Last week, in speaking of the announcement about the Russo-German pact, I observed that it contained a suggestion that some peace proposals were likely to be put forward, and I said that, if such proved to be the case, we should examine them in consultation with the Governments of the Dominions and of the French Republic in the light of certain relevant considerations. Since then, the German Chancellor has made his speech, and the consultations I referred to have taken place. I must now state the position of His Majesty's Government. Before, however, I inform the House of the results of our examination of the speech, I must ask hon. Members to recall for a few moments the background against which his proposals appear.
At the end of August His Majesty's Government were actively engaged in correspondence with the German Government on the subject of Poland. It was evident that the situation was dangerous, but we believed that it should be possible to arrive at a peaceful solution if passions were not deliberately stimulated and we felt quite certain that the German Government could, if they desired, influence their friends in Danzig in such a way as to bring about a relaxation of tension and so create conditions favourable to calm and sober negotiation. It will be remembered that in the course of this correspondence the German Chancellor expressed his wish for improved relations between our two countries as soon as the Polish question was settled, to which His Majesty's Government replied that they fully shared the wish, but that everything turned on the nature and method of settlement with Poland. We pointed out that a forcible solution would inevitably involve the fulfilment of our obligations to Poland and we begged the German Chancellor to enter into direct discussions with the Polish Government in which the latter Government had already expressed its willingness to take part.
As everyone knows, these efforts on the part of His Majesty's Government to avoid war and the use of force were in vain. In August last the President of the United States made an appeal to Herr Hitler to settle his differences with Poland by pacific means in order to prevent war breaking out in Europe. At about the same time the King of the Belgians, the Queen of the Netherlands, His Holiness the Pope, and Signor Mussolini all tendered their good offices, but equally in vain. It is evident now that Herr Hitler was determined to make war on Poland, and whatever sincerity there may have been in his wish to come to an understanding with Great Britain it was not strong enough to induce him to postpone an attack upon his neighbour. On 1st September Herr Hitler violated the Polish frontier and invaded Poland, beating down by force of arms and machinery the resistance of the Polish nation and army. As attested by neutral observers, Polish towns and villages were bombed and shelled into ruins; and civilians were slaughtered wholesale, in contravention, at any rate in the later stages, of all the undertakings of which Herr Hitler now speaks with pride as though he had fulfilled them.
It is after this wanton act of aggression which has cost so many Polish and German lives, sacrificed to satisfy his own insistence on the use of force, that the German Chancellor now puts forward his proposals. If there existed any expectation that in these proposals would be included some attempt to make amends for this grievous crime against humanity, following so soon upon the violation of the rights of the Czecho-Slovak nation, it has been doomed to disappointment. The Polish State and its leaders are covered with abuse. What the fate of that part of Poland which Herr Hitler describes as the German sphere of interest is to be does not clearly emerge from his speech, but it is evident that he regards it as a matter for the consideration of Germany alone, to be settled solely in accordance with German interests. The final shaping of this territory and the question of the restoration of a Polish State are, in Herr Hitler's view, problems which cannot be settled by war in the West but exclusively by Russia on the one side and Germany on the other.
We must take it, then, that the proposals which the German Chancellor puts forward for the establishment of what he calls "the certainty of European security" are to be based on recognition of his conquests and of his right to do what he pleases with the conquered.
It would be impossible for Great Britain to accept any such basis without forfeiting her honour and abandoning her claim that international disputes should be settled by discussion and not by force.
The passages in the speech designed to give fresh assurances to Herr Hitler's neighbours I pass over, since they will know what value should be attached to them by reference to the similar assurances he has given in the past.
It would be easy to quote sentences from his speeches in 1935, 1936 and 1938 stating in the most definite terms his determination not to annex Austria or conclude an Anschluss with her, not to fall upon Czecho-Slovakia and not to make any further territorial claims in Europe after the Sudetenland question had been settled in September, 1938. Nor can we pass over Herr Hitler's radical departure from the long professed principles of his policy and creed, as instanced by the inclusion in the German Reich of many millions of Poles and Czechs, despite his repeated professions to the contrary, and by the pact with the Soviet Union concluded after his repeated and violent denunciations of Bolshevism.
This repeated disregard of his word and these sudden reversals of policy bring me to the fundamental difficulty in dealing with the wider proposals in the German Chancellor's speech. The plain truth is that, after our past experience, it is no longer possible to rely upon the unsupported word of the present German Government.
It is no part of our policy to exclude from her rightful place in Europe a Germany which will live in amity and confidence with other nations. On the contrary, we believe that no effective remedy can be found for the world's ills that does not take account of the just claims and needs of all countries, and whenever the time may come to draw the lines of a new peace settlement, His Majesty's Government would feel that the future would hold little hope unless such a settlement could be reached through the method of negotiation and agreement.
It was not, therefore, with any vindictive purpose that we embarked on war but simply in defence of freedom. It is not alone the freedom of the small nations that is at stake: there is also in jeopardy the peaceful existence of Great Britain, the Dominions, India, the rest of the British Empire, France, and, indeed, of all freedom-loving nations. Whatever may be the issue of the present struggle, and in whatever way it may be brought to a conclusion, the world will not be the same world that we have known before. Looking to the future we can see that deep changes will inevitably leave their mark on every field of men's thought and action, and if humanity is to guide aright the new forces that will be in operation, all nations will have their part to play.
His Majesty's Government know all too well that in modern war between great Powers victor and vanquished must alike suffer cruel loss. But surrender to wrongdoing would spell the extinction of all hope, and the annihilation of all those values of life which have through centuries been at once the mark and the inspiration of human progress.
We seek no material advantage for ourselves; we desire nothing from the German people which should offend their self-respect. We are not aiming only at victory, but rather looking beyond it to the laying of a foundation of a better international system which will mean that war is not to be the inevitable lot of every succeeding generation.
I am certain that all the peoples of Europe, including the people of Germany, long for peace, a peace which will enable them to live their lives without fear, and to devote their energies and their gifts to the development of their culture, the pursuit of their ideals and the improvement of their material prosperity. The peace which we are determined to secure, however, must be a real and settled peace, not an uneasy truce interrupted by constant alarms and repeated threats. What stands in the way of such a peace? It is the German Government, and the German Government alone, for it is they who by repeated acts of aggression have robbed all Europe of tranquillity and implanted in the hearts of all their neighbours an ever-present sense of insecurity and fear.
I am glad to think that there is complete agreement between the views of His Majesty's Government and those of the French Government. Hon. Members will have read the speech which was broadcast by M. Daladier last Tuesday. "We have," he said, "taken up arms against aggression; we shall not lay them down until we have sure guarantees of security —a security which cannot be called in question every six months."
Advantage has also been taken of the presence of the Polish Foreign Minister— whom we have been glad to welcome to this country—to consult with the Polish Government, and I am happy to say that we have found entire identity of view to exist between us.
I would sum up the attitude of His Majesty's Government as follows:
Herr Hitler rejected all suggestions for peace until he had overwhelmed Poland, as he had previously overthrown Czechoslovakia. Peace conditions cannot be acceptable which begin by condoning aggression.
Even if Herr Hitler's proposals were more closely defined and contained suggestions to right these wrongs, it would still be necessary to ask by what practical means the German Government intend to convince the world that aggression will cease and that pledges will be kept. Past experience has shown that no reliance can be placed upon the promises of the present German Government. Accordingly, acts—not words alone— must be forthcoming before we, the British peoples, and France, our gallant and trusted Ally, would be justified in ceasing to wage war to the utmost of our strength. Only when world confidence is restored will it be possible to find—as we would wish to do with the aid of all who show good will—solutions of those questions which disturb the world, which stand in the way of disarmament, retard the restoration of trade and prevent the improvement of the well-being of the peoples.
There is thus a primary condition to be satisfied. Only the German Government can fulfil it. If they will not, there can as yet be no new or better world order of the kind for which all nations yearn.
