§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The Bill we are now asked to read a second time authorises a further expenditure of over £400,000,000 on the War, making a total of Votes of Credit of over £2,000,000,000. I do not propose this afternoon to deal with the grave financial problems involved in these colossal figures. There will be other and early opportunities for doing that. But I think when the House of Commons is asked to vote such an enormous sum as this we are justified in asking whether there be no alternative to this continual expenditure, and whether it be not possible by some other means to bring this War to an end on terms and conditions which will realise the objects for which we are fighting. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, speaking in this House three months ago, in reply to a speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan), said it was absurd to say that any Member of the Government would not jump at a chance of bringing this War to an end, provided that it could be brought to an end on such terms as would realise our object. He said that everybody is anxious to bring the War to an end on conditions consistent with our national honour and security. That precisely explains my position this afternoon, and it is the justification for the proposal which we are putting forward. We make this proposal with a deep sense of the seriousness and importance of the action we are taking. I am well aware that I speak to an audience which, in one respect, is out of sympathy with the proposal I make, but I am confident that the House of Commons will extend to me that courtesy and consideration to which all views honestly and reasonably stated are entitled, when they are put forward with an earnest hope of doing something to bring this awful tragedy to an end. There are no differences of opinion as to our desire to accomplish that end. The horror at the appalling loss of life, the suffering, and the ruin involved is universal, and only a deep conviction of the 714 justice of the national cause encourages the nation to continue the War. Whatever differences there may be as to the causes and the origins of the War, I do not think this is the time for debating and emphasising those differences. The time for that will come, and then, when the question can be looked at free from passion, and in an atmosphere unclouded 'by the smoke of battle, blame and responsibility will be justly apportioned. It is enough for us at the moment to realise the awful facts of the situation, and to contribute what each may be able to bring this War to a speedy end—to a satisfactory and an honourable conclusion.
In no former war has the nation given such practical and overwhelming testimony of its belief in the righteousness and justice of our national cause. It is an unanswerable proof of the determination of the nation to continue this War to a successful conclusion that, as the First Lord of the Admiralty recently said, more than 6,000,000 men should have voluntarily enlisted for a cause which is, indeed, nearest to our dearest and most permanent interests, but which does not involve invasion, or even serious danger of invasion, of our hearths and homes. We who are supposed to take an unorthodox view of the origins of this War frankly recognise these facts, and we are at one with the rest of our fellow countrymen in earnestly desiring that the noble aims for which these men have offered their lives, and for which the country has made, and appears to be willing to continue to make, unparalleled sacrifices, shall be securely established. There can be no doubt either of the wholly disinterested motives which have prompted the people of this country to support the War. The people of this country never wanted war. The people of no country ever want war until their fears, or passions, or moral indignation have been aroused. Putting aside the wild and foolish ravings of a few thoughtless or selfish individuals, I think it would be true to say that this country desires no other conclusion of this War than one that will give us reparation for the wrong that has been done, and, as far as human judgment can secure it, guarantees and conditions against its repetition. The only difference between those of us who are putting forward this proposal for negotiation and those who are opposed to it, is that while all are equally anxious to see a speedy and successful 715 termination to the War, we believe that that is more possible now than by a prolongation of the War in the hope that a decisive military victory will enable us to dictate terms to a vanquished foe.
We are constantly warned of the danger of a premature and inconclusive peace. Such a warning is quite unnecessary, and as a criticism of our suggestion it is quite undeserved. It can never be premature to end an awful tragedy like this, provided the end will give us what we can reasonably hope to obtain by a prolongation of the War. As I said, if it be a criticism of our suggestion, it is altogether undeserved. I do not suppose there is one man in the country who desires such a termination of the War, if by an inconclusive peace is meant such a condition of things as will leave all the material for a repetition of this War, create new injustices and new irritation, leave reasonable national aspirations unsatisfied, leave militarism unsubdued, leave small nations a prey to the menace of greater Powers, leave a condition of things in Europe which will make the maintenance of large armaments still necessary. If this be what is meant by an inconclusive peace, I doubt if there be one man in the country who would not say that a prolongation of the War, with all its horrors and ruin, would not be preferable to such a conclusion as that, provided we have reasonable ground for hoping that the prolongation of the War would enable such a conclusion to be reached as will establish a just and lasting peace. I am sure those who condemn all peace negotiations now do so because they believe the time is not opportune. I think I am only doing them justice when I say that if they could be convinced that peace could be concluded now on such conditions as would give us guarantees and conditions against a repetition of this War, they, equally with us, would welcome such a termination of hostilities. I am making these proposals because we believe there is abundant evidence that such a thing may be done now, and that the longer the War continues the greater will be the difficulties in the end of arranging conditions of a just settlement, and because we so earnestly feel that no opportunity ought to be lost and no effort spared to prevent the unnecessary sacrifice of one human life.
In proceeding to give reasons and arguments in support of this proposal I shall 716 have to tread on highly controversial and somewhat delicate ground, but I shall endeavour to be as little provocative as possible and as discreet as is consistent with honest feeling and frankness. The prolongation of the War can only be justified by the reasonable expectation that, by its continuance, we shall we placed in a position to dictate such terms to the enemy as will secure the future of European peace. I know there have been some wars in the past in which the fortunes of battle seemed to go against that side which eventually emerged more or less successfully. The fact that after eighteen months of war the military situation is so unsatisfactory to the Allies is no evidence in itself that a decisive military victory may not yet come to the Allied Forces. But in a matter like this, where so much is at stake, where millions of lives are in peril, and where the fate of Europe is involved, we must be honest with ourselves, and it is criminal to encourage self-deception. I am sure there are few men who, taking an intelligent and dispassionate view of the military situation and of the new experiences which this War has brought, would say that there is any reasonable ground for the hope that a decisive and crushing military victory can come to either of the contending parties. For fifteen months in the main theatre of war these two great armies have been facing each other in practically the same position. Here and there, at a cost far greater in life and treasure than has been involved in decisive military victories in other wars, a few yards have been won and lost, but these two great armies face each other practically in the same position, and, as Lord Courtney put it, unconquered and unconquerable. This great War differs from all former wars. New methods and new factors have been introduced, and these vitiate all comparisons with the experience of former wars for the purpose of coming to a conclusion, or, at any rate, justifying the hope that the military deadlock may be removed. Of course, if we had an unlimited supply of men and an overwhelming superiority of munitions it might be possible to break the deadlock, but even then it could only be done at an appalling sacrifice of human life, quite regardless of the devastation we should necessarily have to inflict upon the towns and villages of France and Belgium.
But the prophet is entitled to have his prophecies respected when they are fully 717 justified the first opportunity they have of fulfilment. I was lately reading De Bloch's book, "The Future of War," and the prophecies that he there made seventeen years ago have been so completely justified by the experiences of this War that they give one an almost uncanny feeling. May I read two or three sentences? He says:In the future war, whatever the combinations may be, one side will stand primarily on the defensive; and if after the repulse of the enemy's attacks, it, in its turn, resorts to attack for the purpose of finally overthrowing him, such operations can only be carried on for a short distance, as the newly attacking army will meet with similar insuperable obstacles. The contending armies will often—in all probability―exchange their parts. Taken by themselves, the improvements in the magazine rifle and in artillery are sufficiently serious to justify grave doubt whether or not we have reached a stage when the mechanism of slaughter has been so perfected as to render a decisive battle practically impossible.… When we say that war is impossible, we mean that it is impossible for the modern State to carry on war, under modern conditions, with any prospect of being able to carry on that war to a conclusion by defeating its adversary by force of arms on the battlefield. No decisive war is possible. War has become impossible, except at the price of suicide. The men at the front will very speedily be brought to a deadlock.… At first there will be increased slaughter—increased slaughter on so terrible a scale as to render it impossible to get troops to push the battle to a decisive issue. They will try to do so, thinking that they are fighting under the old conditions, and they will learn such a lesson that they will abandon the attempt for ever. Then … the war, instead of being a hand-to-hand contest, in which the combatants measure their physical and moral superiority, will become a kind of stalemate, … both armies will be maintained in opposition to each other … but never being able to deliver a final and decisive attack.This is the military situation after eighteen months, and it offers no hope whatever. If at the end of another year we find this deadlock still maintained, after having added 1,000,000 more casualties to the present appalling number and £2,000,000,000 more to the National Debt, is the attitude of the Government and of the nation still to be one of refusing to face obvious facts and of refusing to try to find every other means of bringing this War to an end on such conditions as will ensure a just and lasting peace? We put that question to the Government, and we ask for an answer.
I need not labour the argument of the military position at any length, for I am quite sure there are few men who believe—I doubt if there is any member of the Government who in his heart believes—that it is possible by force of arms for the Allies to achieve a crushing and overwhelming victory, much less for the Central Powers to accomplish such a purpose. We hear much more now about victory by economic exhaustion of the Central Powers. Every scrap of more or less reliable newspaper talk is seized upon in 718 order to encourage the hope of a speedy termination of the War by the economic collapse of the enemy, but by the time the enemy collapses from economic exhaustion every other combatant will be practically in the same position. I suppose there is no doubt that if the War goes on long enough the enemy will come to the end of his material and financial resources, but every other belligerent will be in the same position. Our Allies are kept in the field now only by the financial and material help that we are able to give them. At the recent Labour Congress at Bristol one of the ablest French delegates, in the most moving speech to which I ever listened, spoke in tones of anguish and horror of those politicians who callously talk about the War going on for two or three years longer. He said:We cannot stand it. France has 800,000 dead, 1,400,000 wounded, and 300,000 prisoners, and they have the immensity of sorrows and tears that these figures leave. There is a danger sometimes of English statesmen speaking too lightly of the War lasting two or even three years because it is accepted by the great enemy of England and France.War by attrition will be long and costly and it will leave everyone of the belligerent nations financially and commercially ruined, and it will be the very worst form of inconclusive peace, for it will engender chronic hate and revenge, and they will be united in a common determination to re-establish in their national position the liberal and democratic forces and the military party in the German nation.
If we are determined to go on fighting until we have accomplished that undefined, and to me incomprehensible, something which is indicated by the crushing of Germany, it is well that we should count the cost and that we should have a reasonable expectation that that is possible, and, above all, we should be convinced that that is the best method for re-establishing the international relations of the European Powers. But I do not believe, for reasons which I have already given, that a military victory of a decisive character is possible, and a war of attrition would wear out the patience and the endurance of the people in the Allied countries, and it would be, as I indicated in other words just now, the very worst basis for the establishment of a just and lasting settlement.
Even if we grant the possibility of a military victory, or the possibility of subduing the enemy by economic exhaustion, will that really help us to attain 719 the objects for which we are at war? Will the crushing of Germany, either by superior military force, or any other way, promote those good relations between the various countries in Europe which are essential if we are to have no repetition of this War? If we achieve victory, shall we be able to carry out the programme which some of our ultra-patriots desire? If we divide the German Fleet and appropriate all the German shipping; if we dismember the German Empire by force; and if, as we are advised to do by one very patriotic and influential journal in this country, we insert in the terms of settlement a clause enabling us at any time, just to suit our own purpose, to annul or to alter any clause in a treaty, is that going to help us to realise the noble ideal set forth by the Prime Minister in his Dublin speech of a real European partnership based upon the recognition of equal rights, established and enforced by the common will? I call that sheer madness, and the worst enemies of our own country within our own gates are those people who are offering the most preposterous terms to Germany. Such a speech as that delivered by Lord Rosebery, in which he said that the War must be continued until Germany was utterly ruined; such a speech as that delivered by the President of the Board of Trade, in which he said after the War we must see that Germany does not raise her head again; and such writings as those which are constantly appearing in certain reviews, are doing more than all else to prolong this War, and they are costing this country thousands of lives and millions of money. They are preventing those among the German people who are in favour of peace, who have no sympathy with Prussian militarism—[An HON. MEMBER: "How many are there?"]—I will tell the hon. Member in a few minutes—from exerting a still wider influence in favour of peace. And they are also confirming that idea, which is so sedulously fostered by the Prussian military caste, that this War has been forced upon Germany by Great Britain through jealousy of her great commercial prosperity.
Now, the settlement of this War will depend upon the frame of mind and spirit in which the cessation of hostilities finds the various nations. No victory in the field can establish the conditions of a permanent peace unless there be the will- 720 ingness, and the disposition, to accept that superior right which recognises that the real interest of a nation lies in respecting and safeguarding the interests of all. The ruthless subjugation of Germany would be the very worst preparation for a just and lasting peace in Europe. It may be said that there is no such intention if the Allies succeed in achieving a decisive military victory. If that be so, then there is no justification for the policy of fighting to the last man and the last shilling. The coercion of Germany will require the military organisation of Europe. What has kept the Allies united in this trouble is the menace of a powerful and unconquered Germany, but when Germany has been crushed and ruined then that cohesion will fall apart. Germany will cherish designs for the restoration of her national position, and she will find new Allies, and another great war will be only a matter of time.
The outstanding lesson of this War is that militarism stands discredited. It is now proved to be a futile method of serving aggressive designs. No great modern nation can conquer or be conquered, and that fact has a most vital relation to the condition of peace. If it now be the fact that military power is futile for the purpose of aggrandizement and aggression, then these conditions and the future relations of Europe must be governed by that fact, and an inconclusive ending of this War, in the sense that all the belligerent Powers realise the futility of military power, would be the surest guarantee against a repetition of war. Now, I frankly confess that, unless nations have learnt that lesson, I see no hope whatever for the future of European peace; but it is because I do most earnestly believe that the nations, and especially that nation which had most need to learn such a lesson, are being driven to accept that fact, that I think the time is ripe for making a movement in that direction. This War differs, too, in another very important respect, and that is in the influence which democracy can now exercise in the settlement of national and international affairs. It is no reply to that claim to say that international democracy failed to prevent the outbreak of this War. Up to a certain point the growing power of democracy weakens its influence with the governing classes, because it fortifies their position, and they dig themselves more securely 721 into their entrenchments. For forty years the German Social Democrats have been fighting Prussian militarism, and I think, when the real facts are known, it will be found that in no country in Europe, with the exception of Hungary and Italy, where the Socialists have stood unitedly against the War, has the spirit of internationality been kept alive so much as in the German Social Democratic Party. They, like the working classes of all the belligerent nations, were swept away at the outbreak of war by the fear of national invasion, or they were driven into the Army under conscript laws. They then rapidly recovered themselves, and neither in Great Britain nor in France is there such a widespread demand for peace as in the German Social Democratic movement, and the surest foundation for establishing the future peace of Europe is to induce the co-operation of the great German democracy. For forty years they have realised that Prussian militarism is the deadliest enemy of their own class and of their own country.
