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House of Commons.

March 14, 1938.

The speech of the Prime Minister overshadows the Debate and dominates all our minds. I do not know when in my lengthening experience of the House of Commons I have heard - certainly not since the War - a statement so momentous, expressed in language of frigid restraint but giving the feeling of determination behind it. I am sure in all quarters of the House we heard with greatest pleasure his affirmation of the rights and interest and duty of Great Britain in Central Europe. He has said that there must be no hasty decision, and everybody will feel that while our minds are under the immediate influence of this painful and lamentable event is not the best time to take fresh resolves, provided that nothing is lost by delay.

I listened with great pleasure to the speech of the Hon Member for Sparkbrook I found myself ready to respond to the appeal which he made that we should pool our opinions and efface differences as far as possible. Above all, I agree with him in his statement that the policy to declared, within a reasonably short time, by this country must be clear and precise, so that it can be understood, for good or ill, countries and all parties. Everyone remembers the controversy, which has dragged on for many years, about whether we could have stopped the Great War in 1914 if Sir Edward Grey had made plain declarations a week beforehand. I myself am of opinion that he did all that it was possible for him to do in the circumstances, and I doubt very much whether the event would have been averted even if he had made such a declaration. But still there is a weight of historic judgment piling up that in all these matters of international strife and danger it is most necessary that nations should declare plainly where they stand, and of all the nations which should so declare itself our country, with her insular characteristics still partially remaining to her, has an obligation to give a perfectly plain statement of what she will or will not do in certain contingencies when those contingencies approach the threshold of reality. Long delay would be harmful. Why should we assume that time is on our side? I know of nothing to convince me that if the evil forces now at work are suffered to feed upon their successes and upon their victims our task will be easier when finally we are all united. Not only do we need a clear declaration of the Government's policy, but we require to set to work to rally the whole country behind that declared policy, in order that there may not be shifts and changes, as well as that there may not be any doubt or hesitation. It will certainly be no easier for us to face the problems with which we are confronted a year hence than it is today. Indeed, we might easily delay resistance to a point where continued resistance and true collective security would become impossible.
The gravity of the event of the 11th of March cannot be exaggerated. Europe is confronted with a program of aggression, nicely calculated and timed, unfolding stage by stage, and there is only one choice open, not only to us, but to other countries who are unfortunately concerned-either to submit, like Austria, or else to take effective measures while time remains to ward off the danger and, if it cannot be warded off, to cope with it. Resistance will be hard, yet I am persuaded - and the Prime Minister's speech confirms me - that it is to this conclusion of resistance to overweening encroachment that His Majesty's Government will come, and the House of Commons will certainly sustain them in playing a great part in the effort to preserve the peace of Europe, and, if it cannot be preserved, to preserve the freedom of the nations of Europe. If we were to delay, if we were to go on waiting upon events for a considerable period, how much should we throw away of resources which are now available for our security and for the maintenance of peace? How many friends would be alienated, how many potential allies should we see go, one by one, down the grisly gulf, how many times would bluff succeed, until behind bluff ever-gathering forces had accumulated reality? Where shall we be two years hence, for instance, when the German Army will certainly be much larger than the French Army, and when all the small nations will have fled from Geneva to pay homage to the ever-waxing power of the Nazi system, and to make the best terms they can for themselves?
We cannot leave the Austrian question where it is. We await the further statement of the Government, but it is quite clear that we cannot accept as a final solution of the problem of Central Europe the event which occurred on March 11. The public mind has been concentrated upon the moral and sentimental aspects of the Nazi conquest of Austria-a small country brutally struck down, its Government scattered to the winds, the oppression of the Nazi party doctrine imposed upon a Catholic population and upon the working-classes of Austria and of Vienna, the hard ill-usage of persecution which indeed will ensue-which is probably in progress at the moment-of those who, this time last week, were exercising their undoubted political rights, discharging their duties faithfully to their own country. All this we see very clearly, but there are some things which I have not seen brought out in the public Press and which do not seem to be present in the public mind, and they are practical consideration of the utmost significance.
Vienna is the centre of all the communications of all the countries which formed the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of all the countries lying to the southeast of Europe. A long stretch of the Danube is now in German hands. This mastery of Vienna to Nazi Germany military and economic control of the whole of the communication of south-eastern Europe, by road, by river, and by rail. What is the effect of it what is called the balance of power, such as it is, and upon what is called the a word about this group of Powers called the Little Entente. Taken singly, the three countries of the Little Entente may be called Powers of the rank, but they are very vigorous States, and united they are a Great Power. They have hitherto been, and are still, united by the closest military agreement. Together they make the complement of a Great Power and of the military machinery of a Great Power. Rumania has the oil; Yugoslavia has the minerals and raw materials. Both have large armies; both are mainly supplied with munitions from Czechoslovakia. To English ears, the name of Czechoslovakia sounds outlandish. No doubt they are small democratic State, no doubt they have an army only two or three times as large as ours, no doubt they have a munitions supply only three times as great as that of Italy, but still they are a virile people; they have their treaty rights, they have a line of fortresses, and they have a strongly manifested will to live freely.
Czechoslovakia is at this moment isolated, both in the economic and in the military sense. Her trade outlet through Hamburg, which is based upon the Peace Treaty, can, of course, be closed at any moment. Now her communications by rail and river to the south, and after the south to the southeast, are liable to be severed at any moment. Her trade may be subjected to tolls of an absolutely strangling character.