The issue is, therefore, plain. Either the German Government must give convincing proof of the sincerity of their desire for peace by definite acts and by the provision of effective guarantees of their intention to fulfil their undertakings, or we must persevere in our duty to the end. It is for Germany to make her choice.
I welcome the statement that has just been made by the Prime Minister. It has, I think, put forward with great clarity the essential difficulties of dealing with what have been called the peace proposals of Herr Hitler. The first thing is that they are made by a man whose word is utterly worthless, who offers nothing but vague future promises; the second is that they are made after brutal and unprovoked aggression and are based on the acceptance of the result of that aggression as a fait accompli; and the third is that there is no indication of any change of heart or mind on which hopes for the future could be founded. We are asked to condone a crime and trust the criminal. No British Government, whether from the point of view of principle or from the point of view of prudence, could make any answer of a different kind from that which the Prime Minister has made. I believe that the people of this country will endorse it and that those of other countries will approve of it.
This country went to the extreme limit of forbearance before it took up arms. It has shown abundantly its desire for peace. It has shown its willingness to discuss every grievance. At any time, if Herr Hitler had wished it, he could have discussed problems of frontiers, problems of colonies, problems of raw materials or problems of disarmament. He has chosen instead the path of violence and force, and his professions of good will to various nations have proved to be only the prelude to aggression. It is, therefore, clear that what is required is something more than a suggestion of terms of peace. There must be the conditions existing under which you can have peace. I am sure that everyone in this country is open to consider any way by which hostilities may be brought to a close, provided that we are going to carry out our honourable undertakings. I think the German people should know that at any time they can get peace, but they must abandon the method of violence and aggression. The German people must realise that they have rulers who have forfeited every title to be trusted. Abandonment of aggression is not a term of a peace settlement; it is an indispensable condition.
We of the Labour party have taken up a definite stand against wanton aggression and for the rule of law. We are convinced that there is no prospect of enduring peace until we get rid of violence. The attitude of our party was, I think, stated most admirably by my colleague the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) on, another occasion, and I could not hope to find better words than his. We are resolved to carry on this struggle until we have secured the necessary conditions for a peaceful world, and in doing this we are acting in complete harmony with the policy of our party, affirmed and reaffirmed at conference after conference. It is impossible for anyone at the present time to discuss usefully the detailed terms of a European settlement, but we can and should affirm principles, and the first principle is that we cannot any longer endure a world that is subject at all times to violence, a world in which there is no rule of law. We can, I think, lay down the principles on which we think an enduring peace can be made. For our part, we laid down those principles long ago, and we see no reason to alter the principles of Labour's peace policy. We must get a new world, we must get a Europe in which the rights of all nations are recognised.
I was glad to hear the Prime Minister say, in his speech, that in arriving at any peace, we should do it in consultation with the German people—we should be considering the future of the German people. We are not standing for a Carthaginian peace, but we are standing for a Europe in which, while the German people will have their rights, all other nations will have their rights as well. There is a great deal of propaganda about Germany having room to live. The Poles must have room to live, the Czechs must have room to live. All the small nations as well as the great nations have their contribution to make, and the size of a nation or of its territory bears no indication of the contribution that it has made to mankind—witness Palestine and Greece. If we are standing for that, we are standing against domination, we are standing against Imperialism, and we must also stand for the only conditions under which it is possible that those smaller nations could exist, and that is a system of collective security in which they do not have to rely only on their own strength. If we want to build up a new Europe, it must be a more closely coordinated Europe.
We stand for disarmament. Herr Hitler talks of disarmament, but you must have disarmament of the mind first of all, and you must have security if you are going to get disarmament. Mr. Arthur Henderson, who did so much in the formation of our foreign policy, laid it down, and the three years' struggle at the Disarmament Conference confirms irrefutably the experience of succeeding years, and that is that no disarmament is possible except in exchange for really effective measures for collective defence. Those are the principles that we would lay down. We hear talk of Colonies. We do not believe in the carving-up of Colonies or in the exploitation of Colonies by any Power. We believe in Colonies being for the people who live there, and in the use of all the resources of the world in the interests of all the peoples of the world. We believe that we can build up a new world, but it must be a new world based on principles, and those are the principles of democracy, that regard the rights of others as well as our own rights.
I think that we should let the German people know that this choice is before them. The choice before them is not of being defeated in war and disappearing as effective members of the European comity of nations. They have the choice of stopping this war, they have the choice of contributing to a great Europe, and they know that this country is standing simply for the conditions of peace. But until we get these, until we get people on whose word we can rely, we must with resolution pursue this struggle, because no patched-up peace which is only going to lead to another war, no patched-up peace which will leave only an uneasy world staggering under a huge burden of armaments, will content us. We are in this struggle. We must see that we come out of this struggle with nothing less than a new world.
Like the Leader of the Opposition, my hon. Friends and I welcome the Prime Minister's statement. I came here to-day prepared to subject Herr Hitler's speech to a somewhat detailed analysis, but it has been so fully and fairly criticised by the Prime Minister that, for my part, I do not want to detain the House by travelling over the same ground. My hon. Friends and I agree with the response which the Prime Minister has given this afternoon to Herr Hitler's speech.
The Prime Minister said—and I thought it was a pregnant truth—that the world, at the end of this struggle, will not be the same world that we have known before. We cannot now go back to Europe as it was. A new dispensation is inevitable. It may be based on force and tyranny, and let us face the fact that all the indications in Europe at the present time are that it will be based on force and tyranny, but it will not be so based unless the democracies allow their will to be paralysed by fear and irresolution. If we stand firm, we can now win the opportunity, of which we must steel ourselves by prayer and thought to be worthy, of laying the foundations of Europe on a basis of freedom and consent. Once more, wherever wrong has been done in recent years, the name of Britain is being heard with hope and fear. Let us resolve not to weaken or falter in our task, but to ensure that those hopes, which are so deeply cherished, of Britain's action will be fulfilled.
One of the difficulties with which some people have come to me about our present position I would like to tell the House quite frankly. They say to me, "One of our war aims is the destruction of Hitlerism; another is to assert the right of nations to choose their own form of government. Are those two aims consistent? If the Germans want Hitlerism, have we the right or the power to demand its destruction?" Surely the answer is this, that we recognise the right of a nation to govern itself in its own way. even to choose a dictatorship if it wants it. We may be horrified by the results. We may see the loathsome spectres of racial and religious persecution rearing their ugly heads. We may witness the horrors of secret police oppression and of concentration camps. We have the right and the duty to condemn these manifestations of barbarism, but it is not for us to chastise another people for its own misgovernment or to go to war on behalf of Pastor Niemuller or the German Jews. The German people must find means of setting their own house in order and we must recognise their rights of self-government in their own country. But when they seek to impose their tyranny on their neighbours, the peace and freedom of every other nation, including our own, are threatened. To shrink from any sacrifice to stop the spread of Nazi tyranny would be to betray not only our country, but our democratic ideals and our hopes of establishing peace in the world.
Accordingly, if the idea of conquest is inherent in Herr Hitler's policy and system, as I have frequently contended in this House, citing "Mein Kampf" in support of my case, it follows that Hitlerism must be destroyed. There is only one man who can prove the contrary, and that man is Herr Hitler himself. Let him march his troops out of all the countries which he has acquired by violence during the last two years. Let him agree that the freedom of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia shall be restored at once and that the people of Austria shall be allowed to decide their own destiny by plebiscite with full guarantees for the free expression of the Austrian people's will. Then, and then only, will it be possible for us to contemplate negotiating peace with Herr Hitler. If His Majesty's Government agree with that, I would urge them to proclaim by every means in their power to the German people and to the world at large that if this war goes on it is not because we have any territorial claims upon them— we have none; nor because we wish them ill—we wish them freedom and prosperity; nor because we want to dictate peace to them, because, as the Prime Minister has said, we want them to join with us in rebuilding Europe on a foundation of justice and good faith; but merely because conquest and tyranny over other nations is implicit in Hitlerism and because Herr Hitler insists on maintaining his conquest of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia and on imposing his yoke on Czechs and Poles.
