§ Mr. MORRELL
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof the words,this House desires an assurance that the Government will lose no diplomatic opportunity to settle the problems of the War by agreement; and to that end expresses its opinion that the secret treaties with the Allied Governments should be revised, since in their present form they are inconsistent with the objects for which this country entered the War and are therefore a barrier to a democratic peace.In the course of the last three years there have been, as the House will remember, several Resolutions not unlike this in character moved from this side of the House, and on every occasion, I think it is not too much to say, the charge has been made against those who moved the Resolution, whatever the merits or demerits of the particular proposition might be, that the time at which it was moved made it extremely inappropriate that it should be moved. I do not suppose that my hon. Friends and myself will be any more fortunate to-day in escaping that charge. I can well understand that at a time like this, when the Germans are thundering almost at the gates at Paris and the Austrians are approaching Venice, or are not very far from it, and the situation, as the Prime Minister said, is a grave and menacing one, there are many people in this House who will think 539 that no word with regard to peace ought to be uttered. For my own part, I think this House would be failing lamentably in its duty if it did not at a time like this, when we are voting an enormous sum of money and another enormous war credit, when everyone must feel anxious as to the progress of events, ask once more His Majesty's Government for a statement of their policy, for a re-statement of their war aims, and for some expression of opinion as to the prospect of achieving them. There is another consideration which seems to me to make this Motion appropriate to-day. To-day, as never before, we realise all the blackness and the horror of this War, and there is a movement going on in men's minds, not only in this country, but in all the countries which are at war, a movement stronger than ever, desiring that this War should, if possible, on any-reasonable terms be brought to an end. Never before, I believe, was the desire for peace so deep, so widespread, so passionate, as it is to-day, I am not saying in the minds of the governing classes, but in the minds of the people in all the warring countries of Europe. I do not believe that this is a mere matter of war weariness. I do not believe there is any such unworthy feeling as this, though at the end of three and a half years of war it would not be unnatural that people should feel Weary of this War. I believe that to-day people stand aghast at the terrible sacrifices in life and treasure which modern war implies.
I will deal only for one moment with the losses as published by our own British Forces in recent weeks. In the week ending June 9th the looses in killed alone amongst officers and men amounted to no fewer than 4,900, an average of 700 men killed every day, and, though it was no doubt a week of high losses, it was not, I believe, an exceptional week, while the wounded and missing during that week amounted to 30,000. In the five months from the beginning of January to the beginning of June the losses in killed alone amounted to 71,000, while the losses in wounded and missing amounted to 300,000. These are appalling figures. The losses amongst our enemies, who have been making these great offensives, are infinitely more severe and more terrible. There is, therefore, no wonder that there 540 is this tremendous feeling arising among all nations in favour of an early settlement. I believe you may trace it in Germany to-day, although no doubt the successes which they claim to have obtained have made the War party in Germany more clamorous than before. All the same, those who follow German opinion, those who read the German newspapers, which I am unable to do, are able to assure us that underneath it all there is a tremendous desire among the ordinary German people to get peace. These victories, which cost so much, which seem to bring peace no nearer, have a sound of mockery in their ears. Some of the German papers reproach the people of Germany because they are so indifferent to the victories which the German troops are winning. In Austria we know there are riots. There are "Stop-the-War" meetings, and Austrian statesmen make no sort of concealment of their desire to see the end of this War. In France we have papers, such as "Le Gaulois" and "Le Journal des Debats." asking that some statement shall be made, and even "L'homme Libre," M. Clemenceau's own paper, the other day said that if the Germans would make a fair offer of peace they were willing and anxious to consider it. In this country it is significant there is a great shifting of public opinion. I do not suggest for a moment that our people do not want to see our original war aims secured, provided that this country can emerge with honour from the War. But there is a widespread feeling in favour of peace. I was speaking the other day to an old man who had lost several sons in the War, and he said to me, in tones which I shall not easily forget, "It is not war; it is murder!" That is the feeling which is growing in this country.
Cannot something be done to bring to an end this terrific, this awful, slaughter? A century and a half ago one of the most famous of French writers began the most famous of his treatises with a paradox which echoed through France and through Europe, and which was, in the opinion of many people, one of the contributory causes of the French Revolution. Rousseau, in "Le Contrat Social," wrote "L'homme est né libre et partout il est dans les fers"—"Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains." I think we are faced with another paradox, not less tragic, not less significant, and perhaps not less far-reaching in its consequences. 541 All the nations of Europe are yearning for peace; everywhere they are at war. There are, I know, many people in this country and in this House, such as the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Christchurch (General Croft) and others, whom I am sorry not to see here, who would give a very simple explanation of that paradox. They would say, "Yes, it is quite true that all Europe desires peace, but the Kaiser and the military party in Germany desire war, and as long as they desire war Europe must continue to have it." Those who say that do no, I think, recognise the strength that public opinion even in Germany must have. I believe there is no Government, however autocratic, however powerful—I am far from denying the power of the Kaiser or seeking to defend or in any way excuse his conduct during this War—I say there is no Government who can afford to despise or to disregard public opinion. Kaiserism would not have the strength which it has to-day in Germany unless the Kaiser were able to say, if not with truth, at any rate with plausibility, that Kaiserism alone stands between Germany and national disaster and the crushing out of German national life. It is by the unwisdom of our diplomacy, by the folly of the statements which have been made on behalf of the Allies and of this country, that Kaiserism has been buttressed up and has behind it the strength, so far as it has any strength, of public opinion.
I do not deny for a moment that in Germany there is a passionate desire for peace if it can be got, but there is an idea there to-day that the Allies are unwilling to listen to any reasonable terms. They have not forgotten the pronouncement of the Versailles Conference, and, therefore, they believe that it is only by supporting the Kaiser and the military party in Germany that they will be able ultimately to secure the peace which they as much as we desire. I regret that our statesmen in this country appear to have forgotten that there are, after all, two weapons which we ought to use, not merely the weapon of force but also the weapon of diplomacy. This proposition was so well expressed in a recent Debate by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Somerset (Colonel Herbert) that I venture to read to the House what he said on that occasion. These were his words:Those of us who criticise (the Government) do so because we realise that in every war in 542 the past you have fought with two weapons, with the sword in one hand and with terms in the other. Those two weapons are each the auxiliary of the other, and when we see a Declaration like the Declaration of Versailles, which throws away one of our most important weapons, then at whatever cost we hold it is-our duty to criticise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1918, Vol. 103, col. 162.]These are remarkable and eminently reasonable words, and I associate myself with what the hon. and gallant Member-said on that occasion. It seems to me it is-lamentable now, after nearly four years of war, that we have still no declaration, with one possible exception, to which we can refer binding on all the Allies and expressing the terms on which peace-would, in our opinion, be possible. The exception to which I refer was the Note-of President Wilson, which is now long ago out of date. Except for that one-possible exception, we have had no declaration of terms whatever. Appeal after appeal has been made to the Government in these Debates to make a declaration, and the responses have either been vague excuses or blank refusals. We have had plenty of declarations of a sort. We have had plenty of statements by different Ministers, very often inconsistent with each other, and sometimes inconsistent with themselves. We have had from time to time spasmodic and almost incoherent utterances from the Council at Versailles, but on such great matters as the policy of the Alliance with regard to a League of Nations—a question which has, I think very fortunately, been brought into prominence by the pamphlet of Lord Grey—on such a great question as that of disarmament, on the question of what is called the War after the War, the economic policy of the Allies, and on the limitation, the reasonable limitation, of our War aims which I believe to be necessary in view of misleading statements made on this question—on all these questions we have not yet had any official declaration binding on the Allies to which we cart refer if we wish to ascertain what are the real objects with which the War is being pursued. Not only have we not had any declaration, but I cannot help thinking that with regard to the peace proposals, the peace openings—sometimes they are called the peace offensives and peace traps—made from time to time by our enemies, the diplomacy both of this country and of the Allies has not been satisfactory. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that I do not bring 543 forward these matters with any idea of desire to incriminate or to score a point against the Government. I have no interest in doing that at all. My sole object in referring to these old topics which are past is because it affords the only way of getting any guidance as to what will be our policy if any proposals are made.
In the course of 1917, the House will remember, there was a whole series of peace proposals—peace overtures—made from different quarters, but chiefly from the enemy to the Allies. Most of them were the subjects of debate in this House. I would like to recall them. There were the negotiations with regard to the Stockholm Conference, negotiations in which I do not think this Government played a very happy part. I will not say more than that. I think myself it was a great pity that the Stockholm Conference was not held, as it might have done something towards removing misunderstanding and bringing understanding nearer by explaining the different points of view. Then there were the negotiations, still wrapped in mystery and obscurity, connected with the letter of Emperor Karl to Prince Sixte of Bourbon. There, again, there seemed to be an opportunity, which was not taken, of approaching towards a settlement. Then there was the Reichstag Resolution of July. Then there was also the Pope's Note, to which no reply whatever was sent by this country—an omission which has often been severely commented upon. Finally, there were the speech of Count Hertling and the important speech of Count Czernin, which was the subject of a debate in this House only recently, and to which the final reply was given in what, I think, was that unfortunate declaration of the Council of Versailles, to which I have already referred. There you have a whole series of proposals, some of them connected with each other. All of them have shown that during the last year or two there was a strong desire, if possible, on reasonable terms as I think, to bring this great War to an end. I am not prepared to say that on this or that point it would have been possible to enter into such negotiations that peace might have been secured. I do not say that, but I say you should take the cumulative effect of the response given to all those proposals. Then, I think, you are driven to say either this country did not desire 544 peace—which I, for one, would never believe, for I believe there is a strong desire by the Government to secure peace on reasonable terms—or else to say there were malign influences at work which prevented those openings reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
I believe there were two very malign influences at work in this matter. One was the pernicious theory, as I think it was, which one connects with the phrase of "the knock-out blow"—the theory that no permanent peace, no secure peace, is possible in Europe until we have by force given such a blow to Prussian militarism that it can ever again recover. I think those who invented that phrase were setting the Alliance an impossible task. It has been well said by a great contemporary speaker that you cannot destroy the Prussian Army, and even if you were to destroy the Prussian Army, you would not have destroyed Prussian militarism, because no one from outside can destroy that, but only the Germans themselves can destroy it. We, by our diplomacy, are doing much to buttress up German militarism. There has been, as I think, another malign influence that has got in the way of any possibility of peace, and that is the secret treaties, whose publication did so much to discredit the good name of this country and of the Allies. Those treaties now are a very old story. A good many of them have died—and we do not regret it—a natural death. A regards the survivors of them, I do think we have a strong case for asking the Government that the terms of those unfortunate treaties should be revised. I do not want now to criticise or to recall the conditions under which they were made. I am sure those who had anything to do with them thought that the considerations for making those treaties were so strong that they were justified in doing so. I do not believe for a moment the Government wished really to betray the country, or to do anything inconsistent with the mind of the country in making those treaties. But I say those treaties are utterly inconsistent with the previous aims for which this country went into the War. Not only are they utterly inconsistent, but they have become a useless encumbrance to us. They are mere material for propaganda in the hands of the enemy with which to reproach us.