The desire for peace in Germany is not confined to the Social Democrats. It is almost universal among the people. But even if it were confined to them, their number is so great that they would be a very important asset. This desire for peace in Germany is not prompted by any sense of defeat. It is due for one reason to the conviction that the invulnerability of Germany against outside attack has been proved by the experiences of this War. German Socialists supported the War only so long as they believed it to be a War of defence, but, as the War has progressed, and has shown that Germany is invulnerable against outside attack, the demand for peace amongst the German Social Democrats has grown. It will be within the recollection of the House that near the end of last year the German Socialists, as a united party, raised an interpellation in the German Reichstag. It is quite true that there are in the German Socialist Party in the Reichstag different degrees of thought and feeling on this matter, but the official spokesman of the party on that occasion belonging to the more moderate section of the party voiced in the most emphatic, and, if I may say, in the most eloquent manner, the unanimous desire of the German Socialists for an early conclusion of the War, and the speech of the German Chancellor on that occasion, when one remembers in what guarded language he 722 had to speak, gave, I thought, considerable encouragement for approaches to be made from other quarters. He said:We have to safeguard our economic development. I believe there is nobody in the German Fatherland who does not strive for this end. As regards the means to attain it, we must reserve complete freedom for our decisions. We do not threaten small nations. We do not wage the War, which has been forced upon us, in order to subjugate foreign peoples, but for the protection of our life and freedom. For the German Government this War has remained what it was from the beginning, namely, a defensive War. The War can only be terminated with a peace which, according to human judgment, offers no security against its repetition. Upon this we are all agreed. This is our strength, and will continue to be so.Herr Scheidermann, the spokesman of the German Socialist Party, speaking, as I said, in the name of the whole party, made this utterance:Is there a single man in this country who would not rejoice if we could put an end to this terrible War? Not only the workers, but the tradespeople, the small farmers are longing for a peace assuring the safety of our economic development, and our political independence. And do not the mothers, wives and children of our enemy soldiers long as keenly for the end of this fury as is the case with us? If the Press in the belligerent countries could discuss the objects of the War and the desire for peace, in all countries the desire for peace would come out on top.He went on to say:The Chancellor knows that the German people went into this War united and in closed ranks to defend hearth and home. But he must also know that the German people do not desire war for a day longer than is necessary to secure that aim. For our country and its independence the people have staked everything, but for the private interests of capitalists the people would not sacrifice the life of a single soldier. It is not the lust of conquest that constrains us.I do not want to trouble the House with quotations, but I have here a large number from German Socialist leaders and organs of various opinions in Germany, all of which have a most vital bearing upon this most vital of all matters. Herr Landsberg, another Socialist deputy, also spoke on the occasion to which I have referred, and he said:The Chancellor has expressed his readiness for the conclusion of an honourable peace, and I have not heard in his speech of any unfair conditions which he expects from the adversary. This is for me the decisive point. What is exactly understood by safeguards will be settled when once the pourparlers have begun. The chief thing is that they should begin, and no statesman of any enemy country can now reject the possibility of peace discussion with the comment that they will be considered as a sign of weakness on his part.The "Voerwärts," the leading Socialist newspaper, commenting upon the debate, said:The whole proceedings show to all who will listen that there is no single voice in the German Parliament which desires to carry on the War for the sake of war. It has been shown once more that, apart from a few madmen and profiteers,' as a capitalist journalist recently called them, 723 every one in the German Empire wants peace.… It is a great and enduring service that the interpellation of the Social Democrats has done in showing that the German nation, and also the German Government, are ready to enter into peace negotiations—of course, not so long as Briand, Asquith and Sazanoff, deaf to all the warnings of reality, set up as the aim of the War the curtailing, disruption, even destruction of Germany and her Allies.A neutral journal, the "Handelsblad," a very important Dutch paper, commenting upon this debate, said:—That the Chancellor's speech had indeed in view the opening of peace negotiations is shown by the mention, for the first time, of 'guarantees' with regard to Belgium, from which we may conclude that he would be prepared for the evacuation of Belgium and Northern France.The most important journal of the Liberals, the "Frankfurter Zeitung," when commenting upon the debate, said:—Any candid reader of the Chancellor's speech must recognise that, to put the matter in a nutshell, he is prepared in principle to sit round a table and negotiate with the enemy. But after he had let this be known, as he could do in the consciousness of the strength of ourselves and our Allies, the next step must come from others.And, further, the "Journal de Geneve" says this:—It is very injudicious to reject any discussion about the future peace with a shrug of the shoulders, because, on the one hand, Germany will be strengthened in the belief that the Quadruple Entente desires to smash its enemies completely, a belief which would only goad it on to the uttermost resistance, and, on the other hand, the neutrals will become hostile because they believe that Germany desires a just peace, whereas the Quadruple Entente constantly indulges in fancies about extermination.As showing the growth of opinion in the German Social Democratic party on this question within recent months, may I mention the fact that in the case of the first vote of credit, on 4th August last year, fourteen members at the party meeting were for the party opposing the credit; in the case of the second credit there were seventeen, in the third case twenty-three, in the fourth as many as thirty-six, and on the last occasion the number reached forty-three. In the Reichstag, however, owing to party discipline, twenty-three did not vote, but the remaining twenty braved the anger of the Socialist majority and voted against the vote of credit. It is significant that the action of these men has been confirmed by their constituents, and Scheidermann, who belonged to the moderate section, has joined the Advanced party in obedience to a mandate from his own constituency. The comment of the "Vorwärts" upon this matter is very important. It says:—In the voting of the new loan the Socialists were divided, sixty-six voted for, twenty against, 724 and twenty-two abstained. Among the twenty voting against were Liebknecht, Haase, and Bernstein. The majority justified their action on the ground that all their professions of readiness for peace, and their repudiation of annexations, had elicited from the Governments of the Entente nothing but renewed declarations of their intention to destroy German militarism. That being so, they unhesitatingly rallied to their Government.I think when we find a united socialist party in the Reichstag voting against war credits it is a clear declaration to the Entente Powers that they are willing to consider proposals for bringing this War to an end. I wish to give one further quotation, because there has been a certain exhibition of feeling on the Benches opposite. It is an extract from a leading militarist organ in Germany dealing with what it calls the Runciman programme.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am afraid I shall not be able to trust myself with its correct pronunciation, but it is the "Deutsche Tageszeitung":—In an article entitled 'Runciman's programme,' the paper quotes the debate in the House of Commons which followed the Resolution that all resources of the British Empire and of its Allies must be used against Germany, in the course of which Runciman said that Germany is already beaten economically, and that 'we must take care that after the victorious ending of the War Germany does not lift her head and begin an economic campaign.' On this Reventlow comments: 'We welcome these pronouncements of the British Minister of Commerce with special satisfaction, because they give the official confirmation as to what the British Government thinks of the state of things after the War. We have never doubted, from the beginning of the War, that Great Britain intends to destroy permanently the economic expansion of Germany. Great Britain has never fought any war from other motives or for other aims. The British statesmen since 1903 organised the great European coalition against Germany in order to get rid of her as a rival in the domain of industry and commerce.May I mention here that the speeches which were delivered in the Reichstag on the occasion to which I have referred have been issued in the form of a pamphlet, and they are on sale at every stall in Germany, where every encouragement appears to be given by the authorities for the dissemination of this Socialist demand for peace. Then there is Victor Adler, the well-known Austrian Socialist, who, speaking at a conference last month of the Parliamentary group of the German group of the Social Democrats in Austria held at Vienna, said:—It is obvious to everyone that the work of defence is assured and that the War continues for the sole reason that discussions of peace are not attempted. The group has considered it its duty to point out forcibly to the Government again and again that the mass of the working people, on whom the sacrifices of the War weigh most heavily, desire peace more earnestly every day.… Since 725 we Austrians cannot speak for ourselves our German comrades have expressed in our name in the German Reichstag, by the mouth of citizen Scheidermann, our wish for peace and we thank him.I submit that the facts I have adduced prove that there is reasonable ground for believing that the present is a favourable opportunity for holding out the hand of negotiation. I am sure that such an effort coming from this Government, speaking with all the authority that this Government could do, would be heartily welcomed, and it would find a hearty welcome from the sorely stricken people of other countries, and would be regarded by German Socialists as an encouragement to them to increase their efforts to secure such a peace as I am quite sure all parties might regard as an honourable and satisfactory end to this War. I am fully aware of the difficulty, but I was especially gratified by the tone and the terms of a reply to a question which I addressed to the Prime Minister last December, in which he said:The Allied Governments would be willing to consider any serious proposals for peace which might come from belligerent countries.The Prime Minister only needs to go one step further. He can give encouragement to offers for peace and he can translate into more definite and precise language his Guildhall speech. There are many channels open to the Government through which negotiations may be opened up, and we have a right to demand that the Government shall say in much more definite and precise language the terms upon which they would be willing to consider peace. If this were a matter in which the personal reputations of statesmen were alone concerned, it would not matter so much, but every day we must remember that thousands of lives are being lost, thousands of homes are being made desolate, and millions of treasure are being wasted. It may be said that if we showed a disposition to discuss terms of peace it might be taken as a sign of weakness and weariness of the War on our part. But that did not deter the German democrats from making precisely a similar demand upon their Government. Our Government went a long way before the outbreak of war to avert hostilities, and it is no less important now that we should try and obtain peace than it was then to avert war. No nation is in such a strong position as we are to take that step. No enemy soldiers occupy our land, and our Fleet maintains our national safety inviolate. Therefore we can afford to disregard all charges of weakness. I would like here to repeat the eloquent words in which the Socialist 726 spokesman in the Reichstag made his appeal. He said:The whole world will side with him who stretches out his hand for peace, and woe to those who refuse it! Their own people will call them to account, and cursed will they live in history who have refused the hand of peace in order to continue this awful War to the bleeding to death of Europe. I close with the wish that the immortal glory of having made the first decisive step towards the ending of this terrible War will fall upon our country.I would that immortal glory would fall to our country. By such an act would the greatness of this nation be shown, and it would, I fervently believe, be the greatest step ever taken to promote international good will by which, and by which alone, the conditions of a lasting peace can be obtained.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
My hon. Friend who has just sat down and I put down an Amendment to the Address in the first instance asking the Government for a statement of the terms on which they would be ready to negotiate, but we were glad when it was suggested to us to take a course which did not imply putting down a hostile Motion. We have no desire in any way to assume that there need be any difference of opininon upon a question like this. It ought, at any rate, to be discussed in this Parliament without any sense that the nation need be divided upon it. The principal fact in the situation to-day seems to me to be that, on the one hand, the British Prime Minister has said that the Allied Governments are ready to discuss, proposals of a serious character for a general peace. He made that statement recently to my hon. Friend who has just sat down. Both the Prime Minister of England and the German Chancellor have let it be understood that they are ready to consider proposals put forward by their enemies, but neither will, or have yet, put forward propositions themselves. The German Chancellor has said in the speech which has already been referred to:If I am to speak of our peace conditions, I must, first see the peace conditions of our enemies.That is to say, that as things stand now the suffering peoples and the wearied armies have no means of knowing how far or how near their Governments may be to one another, what differences could be settled now, and what differences still remain between the Governments so divided that this War must necessarily continue. Both Governments wish for peace, both Governments say that they would consider proposals if put forward by the other Government, both Governments appear to have proposals ready in 727 answer to any proposals put forward by their enemies, but neither Government will take the first step to make any proposals. So great a part does the question of precedence play in the dance of death. I want to consider for a moment or two whether there are any vital reasons to be urged against stating the general terms on which our country would be willing to make peace. I have often talked of this in private, and there are two reasons which I find are commonly given. One is that it would be a sign of weariness and an admission of defeat on our part, and an encouragement to the enemy. I know that view is commonly held among many people in the country. I dare say it would be so taken by a few German newspapers; but if Germans chose to think that a clear statement of what we needed for a settlement was proof that our resources were exhausted and our will sapped, after all that would be merely an unfortunate delusion on their part. The main facts of the European situation, the main military facts, would remain absolutely the same. What is, for instance, the principal certainty of this War for us? It is the overwhelming victory of the British Navy. That will not be changed by any statement of the terms or by any belief by any Germans that there is a weakening on our part. The fact is that if this War is to go on to another spring and summer, then whatever the contest may be and whatever the massacre may be, it will not be affected by the Government having tried to state how they would end the War if they only could.
Really, there is no reason why our terms, if put forward, should not rather be an assertion of confidence. Why should we not say to the enemy, "These are our terms. If you refuse them, well, continue the fight, knowing that we are invincible, and knowing that we will continue until you accept something which approaches our requirements of justice and security." We should be no worse off. The commonest objection which I find raised to stating terms is that which my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) made to the few words I said last November in this House. "What is the good?" he said. "We know that the Germans do not want peace except on terms that are impossible for us. They would not turn out of Belgium or of Northern France, or do anything that we require." For my 728 part I do not believe in that kind of telepathic understanding of our enemies. I do not wish to make any dogmatic assertion, but it does appear to me that there are good reasons—some of which have been given by my hon. Friend—to suppose that the Germans might now or very soon consider a peace which was reasonable from our point of view. May I quote, first of all, an authority which I think will be felt to be unimpeachable with regard to German opinion, namely, the great Russian Conservative paper "Novoe Vremya"?