At this stage, or at any rate at a very early stage, I hope His Majesty's Government may go a little further than they have gone to-day in the definition of the aims of British policy. I whole-heartedly agree with what the Leader of the Opposition said and that we must not press the Government to go too far into details. There would be danger there. I hope, however, that the Government will, as opportunities continue for discussion with our French friends and the Dominions, gradually find it possible to add a little more definition to those aims of policy which the Prime Minister announced today and which I support. In the course of our Debates on Foreign affairs during the last two years I regret that I have not often found it possible to agree with the Prime Minister, but we have frequently agreed on one thing, that is, in deprecating the use of question-begging phrases— or perhaps I should say the question-begging use of phrases, such as "collective security," on the one hand, and "appeasement" on the other. Now there is a new word which a great many people are uttering, very often meaning different things by it, but by which men vaguely think that they mean the same thing as their neighbours. That word is "federation." Yet surely it is clear that in the modern shrunken world we shall never be able either to avert war or to make the best use of the resources of the world in the interests of its people and for the enrichment of our civilisation unless we are willing, both in the political and in the economic sphere, to consent to a substantial limitation upon national sovereignty. We must not ignore the difficulties. We must realise that if the British Empire refuses to accept federation there will be great difficulty in persuading the much more diverse peoples of Europe to do so. We must study the obstacles with which the authors of the Covenant of the League and M. Briand at a later stage were confronted, but we must not be deterred by those difficulties.
So I hope that His Majesty's Government may soon find themselves in a position to proclaim—I think this afternoon it is true to say that His Majesty's Government have proclaimed—that their war aims are not merely negative, but that they are fighting for the liberation of Europe from Nazi tyranny; and—I would like them to add—from the burden and danger of national armaments; for the rebuilding of a European order based upon law, justice and good faith, and equipped with organs of consultation and, within limits which could only be prescribed by an international conference, of government and supervision; and with courts of law and equity with adequate force at their disposal to assert their authority.
The Archbishop of York spoke words of inspiration to the country in his broadcast a week ago. Speaking of the attempt in Germany to make the Nazi ideology into a religion and to exalt Herr Hitler as a god, he said this:
Against the deified nation of the Nazis our people have taken their stand as a dedicated nation
dedicafed, as he explained, to the pursuit of the ideals of freedom and justice, justice to Czechs, justice to Poles and justice to Germans, too; and to the pursuit of peace and the common weal of mankind. That was surely a noble lead for a great ecclesiastic to give. Those are the words with which the hungry sheep of this country are waiting to be fed, but they want them in the form of pledges of action from their responsible political leaders.
It was a good statement that the Prime Minister made to-day, and again I say I hope that it will be repeated and repeated by every political leader, not only in this House, but from public platforms and with increasing definition. If we have to wander in the wilderness for a season, let our leaders proclaim their vision of the promised land. I am not asking them to give us smooth phrases like "A war to end war," or to suggest that in the mere mumbling of comfortable words like "federation" we shall find salvation. Let them tell us that there are savage tribes and walled cities in the promised land, and all kinds of intractable problems to be solved. But let them assure us that we are not merely moving through the wilderness in a circle, hoping to return in safety, but after terrible losses in blood and treasure, to the old imperialist world of bitter national feuds and jealousies; but that they His Majesty's Government, in cooperation with the French Government, are planning to offer Europe a new dispensation, in the shaping of which neutral nations, and Germany herself, may have their share, a dispensation which will give freedom and justice to all nations and will safeguard the great traditions and the moral values of our civilisation.
I wish, first of all, to say that, like everyone in this House I and the friends with whom I am usually associated view with as much horror as does everybody else the aggression, the persecution and the slaughter which have taken place in Poland; but while we may express our sympathy with the Polish people there are those of us who cannot accept the doctrine that by more slaughter the wrong which has been done will be rectified. It is impossible for me to understand how it is that hon. and right hon. Members who take part in these Debates do not appear to have learned anything from the past. I heard the other night the broadcast by the Secretary of State for the Dominions, at the close of which he said that he and others had fought in the last war to wipe out militarism and to make Europe a safe place to live in. I thought the right hon. Gentleman's statement was a good, straightforward, clear-cut statement of the views, especially, of the young men who fought in the last war. He said that their hopes had been blighted—I am not using his exact words—and went on to say: "This time we must see that we accomplish our aim." No hon. or right hon. Member can stand up in this House and say with truth that he can give the young manhood of to-day the guarantee that after the slaughter of another 10,000,000, with other millions maimed and bruised, the future of Europe will be built on the foundations described by the Prime Minister in a passage which was one of the best which I have heard him deliver, picturing a new world and a new condition of things negotiated with those with whom Britain and France have been fighting and with the rest of Europe. If I could believe for a moment that out of this holocaust of slaughter that sort of thing could come, I should never attempt to speak against the proposition of carrying this war to what is regarded as the bitter end.
I do not begin to think that any of those who take the view which the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Dominions take enjoy saying what they say and asking the young men to carry on in this struggle. What I really cannot understand is their mentality. I do not understand how men who are infinitely better educated than I am can dare to stand up at this period in the history of the world and say that out of this universal slaughter, out of the hatred that will be engendered, out of all the horrors which will take place, some good, new edifice of peace and security can be erected. It is because I think that, that I am also here to say something else. I have not been able for domestic reasons— nothing to do with myself—to attend any of the meetings which have been spoken about to-day, but I have travelled about England a very great deal during the last month and I have met people at first hand under all sorts of conditions, at small meetings and in little groups, and I want to tell the House what is bewildering them.
Although I am sure—and I do not want to belittle this in any way—that the overwhelming mass of the people in the country will stand by the Government whatever happens, what they are asking is this. "If we are going to fight aggression, where is this fighting to stop? Are you going to stop the years' old aggression of Japan in China? Are you going to restore Albania?" I should also like the Prime Minister to consider this: he may not be able to answer it to-day, but perhaps he can answer it when he makes his statement next week. What I am continually asked, and what I will undertake to say other hon. and right hon. Members have been asked, is, "What is the Government's attitude towards the Russian invasion of Poland?" We have heard very little about it to-day. Also, what is their attitude towards the Lithuanian Government taking over Vilna? Is it proposed that the war is to be carried on until the Russians are driven back to the old frontier and the Lithuanians are driven once more out of Vilna? It is not fair to the Polish people or the Polish Government to say, "We are going to have a restored Polish Government." What the people in this country are asking, and what the Polish people are entitled to know, is whether, when the British Government say, "We are going to restore Poland," it means a restoration of Poland as it was before the war started. We have not heard a word about that.
The next thing is that the coming of Russia into this business and her action in the Baltic has changed the situation in the minds of many people. They do not understand what the end of it is going to be—not even the beginning of it. I do not want to do more this afternoon than to call attention to these facts. I would not be worthy of being a Member of this House if I did not bring them to the notice of the Government. You can hear men speak on trams, in trains, in the streets, and in buses, and this question is continually being asked: "What do we mean when we say that we shall fight on for the restoration of Poland?" That question ought to be answered.
I want to make one other statement. I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he does not claim that France and Britain alone must settle what the terms of peace are to be, whether they carry this thing to an end or it is ended before. The smaller countries of the world, especially in Europe, have as big an interest in this business as have any of the larger countries. I went round Europe just before this horrible condition of things broke out. It is all very well to say that these small countries will lean upon us and will look to us, but they have suffered, and through no fault of their own. When they have been asked the question whether they would engage in war or not they have always said, to me at any rate: "How can we answer, in the face of the great Powers when they start to move?" Just now, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and the Baltic States are living in a condition of tension. I would like to do publicly what I did privately, appeal to President Roosevelt and to the King of the Belgians to make one more effort, one more supreme effort at this moment, to bring the nations together. If the belligerents will not come, I wish the neutrals would come together. As our Government look at present upon Russia as a neutral, Russia could attend that conference. Let them hammer out proposals for dealing with the situation as it is now. I believe that they have the best right to do this.