Let me recall what those treaties were. First of all, there was the treaty between this country and Russia with regard to 545 Constantinople. That, of course, has come to an end with the old Government of Russia. That was in March, 1915. Then, in April 1915, came the Treaty of London between Great Britain, France, Russia and Italy—a treaty which still exists—a treaty the provisions of which, I think, would be condemned if they were read out fairly in any public meeting held in this country to-day, being absolutely contrary to the feelings, wishes and beliefs of the ordinary people of this country. Next came the Agreement made in the Spring of 1916 between the three Entente Powers as to their spheres of influence and territory in Asia. Fourthly came the treaty between the Allies and Roumania; and, fifthly, the secret treaty in March, 1917, just on the eve of the Russian Revolution, between the old Government of Russia and France—one of the worst of all treaties. And I suppose there is another one. Having regard to the fact that there is a treaty between this country and Russia, and between Russia and France, I presume there is another treaty, not divulged, between this country and France.
§ Mr. MORRELL
As to the terms on which we carry on the war. I do not know. At any rate, there were five, of which two are still operative. As regards all those five treaties, they dealt, roughly speaking, with the prospective spoils of war. They were matters of indemnity and annexation—indemnities originally in proportion to the making of sacrifices. The spirit of all those treaties, when you come to examine them, is absolutely contrary to the spirit with which this country entered into the War, and has been one of the most potent factors in preventing a satisfactory solution of this War. There is often dispute as regards what were the original objects with which we entered into the War. Nothing, I believe, was ever nobler or more disinterested than the spirit which led thousands of youths in this country to volunteer their service to go to the help of Belgium and France. They never thought the War was going to be carried on for the purposes which are divulged in the secret treaties. I do not wish to have any dispute as to what were the objects with which we went to war, and I therefore took the trouble to refer to a speech of the 546 right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary to see what he had to say upon the subject, and I find that, speaking on 30th July last year, he said:We entered this War in the early days, as everybody in this House knows, with little in our minds besides the necessity of defending Belgium and the necessity of preventing France from being crushed before our eyes. Those were the two motives that brought us into the War."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th July, 1917, col. 1849, Vol. 96.]That, I am sure, is a statement of the original policy which everyone in this House will accept, and I will ask the House to see the limitations of that statement. There is nothing there about the crushing or the destruction of Prussian militarism. There is nothing there about Alsace-Lorraine, about the Trentino, about Dalmatia, about the German colonies, about all the other objects which have since come on. I quite agree that, in carrying on a war like this, certain problems are bound to arise which must be adjusted whenever the settlement comes. Everyone must see that. All I want to insist is that those are absolutely on a different plane from the two main objects with which this country went to war in the early days. I venture to think, if those objects had not been enlarged, as they have been, a satisfactory peace might very likely have been secured. I am certain it is only in the spirit of the declaration made by the right hon. Gentleman, and not in the spirit of the secret treaties, or the declaration of a knock-out blow and other declarations of policy we have had—it is only in the earlier and better spirit that we shall ever get to a satisfactory and lasting peace.
It is sometimes said that if peace were to come now, it would be a mere breathing space like the peace of Amiens, and that it would be a mere prelude to fresh hostilities, which would perhaps break out with renewed vigour. I do not say in the immediate future, until this offensive is over, until we know how we stand, that any peace can be negotiated, but I say it is desirable that we should know precisely in what spirit and upon, what terms the Government are prepared to enter into negotiations when the opportunity occurs for dealing with them. Those people who think that an early peace would mean a renewal of hostilities forget the sacrifices, forget the awful loss and destruction, which this War has involved. We are nearly at the close of the fourth year of this great conflict. In duration, in 547 magnitude, in the destruction of life and property, in the hideous consequences which it has entailed in every direction, in the loss of life of innocent men outside the quarrel, in every respect, this War has far exceeded in horror the predictions of even the most pessimistic prophets. It has surpassed all that mankind has ever known in terror, and, if peace can be secured soon, I do not believe that there is any Government or any people who would be so mad or so wicked as to take any step that would lead within a generation, perhaps ever, to a renewal of this great War.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend who moved this Amendment has covered the ground so well that I am afraid there remains little for me to add, beyond amplifying and emphasising some of the points he has put before the House. It is now eighteen months since that memorable day when the present Prime Minister, no longer able to resist the insistent call of the vast majority of his fellow-countrymen, overthrew his political leader, and himself accepted responsibility for the direction and prosecution of the War. We all remember the general expectations which were aroused by the advent of the Prime Minister to that responsible position. The history of this country, I think, affords no similar example of how high expectations have ended in the gravest disappointment. We are not this afternoon concerned with a review of the military situation; indeed, nothing said on the military position from these benches could be more grave than the statement made a couple of days ago by the Leader of the House and the late Prime Minister. In the sphere of diplomacy the Government have, if possible, been a more disastrous failure than they have been in realising those expectations of victory which they excited eighteen months ago. We have had during those eighteen months many Debates of this character in the House. On not one occasion has the Prime Minister considered it even a duty he owed to his position, or to the House of Commons, to make his appearance. The answer of the Government has been left to the Foreign Secretary, and, on some occasions, to the Under Foreign Secretary. On every occasion on which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Balfour) has assumed 548 to reply on behalf of the Government he has left a painful impression upon the minds of his auditors that he knew very little indeed about the work with which his Department is supposed to be specially occupied. In no other Parliament of the Allied countries has the Prime Minister been absent on an occasion like this. Interpellations are frequently being made in the French Chamber and in the Italian Parliament; on every occasion the Prime Ministers are present, and reply on behalf of the Government.
In commencing his speech, my hon. Friend referred to the criticism which is brought against those who bring forward proposals in favour of peace by negotiation, namely, that the time is not favourable or is not suitable. I remember on one occasion the late Mr. Chamberlain replied to criticism of that character by inquiring, "When is it convenient to discuss questions of foreign policy?" If you discussed questions of foreign policy before the War you were probably interfering with very delicate international negotiations. If you seek to discuss foreign policy during the War you are hindering the prosecution of the War, and helping the enemy. If you wait till after the War, then you will be reminded that you are late, and that no useful purpose can then be served by talking. We have, as I reminded the House a while ago, for more than two years raised Debates of this character in various circumstances from a military point of view. We have had debates when the position of the Allied Armies appeared to be more than usually favourable. We have had debates under conditions of stalemate. We are having this Debate to-day under circumstances with which we are all painfully familiar. On each and all of these varied occasions, however, we have been told that the time was not suitable. When is it going to be appropriate to emphasise the question of trying to substitute reason for brute force in the settlement of these international questions?
The Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend divides itself into two parts. It asks the House of Commons to demand that diplomacy should be one of the weapons by which the Government should seek to attain the objects for which they profess to be at war. The Amendment goes on to point out what we believe to be the real responsibility for the grave 549 and difficult obstacles in the way of securing those aims. No doubt we shall be told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have always been ready to listen to peace offers. We shall be told, as indeed we were told by the right hon. Gentleman in the last Debate that we had upon this subject, that no reasonable peace offer had ever been made. If the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs were here we might have had repeated by him this afternoon the distinction he drew on a previous occasion between a "peace offer" and a "peace offensive." I do not profess to possess the powers of discrimination of the Noble Lord. My mind is not sufficiently penetrating and subtle to see the distinction between a "peace offer" and a "peace offensive." Within the last few months, at any rate within the last eighteen months, there have been many occasions on which offers of a more or less definite character have been put forward either by, or on behalf of the Central Powers, or where neutrals have offered their services to try to bring together the belligerents. It is interesting to note that during the four years we have been at war, on not one occasion has any offer of negotiation come either from the Allies collectively or from any of the Allies separately—with the exception of Russia, who is now out of the War. You will search in vain through the speeches of the statesmen who, in the Allied countries, have been responsible for the conduct of the War for a single indication of their willingness to consider an offer of peace. No doubt when this question has been raised statements have been made to the effect that the Government would not deliberately reject such an offer. But I repeat that you may search through the speeches of Entente statesmen in vain to find any approach to an invitation to the enemy to submit terms of peace. There have been, as my hon. Friend pointed out, ten or a dozen peace offers made during the last eighteen months. Each and all of those offers have been rejected. With the single exception of the offer made by the Austrian Emperor, they have been rejected with scorn, contempt, and insult, or they have been ignored altogether.
The advent of the present Government synchronised with the publication of the first official offer made by the Central Powers to enter into negotiations. In view of the reply that was given to that offer by the Allied Governments, it is well 550 worth while to call to mind that about two months before the present Prime Minister assumed his present office he had given his notorious "knock-out blow" interview to an American journalist. I refer to the interview in which, amongst other things, he warned America, which was then neutral, that the Allies neither wanted nor would they tolerate the interference of outsiders. The references in that interview read strangely to-day when placed side by side with the signals of distress the Prime Minister has sent to America within the last two months. It is important to remember the Prime Minister's "knock-out" blow interview was given in September or October, 1916, because it indicated the state of mind of the Prime Minister. It indicated his view of the War. It expressed his attitude as to the possibility or otherwise of ending the War by negotiation. It is important to remember that fact, because, knowing the Prime Minister's views upon these matters, we are not surprised at the Allied reply which was sent to the German offer to enter into conference for the purpose of discussing peace terms. That German offer had been preceded in the early days of December, 1916, by two or three rather remarkable speeches delivered in the German Reichstag by the then German Chancellor, von Bethmann-Hollweg. In those speeches the German Chancellor laid down in general terms the conditions Germany would be willing to accept. Those conditions were these: It was a declaration that Germany had no intention of retaining Belgium, and that they had no intention of impairing the integrity of France. They associated themselves with the demand for an international system, and they declared that Germany would come into that international system. My hon. Friend reminded the Foreign Secretary that, twelve months ago, he stated that the motive which brought this country into the War was the restoration of Belgium and the protection of the integrity of France. In December, 1916, before the first formal offer of peace was made by the German Government, the German Chancellor specially conceded both these objects, the restoration of the independence of Belgium and declared that they had no intention of impairing the integrity of France. How was that offer received? How was it received by the British Press? I know the Government is not 551 responsible for what the British Press says. I know that the Government, and particularly the Prime Minister, shun the Press, and they have no association with it. But still it has a bearing upon this question to remind the House of the way in which the first German offer was received by the British Press. There were large-type headings across the page describing it as a snare and a trap, and an insult, and as whining and whimpering, and squealing, on the part of the enemy for peace, and an appeal was made to the British people that this offer of the Central Powers must be made the stimulus to prosecute the War with greater energy and vigour.