§ Mr. FLETCHER
On a point of Order. The hon. Member is reading his speech, and I believe that is contrary to our Rules.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Mr. TREVELYAN
I am naturally compelled to read a quotation. The "Novoe Kemya" said in December:—A perusal of the German papers which reach us convinces us more and more that Germany wishes for peace, and that this wish is not limited to the social democrats. It is the result of fatigue induced by the War; but it would be a mistake to conclude that this desire is a sign of such weakness as would necessitate the conclusion of peace. What is most striking is the increasing number of those ready to make peace 'without annexations.'There are two very marked currents of opinion in Germany. There is one of which this House is well aware, but there is another of which it does not seem to be so well aware. There is the militarist party in Germany. That is well recognised here. They frankly and openly want to keep the conquests which Germany has made in Belgium and in Northern France They openly say so, and have never made any concealment of their desire or of their intention, and naturally in war time in Germany even more than here militarist views are the most loudly asserted. It is much more difficult for the voice of reason to be heard, even though the voice of reason may eventually prevail. There is a stricter censorship in Germany than there is here. That censorship even prevents the legal discussion of terms of peace, but in spite of all that there is an outspoken opinion against annexation and conquest in Germany, and I really think that my hon. Friend, in spite of some objections made by the House, has not exaggerated the importance of the Debate which took place in the Reichstag a little time ago. After all, just compare the situation here. In Germany the representatives of a party which include 4,000,000 of the German working men, not only the 729 minority which has opposed the War, but the great majority who are in favour of the War, through a spokesman who is in favour of the War have demanded terms of peace from the German Government. That was an important fact, but I wish to call the attention of the House to something which was even more important. The German Chancellor refused to state the terms, as I hope our Government will not refuse, and I want the House to observe the principal reason for his refusal. I do not for an instant say that he genuinely believed the opinion which he put forward. I do not care about that. It may have been merely the excuse of a politician, but the fact remains that he found the excuse available to his hand, and well did he use it. He said that it was useless to talk of peace in face of the official announcement of the Allied Powers to dismember and destroy Germany. I should like to read a few of the words which he actually said:The attitude of hostile Governments is completely decisive. Mr. Asquith in the Guildhall announced that the objects of the War were the same as at the outbreak of the War, namely, the freedom of small nations, especially Belgium, and the destruction of Prussian militarism.From the first day we knew that behind the phrase the protection of small States' was bidden the desire to finish for ever the great States whose development had been observed for so long with envy and distrust. This is what is called destruction of Prussian militarism.That is his interpretation. Again, at a later stage of his speech, he says of England:The assertion that Germany must be crushed must be maintained; their eyes are so fixed upon this aim that they cannot disabuse their minds of it, and therefore hundreds of thousands more men must be driven to slaughter.Again he says:The war of destruction is still waged against us.For my part, I do not believe that the true interpretation of the Prime Minister's words, "crushing German domination," is the dismembering of Germany, or the finishing of a great State of whom we are jealous, or the taking of German provinces, but I do venture to suggest that allowing that interpretation to be accepted without definite repudiation might be a mistake on the part of our Government. I want to carry that a little further and to show the kind of thing which is going on as a result of what is said in this country. In the earlier stages of the War it was an avowed principle of the British Government that any territorial alterations in Europe which the War might effect ought to be based on the voice of 730 the population. That is a principle which is very intelligible, and I am sure is supported by almost all British men, or it ought to be. At any rate, it ought to be intelligible. It was put most clearly by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill), speaking on 11th September, he then being a Cabinet Minister. He said:The first of our principles which we should keep before us is the principle of nationality—that is to say, not the conquest or subjugation of any great community, or of any strong race of men, but the setting free of those races which have been subjugated and conquered. And if doubt arises about disputed areas of country we should try and settle their ultimate destination in the reconstruction of Europe which must follow from this War with a fair regard to the wishes and feelings of the people who live in them.That was the policy of the Government. I rather want to know whether it is the policy of the Government now. It was a lofty, noble and statesmanlike utterance on the part of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee. He wants no new Alsace-Lorraine after this War—no new sores which will create wars for the next generation. That is true statesmanship. A few weeks ago Mr. Masterman, who is no longer in this House and no longer in the Cabinet, but who is, I believe, in a position of Government responsibility, wrote a letter to the "Daily Chronicle," which was printed in that newspaper with great flourishes. It was so pontifical in its nature that no reply of any sort was allowed to be made to it, and it was in no way noticed, by way of repudiation, by the Government. But in that article one of the principal features was the suggestion that Germany up to the Rhine ought to be made French; that the Rhine was the natural defensive boundary of France, and the natural Western boundary of Germany. That is entirely incompatible with the position taken up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee. What is the result? This article by Mr. Masterman is being quoted by every paper in Germany, in order to show what the real intention of the Allied Governments is—that is to take German provinces and to disrupt the German Empire. It is most unfortunate if this misconception is to be allowed to continue, unless indeed, which I do not believe, the Government have changed their policy.
I agree that Germany can only obtain peace when she clearly abandons her policy of annexation and aggression, and when her conquest of Belgium is renounced. But equally we have no chance of peace as long as Germany is convinced 731 that we are out on a policy of conquest and aggression. That can be easily made good by clear statements, and necessarily continued statements, by the British Government. Surely in every country the situation is much the same in this respect. In every country there is absolute unity in self-defence; the greater the danger, the more unsparing the sacrifices the people will be ready to make, and the greater determination to resist will be shown; the more the enemy threatens destruction, the more unbroken will be the national ranks. But in every country—and perhaps most in Germany, I agree—there is deep divergence as to the ultimate hope of the way in which this War should be settled. There is, chiefly in Germany, a party which expects and hopes in the end to secure a triumph by force of arms alone, by dictating to the enemy and by crippling him politically and economically. Such a party exists in all countries. There is also everywhere, in Germany as well as elsewhere, a large body of moderate opinion which is only seeking security, which repudiates conquest as being just as fatal to themselves as to the conquered, and which knows perfectly well that the crushing of countries with a population of 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 is not policy, but national insanity. I cannot help feeling that it is possible there might be a more rapid growth of reasonable opinion in Europe, even among our enemies, who are already weary of the War, if a different emphasis could be laid in official utterances in this country. The Prime Minister has said things other than those he said at the Guildhall at the beginning of the War. He made a remarkable speech at Dublin on the 25th September, a passage of which I should like to quote again. He said:—The idea of public right means, or ought to mean, perhaps, by a slow and gradual process, the substitution for force, for the clash of competing ambitions, of a real European partnership based on the recognition of equal rights and established and enforced by a common will. A year ago that would have sounded like a Utopian idea. It is probably one that may not or will not be realised either to-day or to-morrow. If and when this War is decided in favour of the Allies, it will at once come within the range, and before long within the grasp, of European statesmanship.My only regret is that that statement has not been repeated. It is not that I fear the Prime Minister has forgotten it; far from it. But one statement does not make a, policy: it only creates a hope in the minds of those who may read it. What 732 I suggest is that it would be, perhaps, more hopeful if the ideas which are conveyed in those sentences were put into some kind of concrete proposal and held up to Europe, in lieu of the rather vague declarations about the crushing of Germany. When we talk about crushing German militarism, or declare that the military domination of Prussia must be wholly and finally destroyed, I am sure I do not quarrel with the idea, I only ask hon. Members what conceivable test you can have in order to ascertain when your end has been attained. What we desire is a change of spirit in Germany. Have you any very definite barometer of the soul of the people? I do not say you cannot apply any test at all. I say you must in the end apply some practical test, and I suggest that that can only be approximately done by concrete demands which can be stated now and agreement with which would, in our opinion, imply the failure of German militarism and German ambitions.
I notice that newspapers in the United States of America, which are most favourable to the Allies, take the view—from their less impassioned outlook—that while it is now clear that Germany cannot be crushed, yet German militarism is already beaten. I want to suggest to the House that the best practical test as to whether German militarism is defeated will be, at some stage, whether or not their militarists have to sacrifice the advantages upon which they have staked their reputations. One test which is most crucial is whether Germany would evacuate Belgium and Northern France. We know it is the avowed policy of German militarists to keep Belgium and Northern France. To renounce them would in itself be proof of a humiliating defeat of the German militarist party. I do not know what the intentions of the German Government are; but what I do know is that time after time, during the last eighteen months, proposals have been heard of in all the neutral countries, which suggest that the German Government is ready to give up Belgium. It may be untrue, but there is very seldom smoke where there is no fire. At any rate, let us state our full terms and find out if that be the case. We do not know if Germany is ready to take, as a basis for peace, the territorial settlement of Europe according to the wishes of the populations. If they are, it would be a negation of German militarism. Therefore, I repeat, let us state our full terms, and find out. We do 733 not know if Germany would consent to a policy of European co-operation such as that outlined by the Prime Minister. If she did it would be an acknowledgment of a new ideal other than the force beginning to predominate in Germany. I say again, let us state our full terms and find out. Even if you make peace in Berlin itself, you cannot compel the abandonment of militarism any more than Germany could enforce the permanent disarmament of France in 1870.
It is a pertinent question how far militarism can survive in Germany if the terms of peace leave it no acquisition of territory and no injustices to avenge. I am sorry to keep the House so long. I recognise that I am speaking opinions which are unpopular with many hon. Gentleman. But it is my conviction there will be hard times for militarism everywhere after this War. Even if the War were stopped to-morrow on the Continent there is hardly a family in which there has not been a death, there is hardly a village in which there is not a band of cripples, there is no place in all the broad plains of Europe which has not felt, if not absolute ruin, at least the pinch of want. Even here, we ourselves have been told by the Prime Minister, who is not a man to overstate his case, that what had happened will for us be a serious strain of the resources of the country for a generation to come. How much worse already is it going to be for the resources of Germany, and of other Continental nations? When one hears men lightly, or despairingly asserting that the War must continue its course, because, unless it does, German aggression will be able to begin again in the next generation, I am inclined to ask where are the sinews of war to come from in a new generation for supporting any aggressive policy of armaments, or any new policy of conquest? Modern armaments exist on huge loans, on unbounded national credit. But national credit is going to be crippled for generations, at any rate, on the Continent. It may well be that Germany may be able at this moment—if it is a matter of national existence—to go on fighting for years in one ditch after another, as they are driven back. That may be possible, but I am bound to say I think that no nation will be able, when peace comes, to build up armaments again on bankruptcy. It would therefore be well if attempts were made to find if peace cannot be obtained now, and for this reason I earnestly adjure my fellow Members to consider whether we ought not 734 to take the only possible steps to ascertain whether victory has not already been won, not indeed a complete victory over Germany, but a victory over that particular spirit in Germany of which we have proclaimed ourselves the opponents.
§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)
I am very glad that the House of Commons has listened with patience and with respect to the two speeches which have been delivered. My hon. Friend who has just sat down told us that he knew he was giving utterance to unpalatable and unpopular sentiments. I should not like it to go forth to the world that the two hon. Gentlemen, to whom we have listened with well-deserved consideration, are the spokesmen of any substantial body of opinion in this country. I doubt very much whether either of them speaks for his own constituents. I am perfectly certain that they do not speak for the democracy of Great Britain. I draw a distinction between the two speeches. I have derived, I am sorry to say, very little light or instruction from the speech of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, but the speech of the hon. Member who opened the Debate not only contained many passages of eloquence and feeling, but deserved, and will I hope receive from me, respectful consideration and attention. The hon. Gentleman at the outset of his speech made a very welcome admission. I know he spoke not only with fervour, but with perfect sincerity. He said that in this country we were at one, first of all, in acknowledging the disinterested motives with which we here entered into and are carrying on the War, and next—this is more important—that we were at one, and should remain at one, in demanding that the conditions of peace should be such that our ends should be permanently and honourably attained.
I am very glad to take note of those statements on the part of my hon. Friend, and to put upon record, not only for the benefit of this country, but of countries outside, that there is absolute unity in the whole of this Kingdom in regard to those two supreme and cardinal points. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) then went on to make statements, or to occupy two positions which seemed to me rather difficult to reconcile one with another. In the first place, he said in one part of his speech that you cannot win this War by military means—that you have reached a condition of stale- 735 mate, and that military success in any decisive sense is impossible. That is a matter of opinion, and time will show whether or not the hon. Member is correct in his view of the situation, which is not mine. Then he went on to say, even if you did, by the successful conduct of your arms, obtain a decisive victory, the victory so attained—I understand him to mean by force—would only lead to inconclusive peace. Therefore, we cannot apparently either way, whether we are stalemated, or whether we checkmate the enemy, win the game. That is a very unsatisfactory and, to my mind, a somewhat illogical presentation of the possibilities of the case.
The real gist of my hon. Friend's speech, the point, at any rate to my mind, much the most interesting in it, was his contention, which he supported by a number of citations from speeches and newspapers, that there is in Germany a genuine desire for peace. What is the evidence which my hon. Friend adduces in support of that contention? In the first place, he referred to a Debate in the Reichstag—I am not taking it in the same order as he did—which recently took place, and to the speech of the German Chancellor, who appears to have said that he was quite willing to welcome approaches from other quarters. Everybody is very ready to welcome approaches from other quarters. The German Chancellor did not indicate that he is prepared himself to initiate them, and as he appears to have supplemented his statement by telling his fellow Deputies—I think he can hardly have intended his statement to be circulated outside Germany—that Germany had shown herself not the enemy of small nations—Germany which has annihilated and devastated Belgium, Germany which has done her best to annihilate and devastate Serbia—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Montenegro"]—and Montenegro and Poland—I say such a statement in such a context can only be described as one of colossal and shameless audacity. I should be more disposed to attach importance to the supposed, to the imaginary inclinations of the German Chancellor in the direction of peace, if they were put forward in language and sustained by arguments which were not so transparently hypocritical and futile.
What is my hon. Friend's other evidence of the supposed desire of Germany for peace? It is the action in the Reichstag and outside of the Social Democratic 736 Party. It is quite true that some members of that party have very courageously from the beginning of the War maintained a most unpopular position in the face of great obloquy, and to us they are men who are entitled to respect and sympathy. But to what does it all come? When it comes to a decisive vote, according to the figures given by my hon. Friend—they are new to me—out of a party which numbers 117—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not very important. Out of a party which numbers 110, only 20 could be persuaded to vote against the War Credit. That does not look very formidable evidence of a practical desire, even of the Social Democratic party in Germany, to come to conditions of peace. But I am not going to labour these points. I want to come for a moment—and I will not detain the House for more than a moment—to what is at the root of the whole matter. The hon. Member who has just sat down said:—Why do you not state your full terms of peace?He referred to a speech which I made in Dublin, I think very early in the War, and quoted from it a passage to which I entirely adhere in every respect. He seemed to think that when I, speaking as the head of the Government, at a most critical moment in the War, make a statement of that kind, that unless I go on repeating it time after time, it ought not to be treated as if it were a serious statement, or as if it represented the settled opinion of the Government and of the country. It is just as much my opinion and their opinion to-day as it was when it was first uttered. That again is by the way. The hon. Member said:—Why do you not state your full terms of peace?I stated in clear, direct, explicit, and emphatic language what are the terms upon which we in this country are prepared to make peace, and I will repeat them to-day. At the very beginning of the War, on the 9th November, 1914, I used this language—it is very familiar to this House, it is familiar to our Allies, it is familiar to our enemies, it is known by nobody better than by the German Chancellor, who chose to pervert and misrepresent it—I used this language and I repeat it to-day:—We shall never sheath the sword, which we have not lightly drawn, until Belguim—737 and I will add Serbia—recovers in full measure all, and more than all, which she has sacrificed, until France is adequately secured against the menace of aggression, until the rights of the smaller nationalities of Europe are placed upon an unassailable foundation, and until the military domination of Prussia—this is the language I used—is wholly and finally destroyed.I ask my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I ask the German Chancellor, what is there wanting in clearness or directness in this language? How can I make it more full? How can I make it more intelligible? How can I or anyone do more to convince him, and to convince all our enemies, that not until a peace based upon these foundations is within sight and attainable, not until then shall we or any of our gallant Allies abate by one jot our prosecution of this War?