I believe, further, that you cannot overlook the fact that Lord Halifax in another place and the Prime Minister today at that Box spoke of the new world into which we shall emerge. I have said in this House, and I repeat this afternoon, that we are living in a new world now. For years this world of men and women has been advancing, and there has been progress in regard to economic conditions and in the power that man possesses over Nature. There has been this terrible dilemma, that we can produce abundantly everything we need, without being able to distribute it. The Russian Soviet Government have been trying their terrific experiments during these 20 years. They have nothing for which to thank any of us in their working out of those experiments, and whether we like it or not, they stand for a new economic and financial order. I believe we and the world will be making a tremendous mistake unless some effort is made to break down the idea that our country at this juncture, for some reason which they do not understand, should carry on this war. I feel more strongly than I can say that any and every opportunity should be taken to end the war. I hope that the neutrals will take some action if our own Government do not do so.
I have listened to the two statements made this week by the Secretary of State for War and the Secretary of State for Air. I heard the First Lord of the Admiralty over the wireless. I know now the tremendous effort that our country has made. I wonder whether the day will ever come when a similar effort will be made to sweep away the bad economic, conditions and the poverty and destitution in our own country, and whether there will ever be a day when Ministers will stand at that Box and say: "Now we are building a new England, a new Britain and a new world." I heard the Minister, at the end of his eloquent statement last night, give a picture of the soldiers in France, and I heard him say something like this, that the men were singing the old songs and making the old jokes. Thank God they have the courage to do that, under these conditions.
I have another vision; I have spoken of it in this House many a time when fighting about soldiers' pensions and other things. I have a picture that will never die out of my memory—it will not, perhaps, be long for it to have that opportunity. It is of the young men who marched round Bow and Bromley in 1914. Most of those boys I had known as babies. The majority of them never came back. Many of those who did come back were bruised and battered and we had to fight like mad to get them any sort of conditions at all. The records of this House will prove that. I have told the House this many times; I will tell the House something else now. I have now seen the sons of those men, whom also I have known as babies, march and re-march, singing the old songs and going again to those shambles. If I could be convinced that out of war and slaughter, and out of all this bestial business, a true peace would come, I would go out and cheer them and beg them to go and join; and if I had the strength, I would go and join with them. But I know from the bottom of my soul, because I am convinced by experience, by what I have read and by experience in my own lifetime, that you cannot overcome evil by evil and you cannot cast out force by force.
Because I know those things, I am bound this afternoon to say that I regret that we cannot go one step further and say to the Russian, the American and all the Governments: "Let us come together and try to hammer out some way of peace." You may tell me a thousand times that Hitler is this, that or the other, and you may tell me that no one's words are to be trusted; but when you speak of democracy, just remember India. I am sorry that the First Lord of the Admiralty is not here. When we fought for the miserable Measure that is at present operating in India, he led 70 or 80 Members against that tiny bit of democracy for India. To-day, if we want to show the world that we really believe in democracy, it is our business to apply our principles where we are capable of doing so.
The whole House always appreciates the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), but I should like him to consider what sort of world it would be if we were led to seek terms with Hitler and Russia, at practically any cost, because of the suffering that war would bring. It would mean that every promise that has been made, not only from this Front Bench but from the leaders of the Opposition—the pledges to destroy aggression, the pledges to destroy the Nazi system, the pledges that Poland should be assisted if she suffered invasion—all would be broken. Great Britain might for a time keep some of the prosperity that she had, but Great Britain would stand before the world as a country prepared to say one thing in bluff but ready to run away when her bluff was called. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman himself, after such a dishonourable peace, would find that he was very proud of the peace that we had gained by negotiation at any cost.
I think that practically every section of the House has welcomed what has been said by the Prime Minister, but I think we are inclined to talk rather too much about peace and rather too little about victory. Peace must succeed victory, but if one thing is almost certain it is that, until either the German Army has been beaten in the field or the German home front has been broken behind the German Army, it is profitless to talk of a real peace, and a peace that will endure. Can you expect that Hitler fresh from his victories in Poland, freshly inspired by a few people, who do not represent general feeling, in this country and elsewhere, talking about negotiations, will offer us terms which we can accept? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), in a speech with every word of which, if I may say so, I agree, laid down clearly the sort of things that would have to be done before we considered taking the word of the German Government. The present German Government would have to resign. There would have to be some reparation for the wanton sufferings and misery inflicted on the Polish people.
The hon. Member says, "Reparations again," but, for my part, I should expect to see some gesture made by the Germans in the way of restoring the towns that have been wantonly destroyed. There is one other side of the problem about which I should like to say a word; that is, with regard to South Eastern Europe. There appears at this moment to be a possibility that a Balkan Front may become, for the first time, a real possibility. You have these little States, that have been frightened to death by the Soviet-German agreement, that have seen the small States further North being swallowed up, showing signs of coming together in a common front. I hope that, if the common front is formed, the Government and all sections in the House will remember that those countries are probably more afraid of the Soviet than of Germany.
Their governments certainly are; and you have, in a realistic world, to deal with the governments which are in office at a particular time. [Interruption.] We have, at any rate, given a pledge that there is one leader we propose to see destroyed. It is not our business to say that we are not prepared to give any sort of support to a particular Balkan State because it has not the sort of government that the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Sir R. Acland) wants.
I understood that at the very start of this war the Government laid it down that Nazism must be defeated. It seems to me that it would be an abuse of terms to suggest that Nazism must be defeated and that Hitler might remain. I do not think we need quibble with words; it is pretty plain. In the Balkans you have a certain fear of Russia. We have speeches made, primarily for home consumption—I am thinking, of course, particularly of that made by the First Lord of the Admiralty—in which some distinction is drawn between Germany and Russia. It is pointed out, with some truth, that if Russia expands to the West it may make Germany's position more difficult, and, therefore, may be of some assistance to Britain and France.
I say that there are certain arguments which can be adduced to show that that would be of some disadvantage to Germany. But it would not be difficult to impress the small countries in the Balkans with the view that, after all, we are not awfully particular whether they are Bolshevik, if they are not Nazi. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but if you express the view that the advance of Russia to the West would not be a bad thing, it is not difficult from that to spread the impression that if Russia goes a bit more to the South-West and grabs certain countries, there is something to be said for it. That is not a view that will appeal to the Balkan Entente. We see Baltic States swallowed up by Russia. Hitler is going to use that as a lever. He will say, "Look here, boys; you have seen what is happening. If you are prepared to give us all the things we require, without pressing too soon for payment, we will see that Russia does not come on you; but if not, would you sooner have a little Nazi protection? Look at the Sudetenland. Then look at East Poland." That sort of propaganda we shall have to counter by showing any country in Europe that is prepared to resist that we are prepared to support it.
Be that as it may, I should like to say this to the Government. I think this is going to be a long war, and our task is to make up our minds that victory is the main aim, and that our people have to be boldly told the facts. Peace talks will be considered at any time, but it is not likely that there will be peace before victory, and we have to face the pretty hard and difficult task before us. We face it in the knowledge of two things. We face it in the knowledge that by taking on this show over Poland—perhaps not an issue which some of us would have chosen—we have not taken it on from selfish motives. We have taken it on because we believe the time has come when aggression has to be checked, and when paganism and evil, and all that spirit which has dominated Germany, and not only Germany alone, have to be removed. We have seen the example of those men and women in Warsaw who were prepared not only to resist to the very last, but to die rather than submit to injustice, to the loss of their independence and the threats they were under. Looking at these things, I hope and believe that we shall go forward this winter, next year, and, if necessary, the year after, in the determination that we shall never be defeated in our purpose until aggression has ceased and liberty has been restored.