What was the reply of the Governments of the Allied Powers? A few days after the German Note had been received the Prime Minister made his first speech in this House in his new capacity. This is what he said, and his statement would not be open to criticism if it were not for the fact I have just mentioned as to the declaration made by the German Chancellor previous to the issue of this formal offer of peace. What did the Prime Minister of this country say in this House before the Allies had had an opportunity of collectively considering the Note? He declared:That to negotiate without knowing beforehand the proposals which the enemy intends to bring forward would be to put our heads into a nooze with the rope-end in the hands of Germany.That is quite true. I said if we had nothing beyond vague and indefinite statements to go upon that assertion might have been beyond criticism, but Germany had already stated in general terms her own idea of the basis of a satisfactory peace. It is quite true there were no details about territorial rearrangements and concessions except in regard to Belgium. I remember a speech made by Lord Milner at Plymouth in which he made an observation deprecating at this stage elaborate and detailed peace proposals. He was trying to get an agreement upon fundamental conditions, and there were fundamental principles conceded in the document issued by Bethmann von Hollweg. He associated himself with the demand for international peace and he declared that Germany would come into an international system. I have referred to what the Prime Minister said about the German offer." How was it received by other 552 members of the Entente? The Tsar, without waiting for a collective reply to the German Note, issued his own reply, at the time, when according to later information he and his associates were on the point, if rumour be true, of making a separate peace with Germany. This is what be said: He described the German offer as a confession of weakness, and as an indication of the approaching complete defeat of Germany, and he announced his intention of going on with the War until Russia had obtained Constantinople and the Dardanelles. A little later we had the collective reply of the Allies, and it took the form of a summary rejection of the offer. The German offer was described as a "sham proposal," a "war manoeuvre," and an attempt to "create dissension in Allied countries," to "deceive and intimidate public opinion in neutral countries," "justify in advance in the eyes of the world a new series of crimes," and "refuse to consider a proposal which is empty and insincere." When the right hon. Gentleman replies I hope he will tell us what he would regard as a peace offer as distinct from a peace offensive. I would ask him to tell us, for instance, what there was in this first formal offer of peace negotiations made by the Central Powers which justified the Allied Governments in describing it in the language which I have just quoted. I am particularly anxious to hear what we are to regard as a genuine peace offer and one which this Government and the Allies would regard as justifying themselves in accepting for the purposes of negotiation. What was the effect of the Allied reply? Its effect in Germany on the Allied cause was most disastrous. It strengthened the military party and it subdued even the minority Socialists for a short time. Recently a neutral met Herr Haase, the leader of the German Socialists in Berlin, and he asked him if he had any message he would like to indicate to the English Socialists, and he saidYes, I would like you to tell them that the best friends the German Junkers have are the Governments of the Entente Powers.All through the War Allied diplomacy has been an invaluable asset to the German military party. Over and over again when the civil and liberal forces in Germany were on the point of subduing the military party some insane act on the part of one or other of the Allied Governments has been committed which has 553 thrown the military party into the saddle once more. Notwithstanding the immediate disastrous consequences of the Allied reply to the first German offer peace negotiations and the attempt to secure them were not altogether stopped. During the year 1917 a number of such offers were made. The last time we discussed the question of peace in the House it was confined to the Austrian Emperor's endeavours made in 1917, the consideration of which we believe extended over a period of many months. These were followed by other attempts made either by or on behalf of Austria to secure a meeting of the belligerent Governments for the purpose of discussing peace.
There was the offer made to M. Briand, the terms of which appear to be very similar to those embodied in the Emperor Karl's Note to Prince Sixte. The reply of the Foreign Secretary some six weeks ago in which he attempted to explain the reasons for the failure of those negotiations was altogether unsatisfactory. It was unsatisfactory that the reply should have been left to the right hon. Gentleman because he admitted that he knew little about it; in fact, he stated that he was in America at the time the offer was made, and yet he confessed that he, the Foreign Secretary, was not considered by the Prime Minister to be of sufficient importance to receive information about this most vital matter until the negotiations had been rejected. The Prime Minister is the only person who can give the House of Commons information on this matter. It was discussed in the French Chamber, where it was remitted to a Committee. All the papers connected with it were submitted to that Committee, and we, the mother of parliaments, are kept in ignorance upon matters of such vital importance as this. Why did these negotiations fall through? There were the secret treaties and there were the commitments of those secret treaties. A good offer was made to France, but Italy was not satisfied, and the French President appears not to have been satisfied with the very generous offer that was made. Italy remains unsatisfied and, Shylock-like, she held to the terms of her bond as embodied in the secret treaty.
But there are other opportunities which might have led to peace of which the Allied Governments gravely neglected to take advantage. A few days after the publication of the first German offer 554 President Wilson intervened and invited both the Allies and the Central Powers to state their peace terms. Both replied, and the Allied Note, like the collective reply of the Allies to Germany, was of a most unfortunate character, and it did not conform to Lord Milner's idea of what the first offer of peace negotiations should be. It rejected the suggestion of peace negotiations. It stated terms which were impossible and to which no nation for a moment would listen unless it were lying helpless at the feet of a conqueror. The Allied Note to President Wilson concluded by saying that the Allies were determined to press on this War to a victorious conclusion. In other words, they threw away one of the most important and powerful weapons by which they might have hoped to attain the motives which prompted them to enter this War. In the middle of last year we had the Reichstag Resolution, to which my hon. Friend referred. By a majority of two to one they accepted the principle of "no annexation and no indemnities." A few weeks later we who sit on these benches, and who form the Pacifist group, as it was called by the right hon. Gentleman on the last occasion, asked the House of Commons to pass a similar Resolution. The House of Commons declined to do so. We secured in the Division Lobby nineteen votes. Two-thirds of the German Reichstag, which, according to statements made by British Ministers and the literature of the War Aims Committee, is a subservient tool of the Kaiser and is controlled by the military class, voted in favour of such a peace resolution. Only nineteen of the Members of the House of Commons did so. The rest, either by actual vote or by abstention, declined to respond and to send that reply to Russia, the fate of which at that time was standing in the balance. They did not believe in a peace on the basis of the rights of small nations, no indemnities, and no annexation. Again, the policy of the House of Commons and the policy of the Government has always been to play into the hands of the militarist party in Germany. I confess that actions like these on the part of the British Parliament and on the part of the Allies make me feel how difficult and how almost impossible it would be if I were among the German minority Socialists to continue their magnificent 555 and active demand for peace in face of the attitude of the Entente Parliaments on the question.
We now come to the opportunities which the situation in Russia provided last year. A diplomatic effort might have led to a settlement of this War. On the advent of the first Russian Revolutionary Government they discovered the secret treaties in the Foreign Office archives. The existence of these treaties was more or less known. Their terms were unknown. They were unknown to important members of the Entente Governments. M. Albert Thomas, who was a member in France of what corresponds to the War Cabinet in this country, when he went to Petrograd shortly after the outbreak of the Revolution, learned for the first time of the existence of the secret treaty between France and Russia conforming to the French demand for the old frontier of 1814, and it is said that he was so indignant because he had been kept in ignorance of this important matter by his colleagues that he wired his resignation to Paris. I believe the right hon. Gentleman has never spoken in this House without making it an excuse for refusing to make a declaration of policy that we are one of a number of Allies, and that the Allies must act in concert. But it is one of our complaints that they do not do that. A number of these secret treaties which were exposed were made by particular Allies behind the backs and without the knowledge of others. Each of the Allies seem to regard this simply as a game of grab, trying to get what they can regardless of the cost and the expense to others. The first Revolutionary Government in Russia, when they discovered the existence of these secret treaties, realised that the conditions embodied in them made a democratic peace impossible. Their first act was to appeal to the Allies for a conference for the revision of war aims. How was their request received by the Allied Governments? The Allied Governments dallied, promised, hesitated, and then, when the Russian Foreign Minister's bag was packed for Paris to attend such a conference which had been promised, the Allied Governments rejected the proposal altogether. That, more than anything else, was responsible for the overthrow of the first Revolutionary Government. It was responsible for the Bolsheviks coming into power later.
556 What did the Bolsheviks do? They did not want a separate peace any more than the first Revolutionary or the Kerensky Government wanted a separate peace. But Russia must have peace. Russia could not continue to fight. The action of the Allies, in forcing upon Russia the impossible task of renewing the offensive was another contributory cause responsible for the overthrow of Kerensky and the coming into power of the Bolsheviks. Russia must have peace. She did not want a separate peace, but peace she must have. Therefore she tried to get a general peace. She made an appeal to the Allies to join in negotiations for a general peace, and the Allies, as is their custom, apparently not only with the enemy but with Allies too, treated the offer with contempt. The Bolsheviks met the Germans, and they succeeded in getting the conference adjourned for ten days. Again they appealed to the Allies, and again the Allies made no response. Then the Bolshevik Government appealed to the peoples of the Allied countries over the heads of their Governments. The Germans and the Austrians responded by strikes and labour disputes and great peace demonstrations. The negotiations at Brest-Litovsk were resumed. I saw the Russian Minister who went through all these negotiations both before and after the adjournment at Brest-Litovsk, and he told me that the change in the attitude of the representatives of the Central Powers after the resumption was very remarkable indeed. He attributed it to two or three things. One thing was the refusal of the Allied Governments to enter into the conference for the purpose of securing a general peace. Our Prime Minister in his speech to the Trade Union Conference here in London said, not in words, but in effect, "Russia has made her bed; she must lie upon it, as she has made it." I was told by this Russian delegate present at these conferences that the German representatives interpreted that to mean practically an encouragement to them to make the hardest terms that they could with the Russion Revolutionary Government. Another reason said to be responsible for it, although a minor one, was the frank revolutionary character of the speeches of Trotsky, and his appeals to the revolutionary elements in other countries to overthrow their Governments as the Russian democracy had done.
The situation in Russia, deplorable as it is, is in the main due to the lack of sympathy shown to Russia in her difficult 557 situation by the Allied Governments. Judged by the cheers which greeted the reply to a question given by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to-day, it appears that there are Members in this House who still so little appreciate the gravity of the situation in Russia that they not only approve, but encourage, the armed invasion of Russia by Japanese forces. What the Allies have done, or, perhaps, more particularly, what they have failed to do, in regard to Russia has placed Russia under the economic domination of Germany. It could not have been otherwise. The peace of Brest-Litovsk is not a peace settlement. May I tell the right hon. Gentleman what it is, although it would be more appropriate to give that information to his colleague the Under-Secretary. It is a peace offensive. It is not a peace settlement. It is a settlement made in the interests of the prosecution of the War, and, from the point of view of the military party in Germany, the Germans, in view of the declaration of the Allies of their determination to carry on this War, if need be, for two, three, four, and five years, would have been fools and it would have been madness on their part not to take advantage of the opportunity which presented itself for strengthening their economic position in the East. The Allied Governments must take the responsibility for that. To pass away from Russia and to come to the last opportunities which were missed by this Government and the Allied Powers in 1917. Hope appears to spring eternal in the breast of President Wilson, whether he be neutral or Ally, and about the beginning of this year he made another attempt to see whether it were possible to bring the belligerents together in a conference. He laid down fourteen propositions and invited the statesmen of the Central Powers to express their views on them. They responded. It was some time before the right hon. Gentleman read their speeches, but I gather from the speech he made later in the House that after the Debate we had specially devoted to the matter he found an opportunity to read them. The right hon. Gentleman is therefore well aware of the nature of the replies received.
