§ Order for Second Reading read.
Motion made, and question proposed,
That the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I would ask if we really must go on now? I do not mind going on; I have lost all the trains I can get, so I am quite as happy here as elsewhere. But surely to take the Second Reading, the Committee stage and the Report stage of a Bill which apparently is going to form a Treaty with America and France, at ten minutes to three in the morning, is 1116 not the way things ought to be done. If my Friends want it, of course I have no objection.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I would make an appeal to my hon. Friend and to the House to let us have this Treaty with France. This is the undertaking of Great Britain to come to the aid of France if she is attacked. We discussed this, and I understood that the discussion would cover this Treaty as well as the other. As a matter of fact my hon. Friend knows very well it did cover it. I am afraid it will create a very bad impression in France if the first Treaty is carried through and this Treaty is postponed and put off. These things are very difficult to explain abroad, and there will be a feeling that the British Parliament is hesitating. I do not believe that a man would hesitate 1117 to go to the aid of France if she were attacked. I was talking to a very prominent, and I think most hon. Members, if I named him, would say he was rather an extreme Socialist. I said to him, "We are going to give an undertaking that if France is attacked Great Britain will come to her assistance." He said, "I do not believe there is a man in the British Islands who would object to that." That is what I feel, and I should be sorry if there were a note of hesitation. It might be due to one reason or to another, but these things are so difficult to explain. The French nation is very sensitive on the subject, and I do earnestly appeal to all hon. Members of the House that they will say that at any rate if France is attacked the whole opinion of this country will be behind her.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I beg to move to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add, instead thereof, the words,this House, while uniting in a respectful admiration of the French people, declines to give a Second Heading to a Bill which is inconsistent with the spirit of the League of Nations, which is calculated to perpetuate the system of alliances that produced the late War, and which imposes upon this country unprecedented military burdens which will impede its financial recovery.
§ 3.0 A.M.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I have every intention, with your permission, Sir, of moving the Motion which stands in my name, and I will very briefly explain my reasons for it No one has a greater admiration for the French nation than I have. I have probably seen as much of the French as any Member of this House. I have seen them inaction, on land, and I have been in action with them on sea. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where?"] I will take up that challenge at once. I have been in action on the Somme and at sea in the Mediterranean. I quite agree with the Prime Minister and his extreme Socialist Friend that every man in this country, if France were wantonly attacked again, would go to her rescue. Certainly French people and the French Socialists know that, yet I am right in saying that the French Socialist party, which is much stronger than the Socialists here, is opposed to this agreement in the same way as I am opposed to it.
We have just passed a Bill of which the League of Nations part was accepted with 1118 feelings of great gratitude by the great majority of the people of this country. May I quote to this House Article 16 of the Covenant of the League of Nations? It says:Should any member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League which hereby undertake immediately to subject it to the severance of all trade and financial relations, the prohibition of all intercourse between their nationals and the nationals of the covenant-breaking State ….I emphasise the words "all members of the League." There is also Article 11, which I will also read:Any war or threat of war, whether immediately affecting any of the members of the League or not, is hereby declared a matter of concern to the whole League …Having passed that very solemnly, we now say that this Alliance is required with France. I do not believe it. I do not want to use strong language, but the Prime Minister may have been coerced into this by certain old-fashioned officials, diplomatists, and politicians of France. It takes all sorts of men to make a nation. Unfortunately, there are men in France in high stations who follow the rules of the Bourbon rulers, and one of the things they have not forgotten is that this system of alliances does not prevent war, but leads to war. If what has happened in Europe is not sufficient to convince people of that, nothing will convince them of anything. There is another great objection. Why should France especially have this reinsurance when Germany is down and out, to use the language of the boxing ring? There is not likely to be any fighting for some years. Why should France have this protection against Germany, when you consider also the Poles? What will they say in Poland now with a possible Russian enemy to the eastward, a German menace in the west-ward, and a hostile Ukraine to the southward? They say that "If the French require this protection, so do we," and I quite agree with them. I think that if France is to have it they ought to have it, and the same applies to Italy, to the new State of Czecho-Slovakia, and every one of the new States and the old. I would like to have seen a general reinsurance for all nations. That was proposed at the Peace Conference, and it would have