Although I was very delighted when the Prime Minister showed by his speech the beginnings of a realisation that civilisation as we know it has already undergone a profound change, I certainly preferred the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, who condescended to some precise considerations as regards the new circumstances in which we find ourselves and the new problems which we shall have to solve sooner or later. I believe that to-day we are faced not with an easy situation, but with a profoundly difficult problem, and I do not wish to go back and review the past, because that would be a waste of time. The question as I see it is not whether we should accept the proposals that have been put forward by Hitler, but as to whether we ought to seize the opportunity that is thus provided to make a perfectly clear declaration of our own war aims and make an offer to the world to confer upon the basis of those proposals. What is the alternative? The alternative is to proceed with a war that will mean the destruction of all the values of civilisation. It will mean the most terrible slaughter, both among soldiers and civilians, and if in reality there is any honourable path which we can now take which will by one jot or tittle diminish the likelihood of that catastrophe, then, I feel convinced that every responsible Member in this House would be only too anxious to accept that alternative.
The most fundamental difficulty that faces us to-day, as the Prime Minister indicated, is the disastrous fact that the wishes of the common people of, I believe, all lands for peace and liberty are not reflected in their Governments. Indeed, no Government of any nation that matters in the present situation is prepared to trust the Government of any other nation; and do not let us think that that is merely a question of people not being prepared to trust Hitler, nor indeed can one blame Governments for that lack of trust in the light of the experience of the last few years. We are now, and have for a long time been, living in the atmosphere of power politics, in which, as was once said in this House by Lord Baldwin, any country will in the last resort do anything to advantage its own position no matter what pledges it has given or what undertakings it breaks. It is not, therefore, surprising that in such an atmosphere offers of any kind are not looked upon as realities, but rather as moves in the game of international politics. That atmosphere is the result of the breakdown in the attempt to bring law and order into the world; an attempt which was made after the last war by the setting up of the League of Nations. That effort was made of no avail when Japan was allowed to invade Manchuria, as some of us pointed out at that time amid the cries of "war-mongers" from the benches opposite. The whole subsequent history of aggression has, for the time being at least, sealed the doom of international morality. And yet, at some time, and somehow, a fresh attempt will have to be made to re-establish, or, perhaps it would be better to say, to establish, a form of stable world order, otherwise we are fated to a perpetual state of intensive armament accompanied by inevitably recurring war which must destroy every decent value in our civilisation and bring complete financial ruin to every great nation in the world.
The question is: Are we to make such an attempt now when there may be a chance, or are we to wait to do the same thing after three or more years of the most horrible and tragic war? That is the way in which the present problem presents itself to me, and, I believe, to thousands more of every class and party throughout the country. However great our pride and our belief in our own honesty of purpose may be, we must, I am convinced, bear in mind the fact that what we determine to-day may be decisive in the lives of millions of people in almost every country of the world.
And their liberty, too. We carry, indeed, a very heavy responsibility, and one which I am sure we shall be prepared to face. We on this side of the House have certainly been consistently opposed to the regime of Hitler in Germany. It would, indeed, have been to the great benefit of our country and of the world as a whole if that antagonism had been shared by the Government during the last five years. I am as unwilling as any hon. Member in this House to place any reliance upon the promises of Hitler, or of any similar government anywhere in the world. But that unwillingness cannot discharge us from the duty to make clear to the world, and to our own people, what exactly it is for which are are asking them to suffer if we are determined to carry on the war. The offer that has been made by the German rulers is, obviously, one that we could not for a moment accept, and yet it would, in my view, be the height of unjustifiable folly merely to turn it down without putting forward in clear and precise terms our own objective.
By our statement now of that purpose we shall largely decide the course of the war, if it continues, and we shall disclose to the rest of the world the reality or the unreality of our professions in the cause of democracy and freedom. But it is not only the rest of the world that matters in this relation. The spirit of our own people is of the most vital importance, if this war is to be prosecuted. To-day, there are in this country a large and growing number of people who are feeling that, whatever comes out of this war, it is absolutely impossible that we should go back again to the conditions that existed before the war. As the Prime Minister has already stated in his speech to-day, there is a realisation that some new order must come out of the war, and those people are determined, so far as they can achieve their purpose, that that newer and better type of national and international organisation shall emerge for the benefit of the common people of the world. That is their only real interest and desire, and unless they can clearly see some hope of accomplishing such a purpose, they will have no enthusiasm for prosecuting a war which they will regard as a hopeless and senseless struggle.
Such people form no unimportant or insignificant part of the population of this country. They will not and they cannot be satisfied with the sort of war aims that have so far been expressed by the Government, even by the Prime Minister this afternoon. Excellently vague in their definition, those aims, in my view, when examined, amount to nothing more than a determination to try and revert to the status quo before the war, and a determination on the part of this country and of France to preserve untouched as far as possible their domination over world affairs. With such aims, I believe, neither the people of this country nor the people of neutral countries will be satisfied. However much those aims may be dressed up in phraseology about democracy and freedom, they will fail to inspire the people to that effort which is essential if we are to be victorious. If we are in truth and in fact fighting for democracy and freedom and a new world, then there are certain concrete expressions of that general purpose which can quite clearly be stated, and which will give life and reality to the otherwise vague and nebulous content of those expressions. Any definitive world settlement must envisage democracy and freedom, if that is our true aim, not only in territories that have been conquered by the Germans, but throughout the world. Our care for India must be as great as it is for Poland. Our readiness to re-establish the map of Europe must be equalled by our readiness to reconsider the whole question of the Imperial conquests of the past. We cannot, without laying ourselves open to the charge of cynicism, select the territories of others for the benefits of democracy and freedom while withholding those benefits from territories from which we derive economic advantage. To go forward with a war upon such a basis would, in my view, be to invite disaster.
This is only one aspect of the problem in which our own people are vitally concerned. They are concerned also with what will come for them out of this war besides the slaughter, the tragedy and the suffering. Nor do they think of this matter merely in terms of their economic position after the war, though the lessons which many of them have learned during the last post-war period have sunk deep enough into their consciousness to make them determined to allow no repetition of those conditions if they can possibly avoid it. I am convinced that to-day the people want to envisage some form of civilisation which is going to establish finer and better values of freedom and democracy than we have ever so far known. Politics, both national and international, seem during the last years, unfortunately, to have lost any content that they may have once had of philosophy or of religion in its widest sense. Attempts are made to stir the emotions and the religious feelings of the people at times like these; but those attempts are merely in order to reinforce the fighting machine and really have no effect as to the ultimate objectives of the fighting. It is essential that we should declare a policy now for our country, both in domestic and in international affairs, that has behind it something much more profound and real than mere bread and butter politics or power politics. Such a policy would bring to the people true inspiration and courage and given a clear, objective, based upon such a foundation, then, whether it fails or not, in its objective in stopping the war, there will be no doubt as to their willingness to undergo any trial in order to achieve that end.
In the Government's statement of war aims there is, I fear, no indication of such vision. Indeed, they have all the appearance of being based upon the most materialistic foundation of power politics, and a reversion to the altogether uninspiring, tragic and domestic circumstances which prevailed in this country before the war. The whole approach of the Government to the problems of the working class is still one of patronage and not of justice. The condition of such persons as the old age pensioners and the unemployed, and the treatment that they are now receiving, while at the same time the interests of big businesses are being safe-guardeds and a great mass of money is being thrown away as a result, does not indicate that the Government have any new ideas, or that they are regarding the future in any other light than they have regarded the past. It is possible for a perfectly clear declaration to be made as regards these matters and to be incorporated in the war aims of the Government. If the people of this country are to be convinced that they are fighting for a new and better civilisation they, too, will expect to see and to hear concrete proposals of a character that indicate that change of mind and spirit in the Government.