President Wilson was apparently so well satisfied with those replies that he pursued the matter further. In his Message to Congress he referred to this question. He spoke in terms of the warmest approbation 558 of the reply which had been given by Count Czernin and in very courteous terms, but in terms not so approving, to the reply made by the German Chancellor. On that occasion President Wilson reduced his fourteen points to four and again invited the views of the Ministers of the Central Powers. They replied. They practically accepted President Wilson's four points. What was the reply of the Allies to this? It was given in the famous Versailles declaration. It was a version of the late Prime Minister's oft-repeated rhetorical declaration, that they will never sheathe the sword until—and so on. I come now to a count in the indictment against the Government which is perhaps the most serious of all that we lay to their charge. The Prime Minister received the freedom of the ancient, historic, and beautiful city of Edinburgh a few weeks ago. The Prime Minister made this statement:There are two circumstances which have served to persuade the most inveterate pacifists that their idea is wrong. The first is that the Government of this country and President Wilson at the beginning of the year made simultaneous announcements in regard to the peace terms of the Allies, which were so temperate, so moderate, so restrained that even the most pronounced pacifist could not challenge them.Then he goes on:How were those declarations received by Germany? The first reply that either President Wilson or the British Government received was the most violent offensive ever launched against the British Army. They launched it with the avowed intention to annihilate it. That is the answer made on the part of Germany to a moderate peace pronouncement.One can only stand aghast at the audacity of a statement like that. I venture to say you will search through the political records of this country without finding such a case of wicked and gross misrepresentation. What are the facts? The Prime Minister said the first reply President Wilson or the British Government received was this offensive. The offensive was launched on 21st March, the Prime Minister's announcement was made on 5th January. He refers to that as a declaration of the British Government. President Wilson made his statement on 8th January. Czernin replied to Wilson on 23rd January. Hertling replied to Wilson on 24th January. Those speeches were reported in the British Press at great length, which occupied a page in the "Times" newspaper. The "Times" newspaper had half a page summary of the replies of Czernin and Hertling. They 559 dealt seriatim with all the fourteen points of Wilson's statement. President Wilson acknowledged those replies in a speech on 11th February. He approves, as I have said, the Austrian reply, but criticises Hertling, and reduces his fourteen points to four. Then, a fortnight later, on the 25th of February, Hertling responded to President Wilson's further appeal, and gave unconditional assent to three of the four points laid down, and of the fourth he said, I do not know of any objection, and I agree therefore with President Wilson that general peace on such terms is desirable. The offensive began on 21st March, and the Prime Minister says that the only reply given to President Wilson and himself was that offensive of 21st March. But the Prime Minister is convicted out of his own mouth. He was at Versailles, was a party to the Versailles declaration. What did that declaration say?The Supreme War Council gave the most careful consideration to the recent utterances of the German Chancellor and the Austro-Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs.Yet he goes down to Edinburgh and tells the people whom he evidently regards as belonging to the class described by the late Prime Minister as people with low intelligence and high credulity, that the only reply, or the first reply, given to himself and President Wilson was the offensive on 21st March. And yet he, at Versailles, two months before, said he had given the most careful consideration to the recent utterances of the German Chancellor and the Austrian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and was unable to find in them any approximation to the moderate conditions laid down by the Allied Governments. This is the way in which war diplomacy is being conducted. A Prime Minister who makes a statement like that he made at Edinburgh at a grave and critical time like this, so utterly at variance with the truth, is still Prime Minister. He has not been impeached, he can still command a majority of votes in this House; there are still cities in the country anxious to confer on him the dignity of the freedom. It has been said that people get the Government they deserve, and a people who would tolerate the Government of a Minister like that deserves any fate that may fall upon it.
This is the sordid story of Allied diplomacy in the last eighteen months. Its failures have added a million and a half 560 to our total casualties, and it is still to go on. The Allied Governments have apparently never yet appreciated that the purpose of war is not war itself, but the attainment of certain political objects, and that diplomacy may be far more usefully employed for that purpose than the force of arms. It has always been so in war. There has not been an important war in the last 200 years where many opportunities for bringing the war to an end on terms more favourable than those ultimately made were not neglected. It was so in the Austrian War of Succession, the Spanish War of Succession, and the French Revolutionary Wars. The Crimean War could have been brought to an end long before peace was signed on better terms. It was so in the South African War, and it is so in this War. What is the reason for this? I do not contend, and I do not believe, the members of the Government are callous about the sacrifice of human life. I believe the Prime Minister spoke the truth once from that bench when he said that any man who prolonged this War unnecessarily would have a crime on his soul which oceans would not wash out. Why then do they appear to be so impotent? My hon. Friend who moved this Amendment gave the explanation. They are bound and shackled by the terms of these secret treaties, and until they are denounced any-kind of peace, let alone a democratic peace, is an impossibility. These secret treaties violate every one of the professions of Ministers in regard to our War aims. They propose the destruction of the independence of small nations, they tear up sacred treaties, they make a permanent peace impossible, because such a Europe as would arise from the carrying out of these secret treaties, especially the Italian Treaty made during the Premiership of the right hon. Member for East Fife, will create such a Europe that it will be necessary to maintain far larger armed camps than ever. They would make the realisation of the ideal of a League of Peace impossible, and therefore the first step towards the possibility of negotiations, the first step to the possibility of a democratic peace, the first condition of realising those war aims so magnificently uttered by the right hon. Gentleman the late Prime Minister in two or three speeches in the early days of the War, depends on the complete denunciation of these secret treaties.
561 What is the country thinking about these treaties? My hon. Friend who moved this Amendment said you could not get an audience in the country who on hearing an explanation of these treaties would approve them. The country is spending hundreds of thousands, it may be millions of money, in a useless campaign to inform people about our war aims. But they have no leaflets explaining the terms of those secret treaties or any leaflets which tell us about the division of Asia Minor between the Allied Powers, about Italy's ambitions in the Adriatic, about war indemnities, or about the further division of Africa. These things are not mentioned, but they are war aims; they are embodied in secret commitments. The Government still hold to them. I put a question to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the other day based upon a report which appeared in a newspaper that the treaty with Italy had been denounced, and he indignantly denied the statement. The treaty stands. Italy still demands her terms. These are the obstacles to peace. Sweep them away, get back to the honest declaration of war aims, the honest motives of this country which induced those millions to whom my hon. Friend referred to volunteer early in this War, and on that day the difficulties in the way of peace will be found to be small indeed. What does the country think about it? I had sent to me this morning a resolution passed by the largest local Labour party, the Birmingham Labour party. This resolution is all the more remarkable because this Labour party in Birmingham has been almost alone among the local Labour parties in the country in having maintained throughout the War the attitude of strong support of the War. The resolution sent to me reads as follows:The Birmingham Labour party has learned of the contents of the secret treaties entered into by the Allied Governments with the utmost dismay and indignation. It recalls the fact that this party almost unanimously consented, jointly with the Birmingham Trades Council, to participate in the recruiting campaign early in the War because it was led to believe that the War was being fought for the freedom of small nations and the sanctity of international law. The Labour party now discovers that it has been utterly deceived and that even whilst the above-mentioned recruiting campaign was proceeding the Allied Governments commenced a series of secret conferences at which secret treaties were formulated. In the opinion of the party those treaties flagrantly violate every reason put forward by British statesmen in 562 justification for the War and embody precisely those obnoxious and immoral principles of Junker Imperialism which they were led to believe they were fighting against. We believe the absolute repudiation of these treaties to be essential to a democratic peace and hereby instruct our executive council to convene a large and widely representative Midland Conference at as early a date as possible for the purpose of considering these important documents.That resolution was passed unanimously. There is not a labour organisation in the country which would not endorse that resolution. There is not a meeting that could be called together which, after hearing an impartial and accurate account of the character of these secret treaties, would not endorse a resolution condemning and repudiating them. These are the obstacles to peace. That is why the British Government and the Allied Governments are compelled to reject every offer of peace, however promising it may be. May I refer for one moment to the point with which the Mover of the Amendment began his speech, namely, that this is not a suitable time for raising a question like this. Why not? The French people evidently consider it to be a very suitable time. There has been within the last few weeks the strongest outbreak of peace activity in France which has been witnessed since the beginning of the War, and that from the most unexpected quarters. It began in the Journal des Débats and was taken up by M. Clemenceau's paper. Many of the reactionary journals joined in the demand that if an offer of peace came it should not be, as previous offers had been, contemptuously rejected or ignored. There was a meeting in the French Chamber called a week ago by the Federation of Trade Unions, at which half the Deputies were present, including three ex-Primo Ministers, to deal with the grave industrial situation which exists in France because of the prolongation of the War. Not a single London daily newspaper had a line about that meeting. The Allied Governments, by their diplomatic policy, have lost one Ally, and may I say in all seriousness' there is more than a likelihood that they may lose another unless they change their policy. The hon. Member for Hanley (Mr. Outhwaite) had two or three questions on the Paper this afternoon with regard to Belgium. I gathered from the replies given by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs that Belgium, for whose interests we primarily entered this War, was not regarded as being on a footing 563 of equality or of the same standing as the other members of the Allied combination. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Government had communications with representatives of the Belgian Government sometimes. But is the Belgian Government in agreement with the policy of Great Britain, France, and Italy in rejecting the peace overtures and relying wholly on military effort to secure the desired ends? That is a question for the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like an answer to it. I know what the answer is. I know that the Belgian Government are not in agreement with that policy. I know that the Belgian Government, representing the Belgian people, want peace. The change in that direction among them has been most remarkable during the last six months.
The first condition of successful peace negotiations is a repudiation of the secret treaties; and the second is the putting on the shelf of all that ordinary stock-in-trade which serves to delude the people during a period of war. I am sick and tired of hearing all these musty platitudes which you can find in every speech in every newspaper article written during every war that has taken place since speeches were made and newspapers printed, namely, that the enemy was the concentrated embodiment of all the vices ever known to exist, and that the aim of the enemy was the domination of the world. It is rather singular that we never heard anything about this when we entered the War. I read a little while ago the two speeches which were delivered by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, then Sir Edward Grey, explaining the reasons why the Government considered itself in honour bound to enter the War. There is not a word there about the destruction of Prussian militarism. That was an afterthought. But it is following the precedents of all wars. If I cared to delay the House at inordinate length, I could produce extracts from the "Times" newspaper, say, at the time of the Crimean War, in which every phrase that is now being used about Germany's lust for universal power is applied to Russia, word for word. It was so in the time of Napoleon, when it was applied to France. You get the same platitudes that "this is not the time for peace; that you must crush the enemy or you will have to fight it out all over again in ten, twenty, or thirty years' time." The best, the surest 564 means of having to fight it out over again would be to try to pursue the War to a military conclusion. You cannot destroy militarism by militarism.