Here is a country which was once the greatest manufacturing area in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is now cut off, or may be cut off at once unless, out of these discussions which must follow, arrangements are made securing the communications of Czechoslovakia. You may be cut off at once from the sources of her raw material in Yugoslavia, and from the natural markets which she has established there. The economic life of this small State may be practically destroyed as a result of the act of violence which was perpetrated last Friday night. A wedge has been driven into the heart of what is called the Little Entente, this group of countries which have as much right to live in Europe unmolested as any of us have the right to live unmolested in our native land.
It would be too complicated to pursue the economic, military, and material reactions, apart from moral sentiments altogether, into the other countries. It would take too long, but the effects of what has happened now upon Rumania, upon Hungary, upon Bulgaria, upon Turkey, must be the subject of the closest possible study, not only by His Majesty's Government, but by all who aspire to take part in the public discussion of these matters. By what has happened it is not too much to say that Nazi Germany, in its present mood, if matters are left as they are, is in a position to dominate the whole of South-east Europe. Over an area inhabited perhaps by 200,000,000 of people Nazidom and all that it involves is moving on to absolute control. Therefore, I venture to submit to the House that this Nazi conquest of Austria cannot remain where it is, and that a patient, determined, persevering discussion of it ought to take place and to be pushed forward, first of all, no doubt, through the Chanceries and by the diplomatic channels, but also and ultimately it should be pushed forward in the natural place for such discussions at Geneva-under the League of Nations. We are not in a position to say tonight, "The past is the past." We cannot say, 'the past is the past," without surrendering the future. Therefore, we await further statements from His Majesty's Government with the greatest possible interest.
The serious nature of our affairs is realised and apprehended in all parts of the House. I have often been called an alarmist in the past, yet I affirm tonight that there is still, in my belief, an honourable path to safety and, I hope, to peace. What ought we to do? The Prime Minister today has made a declaration upon the subject of defence. There is to be a new effort of national rearmament and national service. We shall have to lay aside our easy habits and methods. We shall have to concentrate on securing our safety with something like the intensity that has been practised in other countries whose excesses we may desire to restrain. I think the House will be grateful to the Prime Minister for that declaration, and I am certain that he may rely upon all those strong forces in every party throughout the country to second the efforts of the Government to place us in a position where we shall not feel ourselves liable to be blackmailed out of our duties, out of our interests and out of our rights.
It seems to me quite clear that we cannot possibly confine ourselves only to a renewed effort at rearmament. I know that some of honourable friends on this side of the House will laugh when I offer them this advice. I say, "Laugh, but listen." I affirm that the Government should express in the strongest terms our adherence to the Covenant of the League of Nations and our resolve to procure by international action the reign of law in Europe. I agree entirely with what has been said by the Leaders of the two Opposition parties upon that subject; and I was extremely glad to notice that at the beginning and in the very forefront of his speech the Prime Minister referred to the League of Nations and made that one of the bases of our right to intervene and to be consulted upon affairs in Central Europe.
The matter has an importance in this country. There must be a moral basis for British rearmament and British foreign policy. We must have that basis if we are to unite and inspire our people and procure their wholehearted action, and if we are to stir the English-speaking people throughout the world.
Our affairs have come to such a pass that there is no escape without running risks. On every ground of prudence as well as of duty I urge His Majesty's Government to proclaim a renewed, revivified, unflinching adherence to the Covenant of the League of Nations. What is there ridiculous about collective security? The only thing that is ridiculous about it is that we have not got it. Let us see whether we cannot do something to procure a strong element of collective security for ourselves and for others. We have been urged to make common cause in self-defence with the French Republic. What is that but the beginning of collective security? I agree with that. Not so lightly will the two great liberal democracies of the West be challenged, and not so easily, if challenged, will they be subjugated. That is the beginning of collective security. But why stop there? Why be edged and pushed farther down the slope in a disorderly expostulating crowd of embarrassed States. Why not make a stand while there is still a good company of united, very powerful countries that share our dangers and aspirations? Why should we delay until we are confronted with a general landslide of those small countries passing over, because they have no other choice, to the overwhelming power of the Nazi regime?
If a number of States were assembled around Great Britain and France in a solemn treaty for mutual defence against aggression; if they had their forces marshalled in what you may call a Grand Alliance; if they had their Staff arrangements concerted; if all this rested, as it can honourably rest, upon the Covenant of the League of Nations, in pursuance of all the purposes and ideals of the League of Nations; if that were sustained, as it would be, by the moral sense of the world; and if it were done in the year 1938-and, believe me, it may be the last chance there will be for doing it-then I say that you might even now arrest this approaching war. Then perhaps the curse which overhangs Europe would pass away. Then perhaps the ferocious passions which now grip a great people would turn inwards and not outwards in an internal rather than an external explosion, and mankind would be spared the deadly ordeal towards which we have been sagging and sliding month by month. I have ventured to indicate a positive conception, a practical and realistic conception, and one which I am convinced will unite all the forces of this country without whose help your armies cannot be filled or your munitions made. Before we cast away this hope, this cause and this plan, which I do not at all disguise has an element of risk, let those who wish to reject it ponder well and earnestly upon what will happen to us if, when all else has been thrown to the wolves, we are left to face our fate alone.






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