opposition pointed out this afternoon, that is the firm that we have joined as junior partner.
I wonder what the next stage is going to be. Germany has got Europe now, and it is almost inconceivable to me that she will not also have her colonies, her colonial empire, in a very short space of time. I cannot conceive on what principle of reason or justice we could say to Germany, when the time comes, "It is all right for you to have Czechoslovakia, but you cannot have anything that belongs to us." She will get the colonies, and then the next stage, I should imagine, will be when Herr Hitler comes to the Prime Minister and points out to him that the responsibilities of the Government of the Reich necessitate a revision of the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. Then I wonder what we shall do. Are we going to fight then, without an ally, against the most powerful military dictatorship the world has ever seen? I do not think so. I think that that will be another triumph for negotiation, and this country and the British Empire will founder; and I should think that that may come sooner than some of us imagine.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said that this time we must all of us take stock of the position. His stocktaking, I realise, would be much more valuable than mine. Nevertheless, I have been trying to take stock, and I believe that we have now obtained, by peaceable means, what we have fought four wars to prevent happening, namely, the domination of Europe by a single Power. I see those ideas which most of us, I think, value in England, ideas of decency and fairness and liberty, at a discount in the markets of the world. I see this great Empire in very great danger in the future, with the prospect of facing a foe who is immensely more powerful than we are, and without allies to help us. I realise how difficult the decision must have been in the last few weeks. I realise that this country has more to lose, perhaps, than any other through a major war. We are rich, we have great possessions, we have a great deal to lose. Nevertheless, I do not believe that England's greatness in the past has been based upon calculations of that kind. I think it is very probably the case that if, before we went into the last War, we had known what it was going to cost us in blood and sacrifice, we might have shrunk from that War. Nevertheless. I am sure we should have been wrong to shrink, and I am sure we did the right thing.
There is a story which I remember from my childhood—and other hon. Members too will remember it—of a young man who was shown what his duty was. He was a young man of comfortable income and life, and it was pointed out to him that if he did his duty, he would not be so comfortable. The story ends up with these words:
The young man … went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
I hope and pray that words like that will not be the epitaph of the British Empire and of our national greatness.
think that perhaps the greatest tribute which can be paid to the work of the Prime Minister lies in the fact that this Debate is taking place to-day under the peaceful conditions that now obtain, and not to the accompaniment of the roar of falling bombs, the fear of which was so present in the mind of every one of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, a few days ago. It is easy to criticise when the danger appears to be past, and I appreciate the honesty which underlies the criticisms in the speeches which we have heard from those Members on both sides of the House, who do not agree with the action of the Prime Minister. We have all of us looked into the abyss, and we have all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, shrunk back appalled at what we have seen. It seems to me a sad thing that the Prime Minister, after the work that he has done for us, has to come to this House to receive these criticisms, and, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) will forgive me if I say that his joke partook of the nature of a jeer as a reward for saving the peace of the world. Let there be no mistake about it. That is not how his actions are viewed outside this House. If hon. Members want to know what is the real opinion of the work of the Prime Minister, let them ask the women of Great Britain and, indeed, the women of the world. It seems to me that had the people of this country been able to be present in this House during the time the Prime Minister was speaking, they might have been forgiven for believing that, judging by their comments and criticisms, had the party opposite been in the position of sitting on the Front Treasury Bench, we should not now have been at peace.
We should not have arrived at this stage, because we should have been at war long ago. The hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. H. Nicolson) referred in a speech recently—and it has been referred to in this House already to-day—to what he called the mass hysteria which he witnessed in this House on Wednesday last. I think that was an insult to every Member in this House. I think there is no one who would not have preferred to see tears of relief rather than what might have been tears of agony had the Prime Minister's efforts not succeeded.
As I say, we have all looked into the abyss and shrunk back appalled. The peoples of the world have shrunk back appalled from what lay in front of them had the peace negotiations not been successful, but I agree with the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that we might all do well to take stock. If you look back at the period which has elapsed since the Treaty of Versailles, I do not think there is any impartial critic but must admit that in that Treaty lay the seeds of the trouble which has now come to fruition, and that you will never get peace in the world until the nations of the world are honest enough to put post-War treaties on the table, rediscuss them, and try to remake them. I cannot understand the attitude of mind of those who consider that the boundaries of the countries of Europe as they are to-day are immutable and unchangeable. In the past the boundaries of the countries of Europe have been changed by war. That they will be changed again there can be no doubt. Can we not change them by peaceable methods instead of by war?
The clouds have been growing ever darker and blacker since the Treaty of Versailles until they culminated in the gloom in which this country and the world were enshrouded during the last fortnight. Now, thanks to what the Government have done and what the Prime Minister has done personally, there appears at last to be a break in the clouds. One thing this crisis has shown, and I am sure that no hon. Member will deny it. It is that we cannot discuss the affairs of the world with totalitarian States, however much all of us may disagree with the totalitarian form of government, unless we make personal contacts with the rulers of those States. We should be fair. Hon. Members on that side of the House personally dislike Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler. They may be right in that dislike, but they must admit that if we want to discuss affairs of Europe which touch these two big countries, we cannot discuss them until we make personal contact with Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler. Is the Prime Minister to be blamed for making those contacts? The fact that he made an effort months ago to find a solution of the differencies between ourselves and Italy has had its reward in the fact that Signor Mussolini was prepared to go from Rome to Munich to try and settle the business of Czechoslovakia.
When thanking the Prime Minister for what he has done, let us be honest. It takes two people to make a quarrel and two people to make peace, and while thanking him for what he has done we should in all fairness recognise not only the tremendous sacrifices of the leader and the people of Czechoslovakia, but also the efforts made for peace by Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler. In the desire to criticise the Munich settlement it seems to me we are somewhat in danger of losing sight of the fact that the Prime Minister's avowed intention is to make this settlement, if he can, the starting point of just such a conference as has been referred to by other speakers. He is trying to get all the nations of the world round a table to discuss those differences and difficulties which have led to the crisis through which we have just passed. I do not believe that we shall ever get peace in the world until we get every nation round a table with a desire to find a peaceable solution of those difficulties.
What would have been the alternative to the action taken by the Prime Minister? If I may judge the writings and speeches that have appeared in the Press and the speeches in the House to-day, it seems to me that they envisage the only alternative as being war. Some appear to express the view that in the end we shall have to go to war and that we might as well get it over, but I cannot believe that anybody would willingly embark on war unless it was forced on them. Others appear to think that by standing up to the leaders of the totalitarian States we can in some way save the peace of the world, but I cannot see how we could save the peace of the world by going to war about it. We went to war in 1914, and we beat Germany all ends up, but have we or Germany or the world been one whit the better for 1914-18? Let those who criticise the Prime Minister take thought as to whether the results of that four and a-half years of shocking warfare was of the slightest benefit to mankind. Did the result of that war do anything to keep Germany in the permanent subjection which was her lot at the end of 1919? If we had war to-day does anybody believe that the result of it would in the end be any different from the result of the war of 1914-18? I do not believe it would. I do not believe that war settles anything.
But it wants saying, and it wants reiterating because the only alternative to what has been done by the Prime Minister is to go to war. People talk about the mailed fist and threatening the dictators, but does anybody believe that if we had threatened the dictators we should not have gone to war? The Prime Minister tried peaceable methods. I know that hon. Members are sincere in their desire for peace, and the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) is one which the whole country will be glad to read. You cannot get peace if during your discussions you have war in your hearts. The reason the Prime Minister was successful at Munich was because he went with peace in his heart and not war and threats.
Hon. Members opposite doubt the sincerity of the leaders of the Italian and German Governments. We are all agreed that there was a case for the Sudeten Germans, but it was not until Germany was strong enough to stand up for them that their grievances were attended to. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] It is all very well to say "nonsense," but one has only to read the writings and speeches of those who are best qualified to know the conditions obtaining in the Near East to know that that is so. It is true that as the result of the Treaty of Versailles there have been and still exist in Europe minorities suffering injustice. We have all to take some share of the blame for the fact that when we could have put those injustices right we did not do so. The injustices which were being suffered by people of German speech and ideals were only considered, and attempts to put them right were only made when Germany was strong enough to make a noise about it. Would it not be better, if we are all desirous of the same thing, namely, peace, not to recriminate about it but to see whether we cannot now go forward and build a solid structure on which the peace of the world might exist for all time?
I listened to the speeches which have been made by hon. Friends on this side of the House criticising the Prime Minister and the Government, but I believe emphatically that had the policy of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington or the policy so often avowed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) been pursued, the inevitable end of that policy would have been war. That we have now escaped the horrors of war has been due to the fact that some months ago the Prime Minister made an effort to change the application of the foreign policy of this country. When I first came to this House I once heard an hon. Member belonging to the party opposite making a speech attacking the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer; he was quoting from some book whose name I have forgotten, and said, "The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping will write his name in history. Take care he does not write in blood." The whole plea that he has made in this House and outside has been for the policy of the mailed fist—deliver an ultimatum to Germany and Italy and they will soon come to heel. Suppose they did not? Do hon. Members really desire to have the whole world involved in the cataclysm which modern warfare is? I cannot believe that that is their intention.
Therefore, I say that they might be more sparing of their criticism when the danger of immediate warfare seems to have receded. Is it true that the bona fides of the Italian and German Governments are so poor? I do not believe it. I believe that to both Signor Mussolini and Herr Hitler peace for their people is an essential. We may disagree, as I do, with the totalitarian form of government. I have not been in Germany since I was a member of the Commission of Control sitting in Berlin in an endeavour to disarm the German people, but I have been in Italy several times and I dislike the totalitarian form of government, but I pay my tribute to what Signor Mussolini has done. He has, for example, done something to help the people to reclaim swamps and they now are growing wheat on land which was formerly useless. I cannot believe that he would desire to see all that he has achieved for the people of Italy swept away in the horrors of a world war. I believe that both he and Herr Hitler are desirous of preserving peace for their peoples.