been better if it had been carried out. Here we have the three aristocratic nations of the 1119 world—the English, French, and Americans—perpetrating a blunder which kills the League of Nations at its birth. These words will not, I know, be received here with the weight with which they ought to be received. Already we see the first fruits of this Treaty; already there are some official conversations going on between Italy and Germany. There is already a strong party in Italy which is preaching the doctrine of a close union with Germany, and there is a strong party in Germany that is looking to Italy in the same way, and to all the other nations which are outside the close ring of the Three. There is a danger there. Italy is faced with a hostile YugoSlav State, and it is natural for her to look to Germany. Are Members so stupid that they do not understand what it means? It means the perpetuation of the system of alliances that have half-ruined Europe. The French working classes do not want this. The French poilus, as the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin said, is the strongest for the League of all the soldiers of Europe, and the reason is clear. He has seen the sufferings. He does not look to another alliance, and the French Socialists do not want it. The rank and file in France do not want it, and, therefore, I move the Motion in my name. I hope it will be received with solemnity. In France at any rate, it will not be misunderstood, for the mass of the French people have not asked for it. I hope it will receive the Motion in the spirit in which I move it, for it is meant to save the League of Nations and civilisation in the future.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
Then I will formally second it, for the purpose of being able to ask the Prime Minister for some explanation. I think he mentioned America in connection with this Treaty?
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is a separate Treaty which she will submit to her own Parliament. We have nothing to do with that.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
That is only operative if the American Congress approves? Well, I will be glad to know what the opinion of America will be to-morrow when America reads the discussions which have taken place in the House to-night. I have not spoken to the hon. and gallant Member who has addressed the House to-night (Commander Kenworthy). I do not know him. All I have to say is that it is a fine commentary on democracy that the one hon. Member who has come into this House by a majority so tremendous as to be remarkable in the history of elections in this country, should be howled down and laughed down by a number of Gentlemen in this House. He went out to help win the War. He did not kill the Kaiser with his mouth, like so many of the patriots in this House.
I do not know why, but he seems to me to stand alone here, and, therefore, being an Irishman, I am here to stand beside him. The hon. and gallant Gentleman was returned here at a by-election recently, in which he changed the Coalition majority of 10,000 into a minority, and to my mind that is a sufficient guarantee that he ought to be listened to with respect. I am quite sure that a successful sailor is not a triumphant profiteer. Therefore, when those attacks are made on him, I resent them. I cannot agree with him, and I challenge the Amendment which he has proposed; I merely second it in order to secure that right of free speech in the House of Commons which even I can secure from a number of Gentlemen who are hovering on the brink of political destruction at ten minutes past three o'clock in the morning.
What I want to say is that, as far as America is concerned, the less we say about her the better. The purposes for which America entered the War have not been the purposes declared in the House of Commons to-night. Your Treaties are mere scraps of paper. Your great Imperial arrangements can have no impressive effect upon the public mind here or elsewhere unless the people can trust your word. You promised to give Ireland self-government.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I cannot allow further discussion on Ireland. This Bill deals with 1121 a Treaty between. His Majesty and the President of the French Republic. The Treaty has only five Articles, and there is not a word about Ireland in it.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am sorry to hear that, Mr. Speaker. I want to ask the Prime Minister if he will tell us when we are to have a Treaty between Ireland and England?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to what is in this Bill. I will send him a copy if he has not got one.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am very much obliged to you, but my hon. and gallant Friend (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) has given me a copy and I will not trouble you. The Treaty says:Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank to the west of a line drawn 50 kilometres to the East of the Rhine.I want to know, first of all, what is a fortification. I want the Prime Minister to give us an explanation of Article 43.In the area defined above the maintenance and assembly of armed forces, either permanently or temporarily, and military manœuvres of any kind, as well as the upkeep of all permanent works for mobilisation, are in the same way for bidden.I want to know whether the Army of Occupation in Ireland—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must ask the hon. Gentleman not to question my ruling. I have already pointed out twice that he is not entitled to introduce the question of Ireland into the discussion on this Bill.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I want to know, if we are to have military forces in Germany, whether the forces in Ireland will be taken from Ireland and sent to Germany?