The Prime Minister has just repeated phrases which he used at an earlier period of the War. I, for one, wish to express my deep disappointment that, considering the circumstances of this great world tragedy, he has not found it possible to make some advance in the directions proposed by my two hon. Friends who have initiated this Debate. The Prime Minister says that his own words are perfectly clear. I entirely agree that in so far as he lays down, as the condition of peace, the evacuation of Belgium, and reparation to that country, the evacuation of Serbia—and, of course, Northern France—and that respect to the smaller nationalities which is due to them, the whole country is in entire agreement with him, and he is perfectly right in saying that his words are clear and categorical. But it is the phrase at the end that is repeatedly used, namely, "until the military domination of Prussia is wholly and finally destroyed." That is not clear, Mr. Speaker, and is capable of very many different interpretations. It is because of the numerous interpretations to which that phrase has been put that hundreds and thousands of lives continue to be sacrificed on the battlefields of Europe. The Prime Minister said that my two hon. Friends who started this Debate did not represent any substantial body of opinion in this country. Whilst I fully admit that I was surprised, at the same time I must say I was gratified, at the manner in which their speeches were received by this House, because I know there are but few in agreement with us. At the same time, in the country, I believe, there is a far larger body of opinion 738 with us, than we are conscious of, because there is a large body of silent opinion that does not dare to express itself.
As the War continues it feeds upon itself. It is gaining momentum, and fresh excuses appear for its continuance. The original objects are being lost sight of, and monarchs and ministers responsible for the Government of the nations are mere puppets before the inexorable pressure of events. Violence begets violence, and all true sense of perspective and proportion is lost sight of. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn very rightly pointed out that as it exists now war is merely a matter of prolonged and mutual extermination between the forces in the field. Advance in one part is counterbalanced by withdrawal in another. While the military experts are experimenting as to what new devices they can find for the destruction of human life, daily more and more men and valuable lives are being sacrificed. In these conditions I do think—and the Prime Minister himself is always asking us to use a better sense of perspective—if the magnitude of this catastrophe could be grasped, surely it would not be wrong for us to strain every nerve to see whether there cannot be found some way to bring this catastrophe to an end? You can very easily drift into a war, as we know; but I should like the Government to realise that they cannot drift out of a war. That requires great determination, great foresight, great courage, and a characteristic which it is difficult to assume in war time—that is an imperviousness to the clamour of extremists. I am not asking for peace at any price. In the Amendment I put down to the Address, I made it clear that the terms in the first part of what the Prime Minister has repeated here this afternoon are terms which are necessary and essential for any peace. At the same time I do not belong to a party which is a war-at-any-price party. There is no doubt that to-day there is a large body of opinion in this country which, if they knew that we could get the evacuation of Belgium, and reparation to that country, the evacuation of France, and of Serbia, and an independent Poland—could get these things from Germany to-morrow—would say, "No, we must go on with the war," because they are deluded into the belief that a military triumph means the only object that this country should have in view.
We have been accused very often of helping the enemy. We have done no 739 such thing. What has helped to influence opinion in Germany are the views of the extremists in this country. They have been so often quoted in Germany that they have prevented moderate opinion from expressing itself. It comes to this, that there are two sets of opinion: Those who desire a lasting settlement and those who desire to punish Germany. So long as the Prime Minister repeats that phrase in his declaration he must be taken as belonging to the second group. It is not the supremacy of Great Britain that I believe any of us desire. It is the peace of the world. This can be achieved by securing the principles laid down in the first part of the Prime Minister's statement. If we go on with the view of dictating peace, then I think we shall lose sight of the very objects we want to achieve. Advocates of the destruction of Germany, advocates of the dismemberment of Germany, are agents for the prolongation of this War. We are asked time after time, "What about German militarism?" I maintain that the policy of aggressive German militarism is annexation; is the keeping of Belgium, very likely the keeping of Northern France, and very likely the keeping of other parts of Europe. If by our terms of peace we defeat that and we prevent annexation of any invaded territory, then I say we have defeated the policy of German militarism. As for the spirit of militarism, let nobody be misled into, supposing that one country can by force of arms crush the spirit of militarism in another country. You can do no such thing. The people themselves alone can do it. I do not think we were wrong in bringing this matter before the House. I do not think the Prime Minister regrets that we should have taken this step.
A hundred and twenty years ago Mr. Grey, who afterwards became Earl Grey and Prime Minister—and from whom, may I be permitted to say, I am proud to be descended—in the middle of the war pleaded in this House for negotiations. In 1795 he asked that a humble Address should be presented to His Majesty for communicating directly to the executive Government of the French Republic His Majesty's readiness to meet any disposition to negotiate on the part of that Government, with the earnest desire to give it the fullest and 740 speediest effect. He was supported by Charles James Fox, and a small band of thirty Members went into the Lobby in favour of the proposal. Speaking actually in this month of 120 years ago, in the House of Commons, Earl Grey said:—I wish that we may no longer be deluded by general denunciation and vague expressions. I say that if Ministers are sincere in their desire for peace, direct proposals ought to come from this country. They may, perhaps, say that this would be prostrating Great Britain at the feet of France. No, Sir, it never can be humiliating for the greatest nation to come forward with the offer of peace.May I be allowed to re-echo those words? I believe they are true, and historians are in agreement that if the views of Grey had been listened to in 1796, we should have had far better terms than we got in 1800. In my opinion war, considering what it entails in these days, should not continue unless we know, not from rumours, not from diplomatic gossip, not from Press reports, but clearly and categorically from those responsible for the Government of Germany—that Germany refuses to accept our proposals. In that case the determination1 of this country would be strengthened enormously, and the War would continue until our proposals were acceptable.
There are three possibilities in the situation. The first one is that our relative position in the future may not be so strong. That, I think it is admitted, we may dismiss as outside the bounds of probability. Anyhow, it would mean we should not get such good terms, and at a very much larger sacrifice. The second possibility is that as time goes on our position will remain practically, and to all intents and purposes, the same; because remember we are not fighting in France and in Belgium alone: we are fighting at Salonika, at Aden, in Mesopotamia, in East Africa—indeed, we are fighting all over the globe. This policy, which I do not think it the time to criticise, is a policy which makes victory in the full sense of the word ten times more difficult. If, in a year's time, it is still practically a deadlock between the two forces, the terms will be the same as to-day, with twice or threefold the sacrifice. There is the third possibility, that our position may improve. That is the one upon which clearly the Prime Minister bases his hopes. Very well, if our position improves, we may be able to impose crushing terms upon Germany. Elated by a conspicuous victory, a nation practically is forced to go beyond the limits of what is just. I 741 do not believe terms dictated by victories have ever meant anything more than sowing the seeds of fresh war. It is certain, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that any dictated terms of that sort would leave a humiliated Germany, wounded, and resolved to seek revenge when the moment came. That is not the way to carry out those admirable principles and aspirations which the Prime Minister expressed in his Dublin speech. The right hon. Gentleman said that, according to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, there was no possibility of winning. I do not myself believe that any nation is going to win by this War. All will lose. Wise statesmanship that can look beyond and above the turmoil of battle might win for Europe some real guarantee of security for the future. I think it is time to find out, but the Prime Minister thinks not. I think that before we throw more and more men and more and more money into this abyss of destruction it is right that the House of Commons should consider whether we should announce far more definitely than we have done the objects we desire to achieve and the terms we are prepared to enter into, in order that we may not be any longer accused of standing in the way of peace, and in order that the constantly repeated rumours that are circulated in Germany in regard to our aggressive intentions may be once and for all disposed of. The Government has an obligation to the nation, and the nation has an obligation not only to itself, but to Europe and to humanity. We must not take too narrow or shortsighted a view of the position. We must extend our horizon broader, beyond our own national needs. It is the duty of a nation to consider the community of nations, and not merely to stipulate for material advantages for itself and its friends. Just in so far as Germany or any other nation refuses to see the truth of that great principle, so Germany or any other nation is bound to fail. The settlement we look for is one in which the interests of the people will be the prime and predominant consideration, and not the ambitions of Governments. This War has been brought about by secret diplomacy, and diplomatic failure must be stopped, if possible, by the united determination of democracy. I am confident that there is a great and a growing desire in all countries that this fruitless combat should cease. I did trust that when my hon. Friends were speaking the Government would take heed. If they ignore the 742 sane opinion in this country and abroad that is in favour of a settlement without further bloodshed; if they disregard the increasingly heavy burden that is crushing great populations in Europe down to ruin; if they persist in continuing the War month after month and year after year, with the elusive object of military triumph, then I say most assuredly they are laying the foundations of another conflict; a violent and ungovernable conflict, not between one nation and another nation, but between the peoples of nations and their rulers.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I am sure that everyone in this House welcomed the fine and patriotic speech which the Prime Minister delivered, and that he expressed not only the opinions of the vast majority of the Members of this House, but also interpreted the opinion of every class in the country. If hon. Members who have spoken and have put forward these peace proposals would go up and down the country as some of us have done, they would find that they were not interpreting in any way the opinions of any class in this country, and least of all the working class. If they would help on the War by attending to recruiting and by doing what nearly everybody else is doing, namely, putting forward their best effort and making sacrifices in order to bring this War to a conclusion, they would be doing far better service to their country than by making what I may call sentimental and almost pernicious speeches in this House. They seem to live in a world of their own. They live in a world of make-believe. They will not face facts. They consider that speeches will end the War; that pious expressions by German Socialists will end the War. The only thing that will end this War is by one side or the other having an overwhelming victory.
Let them look back at the last hundred years in the history of Europe. This War was not started by the murdering of an Archduke. It was not started during the last two years. This War came about by the economic development of the Powers of Central Europe. It came about at the instigation of, and had been thought out almost a century ago by, the leaders of military opinion in Germany, or rather in Prussia. The preparations for this War were begun one hundred years ago. The Prussians who occupied France in 1814 were worthy forerunners of the Germans who occupy France at the present time. They perpetrated almost equal atrocities 743 against the inhabitants, for while the Prussian has always been a man of great individual bravery and of great method, he is without any of the finer feelings and without any bowels of mercy whatever. From the very moment that Napoleon was struck down, Prussia aimed at becoming the dominant military power of Europe, and we see that the first step was taken in 1863, when that unprovoked attack was made upon Denmark. That was the first step in the military domination of Europe. Almost immediately afterwards—at any rate within three years—an equally unprovoked attack was made upon Austria, and ever since that time Austria has been in reality, if not in name, the obedient satellite of Prussia, and obliged to carry out any behests which she received from her. Then we know that in 1870 war was forced upon France. France was crushed to the ground, and on the ruins of the Empire of Napoleon III. the great German Empire was founded, with Prussia dominating the Empire of United Germany. Then the great first step of the thinking men of Germany was carried out. Germany, which meant Prussia, and still means Prussia, became the dominant military power in Europe. Therefore, to say that this War was started only two years ago, and that it could be stopped by any negotiations until one side or the other is beaten to the ground, is futile and is not facing fact. They may be unpleasant facts, but they are facts.
Germany in 1870 became the dominant military power of Europe, and then a further field of ambition opened before her. She aspired, as we see now more clearly, and as some people saw then, to be a world-wide power, and she started to build up her economic system so that she might not only be able to maintain the strongest army in Europe, bat also to become one of the great manufacturing nations of Europe, and thereby be able to pay for this colossal army and for the expansion of her armaments. Later she awoke to the fact that world-wide dominion could not be got only by military power, but that she must have a strong navy as well. So she started twenty years ago to build up her Navy, and what was it that caused her to redouble her efforts? It is in the recollection of the House that it was during the Boer War, when our Fleet had command 744 of the sea, and when Germany wished to appear in favour of the Boers, that it came home to her that she could do nothing and was absolutely helpless until she had got a fleet which could speak on equal terms with ours. Thereupon she started building an overwhelmingly strong fleet, and she aspired in a very few years to be able to meet us on equal terms. Is it to be marvelled at? Germany is a great nation. She has a superabundant population. She saw, and she still sees, that we have the carrying trade of the world, that we have the best part of the world under our dominion, and that our exports are large and increasingly large. She desired, and she still desires, to take them from us. Therefore, when hon. Members come here and say to us, "Let us make terms of peace," I say to them, "How can you propose terms of peace when the enemy desired, and still desires, and still thinks that he is going to get, what you have got, and what you mean to hold?" The only terms of peace that could be agreed upon by this country include, of course, what the Prime Minister said, that we should keep what we have got. It is not a question of taking away from Germany what she had before the War, but it is a question of placing ourselves and our children in the position that we shall not be called upon over again in our lifetime, or in the lifetime of our children, to go through this awful experience that we are going through now. If a poisonous snake attacks you, you knock it on the head with a stick; you do not get it by the neck and put it outside to do more damage. In the same way I am sure that this nation is absolutely determined, in spite of what has been said by hon. Members who have supported this Motion, to fight this matter to the end, whatever it costs; and I am quite sure that the vast majority of Members of this House entirely agree with the declaration of the Prime Minister.
§ 6.0 P.M.
I listened with considerable interest to the speeches that have been delivered by the two hon. Gentlemen sitting on these benches (Mr. Snowden and Mr. Trevelyan), and I hoped that there would be something definitely constructive to be derived from their speeches. I have failed to find a single point upon which one can build a decent hope, either now or for the future There was a good deal in the speech 745 of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), of quotations from what had taken place in the Reichstag. These quotations, it seems to me, do not help us in the least, because at the best they only represent about one-fifth of the organised Socialist party. [HON. MEMBEBS: "More."] I say about one-fifth, and even if they had come to us ungarbled—and that is very seldom the case in translations from a foreign language into our own—they would not have helped us even then. It is very doubtful whether they are correct quotations, but even if they are, they are absolutely useless. There cannot be the slightest doubt that the German nation, as a nation is intent upon doing its very best to place that nation above all others in the comity of nations, and so long as they are infected with that idea, how is it possible for us to make overtures for peace? I am not one who has ever doubted the right of a man in this House to speak his own mind, apart from the views of his constituency or of any other constituency, but when people do put forward statements as though they were really speaking in a representative capacity, it is advisable now and again to test how far their claims are justified. It is only a couple of weeks since the greatest Labour Conference that has ever been held assembled at Bristol, and with an enormous majority, a majority of well over 1,000,000 of the votes represented, stated their entire concurrence with the Government in the rightfulness of the motives with which they went to war, and their complete agreement with and support of the Government in carrying the War to a successful conclusion. That after all is, I take it, a fairer and more adequate representation of the opinion of the people of this country, than the opinions expressed either by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) or the hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan).