If the arguments brought forward by critics of the Government be true, and we have only put off the evil day, I would ask those who take that view to consider whether we ourselves are entirely ready for a world war at the present time and whether we should not be in a better position in two years' time? If, on the other hand, there is a reasonable chance of peace coming out of the settlement made at Munich then, when somebody holds out a hand to you to make a peaceful settlement, is it wise to spurn that hand unless you are sure that there are evil intentions behind it? In this House we differ fundamentally in our outlook upon many things, but there are many close friendships between Members on opposite sides of the House. Members opposite dislike intensely my politics, just as I dislike intensely the politics of hon. Members opposite, but although such differences exist, that does not prevent agreements being reached between the two sides of the House which are of immense advantage to the House as a whole. If every time that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary went to make arrangements with the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Sir C. Edwards) everyone in the House said "One or other of them will play a dirty game," how should we get on with our business? It is because there is mutual trust between people who may otherwise differ fundamentally that we find some solution of our day-to-day difficulties. It is the same in the larger sphere of world politics and it is because there is that trust that we get on in this world at all.
I believe that the leaders of Italy and Germany are sincere. Even if they are not sincere I believe that no one in the country or in this House has any right to neglect their proffered hands, lest they should be sincere and an opportunity be lost which may never come again—an opportunity of building up the peace of the world. There have been many critics of the Prime Minister and the Government during this Debate, and no doubt there will be many critics to-morrow, but I would ask them in all sincerity to consider whether it would not be more worth while to cease from mutual recriminations about methods and to concentrate upon the fact that from all our minds, and from the minds of those whom we love outside this House there has been lifted the terrible black cloud of fear which was on us all last week. Let us have some gratitude for that, and let us have more gratitude for the offers which are apparent in the documents which have emerged from Munich, offers of a peaceful settlement of differences in the future. That is something which we all care about, and which we all desire and now have an opportunity of accepting.
As I came through Hyde Park this morning and saw the trenches being dug there I could not help thinking that there is now an opportunity, which may never come again in our lifetime, of burying at the bottom of those trenches the hatchet of misunderstanding and mistrust which has been the curse of this world ever since the Peace Treaty was signed in Paris. I say that we dare not neglect this opportunity. After all, I and many hon. Members opposite belong to the same generation. It was not the fault of our generation that the Great War came about, though upon our generation fell the most grievous burden of that War. Upon us has fallen the burden of endeavouring to the best of our ability—we have failed, it is true, but we have tried—to rebuild the world since that War. If there is one generation above all others which is entitled to be heard now it is the generation to which so many hon. Members belong—not those older men who were responsible for the diplomacy which preceded the last War, or the younger men who will be engulfed by the next War, but we who have had one war and never want to see another, although we should be just as ready, on both sides of the House, to protect the liberties of the people if they were attacked as we were in 1914. We are entitled to speak because we have had the experience both of war and of peace and have seen the utter futility of war.
The alternative for Czechoslovakia if this peace had not been brought about was red war. Does anybody suppose that although the lot of the fugitives in Czechoslovakia and Sudeten-Deutschland is terrible that it would not have been infinitely more terrible if the red wave of war had engulfed them, the wave which was about to break but for the courageous action taken by our Prime Minister? There has been criticism of the action of the Government and the Prime Minister inside this House but very little outside it. A certain amount in newspapers abroad and certainly some in the American Press; but this morning I read a statement in the "New York Sun" which I think is worthy of the attention of the Members of this House. Speaking of the Prime Minister it says:
He is almost at the end of the road, and what he is going through now will in all
probability shorten the little time he has left. The young men of the war generation were bitter against the old men, who they felt had sent them to slaughter. Here is an old man who with fine dignity has put away pride and humbled himself to save the young men of the present generation. Are they going to stand by and let him be knifed? And old men, are they not going to speak out their pride in this man of three score years and ten who has taken the helm of a world drifting blindly towards chaos?
As one of those whose generation suffered in the last war and has tried to help to build up peace, I am proud to support the man who took the helm at the time of so grave a crisis.
I trust that the hon. Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) will not think it impertinent on my part to congratulate him on that excellent, that clear-sighted and that most sincere speech which he delivered a short while ago. The hon. Member takes very little active part in our debates, but the speech which he has made this afternoon, whether we agree with it or disagree with it, proves conclusively, I think, that the hon. Member spoke from conviction, not because he has any bias against the Government—indeed, he told us that he had the greatest admiration for the efforts of the Prime Minister—but because he thinks, after reviewing all the facts which have been given to him and to us, that the Government's policy is wrong. I have often wondered why it is that in democratic countries it is not possible, in dealing with dangerous subjects such as foreign relations, for there to be an absence of party conflict, but listening to some of the speeches I have heard this afternoon, and particularly the speech just delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby), I can see quite clearly why it is that it is not possible to discuss these things on a non-party basis. There are fundamental differences between us, and it is as well that we should discuss those differences in the calm atmosphere of the House of Commons, and that even if we do say things that are to our country's disadvantage the dictator countries shall know what our thoughts really are and whether we agree with our Government in their policy or not.
In the concluding remarks of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) threw out a hint. He suggested, in view of the dangerous times which he sees lying in front of us, that it ought to be possible to unite the nation behind a Government which had a policy which the nation can support. I echo those words from the bottom of my heart. I would be quite content to drop any suspicion of party politics and to support this or any other Government if they could advocate a policy which I could really support from conviction. The right hon. Gentleman told us also that we ought to take stock. I thought he dealt very lightly with the Government of which he is a nominal supporter, in regard to that stock-taking. Even though it may not be advisable, it is probably apposite for us on this side of the House to criticise the Government's stock. We who have constantly been warning the Government and who have been slandered as warmongers, and reviled as impracticable idealists, remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that our policy in foreign affairs has at any rate been consistent ever since the days when the Versailles Treaty was signed, which we did not support.
It is easy for hon. Members now to put up in the facile way chosen by the hon. and gallant Member for Epsom the suggestion that we should forget all the past mistakes and look only to the future, and that we should give those other nations another chance; that we should extend to those dictators the hand of fellowship and friendship. Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman deny that his own Prime Minister held out the hand of fellowship to Herr Hitler? Can we forget that the Prime Minister came back to this House last week and told us that during the incidents which had taken place between himself and Herr Hitler he had had to speak sharply to Herr Hitler at Godesberg and remind him that the ultimatum which he was delivering was totally unfair and unjust and would not be accepted by the free peoples of this country and other countries in the world?
Perhaps it is too late to take our stocktaking of the past salesmanship of the National Government. They have been for seven years in office and for seven years they have been making mistakes. One of these days, when there has passed away the hysteria from which the House of Commons were suffering last week and from which I believe the nation is suffer- ing at the present time, and we begin to settle down and review events in a calm perspective, the nation may begin to ask who it was that brought us to this path, which might have led to war and which, in the Prime Minister's own words, would have been justified? The nation will also take its stocktaking one of these days. We can leave the matter there. Let us consider what tangible advantages or results have been obtained from the Munich conference.
I, personally—and I know it is true of the leaders of my party—have never criticised the Prime Minister for making that eleventh-hour attempt to find some peaceful solution. We refrained from criticism of the Prime Minister when he went to Berchtesgaden first of all, although many of us were doubtful of the practical result of a very unconventional step. Nobody could accuse the Labour party of being slaves to tradition. We are out for taking any steps, however unorthodox they may be, if peace can be brought to the peoples of this country and other countries. When the Prime Minister came back from Munich he proudly displayed a piece of paper. Perhaps many of us might think of it as a scrap of paper. He told us that he had brought home "Peace with honour." I wonder what those thousands of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Social Democrats and the numerous occupants of the concentration camps in Germany would say if they could speak their thoughts freely? Would they agree with the right hon. Gentleman that he had brought back "Peace with honour"? "Peace with honour" is not in the vocabulary of the Czech people who now have to flee for their lives before relentless forces based upon a gospel of blood and iron. As for Britain's honour—and France's too—that had better be left to history. We cannot assess honour to-day. Honour is a word which the world cannot define to-day. Certainly none of us who learned in our childhood "Honesty is the best policy" would attempt to define what Britain's honour consists of to-day.
Can we place any reliance upon that document? If we can accept that document at its face value we are on the road to peace, but I am addressing many hon. Gentlemen who are business men and who are used to negotiating all forms of contract and treaties. I ask them, in view of the past history of the Leader of Germany who has signed that document, whether they are prepared to accept the document at its face value without guarantees? With all the good will imaginable I cannot do so. I speak as one who has addressed this House on the subject of Colonial settlement for Germany. I spoke on the subject several months ago and I am afraid that what I said was not received too favourably from the opposite benches or even by my own benches. I suggested that we should make a colonial settlement with Germany. The "Times" in reporting my remarks coupled them with those of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) and stated that I had said something in conjunction with him, which was amusing. Yet to-day hon. Gentlemen even on the Government benches, are compelled to listen to these demands. Why? They are prepared to listen to those demands to-day merely because the demands are made at the point of the cannon. It is too late to consider rectification of frontiers, appeasement, self-determination, Colonial settlement and the rest of it, on those terms. If we are to consider them at all there can be one basis only, that of justice.
