European Situation.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 13th April 1939.

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Photo of Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom

The hon. Member ceaselessly interrupts, but we shall no doubt have an opportunity of hearing his views. Surely this is a time when we might listen to each other in peace and quiet in order to learn each other's views. I think we are united in the desire to preserve peace not only for our own people but also for the rest of the peoples of the world.

This is a time for calm consideration and restrained speech. I deeply regretted that we should have had to listen to the exchange of wit and humour between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping and the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor). Was it for that that this meeting of Parliament was summoned at a time of national crisis? Surely there is something more serious to be discussed. I welcome the statement that the Prime Minister has made; I believe it is going to be of immense advantage to the cause of peace throughout the world. I particularly welcome the assurances which he was able to give with regard to Greece. I say that we should guarantee the integrity of Turkey as well as that of Greece. There is not a nation in the world that does not know, and has not known since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that any attack upon the Low Countries—the Holland and Belgium of to-day—is a direct attack upon this country, and has been so considered for centuries. Any adventure in those regions has always met with an immediate reaction from this country. The world, as the right hon. Gentleman said, has grown smaller, and I believe the time has come to make it clear to the world that any attack upon the integrity of Greece and Turkey is in fact an attack—a deliberate attack—on the security and interests of this country in the same way as any attack on Holland and Belgium. I believe that that is a commitment into which we ought to enter. I welcome also the assurance that the Prime Minister has given with regard to Rumania. I think it will have a steadying effect in Europe at the present time.

The Leader of the Opposition said that he was disappointed with what the Prime Minister said. I wonder why? The right hon. Gentleman and his friends, quite rightly from their point of view, have disagreed with the policy of the Government. I do not disagree with the policy of the Government. Although the policy of understanding may have failed—temporarily, as I believe—I believe that the Prime Minister was perfectly right. I believe that he gained for this country something of immeasurable value to it, namely, six months' breathing space. But the policy which the Government are now trying to follow differs from the policy which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite have advocated in the past —the policy of collective security—in one essential particular. As I understand it, the failure of the policy of collective security was due to the fact that those nations which were joined together in the League of Nations were not really prepared to implement their undertakings. That is why the policy failed. It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley said, that at the time of the Abyssinian crisis France never gave any indication that she was ready and willing to apply full sanctions. That is an old story now, and it is no use raking it up again. The policy which the Government are now striving to carry out seems to me to be one of defensive alliance—an alliance of nations who are prepared to implement their undertakings, who are prepared to do what they say they will do. That is where it differs from the policy of collective security. Under that policy nations who were members of the League of Nations gave undertakings and manifestly failed to carry them out.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping seemed to me to criticise the dispositions of the Fleet in the Mediterranean during the past few weeks. It may have been right or it may have been wrong to have the ships of the Mediterranean Fleet where they were, but at any rate, when we are being accused by other countries of following a militarist policy, and a policy of encirclement, it seems to me that the fact that during the last few weeks our ships were carrying out their ordinary routine programmes in the Mediterranean is an earnest to other nations that at any rate our intentions must have been entirely pacific. I think it should be made clear, so far as speech in this House can make it clear, that, although this country is rightly incensed at the turn of events, there is no desire here to carry out any policy which could be called a policy of encirclement of either Germany or Italy. We desire to live in peace, and we desire that other nations should have precisely the same freedom which we ask for ourselves. We desire that the German nation should be allowed to fulfil its destiny in peace. But we ask at the same time that it shall allow other nations weaker than itself also to fulfil their destinies in peace. Undoubtedly, this Debate is taking place at a time of great international tension, when people's minds are deeply exercised in regard to the future. I am not one who believes that war is inevitable. I do not believe it is beyond the ability of statesmen throughout the world even now to find a means of accommodation between the nations of the world. I believe that a resolute and determined front against aggression will have the desired effect. But, having shown the resolution, I believe that we have at the same time, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley said, to show our willingness to have a conference of all the nations of the world, in an endeavour to see whether it is not possible to find a peaceable settlement of the difficulties which divide nation from nation at the present time.

Considerable reference has been made during the Debate to the question of Russia. I have never been one who would deny to any country the right to its own form of government, even though that form of government may not commend itself to me. If people wish to live under a certain form of government, it is their own business. I do not believe that, at this time of all times, it would be right to allow any ideological differences to come between any nations that are desirous of banding themselves together in an effort to prevent aggression. But we must bear in mind that, however anxious we ourselves may be to co-operate with the great Russian nation, it may not be quite so easy to smooth out the differances which exist between Russia and other nations with which we desire to be allied. I think that hon. Gentleman opposite, when they criticise the Government in this respect, might bear in mind the very great difficulties which manifest themselves in finding a common basis of agreement among nations between many of whom there exist deep-seated and long established differences and hatreds. Therefore, I think the assurance of the Prime Minister can be taken to mean exactly what it says—that every effort is being made by the Government at the present time to find agreement between those nations that are prepared to band themselves together to resist aggression. I believe that the policy of the Government is perfectly right; I believe it has been right all along. [Interruption.] I do not say it must always be right, but I think that, if people look back in an impartial manner to the past few years, they will agree that the policy of the Government has been right.

Hon. Members opposite are always asking for conciliation, for conference. They had it long ago. Is it any fault of the Prime Minister that the policy which he tried to carry out at Munich has not succeeded as he would have wished it to succeed? It was not for want of his trying. He was doing exactly what right hon. Gentlemen opposite have always said in the past ought to be done, and have demanded that the Government should do. Munich was a success if for no other reason than that it gave us six priceless months in which to prepare for any emergency which might arise. Whatever dark days may come, this country, of all countries in the world, is the best fitted to withstand them. We have resources which are incomparable, and, above all, we have a spirit in our people which is unbeatable, and will remain unbeaten. The biggest contribution that each of us can individually make towards bringing about peace in the world is that we should show to the rest of the world that in this country we are sinking our personal differences and are united behind the Government of the day. The country is united. It wants peace and is desirous of helping other nations towards peace; but at the same time it is resolute in its own defence and in the defence of others who are too weak to defend themselves, and it will not allow any petty party difference of opinion to impair the united front which the present times demand.