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am sorry that this discussion is taking the line it has taken. I am rather sorry that my hon. Friend with whom I usually agree on Irish questions seconded this Amendment for an ordinary purpose. If it were not this hour of the morning, and had it not been a very serious question, I would have been prepared to second this Amendment. I could give very substantial reasons why it ought to be put to the House; because, although all of us with the exception of four had 1122 agreed to the previous Treaty, there are, certain matters in this Treaty which do require explanation. Some of them I put in the speech I made yesterday afternoon, to which my right hon. Friend did not reply.
I would like to say this first about this Treaty. One thing that struck every Member of this House when war broke out was the kind of indistinct understanding that there was between France and this country which we used so often to call the entente cordiale. By that entente cordiale the average Member of this House did not understand and never did understand how far this country was committed to war with Franco. This Treaty at any rate has not the same indistinctness as that phrase had. I made the point yesterday afternoon that because the text of this Treaty is in the Schedule of this Bill we cannot amend it. It would be out of order for any one of us to attempt to amend anything after page one of this Bill. Will my right hon. Friend look at page two and the phraseology that is used? It says:Whereas His Britannic Majesty is willing, subject to the consent of His Parliament, and provided that a similar obligation is entered into by the United States of America, to undertake to support the French Government in the case of an unprovoked movement of aggression being made against France by Germany.What is "an unprovoked movement of aggression"? I can understand a movement which resulted in the Germans marching through Belgium, but who is to interpret such a phrase as "an unprovoked movement of aggression"? After all, what does this Treaty mean? It means, surely, a Triple Alliance inside the League of Nations. It means the Triple Alliance of France, Great Britain, and America inside the League of Nations. It means the dominance of these three great Powers.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Somebody says "No." Neither the hon. Gentleman who says "No" nor myself can dogmatise about that. I am quite willing to concede that point, but knowing the influences that are involved in the League of Nations it is quite obvious that Great Britain, France, and America are the most powerful of those nations. If that is so it means that those three nations are going to dominate the policy of the League of Nations. If they are, and if, as I pointed out this 1123 afternoon, my right hon. Friend is willing to admit Germany, as we all are at some time—we shall not quarrel about the time—and if it is true that you must have unanimity within the League of Nations before you can get anything done, what chance of unanimity is there if you set up this preliminary barrier of three great Powers? I put a point to my right hon. Friend this afternoon and he never answered it. I will put it again. I may be wrong, but I understand that one reason why Great Britain agreed to this Treaty was that unless we had agreed to the French Alliance inside of the League of Nations, France insisted upon having the whole of the left bank of the Rhine. I do not know if that is true or not. We have been vouchsafed so little information during the six months that my right hon. Friend was away from the House that we are really groping in the dark at this time in the morning when we are discussing one of the most important measures that has ever been passed through this House. I wish my right hon. Friend had agreed to postpone it. Honestly I do not think it is proper that because the bulk of hon. Members of this House are going to see the Fleet to-day that we should not postpone discussion on this Bill. That is a point that the Prime Minister ought to bear in mind as well as the point about the people in France. He said the people in France would not understand our not passing this Bill. The people in this country, similarly, will not understand our preferring to go and see the Fleet rather than discussing a Bill which may involve this country and the whole Empire in a war at any time. I have heard my right hon. Friend make many speeches in the House from time to time. He has made great speeches in favour of what he calls open diplomacy, in which he said that if these things were discussed on the floors of our Parliaments we should have fewer wars. My right hon. Friend, over and over again, has taken that line, but now he is asking us here to commit ourselves to a new Triple Alliance and to a policy of implication in Europe which is against all the traditions of Liberal policy.