By what standard shall we judge the Government's policy? Can any hon. Member tell me what shall be the test? I speak as one who served in the last War and, like the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken I know what war means. I have done my best in these last few days to try to understand whether the Government's policy would give us even the remotest chance of peace. True, it has averted war for the moment. What test shall we apply? What do the ordinary man and woman consider as the test for peace? It does not matter what the politicians in this House may think but what the people think. There is this huge rearmament. Does it mean continued rearmament, as the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day? Is it peace when the people of this country are told to keep their gas masks ready for an emergency?
Are we to consider that we have achieved peace, to say nothing about honour, when thousands are engaged in fratricidal warfare in Spain, the flames of which are being fanned by foreign intervention—the intervention of at least one, and perhaps two, of those States whose representatives met at Munich? Shall we be content to accept peace with honour when millions of Chinese to-day are suffering the bestialities of rape and air bombardment? Is that your boasted and much vaunted peace? Or shall we turn our backs on Palestine, where murder is running riot, instigated by one of those people who were present at Munich? I have come to the conclusion that peace will not be achieved by the methods which the Government are pursuing. No loans for Germany or Italy will buy peace. Germany has told you that she does not want your money. She is an autarchy. No Colonial settlement will bring disarmament and no regulation of the Mediterranean position will bring peace to our people. No armament credits for Turkey will guarantee our safety. Something much more fundamental is required than these outworn expedients of a bankrupt diplomacy.
Who is it, what is it that stands in the way of that peace which, everybody admits, all peoples want to-day? Perhaps hon. Members may think that what I am going to say is irrelevant, but I have given great consideration to it. I am not prepared to come to conclusions on slogans or mere party propaganda; I have tried to think this out in the quietness of my home; and I have come to the conclusion to-day that what stands in the way of peace is the vested interests of property and power. The Archbishop of Canterbury last night placed his finger on a vital spot. He stated, if I am quoting him correctly, that to-day not only this country but the whole world is worshipping material things, and that is bringing us to the pass which we have reached. I believe that these are the main obstacles to peace.
I agree with one part of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). It is not the slightest use going on with the old methods which have been used for centuries; you have to consider far more drastic and fundamental solutions if you are to get peace. I know the difficulties; every hon. Member in this House must know the difficulties; but can any hon. Member say to me that it will be possible for us to have a just peace with those nations that we are now prepared to shake hands with and retain our British Empire in its present circumference? It is absolutely impossible, and the sooner hon. Members realise it the better.
If we are prepared to get real peace—and I believe that not one Member in this House desires anything else, and I believe that the Prime Minister has honestly been seeking for peace—if we are really sincere in what we say, I would ask hon. Members what are we prepared to contribute to that solution? We shall have to make our contribution; the time has gone by when there is plenty of Czechoslovakian wealth which we can distribute to dictators in order to appease them. Party politics, traditional allegiances and so-called national patriotism will not solve our difficulties; they can be approached, I submit, only by men of good will, free from prejudice, men of stout heart and courage, men of upright character, prepared to risk all for that happiness which is the birthright of every soul born into this mortal world. Let me remind those hon. Gentlemen who are sitting on the Government Front Bench at the moment that peace is not going to be achieved with these dictators with Ottawa Treaties in existence, with Imperial preference, wih religious intolerance, national glorification in school-books, restriction of travel opportunities and currency restrictions, with tariff and customs barriers to which the National Government have brought this country, thereby contributing in some part to the difficulties from which we are now suffering. I believe, however great the problem is, that, if these impediments are removed, we shall be well on the way to peace. But I also believe that, if they are not removed, then war is inevitable. That is the conclusion to which I have come.
What of the future? How are we going to try to solve this problem? I do not know—we have not heard from the Government yet—what this guarantee is to consist of, which we are to give to the diminished Czechoslovakia. I view it with considerable apprehension, and I believe there are many hon. Members on the Government benches who also view it in that way. First of all, who is going to believe—certainly not the dictators—in the validity of that guarantee when we give it? Secondly, how are we going to implement that guarantee when we are called upon to do so? Can we do it with our Army or our Navy, or must we double our Air Force in order to make sure that our guarantee will be operative if the time ever comes? Or—I can hardly be- lieve this—was it a dose of sugar for the bitter pill which was given to President Benes to swallow? The time has come to tell our people clearly where we stand in foreign affairs, what it is for which they will be asked to bear these crushing burdens of taxation, and what it is that we may ask them to risk even their lives for in the future. It will not be sufficient to deal in ambiguous phrases, such as the Government have dealt in when defining the conditions under which our armed forces might be used in the future. The people of this country want to know exactly where we stand, and what are the commitments which they will be asked to endorse.
One final word. The subject of national service has been introduced this afternoon by one hon. Gentleman who spoke. The "Times" this morning in a leading article also introduced that subject, and I know there are hon. Members in this House who have been considering the proposal for some time past. I speak as one who gave my voluntary service in the last War, from August, 1914, till the end of the War, so nobody can deny that I did my service in that War. I am prepared to give my service now, not compulsorily but voluntarily to my country, if it will pursue methods of peace with which I can agree. I am prepared to go further; I am prepared to advocate in my own constituency and in the country that the nation should be ready for some service, and I believe that, if the issue is properly put before them, they will not need to be compelled to come to their tasks. I am prepared to advocate that in the country on one condition only, and that is that the Government can put before the country a policy which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick said, we can all be united upon.
There are various details, various things with which we are concerned—possibly I might call them home affairs; but we are now confronted with tremendous issues which may wipe out all the possibility of our social services and all the rest of it. It may mean far worse than that. Therefore, I say we should confront the problem, not on a small basis, but on as wide a basis as possible. Will the Government adopt a policy which can be supported wholeheartedly by all sections of opinion in this country? I believe it is possible. I believe that, in face of the great dangers that are in front of us, we can evolve some policy for which the country will be prepared to make the greatest sacrifices. If the Government do that they shall have my support, and I believe they will have the support of all men and women of fair mind and good will in this country.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert Ward:
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) expressed the wish, in the early part of his speech, that these problems might be dealt with in a non-party spirit. I must say that he has given a most striking example of how not to do it, because of all the speeches that have been made to-day, his was the most partisan. The Leader of the Opposition said that if we wished to trace the origin of this particular crisis we had to look back. I quite agree with him. To trace the beginning of the problem we have to hark back about 20 years, to the time when the Peace Treaties were under discussion. In the circumstances I think it is pertinent to inquire whether it was a wise, statesmanlike act, under these treaties, to set up the State of Czechoslovakia at all. The State of Czechoslovakia is a miniature replica of the old Austrian Empire. On a small scale it reproduces within its boundaries all the problems which broke up the old Austrian Empire. There are the same difficulties of race and of languages. Neither Czechoslovakia nor the old Austrian Empire could ever be called homogeneous. They were both ill-assorted mixtures of various races. The extraordinary thing is not that the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up when it did, but that it clung together as long as it did. The authors of the Peace Treaties were not responsible actually for the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. All they did was to set a seal on what had actually taken place. With the best will in the world, the authors of the Peace Treaties could not more reconstitute the old Austro-Hungarian Empire than all the King's horses and all the King's men could have set Humpty-Dumpty back on the wall again.
All the same, I do not believe that they did their best with the somewhat inflammable materials at their disposal, especially in regard to the setting up of Czechoslovakia. The late President Wilson was practically ignorant of the conditions of Central Europe. I do not think the British Delegation was much better informed, whereas the French Delegation, under M. Clemenceau, was so obsessed with hatred of the Germans that nothing was too bad to be done. It was under unfavourable conditions like these that Czechoslovakia came into existence. I hope to prove in the course of my speech that the only solution was the suggested partition which the Prime Minister brought back from Munich. That partition will have to take place if peace in Europe can be hoped for, to last for any length of time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said that no cases of actual oppression had come to his notice. Perhaps in the somewhat secure refuge of the Foreign Office they view things in a more rosy light than that in which they appear when one sees them on the spot. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not in his place now, but I should like to put to the House some information about one or two things which have happened in Czechoslovakia in the last 20 years, which I think have played a considerable part in causing discontent and ultimate disintegration. The first thing the Czech Government did on coming into power was the dismissal of German civil servants. Every teacher, every railway official, every post office worker, all the tax collectors and all the police who belonged to the minorities were sacked, and their places filled as soon as possible by Czechs. I happened to be in almost the most easterly corner of Slovakia during part of the autumn and the whole of the winter of 1921, and I have the most vivid recollection of the inconvenience and the suffering that those dismissals caused. Speaking generally, men who had been dismissed had some small knowledge, of the language of the area where they were working——
I was going to say, if the hon. Member had had the patience to listen a little longer, that this treatment was not confined to the German area. They were all dismissed, from one end of the country to the other. I was going on to say that in that part of the world the changes and dismissals were not carried out with anything like the severity and thoroughness with which they were carried out in the Sudeten areas. The next act of the newly-formed Czech Government was the formation of a semi-military police force, consisting entirely of Czechs. The presence of that force has been a source of additional embitterment in the Sudeten areas. It would not have been so bad if it had been a civilian force, but it was a military force pure and simple, armed with swords and automatics, both of which were used on the civilian population with what we should consider in this country to be insufficient provocation. Five or six years ago I was in Eger, which hon. Members know is in the Sudeten area, and I witnessed the breaking up of a demonstration in that town. In similar circumstances, it is doubtful whether in this country the police would have drawn their batons, but there the police drew their swords, and used them freely. In justice to the police, I admit that they did not use the edge of the swords; but the result was pretty unpleasant. The redressing of these two grievances constituted two of the principal points which were enunciated by Herr Henlein in his famous Carlsbad Memorandum. The next item in the programme of the Czech Government was the breaking up of big estates and the division of them amongst the peasants, a policy with which many of us would be in considerable agreement.