There cannot be the slightest doubt that we were standing for moral right, for the moral obligations into which we had entered with a very small nation, a nation with which for a couple of hundred years at the very least we had always been friendly, a nation that in itself was incapable of definite resistance against the gigantic military power of Germany, and that our people felt that we were now fighting the battle of moral right, and I have never known either in history or in ray own life time a case in which the nation 746 was so resolutely united. Have the facts changed at all? I cannot imagine what spell or incentive it is which animates Members to make speeches such as those to which we have listened this afternoon. Belgium is still suffering a greater amount of misery than probably any nation in the history of the world. Her population is starved, her people are working in the mines and in the factories, practically in a state of slavery. That is the position of Belgium to day. Serbia is even hardly a geographical expression at this moment. Who is it that has committed all this? Have we committed any of it? Is there a single obligation into which we have entered that we have not faithfully carried out? Against whom were we the aggressors? And if, as everybody must admit, we have undertaken no act of aggression, surely it is they who have committed the offence and must first make overtures for peace.
I was greatly interested to hear the hon. Member for Blackburn speak of the disinterested motives with which England went into the War, but I remember also hearing speeches and reading reports of speeches stating that Sir Edward Grey had deliberately worked for war. I do not care to press these points too much, but they do not seem to me to be easily reconcilable. How a nation can go into a war with disinterested motives, while at the same time the Foreign Secretary deliberately worked to bring the War about, I cannot understand. One of the hon. Members who recently sat down departed somewhat from the line which the hon. Member for Blackburn took. He said that the War had been brought about by secret diplomacy. I cannot reconcile secret diplomacy with disinterested motives. Sir, there is too much readiness on the part of many Members to talk about secret diplomacy, when they do not know the facts of the case. It is the easiest phrase imaginable to use. I believe that no diplomacy, secret or open, would have saved this nation or would have saved Belgium or France from the growing, the inordinate ambition of Germany. Indeed, it is well that the hon. Member who spoke last should remind us of the history of Germany. Going back some fifty years, we have the case of Schleswig-Holstein, and then there was that of Austria, and afterwards Alsace-Lorraine. The whole history of the last fifty years is a continuous and ineradicable proof of the desires of Germany. How can you to-day make overtures in view of what has happened?
747 If overtures for peace are to be made it means, I take it, a properly constituted Peace Court, consisting of the representatives of the Powers coming together and considering the matter. But before you can have your case properly considered in Court, you must come into Court with clean hands. Could Germany do so? Is there a single Convention to which she signed her hand that she has not shamelessly broken? The Hague Convention of 1899, the later one of 1907—there is not a single clause in those Conventions that she has not broken in the face of God and man. The use of Zeppelins against an inoffensive civil population, men, women, and children; the employment of submarines against passenger boats—every horror conceivable has been perpetrated by this Power, and it is to her that we are asked to make overtures. Hon. Members who advocate this course do not represent the views of their constituencies. Though many of these Gentlemen are always talking about the necessity of democratic control they do not represent the considered opinion of one man in a thousand in this country. To talk of the desirability of peace is the easiest thing in the world. War, even at its best, is little short of murder, but there are times when nations are driven through sheer necessity to this most horrible of all arbitraments. This is a case in point. What could we do as honourable men except save Belgium if we could? What could we do as an honourable nation except stand by France in her extremity? Is there a single man here who says otherwise? Why even the hon. Member for Blackburn said to-day that the conditions which we set out to establish should be permanently and honourably secured—that is to say the cession back to France of Alsace and Lorraine, the evacuation of Belgium, and other matters that need not be specially gone into—that until that was done the War could not end, and that on those points there was unbroken national unity.
I fail to find the least indication in the actions of these Gentlemen of a desire to promote that national unity, because from the very beginning they have been opposed to the War, which they say was entered upon from disinterested motives, and the objects of which should not be allowed to stand over until they have been permanently and honourably secured. It is impossible to reconcile their speeches in this House with their action outside the 748 House, because they have never done a hand's-turn to help to secure those objects which they say ought to be honourably secured, or to help to win that War which they say has been entered upon from disinterested motives. Then we are told that we can ensure peace, because it is certain that no such War as this can be entered upon in future. The hon. Member for Elland said, with a facility of prophecy for which I give him infinite credit, that national bankruptcy will prevent this kind of War from happening again. Will it? Has national bankruptcy ever prevented nations from going to war? The hon. Member certainly comes from a family which has given very good men to the State, and which has given a very distinguished historian; but if he reads the history of his distinguished relative it will show him that no nation has even been prevented from going to war, and from fighting successfully, by a state of bankruptcy. For the last fifty years we have been talking of Turkey as the "Sick Man" of Europe. It never had any credit, yet somehow, in the most mysterious way, her soldiers have made the most effective fighting men during the last half-century, and long before it, and whether they have been fighting on the one side or the other, like the fuzzy-wuzzy in the Soudan, they have never been prevented from fighting by their country being in a chronic state of bankruptcy. Prussia was humiliated in 1790, and, I suppose, there was not in the whole country as much as would pay a decent shot in a village alehouse, and yet within fifteen years she had reorganised her armies and had put in the field along side of ourselves the most formidable fighting machine that had ever been erected.
It is clear that the idea that nations being bankrupt will prevent wars is so much hot air. There is nothing in it. You cannot very well bankrupt a nation. It is unnecessary to go into the ethics of a case like this, but so long as you have the meadows, the metals, and the land, the nation will not become bankrupt—so long as there are willing hands and active brains and all the commodities of nature to which those hands and brains can be applied. So that cock will not fight at all. The point which we have a right to press upon the attention of the nation is this, that we started to uphold the sanctity of moral obligations entered into between nations. They have been ruthlessly invaded and broken. We wanted to urge upon Europe the necessity of recognizing 749 that when these great obligations had been entered into they should be honoured, and that they should be more honoured, if that could be done, where the interests of small struggling nationalities are concerned even than in the case of the more powerful nations. We have not yet been able to convince Germany that she ought to do this, and until she does recognise her moral obligations, and that we have shown her her mistake, it is clearly premature to begin talking about overtures for peace. You cannot make overtures for peace while the tiger has its fangs in your vitals. That is the case with Germany, so far as Russian Poland, Belgium, Serbia, and a large part of Northern France are concerned. I believe to-day that, notwithstanding the terrible strain upon our people, notwithstanding the heartbreak and the anguish that have entered into tens of thousands of homes, our nation is absolutely agreed, with the exception of a few insignificant people who do not count, that when we are doing the highest thing and engaged in the noblest act of which a nation can be capable, we ought not to sheathe the sword, as the Prime Minister has said, until we have carried this laudable object to a successful conclusion.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
The hon. Member who has just sat down, in what I think was very temperate language, referred to the position as it now exists, but I do not propose to go over that ground, which was so ably gone over by the hon. Member for Blackburn and the hon. Member for Elland. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs drew attention to the phrase of the Prime Minister, a phrase which the right hon Gentleman emphasised to-day, in what, in my judgment, was a most unfortunate utterance, in reference to the removal of the domination of Prussian militarism. We all, no doubt, would like to see the removal of Prussian militarism from Germany, but if the German people are prepared to submit to Prussian domination, how can we prevent it? We must face the facts. We are level-headed men, and surely we are able to take a view of the position as it exists to-day. We know that we are dealing with a population in these Central Empires of something like 100,000,000; yet the Prime Minister comes down to the House and talks about the removal of the domination of Prussian militarism. Nothing can be more ludicrous, unless you are prepared to occupy and govern Ger- 750 many from the time of the War. It is an insult to our intelligence to entertain us with an airy and nebulous phrase about the destruction of the dominance of Prussian militarism. If the Prime Minister can show us how this domination is to be removed, I, and I am sure my hon. Friends, would welcome it, as would also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London and other hon. Members; we would be delighted if the Prime Minister could show us how to remove the domination of Prussian militarism in Germany.
The very able speeches of the hon. Member for Blackburn and of my hon. Friend the Member for Elland unquestionably gave us food for thought. They showed us that the achievement of a great victory by either of the belligerents would not remove Prussian militarism. Let us face that criticism. Suppose, for example, we achieve through a 17-inch gun a great victory over Germany or Prussia, would not the Germans or Prussians naturally say, "Of course the reason of our defeat was that the other belligerents had a better gun than ours, and what we have got to do is to get to work again." We cannot remove the Central Powers with their hundred millions of people off the face of the earth, and they will bide their time until they get a military instrument which they think will successfully compete with ours. It is a delusion, the greatest delusion, I submit, which is embodied in the unfortunate phrase used by the Prime Minister. To take the most charitable view of the case, I cannot see how he is to adhere to it. If he can show us how it is to be carried out, then I for one, and many others would be very glad to hear it. The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Ashley) made a very temperate speech, though, of course, in opposition to my hon. Friends below me. He said that what we had set out for was to "keep what w©; have." I think that is a proposition which we would all support. The hon. Member also went on to say that Germany had been making preparations for this War for a hundred years, and he gave us some facts and references to other wars of Germany, seeking to show that this menace had been preparing for us, and had been growing up, over a long period of years. I happened to be looking up some foreign correspondence, White Books and Yellow Books published with regard to this War, more or less in preparation for this Debate, and I came upon some remarkable French evidence in 751 a communication from the French military attaché (Lieut.-Colonel Serrett) at the French Embassy in Berlin to his confrère (M. Etienne), Minister of War in Paris, in regard to the state of Europe just previous to this War. It is dated 15th March, 1913. It is a most remarkable communication, and I will read one extract which I think the House will agree is important and interesting, coming as it does from a Frenchman who could not be regarded as prejudiced in favour of Germany. He was writing to his Chief in Paris, and of course it was his duty to state to him what was the condition of things in Germany at the period when he wrote.
Before reading the extract, I should just like to briefly refer to some of the diplomatic facts to which my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling Burghs referred, and the hon. Gentleman who is well versed in these diplomatic facts will correct me if I do not give an exact résumé of what took place. The House will recollect what led up to this great tragedy. It is necessary to go back a little, and I think that if we refer to two or three of the international factors of the situation they might possibly lead us to a better understanding of the German mind. After all, if we are to have an honourable settlement and a durable peace we must try to put ourselves in the other's place, and thus try to find out what is exactly the mind of Germany. Reference has been made to a desire of domination on the part of Germany. I quite agree that very probably Germany, like ourselves, is composed of a great number of parties. There is a party in Germany which undoubtedly desires that Germany should have world-power; there is, also, no doubt a party which has been coerced into war from the fear that there was an intention on the part of other Powers to crush Germany; and there is, also, a strong military party whose members, of course, like all soldiers, are desirous of going on active service, with the chance of achieving distinction. When you get a population of that character, when you have circumstances of this nature, and when you bring all those factors into one channel, as a rule you are very apt to have war. The particular factors to which I desire to draw the attention of the House, and which I think had an effect upon the German mind, are these: I go no further back than the South African War, when the famous Kruger telegram 752 was sent, and there was possibly an attempt to play upon German feeling when Great Britain was getting those South African colonies. Then there was the case of Tripoli, in which Italy was engaged. England took no part against her action. The House will recollect that we called attention again and again to The Hague Convention, and protested against the wanton act. No notice was taken of our protest in any shape or form. There was a great Foreign Office Debate in this House, in which a good many Members took part. I asked the Foreign Secretary if the reason for his action in not protesting against what was admitted, I think, by a great many newspapers and many Members of this House, to be a wanton act on the part of Italy, was the detaching of Italy from the Triple Alliance, possibly having in view that a European War might take place. He did not answer me. To proceed to Morocco. What was the action taken there? It is with reference to that I shall make the quotation to which I referred. The House will recollect what took place. There was a treaty between all the Powers and the parties—Germany, Russia, France, and ourselves among the others. What took place? We are very proud of our devotion to conventions and treaties. We resent and condemn, and rightly condemn, the violation of the sanctity of Belgium, and the "scrap of paper" which was torn up; but we ourselves were parties with France to tearing up the Treaty of Algeciras, which provided for the good government and treatment of Morocco. There was actually a provision in the Treaty of Algeciras, that where any dispute arose with regard to Morocco it should be referred to the Tribunal of the Powers. That was entirely ignored. Then afterwards the War broke out. This was the communication from the French Attaché in Berlin to his Chief in Paris, and the despatch is in the French Yellow Book, No. 1:—May I recall, in order the better to show the genesis of this military programme, what was written by my predecessor, Colonel Pelle, a year ago, when the law of 1912 made its appearance: 'We discover every day how deep and how lasting are the sentiments of wounded pride and rancour against us, provoked by the events of last year.'He was referring to the humiliations inflicted on Germany in speeches made by Ministers in this country, which led practically to the Ultimatum delivered to Germany that she must withdraw her gunboat from Agadir. The report continued:—The treaty of 4th November, 1911, is a profound disappointment. The resentment felt in every part of Germany is the same. All Germans, even the 753 Socialists, resent our having taken their share in Morocco. It appeared one or two years ago as if the Germans had set out to conquer the world. They deemed themselves so strong that no one would dare enter the lists against them. Boundless possibilities were opened up for German industry, German trade, German expansion. Naturally those ideas and those ambitions have not disappeared to-day. Germans still require outlets for their commerce; and they still desire economic and Colonial expansion. This they consider as their right, as they are growing every day and the future belongs to them. They look upon us, with our 40,000,000 inhabitants, as a second-rate nation. In the course of 1911 this second-rate nation held its own against them.They held their own, because we supported them in the violation of the treaty, in the tearing up of a scrap of paper. The letter concluded:The Emperor and the Government yielded, public opinion has neither forgiven them nor us. Public opinion does not intend that such a thing shall occur again.From that moment Germany prepared for war. We are being continually told that there was evidence that Germany was preparing for war. That is quite true. I do not deny it. All the facts go to show that Germany was preparing for war. I do not suggest for a moment that Germany was justified in the aggressive action it took in the violation of Belgium and many of the other acts which were committed. I do not stand up here to defend Germany in any sense of the word.