§ Mr. HOGGE
I am speaking for my own party. My right hon. Friend knows that the policy of splendid isolation did more for this country than any implication and complication 1124 did in the Concert of Europe. Here is a new proposal, put in such a way that my right hon. Friend knows that this House cannot discuss it. There are only twelve lines, two paragraphs on page one of this Bill, which are competent for this House to deal with. Everything else in the Bill, except the Annex, which deals with American action, is outside the purview of this House. I remember the early days of this War, and the discussions we used to have in this House, and how all of us used to say that if we got through this War certain things would never happen again. We hoped to have things done more openly and above-board than ever before in our life, yet here, at the end of the War, at 3.30 a.m. in the morning, we are taking the Second Reading of a new Triple Alliance Bill, which not only affects the destiny of the people of this country, but of Europe. That is why, if it were necessary, I should not hesitate for a moment to move the Amendment which has been moved by the hon. Member for Hull, which says that the proposal is inconsistent with the spirit of the League of Nations. Why is it inconsistent? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members may say "Oh!" as often as they like, but they cannot get beyond this, that, after all, many of them may be in a House of Commons in the future as members of a small party, and may have got to stand up against a big party. They should never forget that the private Member has his rights. The Prime Minister was a private Member once, and he used his rights very strongly. I put another point to my right hon. Friend, and he never answered it. I said this was the triumph of the old regime, and pointed out that the history of France and her policy in Europe was that of erecting and maintaining flank States in the East as against the domination of Germany. I reminded him of Poland, of Sweden, and other States, and I pointed out that now that Russia had gone France had created, with the help of the Allies, Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, and Yugo-Slavia. Because they were weak, France had called in America and England to support her. That is why this is inconsistent with the League of Nations. The entente cordiale carried us further than the country knew. The country took the pledges of its Ministers, and did not discuss the niceties of it at that time. Let us, in this House, know what we are going into. The Amendment says that the Bill 1125imposes upon this country unprecedented military burdens which will impede its financial recovery.I asked another question, which the right hon. Gentleman did not answer this afternoon. I invite him to do so to-night. If he sincerely believes, as 1 honestly believe he does, in the efficacy of the League of Nations, will he answer this simple question? In this House we have had huge Estimates for the Army and Navy and the Air Force. We have been told by every Minister who introduced them so far that they were drawn on the basis on which they were framed because they did not know what was going to happen. Everyone was asked whether he would lay amended Estimates before the House prior to the end of the allotted days. No amended Estimates have been laid before this House, which is committed to enormous expenditure. Will my right hon. Friend, who used to be an advocate in this country of the League against militarism, tell this House whether he, as Prime Minister, is prepared before the end of the days on which we can take Estimates—practically before the end of this month—to introduce Estimates of a limited character affecting the Navy particularly, in view of the fact that Germany now—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is a point which the hon. Member would be quite right to inquire into as a matter of administration. But what has it got to do with the Treaty?
§ Mr. HOGGE
It has this to do with the Treaty. The Amendment says that this Treaty "imposes upon this country unprecedented military burdens which will impede its financial recovery." This Treaty binds this country with America to prevent unprovoked movements of aggression. We are entitled to assume until we are told what unprovoked movements of aggression means, that the provision in the Estimates is to meet the necessities of this Treaty. I am willing to bow to your ruling and leave the subject undeveloped if you think it is not necessary to develop it further. These are the reasons, however, why if my hon. Friend had not seconded the Motion, I would myself have done so. After this great War I do not want this country to be implicated again in what was called the concert of Europe. If we are going in I want to know much more explicit terms than this phrase.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I will answer the two or three points raised by my hon. 1126 Friend. With regard to "unprovoked movements of aggression," I do not think we need any better illustration than the present War. Germany made a movement of aggression which was perfectly wanton and unprovoked. As to the second point that this Treaty is not in the interests of the people of this country, I venture to say that if you were to put this Treaty to the people of this country 99 per cent, would be in favour of it. I should be surprised if the same observation did not apply to the people of Ireland. The other point raised, I think, by the Mover of the Motion was whether this Treaty would not provoke fresh wars. As a matter of fact if this Treaty had been in existence on the 1st of August, 1914, with the signatures of Great Britain and the United States of America to it, there would have been no war.
§ Amendment negatived.
That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Mr. Pratt.]
§ Bill accordingly considered in Committee.
§ [MR. WHITLEY in the Chair.]