But although in theory this was to apply to all, in practice it was found that 98 per cent. of the expropriated landowners were Germans. I say "expropriated," because although compensation was, up to a point, guaranteed, it never exceeded one-fifth of the actual value of the land. On the other hand, peasants were expected to pay something like the full value for the land they received, and it is not at all certain that the difference between the two prices always found its way into the Government exchequer. An additional source of discontent in the Sudeten areas was the fact that the land was not divided among the local peasantry. Czech farmers and Czech agricultural labourers were brought in from other areas and settled in districts which, up to then, had been purely German. Large numbers of what were called legionaries were also introduced and settled on the land in the same way. These legionaries were men who had been taken prisoners or had deserted from the Austrian army in the early days of war and had fought on the side of the Allies, a performance very meritorious from our point of view, but one which was looked upon by our opponents with distinct disfavour, so much so that the original peasantry disliked in any way being associated with them.
All the same, there is not the least doubt that the problem would not have been so acute if the Sudeten areas had remained or had been reasonably prosperous. Ever since the slump of 1931 things have gone from bad to worse and, with a certain amount of truth and a certain amount of exaggeration, the Government have been blamed for that depression, as here. They say that no Government contract ever found its way into the Sudeten areas, and I really believe that there was a certain amount of truth in that. Also, in these days of quotas, a Government has very considerable powers of influencing the export trade. Let me give the House a case. There are two rather standard industries in the west of Czechoslovakia. One is the glass-making industry and the other the porcelain trade. The glass trade is almost entirely carried on in Czech areas, and the porcelain trade, on the other hand, is almost entirely carried on in Sudeten German areas. There is not the slightest doubt that the Czech Government have used their powers under the quota system to encourage the export of glass at the expense of porcelain, with the result that the glass factories have been reasonably prosperous and the porcelain factories have been absolutely ruined.
I wonder how many people in this country, or for that matter in this House, prior to the Sudeten-Deutsch question, would have recognised the names of two rather important towns in the Sudeten area—Karlôvy Vàry and Marianski LàznÉ? How many would have recognised them or have realised that these are the names of two of the most fashionable health resorts and watering places in the pre-war period, namely, Carlsbad and Marienbad? Changing the names, as the Government did immediately after taking over the territory, completely destroyed what one might call the copyright of those towns. In addition to that they have done their best to develop watering places in the Czech area at the expense of Marienbad and Carlsbad. Up to a short time ago, if one went into the Czech travel bureau in Regent Street one saw a great many advertisements of Marianski and Karlôvy and none at all of Marienbad and Carlsbad. The result is that both these towns are to-day absolutely ruined and the hotels are in the hands of the Government through inability to pay taxes.
At the same time, do not let there be any misapprehension or belief that the entire blame for this situation rests with the Czech Government. It certainly does not. The Sudeten Germans have for generations been extraordinarily difficult people with whom to get on. Even in the days of the old Austrian Empire their discontent and constant quarrels with their neighbours were a source of perennial worry and anxiety to the Central Government in Vienna, and since the formation of the new State a sort of morose and surly non-co-operation has characterised that attitude to the new Government. In fact, so much is that the case that a great many people well acquainted with the situation say quite openly that, if the necessary adjustments, financial and otherwise, can be made Czechoslovakia will be at least as well off without these areas as she has been with them. These adjustments are undoubtedly going to be very difficult. First of all, there will be the problem of finding work for all the civil servants who will be displaced in these areas. Every schoolmaster, school teacher, civil servant, postmaster, railway stationmaster, railway worker, tax collector and policeman will be turned out at once. This is what the Czechs did 20 years ago, and there is not the least reason for supposing that the Germans will do any different. This will produce hopeless congestion in the Czech civil service besides discontent and dissatisfaction.
It is bound to cost a considerable amount of money to re-organise the economic life of the country. Railways will have to be diverted, fresh roads made, and above all, provision will have to be made for refugees. Although at the same time I cannot think that, provided one can get into operation a reasonable and comprehensive system of transfer of minorities, that that need be such a very insuperable difficulty. There are certain to be left in Czechoslovakia complete colonies of Germans, in the same way as in the Sudeten areas, there will be left complete colonies of Czechs. It is quite possible that exchanges may be arranged on a comprehensive basis which will meet the emergency. Personally, I believe that it will be much the best way of dealing with the outlying German settlements which exist all over Bohemia, Moravia and, to some extent, even in Slovakia. In the foothills of the Carpathians there are two villages called Poprao and Kesmark, both of which are solidly German and at the moment mad for Hitler. If they are so mad for Hitler they ought to have no objection to leaving the villages where they live and being transferred to the Sudeten area, so that the Czechs from the Sudeten area can be transferred to live and to work in those villages. At the same time it is going to cost money, and I must say I was pleased to hear the Prime Minister say that he had instructed the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make provision at once up to a sum of £10,000,000.
But what I think is such a tragedy is that all this was not taken in hand before it reached the present acute stage. A little more than six weeks ago, certainly six months ago, no one in the Sudeten area ever suggested anything like secession. I was there barely a month ago myself. I did not make contact with any of the leaders of either party, because I have always found from experience that the leaders of all parties put their case so well that when you listen to them both you are no further forward than you were before. What I did was merely to talk to the man-in-the-street, the porter at the hotel, the mechanic at the garage, and get their views. Not one of them suggested secession. All they wanted was a form of dominion home rule somewhat on the lines of Switzerland. You may say that that was offered them and was turned down. That is true, but it was offered them in such a way as would still keep them in a permanent minority in the big canton in which they would be. The scheme put forward by the Czech Government was to include in one cantonal system the whole of Bohemia, which would still have left the Sudeten Germans there in a permanent minority. A suggestion which they put forward that the Sudeten areas should themselves constitute separate cantons was turned down.
I hope that I have shown that the solution which has now been put before us by the Prime Minister is the only one that contains any hope whatsoever of a permanent settlement. I should like to pay my tribute to the way in which the Czech Government and the Czech nation have faced this terrible situation. I think they realise, like most sensible people in this country, that a war would have solved nothing. The last War, which we all thought was going to solve everything, merely increased the problems tenfold, and their intensity a hundredfold. Twenty years ago Germany was completely defeated and in the dust; to-day she is more powerful than ever; and there is no guarantee that if we succeeded in defeating Germany again in the next two years, the situation would not, in another 20 years' time, be exactly what it is to-day. After all, we have got this great block of 70,000,000 Germans living almost at our doors. Even if we defeat them we cannot kill them all—it is impossible, as well as unthinkable. That being so, it seems to me that the only thing we can do is to learn to live with them. We may not like them, we may disagree with them intensely, but they are a fact; they are there, and we have to put up with them. The late Prime Minister, the present Lord Baldwin, said on one occasion that another war with Germany might easily mean the end of civilisation; and it is because I thoroughly agree with him that I say that if we want civilisation to go on we must hammer out some means by which we and the Germans can live together in peace and friendship.
After the great emotional release which manifested itself in this House last week we have to-day been cultivating second thoughts, and I wish to pay my tribute forthwith to the speech with which this Debate opened, made by the right hon. Gentleman who represents the St. George's Division of Westminster (Mr. Cooper)—honest, lucid and formidable. I believe that the point of view which he expressed found many echoes in all parts of the House. Even if some of those echoes may have been muffled on the other side of the House for reasons of party loyalty, yet we on these benches have no need to hide our agreement with his thesis. The question we ask ourselves is, Is it peace now? After the crisis through which this country has just passed in the seventh year of National Government, is it peace now, or is it only a short breathing space and a fatal worsening of strategical and economic conditions for the British Commonwealth before an inevitable war? That is the question which we must all put to ourselves.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, if he will permit me to say so, has evidently made a close study of certain aspects of the complex life of Czechoslovakia. He will not anticipate that I shall debate with him in detail the various points which he has put before the House. I will merely say that, although I recognise some truth in some of the observations that he has made, I venture to express the view that on the whole the situation of the racial minorities in Czechoslovakia, notably the Germans, is by no means so unsatisfactory as he has pictured it; and that, on the other hand, he has left untouched a number of points which some of us who also know Czechoslovakia at first hand would have emphasised. Many of my hon. Friends do know Czechoslovakia. It is a country with which we have had close and continuing personal ties. We have delighted to maintain contacts with this island of democracy, and many of us have spent happy hours in Czechoslovakia, and our sorrow and our distress in these days are heightened by doubts as to the fate of individual men and women whom we are proud to call our friends.
Tributes have been paid to-day by the Prime Minister for the first time and by other speakers to the Czechs, and I will not seek to add to those tributes beyond saying this, that from President Benes down to the humblest worker, the simplest peasant, the private soldier in the front line trenches, we have an unbounded admiration for the way in which they have faced the fate imposed upon them by external force. They have shown a superb self-control under great stress, they have shown wonderful nobility in undeserved adversity; they have been dignified, civilised, brave, patient, rational, calm—all these things. Many of those qualities are not found beyond the mountains which for a thousand years bounded this State. Never has there been a word of abuse or bitterness in any of the public statements by President Benes or by General Sirovy or any of their spokesmen. All their pronouncements have been perfect, both in tone and substance.
We have had—I use language which is sometimes loosely used to convey a quite definite meaning—the perfect gentleman in Czechoslovakia confronting the perfect Hun beyond the mountains. That is the contrast that we have seen. These gallant torchbearers of democracy amid the surrounding darkness of dictatorships have accepted—I shall say something later as to the conditions under which they accepted—the dictates of France and of this country. Their soldiers are retiring with heavy hearts from those fortresses along the mountains where they would have fought and died like the Greek soldiers in the mountain pass of Thermopylae when facing the overwhelming odds of the barbarian hordes. The Czech soldiers have retired in good order, taking with them such munitions as the dictates of Munich have allowed them, and, as the Minister of Propaganda of the Czech Government has stated, it sometimes takes more courage to submit than to commit suicide.