I have regretted to see certain statements made within the last few weeks by our Prime Minister and by M. Clemenceau in which there has been, I was going to say, a virtual admission—nay, indeed, a frank admission—that the Allies were beaten but for the intervention of America. Surely statements like that will not be forgotten in Germany. Suppose that the Allies, with the help of America—I do not believe it is possible for a single moment—but suppose that, with the 10,000,000 men America is going to transport across the Atlantic, the Allies succeed in inflicting a complete military defeat upon Germany. What is going to be the effect on the German mind? It is going to have the same effect as the defeat of Prussia at the beginning of the eighteenth century had; it is going to have the same effect which the defeat of France by Prussia had fifty years ago—it is going to teach them that military power can be a means for effectively serving national aims. Instead of defeating militarism, it will give militarism its greatest justification. I have regretted to see within the last few weeks a revival of the talk about economic warfare. Take, for instance, some of the recommendations made in the Reports of the Board of Trade Committees which were published a few days ago. One of our leading newspapers, in an article upon those recommendations, said that those Reports ought to be impounded under some Defence of the Realm Act Regulation, or at any rate they ought to be prevented from being known in. Germany. It is a far more important matter to Germany to get fair treatment and equality of economic opportunity after the War than territorial power. If there are to be these constant threats that Germany is to be deprived of the opportunity of commercial expansion and development after the War, then the War will go on until the lust for blood of those who are talking of a five years' war has been more than satisfied. For Heaven's sake, I say to the Government, if they do want peace, if they want a permanent peace, if they want conditions of permanence, let them stop all this provocative talk about economic warfare after the military war! Negotiations must come at some time. Every delay lessens the possibility of a satisfactory peace. It 565 will not be denied that a far better peace could have been made two years ago. I doubt if an equally good peace could be made six months hence as to-day. This War will never be settled between victor and vanquished. It will be settled round a table by men who are the representatives of people who out of bitter experience, out of travail and pain, have come to the conclusion that militarism is an enemy which must be uprooted, and that military power is futile to serve any reasonable and honourable human purpose. This War will be settled round a table by men who are imbued with that conviction and have that aim. There is a terrible responsibility resting upon those who delay the assembling of that conference by a single day.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The hon. Member (Mr. Snowden) threw out a challenge earlier in his speech, and asked me to define what was meant by a "peace offensive." I will tell him what I mean by a peace offensive. I mean any effort by speech or otherwise, under the disguise of asking for an honourable termination of the present unhappy War, to divide the Allies, who, as I believe, are now fighting for the great cause of liberty, and to discourage individual members of the Alliance. If anyone asks me to give an example of what is indicated by that definition, I should say that the speech to which we have just listened is one of the most perfect examples of a peace offensive that has ever been made in or out of this House. Part of the hon. Member's speech—the less earnest and serious part—was distinguished by a tone of petulance which I thought contrasted very ill with the speech that preceded it; a speech which, indeed, I differed from profoundly in its conclusions, but which was animated throughout by an obviously sincere desire to see this War brought to an end in an honourable manner. That desire, of course, is shared by His Majesty's Government, by every man in this House, and by every man, woman, and child in this country, in France, in Italy, and in America. No one wants to go on with the War for the sake of fighting. No one wants to go on with it, so far as I know, for any of those petty motives of international spite of which the hon. Member speaks. We want to go on with it, and we mean to go on with it, for great ends and great motives; and when the hon. Member makes a speech like that to which we have just listened 566 it appears to me that he is doing his very best to bring that policy to an unhappy conclusion. Anyone listening to that speech would really have supposed that, after he has taken a survey of the motives animating the combatants on the two sides, he deliberately comes to the con elusion that the people who initiated this War and are continuing it, the people who provoked it, are comparatively innocent people, not animated by the mean ambitions which unhappily, according to him, have moved our Italian and our French Allies, but whose thoughts move upon a higher plane, who have none of these ambitious designs which he sees in his own country and in the Allies of his own country, but that they really give us a model of what reasonable combatants should be and should desire. Is the hon. Member aware of the monstrous folly and ignorance shown by such suggestions as that? He says, truly enough, that in previous wars we have denounced those with whom we fought, in the great Napoleonic Wars in particular, with a desire for universal domination. We have done so; and I am clearly of opinion that in doing so history has proved that we were right. But while no one who knows history will dispute that Napoleon was animated by this lust for universal domination, no one who has studied the literature or weighed the actions of Germany during the last forty years and more will doubt that she is pursuing that aim of universal domination with a persistence, with an elaborate care, with a forethought, with a ruthless and cold-blooded determination which leaves Napoleonic ambitions far behind. To listen to the hon. Member, you would suppose that the picture I have just drawn, which is not an exaggerated picture, has no resemblance to the truth at all, that Germany is not animated by this desire for domination, that Germany has not gradually built up her strength in order to carry out a policy of domination, that Germany has not co-ordinated her military and commercial efforts, in spite of what the hon. Member has said, in order to make the civilised world fall like ripe fruit into her lap. The hon. Member says that when the War broke out we heard nothing in Lord Grey's speech on that fateful Monday, the 3rd August, of German desire for general domination It is perfectly true that what filled all our minds at the moment was the outrage on Belgium and the attack on France—
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Does not the hon. Member really forget the central point of Sir Edward Grey's speech? Let me refresh his memory, and he will see what I thought was one of the main points of a large part of his speech, and the main point of the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Morrell), that when the War began it was the Belgian case that moved us! What does the hon. Member means by so irrelevant a contradiction as that which he has been good enough to make?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I will answer the right hon. Gentleman in the words of the Prime Minister, who, in an interview which he gave to a magazine shortly after the outbreak of war, said that on the Saturday before the War 99 per cent. of the people of this country were against going into the War for what they imagined to be the support of France, but that after the invasion of Belgium the proportions turned round, and he said it was the invasion of Belgium which induced us to give our support.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The whole point of the two speeches we have heard was that whereas our motives were high and lofty at the beginning of the War, because we went into the War to help Belgium and France, now we have sunk to a lower moral plane and become, to use the cant phrase which is current in Russia, "Imperialists in disguise". I am unable to understand why the hon. Member thought it worth while to interrupt me. But there is no contradiction, and there is no change of view, so far as I know, beween those early days in August, 1914, and the present moment. From beginning to end the animating motives of this country, and of the Governments in which from time to time this country has placed its trust, have been to carry out those general principles, one application of which moved us in the first days and hours of the War. If the hon. Member goes further and says, had the nation at large realised in 1914 what the German passion for domination meant, had they studied German utterances, then I go some distance with him. There were, 568 indeed, people in this country who had warned the country of what the desire for expansion really meant. But we are, as a nation, slow to believe that other nations can be animated by motives which are so widely separated from those which move our own people. Those writings were known, no doubt, to a few, but they were not even by those few regarded as always representative; and it is not until the matter has been studied in the light of events, and with a care which it was never thought worth while to give it before, that it has been brought home to the conviction of every student, except the hon. Member and those who sit beside him, that this War is no accidental and unhappy episode, that it was an inevitable, or an almost inevitable, result of German ambitions, and that it was absolutely inevitable unless the development, economic and military, of Germany in the course of years did not enable her to get all the fruits of victory without the loss of bloodshed and of going to war. And it is perfectly clear to anyone who looks back on the history of the last thirty or forty years, that the ambitions of the whole of the intelligent and the military and governing classes in Germany were of a kind which were directed to world domination, and that if the world domination could not be got by peaceful means, it must be got by war, and in utter indifference to all the horrors which war would produce. Of course, they made, and we all know that they made, in some respects a gross—I will not say a gross, but a great miscalculation. They thought that the objects of the War, this European domination, which was to carry with it other dominations, could be obtained after a struggle which, at the most, would last a year. It might easily have been so, but, happily for mankind, it has not been so. How anybody can come forward and make the speech that the hon. Member has made this afternoon, and suggest that it is we who sit on this bench and those Gentlemen who sit on the opposite bench who have by our stupidity, our blindness, our indifference to human suffering, and our Imperialistic ambitions, been the people who, if we did not start the contest, have, at all events, continued it, and are now responsible for its continuance—utterly passes my comprehension. The hon. Member has made his usual survey of the suggestions of peace which have from time to time been made by the Central Powers. Is there one of those cases in which the 569 sober historian would ever see the basis of a possible peace? Is there any evidence at all that any of those suggestions, such as the Emperor of Austria's letter, and the other transactions to which the hon. Member referred—is there any likelihood at all that any one of those proposals were made with a view to obtaining that sort of peace which even the hon. Gentleman himself could regard as a reasonable peace, carrying with it some prospect of security for the future liberties of the world?
We have never rejected any proposals which we thought had the slightest probability of producing the sort of peace which most of us—and, I hope, all of us—desire. There is no evidence whatever that the German Government have ever been serious in making such offers of peace. I have more than once referred to Belgium, though I always do so with some hesitation, lest hon. Gentlemen should run away with the idea that, in my judgment, the restoration of Belgium would by itself give all that we ought properly to ask for as a result of the War. The case for Belgium is merely an example. It is a good example of German methods; because Belgium, as the hon. Member has pointed out, was the occasion of the War. I am not sure whether the hon. Member would admit that; but at any rate it was intimately connected with the opening phases of the War. The treatment of Belgium is, and remains, the greatest blot upon German honour and German humanity. German honour and German humanity, I think, have been violated in many parts of the world; but Belgium stands out as the great and unanswerable proof of what it is that the German Government will do if they think that any military advantage is to be got by it.
Have the German Government ever openly and plainly said, in any document, or in any speech, that Belgium is to be given up, that Belgium is to be restored, that Belgium is to be placed in a position of absolute economic as well as political independence? I know of no such statement. It has been suggested that Belgian territory should be restored, and there have been other suggestions of one kind or another; but you will never find any frank avowal that Belgium, having been taken by one of the most iniquitous acts of which history has record, is to be put back, so far as the perpetrator of the 570 crime is concerned, as far as possible in the position in, which she was before the crime was committed.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that perhaps when he is discussing the reasonableness of terms he might have reminded the House of that fact? What he does is to point to ambiguous speeches and doubtful resolutions; he turns his eyes resolutely away from the clear-cut and unmistakable statements on the other side, made by German writers of repute and German politicians of position—he turns his eyes resolutely away from what Germans write and what Germans say, and still more resolutely away from what Germans do both in the East and the West. Then he presents a picture of German statesmen on that side offering reasonable terms of peace to the English statesmen on this side, and the English statesmen obstinately shutting their ears, and insisting on going on with the War and determinedly forcing this country and its Allies to go on with the expenditure of blood and of treasure; and he expects us to listen to him patiently and not to say that, whatever his intention may be, his acts in this House have the effect of doing everything that can be done by a speech in this House to discourage the Allies and their friends and to encourage the Central Powers and their friends. I must honestly say that I think that is a lamentable performance. If I understood one part of his speech aright—I may have failed to get the clear meaning—he seemed to think that we differ from President Wilson upon these points. So far as I know, there is no difference between the Allies and President Wilson upon war aims. I believe that we cherish the same ideals, we are fighting for the same purpose on the same fields of battle, we are making similar sacrifices, and we are working towards the same end.
I cannot conceive why the hon. Gentleman, animated as I am bound to suppose he is by a public-spirited policy, suggests that there should be in this matter of war aims the smallest difference between us and our American Allies. There is no such difference. Neither is the hon. Gentleman right when he supposes that these secret treaties are an obstacle to peace. The notion is fantastic. I am not going to discuss the secret treaties. I have often explained to the House that these treaties were made not by me, not by the party to which I belong, not by the 571 present Government; they were made in obedience to motives which I believe would have moved any Government in power at the time to make the same or similar arrangements. It is very easy for the hon. Gentleman to say that if the treaty with Italy to which he referred—I am not going to discuss it—were discussed, it would be disapproved of in this meeting or that meeting throughout the country. If you want to judge the treaty rightly, remember the circumstances under which it was made, and ask the people whether, if they had been responsible for the conduct of affairs, they would have hesitated to come to arrangements of that kind. Even if the treaty is open to criticism, even granting—and I am not going to make any admissions about it, that it was open to this criticism—it is a mistake to suppose that it stands in the way of peace.