§ Mr. MASON
I am sorry if I have not made myself clear. Possibly I cannot do perhaps the same justice as the hon. Member, but I am endeavouring to show, while I do not for a moment palliate or excuse the action of Germany, I ask the House as a fair Assembly, and even the hon. Member as a fair-minded man, after the statement of these facts, and they are facts—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—I ask him if he can state, knowing these facts, that "we did not incur responsibility in perhaps helping to provoke this great tragedy. [An HON. MEMBER: "We were accessories before the fact! "] I am not going to call ourselves names. [An HON. MEMBER: "You are!"] The hon. Member can form his own conclusion. I am endeavouring to the best of my humble ability to put these facts as they are before the House.
§ Mr. MASON
I am glad the hon. Member makes that interruption, because it was so ably answered by the hon. Member who spoke before me. He said a very 754 straightforward thing: that we are not here as it were altogether to speak the views of our constituents. Surely we are here as Members of Parliament. I quite agree we have a responsibility to our constituents, and when the time comes I hope I will be able to face that responsibility. I am sure that this House would resent, and very properly, if we did not give our views such as they are. They cannot necessarily be in accordance with the views of every Member. We are Members of this great deliberative Assembly, and, as the hon. Member pointed out, surely it ought to be our primary duty, and I am endeavouring to try to carry that out, to express our views. Whether I represent the views of my Constituents I am unable to say, but I can assure my hon. Friend that I long for the period when we may meet our constituents. I, for one, was quite against extension of the life of Parliament. I thought it was a most unjustifiable act, and I supported the extension of eight months rather than twelve. As far as I am concerned, I am quite prepared to give them any satisfaction, and to try to put these views before my Constituents, and to ask for a renewal of their confidence. I am quite unable to say whether they will do so or not. I do hope some further consideration will be given to this very proper suggestion of my hon. Friend. I, for one, have never wavered in my support of this cause. I regard it as a just cause.
§ Mr. MASON
The cause we are engaged in, our cause. I clearly said that over and over again in this House, and I have never wavered in the belief that we are engaged in a just cause. I do suggest that for motives of reason, from higher motives, that after all we have a higher responsibility. I am sure that we do recognise our responsibility, and that our words do carry weight in the country, and that the country looks to this House for statesmanship and for guidance, and that every single Member of this House owes a responsibility to the House for every single word he utters, and owes a responsibility to a higher power than this House to himself as a man and to God. I say that we are bound as men to offer our opinions—what we sincerely believe to be our just and true opinions. We are supposed to offer them to the Government. It is not our responsibility if the Government refuse to listen to them. We owe 755 that responsibility to this great Assembly, to ourselves, and to God. On those lines I ventured to address this Assembly.
§ Mr. FINNEY
I hope I may have the indulgence of the House while I try to indicate what is the attitude, as I believe it, of the people who were good enough to ask me to represent them here with respect to the great War that all of us must deplore. None of us can listen to the facts as put before us in this House, and from what we can gather through the public Press, but must feel in the depths of our nature that we would sacrifice anything, ourselves even, in order to bring this War to an honourable conclusion. That should mean, as I interpret it, victory for the arms of Great Britain and her Allies. There was a time when some of us may have wavered as to what our attitude should be, but I do not think that any of us have wavered since the fatal early day in August, 1914, when the Germans invaded territory that was not theirs, and violated the rights of other people in spite of international agreements and honourable engagements. As the history of the War has proceeded, I think all of us must have felt that the Germans have played not a fair game at all, but have made it their business to use any means and every means to dominate and subjugate the other nations round about, and, in addition to subjugating the smallér nations, dominate the world. As I interpret the feelings of the people who sent me here, we believe that they have violated all the principles that are fundamental to civilisation and to peace; for in our judgment there can be no peace whilst there is any power anywhere that wishes to violate the rights of other people. That being the case, it seems to me that all this talk about offering terms of peace is out of place. If there were any sign of any tangible offers, any overtures made at all by the Germans themselves, then I could understand it, but up to now, as far as I am informed, there has been no suggestion from that side, at any rate, that the time had come to negotiate terms of peace. I was wondering while some hon. Members were speaking who had authorised them to talk, in this way. It is evident, I think, that their constituents have not authorised them, and I am not certain that Germany has authorised them. In whose name, then, are they speaking when they try to persuade the Government to make up its 756 mind to offer terms of peace at this stage? I think that is a fair proposition. I think it is something they ought to face, and tell us where they are getting the information from that has led them to the conclusion that Germany is ready for an offer of terms of peace from this side.
The reason I am here is that I have been sent. I never asked to come, but .for some reason or another, good, bad or indifferent, the people of the constituency in which I was born made up their minds that the time had come when I should be asked to come here. In my address I told them that, although I was a party man, I was prepared to sink all party politics at this juncture in the history of this country, and to unite with all parties in arranging and pursuing and prosecuting this War to a successful conclusion. On the strength of that address, I believe, the people of that constituency consented to my coming here to represent them. As far as I know, we are practically solid in that constituency in favour of supporting the Government in this great business, and we hope that they will pursue it. All of us have suffered, and all of us are prepared to suffer. I believe that we are all actuated by the same spirit, purpose, and determination. When the question of sacrifice comes in, I think all of us have done what we could to show that we were willing to sacrifice, and when it is a question of every one doing his share, I hope the House will see that each one is called upon according to his ability and resources, and that fair arrangements will be made so that all of us may, according to our resources, face the situation together. To that extent I believe we shall still be prepared to support the Government in the great work they have in hand. As to the question to whom are we responsible, I have thought that matter out fairly fully myself. It seems to me, if I have been trained properly, if I have had sufficient information, that no man can be on the wrong side as long as he is doing his best to protect the weak and the helpless against the oppressor and the aggressor, and the violator of other people's rights. Whether it must be faced in time or in eternity, it seems to me that any man who acts along that line may face anything, as long as he is standing up for what is just and right and what is fair to other people—the great religion that this country supports fundamentally and always calls upon the 757 strong to help the weak and protect the helpless. Germany has shown in this instance, I am afraid many times, that she has forgotten those principles and is prepared to violate them. She has oppressed the weak, invaded territory that was not hers, and violated the purity of innocent women and children. As long as that sort of thing happens, it seems to me that we can do no other than use all the power we have to drive back the aggressor and regain the country for the people to whom it belongs.
§ Mr. GRIFFITH REES
As one who made his maiden speech only a few weeks ago, may I venture on behalf of my fellow Members to express the gratitude of the House to the hon. Member who has preceded me (Mr. Finney). His speech went straight to the heart, and I am sure we shall all welcome his utterances in this House. What I have to say can be said in a couple of minutes. In the first place, this talk about peace tends to hearten the enemy and to prolong the War. Secondly, hon. Gentlemen complain that they are misunderstood in this House. How much more would this House be misunderstood by those Allies who have stood by us throughout this War? That is a tremendous danger, and I hope nothing will be done to cause any friction, unrest, or difficulty between our Allies and ourselves. Lastly, we have fighting for us soldiers and sailors. Nothing ought to be done to dishearten them, or to let them think that whilst they are fighting whole-heartedly for "us, we are only half-hearted here. Let us go forward steadfastly to the end, believing confidently in the righteousness of our cause.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
My views sympathise very much with those of some previous speakers—the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden), the hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan), and others. I know they are unpopular views. I know well enough that they are the views of a minority. I was disappointed and surprised that the Prime Minister began his speech with a sneer at minorities. Probably he has not had as much experience of minorities as I have had. He posed as shouting with the loudest and the biggest crowd. Has he forgotten what Emmerson said—I think it was Emmerson—that God and one are a majority? His speech easily brought cheers. Cheers are cheap enough for language like that in this country at pre- 758 sent, such are the revengeful, angry, and warlike feelings of the mass of our people. His speech easily brought cheers, but it will disappoint a very large minority—spread all over the country—a minority which includes distinguished members in another place not far from here, and, as he knows well enough, many of those who have been his ardent supporters in the past. It will disappoint thoughtful men all over the country. It needs far more courage to put forward views such as were put forward by the hon. Member for Blackburn and others than it does to use the "never sheath the sword" and the "last drop of blood" language which we heard from the Front Bench. For myself I have never believed in the arbitrament of war for the settlement of national quarrels. It is a stupid and unsatisfactory way of settling such disputes. It settles only who is the stronger and not who is in the right. Even now—and this is really the whole object of those who have brought on this Debate—in my judgment it will be better to listen to the sweet voice of reason. We should the sooner arrive at a conclusion, and we should arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion, if the belligerents came together and tried to settle their differences over the council table rather than on the battlefield. The Prime Minister seems to doubt that there was any evidence of a desire for peace amongst our principal enemy, the German nation. I never take up a paper but I read of the desire of the people of Germany, even of the statesmen of Germany, and of the Press of Germany for some approaches in regard to peace. I read a day or two ago that whereas "dearness of food" and "hunger" were the cries of the people of the great cities of Germany, now it is "peace, peace, peace" that is in everyone's mouth. I read that there is a conference sitting at Stockholm making efforts to bring about some agreement, and that there is a permanent committee sitting at Berne with the same object. I read—I do not know what it means—that Prince von Buelow is managing a peace section at Lucerne.
Peace is in every German newspaper every day, and in speeches in the Reichstag as well. Only a few days ago the "Berliner Tageblatt" stated that an extraordinarily large number of petitions have been sent to the Reichstag and the Prussian Diet in favour of peace and also of a change in the military operations to hasten the end of the War. I am trying 759 to bring the evidence asked for by the Prime Minister showing that there is a demand and a desire for peace in Germany. I believe that Germany would listen now more readily than ever, because she knows perfectly well that our military superiority is increasing. The Germans know well enough that they could save more now than they will be able to save later. We began this War for Belgium, and quite lately we have made a solemn renewal of our pledge. I am very glad that we have. I entirely agree, of course. But I cannot doubt for a moment that peace could be had with Germany on the lines of restoring Belgian independence, and probably of giving Belgium an indemnity besides. It is not only Germany that we find eager for peace. A distinguished statesman who very often adorns the Treasury Bench spoke a day or two ago at a public meeting in London, and I read:Mr. Bonar Law went on to say that he did not suppose there was a man or woman in that room who did not hate war and hate what it meant, and who did not long that the prayer which was put forward at the opening of the proceedings might be fulfilled that we might have peace.Very well; who wills the end must will the means. The belief of those of us who are supporting this proposal is that the means of negotiation and discussion of our differences would be more likely to bring the end than a continuance of bloodshed and carnage in the trenches.
It is rather a dangerous thing to talk peace in this country. A little while ago merely to mention the word was to invite a brick-bat. Although no one will listen, some of us are not afraid to say what we think about it. Our national perils are too great for any of us to take the responsibility of weakening the Government. I know perfectly well that the fortunes of my country are committed to the band of men who are in the Government, and I am in no mood to lay a feather of extra weight upon their backs. I tremble sometimes when I think of the great responsibilities they have undertaken. We want all the genius of statesmanship that the British nation contains, wherever it may be found. We need all the skill and resource, knowledge and initiative which our military and naval Services can command. They are on their trial. The nation has done its part. It has found the most magnificent fighting material, facing death with sublime heroism. Failure, if any, is not due to them. They have the 760 right to claim political leadership and military command which shall lead them to victory. If we must go on fighting, let us fight well and fight to victory. Whatever our views about war, and it is well known that mine differ from many here, the nation is involved in a life and death struggle, millions of our countrymen now suffering death, wounds, sickness, bereavement, poverty, untold hardships bravely borne, and our strongest feelings should be to join hands to help one another to pull together and to unite our strength to pull through. But I do not believe that by the arbitrament of war we shall come to the end so quickly or so satisfactorily as we should if we held counsel together. I hope it will be believed by all my colleagues that I love my country as much as any of them notwithstanding these views. I mourn to see her, in her eagerness to sacrifice to the god of war, raising to herself a mountain of sorrow and suffering and bereavement. I have never worshipped in the temples of that deity. I have always warned my fellow countrymen that their offerings of guns and ships which they would in their blindness lay upon his altar would some day minister to their own destruction and so we see it to-day. If you tell me that honour pledges us to go into this War, I answer that it is a calumny on the spirit of justice to say that honour can only be defended by bloodshed and mutual slaughter. It is so defended in every other relation of life except that of nation and nation, and the priceless lesson which the nations of Europe must learn from this War is how to defend their honour without destroying one another.
§ Major MURRAY
I think that, had this country not engaged in the War with our Allies and had the Germans now been in Great Britain, my hon. Friend would have held very different views about war and the accompaniments of war. The hon. Member (Mr. Walsh) did well to draw attention to, and to emphasise, the overwhelming majority by which the recent Labour Congress expressed its confidence in the Government and called for a vigorous prosecution of the War. I am very glad to hear that, but the hon. Member's observations will not be reported in the German Press. The speeches which will be reported in the German Press are those delivered by the hon. Member (Mr. Snowden), by the hon. Member who seconded his Amendment, and others who have 761 spoken. My hon. Friend (Mr. Ponsonby) said he and his Friends had been accused of helping the enemy by the speeches which they had delivered outside this House. He said the accusation was unjust and unfounded—those were not the words he used, but that was the effect of his remarks—and that it was the speeches of Jingoes, by whom I presume he meant those who held opposite views, which helped the enemy. If speeches are made in this House and outside which encourage the enemy, that is the same as helping the enemy. It has been my privilege to live for many months within 100 yards or so of the enemy, and I know, and those of my comrades who are out there now, know full well what encouragement to the enemy can mean. We know very well that we may have spent weeks, if not months, in gaining superiority in what we call out there "No-man's land." We gain absolute superiority over the enemy and then there is circulated throughout the German trenches something which puts heart into them. It is probably untrue, but very often we have all our work over again. I say, without hesitation, that speeches such as have been delivered to-night will do a great deal when they are circulated, as they will be, through the German trenches to encourage the enemy and to help to prolong this War. My hon. Friend (Mr. Mason), who does not know whether he represents his constituents or not, talked at large of the provocative speeches made by a Minister or Ministers in this country in 1911. He talked of the violation of treaties by this country and so forth and so on. There is nothing more calculated to help the enemy than speeches of that description. The hon. Member and his Friends live and wander through realms of idealism and refuse to face solid bedrock facts. What are those facts? Amy treaty concluded with Germany at the present moment would not be worth the paper it was written on. My hon. Friend asked that we should put forward our proposals for peace. The Prime Minister made a full and adequate reply to that suggestion. But further than that, we know full well that at the present there exists in Germany a Government which, in the words of the Imperial Chancellor, refuses to recognise any law but the- law of necessity—the Government which, as the Imperial Chancellor himself said in the Reichstag in 1914 proclaimed that the interests of Germany must override all the laws of 762 equity and of nations. My hon. Friend I believe is a man of business. Would he do business with a man who has broken his word as Germany as a nation has broken its word? Of course he would not.
