HC Deb 03 July 1919 vol 117 cc1231-5

Here let me refer to the Victory Loan. We lent thousands of millions to sow the seeds of victory. Do let us lend hundreds of millions to garner in the harvest, so that it shall not rot on the fields. The losses of the War will take a deal of repairing. Reparation is not a matter of receiving German instalments. That is a small part. We must each and all give 6uch instalments of strength, of good will, of co-operation, and of intelligence as we can command. The country needs it, every grain of it. The strength, the power of every land has been drained and exhausted by this terrible War to an extent one can t hardly realise. The nations have bled at every vein, and this restlessness which you get everywhere to-day is the fever of anaemia. There is a tendency in many quarters to assume that now we have won the victory, and Peace is established, all will come right without any effort, that plenty will spring up unaided from the blood-stained ground, and that all that is left is the scramble. Let us first of all see that there is something to scramble for. What have we got? Output diminished, cost of production increasing. That is exactly the opposite road to the one which leads to prosperity. Even Bolshevik Russia is beginning to realise that that method of procedure is one which brings nothing but hopelessness, and it is gradually trying to escape from it. Let us think together, act together, work together. I beg that we do not demobilise the spirit of patriotism in this country. Keep it in the ranks until the country has won through to its real victory. That spirit alone won us the War. That spirit alone can bring us a real and a glorious triumph.


We have had a very interesting statement from the Prime Minister, and we welcome the decision of the Government to have the terms of the Treaty considered in the form of a Bill. I do not intend to intervene for more than a few minutes. I am sure that not only am I expressing the gratification of the members of the Labour party and of myself that at last, after nearly five years of war, the Peace Treaty has been signed, but I believe I am at the same time also expressing the gratification of the whole of the people of this country. While I am strongly of the opinion that the Prime Minister could have lightened his labour and his responsibility by giving the people and their representatives a greater share in the fixing of the Peace Terms, at the same time I want to take this opportunity of paying my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has devoted himself to the settlement of this most stupendous task—a task which, I think, is greater than has ever confronted the head of any democratic Government before. With reference to the terms of the Treaty, Labour has always insisted that Germany must make full reparation for the wanton destruction done in all the Allied countries. But there are certain features of the Treaty with which neither I nor the Labour party agree. For instance, we do not agree with the exclusion 'of Germany from membership of the League of Nations after she has ratified the Treaty. We want to see the League of Nations become at the earliest day a League of Nations, and not a league of the Allied countries.


Hear, hear!


Again we regret very much that the Treaty does not contain the machinery whereby Conscription would, be abolished in the Allied countries as well as in Germany. Neither do we agree with all the territorial adjustments. When the Prime Minister was giving us that interesting and eloquent explanation of his the referred to certain territories that had been taken from Germany, and justified what had been done by the fact that these territories did not belong to Germany originally. With that I think the House and the country will be in general agreement, but there are territories that are dealt with in the terms of the Peace Treaty which are of a different character from those described by the Prime-Minister. Again, Labour would have liked to see the question of armaments dealt with in the machinery of the terms of peace in the way certain other matters have been dealt with.


It is in the League of Nations.


But not exactly in the way that Labour would like. There are other matters contained in the Peace Treaty with which we are not in agreement, but we will reserve our criticism of these matters until the Second Reading of the Bills which the Prime Minister has intimated, and all I want to say further to-day regarding the matter is that I hope, now that the Treaty has been signed, that the German people will realise that the only chance of a peaceful and orderly development from the old conditions to the new is for them to try to give effect to the terms of the Treaty, while we on our part meet that effort in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope that the spirit which animated the Prime Minister while he was dealing in his speech with the question of the League of Nations is the spirit which will animate the whole of the British people, at least in their efforts to make war an impossibility in the future, and to carry out the ideal which animated our people at the beginning of this terrible conflict, to make this a war against war. If that ideal is to be realised in all its fulness, Britain and Germany must forget, as rapidly as they can, all that has occurred in the course of the last five years, and I hope that, so far as we are concerned, if we show a proper spirit in trying to carry out the terms of the agreement that has just been come to, we will meet them in a spirit of magnanimous reconciliation, and do our best to make their task as light as possible.


I only desire from these benches to say a few words of gratitude to the Prime Minister for the greatest achievement in history, which he has done so much to bring about. I do not believe that the nation has yet realised all that we owe to the Prime Minister for the last four and a half years. I had the honour of serving in the Cabinet with him in the very darkest days of our country's history in this War. His patriotism, his courage, and his genius in carrying on the War were the greatest contribution that any man in the whole country has given to the War, and I believe that when the history of our time comes to be written, it will be said of the Prime Minister that, so far as the organisation at home went, which meant so much for success in the field, the nation owes him a debt of gratitude, and history will say of him that he did more than any other man to preserve the liberties of the world. May I also say upon this occasion—because it is a great occasion—that I do not forget, and I hope the House does not forget, the burden that was born in the early days of the War by Mr. Asquith when he was Prime Minister? He had an unprepared country to deal with. He had very great difficulties to contend with in bringing the nation to a full sense of its obligations in the War. He suffered a personal loss, a terrible loss, and when he went to the other side of the House, when he left the Government, he showed an example of patriotism which many might well copy. My belief is. that the greatest achievement of this War may turn out to be the League of Nations. I remember that I was criticised during the War for criticising at that time the League of Nations. As the Prime Minister said to-day, and I believe said truly, unless you had gone on with the War until you had crushed Prussianism, you never could have had an effective League of Nations, and I say that the League of Nations is, therefore, only possible because our soldiers in the field have given us victory. If those sacrifices that have been made turn out to have been made for the purpose of organising an international institution which will put an end to war, I think that the nation and the country will bear with equanimity the terrible sacrifices which every household has endured, and so I say let us seriously back the League of Nations.

If it does nothing else it can do this—it can make peace more fashionable than war. But the League of Nations, like every other system of jurisprudence, must grow from infancy. It must grow from day to day in strength and understanding, and do not let us be led away by expecting too much all at a moment as the result of the League of Nations, for remember that one failure by the League of Nations may put back its ultimate and great fruition for many years, and therefore I say that it is only by an honest and genuine support, and not by merely lip-service, that you can build up the necessary international organisation. I desire to make only one other observation. The Prime Minister has made a most eloquent appeal for unity—for continued unity. I think he said, "Do not let us demobilise our patriotism too early." I believe that there never was a greater necessity for unity, unity of purpose, of effort and of understanding each other than there is at the present moment, and I cannot but express my regret that, at a time when the Prime Minister was winning through the results of the War and producing this great charter of the world's freedom, we had the constant misrepresentation, pinpricking, and unfair criticism to which he was subjected. [HON. MEMBERS: "From the Tories!" and "From his Friends!"] What the Prime Minister said is perfectly true. You have to reconstruct a devastated world. You have to reconstruct a world worn out in men and in machinery and to rebuild all that has been destroyed, and I believe that you will never do that unless, at all events for a time, you get rid of this insane idea of getting back into political fights. Our fights are still national fights, and it is only by keeping them so that we will do our duty to those who have sacrificed their lives for us, and build up, on what they have won, a sure structure for our people.

Motion made, and Question, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for carrying into effect the Treaty of Peace between His Majesty and certain other Powers, put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the Prime Minister, Mr. Bonar Law, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Barnes, and Sir Gordon Hewart.

TREATY OF PEACE BILL,—"for carrying into effect the Treaty of Peace between His Majesty and certain other Powers," presented, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 121.]