The Allies are prepared to listen collectively to all reasonable arrangements. Certainly His Majesty's Government are not going to shut their ears to anything that can be called a reasonable suggestion. If such a suggestion were made, and it met with the approval of the Allies collectively, does the hon. Gentleman really suppose that the fact that three years ago, or whenever it may have been, they took a different view, that would stand in the way of accepting this reasonable suggestion? Of course it would not! Any proposal to the Allies will be considered by the Allies on its merits. These treaties were entered into by this country with other members of the Alliance, and to these treaties we stand. The national honour is bound up with them, and I really cannot conceive a more unfortunate moment in which the hon. Gentleman should criticise our Italian Allies than at the very moment when those very Allies are fighting with heroic courage in the battles which they are now carrying out against their Austrian enemy.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It is not the Italian Government who are making the magnificent stand in Italy now. It is not the men who made these secret treaties.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
It is a crude device to distinguish between the men who made 572 the Government—the men who, remember, are dependent upon their Parliamentary system—and the nation who supports them. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we sometimes draw too sharp a distinction between the military and the ruling classes in Prussia and Germany and other citizens of the German Empire; but, at all events, that is reasonable compared with the distinction he is now trying to draw between the Government of Italy, supported by the Italian Parliament, freely elected by the Italian people, and the people themselves. No such distinction is to be drawn. The attack he made was an attack upon the Italian people, and had no other meaning whatsoever. As far as we are concerned we are bound by that treaty, and we mean to hold by it. But it is a profound error to suppose that the time will come when the British Government, surveying the whole situation, and the Italian Government surveying the whole situation, will find themselves in this position—the British Government saying, "I think you ought to make peace, in spite of this treaty," and the Italian Government saying, "There is the treaty, and we mean to hold to every word of it." When the time comes, the treaty may be a proper instrument to carry out in every detail. I do not argue that; but what I say is that whatever judgment may be come to, when the time comes, by the British Government is probably the judgment which the Italian Government would share to the full; and the judgment made by the Italian Government is the judgment in which the English Government would share to the full. I have no reason to think that in the future, any more than in the past, there will be any divergence between the Allies who are carrying on this War. If it should turn out that, in the common interests of the Allies as a whole, treaties made some years ago should require modification, I do not doubt that a modification will be made by the Italians themselves. It rests with them. They are our Ally; we are bound to them, and we mean to keep to the full to the bargain we have made.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
Is it not the fact that the recent Conference in Rome between the Jugo-Slavs and the Italian Government showed that Italy is very much inclined to modify the policy embodied in that treaty?
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The Jugo-Slav meeting in Rome, to which my hon. Friend refers, 573 was one of the very greatest interest and significance, and I think did show a certain change, I will not say of view, but of mood, of temper, in connection with that particular question. That may be so, but I do not propose to discuss or to suggest any discussions upon topics like that. I think that it would be quite inexpedient. I content myself with the broad statement, which I believe to be true, that these treaties, whether they be carried out to the letter or whether they be modified in practice, are no obstacle to the conclusion of a reasonable peace, and will not form any ground of discord between us and our Italian. Allies; and I cannot conceive a greater folly at this moment than entering formally and ostentatiously into any reconsideration of the instruments which have regulated now for two or three years the relations of the Allies.
We have a more important and immediate task before us. We have the task, now that Russia has fallen out of the War, of resisting the Austrian and German effort on the West. We have the task before us of doing all we can to restore Russia to full national patriotic self-consciousness. Russia is going through a time of profound trial. Everybody sympathises with the difficulties in which that vast population finds itself. Its sufferings have been little alleviated by the normal peace which has been forced upon it by Germany, and I do not despair of our being able even now to do something material to restore the economic and political unity and nationality of that great country. That is a question that rests in the future and not in the past, and I can do no more than say that our good wishes for Russia, her freedom, her prosperity, her integrity remain quite un-diminished by recent events. But the fact that she did fall out of the War, as, of course, everybody knows, has thrown a very great strain on the Western Allies. I believe that that strain is one which we shall sustain; but we shall require, as is commonly admitted, all our patriotism, all our energy to sustain it with a full measure of success. And I cannot imagine anything more idiotic than, at this very critical moment and real time of stress, to bring our attention to problems which may come up, and I hope they will come up, at no very distant date, but which, even in the view of the hon. Gentleman himself who moved this Amendment, are not appropriate at the present time. The hon. 574 Gentleman who has just sat down declared that we always meet Motions of this kind by the statement that they are inappropriate to the occasion. I do not know that I have used that argument before, though I dare say that I have. What I have usually felt is not that they were inappropriate to the occasion, but that they were inappropriate to any occasion. I understood the hon. Gentleman who moved this Amendment to admit that this was an inappropriate time to discuss peace terms.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman. If so, I apologise. I certainly thought he said that in the middle of this offensive it would be impossible.
§ Mr. MORRELL dissented.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I do not press it now, nor is the matter very important, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman said that or something equivalent. At all events, it is obvious to everybody, whether he said it or not, that it is true. This is the very last moment in which we are likely to make peace proposals to the Central Powers, or, as far as I can judge in which the Central Powers are likely to make proposals to us except for one purpose—the purpose of a peace offensive. What I believe, as far as I am able to judge, the Central Powers mean to do in the way of peace is not to propose reasonable terms to the Alliance as a whole, but to select some member of the Alliance to which to offer terms that may prove extremely temptive to that member of the Alliance, if it consider only its own obvious and immediate interests, and not the Alliance as a whole; and in that way to disintegrate the members of the Alliance, some of whom would, of course, be perfectly helpless, taken in isolation, but would be quite strong as long as they are united. I do not blame the Central Powers for making such attempts. The people I blame are those who fall into the trap; and the people I blame most of all are those who, like the hon. Gentleman opposite, appear to think it almost criminal not to fall into the trap. As far as I can make it out, his criticism is that we went to war for Belgium and France, and, if Belgium and France are satisfied, why should we think of Italy? That spirit is a fata' spirit, because 575 you might change it round, and say to Italy, "You are bound by the Alliance. Very good terms are offered to Italy. Why do you bother about anything else?" You cannot work an Alliance on those terms. The only terms on which you can work an Alliance are those of mutual confidence and mutual trust, and the only way you can have mutual confidence and mutual trust is by being open and above board with those with whom you are working.
The hon. Member suggested, and he did more than suggest, in his speech that we have not been open and above board with the Belgian Government. He is quite mistaken. The Belgian Government have our full confidence, and I believe that we have their full confidence. There is no attempt, and there never has been any attempt, to keep back from any of those with whom we are working anything which is really material to the common purpose which they should know. I think that it is my predecessor in office who comes in for most of the blame—the worst charge against me, as far as I know, is that I know nothing about my office—for the actual treaties which are denounced were not made by me, but were made sometimes by my colleagues in this Government and sometimes by my late colleageues in the last Government.
But all this sort of petty criticism is really out of place. Whether it is directed against me or Lord Grey, or the late Prime Minister, or the present Prime Minister, it is out of place. All of us—and I speak with confidence for those who sit on that bench as well as those who sit on this bench—are desirous of seeing this War brought to an honourable conclusion. All of us think that no conclusion can be honourable or satisfactory which makes it perfectly plain that the peace is only a truce. All of us are desirous of seeing, so far as may be, that the wishes of the populations of the world shall meet with their due satisfaction. All of us are anxious to see that, whatever arrangements may be come to at the Peace Conference, whenever the Peace Conference takes place, shall be of such a kind as to leave as few as possible of those eternal causes of friction and jealousy which divide email nations even more than they divide big nations, and shall, by removing those causes of jealousy, be greater security for the future peace of the world than any real treaties can ever give.
576 To that rearrangement of territory or of constitutions, supplemented, as I hope it will be, by a League of Nations for the enforcement of peace—to those two changes in the international constitution of the world I look forward as the real security of peace. We shall never get that peace, and we shall never deserve to get that peace, if we listen to the counsel given to us by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, if we fail to look facts in the face, if we fail to see what German ambitions really mean, what German statesmen are really driving at, and what it is they are determined to have. Unless we face these facts we are only deceiving ourselves, and heaping up, if not for ourselves, at least for our immediate successors, a repetition of horrors unequalled in the history of the world, felt I believe, I quite admit, as much by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment as by us, but, believe me, felt by us quite as much as by him. For who feels the horrors of war more than those who are responsible for its conduct? On whom does the burden of this dreadful expenditure of blood and treasure weigh most heavily? How can it weigh more heavily on any man or set of men than those on this bench? No; we desire, and we passionately desire, an honourable peace; but as time goes on we are more and more convinced that that peace can only be attained by struggling to the end to see that we do not leave it in the power of any nation such as Germany to cause a repetition of the evils under which the whole civilised community of nations, whether in the Old World or in the New, is at present helplessly groaning.
§ Sir T. WHITTAKER
The impression made on my mind by the speeches of my two hon. Friends, the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, was that they contained two dominant ideas. The first, in the case of the hon. Member who seconded the Amendment, was that it is really our desire that this War should still continue, that it is all our fault that peace has not been arranged, that Germany is anxious for peace on the most reasonable terms, and that it is all our fault that the War has not been brought to an end. He also told us that the position as it is now in Russia is alt our fault. Somehow or other both hon. Gentlemen appear to have in their minds the belief that a very considerable number of people desire that this War should continue. The hon. Gentleman who seconded 577 the Amendment disavowed that view, but I notice that later he spoke of the lust of blood in this country. That was the expression used, and their impression is that there is a desire among some people for the continuance of this War. As the right hon. Gentleman has just explained, it is absurd to think that we are not all anxious and earnestly anxious for peace, as anxious as anyone possible can be; but it must be a satisfactory peace, and the hon. Members themselves admit that it must be a satisfactory peace. The real difference, however, is as to what would be satisfactory. According to the terms of the Amendment it is to be a settlement by agreement, but when have the German people given any indication that they will agree to anything that we should regard as reasonable? The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that they have never specifically and definitely stated that they will even evacuate Belgium, and restore its political independence. Important officials in connection with the German Government have again and again declared that they mean it to be economically, politically, and militarily practically under the control of Germany.
Have they ever indicated that they are prepared to evacuate the whole of Northern France? Have they given any indication whatever that they will hand back to Russia the Baltic provinces, or the Southern provinces of Russia? Not at all. Have they given any indication of their being prepared to give freedom to Finland and Poland? Nothing of the kind. Will they release Serbia and Roumania? There is not an indication. Will Austria clear out of Northern Italy, and will they return the property that they have stolen from Belgium and France? Will they return Alsace-Lorraine? And what about Armenia? There is no indication there. As to the German colonies, are we to return them? Were that told to the Imperial Conference now sitting it would shake the Empire to its foundations. Germany will agree to none of these things until they are compelled to do it and until they realise that they cannot help themselves or do otherwise. It may not be necessary that they should be driven by military force out of the territories they occupy, but that under the combined pressure of war and domestic circumstances they should be made to see that their effort has been a failure. Until they do realise that, in my judgment it is a waste of breath to talk, 578 as my hon. Friends have done, about peace. At the present time, so far as we can gather, the only terms on which agreement could be effected with Germany would be terms of humiliation and defeat and future subservience for this country, and treachery by us to our Allies. The acceptance of the German terms would involve acceptance of a position which would leave Egypt and India at Germany's mercy and would be the commencement of the breaking up of the British Empire and the death knell of justice and freedom and national independence in Europe. The simple fact, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, is that Germany is out for world-power and world-domination. It is for that that it determined upon, and provoked, and commenced this War. The German people are possessed of the triple devils of militarism, race conceit, and commercial greed. What did the Kaiser say on Saturday?It was not a matter of a strategic campaign, but a struggle of two world views which were wrestling with one another.Two world views, two principles, two different ideals struggling, and one or other of us must go under. We will not, and they will not, until they are made. It is sheer folly at present to ask for anything like an agreement. There can be no agreement until the German people learn by experience that their policy is a failure. They must realise that this policy does not pay, and until they know this, and until they know that in seeking to impose this cruel and disastrous policy they are engaged in an impossible task. Negotiate by all means, as soon as ever there is an indication of returning sanity on their part. In my judgment, there is none whatever at present. I suggest that there is danger in making peace too soon. The enemy will begin to realise that defeat is in front of them, and they will endeavour to settle terms before all is lost. A patched-up and inconclusive peace would be worse than no peace at all.