Yesterday, in all the Catholic churches in Bohemia this prayer was ordered to be read by the Roman Catholic Cardinal, Primate of Bohemia:
The land of St. Wenceslaus has just been invaded by foreign armies and the thousand-year-old frontier has been violated. This sacrifice has been imposed on the nation of St. Wenceslaus by one ally and one friend. The Primate of the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia is praying to God Almighty that the peace efforts prompting this terrible sacrifice will be crowned by permanent success, and, should they not, he is praying to the Almighty to forgive all those who impose this injustice on the people of Czechoslovakia.
In the Protestant churches the same prayer was offered with the substitution of "John Huss" for "Saint Wenceslaus." I will add no more. But this tribute it would have been wrong for us on this side not to pay to the Czechs in this hour.
I pass to say a few words regarding the handling of British foreign policy in these days. We learn from the Press that it has been left in the hands of an Inner Cabinet of four. They have been called by some the "Big Four." We are disconcerted, for our confidence is far from complete in the competence of those four persons to handle the situation. We have, I speak quite objectively, a Prime Minister, admittedly without much knowledge or previous experience of foreign affairs. His strong suits were of another kind. We have the Foreign Secretary, whose personality and character we all respect but who has not in fact been conducting the foreign policy of the country. Signor Mussolini took the precaution of taking with him to Munich Count Ciano, his Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister was more self-sufficient. He left Lord Halifax behind in London. The "Big Four" is completed by two ex-Foreign Secretaries, whose records at the Foreign Office are in each case remembered and regretted. Those are the "Big Four."
We have observed developing a dual system, such as the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) invented during the Great War. There are No. 10, Downing Street and the Foreign Office, and the liaison between the two does not seem always to be perfect. The Foreign Office is subordinated to No. 10, Downing Street, so that—a vivid symbol—when the Prime Minister proceeded to Berchtesgaden, later to Godesberg, and finally to Munich, he took with him no senior official from the Foreign Office, neither the Chief Diplomatic Adviser, nor the Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, nor even any of the assistant Under-Secretaries at the Foreign Office, although several of these officials were specially competent, by reason of their past work, to advise him on central European matters. He took with him, instead, the so-called Industrial Adviser. Whatever may be said in praise of that gentleman, he has evidently not had the experience which in the judgment of most of us would entitle him to supplant these experienced Foreign Office officials. This personal preference of the Prime Minister for this inexpert advice has diminished any confidence that we might have had in the conduct of foreign policy at this time.
It is the view of many of us that the Prime Minister submitted to brutal and calculated impatience on the part of Herr Hitler. There was no rational ground for all this hustling. There was no rational ground for driving these people out in ten days from the country which they had occupied for 1,000 years. I regret to have to state that in my opinion and in the opinion of many of my hon. Friends the Prime Minister was unduly hustled, intimidated. and outmanoeuvred by Herr Hitler in these conversations. The Prime Minister believes—he has told us so more than once—in Herr Hitler's assurances that this is the last territorial change he wants in Europe. He has brought back a scrap of paper, torn from "Mein Kampf." In that book he who runs may read the story. It is still distributed day by day in Germany; it sells by hundreds of thousands, and it is there explained what the project is, with the authentic signature at the bottom. It is there laid down quite clearly that the purpose of German diplomacy under Nazi rule is to neutralise England in order that Germany may the better wreak her will upon others. I can well imagine that at the moment Herr Hitler desires nothing more than an atmosphere of friendliness with England while other transactions proceed.
There was a time when the father of the present Prime Minister sought an agreement with Germany. I have been reading the story again to-night in Mr. Garwin's "Life," where the great Joseph Chamberlain endeavoured to come to an Anglo-German understanding, and failed. I am not confident that, where the father failed, the son will succeed. Sir Austen Chamberlain, who had great knowledge of foreign affairs, in April, 1933, curiously enough when the Four-Power idea was even then in front of the public, protested strongly against this method of diplomacy and spoke strong words about the character of Nazi Germany and about the ambitions of Hitler himself. I will not spend time in reading the whole of his statement, but it will be found by hon. Members in the OFFICIAL REPORT of the 13th April, 1933. I will read the last sentence:
Europe is menaced and Germany is afflicted by this narrow, exclusive, aggressive spirit, by which it is a crime to be in favour of peace and a crime to be a Jew. That is not a Germany to which we can afford to make concessions. That is not a Germany to which Europe can afford to give the equality of which the Prime Minister (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald) spoke. Before you can afford to decide or to urge others to decide, you must see a Germany whose mind is turned to peace, who will use her equality of status to secure her own safety but not to menace the safety of others; a Germany which has learnt not
only how to live herself but how to let others live inside her and beside her."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1933; col. 2759, Vol. 276.]
That was the judgment of Sir Austen Chamberlain, and the Germany of which he spoke has not become more peaceful or less truculent, or less menacing to her neighbours in the five years which have since elapsed. Now Herr Hitler is over the watershed; his troops have crossed the Bohemian mountains, those great natural frontiers, and now it will be downhill all the way in his march to the domination of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. There are no more natural obstacles to withstand him and Mittel Europa is in fact accomplished. Rumanian oil and Hungarian wheat are waiting to be taken. It is not necessary to absorb Hungary or Rumania within the Reich. A situation has been created in which these supplies will be available for a Germany bent either on peace or war. Mittel Europa is in fact accomplished, and the British Navy will soon have lost one of its great potencies in the event of war; the blockade will be over for ever so far as this great middle European Power is concerned. No wonder the First Lord at this point has resigned foreseeing the inevitable developments of events. I feel that we shall not have to wait very long before Herr Hitler will dictate, first to his immediate neighbours and later to all Europe, and in the end to the British Empire and the world at large.
I understand that the Home Secretary is going to follow me and I will at this stage ask a few questions because there are points on which I think the House would be glad of a little further elucidation. First as regards an important document which was omitted from the first White Paper—namely, the terms of the joint demarche made at Prague in the small hours of 21st September by the British and French Governments, when, as the Prime Minister said, the British and French Governments "urged"—that was the word he used—the Czech Government to accept the Anglo-French plan. I hold in my hand a paper issued to a number of hon. Members bearing the signature of Professor Seton-Watson, a distinguished historian, and perhaps the greatest authority on Czechoslovakian affairs in this country. I wish to ask the Home Secretary whether what I am now going to
read is accurate or not; and, if inaccurate, to what extent it is inaccurate. Professor Seton-Watson says that the British and French Ministers in Prague received instructions to make an immediate demarche to President Benes, as in the first instance he seemed unwilling to accept the Anglo-French plan and suggested that the German-Czechoslovakian Arbitration Treaty of 16th October, 1926, should be operated in this case. That is a treaty which hon. Members will recall had, only six months before, after the rape of Austria, been reaffirmed as being still operative by Field Marshal Goering, as well as by the more shadowy figure of Baron von Neurath. The Czechoslovakian Government asked that this Treaty should now be applied. Herr Hitler had six months before assured them through Field Marshal Goering that it would still be applicable in the event of any disputes between the two countries. Here was a dispute. Professor Seton-Watson says that this demarche was made at 2 a.m. on 21st September and under four heads:
Both Ministers insisted on immediate and unconditional compliance, and General Fauchet, the distinguished French officer who has done so much to build up the Czechoslovakian Army, declared to President Benes that he was ashamed to be a Frenchman and desired to be accepted as a Czech citizen. The second point about which I shall be glad to have some information from the Home Secretary is regarding the contacts maintained with the Soviet Union and their representatives during this period. I shall be glad if the Home Secretary will tell me whether I am correctly informed that between the 8th September and the 21st there was no contact whatever between the British Foreign Office and the Soviet Embassy in London, a fortnight of
difficult days, and that during the same period the British Ambassador in Moscow was given no instructions to seek contact with the Commissar for Foreign Affairs in order to ascertain the intentions of the Soviet Government in certain eventualities. On 23rd September when, as we read in the Press, the Lord Privy Seal who was then at Geneva had a conversation with M. Litvinoff, there appears to have been the first contact of any kind established for more than a fortnight, and I think we should be informed whether these facts are accurate.
Passing from this question of dates it would be interesting to the House to know why the Soviet Union was excluded from the conversations at Munich? On what grounds of principle or expediency was the Soviet Union excluded? After all there are more Slays in Czechoslovakia than there are Sudeten Germans, and if it is legitimate for Herr Hitler to be interested in the 3,250,000 Germans in the Sudetenland it is legitimate for a great Slav Power like the Soviet Union to be interested in the 10,000,000 Czechs and Slovaks. This raises the general question, is it or is it not the intention of the Government to seek to eliminate Russia from discussions in the near future regarding international relations, and if so why? There are some in this country who apparently think it worth while and a good bargain to try and push the Soviet Union out of Europe in order to curry favour with Germany. For my part I should regard such an attempt as the foreign policy of a madman. After all, the Soviet Union is no threat to us, whereas Germany is a very grim threat, and if our fears are justified, and if war in spite of all the efforts made to avert it is to come, would it not be worth something to have the Red Army and the Red Air Force on our side rather than neutral?
The Prime Minister claims for himself the title of "realist," but does not any realistic foreign policy in this country necessarily include an attempt to make sure that, if the worst should come, we should have that enormous potential force upon our side rather than immobilised? Is it not also a clear calculation, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just resigned his post at the Admiralty so cogently argued to-day, that if it can be shown in advance that there would be a combined force arrayed against an aggressor, which would include the Soviet Union, we should be much more likely to avoid war?
The hon. Gentleman has just mentioned Russia. Can he tell us whether Stalin has mentioned in any speech, at any time, that they will come to our assistance? My information is that it was only mentioned en passant by Litvinoff.