It is not possible now to elaborate the kind of war aims that I should like to see advanced as far as the international situation is concerned, but I do wish to emphasise with all my power the urgent need for the Government to put out the best war aims of which they are capable, and on the most far-reaching and imaginative scale, at the earliest possible moment. I am certain that unless this is done, and done promptly, a deep division will grow up in the nation at the very time when unity is most essential. If this war is to be fought it is not going to be an easy matter even if our enemies are confined to Germany alone, and it would be the gravest folly to neglect any single factor that would help us towards our success. As I have already said, the major difficulty that confronts us is the fact that no single government of those immediately concerned is prepared to trust another. That state of affairs is not likely to be improved as the result of a long and bitter war. Some time we shall have to seek to re-establish a form of order based upon the best guarantees that are available. Why should we not now state publicly what those guarantees are to be, and put them forward as our contribution to saving the world, if possible, from war? If they are not accepted by others then, in the eyes of our own people and of the world, we shall at least have done our utmost in that direction. The fact that we do not expect them to be accepted does not, in my view, relieve us from the onus of making perfectly clear what they are. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are they?"] I will deal with them in a moment, if hon. Members will be patient.
In the present state of the world it is no good continuing a war merely because you do not trust your opponents. I believe there is one lesson that stands out more clearly than any other from the Treaty of Versailles, and that is that you cannot destroy absolutely a virile nation, and that if you try to do so you merely raise up greater dangers to yourself in the long run. Many of us tried to point that out at the end of the last war but, unfortunately, it fell upon deaf ears. When we are attempting to arrive at peace terms I imagine that no one will consider reimposing terms such as were imposed at Versailles. We shall have to accept some form of guarantee for the carrying out of the terms of peace, just as we tried to formulate a guarantee by setting up the League of Nations after the last war, and, with all its accumulated experience of the working or failure to work of the League of Nations, surely this Government can now give some expression of what it believes and hopes will be the guarantees that will then be available.
There are, indeed, only two forms of guarantee that are possible. The first is the alignment of strong or overwhelming forces on the side of the person seeking the guarantee; the other, the setting up of some form of federation or league, or whatever you like to call it, in which the individual States resign some measure of their national sovereignty for the sake of peace and for the benefit of the whole society of nations. A mere voluntary organisation such as the League of Nations, though a step in the right direction, has proved itself in the hands of those who tried to operate it since the last war to be of no avail. The experiences of Abyssinia, China, Czechoslovakia, Albania, Spain and Poland are not likely to encourage other nations to place reliance on that sort of organisation, so that there must be something better and more concrete than the League of Nations provided after the last war. If we are to rely on such a guarantee it is surely time that we specified the type that we desire. If, on the other hand, we are going to rely upon a guarantee of an armed peace alliance in Europe, then it is surely better that we should make up our minds soon of whom that peace alliance shall consist, as otherwise we may find them on the other side. Then we shall be driven after the next peace to preparing, as we have been during the last 20 years, for the next war of revenge as a result of that peace. When I say preparing, I speak of Europe. Europe has been preparing since the Treaty of Versailles for the war of revenge upon which to-day it is engaged. It is these and other considerations that make it essential, in my view, that we should have this more detailed expression of our war aims. Such a declaration might or might not form the basis for a world conference at this stage. If it did, then, in my view, so much the better, for such a conference would not be based upon Hitler's proposals, which would then be recognised for the impracticable thing that they are, but upon the far more concrete and practical suggestions that we should have made not to Germany but to the whole world. I fully appreciate the difficulties in putting forward such suggestions, but they are neither so great nor yet so tragic as those we shall encounter otherwise in the course of the next three years. If nothing comes of our proposals in the way of a conference, we shall have put ourselves right not only with our own people but with world opinion as well. I believe that will be a vitally important factor in the struggle which will follow.
I beg the Government with all my power to make such a statement at the earliest moment—a statement which can hurt no one but which may be of inestimable benefit to our people and to the entire world. I am confident that the common people, not only of this country but of nearly every country in the world, are at this day and in this hour looking for some such imaginative ideal, for if they have nothing but three years of war to look forward to, then, indeed, to them the world will seem no longer worth while.
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. While my hon. and learned Friend was delivering his speech I heard some interruptions from the opposite benches protesting against the speech being read. I do not know if the speech was being read, and, personally, I have no objection to such intelligent speeches being read; frequently we listen to less intelligent speeches being read. I would like to know if there is any rule in this House against speeches being read and if so to whom the rule applies?
The rule is that speeches may not be read but, of course, use may be made of notes. I was aware that the hon. and learned Member was using notes but it is a matter for me to decide and I saw nothing to complain of in the way in which the hon. and learned Member delivered his speech.
We all share the hon. and learned Member's wish for a better world abroad and at home, and we also share his hope that the world might be spared the horrors of war if we thought a conference held to-morrow could be of any avail. What I failed to discover in his speech was any realisation of the practical difficulties in the way of that kind of conference and of the kind of solution to which he has referred. I also failed to find in his speech any true appreciation of the statement made by the Prime Minister this afternoon. That statement met with approval in every quarter of the House, not only for its tone of resolution but also for the breadth with which it handled the bigger questions which lie behind. I should have thought that the Prime Minister made as clear as it is possible to make it at the moment the aims for which we stand. We stand for no gain or advantage to be secured to this country beyond the preservation of our own liberties and the liberties of our Allies. The Prime Minister made it no less clear that we in no sense contemplate a vindictive settlement. So far from the speech being a speech animated by the "spirit of Versailles," it was a speech which envisaged, as clearly as we can envisage it through the fog of war, an ultimate settlement of European peace which will provide security for the nations of Europe, which will provide each one of them, not Germany alone, with living room and which will also provide a fair living room for the German nation. I cannot see how with any practical advantage we can at this moment go much beyond that or imagine that any elaboration of detail that England and France and the other nations of the world might agree upon would have the slightest effect on the present situation.
The Prime Minister's statement was confined, and rightly confined, to Europe. The internal affairs of the British Empire he did not mention, but the traditions of freedom within the British Empire will go on developing as they have developed in the past. Our position of trusteeship towards weaker and dependent races in the Colonial Empire will also grow from strength to strength. I cannot see how anything which the Prime Minister could have added in that connection to his speech could have the slightest effect on the German Government whatever. May I suggest that if we are to sketch out a world-wide programme covering India and old age pensioners, and colonial government, we should begin with first things first. I imagine that in the present situation which has arisen, and which has been forced upon Europe by the series of aggressions of the last two or three years, the first conditions we should have to lay down, if we lay down any detailed conditions, would be the liberation of Austria, Czecho-Slovakia and Poland. [An HON. MEMBER: "And Abyssinia."] I dare say Abyssinia, but I am limiting myself to the initial minimum. Does the hon. and learned Member think that any programme that included those items, however much you further elaborated it, would have the slightest effect in inducing an unbeaten Germany to relax its hold upon the countries which are now under its subjection?
The right hon. Member asked me a question, and perhaps he will allow me to answer it. I think if proposals were put forward, including that Germany should withdraw from these countries, they would bring tremendous pressure to bear from neutral countries, including the United States of America, upon the German Government, and might—I do not say they would— lead to the possibility of avoiding war.
I wonder what the real effective intensity of such pressure would be. We had such pressure as the United States of America and neutral Governments were only too ready to give in support of the Prime Minister's policy of a conference before Hitler made his move. Is it likely to be much more effective now than it was then? I doubt it very much.