Reference has been made during the Debate to the great French War in which we were engaged at the beginning of the last century. It is curious how history repeats itself. It is not only interesting but instructive to recall some of the incidents of those great campaigns—that early in last century and the present one in which we are engaged. In 1801 we had been at war, more or less, for 579 fifteen years, and had lost almost all our Allies. Napoleon had consolidated his power in France, and had a strong position abroad. There was great distress in this country. In 1800 wheat was 112s. 8d. a quarter; in March, 1801, the quartern loaf cost 1s. 10½d. Napoleon was threatening invasion; Pitt resigned because the King would not allow Catholic emancipation; and shortly afterwards we had the rising in Ireland under Robert Emmett. It is extraordinary how similar is the position. Addington became Prime Minister, and Hawkesbury, the Foreign Minister, was to make overtures for peace in 1801. It took twelve months to make anything like an arrangement, and in 1802 we had the peace of Amiens. That peace left Napoleon in power, with all his ambition undiminished and unrestrained, and with time for further preparations. And what was the result? We were at war again within fourteen months, and Pitt returned to power in 1804. We had then what we might have now if we concluded peace. In 1805 Napoleon wrote to George III. proposing peace, but on his own terms, and then the Government of that day took the only proper attitude that they could take, and which the Government now take, that was to decline negotiations as an individual Power and without the Allies. What Napoleon was doing then the Kaiser is doing now—trying to divide the Allies by separate negotiation. In that very year Napoleon became absolute ruler of France, and France then included all Belgium up to the left bank of the Rhine, and he was practically ruler of Holland, Switzerland, and Northern Italy. In that year he crushed Austria and Prussia, and Pitt died in January, 1806. It was in 1805 that we won the Battle of Trafalgar. What was the result? Napoleon determined to seize and get hold of the fleets of some of the neutral maritime nations, and he threatened Denmark and Norway, and occupied Portugal and Spain. What are the Germans doing now? They are making their princes monarchs in Lithuania, Courland, Esthonia, and Poland, and trying in Finland.
Precisely the same thing was done by Napoleon. In 1806 he made his brother Louis King of Holland, his brother Jerome King of Westphalia. He made the Elector of Saxony King of Saxony, and he added to his territory and formed 580 a subservient confederation of the whole of Germany other than Prussia and Austria. In May, 1805, he crowned himself King of Italy and made his son-in-law Viceroy, and after that, when he held that power and all that territory, Talleyrand wrote to Fox suggesting peace negotiations. Fox again, as his predecessors in the Government, refused to have anything to do with it except in conjunction with the Allies. In 1808 Napoleon made his brother Joseph King of Spain and his brother-in-law King of Naples, and then again in 1808 he made another approach. Napoleon and the Tsar wrote to George III. begging him to give peace to the world—blaming us again—and to guarantee all the powers then existing, that was, to confirm him in his hold upon Europe, and we again would not have it. From 1805 to 1810 Napoleon was making himself year after year the master of Europe, and then under the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 Russia turned against us. That arrangement broke down, but for the time it was serious, and the only important neutral country in the world, the United States, was unfriendly and went to war with us in 1812. In 1810 the British people alone were undefeated, but they held on, though solely tried. They held the seas, and during the next five years the tide turned. The great military despotism which had been set up gradually crumbled away, all Europe gradually rose against it, and I do not despair of Russia rising now and again coming in. The resurrection of Prussia and of Austria, the retreat from Moscow, and the Peninsula campaign prepared the way for the culminating blow at Waterloo, and Europe was saved and Napoleon was sent to St. Helena. Viscount Grey in that pamphlet which is reviewed in the papers this morning says:There is more at stake in this War than the existence of individual States or Empires or the fate of a Continent; the whole of modern civilisation is at stake.We must endeavour so to end this War as to render a repetition of this crime against humanity practically impossible in the future. Unless we do so, civilisation will be submerged under militarism, which will spread all over the world and hold the whole world in bondage. We shall not do this, in my judgment, until the German rulers and the German people—I do not discriminate between the two—alike learn, by the hard facts of experience, that brutal 581 onslaughts on unoffending peoples do not pay. Agreements that left them with extended territories after this War and with increased prestige would be a defeat for us and a victory for them, and that result would stimulate them to further effort in the future. The whole world would remain an armed camp waiting and watching for a renewal of the struggle. We owe it to those who have fallen, we owe it to those who have been bereaved, and we owe it to ourselves and those who are coming after us that this shall not be, and we must not break our faith with our Allies. Revision and readjustment of the treaties with them, no doubt, there will have to be. That must be arranged by mutual consent and at Allied Conferences. Good faith with Allies is essential to the successful establishment of the League of Nations to which we are looking forward, and if that League of Nations can be successfully established it can only be maintained and be operative on the basis of good faith between Allies, and one of the proposals of this Amendment is that we should break faith with our Allies, throwing aside the treaties into which we have entered with them. It seems to me that that is one of the least creditable parts of that Amendment, and, therefore, I hope the House will reject it by a very large majority.
§ Mr. RAMSAY MACDONALD (indistinctly heard)
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the somewhat unusual excursion upon which he has taken the House. It is a great pleasure to find one who has been taught nothing by the last four years' experience, and who for the purpose of throwing light upon the most difficult situation in which Europe has found itself goes back to a somewhat superficial record of the wars with Napoleon. I hope when my right hon. Friend returns to his study he will go a little bit deeper than the phrases of popular history and the compilations of a dictionary of dates. He will also, I hope, remember that it would be profitable for him to pursue his studies a little bit further in time, and to remember that that magnificent record of national resistance, national heroism, and national expenditure was finished by the treaty and the congresses of Vienna. So much for my right hon. Friend's history and the deductions he draws from it. We will return to the speech the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary made on the subject before us. It is very remarkable that 582 when we come to general phrases we all use the same. My hon. Friend behind me the Member for Burnley (Mr. Snowden) professed, and I think showed by his speech, a most profound desire to end the War, not to end the War anyhow or at any time, but to end the War honourably and successfully from a democratic point of view. When the right hon. Gentleman replied he also used the same expression. There is no difference between us then so far as intention is concerned, but I resent most strongly that every time that the right hon. Gentleman speaks from that bench he has got to say, regarding my hon. Friend or anybody else who criticises his or his Government's policy or any Government's policy, that their speeches are in favour of the Central Powers. I hoped we had got a little bit beyond that, and that the desire of all of us to try and discover the right way to this satisfactory peace would make it impossible for us to, make these foolish charges. As a matter of fact, if we wanted to encourage and cement the Central Powers, to stop the strikes that are now going on in Austria, nothing would do it better than certain extracts from the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon. The way that he talked about the secret treaties is precisely the thing that the Central Powers want in order to convince their people that whatever we may say sometimes, and whatever we may do sometimes, the real intention of this country, in conjunction with its Allies, is to inflict a defeat on Germany, not for the purpose of liberating Europe but for the purpose of humiliating Germany as an end in itself. I do not believe for a single moment that that is the intention of this country.
The right hon. Gentleman who gave us the historical excursion (Sir T. Whittaker) did not give us any idea as to why the War lasted so long and why he had so many dates to manipulate. I believe he is a devoted follower not only of the political faith, but a great admirer of the intellectual capacity of one who used to be his leader, Lord Rosebery. I might remind my right hon. Friend that Lord Rosebery has also written about that period and those negotiations, and what Lord Rosebery has said about them is this, and it is very germane to the Debate in which we are engaged. Referring to the offer of peace Buonaparte made on the last day of December, 1799, Lord Rosebery says:If Buonaparte was insincere, as was said, wad only wished to make the French believe that 583 the wish for peace was on his side and not on ours, the negative of foreign negotiations was playing Buonaparte's game. If he were sincere, the responsibility of the Government was unbounded.7.0 P.M.
I commend my right hon. Friend to those pages in Lord Rosebery's book, where he will find great illumination regarding the long string of dates that he recited with so much pleasure and delight to the House this afternoon. But we will leave these somewhat scattered and pettifogging points which have been raised on one side. I always listen to the right hon. Gentleman the Foreign Secretary with great intellectual pleasure. I do not always listen to him with the same political profit, and I must confess I came here this afternoon to get political profit and not intellectual pleasure. I got the latter, as I always do, but I am sorry I did not get the former. What divides us? Does he really mean to say, does any member of that Government mean to say, that we are sitting here to-day doing this somewhat thankless work, laying ourselves open to his gibes and to his misrepresentations—because I think he did misrepresent my hon. Friend—does he mean to say that we are doing that because we want our country to be defeated or because we want its cause to be worsted in the present War? I do not believe it for a single moment. He is there and we are here, not because we do not want to face those facts about German intentions and German aims about which he spoke, because we do. As a matter of fact, I think we may say we faced them before he did. He is there and we are here because he believes in a method of remedy which we distrust. After four years of war, swaying up and down, backwards and forwards, of hopes deferred that make the heart sick, with ever-increasing losses of life and treasure, it is surely time seriously to consider the conditions of that method. What do we say about this policy in this Resolution? We lay down once more—it has been stated to-day already, but I wish to restate it, and to get a reply from the right hon. Gentleman in regard to it—that when you say "Go on with the War" that does not mean go on with fighting. If you mean simply that we sit here to vote money and to listen to speeches and historical essays, such as we have just been favoured with, while the men at the front are fighting, killing and being killed, if that is our duty, then "go on with the 584 War" is a phrase and an idea which we do not agree with. But if the War is something which is not merely fighting, if it is not merely a military expression, if it does not mean that we are to go on so long as there is a man left in the field to kill another man, so long as the nation is prepared to supply an army, if war is a political institution, if it serves precisely the same purpose as a Division in this House, or a Resolution of this House, or a decision of the Cabinet, or a dispatch to a foreign Government, if that is war, then going on with the War is being served equally by the speeches which we are delivering here this afternoon, in trying to throw some new light on the European situation. That is as much going on with the War as supplying thousands of bayonets, although that may be the more pressing need of the moment. If war is a means to a political end, that political end must always be present in the minds of those responsible for the War. I do not want to quote a German critic—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes, do!"]—but I will do so in order to give pleasure to some hon. Members opposite. I do not know whether they have ever heard of Clausewitz, who happens to be an authority on military affairs. His view of war is this:War can never be separated from political intercourse, and if in the consideration of the matter this is done in any way, and the threads of its relations are to a certain extent broken, we have before us a senseless thing.That is perfectly sound, and, if it is sound, then it is not enough for Ministers to say "we are simply going to fight until we get an absolute military victory, and until we seat ourselves on the throne of justice and show how we, in the plenitude of our power and of our own will, are going to settle affairs, so that war may never break out again." That is a nursery view of their responsibility, of our national pride, and of human nature. I do not say that that is the view held by the Government, but undoubtedly it is the view being preached ignorantly on thousands of platforms at the present time. But if the view of Clausewitz is the right one, what it means is this: That every military event ought to be studied by the Government for the purpose of translating it into its political end, and device of the devil, or a noose thrown back as though it were a trap, or a device of the devil, or a noose thrown around the necks of innocent Ministers. Every time a word is spoken it ought to be weighed, valued, and answered, and 585 the answer should be given in such a way as if you were fighting the fight with your brains. If the Germans have laid snares, do not, therefore, act like a man who refuses to take his food and dies because he is afraid that the food is poison. But that is what is happening at the present time. Every move that is made, as Lord Rosebery tells us, it is necessary that a reply should be given to it, and all the more necessary if it is deceitful than if it is honest, because the deceit consists in the offer being made for the purpose of getting such a reply from the Government or from the Allies as will enable these designing, wicked enemies of ours to turn round and say to the people, "We told you so. We have made an offer. Look at the reply! The only answer we can get is an answer at the point of the bayonet."