There have, of course, been many statements in the Press recently and there was the statement made by M. Litvinoff as Commissar for Foreign Affairs at Geneva to the effect that in the event of Czechoslovakia being attacked and France going to her assistance, Russia would fulfil her obligations under the Treaty. That has been repeatedly stated.
I was putting a question to the Home Secretary, and the hon. and gallant Member's points suggest that my question was a very reasonable one. I was asking whether the Foreign Office here or the British Embassy in Moscow during these weeks had taken any effective steps to ascertain the very point raised by the hon. and gallant Member. For my part I think the public declarations made have been clear enough, but if there is any doubt, as the hon. and gallant Member suggests, how much more necessary is it for the Government to take steps to clear it up? I am sometimes almost persuaded, though against my will, that there are hon. Gentlemen among the ranks of the Prime Minister's supporters who would almost prefer to lose the British Empire with Russia neutral than to hold it with Russia as an ally. If this folly goes on, this cold-shouldering of Russia, this pushing of Russia out of the conversations of the Powers, then such hon. Gentlemen may live bitterly to enjoy the realisation of their preference. I hope the Home Secretary will be able to give us some account of the steps taken to maintain contact with the Soviet Union during this time; in particular that he will answer the specific questions which I have put to him regarding dates, and that he will tell us what is the Government's view regarding the Soviet Union's intentions if war came.
I now pass to another point, that of the guarantee. So far, there has been much vagueness regarding the guarantee which it is suggested we should give to the new frontiers of Czechoslovakia. Here again I ask whether it is intended that the Soviet Union shall be a party to this guarantee. Have they been approached? Evidently the risk to us of giving such a guarantee will depend a great deal upon how many other people, whose intentions we can estimate with reasonable accuracy, will be parties to it also. Is it intended that the Soviet Union should be brought into this guarantee? They were contingent guarantors of the old Czechoslovakia. We are now told that in order to please Herr Hitler all those old treaties must be torn up. To Herr Hitler it was intolerable that two States should say to one another that if he attacked the one, the other would come to its aid. This makes Herr Hitler irritable and impatient. He prefers what he calls bilateral arrangements, and it is very intelligible that he should have that preference, but there is no reason why we should prefer them. Indeed it would be folly for us to prefer them. I trust, therefore, we shall have more information as to how many guarantors are to be mobilised under this new commitment. This new commitment is very grave and serious, as has been pointed out by previous speakers, because we are going to guarantee now a Czechoslovakia stripped of her natural defences and stripped also of many of her material means of defence.
I also ask the Home Secretary to tell us what is meant by the word which is translated "installations" which are to be left behind undamaged in these frontiers from which the Czechs are to be extruded? What does "installations" include? It includes, presumably, all the fortress line, the so-called Czech "Maginot line" on which they have spent £20,000,000 with the knowledge and encouragement of France and England. Does it include heavy guns? This question is important and I shall be glad of a direct answer to it. Does "installations" include heavy guns in fixed emplacements along these fortress lines? If so, I say you will be guilty not only of gross injustice to Czechoslovakia but of a piece of crass military folly. Guns, like hon. Members of this House, count two on a division. You turn over these guns from the Czechs who were our friends, to the only Power in Europe whom we are afraid we may have to fight. You give these guns to Germany and they will be used against us if war comes. Therefore I ask, Have you submitted to Hitler's demand to such an extent that you are handing over to him some of the best heavy artillery in the world which is at present in these Czech defences? The House is entitled to a straight reply. We want to know also how far other munitions—supplies of shells and so forth—are to be left behind, likewise to change sides in the event of trouble and how far, even if it is not precisely laid down that they are to be left behind, there is any hope that in this hustle to which the Prime Minister has submitted, they can be got away. Some of us who served in the War know something of the difficulties of moving great quantities of munitions in a quick retreat. I have a very vivid memory of just that problem on the Italian front in 1917. I wish therefore to know what quantities of ammunition are to be left behind for the Germans to take over.
Now I come to some economic points. These questions have been put already, but I wish to underline and repeat them in case they should not have been noted by the Home Secretary. What provision, if any, has been made at Munich for the compensation of the Czechoslovak Government or the citizens of Czechoslovakia individually, for State property on the one hand, or private property on the other, in the ceded areas? What is the provision made for turning over part of the debt of the Czechoslovak State to Germany? It will be recalled that in the Treaties of Peace—whose injustice some persons sometimes, in my judgment, over-emphasise—it was provided that the debt of the old Austro-Hungary should not be left saddled upon the Austro-Hungary which survived the redrawing of the frontiers but should be partitioned between the succession States. It will be known to hon. Members who have studied this question, as many have, that Czechoslovakia has herself been carrying up to this hour a substantial fraction of the old debt of pre-war Austria, and I want to know whether she has to go on carrying all that debt now, or whether there will be any provision made for Herr Hitler to take it over in a due apportionment?
Then these plebiscites. I have heard most disturbing stories about the conditions under which these plebiscites are to be taken, and I want to know whether I correctly understand the position as I shall now state it. I gather that the International Commission is to draw a line which will divide broadly those areas which have a more than 50 per cent. German population from those which have a less than 50 per cent. German population, and that that is to be the provisional frontier and the German troops are to advance by 10th October right up to that frontier. So far I do not think that there is any dispute; I think that that is the position. But now this I want to know: Are plebiscites to be arranged, some on one side of the line and some on the other, as the International Commission may decide, or only upon that side left to Czechoslovakia? I understand that Herr Hitler has demanded, with what justification I cannot imagine, that there shall be plebiscites in certain areas where the German population is less than 50 per cent., and I understand that that claim was admitted by the Prime Minister at Munich. What is not clear is whether there are to be any counter-balancing plebiscite arrangements, so that in some areas where there are more that 50 per cent. Germans, these Germans shall at any rate be allowed to say whether they wish to be put into the Reich or to remain in Czechoslovakia. In other words, will the adjustments be, as the Prime Minister said this afternoon in another context, all in one direction under the plebiscites, or will there be some possibility of adjustments in both directions?
I also desire to ask, when the phrase is used that the plebiscites will be according to the conditions of the Saar plebiscite, which is the phrase in the Munich Agreement, whether that includes, though putting it in a more obscure fashion, Herr Hitler's demand in the Godesberg ultimatum that these plebiscites shall take place on a 20 year old register, namely, that no person shall be allowed to vote who was not resident in the area in 1918? I am advised that that was the case in the Saar and that therefore that is intended to be the case in all these new plebiscites. I hope that that is wrong, because it is a most outrageous proposal if you are going to determine this on a 20 year old register, so that Herr Hitler can bring into the plebiscite area before the end of November officials and Army officers of the old Austria-Hungary Monarchy and other people, and pay their expenses lavishly, to make sure that his voters are on the spot. I say that under such conditions a plebiscite will be a complete fraud and this country ought not to lend itself to such an imposture; and I hope the International Commission is not operating upon that basis.
I ask the perfectly simple and direct question: Does the phrase in the Munich communiquÉ "according to the conditions of the Saar Plebiscite" mean, or does it not mean, that these plebiscites are going to be on a 20 year old register as I have described? Further, on the plebiscites, is it or is it not intended that it shall be possible for those little islands which are shown upon the map, Iglau and others, to vote to he German and not Czech, and that Czechoslovakia shall have inserted into what is left of her body pieces of Reich territory, with consequences which we can all well imagine? I think that hitherto we have not had as much information upon the question of plebiscites as the House is entitled to.
I am also informed that at Munich some Czechs were allowed to be present in an ante-room as a great concession, but I am told that they were never consulted at all, that the material which they had brought with them was never considered or examined, that the maps which they had brought with them and which had a bearing upon the line between the 50 per cent. German and the 50 per cent. Czech territories, were not examined at all, and that the transfer of territory was arranged not on the basis of the 1930 population census, which was the most recent and reliable evidence, but was arranged on the basis of a propaganda map provided by Herr Hitler. I should be glad to know whether that is an accurate account of the way in which the Czech advisers, as they were called, were treated at Munich, and in particular whether it is true that they were never admitted to the august conversations of the Four and that their maps and materials were not looked at at all.
I have put a number of questions—I hope not more than it is reasonable to put—and I am anxious to leave time for a reply to be given to those questions. Therefore, I pass to make one or two observations about the defences of the country, including the passive defences, for which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary is personally responsible. I wish to say that one of the things which have given us most concern in these recent months is evidence that the defences of this country are most inadequate, particularly as regards anti-aircraft defence and as regards air-raid precautions, for which the right hon. Gentleman is personally responsible, having taken over a concern which was not going at all from the right hon. Gentleman who is now Chancellor of the Exchequer. That question has given us deep concern. According to our evidence proper steps were not taken regarding air-raid precautions, and the whole thing was muddled terribly by the Home Office, and London and other great cities were in immediate peril which could have been greatly diminished had Ministers carried out their duties with energy and application. As for the Opposition, when the full story comes to be told it will be clear that many of my hon. Friends have been exceedingly active in pressing further measures upon the Government in conversations with Ministers.
The Secretary of State for Air is not here, but he would not contradict what I am saying, that since the Debate took place in May last, when I ventured to make some observations upon the air defences of the country and when other hon. Members on this side of the House added other evidence of the terrible conditions of neglect and muddle which ensued, we have been exceedingly active, not in the limelight, but in private interviews and representations, in bringing forward evidence, gathered from many sources, to the Secretary of State for Air which we hope has had some effect upon the state of affairs which I mentioned a little while ago. Others of my hon. Friends have in other ways been trying to assist in bringing the defences of London and this country up to date. When we are free to say all that we have done we shall have a very good story to tell, and I tell that to hon. Members in advance in case any attempt be made to make party capital out of misconceptions. Anyhow, they would have suffered as much as we if the defences had been tested and found wanting.
