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German Goods (Import Prohibition)

Volume 278: debated on Wednesday 17 May 1933

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I beg to move,

"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the prohibition of the importation of German goods as part of an international sanction under the covenant of the League of Nations."
I am moving this Bill in order to focus public attention upon this proposal as a possible method of dealing with Germany if she should decide, regardless of what anybody else may say, to re-arm. I venture to think that the feeling of the whole country, quite apart from how this situation has arisen or what steps should be taken to deal with it, will be that in no circumstances can the rearmament of Germany be permitted, and that that must be stated to Germany with the utmost possible firmness.

The question arises how is it possible, what practical steps can be taken, to deal with the situation when it does arise? There is, of course, the possibility of military action. That has been referred to in another place. But it is difficult to see how that arises under the Treaty of Versailles, and if there is an alternative obviously that method would be preferable. The suggestion that I make for consideration by this House and the country is the use of the economic weapon. The actual method by which the Bill would work is this: It takes the framework of the Act recently passed to deal with Russian imports, but it makes the use of the powers under that Act dependent upon multi-lateral action by all nations together as a sanction under the League of Nations. Obviously action by this country alone would be quite futile, and the proposal that is made is for joint international action, so that if a situation were to arise in which action had to be taken the Government could act forthwith without any possible delay. I am sure that that will be thought to be desirable.

In saying this I think, in common fairness to the situation, I must say another thing, and that is with regard to the responsibility for the present situation in Germany. Obviously, the Allies, and this country among others, have made mistakes in diplomacy during the last few years, and they have contributed unquestionably to the supersession of the democratic regime by the Hitler regime in Germany. Indeed, until a few months ago it was openly recognised by every one that Germany had a real grievance in the fact that the Allied nations—I am taking them as a whole, because I want to be as non-provocative as I can be— had not carried out in an adequate and complete measure their obligations under the Covenant, and in particular under Article 8, with regard to disarmament.

In connection with any action that is taken now I feel very strongly that we must deprive Germany of any sense of grievance, and I hope therefore that we shall press on with the programme of the Government, the draft treaty laid by the Prime' Minister before the Disarmament Conference the other day and still more with the great declaration of policy made by the President of the United States yesterday. But, whatever the responsibilities in this matter may be, we have to deal with a situation as we find it at the moment—a situation highly critical and dangerous to the whole future of civilisation. The hideous monster of militarism has once again reared its head in Germany, and we must see that steps are taken so that it shall not acquire the means to do ill deeds. I am asking leave to introduce this Measure with the support of Members in all parts of the House, and I venture to hope that it will serve a useful purpose for the House of Commons on its own responsibility, not committing the Government in any way, by firmly allowing a First Beading to the Bill to express its willingness to study this particular method of dealing with the situation that might develop, and its readiness to grant powers of this kind if the Government on their responsibility felt that they were required.

I feel that the House is asked to take not merely an unprecedented but a very grave step. I feel as seriously as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) can do the dangers which the spirit that has been shown in Germany in the last few months brings close before us as we meet to-day. I have already spoken on that subject. I do not think I can add much to, and I have nothing to withdraw from, what I did say. That spirit, hateful in its domestic manifestation, unchristian, uncharitable, narrow and relentless, is a danger to all the world in the implications it may have for foreign policy; and I am prepared, if the occasion arises and when the occasion arises, to support His Majesty's Government in any steps which they may think necessary to combat the danger which threatens us all. But I submit to the hon. Member that his Motion ought not to be made in advance of the emergency arising, and that it could be made and ought to be made, if necessary, at the time, by a responsible Minister of the Crown. I beg the hon. Member earnestly not to proceed with his Motion, not because I think I differ from him upon the merits of the case or should differ from him if the emergency arises, in regard to the action which we may have to take, but because I think it is premature to assume beforehand that the wrong will be done, and that to take a vote of the House at this moment might, for reasons wholly unconnected with the real merits of the question under consideration, give a wrong impression of the sentiments of this House, which were unanimously declared in our Debate on 13th April.

In view of that appeal, I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

If that is the proper procedure, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.