§ Mr. D. MASON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman appeals to me. I reply by asking him how then does he expect them to do business with us?
§ Major MURRAY
I will come to that in a very few words. Bearing upon it was the question which my hon. Friend asked in his speech. He said, How is the dominance of Prussian militarism in Germany to be removed? My answer is that when, owing to certain factors which we hope will be achieved, the armed defence of Germany has been broken down, it is then likely that the German people will throw over their own false gods which inspirit the Prussian militarism which for so long has dominated the German race. In that and in that alone I see the salvation of the peace of Europe in future years. It would be an absurdity for the Government of this country and the Governments of the Allies at present to treat with the ruling classes of Germany as they now exist. They have not in any sense renounced a single one of the original plans with which they set out in this War. What are those plans? They proposed in the first instance to dominate Europe and the Near East, and to seize from Great Britain command of the seas. Will the hon. Gentlemen who have made speeches to-night tell us that the German Government has renounced any of those intentions, if they can achieve them? If they have not, what is the use of this Government or the Allied Governments going to Germany and proposing terms of peace? The hon. Member (Mr. Snowden) said that a favourable opportunity for holding out the hand of negotiation was now at hand, and a satisfactory and successful peace would be more possible now than it would be at some future date. I think there is no possible doubt whatsoever that a peace formulated now would be an inconclusive peace and would stereotype the evil of militarism which is-so detested, not only' by hon. Gentlemen who profess their ideals in this. House to-night, but by all of us, and more particularly by those who have to bear the heat and burden of the 763 day fighting in France and elsewhere. It will be time enough to talk of peace when victory has been achieved. The hon. Member for Blackburn said that in his opinion no final victory could ever be achieved, that there would be a stalemate, and that no crushing military defeat of Germany was possible. I do not know on what foundations he based that opinion. I would differ from him. The Prime Minister said he would differ from him. I look forward to the day, and I hope to take a part in the final defeat of German arms by the Allied Armies on the Western and Eastern fronts, and until that defeat takes place there is no hope of what we desire to see come about, and that is the overthrow by the German people of their own false gods. A peace secured by bargaining with Germany at the present moment would be no peace at all. When victory is brought about by the internal break-up of Germany and by the overthrow of the German armies on the Western and Eastern fronts, then, and then only, can we rest assured that the spirit of Prussian militarism, which has so long dominated the German race, will never again rear its head and be a menace to European peace and to civilisation.
§ Commander BELLAIRS
The hon. Member for Salford, who is an old and respected Member of this House, commenced his speech by accusing the Prime Minister of sneering at minorities. I speak in the recollection of the House when I say that in that great and lofty speech of the Prime Minister there was no sneer from beginning to end. The Prime Minister speaks for this country, and does not merely address this House, but addresses the nations of the world, and he was bound to point out to the nations of the world that the two hon. Members who spoke at the inception of this Debate represent a very insignificant minority of the people of this country. The hon. Member for Salford spoke of those who represent, I think, the Union of Democratic Control, or the Stop-the-War Committee, as addressing this House with the sweet voice of reason. I venture to say that the sweet voice of reason comes perilously near the whisper of treason; for anything that is done to hearten the enemy by speech or deed in this War comes perilously near treason. I was delighted to hear the speeches of the hon. Member for Blackpool and several others, including that of the hon. Member for West Ham, going back to history to 764 guide us in this Debate. There is a quotation, which I think I can remember, of a great French historian, who said that a people who can remember and act upon its past history is safe in the greatest crisis of its fate; and I think that, if we go back to our past history, and if we also remember the past history of Germany, we are very unlikely to attempt to make an inconclusive peace with that nation.
The only argument which impressed me in the slightest degree in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn was when he referred to the, more or less, correct forecasts of the historian Bloch, but when he spoke of those forecasts as likely to be verified all along the line, I venture to say that some of M. Bloch's forecasts have already been falsified, and, so far from agreeing with his theory of stalemate—and I noticed the Prime Minister did not agree with him either—I think there are reasons for believing that the time will come when the consciousness of impending defeat will be felt by the people of Germany. Several hon. Members who have spoken on the other side have already referred to the strong desire for peace in Germany. That desire for peace has not been brought about by any talk about peace in this country, but by the belief amongst them that Germany may be worsted in the struggle. Neutrals who have come back tell us that nothing has disheartened the Germans more than the fact that this country has gone in for compulsion. That was in the papers early this morning. An hon. Member who spoke in this Debate quite rightly pointed out that no nation has been deterred from war by finance, and no nation has ended a war simply because of finance. That is perfectly true, but the combination of finance and victory may easily end a war. What I mean is that a top-heavy situation has undoubtedly been produced in Germany through bad financial handling, and through the operation of our blockade, and that where that top-heavy situation has been created, a victory on one of the fronts might produce a serious situation in Germany. There have already been riots.
I would take, as a more or less parallel case, the war with America in 1812–14, where bad financial arrangements produced an undoubtedly top-heavy situation. We were then blockading the United States. It was cut off from trade on the Canadian frontier too, but that had no effect, and the heart of the United States 765 was not reached by military power in any sense of the word. Then occurred what was undoubtedly a spectacular victory—that is to say, a mere raid which burnt Washington City. It was of no military significance whatever, yet the impression made on the United States people was such that every bank in the United States suspended its specie payments, and thereupon three of the States began intriguing against the Central Power. Victories are won in this War, as seen in the case of the Russians working in Armenia, and victories may be won on the Western front, the Northern front and other fronts, and I believe if we win a spectacular victory that that, associated with the bad financial position in Germany, may produce results which can hardly be conjectured at the present moment. Beyond that argument in the speech of the hon. Member for Blackburn I could not find anything of a practical character in the arguments addressed to this House by hon. Members who are in favour of stopping the War and concluding a premature peace. It is a kind of frogs' chorus of croakings which are not calculated to hearten this country, but only the enemy. I remember someone once described a great many of the books published nowadays as suited for libraries on desolate islands. I would describe these speeches, as they are not addressed to practical considerations, or to any people in this country, or the countries of our Allies, as speeches suited to desolate islands. We are bound to look into the records of hon. Members who make them. It is not a mere sneer when we say they do not represent their constituents, and on a question like this, when the whole country is with us in this War, they should not misrepresent their constituents in this House. I believe nearly every single one of these hon. Members has been identified with agitation to prevent the proper armaments for this country. In so far as they have succeeded in that they have probably helped to bring on this War, because the Germans are a calculating nation and they calculate what they have to meet, make their forecasts, and if they imagine that we are not going to war, or if they imagine the armaments which may be ranged against them can be beaten down, then they go to war. That is the Prussian method.
If we were to adopt the arguments urged upon us by that small minority of the House we would undoubtedly have to betray our Allies in this War, and that is a 766 consideration to which I for one could not possibly agree. We are pledged to our Allies not to make a separate peace. They are equally pledged to us. That is the main strength of our position in this War. If we show any cowardice in this War, if we show the slightest falling off in resolution to back up the Prime Minister in his declaration, in so far will we hearten the enemy and probably prolong this unfortunate struggle. I was delighted to observe in the Prime Minister's vigorous speech a sanguine note, showing that he has confidence in the results of this War. Having once been a sailor and trained all my boyhood as a sailor, I naturally love superstitions. I am not superstitious—I wish I were—but I remember one I am particularly fond of, and that was of the old Greek sailors, who, in the midst of a storm, if they saw the Twin stars Castor and Pollux in a gleam of blue sky, knew their ship would come home safely to port. I regard the Prime Minister as the pilot of the ship of State, and I like to think of him, after hearing that magnificent speech, as one who has seen the Twin stars in the sky, and will be able to bring the ship of State safely home.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The hon. Member who has just sat down dwelt in his concluding remarks with the Prime Minister's statement, and mentioned the fact that he had been a sailor. Well, the Prime Minister's statement called to my mind an article containing the views expressed by a gentleman who was once a member of this House, and devoted himself very much to nautical matters—Mr. T. G. Bowles. The article first appeared in the "Candid Review," of a recent issue, and the position in which we find ourselves is very well set out in this article, from which I should like to read an extract to the House. He says:As in going to war, so in coming to peace. It is a mistake to suppose that old men are prudent—on the contrary, they are always rash; for they have not time to wait. These vain old men have committed their silly old selves to statements and requirements of their own of the terms of peace they will propose. They, forsooth! They launch the egregious Mr. Masterman to tell a listening world what they will impose and require—when their power of requiring or imposing anything is broken—when they are surrounded with defeated adventures, lost gambles, decimated Allies, and ruined nations. Will they have the courage and manliness now to face the wreck they have made; will they seek to salve it; or will they prolong the conflict for no other purpose than to save their wrinkled old faces? It has been the young men who have fought the War. It is for the young 767 men to make the peace. That is their business. The War has been the work of the old. The peace will be the heritage of the young.He concludes by saying:—We pile up our own withered leaves against the portals of the year; and the last message of our Winter is that there shall be no Spring.I believe that is largely the position in every belligerent country to-day. For the statesmen who have made this War, the old men who have sent the young men to die, fear to come forward and manfully face the situation. We are told that we should not make suggestions for peace because it may be taken as evidence of our weakness. However, I do not think that we ought to take up an attitude which makes suggestions of peace from either side absolutely impossible. The hon. Member opposite said that the Prime Minister did not taunt the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) that he did not represent the majority of his constituents; but although the Prime Minister's words did not say that, I think the manner of his statement did convey that impression. I think those of us who are told that we do not represent the majority of our constituents on this question might very much more represent their views if we were free to express our opinions in our own constituencies, and if we had more democratic conditions than are permitted under the Defence of the Realm Act. If we were able to show to our constituency the whole history of our entrance into this War perhaps they, would take a different view. The hon. Member who has just spoken recalled what happened on the 3rd of August with regard to myself. He is the agent for the Miners' Association and there are some 3,000 members of that association in my Constituency, and I think I got all their votes at my election. When I was coming down to the House to listen to the great speech of the Foreign Secretary before the commencement of this War I was handed a telegram asking me to do all I could in order to secure the neutrality of this country. Then came the invasion of Belgium. I was asked to go down to the hon. Member's constituency and state that we went to war because of the invasion of Belgium by Germany, although we knew that the day before this country placed the British Navy at the disposal of France. We know now that we went into this War in support of the policy of maintaining the balance of power and the invasion of Belgium was only incidental; con- 768 sequently, I refused to go on to that platform unless I could state the whole truth in regard to a matter in which men were being asked to give their lives. The day will come when the whole truth can be told, and then I do not fear myself that I shall be able to justify my position. On the question we are discussing depends the lives of tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands, of the young men of this country. It is that alone which is in my mind. If you can show that the Government can secure victory at a great sacrifice of life, I can understand people saying that we will not listen to peace proposals, but when they do not show any evidence that such a victory as they demand can be gained—not merely driving the Germans out of Belgium, but that we can force unconditional surrender on Germany—if they cannot show that, what lathe good of demanding terms that cannot be exacted until that is gained? It has been said that it is virtually treasonable on our part to say anything in this House that might be construed into an encouragement to the enemy. That charge is brought up on every occasion when the Government is criticised. When hon. Members opposite criticise our defenceless position with regard to aerial attacks, is not that an encouragement to the enemy? That argument can be pressed too far, and there is full justification for any hon. Member criticising when he thinks that what he is doing is for the benefit of his country. We have heard that a state of stalemate at present exists. I would not like to make a statement myself on that point, because I might be charged with being treasonable, so I will read to the House a statement on this subject made by the "Daily Mail" on the first day of this year, as a sort of New Year's message to the nation. It is as follows:—The wildest imagination never foresaw such a military situation as obtains on this opening day of 1916. Across all Western Europe run two vast systems of parallel fortifications, like two Chinese walls, guarded by artillery of frightful potency, machine guns by the ten thousand, and barbed wire for hundreds of miles. Neither side has so far been able to break a way through these defences, despite the most furious assaults, unlimited heroism, and fearful expenditure of human life. There is for the time being an impasse owing to the enormous strength of modern armies and the prodigious development of the defence. Neither can move. And this situation is reproducing itself at the Eastern front and about Salonika. Thus the Allies have entirely lost, and the Germans have partially lost, on land that mobility which is requisite to win decisive victories. Napoleon himself, when condemned by conditions to deliver a frontal attack on a strong and brave enemy, could show only the drawn battle of Borodino. Is there no 769 way in which the problem can be solved by the Allies? There are two ways. The first is by the pressure which the supreme sea power of the Allies can exercise on Germany.That is a statement which conveys my view of the military situation. There does exist this deadlock at the moment. It may be said that we have piled up our reserves, that we have a far greater superiority over our enemies, that we can order the great advance, and that we have our millions ready to supply wastage. When that is done, what have we accomplished? We are to drive the Germans out of Belgium, and I presume, to use the words of the Minister of Munitions, we are to blow the Germans out of Belgium with high explosives. But what is happening to Belgium meanwhile? Are we going to blow Belgium to pieces, farm by farm, village by village, and town by town, because, I suppose, Belgium will be defended? We are told that we are fighting for Belgium. Surely, in the interests of Belgium, if we can negotiate Germany out of Belgium that would be the better policy. I do not know whether the desires of Belgium citizens have been considered. I do not think the Belgians who are in Belgium to-day desire that their small country should be made the cockpit between the Central Powers and England and France.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I am concerned for the moment with the interests of Belgium, and I hold that it is her interests to negotiate, if possible, Germany out of Belgium. If Germany will say that she is willing to come out of Belgium and compensate that country, that is better for Belgium than to fight in the way which has been suggested. The Government ought to give us some assurance when they are asking for a huge sum of money like this, that by its expenditure, and the continuance of this policy, victory is likely to he achieved. I read with great interest and the best of my discernment the various figures which appear in reference to the number of men Germany can bring into the field, wastage, and so on. I hear that the only way we can win this War is by killing Germans [HON. MEMBEKS: "Hear, hear."] That is a point to which I wish to address myself. I have heard statements made to the effect that during the last eighteen months we have succeeded in killing about half a million Germans—I am taking the figures of those actually Killed. During this period of eighteen 770 months it is estimated that the number of men who reach military age in Germany will be something like the number of men Ave have killed. At the same time we have to remember that Turkey and Bulgaria have come in, and have added to the numbers of the Central Powers. During the time that we have been killing this half million Germans we have spent something like £2,000,000,000 on the process, and consequently it has cost us at least £10,000 to kill a German—I think it probably costs £20,000 to kill a German, but I am putting it at the low figure of £10,000 per head. I presume that our share of the killing of Germans to compel unconditional surrender will entail upon us the killing of another half a million Germans, which would bring the cost of the War to us for that specific purpose to about £5,000,000,000. I notice this morning that the "Morning Post" says that if the War continues for another year the cost to this country will be £4,000,000,000, which is something like my estimate of £5,000,000,000, and this figure will probably be reached before we have killed enough Germans to secure unconditional surrender. Take the "Morning Post" figures, and suppose we force unconditional surrender upon Germany within a year, though I cannot find any military man who says that there is a possibility of forcing that surrender within a year, then at the minimum the cost of this War to us would be £4,000,000,000. Raising that money at 5 per cent., and it may be even 6 per cent., that is £200,000,000 or £240,000,000, and with pensions and allowances—the pension list will be enormous by then—it must mean an additional expenditure of £300,000,000 per annum. If we add our former pre-war expenditure of £200,000,000, it means that we shall have to raise a revenue of £500,000,000 in future years, or £100 for every family in the country.