For years the Government has been pursuing that policy. On nine occasions during the last eighteen months opportunities for replies have been offered and no replies have been given. I am not going to weary the House with details. My hon. Friend (Mr. Morrell) has already supplied some. I am trying to summarise the general principles which divide us and to state the methods which we, on the one hand, hold to be the true methods, but which the Government, on the other hand, hold not to be the true methods. We believe that up till now the true methods have not been properly resorted to. We believe that every one of these offers, quite irrespective of the value which attaches to them, ought to be taken by His Majesty's Government and to be analysed, not in a pettifogging way, not by way of a small incident in Debate, but so that the whole field may be cleared. If that is done then our enemies will discover that peace offensives, instead of bringing about disruption among the Allies, would lead to their own disruption and their own undoing, that is, of course, assuming that they are dishonest. But if, on the other hand, they are honest, then they may lead to something on which peace can find a secure basis. I once said, and I repeat it now, that no offer the Germans have yet made would be satisfactory as a peace. Is the right hon. Gentleman living in the hope that he is going to get an offer at some time from the Germans that he can accept all round, without any amendment, without any negotiation, without any bargaining, without any taking away, or any 586 building up? I am perfectly certain he is not. He knows perfectly well that when the time comes, and God will it come soon, when that statement, whatever it is to be and however it is to be made, either by the Allies or from the Central Powers, when that statement is made which at last is to be seized upon as an opportunity for discussing peace, he knows I say that that statement is not going to be the final form of the peace. The only quality that that statement will have is that it will be a promising one which will justify both sides in going on and exploring the matter further. Nine times that has happened. Nine times answers ought to have been given and were not given. I am not going to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman he could have made peace on any occasion. That is not my argument at all. But I say this. It is his responsibility to the nation and to Europe. It is a responsibility to the Allies I am not going to confine myself to that. It is a responsibility to Count Hertling, and to the Central Powers. It is a responsibility to the Government to take every opportunity, and to see that no opportunity is missed for examining and exploring every one of these statements, every one of these offers, to see whether they are sound or not. No single one ought to be rejected until it has been proved to be dishonest, and it cannot be proved to be dishonest until replies have been given.
The second part of the Resolution declares that the original objects for which we entered on the War are not being carried out by the secret treaties; Here, again, the right hon. Gentleman went back to an old point, and asked what Count Hertling had said about Belgium. The right hon. Gentleman says that no definite statement has yet been made. But has he ever tried to get a definite statement? It is his responsibility, as well as Count Hertling's. If the right hon. Gentleman were in Count Hertling's position at the present moment what would he do? Assume for a moment that Count Hertling was Prime Minister of this country, and that the right hon. Gentleman had changed positions with him. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us quite honestly what position he would consider himself in at the present time in making a statement about Belgium? Would he, in making such a statement, say all that he meant to say? Would he give the whole of it, or would he merely say, "I am only going to give enough to 587 indicate something which may be done," but which would not be completely satisfactory? The right hon. Gentleman has said as we have said, and there is no division of opinion about it, therefore, that Belgium must be restored. We have all said that a patched-up peace, that a peace which left Belgium un-restored, which would leave a big Power in possession of that corner of Europe, would be a peace which could not be acceptable. And, having said that, we have gone further, and asserted that an investigation ought to be made as to the qualified statement which Count Hertling did make with regard to Belgium. We know that the great organs of German democracy, the "Vorwaerts" and the "Leipzig Volkszeitung," have said plainly that Belgium is to be restored. Those great organs of German democracy have said that quite definitely, and there is an organisation with that object. I do not want to exaggerate its importance. It is an unknown quantity, but I believe the force of it is very much greater than the right hon. Gentleman imagines, and, from what knowledge I have of the movement, I think we may assume that its power is not exagerated. I believe the attitude of the Government is preventing that movement from fructifying in a real peace movement in Europe. It is really demanding that the German Government shall abandon its present position. It is demanding, further, that the German Government, in the form in which it is to-day, shall cease to exist, and that it shall abandon its present purposes.
However, that is leading astray. I want to confine myself to this argument. The Government did not enter this War on account of Belgium. The Government entered this War on account of European obligations. The people accepted the War on account of Belgium. Belgium was not the cause of the War on 3rd August; it was the cause of the War on the 5th. The people of our country, the men who flocked to the Colours, accepted this War because Belgium was invaded, and because, thank God, it was their decision to stand by small and oppressed nationalities. What happens with these secret treaties? You are not vindicating the right of Belgium at all. You are putting Belgium in a pool, and, by starting new issues, by widening the scope of the War, you are weakening 588 the Belgian chance of final restoration. As a matter of fact, you are doing what Lord Bolingbroke described this country as having done in connection with the War of the Spanish Succession, that, in order to keep our Allies, we had to make treaties which made victory impossible. History may repeat itself. I hope it will not. There were two natural consequences of the War which were not involved in the opening of the War. First of all we want security. We cannot live in Europe without some security. How are we going to get it? It is said, by a League of Nations. Yes, but a League of Nations is not going to be established in the frame of mind in which so many of our people are living at the present moment, and I, for one, heartily welcome the statement made by Lord Grey and published to-day, although some parts of it may not be very welcome to those who imagine we are going to end this War by a great Waterloo, Paris resolutions put in full force, and so on. The great sanity in that statement is the one guarantee of a real security for Europe.
It is a profound mistake to imagine we are going to solve all European difficulties by this War. It is very easy to try to draw up a war programme. It is a very delightful thing for anyone not fighting to sit down by his own fireside and say what he would remedy as a result of this War. Some of us would make a clean sweep of Europe if we could, but it will never be got by fighting. One thing we hope will happen as a result of this War is that the moment a truce comes, the moment that this tremendous war momentum, that is pushing us ahead against our own will, has stopped, and we can face the problems about us, at that moment the peoples of Europe will come together, and in their enthusiasm and their sorrow and pain and suffering will there and then on the spot, before the experience has gone out of their minds, create something which will make it impossible for such a state of things ever to take place again. Therefore, to do that we must have liberation, but it is not coming from the battles. There may be some battles to give the opportunity for liberation, but the liberation is only going to come at the peace table. Again, if we take Belgium in relation to the secret treaties, we are only jeopardising her by raising useless issues. If we take security and say we are aiming at this, again we are destroying it, because the spirit of the 589 secret treaties was precisely the spirit in which the Franco-GermanWar was treated, and that destroyed the peace of Europe. This is the Franco-German War started afresh. A patched-up treaty is a patched-up treaty, no matter what period it lasts—it may be a month, six months, six years, or twenty years. The Treaty of Frankfurt was as much a patched-up treaty and a military peace as the Treaty of Amiens. One went for forty years and the other for only a month, but the features were essentially the same. And in these secret treaties you have the spirit, you have the programme, you have the intention, and you have the method which was embodied at the end of the Franco-German War. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman's intentions may be, what I say is true. Make peace in that way and you have destroyed the security of Europe for the next forty years. Liberation is not the object that is being pursued.
I would like to make my third point. It is that this is a barrier to democratic peace. It is a barrier to democratic peace because democratic peace must have all the qualifications which I have just shown are violated by the secret treaty documents. It is also a barrier to democratic peace for the reason that I have already given. This thing is the most valuable propaganda that can be circulated in Berlin and Vienna. There is nothing better for the purposes of the Central Powers at the present moment. The Poles first of all honestly believed in Germany and that Austria was going to liberate Poland. In the end they discovered they had made a mistake. Of all the revelations that have been disclosed dividing these people into separate camps, exposing all the games that have been going on, we could not take advantage. It is pitiable, it is heartbreaking, that this sort of thing should go on month by month and year by year. If this country, and particularly the Press of this country, could make up its mind that this matter has to be settled round a table, then, although the War might have to go on, because you could not stop the momentum altogether, at any rate that is the first step to salvation, the first step to peace, and, what is much more, the first step for the victory of our moral aims. There was one thing I was very glad to read in a speech the right hon. Gentleman made in the Mansion House, as reported in the "Times" of 8th April, 1918: 590The gains of territory they have made against efficient Armies, prepared as they were prepared in the field, have not been great. But I would remind our German friends,—I have been accused very much for having used that expression. The right hon. Gentleman used it, and I do not think any person who understands the problem that faces this country will blame him for using it—if they have gained, as they suggest, they have also lost a great deal of territory to ourselves or to our Allies.In that generous language which he used he did have in his mind that this thing must be settled by negotiation. Then why does he not take his opportunity? Why does he not see that the military side, the War Office, is essential on one side of the room and that the Foreign Office and the diplomatic staff is essential on the other side of the room; that the War Office cannot move an inch either in advance or in retreat, but that that inch provides some problem for the Foreign Office to settle; that not a breath should come over the sea from Berlin or Vienna, whether it is an Emperor's letter or a speech or resolution in the Reichstag, without being answered; that this idea of the knock-out blow, that this idea of clearing the whole decks merely for military purposes, whilst diplomatists stand in the background doing nothing, waiting for the time when peace will be declared, is a mere childish dream of the impossible? Just as the military must be vigilant and sleepless in their work, so the diplomatists must be vigilant and sleepless in their work. On this occasion, with the military situation as it is, seizing that situation as an opportunity for making the appeal, rather than for being faint-hearted and allowing the old policy to be pursued to its impossible end—seizing that opportunity, I appeal to this House, and I appeal to the Government, to bring fresh minds to bear upon this terrible problem that Europe is groaning under, for, as Walpole says in one of his letters, this War is "dozing into peace." It is settling into habit. We are beginning to get so much in the rut that we cannot use a nimble and fresh intelligence to lift us out of it. Diplomacy, negotiation, the round table, the possibility of settlement, every opportunity, however apparently profitless, however apparently dishonest, however apparently dangerous—let nothing be thrown away as useless, no scrap thrown away as rubbish. They say some of us are 591 defeatists. Neither defeat nor surrender is in my vocabulary. The real defeatists are the people who are pursuing that which every war has shown to be illusory. They, not we, trust in the old policy which is going to make war in Europe ceaseless by this War ending in a heritage of war. That is defeat! If the hon. and gallant Member for Christchurch holds the views he suggests he ought to publish them, and not profess something different. Let us in these matters be perfectly candid. If the policy certain hon. Members are pursuing is followed Europe will never be free from war, and when you end a war, whether it be Germany against France or whatever the war may be, and if five days after you begin to arm again for the next struggle, then I say, tell that honestly to the people and do not allow the people to believe that we are engaged in a war for the purpose of ending all war. I am in the War for the purpose of ending all war. Because that is so I say that you will have to adopt a method which the history of Europe shows has never been adopted before, because if you go upon the old lines they will fulfil the old ends and nothing else. Therefore I appeal to the Government to bring freshness of mind to the problem, to these problems of diplomacy. I appeal to the Government to see that war is a political institution justified by its political ends and not by its military ends: that the old policy of military ends, if pursued, leads to further wars, and cannot secure peace.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Main Question again proposed.