We view the future, in the light of what the Prime Minister has told us and of the general situation as it has been revealed to us, with very deep forebodings indeed. It is well enough to think that when you have settled the Czechs, as you have settled them, you have secured peace, but a wise word was spoken from Australia by Colonel White, a Minister of the Australian Commonwealth Government whom many of us know personally, and he said truly:
The Czechs' fate to-day will be ours to-morrow.
He said that at Melbourne in a public speech, and that showed foresight. Hitler's triumph in Czechoslovakia is, we believe, only one stage in a well-thought-out process, laid out very clearly in "Mein Kampf," particularly in the German edition—the English edition leaves out all the most instructive passages—a process aiming at the domination of Central and Eastern Europe and then of the whole of Europe and the destruction of "our immortal enemy France," which is how Herr Hitler describes the French people. Our fear is that if British foreign policy continues along the lines which it has recently followed, we shall continue to sacrifice more friends, more allies, at every stage, and that we shall be faced with the military and economic might of Germany which would be utterly overpowering, and in the end this country, with or without a hesitant and intimidated France, will be left to face its fate alone. That is what we fear may be coming.
There was a letter, a very eloquent letter, written by Professor Tawney to the "Manchester Guardian" on 22nd September, in which he summed up the position thus:
Great Britain can still take the initiative, if it pleases, in building up a League of States who accept as their premises common resistance to aggression and the peaceful settlement of all disputes. That, on any long view, is
the only way in which safety can be achieved and civilisation preserved. The ambition to be eaten last, which inspires our present policy, is intelligible but futile. We shall (if we remain edible) be eaten all the same, nor shall we be consulted as to the date of the ceremony.
A week ago we were on the verge of a terrible abyss. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who has just sat down, seemed to have forgotten the position in which we were then placed. The speech that he has just made seemed to take little account of the fact that a few days ago we were within a hair's breadth of the greatest catastrophe that the world has ever seen. Did we shrink from it in fear, or did we feel that there was some hope still of finding a path round it to more solid ground? I am fully aware that there are some hon. Members, and some people in the country, who believe that no peace is possible in Europe as long as the dictatorships exist, who hold, quite sincerely, the view—I think the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down does—that as long as the dictatorships exist, war is inevitable, and that it may be better to have war now, when we have an issue that may be supposed to appeal to the whole world, rather than to put it off to some future date when our position may be more difficult and dangerous.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not wish to misrepresent me. What I said in my opening remarks was that I subscribed wholly to the statement of the case made by the right hon. Gentleman who has just resigned from the Government, who indicated the way in which war could be prevented, both now and hereafter.
I am glad to have the hon. Gentleman's assurance. None the less, I am correct in saying that there are some people in this House and in this country who do hold that view. The conclusion of such a view is to me so appalling that I could not accept it if I thought there was still some glimmer of hope that the catastrophe might yet be averted. What is more important, the Prime Minister had that settled conviction. It was on that account that he made his superhuman efforts at great risk to himself, at great risk to the Govern- ment of which he is a member—but these things do not count in moments of this gravity—to take upon himself the responsibility of trying at the last moment to prevent this catastrophe coming upon us.
The Prime Minister acted not alone as the head of the Government of which I am a member. He acted rather as the spokesman of the millions of men and women from one end of the world to the other who were determined that we should still try to keep a controlling hand upon the course of events and avoid an appalling calamity that would undoubtedly have ended in the extinction of civilisation as we have known it. He undertook the duty of a mediator. We had no treaty obligations to Czechoslovakia other than our general obligations under the Covenant of the League. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) has made this position quite clear in the well-known speech that he made some time ago in his own constituency. We had no treaty obligations. None the less, I hold that it was right and proper for the Prime Minister of this country, the one country that was in a position to hold the scales between the two sides, to undertake this heavy responsibility; and I claim that, having undertaken the responsibility of mediation, it would have been courting certain failure if at one and the same time when he was attempting to mediate he engaged himself upon a policy of threats and ultimatums.
That is the answer to the main charge of my right hon. Friend the Member for St. George's, Westminster (Mr. Cooper). I claim that it would have met certain failure if at the very time when we were attempting to mediate and to obtain a peaceful settlement, we had accepted the advice of those who said you must face Herr Hitler with a public ultimatum. I go further, and I say that if we had made an ultimatum in the days immediately before the Nuremberg speech Europe would to-day have been plunged into a world war.
The last thing in the world I wish to do is to misrepresent my right hon. Friend, but I certainly formed the impression from his speech that one of the main reasons why he left the Govment was that we had failed to make our position clear——
——publicly to Herr Hitler before the Nuremberg speech. We made our position, privately, as clear as it was possible to make it to Herr Hitler time after time. The Prime Minister himself made it clear to him in the conversations he had with him, and it was obvious from those conversations that Herr Hitler had taken full account of the danger of a world war and that, no doubt owing to the geographical conditions that surround us, he had discounted that risk and was prepared to undertake it. I say again that if we had gone further in those critical days than we did go, Europe to-day would have been plunged into a world war. We made warning after warning to him in the conversations that took place with him and his advisers and he took full account of the position.
The hon. Gentleman opposite asked me specifically about Russia. He asked me why there was not closer consultation in these critical weeks with the Government of the Soviet Republic. That Government was under a Treaty obligation similar to that of France, and dependent upon it, to go to the assistance of Czechoslovakia in certain circumstances. The Russian guarantee was only to come into operation when the French guarantee was already operating. M. Litvinoff indicated, indeed he made a public declaration at Geneva on 21st September, that the Soviet Government was ready to give all possible help if France came to the assistance of Czechoslovakia. As I have explained, that is all that Russia was under Treaty bound to do. Her action would have been consequent upon that of France, and it was therefore natural that there should have been consultation, as in fact there was, between France and the Soviet Republic and His Majesty's Government, in view of their different positions. We were content to let the French Government take the lead in consulting with the Russian Government, whose position was analogous to theirs. To say, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the Soviet Republic was cold-shouldered is a complete exaggeration of the position. The Foreign Secretary had an exchange of views with the Soviet Ambassador before the latter left, and at Geneva the British delegates maintained the contact. The Soviet Ambassador was received again, quite recently, at the Foreign Office, after his return to London. So much for the hon. Member's question a bout our attitude towards the Soviet Republic.
War has been averted; has the price paid been too high? I frankly admit that Czechoslovakia has received a staggering blow. Hon. Members opposite may not believe me when I say it, but it is none the less sincere, that I feel very deeply the present position of Czechoslovakia. I also had the honour of the friendship of each of the Czechoslovak leaders. I was brought into very close contact with them, in the most difficult years of the War. I had the honour of the acquaintance of President Masaryk. I worked with M. Benes. I worked with the third of that great trio, General Stefanik, the head of the Czech Air Forces. I say with all sincerity that no Member of this House regrets more than I do the blow that has been struck at this young State, but I do not stand here in a white sheet to apologise for the sacrifice of the Czechoslovak people; I stand here to say that the facts were too strong, that the facts were irresistible. I do not go back to the days of the Peace Treaty. In the atmosphere of the Peace Treaty it was perhaps impossible to settle better boundaries than were settled. The atmosphere was highly charged. The victors, perhaps, pressed their victory much further than would have been done in a cooler atmosphere. I do not go back to those days nearly 20 years ago, but to events of more recent times.
I say with all deliberation that, when once Germany rearmed and became powerful, and when once the Anschluss took place, the strategic frontier of the republic was turned. The Sudeten Germans looked to reunion with the Reich. [HON. MEMBERS: "Reunion?"] To union with the Reich. It was reunion with a German State. Union with the Reich was the ideal that they were determined to achieve. Further than that, we faced the fact that owing to the geographical position of Czechoslovakia it mattered not who might win or lose the war, Czechoslovakia would almost inevitably be destroyed. Some said it would be a matter of days and others said a matter of weeks, but all were agreed who had studied the strategic position that it could not be a matter of more than a month or two. In the meanwhile, the republic would have been destroyed; immense slaughter would have taken place within its boundaries; devastation would have run riot. Supposing that at the end of the war we emerged the victors—and I have always believed, as every Member in this House believes, that in the final result we should emerge the victors—then we should be confronted with a position in which Czechoslovakia as we know it to-day would have been destroyed, and I do not believe that the negotiators of the peace treaty in any conditions would ever recreate its old frontiers.
Yes, Sir; I gladly answer that question. From May onwards, and, indeed, from a much earlier date. I remember making myself, when I was Foreign Secretary, representations to the Czechoslovak Government that they must settle this Sudeten question. My right hon. Friend the Member for. Warwick and Leamington pressed them even more strongly than I did. From May onwards we have continually pressed them and told them that it was vital in their own interests and in the interest of the peace of Europe that this question should be settled.
No, Sir. Let the House remember the course of events. They moved very swiftly. I agree that the President of the Czechoslovak Government was placed in a very difficult position, but I cannot help saying that, if he had acted more quickly——
Lord Runciman himself said that events might take that course. He said that they had moved so quickly that a de facto self-determination had already taken place, and the Germans and the Czechs would never live together within the boundaries of the same State. I claim that, in the face of these hard, irrepressible facts, in certainly a few weeks, or at the most a few months, Czechoslovakia would be overrun and destroyed, and, whatever might be the subsequent result of the world war, I claim that we took the only course that was open to a responsible Government.
It is interesting to note that, with all the criticisms that we have heard from hon. Members opposite, no one yet has suggested an alternative. The Leader of the Opposition criticised the Government in its earlier policy, but he did not say that, if he had been in the position in which we found ourselves, he would have given the Czechs different advice from the advice which we gave them.