Of course, we all have our more detailed conception of what the post-war settlement might be. I myself have always felt that it might be something in the nature of a European Commonwealth, and I think that the conception of such a commonwealth contains in itself the real solution of the problems of Europe. I share to some extent the view of the hon. and learned Member that the League of Nations has failed. Why? To my mind it failed, not because the powers assigned to it were inadequate, for none of its members would have been willing to accept greater responsibilities, but because it embraced too much, and even more, because it was, after all, a negative conception. It was not a conception sustained by a positive concrete ideal, which could awaken some wider common patriotism in the light of which the smaller antagonistic patriotisms could be assuaged and diminished, such as the conception of a Europe, the ancient home of Western Christendom, united in this shrinking world, bound together by economic interests and by a great body of traditions which only the nationalism of the last century has divided. That Europe might be conceived as a practical ideal. The right hon. Member the Leader of the Liberal Opposition suggested some system of European economic co-operation. That might possibly be supplemented by an agreement for mutual conciliation and arbitration. Thus Europe as a common home might gradually become something so dear to the hearts of its members that in the light of that conception, and still more in the light of the practical interests involved, its nations might be willing to lay aside old quarrels and come closer together.
I would very much sooner not go into the question of detailed boundaries, but if I am asked such a question I would say that we already form part of a wider Commonwealth, and while we should give all our help and support and work closely together with the nations of Europe, there might be reasons which would make it desirable not to be an actual member, just as Canada works with the United States in permanent peace and co-operation but does not actually contemplate becoming a member of the United States Federation. I do not wish to prejudge these issues. On the contrary, if I have gone as far as I have, if was only to indicate that at any rate we, too, on this side may have our ideas as to a positive reconstruction in the future, though we do not believe that this is the moment at which they can be worked out in any detail.
I should like to say that I listened with a great deal of sympathy to what the Leader of the Liberal Opposition said, and to express the belief that with some scheme on those lines, when a settlement is possible, when a conference is possible, a better Europe may be built up. But meanwhile, let us come back to the facts of the present situation. We are not going to get a Europe in which these things can even be discussed—and certainly, not settled—until this system, this tradition, this incarnate gangsterdom which is the German Government today, is broken and has lost the faith of the German people.
I do not think these problems can best be discussed at a moment when the German people are intoxicated with an easy victory. They can be discussed only when that nation, which at this moment, through its representatives, stands for aggression and tyranny in Europe, has been taught by bitter experience that it must take another path. There is a great deal of talk about the two Germanys. It is true that there are two Germanys. There is the Germany that is ascendant at this moment; and there is another Germany, suppressed, speechless, whether at home or in the concentration camp—the Germany whose traditions go back to the more generous, more cultured, wiser Germany of the dreams of German unity of '48, and other dreams since. But there is a third Germany, larger than either of those two—the vast mass of Germans who support Nazi-ism and believe in it so long as it is successful; and that Germany has to be taught by defeat that aggression does not pay. Only when it has learned that lesson, then it can also learn from us that, so far as we are concerned, there is also room, within a new and settled Europe, for the German nation to have economic freedom and development and to live its own life, without being any more afraid of oppression by its neighbours than its neighbours are afraid of oppression by Germany.
That condition has not come yet, and surely, as practical men, we are concerned not with ideal positions, but with the world as it is to-day—the problem of arms to-day, the overwhelming attack that may come to-morrow upon this city, or upon the gallant army of our devoted allies in France, as it came upon Poland. In that situation, what is the good of talking of detailed proposals as the hon. and learned Member did, and still more of suggesting that they can bring peace to-day? I would remind the House that when, in the darkest hour of the last war, Clemenceau was called in to help to see France through, and was asked what his policy was, he said, "Je fais la guerre"—"I am waging war." At this moment, at any rate, let us accept the statement, to my mind clear and generous as well as unequivocal, which the Prime Minister has made, and let us get on with the terrific problem facing us in the war.
I hope the Prime Minister will not take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), but will pay very careful attention to the speeches that have been made to-day urging that the importance of considering fully the possibility of peace should be taken into account. I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. On this occasion, he is satisfied with the speech of the Prime Minister. When the Prime Minister was speaking, I thought back to that fateful Saturday evening before we went into the war, and I wondered whether, on that Saturday evening, the Prime Minister was not speaking more wisely and with a greater consciousness of the greatness of the problem than he was when making his speech to-day. The world has been waiting for this statement by the British Prime Minister, and throughout the world there is tremendous anxiety and a great desire for peace. Everyone recognises, along with the Prime Minister, the background of the present war, and I and my hon. Friends realise it just as much as the Prime Minister and hon. Members opposite; but throughout the world there is a tremendous, a passionate, desire for peace, and peace at once, in spite of the tragedy in Poland. There is talk about how dishonourable it would be to make peace while a bleeding Poland is in the position in which she is. I have heard hon. Members express indignation at the suggestion that there should be peace when one thinks of the tragedy of Poland; but I notice that when the same hon. Members are asked whether the aggression by Soviet Russia on Poland is to be condoned, or whether the results of it are to be disregarded, evidently the question of honour does not arise in the same way. But the pledge to Poland was a pledge against aggression by Russia as much as by Germany.
Our guarantee to Poland did not specifically mention Germany. It mentioned aggression, and only aggression, and the pledge was one which had reference to Russia, although at that time it was not supposed that Russia would become an aggressor.
The right hon. Gentleman says "rot." I can only say that he changes his opinion so often that I cannot keep going round with him. He is in such a whirligig in politics. I am pointing out that the pledge given to Poland was one which entailed the defence of Poland against Soviet Russia just as much as against Germany. Yet there is no suggestion anywhere that British honour involves us in going to war with Soviet Russia, and I am glad of that.
May I remind the hon. Member of one point? Is it not a fact that, under the guarantee, this country was called upon to come to the help of Poland if the Polish Government called upon our Government to assist them in the event of aggression? Is it not also the case that the Polish Government did call upon us to assist them in the case of the aggression from Germany, but that, strictly speaking, there was no call from the Polish Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—to assist them in regard to Russia? At any rate, no call was made and I think there is that difference between the two cases.
I have only a limited time to speak and I have already given way. I would prefer now to proceed with my argument. I wish to make it perfectly plain that I think the British Government are very well-advised in not seeking to declare war on Soviet Russia. I think they have acted wisely in that respect. But all this talk about honour in connection with the problem which we are facing to-day, strikes me as being largely
hypocritical. A period came in the last war when there was a great movement in favour of peace by negotiation. The Government of the day refused to consider anything like peace by negotiation. They said, "We must go on, in order to get full security for the future." It was not possible, they maintained, to obtain security by a negotiated peace. Here we are in the same position to-day. We hear all those words being used to-day which were used during the last war. We hear people saying, "We must go on with the fighting; we must get victory." An hon. Member has said here that the one thing is to gain the victory. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) said that from 1914 to 1918. Well, we got the victory in 1918 and yesterday the Secretary of State for War said in this House:
How strange it is that twice in a generation men should take this journey and that sons should be treading again upon the soil made sacred by their fathers."—OFFICIAL REPORT, nth October, 1939; col. 349, Vol. 352.
[HON. MEMBERS: "Whose fault is that?"] The fact remains that the British Government and their Allies, in the last war secured as great a victory as was ever obtained in any war, and a generation afterwards the sons of the men who fought in that war are treading the same soil in another war. I make bold to say that if this war goes on even if victory does come, the grandsons of those men will be called upon to tread the same soil in another great carnage and slaughter in days to come. The fact of the matter is that we are all inclined to use phrases in connection with this great problem. It is not facing the problem to say, "We will go on and get the victory and then we shall be able to have security in the future."