Having reached that expenditure, that being the condition of the country, and that being the burden imposed upon it, I want to know how we are going to find the money in the future to maintain the naval supremacy of this country, especially at a time when we feel it is going to be contested by a very much more powerful nation in this respect than Germany. America are going to spend £100,000,000 additional on their navy. How are we going with this gigantic expenditure through this policy, even if successful, to leave Great Britain, and that is my only 771 concern, in a position relatively more powerful to Germany than she is to-day? It may be done, but we have no figures and no facts whatever to show the process by which it is to be achieved. Probably we can go on and raise the money and get through somehow, because in the last resort we can repudiate. We might at any rate solve that problem, but that is not my chief concern. My concern is whether the result will be such as will justify the enormous expenditure of men. When we hear hon. Members, and civilian Members, often barristers, talk as they did when the Compulsion Bill was before the House, and before then, of making good a wastage of upwards of 2,000,000 men in a year, I think we have a right to demand evidence that what we desire to attain in this War can only be attained by that ghastly human sacrifice. It horrifies me, the easy and glib way in which I hear hon. Members who are doing nothing in the fighting themselves, and who perhaps have seen very little of it, talk of bringing up these millions to be sacrificed and at the same time say, "We must not even so much as discuss whether what we desire to achieve can be got by other means and without this sacrifice." That is my difficulty. We have no evidence that our objects can only be achieved except by this sacrifice of blood and of treasure.
I am also in doubt whether the objects we first had in mind, or whether the objects which the Prime Minister stated at the Guildhall, are still the sole objects that we have in view in this War. We now know that we went to the Dardanelles in the first place at the request of the Russian Government. We see from statements in the Russian Press, and from a statement made in the Greek Chamber, that our excursion into the East has largely been a commitment to aid her in the conquest of Constantinople. No doubt hon. Members have read that remarkable article by Dr. E. J. Dillon in this month's "Contemporary." He says that the commitment was made last April by the Foreign Secretary, and that the result of this commitment to Russia has been the alienation of Bulgaria and of Greece, and has kept Roumania neutral. I cannot see that that excursion into the East comes anywhere within the objects of the War as set out by the Prime Minister. Fortunately; perhaps, for hon. Members I have not got a paper 772 which I thought I had with me, but in the "Manchester Guardian" of the 17th inst. there is a remarkable article by Dr. Evans as regards the secret negotiations and commitments in connection with the intervention of Italy in the War. He makes the statement, which he says is known in the Foreign Offices of Europe, but of which we have no information, that Italy's terms for coming in were that Dalmatia should be surrendered to her, areas inhabited by a purely Slav population, and he goes on to make the charge in his article that this is an absolute departure from the principles laid down by the Prime Minister. This is the handing over of a Slav population to the over lordship of a race of a different nationality. When one views these facts, one has certainly cause for concern as to whether the objects which this country had in view are not being departed from, and are not being enlarged to the loss of human life and treasure of this country.
The statement of the Prime Minister was perhaps a statement necessitated by his situation. Each head of a Government has to say, "We are going to certain victory; we are not abating one jot of our plans, and we will not listen to the very suggestion of peace." Each has to say it for fear that to say anything else might be interpreted as a weakening for going back upon a common pledge. But, regarding the whole situation, I cannot see how the Resolution proposed or the views expressed by hon. Members can in any way be regarded as a sign that this country is treasonable, or as suggesting that this country is weakening in any high resolve. I think it is evidence of strength, and not of weakness. This country is in a strong position through the domination of the Navy, and through the solidarity of its people, but I do not think that solidarity will continue to exist if the people are denied the full facts, the true reasons, the specific reasons, and the objects for their great sacrifices. These great sacrifices are only beginning now. We have had to introduce compulsion to bring forward hundreds of thousands of men. We are having to force people to go and fight to-day. They, at least, have a right to claim that the specific objects of their sacrifice should be given, and perhaps more so the men in the trenches to-day. I cannot see how that desire of ours, for that is all there is in my mind—the desire that the Government shall not 773 take a hard position and say, "We will not listen to any suggestion of terms of peace, and we will make no proposal until the Central Powers come to us humbled in the dust, submissive and say, 'We surrender unconditionally.' "
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I know that is what my hon. Friend wants, and he may get it, but I can tell him that before he does get it it is quite likely that he may have to go.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
But what benefit will it be to the people of this country if it means that to win this War you have to kill off all the youths, and there are Only the old and middle-aged left? Such a victory could only be gained by dragging in the last million men or the last hundred thousand men to hoist the flag of victory over an international graveyard. That is the only way an unconditional surrender can be forced upon a great nation in arms, and I think for the sake of our own people the door for another method should not be entirely closed.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. STANTON
I have listened with a considerable amount of pain and anxiety to this Debate, and on several occasions I have really felt like going out for a breath of fresh air, but I must remember that I must try and be as tolerant as possible to hon. Members whose views are entirely different, thank God Almighty, from my own. I do not want to blame everyone, or to paint them all alike and declare that they are all equally bad. There are gradations of badness, but it is really too bad that men should be privileged to get up in this House and put such a case, and should at week-ends go down in the country and put something sixteen times worse, using their wicked powers to instil into the minds of the workers of the country their teachings which they have only passively and temperately submitted here to-day. We have heard sufficient, however, to realise that our country's greatness has been brought about, and has been built up by some sterner stuff than that of which some speakers here to-night are made. I do think, as one who has taken a somewhat prominent share in the work of 774 addressing meetings in almost every part of the country, and who is in touch with the pulse of the working-classes as much as any other Labour man, I am justified in saying that 95 per cent, of the workers are loyal British and are with, the Government I have also been to the front. I have seen Tommy and shaken hands with him, and I have told them how we at home have tried to help. The men have told me in return that they are not afraid to go into the trenches and do their part. It is a great pity, I think, that the people of England should have to read such utterances as have been permitted here this evening. I, for one, feel I cannot allow this occasion to pass without entering nay most earnest protest. Such people as have spoken should not be tolerated here. They simply are asking that we should stand down, that we should submit ourselves with ropes round our necks and allow the Kaiser to treat us in the gentle way in which he no doubt would. I, for one, am not going to do that sort of thing, and I am surprised that any man, however much he may love peace—and in times of peace I myself have advocated international brotherhood—should be allowed to preach this doctrine. We are at war, we are up against the stern realities of warfare. We are in the middle of this fight. We have to stand up for our national reputation. We have to remember our duty to our Allies, and to those little nations, Belgium and Serbia.
We must not forget also our own Colonies. Australia, New Zealand, Canada—our Colonies from all the corners of the earth have come forward to stand by their old mother. The cubs are all with us. Are we going to climb down? Are we going to discourage our Colonies? If I were an Australian or a Canadian, I would break away disgustedly if I heard much of such views as have been expressed here this evening, and if I did not know that they are the views of nothing more than a mere handful of men. It is up to the Members of this House to stand up for the rights of our Colonies. It is due to our Flag and our reputation that we should put an end to these speeches. It is bad enough for these men to spend their week-ends in creating difficulty and trouble for their country, in poisoning people's minds against enlisting, in refusing to help the Government with the voluntary system, and then at the same 775 time holding up their hands in holy horror and declaring against compulsion.
There is only one duty for us, and that is to beat Germany by exercising a power greater than her own. Lately we have been able to get thousands and hundreds of thousands of our comrades to join those who are fighting for their country, and a month or two hence we shall be in a still better position to carry on the War. Our fighting spirit is developing. The bulldog is not always the first to fight, but when he begins he holds on, and is not likely to let go. It has been painful to hear the croakings and bleatings of these frightened lambs, who have been permitted to spend their week-ends in traducing their fellow countrymen and in belittling and besmirching the national Flag. But I hope one result of this Debate will be that less notice than ever will, in the future, be taken of them in the country wherever they may happen to go. I was disgusted to read in the papers the questions put the other day in regard to the Zeppelin raid. Surely the questions could have been asked in some other way in which they would not have constituted a direct incitement and encouragement to the Germans to send over more Zeppelins. Surely some better method could have been adopted than this croaking and crying that we were not ready, thereby advertising the fact to the enemy. I say, hang it, that such a thing should have happened. I want it to be known that we are not in any way downhearted. Our men are all right. These people ought to be muzzled, or something of that kind. They may think they are in earnest in what they are doing, but let me tell them this is not an opportune time to do it. We are in the middle of a great fight, and in their speeches they are simply breathing treachery. In this House of Commons there should be no room for men who are doing anything of that kind. I enter my protest against their proceedings, and I will fight them wherever I find them.
§ Major HUNT
I think hon. Members who have advocated the making of peace proposals to Germany have quite forgotten that it is no use making treaties with Germany, because Germany treats treaties as scraps of paper. It is extraordinary that hon. Gentlemen should have forgotten that fact. We can only deal with Germany by defeating her sufficiently to make it impassible for her to attack us again for at least another twenty or thirty years. The hon. Member for Blackburn 776 (Mr. Snowden), who began the Debate, argued that it was not possible to say the end of the War was in sight unless there was a collapse of the enemy, and he added that if there were such a collapse we ourselves should be in much the same position. I do not think that that is true. I do not think that we should collapse, because we have at our backs the power of the Navy, and however long the War may last we shall be able to get supplies. The hon. Gentleman argued that if Germany were crushed it would not necessarily entail real peace. Again, I think, he was wrong, because I hold that it is only by crushing Germany we can hope to get a real peace. The hon. Member for the Elland Division (Mr. Trevelyan) told us there would be hard times for militarism after the War was over. He pointed out that there was hardly a family some member of which was not dead or injured. But the hon. Member has quite forgotten that if we had prepared for war as we were strongly recommended to do by Lord Roberts, instead of having this enormous number of young men killed we should have had no war, because, had we been prepared, Germany would never have begun it.
The Prime Minister made a very strong speech as far as words go, but unfortunately his policy during this War has consisted a great deal too much of words and not enough of deeds. What we want from him is decided action, and that is exactly what up to the present has been lacking. I wish to refer to the way in which the Government whilst spending an enormous amount of money has wasted our resources and above all have refused to use the powers we really possess. At the beginning of the War, although the Declaration of London had been rejected by Parliament, the then Government tried to run the War on the lines of that Declaration. Again, although the Germans had broken every known law the Government still tried to wage the War with kid gloves on. Unfortunately, the Coalition Government are following on the same lines. The last Government consisted chiefly of men who looked after themselves in peace and after neutral nations in war. This Government is still ruled by the head of that Government—by a lawyer whose acknowledged policy is to "wait and see." The Prime Minister is a man who can never make up his mind about anything connected with the War until it is too late. The present Government is no better than 777 its predecessor. It is subject to no opposition or criticism to speak of, because most of the Opposition leaders sit on that bench, and have really become nothing but humble servants of the Prime Minister. They refuse to resign as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University (Sir E. Carson) did, and instead they prefer to hang on and to be the subservient satellites of the head of the Government rather than being loyal to their people and their country. Had the Back Benches on both sides chosen to oppose their leaders, they could have turned the Government out. But now the Government have muzzled the House of Commons and the Cabinet has muzzled the Press. The people are angry, but they are helpless unless a sufficient number of patriotic Members in this House can be found to turn the Government out.
We are ruled by lawyers, and the Cabinet of twenty-two have plainly shown that they are quite incapable of waging war. They preach economy to poor people, but they allow the Government lawyers to draw huge salaries, and they are showing a very unreasonable fear of offending neutrals by allowing an enormous quantity of war material and food to go through neutral countries to Germany. What is the opinion of the United States about this matter? A well known Senator speaking on the doctrines of Continuous Voyage and Strict Blockade recently asked in the Senate whether, when the Germans murdered women and children on the high seas the Allies were not absolutely justified in using the same means as had been used by the Northern States of America, or whether the Americans expected the Allies to stand still like a lot of whipped curs while they were engaged in a war for life and liberty, merely in order to obey the dictates of a Congress which has an Army of 90,000 men and a fourth-rate Navy.
I am certain, from direct information I have had from Holland, that enormous quantities of goods are going from Holland into Germany, and that the Dutchmen as well as the Germans in Holland laugh at the absurdity of our sham blockade. At the same time they are really nervous that the blockade may be made effective. I am afraid we shall never have an effective blockade under the present Government. The political lawyers who rule us insist on civil authority in war. All history shows that that is absolutely fatal to the successful prosecution of a big war. Thus it is 778 that they not only cripple the Navy but they sent mad-cap expeditions all over the world, let the "Goeben" escape, and so brought Turkey into the War against us. On the heads of the political lawyers now ruling this country lies the death and mutilation of tens of thousands of our gallant men, both humble soldiers and skilled officers, all of them far more worthy of their country than the political tricksters learned in the law. These lawyer politicians refused to prepare for the War when they knew it was coming, no doubt on the principle of "wait and see." They only wage war to keep themselves in office, and, as if hypnotised by an unseen hand, they refused to enforce the necessary measures even when the War was being waged. They also did their best to keep the people in ignorance of the extreme dangers of the situation. They have been tried for eighteen months and found hopelessly wanting. For the sake of our women and children, and of civilisation itself, every patriotic Member of this House ought to do his best to get this Government turned out in order to give the people a chance of electing men who are not afraid to wage a strenuous war, and men who will give our gallant soldiers and sailors and those of our Allies a fair chance of winning this War, the greatest and most tremendous War that has ever been known in history.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for to-morrow (Thursday).