Debate on the Address.

Part of Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 30th November 1939.

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Photo of Sir Geoffrey Mander Sir Geoffrey Mander , Wolverhampton East

I would like at once to associate my hon. Friends and myself with what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) with refer0ence to the events which are taking place at the present time in Finland. We are all extremely shocked at what is occurring there, both because of the methods adopted and the flagrantly insincere language and arguments which are used to justify them. I think, perhaps, the saddest reflection of all is that the world should be in such a state at the present time that powerful nations are able to seize and destroy small nations, and that there is no general comity of nations which prevents that sort of thing taking place. It shows more than ever the necessity for building up a system after this war which will prevent anything of the kind happening again, whoever may be the aggressor and whoever the victim.

I desire to make a reference to the very happy relations now existing between the governments of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. They have not always been the best of friends, but we are very happy to know that, as a result of conferences recently held, the past is buried, and they have decided to do their utmost to live together on terms of the closest amity and good will. There will be a Polish Army and a Czech Army fighting with us for the same objects. It will be a great encouragement to many people in this country to know that a new Polish Government has been formed, of a thoroughly democratic character, on a national basis, in which all parties are represented, and which possesses, I believe, the same ideals and principles of representative government as we in this country believe in. We must remember that there is in London a Czech Legation, arid it may be that the time will come when definite recognition can suitably be given to the Government by which it is accredited.

I should like to make a reference to the broadcast given the other day by a right hon. Gentleman whom the Under-Secretary, no doubt, would describe as the "P.M.," but whom I prefer to mention, in old-fashioned, traditional language, as the Prime Minister. I thought that, in tone, temper and vigour, it was an admirable statement. There are certain minor aspects, to which I am going to refer, which may be open to criticism and some misunderstanding, but in general it set out, in an admirable way, the position of the people of this country at the present time. We are a united people and Parliament, in support of this war. I hope it will be possible to carry that rather further, and make a statement at some time of our war aims as a united Parliament. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made admirable statements. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has made a very clear and carefully thought-out statement of the aims of his party, which received the praise of a leading article in the "Times" the other day. My right hon. Friend the leader of the Liberal party has also put forward the views we hold.

I hope that consideration will be given—this is a matter of interest for the Ministry of Information—to the question of a joint statement of war aims, based, no doubt, on general principles—you cannot go beyond that at present—in such a way that they can be broadcast to the whole world. When one speaks of general principles, I think it will mean going further than the sentiments, admirable as they were, which were put forward just now by the Under-Secretary, because they were so general in their nature that I think they would not be very effective for the purpose we have in mind. In the closing years of the last war there was a body known as the Phillimore Committee, sitting, I think, at the Foreign Office, which did a great deal of useful work in preparation for the Peace Conference, and particularly in regard to the Constitution of the League of Nations. Has not the time come when a similar body should be set up in preparation for the Peace Conference which will be held at the end of this war? I hope that the Government will bear that in mind, so that at a suitable moment such a body may be set up.

I should like to say something in regard to war aims and peace aims—because there is a distinction, as the Prime Minister said. I think we should make a clear declaration now as to the terms upon which we should be prepared to enter into a general conference with belligerents and neutrals. Assuming that the situation remains as it is at this moment, I think that those terms might be on these lines. Germany must evacuate Poland and Czecho-Slovakia. It is quite possible that there might have to he an occupation by allied or neutral troops, but, at any rate, there should be a clear evacuation. There should be an undertaking that Austria will be given an opportunity of deciding her own fate by vote under international organisation, and there should be a clear understanding that there is in power a German Government that can be reasonably trusted to cooperate with other countries and take its part in building up a new order. I think that those would be suitable terms, and that nothing short of that could be accepted.

I cannot imagine anything that would be more dangerous than the proposals, put forward in some quarters, that we should have a conference now, with things as they are. It would be a humiliating surrender to Hitler, and nothing else. Those of us who have been urging for years that we should stand firm against German aggression, at times when it was easier to do so than it is now, could not possibly agree to such a thing. It would be difficult, no doubt, to be sure of a German Government that you could trust, because one has to bear in mind the fact that it is not simply the row of gangsters who are in power at the moment of whom we have to beware, but that, unfortunately, for the last six years the youth of Germany have been treated to a systematic course in intellectual vice and psychological bestiality. That is the sort of educational training they have had. I hope, none the less, that it will be made clear that those are the terms that we should be prepared to consider, because the sooner the Germans know them, the better. The Prime Minister, in connection with this matter, used words in his speech on Tuesday which I could not quite understand. He said, in connection with the question of a conference after the war: There will be the Dominions and our Allies, and it may be that the vanquished will also be taken into consultation before we can decide how this new and better world is to be laid out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1939; col. 26, Vol. 355.] Is there any doubt about our desire to Consult the vanquished? Surely there is no idea of another diktat, a treaty imposed on the vanquished? I think the conditions should be made absolutely clear by the right hon. Gentleman who is going to reply, so that we may be assured that it is definitely the intention of the Government that, while the victors will certainly put forward the proposals, those proposals will be discussed with the German Government, in contradistinction to what took place at the last Peace Conference.

In regard to peace aims, there are different proposals in people's minds, to which I should like to refer. There are those who would be glad to see a Carthaginian peace: the destruction of Germany and the holding down of Germany. If Germany is to be broken up, that is a matter for the Germans themselves to arrange. We cannot do it, and if we did they would take the very first opportunity of bringing themselves together again. We ought to bear in mind that the Germans have not shown themselves incapable of self-government. After all, the Weimar Constitution was functioning quite satisfactorily until it was betrayed in 1933 and until the great economic crisis made conditions impossible for it to carry on. There is no reason why, in suitable conditions, representative institutions should not again function in Germany. It has been stated by the Prime Minister that every country must have the right to choose its own government so long as that government have no aggressive designs outside their own boundaries. That is perfectly true, but it should be borne in mind that, in choosing its government, a country will be far more likely to be a peaceful neighbour if it selects a government based on democratic and representative methods.

The second proposal that some people have in mind is that, Hitlerism having been destroyed, we should all live happily ever afterwards, and that there is no need to bother much about organisation—that it will be necessary only to meet around a table and discuss things. I was rather concerned to read certain phrases in the Prime Minister's broadcast the other night which have a bearing on this. I hope I have misinterpreted them, but it will be useful to comment on them, because a great many people have been disturbed about them. The Prime Minister said: In such a Europe fear of aggression would have ceased to exist, and such adjustments of boundaries as would be necessary would be thrashed out between neighbours sitting on equal terms round a table, with the help of disinterested third parties if it were so desired. You will not get that simply by sitting round a table, unless you have, somewhere in the background, force to insist that those who do not want to agree shall be obliged to do so. Then the Prime Minister said: Lastly, in such a Europe armaments would be dropped as a useless expense. As my hon. Friend pointed out, that is not going to happen of its own accord. It will not come about as ripe apples fall from a tree. Disarmament would come only as the result of a disarmament convention between a large number of nations. The final passage I shall quote is this: Consequently, you would need some machinery capable of conducting and guiding the development of the new Europe in the right direction. That seems to me very much like the League of Nations without sanctions, which clearly was what the Prime Minister had in view a year or so ago. I hope I am quite wrong in thinking that anything of the kind is contemplated at the moment, because we have already tried the policy of the League of Nations without sanctions. We have adopted that policy since 1931, and it has led to complete disaster. I hope there is no intention of trying it again. It is clear that force is going to continue to exercise its function. The question is whether it is going to be national force, exercised as any State thinks fit, or international force, exercised in the general interests of humanity.