The Prime Minister said that in order to get peace we must have from the enemy, acts and guarantees of peace. I would like to ask the Prime Minister: What are the acts by our enemies, what are the guarantees that the Germans would be called upon to give, in order that peace may be made? The Prime Minister did not tell us what those acts were to be. If the Germans were to set up an independent Poland in part of the country which they have overrun, would that be considered an action on their part that would be necessary for peace? What would be the guarantees? I cannot think what guarantees you can get for peace that will prevent these crises every six months, such as we have had during recent years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Remove Hitler."] I am told that if we remove Hitler we shall get it. I was told the same thing about the Kaiser. There was tremendous feeling in this country about the Kaiser, and a General Election was won on the expression of a determination to hang him. Then, in the process of time, the King in this country sent a message of congratulation to the Kaiser who had reached his 80th birthday, wishing him many more years of happiness. I would say to the hon. Member who speaks about removing Hitler that, possibly, a Conservative British Prime Minister a few years after this, will be sending a message of sympathy to Adolf Hitler, if that gentleman is not very well. These things happen, and I would like the House to realise that we will not get security by any method of war.
What was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) appeared to me to be sound common sense. In spite of all the wars that have been fought, there is still war in the world. An hon. Member said to me yesterday that he did not think we would ever get real peace until we made up our minds to solve the problem of what caused war. Nothing like that is being done to-day. We are facing the possibility of the loss of millions of lives of the young people of our generation. Millions of young people in the world to-day will lose their lives in this struggle, and after the war has gone on for a certain number of years, then, once more, a conference will be held. Surely it is common sense to have the conference to-day. If there is a conference to-day, I am told that you cannot trust the word of Hitler or of the German Government, and I am asked "what is the good of having a conference when you cannot trust the word of the German Government?" I say have the conference and make your terms at the conference wise and generous terms, terms which will allow each of the nations the opportunity of a decent life, and then you will have the possibility of permanent peace in the years to come.
About the beginning of this year I ventured to intervene in a Debate on foreign affairs and said that we were moving towards war. The Prime Minister has been criticised because of his policy of appeasement. It was successful last year for the time being, but he threw it overboard and replaced it by a policy of rearmament, and then Members are surprised that events developed so as to lead to a second European war. If you proceed along those lines you are bound to get war. I said that, as I saw it, what was necessary was a great crusade in the world. Give the people in each country something worth fighting for. The trouble in every country in the world to-day is the poverty of the people. Hitler gets the people of Germany behind him because he promises to solve the problem of their poverty. He tells them about their misery and how he and his colleagues will lead them out of it, and he leads them into Poland. The British Government should put forward terms of peace which go to the root of the problem which creates war in the world, the problem of poverty.
The British Government has to face up to the fact that, with the great territory of the British Empire, the German people naturally feel aggrieved and are determined to carry on with what we call their policy of aggression when they are seeking for an opportunity for the development of their trade and their power. I agree absolutely with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) when he said that if we were believers in democracy we should believe in democracy in India just as much as in Germany. Whenever the question of democracy in India is raised, we are told that the Indian people are not fit and that we have to be the trustees who will lead them in a new and better democracy as the years and the generations pass. That may seem all very well to the British people but it does not sound the least bit convincing to people in other countries. I am convinced that we shall simply go from slaughter to slaughter until we get the working people in each of the countries to make up their minds that they are not going to allow themselves to be slaughtered in order to keep the present system of Imperialism going.
The Prime Minister's statement to-day was to me very disappointing. I hope the people of the country will examine it fully and try to see what is behind those phrases. How are we to get security in the future? If you get your victory and you make your peace, will you make it like the Versailles Treaty? If you do not, will you make it even worse? Are you going to hold down the German people? Are you going to divide up the German Empire? The other week I heard two men discussing the matter and one said, "I see in the papers that after this war we are not to have a Versailles peace. I agree with that. I think the Versailles peace was a bad peace. It treated the Germans very badly. Next time when they make peace they will have to divide the German Empire up into the separate countries of which it is composed." Evidently he thought that was the way to peace. It is obvious that any such attempt will give Hitler No. 2 a great opportunity of winning support, coming forward for the unity of the Reich. As I see it, there is no hope along the way the Government is taking at present. If you carry on the war, millions of lives will be lost and thousands of millions of pounds will be spent in waste. Surely, it is a much better project for the British Government to respond to the offer of the German Government by coming forward with its peace terms and making definite proposals. I heard the Leader of the Opposition say that there were certain principles which had to be satisfied, but we have to go further than the statement of those principles. We have to try to conceive what the economic position of the various countries would need to be in order that in each there would be the possibility of satisfaction of the peoples needs and the avoiding of wars in the future.
Surely it is not beyond the wit of the British Government to visualise the kind of arrangement they would have to make if they were absolutely victorious. I have not very much hope in this Government from the way in which they treat their own old people and the dependants of the soldiers and, with the spirit that is manifest there, I can see the war carrying on for 20 years if the present Government are allowed to remain in office, and it will be very difficult to shift them if there are no elections. The future appears to be very black indeed unless the people rise in revolt. At present I see the development of violence in the world and in this country in every department of our ordinary life, restriction after restriction set upon the people, with a great outburst of savagery overthrowing all those restraints at some future period. I do not want to see this development of violence. I believe that the way to peace is the sound way, and that the Government would be fulfilling their responsibility to the people of this and other countries if, instead of talking about the need for acts and the need for security, the Prime Minister and his colleagues tried to clear their minds. What do they want? What would be sufficient? Let them make up their minds what is behind the phrases that they are using. What would be security? What are the conditions? What is really involved in this word "security"? Let them clear their minds and, having done so, let them put the result before the nations of the world and, in a conference, seek to bring them to the acceptance of what they have worked out as being a sound basis for world peace.
Before the hon. Member sits down, may I put a question to him? I do so quite sincerely and not for the purpose of scoring any point at all. He speaks of terms, and he advises the Government representing this country to put its terms forward, so that they can be considered by the German nation and the German leaders. Terms imply a line below which you are prepared to stand firm, and the question that I wish to ask the hon. Member is this: Given the presentation of terms, if those terms are not accepted is he prepared to go on fighting?
I am prepared to go on fighting if I get the stating of the terms and those terms are not accepted, but if someone else drew up the terms, I should have to accept those terms, and I cannot conceive of their being acceptable.
I find it difficult to address the House on this occasion, because I suffer from an incapacity, not being able to withdraw my attention from other speakers, and as I have been in the Chamber all the afternoon, I have not been able to prepare any light of thought or continuous thesis to assist me to address the House. The nearest that I can go to that is by trying to say a few sentences, necessarily rather disjointed, which come to the top of my head as I look at the notes which I have made about earlier speeches, particularly about the speech of the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). He was extremely anxious that there should be a perfectly clear and full declaration of our war aims and an offer to negotiate upon that. It seemed to me there was perhaps some slight analogy between his own speech and the disadvantages there might be in having more detailed war aims than we already have, that one might find oneself in the middle of a Debate delivering a speech which had been composed before the earlier speeches had been delivered. I should have thought that the speech of the Prime Minister this afternoon did put our war aims about as definitely as they reasonably can be put at this moment. I do not suggest that it may not be possible to add details later, but at this moment it seems to me that the most important thing that we can do here is to make sure that we put up the minimum number of flags.
People often say that it does not matter which side wins a war, though I notice that that has not been said lately quite so much as it used to be said, and I do not believe it would ever be said by anyone who had ever lived in any country where a war had been lost. In spite of what is said by Marxist and other philosophisers of history, wars in the main are not consciously fought for oil wells or corn fields; in the main, wars are fought over some point of sentiment, very commonly some form of religious sentiment, and the greater the number of things that you announce beforehand to be indispensable to you, the more difficult is it to finish a war. It is very dubious, therefore, whether it would be wise now to put up any flag more than the Polish flag; that is to say, that we believe Europe will not be a habitable Continent as long as there is a German Government which considers the sort of aggression which has been going on for the last five years, and indeed—and here I agree with the hon. and earned Member for East Bristol— really for the last 20 years, to be profitable. The only mark to which we are absolutely pledged is that, as long as the result of the war is that the German Government are better off in regard to Poland because of this war, so long will it be our duty to continue fighting this war. I would suggest that it is extremely dubious whether we should at this moment be wise to tie ourselves to many more flags than that.