I can answer the right hon. Gentleman. You say, the position in which you found yourselves. I quite agree. The Government had put themselves in such a position. The point I made was precisely the same as the point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the St. George's Division of Westminster, and that was that a clear declaration earlier on would have saved the situation. The point I put just now to the right hon. Gentleman is that it was the duty of France and this country to have said "We are standing by Czechoslovakia" or to have said to Czechoslovakia "We cannot stand by you; make your own terms." You did neither.
The right hon. Gentleman has the right to his own opinions; so have I to mine. I said to the House, and I say it again, that, having had some share in these negotiations during the last three weeks, I am certain that if we had gone further than we did there would have been a world war in progress to-day. I claim that we took the only course that could have been taken by a responsible Government. I claim further that what we did was not only essential for world peace, but that it was essential for the Czechoslovak Republic itself. If we had not taken this course the republic would have been destroyed and its citizens massacred. I claim that the course we have taken enables the Czechoslovak Republic to survive. I do not take the view that the international guarantee will be useless. I do not take the view that the Czechoslovak Republic, when it no longer has within its hounds these minority problems, need be weaker than it is to-day. As I said just now, its strategic frontier had already been turned by the Austrian Anschluss. I myself believe that the international guarantee in which we have taken part will more than compensate for the loss of a strategic frontier that in any case could not have prevented the destruction, owing to geographical reasons, of the Czechoslovak Republic.
The right hon. Gentleman told us a little while ago that it was strategically impossible for the army of France or of this country to protect the Czechs in their original position from being overrun and the bulk of their country destroyed. Now it is said that the international guarantee we are prepared to give will in some way be effective. Will he explain how it is that if it was not possible to protect the Czechs before, the new guarantee will be any more effective?
Yes, Sir. I draw a clear distinction between the Czechoslovakia of the future when these sources of trouble, these minority questions, have been solved and the Czechoslovakia of to-day, which has within its bounds this constant source of destruction. Further than that, the guarantee that I contemplate is a guarantee that I believe will be more effective than either the Franco-Czech Treaty or the Soviet-Czech Treaty. I contemplate a guarantee in which all the great Powers will, in one way or another, take part.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman opposite who asked me a specific question that we do not in any way contemplate the exclusion of Russia. I believe that the guarantee, coupled, it may be, with pacts of non-aggression given by this country, France, Russia, Germany and Italy, with the minorities question settled in Czechoslovakia, may make the new Republic as safe as Switzerland has been for many generations in the past on the Continent of Europe. I claim that in these circumstances we were right to give the advice that we gave to the Czechoslovak Government.
Here let me answer another of the questions of the hon. Gentleman opposite. He gave an account, I understood, taken from a pamphlet of Professor Seton Watson, of the document that we sent to Prague. I can tell him that it was in almost every respect a totally inaccurate description of the representations that we made to the Czechoslovak Government.
Why should this be a matter for consideration? It is a relevant document. We have been given other documents, and what is the objection to saying at once that it shall be given? It is a very important document, and why should it not be laid and this House have the information?
There is no question whatever that the account that was given by Professor Seton Watson is substantially, I might almost say totally, inaccurate. Having given this advice to the Czechoslovak Government, it was our bounden duty to obtain the best terms possible for the cession of the territory. Let us remember the conditions under which these negotiations took place. They took place upon the hair's breadth point of a European war. There were many points connected with them that everyone concerned would have wished to have had more time for consideration. Every one of the questions asked me by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland were questions that were well worthy of attention. Here was the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister of France upon the brink of a great catastrophe, the last possibility of pulling Europe back from appalling disaster. I say that in the circumstances it was a great credit to the two Prime Ministers that they were able to substitute for unlimited and uncontrolled military invasion, a limited and controlled cession of territory under the supervision of an international body. Almost every one of the questions that were asked me by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland will come within the purview of the International Commission—the transfer of the Czechs and Germans in their respective districts, the details of plebiscites—here let me tell him that it is contemplated that the plebiscites should work both ways—he asked that specific question—the question of compensation. All those questions will come within the purview of the International Commission, and there is provision for the International Commission to refer certain questions to the four great Powers.
We really must understand this. Is it any good saying that the International Commission will take into account the question of the guns? These fortress lines are in course of occupation in these days; some of them are already occupied by the German army. I ask whether the Czechs have been content to leave the guns behind?
Yes, Sir, it is in the Articles of the Agreement. There are two Articles. There is Article 5, which says:
The International Commission referred to in paragraph 3 will determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories will be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same Commission will fix the conditions in which the plebiscite is to be held. The Commission will also fix a date, not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite will be held.
That is the clause dealing with the plebiscite. The Supplementary Declaration deals with the other question:
All questions which may arise out of the transfer of the territory shall be considered as coming within the terms of reference to the International Commission.
Every one of these questions will come within the purview of the International Commission.
I have asked a question and I want a reply. We are not in Hitler Germany yet. I ask the Home Secretary or, if he is unable to reply, I ask the Prime Minister who was at these discussions, which the Home Secretary was not, Do the installations, which it is laid down the Czechs are not permitted to damage—do they or do they not include guns in the fortress lines? That admits of an answer, Yes or No.
The provision is that there is to be no damage to fixed installations. The International Commission will settle how these installations are to be disposed of. That seems to me to be a complete answer.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington asked a question about the prisoners who had been either kidnapped across the frontier or kept as hostages in Germany. I understand there is a report, which is not yet confirmed, that some of these prisoners have already been released. I can assure my right hon. Friend that both the British and French Members on the Commission will attach great importance to this point and do their utmost to see that there is reciprocity in this matter. I know that there are many hon. Members opposite who do not believe in any undertaking that Herr Hitler or the German Government give in this connection. I am inclined to think that that is a very bad way to deal with this urgent and difficult question. I believe—only events will prove whether or not I am foolishly optimistic—judging from the order that has been maintained so far in the occupation of the first zone by the German Army, and I have my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's confirmation on this point—that the Germans do intend to carry out these conditions in a fair and reasonable manner.
Events will prove whether the right hon. Gentleman opposite or I am wrong. Meanwhile, I do claim, and it is a claim of which no hon. Member on this side of the House need feel ashamed, that we have substituted for an unlimited and uncontrolled military invasion a limited and controlled cession of territory. I have dealt with the first two or three questions put to me by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland.
That, again, is a question for the International Commission. A further question which the hon. Member asked was with regard to what will happen to the German islands within the new Czechoslovak State. He asked whether they would have the power to opt out of Czechoslovakia. My answer is no, they will remain in the Czechoslovak State, just as no doubt there will be enclaves of Czechs within the German area.
I end with two observations upon a different subject. First, let me say, in answer to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, that we are perfectly prepared to have our record examined as to our defence preparations. I have already given instructions at the Home Office that we should have a stocktaking of our air raid precautions to see how far——
We shall be glad to take up the challenge of the hon. Member. We are determined to fill up the gaps which have shown themselves in our defensive armour. He would not expect me to take the gloomy view of our air-raid precautions which he has just taken, but let me say that I am as conscious as anyone of the help I have received from hon. Members opposite in the field of air-raid precautions. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has been a tower of strength in the preparation of our defences for London. I think it will be found on the whole that the machine of air-raid precautions has worked well. It was a new and untried machine, and a machine dependent on the work, in many cases, of untrained volunteers. None the less the response to our appeal for help was answered from one end of the country to the other, and every hon. Member must have felt a certain measure of satisfaction that the gas masks were on the whole distributed without any hitch or delay, that within a few hours of the crisis becoming acute trenches were dug on a methodical system in our great cities and that we had ready to put into operation at a few hours notice a fairly complete system of evacuation. If we had this scheme ready it was not a little due to the great assistance of the committee presided over by the right hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson). I take this opportunity of saying to the House that although we have not, for obvious reasons, published the report, we shall be publishing it in a short time, and the House will then find that not only have we accepted the recommendations in the report, but that we have put almost every one into operation at once. I have said that to-night to show hon. Members opposite that we do not fear an investigation of the position as far as air-raid precautions are concerned. We shall welcome it.
We have learned much by experience and we have now to apply that experience in the future. So must it be with the other defensive services. We have to take stock of the position, and whilst we are prepared to go on the line set by the Prime Minister of attempting wherever it is possible to find a peaceful solution to the problems which confront Europe, we are not going into the future blindfold. We have no intention of limiting one jot or tittle of our precautions until we have had an opportunity of testing in actual practice the strength of the conclusions we have reached. Side by side, therefore, with the persistent following of this policy of peace we shall continue our preparations to keep ourselves, and to make ourselves, strong. I believe that we may find that, contrary to the forebodings of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—[HON. MEMBERS: "And behind you."]—we are embarking on a new period in which we shall face problems that ought to have been faced years ago, and we shall find that it is possible, even though we disapprove of almost every method adopted in the dictatorship countries, for a Europe to exist in peace with democracies and dictatorships side by side.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in a picturesque passage, spoke of the Prime Minister as the captain who had saved the ship which his bad seamanship had driven almost on to the rocks. When the time comes for the verdict to be given upon the Prime Minister's conduct, let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that none of us here fears that verdict. I believe that the criticisms to which we have listened in the House to-day very little represent the great body of feeling. I believe the great body of our fellow-citizens not only in this country but in the Dominions and in the whole Empire, are grateful to the Prime Minister for the efforts that he has made. They are grateful to the Prime Minister for having persistently sustained the policy of peace and mediation. They do not take the view that war is inevitable. They believe that under his wise guidance we may succeed in creating a new Europe in which men and women can go about their business in peace and security.